This is part two in a series on how black & white film costumes looked in color. These images are not from the colorization process that Ted Turner had launched years ago and that thankfully died out. Nor are the images taken from the post-colorization process that was used for early lobby cards and more recently for video and DVD cases. The colors used for these, especially for DVD cover art, is unreliable in regards to the true colors of the original costumes. Color photographs began being used in Hollywood in the 1930s. They were not used extensively, however, not due to the cost of color photography but rather because of the high cost of color printing in newspapers and magazines. These media preferred black and white for most of their photos, even into the 1960s. But color photos were taken using the Carbro (carbon bromide) process in the 1930s and early 40s, and they show the stars and their costumes in beautiful colors. These shots were used sparingly in the fan magazines and in other publicity, but they are a revelation in showing the real colors of those black and white film costumes
The photo above shows Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire from 1941. She is also shown below in black and white with her co-star Gary Cooper. While we know her costume is made from a metallic finish material such as lame or sequins, in black and white they give the appearance of silver. Gold finishes were often used in costumes. Both gold and silver lames tarnish with age, and thus the vintage Hollywood costumes that sparkled like the sun on film have now unfortunately lost that luster.
Of the several Cleopatra movies, the one starring Claudette Colbert with costume designs by Travis Banton, is my favorite of them all for Cleopatra's costumes. They were strictly art-deco/ Hollywood glamour rather than classic Egyptian, but who cares with costumes like these.
The black and white photos are just as stunning.
Cleopatra's gold lame gown shown below was sold in the first Debbie Reynolds auction held last June. It was hammered down at $40,000.
I had owned the photo shown below of Rita Hayworth in Cover Girl, 1944, long before I ever saw the movie. I never really liked this costume as photographed in black and white, it seemed excessive and campy. But when I saw the film in its original Technicolor, with the costume in red and black, I loved it. I was even more amazed seeing the dots up close at the Debbie Reynolds auction - they were not made from sequins but buttons. It was a fabulous design by Jean Louis.
The original costume from the Debbie Reynolds collection at the Profiles in History auction.
|Above is a close-up of the costume as it was shown at the Debbie Reynolds auction in June 2011.|
I also owned several of the famous and gorgeous oversize black and white photos of Jane Russell in her first film, The Outlaw, 1943. The black and white photos are still my favorites, but the color photo below is also a knock-out. The B&W photos were some of the most popular pin-ups with the GIs in WWII, especially due to the racy reputation the movie had acquired. Jane Russell looks fierce in either black and white or in color.
And one of the most endearing films of all time, one of my favorites, Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, 1946, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. We can't imagine it in anything but black and white, but here's a photo of the pair in color. Photos of screen couples smiling are as rare as was the use of color itself. This one brings us cheer.