Friday, September 6, 2019

THE COSTUME DRAMA BLOGATHON: In Old Chicago (1938)


The Costume Drama Blogathon is the brainchild of Debbie Vega of Moon in Gemini and it runs from September 6th to the 8th. Click HERE for all the sublime designs and stories.


"We O'Learys are a strange tribe. There's strength in us. And what we set out to do, we finish."
- Alice Brady (Oscar winner) as Molly O'Leary
In Old Chicago, 1938

It is the way in Hollywood that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery or if the audience will pay to see the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 then surely they would be just as eager to see the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Comparisons between MGMs San Francisco and 20th Century Fox's In Old Chicago are inevitable. Audiences enjoyed both and the Academy was suitably impressed. In Old Chicago matched San Francisco's record of six nominations and came away with two wins.

Alice Brady as Mrs. Molly O'Leary
Gene Reynolds as Dion, Billy Watson as Jack, and Bobs Watson as Bob

Patrick O'Leary dies in a freak accident on the prairie and never saw the end of his rainbow, Chicago. He was buried where he died so the city could grow out to meet him. Widow O'Leary works as a laundress and raises their three sons.

Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, Alice Brady, June Storey, Tom Brown
Dion, Jack, Molly, Gretchen and Bob

Jack (Ameche) tilts at the windmill of justice for all, arguing losing cases in court and fighting crooked politicians. Dion (Power) gambles his nights away, getting involved in shady deals and looking to get in on some of those crooked politics that Jack abhors. Bob (Brown) marries the family's maid Gretchen and starts a family. 

Gil Warren played by Brian Donlevy runs the area known as The Patch. It is the O'Leary's home and the bane of Jack's existence as it is a cesspool of vice and crime, and a tinderbox of wooden structures. Warren's control extends throughout the city and Dion is determined to have his own piece of the action. Coming into information that a B. Fawcett owns a piece of land important to a new transit line, Dion aims to make this B. Fawcett a partner. When "he" turns out to be a beautiful singer, Belle Fawcett played by Alice Faye, so much the better.


Dion succeeds in winning Belle as a business and romantic partner, stealing her from Gil Warren's saloon and affection. Warren runs for mayor and pays for Dion's help in his campaign. Dion hedges his bets by anonymously backing Jack as a Reform candidate. Thanks to Dion's machinations Jack wins the election and true to his word, begins an investigation against Dion and the whole crooked racket behind City politics. A rift between the brothers ensues prior to the legendary (read: false) kicking over of the lantern by Mrs. O'Leary's cow and the true-life conflagration which destroyed thousands of buildings and at least 300 lives.  

20th Century Fox's record with costume dramas before and after In Old Chicago is impressive, including such titles as Lloyds of LondonUnder Two Flags, Suez, Little Old New York, and The Story of Alexander Graham Bell

Henry King
1886-1982

Henry King, one of the surest and most versatile of the studio directors was in charge of the production, with the special effects and fire scenes handled by H. Bruce Humberstone (I Wake Up Screaming). Henry King had been an actor who directed his first short in 1913, and his last feature Tender is the Night in 1962. He directed 11 movies with leading man Tyrone Power from 1936 to 1957, three with Don Ameche and three with Alice Faye.

"Not only is she my favorite actress. She is a favorite person."
- Henry King speaking of Alice Faye

"He was kind of special. I loved him very much."
- Alice Faye speaking of Henry King

Sonia Levien and Lamar Trotti wrote the screenplay for In Old Chicago from a story by Niven Busch (Till the End of Time). The cinematographer was J. Peverell Marley (Life With Father, Suez) and the music by Cyril J. Mockridge ( The Solid Gold Cadillac, Where the Sidewalk Ends). 

The costumes for this expensive historical drama/disaster movie are by Royer, born Lewis Royer Hastings. He worked at 20th Century Fox from 1933 to 1939, followed by a stint at United Artists from 1940 to 1942. For the decade of 1942 to 1952, Royer worked in the Mexican film industry billed as Louis or Luis Royer. In 1945 Royer was awarded an Ariel Award in Mexico for his work on the film Bugumbilia starring Dolores del Rio and Pedro Armendariz. The Academy would not institute a costuming award until 1948.

Let's look at some of Royer's sumptuous costumes that brought 1870s Chicago and these fascinating characters so vividly to life for audiences then and now.

Belle Fawcett played by Alice Faye is an entertainer and her character is equally showery offstage and on. Extras and chorus girls are just as meticulously costumed.

Alice Faye as Belle Fawcett, girl singer

Tyrone Power as Dion, Andy Devine as "Pickle", Brian Donlevy as Gil Warren
The men admire Belle's voice.

Madame Sul-Te-Wan as Hattie enjoys working for Belle.

An incredible robe only for the purpose of being removed, 

revealing this incredible gown.

Belle and the girls on stage

Tyrone Power, Berton Churchill, Phyllis Brooks
Dion dresses to the nines to impress a senator and his daughter.

Belle is a vision in sparkles and feathers.
The quartet looks dandy as well.

Dion and Jack's wardrobes reflect their individual characteristics and professional ascendency.

Widow O'Leary and Belle Fawcett are worlds apart.

Offstage, Belle has become more demure as her wealth and her love for Dion increases.

A fashionable wedding couple.

Tragedy touches all In Old Chicago.





26 comments:

  1. I liked MOON OVER MIAMI with DON AMECHE and BETTY GRABLE. Also I saw Don in the first movie SONJA HENIE did-ONE IN A MILLION. I saw Sonja in some of her other movies too. Did you watch THE GOLDEN GIRLS which aired on NBC? Don guest-starred as the biological father of ROSE who was adopted. GOLDEN GIRLS was set in MIAMI-going back to the GRABLE movie. So he got to work with BETTY GRABLE and BETTY WHITE!

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    1. I did not watch the original airing of The Golden Girls, but have caught a few episodes in syndication. Sadly, not the one with Don Ameche!

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  2. What kind of part did SIDNEY BLACKMER have in this movie? I liked him as the dad to JEANNE CRAIN in PEOPLE WILL TALK with CARY GRANT. I also remember him from TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR where he played the dad to LESLIE NIELSEN and the husband to FAY WRAY. Tammy was played by DEBBIE REYNOLDS. I don't think I remembered that he was in HEIDI with SHIRLEY TEMPLE until I just looked up his credits on imdb. He played the father of CLARA(MARCIA MAE JONES). So he worked with some of the most popular young actresses of their time-CRAIN, REYNOLDS and TEMPLE! P.S. Before he worked with LESLIE NIELSEN he was in Heidi where the grandfather of HEIDI was played by JEAN HERSHOLT, the uncle of LESLIE NIELSEN! Both Leslie and his uncle are from CANADA.

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    1. I looked up the credits of ONE IN A MILLION with AMECHE & HENIE on WIKI. It turns out that JEAN HERSHOLT was in that movie too.....as the dad to SONJA HENIE! Also I know a special HONORARY ACADEMY AWARD is named for MR. HERSHOLT.

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    2. 1. Sidney Blackmer played General Phil Sheridan who was in charge of the fight against the fire. He played those authoritarian roles very well. His Tony win was as Doc in Come Back, Little Sheba; quite a different sort altogether.

      2. Leslie's brother Erik was a Canadian politician, once Deputy Prime Minister. This was a clan that excelled at their chosen professions.

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  3. I don't know how the city of Chicago feels, but I always thought In Old Chicago is to Chicago what Meet Me in St. Louis is to St. Louis! At any rate, while the film departs from history a good deal and does utilise a lot tropes that were already cliches in Hollywood (two good brothers and one bad one...), it is still enjoyable to watch. Of the various disaster movies released in the Thirties, I think it has the best special effects! The fire is pretty convincing.

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    1. The fire is indeed very convincing and most harrowing.

      The cast is a large part of the success of the movie, putting over the characters with energy and commitment. I would really like to see this on a big screen someday.

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  4. Alice Faye looks very comfortable in those luscious period costumes. (Some of them look really heavy!)

    I have to say I've never heard of this film before, but I did like the Tyrone Power-Don Ameche-Alice Faye in "Alexander's Ragtime Band", so I think I'll enjoy them here very much. Thanks!

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    1. Alice said in an interview that nobody had as much fun as this trio, so there is no doubt you will enjoy them almost as much as in Alexander's Ragtime Band. (After all, Irving Berlin tunes make everything better.)

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  5. ALICE FAYE and ALICE BRADY-both named ALICE. I remember MISS BRADY from THE GAY DIVORCEE with GINGER ROGERS, FRED ASTAIRE and EDWARD EVERETT HORTON. She was also in MY MAN GODFREY as the mother to CAROLE LOMBARD. She was nominated for two OSCARS-first for GODFREY and then for IN OLD CHICAGO which she won. Sadly, her passing came just a year after IN OLD CHICAGO-on OCT.28, 1939, 5 days before she would have been 47. That will be 80 years ago. Im sure you remember her in THE GAY DIVORCEE. I seem to recall that she played the aunt to Ginger. I know her character was the ditzy type-like in GODFREY.

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    1. Alice Brady was so talented and so memorable. Another favourite performance is as a "ditz", Bridget in When Ladies Meet, 1933. She played the role that had been played on Broadway by Spring Byington and Miss Byington played the role again in the 1941 remake. It's a small world.

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  6. I especially enjoyed all your photos showing the variety costumes designed by Royer (If I were a costume designer, I'd go by a single name, too). He probably would have been nominated had there been a Best Costume category at that time.

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    1. It certainly took the Academy a long time begin acknowledging that aspect of films. Sometimes I wonder about those folks!

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  7. I see that you changed a comment about the character played by SIDNEY BLACKMER(and it now says SEPTEMBER 9). Didn't it earlier say a Senator? Speaking of MOON OVER MIAMI I remember a blue and white skirt and top with stars that BETTY GRABLE wore. Do you remember which GRABLE movies that you thought had the prettiest costumes or any of the color ones with ALICE FAYE?

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    1. Yes. I was doing the dishes and all of a sudden it flashed into my head that I had made an error.

      I love Alice's costumes in That Night in Rio, and Betty in Coney Island is adorable.

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  8. What movies do you remember ANDY DEVINE best from? One movie I remember him in was A STAR IS BORN, the original one, of course, with JANET GAYNOR and FREDRIC MARCH.

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    1. Andy is unforgettable. He was a big part of my childhood as Jingles in Wild Bill Hickcock on TV.

      Some favourite movies include Canyon Passage, Island in the Sky, and The Farmer Takes a Wife (also with Janet Gaynor).

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  9. Great review and screencaps! I adore Faye, Ameche, and Power, so I'm surprised that I haven't seen this yet. I've also had Alexander's Ragtime Band unwatched on my DVR for far too long. Too many movies, so little time...

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    1. Thanks.

      I'm in the same boat. Such a backlog of recorded movies. And when I finally watch a couple I must berate myself. "Was that so difficult?!"

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  10. Love your detailed overview of the costumes for this film! Thanks so much for contributing to the blogathon!

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    1. My pleasure, Debbie. Thank you for always hosting the most interesting blogathons.

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  11. What are some shows that you liked their clothes? I really liked a lot of the outfits that SAMANTHA wore on BEWITCHED and also LOUISE TATE. When I think of Louise I always think of KASEY ROGERS first because the local channel the show aired on didn't show the B&W eps until later so I saw KASEY before the original Louise played by IRENE VERNON.

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    1. P.S. I like the clothes that JESSICA FLETCHER(ANGELA LANSBURY) wore on MURDER, SHE WROTE. Also MISS LANSBURY has also dressed really fine (and decent) in real life as has MISS BETTY WHITE. What do you think-so far-of the clothes on GOLDEN GIRLS? I like most of them but some of the ones worn by DOROTHY(BEA ARTHUR) are kind of...different. I also have seen pictures of RUTA LEE at different events and she is an elegant lady and great dresser.

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    2. 1960s fashion like on Bewitched is a lot of fun. I'm crazy about Agent 99's wardrobe on Get Smart. Moving into the 1970s, the gals on Ironside covered the spectrum of fashion.

      I really enjoy watching Perry Mason and through the years you can see the changes in fashion just by watching Barbara Hale as Della Street.

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  12. What about MURDER, SHE WROTE and THE GOLDEN GIRLS? Also Im sure you probably like the elegant clothes on MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.

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    1. Jessica always looks classy. It is a mix of timeless and stuck-in-the-80s. Indeed, Mission Impossible had a very chic vibe.

      I'm not overly familiar with The Golden Girls and don't recall anything standing out in my mind of their wardrobe from the few episodes I watched.

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