What Raquel Welch Wore in “A House Is Not A Home” (1964)

A few years before Raquel Welch became the poster girl for bikinis, she could not have been in better hands, costume-wise, for her movie debut in this picture. Costumier extraordinaire and multiple Oscar-winner Edith Head, was in chare of the outfits, in particular the lingerie, which, given the subject matter, was often all that was required.

Here, Head was recycling famous movie costumes of old. Whether Ms. Welch’s figure was perhaps too bountiful for the kind of outfits worn by stars in the 1920s and 1930s where bosom size was less of a priority is unknown. You can probably spot her second from the right in the photo above.

The movie paraded famous fashions of the period in more ways than one. Head’s idea was to have the girls sporting lingerie that had been seen in movies from the 1920s to the 1950s when worn by famous female stars. Whether the clothes were the actual pieces worn in previous films, and adjusted to suit, or the designs were based on the previous movies is unclear. An article in Variety asserted that Head had not actually designed costumes for the film but that the producer had simply raided the Paramount costume department, where Head had worked since 1924, for outfits she had designed.

The “nightgown museum” was drawn from films made between 1925 and 1953. The earliest nightgown, worn by Gloria Swanson in The Duchess and the Waiter (1925), was assigned to Gigi Galligan. Meri Wells worn an item previously made famous by Clara Bow in It (1927), Leona Gage used a number from famed clothes-horse Kay Francis in Behind the Make Up (1930), Amede Charbot was adorned with the eye-popping flimsy piece that Carole Lombard paraded in Bolero (1933). Patricia Thomas was given Nancy Carroll’s trousseau from Abie’s Irish Rose (1928) and Lisa Seagram was the second wearer of Grace Kelly’s powder blue chiffon in To Catch a Thief (1955).

However, there were more costumes worn than merely those which had acquired a classic status, all the male outfits for a start plus clothes reflecting the period worn by Shelley Winters and the other stars so it is likely that Head adapted her own previous outfits and augmented those with new costumes for the other players. Head had, of course, been working for Paramount during the 1920s and 1930s so she had firsthand experience of the types of clothes that would be worn.

Edith Head won eight Oscars from a total of 35 nominations. She won each year in 1950, 1951 (twice), 1952, 1954 and 1955 and again in 1961 and 1978 (for The Sting). Even where a film was not a commercial or critical success, there was every chance Edith Head would snag a nomination. Such was the case during the 1960s, up to A House Is Not A Home. In that half-decade she was nominated eleven times. In those days designers were nominated in two categories, films made in color and those made in black-and-white, thus accounting for the double award in 1951.

She won for Bob Hope-Lucille Ball comedy The Facts of Life (1960) and was nominated for John Ford western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). In the same year as A House Is Not A Home, she was also nominated for the star-studded What A Way To Go! and the previous year three of her films were up for Oscar honors – A New Kind of Love starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Wives and Lovers with Janet Leigh and Natalie Wood-Steve McQueen drama Love with the Proper Stranger.  

SOURCES: Pressbook for A House Is Not A Home, p3; “Shelley Winters on Polly Adler: Bad & Ends Sad,” Variety, April 8, 1964, p5.

A House Is Not a Home (1964) ***

Best remembered these days as the debut film for Raquel Welch (One Million Years BC, 1966), the rest of the film is well worth a look.

Hypocrisy had its heyday in The Roaring 20s when prohibition made bootleggers millionaires, helped bankroll other criminal activities like prostitution and encouraged cops and politicians to seek their share of the loot. No surprise then that the biopic of real-life madam Polly Adler (Shelley Winters) is knee-deep in corruption.  

Thrown out of her own home after being raped, Adler finds a knight in shining armor in the shape of bootlegger Frank Costigan (Robert Taylor) and is soon, at first apparently innocently, pimping out her friends. The reality of what becomes her profession is not ignored, the word “whore” bandied around, one girl, Madge (Lisa Seagram), turning junkie as a result while Lorraine (Meri Welles) commits suicide. As in Go Naked in the World (1961) Polly realizes that true love has no place in her world, a relationship with musician Casey (Ralph Taeger) unsustainable.

Adler, in her many voice-overs, explains why vulnerable women become sex workers – poverty, lack of family and lack of hope is her take on it – and she professes to view it as a business and preferable to working in a factory for pitiful wages, but the movie is at its best in linking the nether worlds of infamy and showing that the woman is always the loser.  Morality got in the way of portraying Adler as a winner, a successful businesswoman who brought a certain amount of style to the oldest profession. Women profiting from illegal activity would not be deemed heroic (to use the word loosely) until Molly’s Game (2017) and like Jessica Chastain in that film Adler’s love life is in tatters because, like her male counterparts, she devotes so much time to her business.

While any attempt to properly portray the period is hampered by lack of budget, it does provide an array of interesting and occasionally real-life characters, Lucky Luciano (Cesar Romero) for example. A brothel proves an ideal meeting place for crooks and politicians, the latter easily bought by contributions to their campaign funds. Cops are not shy about asking for donations to their Xmas funds or using the facility.

The Adler operation puts a glossy shine on the shady business since all her girls are glamorous. But still the movie pulls no punches except in the case of the madam herself, presented too often as an innocent and who saw nothing wrong in taking as much advantage of the vulnerable girls in her employ as the  clients who paid for them. Nonetheless, while Adler attempts to justify her life the film’s moralistic tone undercuts this.

 

Oscar-winner Shelley Winters (The Chapman Report, 1962), more often a supporting player at this point in the 1960s than the star, grabs the role with both hands and although unconvincing as the younger girl delivers a rounded performance minus the blowsy affectations that marred much of later work. One-time MGM golden boy Robert Taylor, pretty much in the 1960s reduced to television (The Detectives, 1959-1962) and low-budget pictures, shows a glimpse of old form as the smooth bootlegger.

Cesar Romero (Oceans 11, 1960) and Oscar-winner Broderick Crawford (All the Kings Men, 1949) head up a checklist of old-timers filling out the supporting cast. Future director Lisa Seagram (Paradise Pictures, 1997) as the junkie hooker makes the biggest impact among the girls.

From the flotilla of wannabes playing Polly’s girls, apart from Raquel Welch the only one to break into the big time was Edy Williams (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, 1970). In the main they comprised beauty queens – Amede Chabot (Miss America), Danica d’Hondt (Miss Canada) and Leona Gage (Miss Universe) who had a small part in Tales of Terror (1962). Otherwise Sandra Grant became the most famous – for marrying singer Tony Bennett. Patricia Manning had the most screen experience, second-billed in The Hideous Sun Demon (1958), bit parts in television shows, and fourth-billed in The Grass Eater (1961). Inga Nielsen would later turn up as bikini fodder in The Silencers (1966), In Like Flint (1967) and The Ambushers (1967).

Director Russell Rouse (The Fastest Gun Alive, 1956) was better known for the screenplay of D.O.A. (1949) and had a story credit for Pillow Talk (1959). In fairness, although the film has no great depth, Rouse keeps it ticking along via multiple story strands, although occasional lapses into comedy fail to work. Lovers of curiosities might like to note that Rouse was the producer on an abortive American attempt to remake the classic British television comedy Steptoe and Son for U.S. audiences with Lee Tracy in the role of Albert and Aldo Ray as his son Harold.

This is hard to get hold of. Ebay will be your best bet. Youtube has a print but it’s not in great condition.

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