Thursday, December 4, 2014

Errol Flynn Custom Tights Record Seams

Was he tight? How tight is too tight? 
The question of tights and Dressing a Hollywood Actor

To Rosalind Russell as ex-wife Hildy: "I still claim I was tight the night I proposed to you. If you had been a gentleman, you would have forgotten all about it. But not you!"
-- Cary Grant, His Girl Friday 1940

Adventures of Don Juan
Errol Flynn Photo
It's December 1947 and Errol Flynn has just popped a new record in the annals of film history. This is part of my series on clothes, costume and vintage film actors.  

The record? He's busted the seams on more pairs of tights than any other actor in motion pictures. Three hundred twenty-four pairs Errol has reduced to shreds and this movie isn't even over yet. 

When Mr. Flynn retired to his dressing room to change his pants they cornered the guy who gets "the headaches from Errol's record," Willys of Hollywood.

"His main business is turning out stockings, padded and plain, for movie queens. He also makes tights. But after the affair of the popped seams, he's liable to stick to thigh high socks."

Errol Flynn's Measurements
"'First I measured Mr. Flynn,' began the tights man. 'He has the best male shape in town. Ankle 9 1/2. Calf 13 1/2. Thigh 20 1/2. Waist 32. Hips 38. Most actors have knobby legs. But Mr. Flynn's are beautiful.'

The Adventure of Don Juan
film clip with subtitles

"Willys for ten days fixed the machines at his shop so they'd knit tights to exactly
fit Mr. Flynn. The Willys of Hollywood establishment then paused all other work while the machines clacked out 324 pairs of fancy silk tights.

"'He has 27 changes of costume,' explained Willys. 'I made 12 pairs for each change, so he'd have plenty for rehearsal and plenty for takes.'

"They were different colors, too. The movie Warners' The Adventure of Don Juan, is in Technicolor. But the cameraman didn't like the colors of the tights. So the studio dyed them over again. The seams, shuddered, Willys, came out white. The Adventures of Don Juan DVD/Streaming.

"'They used silk dye,' he snapped. 'The seams were sewn with nylon thread.
Janet Blair
at Willy's of Hollywood
The picture was held up until I got out there to see what was the matter.'

"Willys re-dyed the pants with nylon dye. At last the picture was rolling with Flynn be-tighted in one color. But Flynn was rolling too, his tights.

"'He wanted his tights very tight,' sighed their maker. 'Every time he put them on he pulled and rolled them around his waist. Like the way women roll stockings that are baggy.'

"This, he added causes runs to pop in Mr. Flynn's silk tights. He also came apart when he twice ran onto the sharp point of somebody's sword.

"Errol as the nimble Don Juan, was called upon to leap out of beds, across castle moats, over walls and under cover. Flynn further did a great deal of bending over.

Errol Flynn Outtakes, Bloopers

Outtakes from the movie Robin Hood 1938

Pants Part Often

"This often left Mr. Flynn with parted pants and the picture would have to wait while he rushed to his dressing room and wriggled into new tights. He could scarcely wear mended ones. So the old pairs were exiled into dust rags for the studio cleaning women.

"Errol currently is working on other scenes while Mr. Willys whips out more tights.

"'I made tights for circus performers, Broadway actors and ballet dancers in New York before I came to Hollywood,' Willys told us.

"'The first picture actor who wore my tights was John Barrymore. I padded the legs because his were so skinny.'

"'I made a $3,500 pair of sequined tights for Alice Faye to wear in In Old Chicago, and gold ones for Marlene Dietrich. And tights for Cary Grant, Melvyn Douglas, Jack Benny and Vic Mature. All custom made so they don't wrinkle.

"'But I never made so many as I did for Mr. Flynn. He sure wore those out.'"
Newspaper wire service article December 1947

The Adventures of Don Juan was released in the United States on December first, 1948. Wonder how Flynn would've done with a Star Wars lightsaber?

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances...." So says Jaques in Shakespeare's As You Like It. Innumerable male actors, dancers and other performers have worn tights on stage and in film over the years.

Question: Who remembers films that featured a be-tighted Cary Grant, Melvyn Douglas, Jack Benny and/or Victor Mature??

The story makes me think of a favorite show, Project Runway. Tim Gunn would say, "Make it work," and that's what they had to do. 

Great tip about dying clothes: Find out if the thread used is the same material as the fabric overall. You don't want white seams.

Willys has a long history with many films, creating the best for Hollywood stars and other dignitaries. They prepared the stockings worn by Princess Elizabeth for her wedding. Seed pearls were sewn on by hand. The stockings were "gossamer sheer nylon, fragile."  

It was a hush-hush job. The stockings were seamless so the princess wouldn't need to worry if her seams were straight as she heads to the altar. 

The design included a cascade of tiny seed pearls sprinkling down the ankles. He said, "It was like gluing gems onto cobwebs, but the results were worth it."

Don Juan John Barrymore preview above 1926 silent film, Vitaphone synchronized sound effects, Mary Astor

Errol Flynn's birthday party ends in brawl Includes: Flynn is the winner of a 1942 magazine poll: Errol Flynn was chosen as having The Best Male Figure in Hollywood (Kind of like today's Sexiest man alive, People Magazine issues)

Classic Film actors talk jobs, clothes, tools of the trade incl the designing of Marlon Brando's t-shirt and very tight jeans in A Streetcar Named Desire

1930s Dressing Rathbone, Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich

Hollywood Glamour Boys, Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, John Barrymore, Humphrey Bogart 

'Tis Herself: An Autobiography by Maureen O'Hara

"Swashbuckling leader of a desperate horde, devil-may-care philanderer and reckless adventurer: Errol Flynn is Captain Blood. Experts discuss the complexities of the fencing scene that was filmed in Three Arch Bay." from description.
Clip features Robert Osborne Film Historian/Author/TCM Host; Tim Weske, Sword Master/Choreographer.
Good discussion. We've seen fight scenes in plays on stage and it's very difficult to choreograph.

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