Sophisticated by Success

“Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.”

George Bernard Shaw

 


Frontispiece portraits of George Bernard Shaw after the bust by Rodin. Photographed portraits by Frederick H. Evans and Alvin Langdon Coburn. The front free endpaper inscribed “From Max Beerbohm for Holbrook Jackson 1908.”

The portraits of Bernard Shaw having been humorously altered in black ink and captioned Max Beerbohn. Beerbohm’s alterations to the portraits transform Shaw into an increasingly demonic figure and are captioned as follows: the frontispiece (after Rodin), “- showing how little, really, one nation can understand another”; the first portrait (unattributed), “awaiting the bugle call of life”; the second portrait (by Frederick H. Evans), “sophisticated* by success”; the third portrait (by Alvin Langdon Coburn), “the last Phase.” Included in the lot is a second, unaltered, copy of the same book.

 

*In Ancient Greece, σοφία (sophia) was the special insight of poets and prophets. This then became the wisdom of philosophers such as sophists. But their use of rhetoric to win arguments gave sophistication a derogatory quality.

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A Combination of High Thinking and Vegeterianism

“Though we have hundreds of photographs of [Charles] Dickens and [Richard] Wagner, we see nothing of them except the suits of clothes with their heads sticking out; and what is the use of that?”

“I’ve posed nude for a photographer in the manner of Rodin’s Thinker, but I merely looked constipated.”

George Bernard Shaw

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn’s photograph of George Bernard Shaw posing as The Thinker

 

When the photograph was exhibited in the London Salon in 1906, newspaper articles questioned: “The face, the beard, the neck, and the hands are undoubtedly the sole property of Mr. George Bernard Shaw, but we have no authentic knowledge of the rest of the Shavian frame, and the study of the anatomy shows more muscular development than some people would expect of a combination of high thinking and vegetarianism.”

The Best Breasts in Hollywood

 
 

When William Travilla was designing the costumes for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953) he had a real battle with the censors. The scene is which Marilyn Monroe wears this dress was nearly cut by the censors. She was due to wear this incredibly plunging gold gown, while dancing provocatively with Sir Francis ‘Piggy’ Beekman (Charles Coburn) singing a song entitled Down Boy! Apparently it wasn’t deemed appropriate! Having been cut, we only see this halter-neck gown from the back.*

 
 

 
 

However, the front is even more daring. The dress was created out of a single complete circle of gold lame and sunburst pleated. Every pleat lines up with the back seam and there is an iron V build in the center of the dress from the waist to the bust – creating the molding effect. Travilla once said that Marilyn had “the best breasts in Hollywood”, not because of their size or pertness, but because they were wide-set, so he could design dresses that slashed to the waist, without having to pull the breasts apart, or showing too much cleavage. Obviously a designer first, man second!

This dress shows exactly that point. Marilyn had to be sewn into it. In fact it wasn’t even finished.

 
 

 
 

Canny as ever, Marilyn rather fancied this dress, and realizing the effect, wanted to wear it to the 1953 Photoplay Awards. Travilla was not happy. He felt that the dress was for a movie not for a public appearance. Marilyn won the day, and wore the dress without an under-slip, causing a total sensation and Joan Crawford to announce “She looks vulgar”!

 
 

* To watch the mentioned scene, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl