Comedy · Musical

In Defense of Lina Lamont – and Her Wardrobe

This post is part of the Fashion in Film Blogathon, hosted by the lovely Hollywood Revue. It runs March 29-30, 2013.

L_R: Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Jean Hagen. Notice Jean was able to keep the cascading cake from dropping on her dress. What a pro!
L-R: Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Jean Hagen. Hagen, the ultimate pro, was able to keep the cake from spilling onto her sparkly dress. Image: Persephone Magazine

We love good movie villains. We like ’em smart, witty and well-dressed.

And who is better dressed than Jean Hagen as super-celebrity Lina Lamont in the epic 1952 musical Singin’ in the Rain?

Yep, we’re talking about you, Lina Lamont – you and your monkey-fur-trimmed coat* that you joyfully flaunt on screen.

*Note: We’re not accusing MGM of using real monkey fur, from real monkeys, in Lina Lamont’s wardrobe. Monkey fur did gain popularity with the wealthy in the early 1900s, and today you can purchase vintage coats made with this material. (Just do a search on etsy.com.) For our purposes, however, we’ve convinced ourselves the MGM Wardrobe Department would never harm monkeys in the making of this or any other coat:

No monkeys were harmed in the manufacture of this coat...we hope.
No monkeys were harmed in the manufacture of this coat. La la la – we can’t hear you. Image: Pinterest

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we’ve also resolved to not refer to Lina Lamont a villain. Because she really isn’t. She’s just a regular, misunderstood celebrity – like the rest of us.

Singin’ in the Rain is based on actual Hollywood events. When Warner Brothers introduced a “talking picture” in 1927, movie studios were tossed into the spin cycle. Was sound a passing fad? Or would studios have to spend money on the bizarre idea of mixing visual with audio?

Actors, too, were faced with some ugly possibilities. Some celebrities, who were big box-office draws during the silent era, would be unable to make the transition to sound.

In Singin’ in the Rain, Lina Lamont’s studio is shooting their first film with sound. While the problems they encounter are laugh-out-loud funny, they’re also based on actual frustrations encountered by pioneer film crews. For example, a large microphone is sewn into Lina’s dress on the set but as she says her lines, she swings her head back and forth like someone watching a tennis match. As a result, the sound crew is able to record only every fifth word.

It is clear that our Lina is not going to make it in the era of sound. She has a squeaky voice and a thick, strange accent. The studio assigns her to a diction coach but it is of no use. Lina talks the way she talks.

"And I cain't stand 'um."
“And I cain’t stand ‘im.” Image: YouTube

But so what? Lina is a big star and she knows it. “People? I ain’t people,” she explains to a dim-witted studio exec. “I’m a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema fir-ma-ment.”

Such a glowing star needs top-notch wardrobe designer and for this film, it is the award-winning Walter Plunkett. Plunkett’s costumes are lavish and colourful satires of his own designs from the 1920s. The total cost of the Plunkett-designed wardrobe? A whopping $157,000.

Lina’s opulent costumes would steal every scene if Jean Hagen weren’t a pitch-perfect comedic actor. Her wardrobe incorporates ostrich feathers, sequins and crystal, and the aforementioned monkey fur trim.

Her costumes also reflect her moods. For example, when Lina first learns the awful news that the studio is implementing sound in its pictures, she wears rather modest attire, although Plunkett can’t resist a little sparkle:

Lina Lamont's demure crystal-trimmed morning attire.
Lina Lamont’s demure crystal-studded morning suit. Image: Persephone Magazine

In another scene, Lina ambushes studio executives with a list of demands. She wears a soft lilac ensemble, complete with a wide-brimmed hat that could double as a flying saucer. She looks as sweet as a southern belle, with the same iron will.

Lina Lamont lays down the law.
Lina Lamont smiles as she threatens studio executives. Image: Pinterest

Poor Lina! Her efforts – and her shimmering career – are eventually hamstrung by conniving co-stars Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. If the end of her career isn’t bad enough, she is also (get this!) publicly rebuffed and humiliated by Kelly, that snake.

We suppose there are reasons to watch Singin’ in the Rain, other than Walter Plunkett’s spectacular costume design, but don’t think that anyone other than Lina Lamont is the glowing, shimmering star of this movie’s fir-ma-ment.

Singin’ in the Rain: starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen. Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1952, Colour, 105 mins.

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56 thoughts on “In Defense of Lina Lamont – and Her Wardrobe

  1. Awesome review! So funny. Ah, I can still hear her diction coach pronouncing “jawm” and Lina’s concentrated response, “jaaam” — a scene that’s part of our collection of frequently used phrases, most often heard when it’s time to have toast :o)

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    1. Let’s not forget her unforgettable attempts to pronounce; “… and I cahnt stanD him” … don’t worry too much about Lina folks .. I think she stuck with her hilarious voice and went on to star in comedy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. First-rate write-up, Ruth — as always. I love Jean Hagen in this — and am always astonished when I think of her playing Doll in The Asphalt Jungle. She was so talented. I will be paying extra attention to her wardrobe when I watch Singin’ in the Rain from now on!

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  3. Ruth, the first time I ever saw Jean Hagen was in the film noir THE ASPHALT JUNGLE,, but when I finally got to see SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, her flair for comedy was a revelation, to say nothing of her wild and stunning costumes! I love the way you playfully made Lina Lamont the “heroine,” and surely Lina would be the first to agree! 🙂

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  4. So much to love about this film and everyone in it. Kathleen Freeman was the perfect straight man for Hagen in the scene, a personal favorite. I must say, your reviews are always such a treat to read and I really enjoy stopping by for a visit. Thank you.

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    1. You’re right – Kathleen Freeman is perfect with Jean Hagen in this scene. She is just as strong as Hagen, but allows Hagen to steal the scene.

      Thanks for your kind comments and for supporting my blog. 🙂

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  5. Haha, I love it!

    There is so much to love about Singin’ in the Rain and Jean Hagen is one of my favorite parts of that movie. You are so right about how her costumes would steal every scene if Jean weren’t so perfect. No doubt about it, Lina gets to have all the fun wardrobe-wise here.

    Thank you so much for participating in my blogathon!

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  6. I LOVE Lina Lamont and am the president of her fan club! Wonderful choice for a fashion post. Lina’s monkey fur jacket was part of the recent Debbie Reynolds auction and I actually had a fleeting urge to bid on it!

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  7. I love so many of the costumes in this movie! I think my favorite Lina outfit is the white dress she wears at the first premiere. Wonderful post!
    Debbie Reynolds has great costume as well. Love the “Goodmorning” dress

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  8. When I think of Lina, I always think of her in the lavender ensemble. If only her voice didn’t come into the equation. Kudos for coming to the defense of Miss Lamont, it probably doesn’t happen very often.

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  9. When I think of Singin’ in the Rain, I think of Debbie Reynolds and when I think of Hagen, I think of Adam’s Rib. I almost forget what an important part of this musical Jean was, and how talented! She wore these clothes with such wit, didn’t she? And what clothes they were! I love the cuffs on that infamous “monkey fur coat.”

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  10. Jean Hagen is wonderful in this, must agree. I do feel sorry for her character being elbowed out because of her voice, as happened to many wonderful actors in real life – but of course Lina is so hilariously bigheaded that it is hard to worry about her too much! Loved your posting and your choice of costumes to illustrate it.

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  11. I usually pay more attention to Lina’s voice, but her wardrobe is also scene-stealing. Lina and her clothes certainly deserve more love and attention form the public!
    Kisses!

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  12. Quite the witty piece 🙂 The outfits were quite interesting, weren’t they? I will also admit that I was more ‘taken’ with the voice before I thought about the outfits but they are so approporiately garish if ever those two terms were used together.

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  13. Argh! Lost my original comment. anyways my point was that this is a very witty piece and a nice angle to take for this blogging event 🙂

    As for Lina I am with Le (above). I usually focused on her voice but this look at her appropriately garish costuming is very insightful!

    BTW thanks for visiting my site!

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    1. Thanks for dropping by. I remember the first time I heard Lina’s voice and I think I was nearly knocked over backwards! How Jean Hagen could speak in that voice and not collapse into laughter is beyond me.

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  14. Great choice for the blogathon Silver Screenings and a terrific write-up. Walter Plunkett had a lot of fun with this film – sending up the 1920s (and himself) in the process. But thanks for singling out Jean Hagan in this film – she deserved it.

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    1. Thanks so much, Christian. Before doing this post, I didn’t realize Plunkett was spooring his own designs. They blended so well with the characters’ personalities I never would’ve guessed.

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  15. Terrific tribute to Jean Hagen and that wonderful creation known as Lina Lamont.
    Thank you.
    I very much agree Jean should have been a bigger star.

    Vienna’s Classic Hollywood

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  16. I love this, Silver Screenings, and hooray for Lina! 😉 Like Christian, it’s fascinating to me that Walter Plunkett tapped into his own earlier designs to do those for Lina even while they’re meant to look over-the-top and costume-y. Also, it’s great that current movies like THE ARTIST looked to this one for some of its style inspiration, including Lina Lamont’s fab wardrobe. Great job!

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  17. I actually felt sorry for Lina Lamont! Imagine losing your star status due to talking pictures and THEN have Don Lockwood publicly humiliate you the way that he did. I felt it was fully justified when he tore his suit in Kathy’s car.

    On another note…I have a crush on Cosmo. Donald O’Connor was just adorable. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Preach it, sister! I think Lina Lamont deserves more credit. As for Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds’ character would’ve had a much better time with him in the long run. Gene Kelly is always fab, but O’Connor is the more interesting character, in my opinion. Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

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