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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Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

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

  1. Pingback: Fashion in Film Blogathon: Day 1 | The Hollywood Revue

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