Orry, a tribute to the Australian-born costume designer Orry-Kelly (who won an Oscar for Some Like It Hot), written and performed by Paul Hardcastle, is playing at the Lee Strasberg Theatre in Los Angeles until November 11.
“You’re invited to the funeral of three-time Oscar winner and Hollywood legend, costume designer Orry-Kelly. Don’t expect a little thing like death to stop the whip tongue and quick wit of the unapologetically gay Australian rascal who dressed and heard the secrets of stars like Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Merle Oberon, Ingrid Bergman and Mae West – just to name a few. Fearless, funny and outspoken, Orry-Kelly lived life to the fullest, from his childhood in Kiama, to reveling in Sydney’s underworld nightlife, to chasing his dreams of acting in New York, to Hollywood. Based on his memoir Women I’ve Undressed – found in a pillowcase in suburban Sydney nearly 51 years after his death – Orry incorporates music, dance, vaudeville routines, puppetry, digital art, special effects and a taste of those incredible gowns to share his irresistible story. Anyone who loves classic movies, fashion, gossip and Cary Grant will love Orry.”
It has been a good year for Marilyn-related fashion books. Creating the Illusion, Jay Jorgensen’s lavish study of Hollywood’s great costumers, has been well-received by Marilyn fans, and features rare photos and information.
And after being published in his native Australia for the first time this year, Women I’ve Undressed – the memoir of Orry-Kelly, who designed Marilyn’s costumes for Some Like it Hot – is coming to Kindle on December 3, with a hardback version following in February 2016.
“Orry-Kelly created magic on screen, from Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon to Some Like It Hot. He won three Oscars for costume design. He dressed all the biggest stars, from Bette Davis to Marilyn Monroe. Yet few know who Orry-Kelly really was – until now. Discovered in a pillowcase, Orry-Kelly’s long-lost memoirs reveal a wildly talented and cheeky rascal who lived a big life, on and off the set. From his childhood in Kiama to revelling in Sydney’s underworld nightlife as a naive young artist and chasing his dreams of acting in New York, his early life is a wild and exciting ride. Sharing digs in New York with another aspiring actor, Cary Grant, and partying hard in between auditions, he ekes out a living painting murals for speakeasies before graduating to designing stage sets and costumes. When The Kid from Kiama finally arrives in Hollywood, it’s clear his adventures have only just begun. Fearless, funny and outspoken, Orry-Kelly lived life to the full. In Women I’ve Undressed, he shares a wickedly delicious slice of it.”
The Australian-born Orry Kelly, who won an Oscar for his costume designs in Some Like it Hot, is the subject of a new documentary. Directed by Gillian Armstrong, Women He’s Undressed will receive its premiere on a cruise ship at the Sydney Film Festival on June 10. Kelly’s previously unpublished memoir, Women I’ve Undressed, will be released on August 1, and an exhibition, Orry Kelly: Dressing Hollywood, will open at Melbourne’s Australian Centre for the Moving Image on August 18.
The Sydney Morning Heraldpublished a fascinating article about Kelly’s career this weekend, in which Deborah Nadoolman Landis, who curated the recent Hollywood Costume exhibit, discusses his work with Marilyn.
“For Some Like it Hot in 1959, Orry-Kelly showed a different kind of artistry, creating clothes for cross-dressing musicians Tony Curtis (as Josephine) and Jack Lemmon (as Daphne) as well as the legendary Marilyn Monroe (Sugar Kane Kowalczyk), whose flaws, he once wrote, included short, stocky limbs. ‘Marilyn Monroe is someone who famously disliked underwear of any kind,’ says Landis. ‘Orry-Kelly was kind of a match made in heaven because he really understood, as any great costume designer does, a woman’s body and how to hold her up without anything underneath.’
Looking all the more voluptuous for being pregnant during filming, Monroe (who later lost the baby) wears two cocktail dresses – one in black and the other in nude, looking as deliciously sexy as humanly possible within the constraints of the censorious Motion Picture Production Code. Film critic Roger Ebert once observed that her beguiling star turn singing I Wanna Be Loved by You is a ‘striptease in which nudity would have been superfluous’.
‘There ain’t nothin’ underneath that dress; that dress is doing all the work,’ says Landis. ‘Really, that’s a master designer who is figuring out and working with a cutter-fitter and providing all the support that Monroe needed just by using the dress itself. And the dress is extremely witty.’
Cheekily, Orry-Kelly positioned a cut-out heart over the actress’s left buttock. ‘It’s right there in the middle of her tush,’ says Landis. ‘A red glass bugle-beaded heart. It’s the cutest thing you ever saw. This must have been some kind of joke between them, because nobody sees it in the movie.’
Landis believes the best costume designers have to be both diplomat and psychologist to work with vulnerable actors. ‘A costume designer gives the clothes to an actor, the actor gives the performance to the director and the director tells the story,’ she says. ‘It’s always a mistake to start forcing actors to wear something in which they don’t feel comfortable.'”
The Australian-born costume designer, Jack Orry-Kelly, created Marilyn’s peekaboo wardrobe for her unforgettable role as Sugar Kane in Some Like it Hot. He also wrote an unpublished memoir, and is the subject of a forthcoming documentary, directed by Gillian Armstrong, reports The Age.
“”It’s the story of this boy from Kiama who always had a visual flair and interest in theatre,’ Armstrong says. ”He was very well known in the ’30s and ’40s … He was a great wit, quite outspoken. They say in America that people either loved or hated him.’
While researching the film, Armstrong and writer Katherine Thomson have discovered that Orry-Kelly wrote a memoir, wittily titled Women I’ve Undressed.
While he once wrote that the publishers loved the book, it never reached print – reputedly because of legal issues.
Just one chapter that he sent to a friend survives, featuring observations about Hollywood history.
Armstrong believes the sole copy of the full manuscript was passed down through Kelly’s family to a relative named Ephraim Manasseh, who has been impossible to track down.
”It still exists somewhere,” says Armstrong, who believes the memoir will be a treasure trove of Hollywood memories and secrets if they can find it.”
You can read more about Kelly’s work with MM in the recently-published Marilyn in Fashion.