Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Thespians' Shoes

Now if you are like me and get a little bored at the theatre it is well worth keeping alert because it is not always quite what it seems on stage. During a performance of Macbeth (The Scottish Play) in London, the great actor Peter O'Toole lost one of his shoes and unbeknown to the audience spent the rest of a scene trying to retrieve it. "Is this a dagger, I see before me? - where the Hell is my shoe?"

This was nothing compared to what happened to big Sylvester Stallone when he went to a public dinner. The height challenged Adonis wears lifts in his shoes to give him extra height and quietly slipped them off under the table to relax and enjoy the feast. Unfortunately, when it came time to leave, a souvenir hunter had stolen Sly's shoes and the poor wee soul had to leave the premises in his stocking feet.

When Nicole Kidman and ex-husband Tom Cruise were visiting Paris they took their children to a top class store to buy very expensive shoes. The price tag was enormous and to appease his conscience, Tom bought shoes for all the kids in the store.

The phenomena of actors setting fashion stems from about 1890 when fans took interest in the shoes worn by the popular actors of the day. They clambered to look like their heroes and subsequently sheepishly followed any fads. Actresses could wear provocative colours, like scarlet, which was the theatrical rage of late Victorian times. Colour of clothing, historically had been controlled by sumptuary laws so purple and scarlet were in the past exclusively for royals.

Later when the new screen goddesses took to the colours then the masses followed.

Extreme styles such as six inch heels were worn by the French music hall star Mistinguette. Her shoes were decorated with sumptuous materials and heels bejewelled to vulgar excess. Styles hitherto unacceptable in polite society became a way of life in the new order. Actresses could wear any shoe style and frequently did including styles considered unspeakably fast on other women.

Many of the grandes dames wore bright satin shoes which they would remove at dinner to let their current beau drink Champaign from them. Ruby Miller one of the great music hall stars was reputedly the first women to have Champaign drunk from her shoe. Her arch rival, Ada Reeve, let it be known the experience would have been very unpleasant for the drinker.

Perhaps it was just as well they were drinking alcohol which is antiseptic and not Coca Cola. (March 12th - Coca-Cola was sold in bottles for the first time, 1894. The hobble bottle after the hobble skirt).

Mass production and selling to mass markets meant new stores were being established across Europe, North America and Australia, shop assistants were expected to display the store wares as well as sell them. This meant even Plain Jane could look glamorous and encouraged others to follow. Women entering the workforce were viewed by many as a backward step and soon there were reports about the ill effects of wearing fashion shoes (usually high heeled shoes). Most of these claims were fictitious but the common sense connections still remain today.

In the beginning of Hollywood all but the top actors had to provide their own clothing for productions. Later when epics became vogue greater attention was paid to historical accuracy. Highly skilled craftsmen were paid to make shoes for the films, this included many influential designers. Shoes became a perk for actors and they would take the shoes to wear, socially. Legs being in vogue meant fans once again saw the shoes and just had to have them. Shoe manufacturers we keen to oblige.

In the original version of The Wizard of Oz, author Frank L. Baum, gave Dorothy silver slippers but when the book was made into a film years later Dorothy appeared in ruby slippers. These are still around and feature in an exhibition which tours North America. After Diana Ross appeared in the remake, The Wiz, she was so taken with Dorothy's slippers she had several pairs made for personal use.

Platt R 1996 Collins eyewitness guides: cinema NSW Harper Collins

Reviewed 1/05/2018

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