Sunday, October 28, 2012

Birthday Girls: Elsa and Edith (Now with More Elvis)

Two of Hollywood's most interesting eccentrics were born on this date, both in one way or another ugly ducklings who made themselves into swans.  In this clip (although not, of course, in its screencap) we see one of them, Miss Elsa Lanchester, onscreen, wearing the work of the other, Miss Edith Head.  The film is a 1967 concoction called Easy Come, Easy Go, which stands as not exactly a landmark in that most undemanding of film genres, the Elvis Presley picture.  Even by those standards, this number, "Yoga is as Yoga Does" is at best a curiosity, however amusing it may be to see a veteran character actress, apparently in the absence of any better direction or choreography, improvise a few Bollywood moves right on the spot.

One wonders, in fact, how much Miss Head actually had to with Miss Lanchester's getup as a New Age guru-ess - these robes and beads look suspiciously like what one imagines Miss Lanchester's wardrobe in private life might have been like, and around the time this was filmed, Miss Head was engaged in a number of higher profile (and higher prestige) pictures, including Natalie Wood's very dressy Penelope, Barefoot in the Park, and gowns for the notorious stinker The Oscar.  At the time, her name went on Paramount pictures no matter how little she actually did - although one hopes she might have had a hand in Elvis's rather flattering little black number here.

Lanchester and Head worked on five of the same pictures between 1948 and 1967, but it's doubtful that any of the former's roles proved very taxing for the latter.  Lanchester played a sensible private-duty nurse in Witness for the Prosecution, for example, requring only a uniform and smart cape, while as a bohemian artist in The Big Clock, she wears more or less what she's seen in here, albeit with a modicum more tailoring.  The other two are a Martin-Lewis epic and a forgotten programmer called The Girls of Pleasure Island, neither of which sound especially promising.

Of course, there's really only one costume closely associated with Elsa Lanchester - her tattered bandages and laboratory sheet in Bride of Frankenstein.  While one can only dream of what Edith Head might have done with that in place of Universal house designer Vera West, it's hard to imagine anything more effective.  Perhaps, all those years later, reduced to playing a punchline for The Pelvis, Lanchester remembered her glory days; if nothing else, her Yoga schmatta has something of the same line...


  1. You have squared the circle quite neatly with this paean to Miss Head (whose name has always amused me somewhat, given her Sapphic proclivities and the fact she probably never performed any), as it was indeed she who created that peacock-feathered extravaganza for Miss Lamarr in your previous post.

    As for Miss Lanchester, she has always been one of our Patron Saints at Dolores Delargo Towers - but her star had indeed sunk low when she appeared in this utterly bizarre scene. With Elvis!