Doing the rounds now for a week or so, this fantastic infographic shows the dresses worn by all the winners of the Best Actress Oscar since Janet Gaynor in 1929 (except those who didn’t attend the awards ceremony). Produced by Mediarun Digital, it has now been updated with the Armani Privé worn by Cate Blanchett on Sunday night. Many of the designers of the earlier dresses remain unknown, however, Shrimpton Couture have improved on the original with a fantastic run-down of the dresses, accompanied by photos of the actresses at the Oscars, filling in a few of those ‘unknown’ blanks too.
Luise is included twice, of course, and since the artwork appeared I’ve been asked several times if I know who the designers of Luise’s dresses were. unfortunately I don’t, but I do a little background to both outfits.
Luise won her first Oscar on 4th March 1937 (it’s the 77th anniversary as I write this post). Only two months before, she had married the playwright Clifford Odets at her home on Cliffwood Avenue in Los Angeles. His wedding gift to his new wife was a floor length white ermine coat, and it is this, I believe, that Luise was wearing when she collected her first Academy Award.
The following year was a little more unconventional. Luise and Clifford had been apart for some time, he working in New York while she was filming The Toy Wife in California. On the day of the Oscar ceremony (10th March 1938) Luise drove Clifford to San Francisco for a day of sight-seeing and to spend time together away from both their work. Although Luise was nominated for her part in The Good Earth she didn’t intend to attend the Academy Awards and she didn’t expect to win. On their way back to Los Angeles they stopped in Santa Barbara from where Luise made a call home; she was astonished to find that the press had been calling all afternoon and not only was she favourite to take home her second Oscar, she was also expected to be there to do so. Odets, who always considered the giving of awards a vulgar affair (and was especially jealous if Luise received high praise), suggested they skip the whole thing, but Luise knew she could not. They raced back to what Luise has since described as a “weird nightmare of an evening”. She was upset and miserable and didn’t want Clifford to accompany her. “Why, if he thought it was so ‘nothing’, should he share this triumph with me!” But he insisted and so, wearing her jeans and sneakers, she quickly chose the nicest (and most convenient) dress in her wardrobe – it was in fact a nightgown.
Luise did attend, after a blazing row and the need to walk around the Biltmore Hotel several times in the rain as she was in tears. She made history and, in her nightgown, she looked stunning. But she recalled, “I made my thank-you speech. I smiled for the countless cameras and reporters. Here I was at dizzying heights, admired and envied: I was as low as I had ever been in my life. I did what I had to do mechanically, I hardly realised I had got the award.”