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Dressed to the nines, in what I considered the height of fifties chic, I strutted down Oxford Street for some Saturday window-shopping, hoping to add to my burgeoning collection of audacious costumes. What I was wearing was pretty audacious already, though. My waist, cinched by a wide black patent belt, was a gratifying but agonising twenty inches. My cleavage was displayed in an off-the-shoulder yellow Jane Russell mohair sweater, which left little to the imagination, and the rest of me was encased in a sausage-tight calf-length slit skirt, so form-fitting that the only possible form of forward propulsion was a wiggle.
All Rank actresses had to conform to a certain “look” copied from Hollywood. My hair was cut short and permed, and I was taught to plaster my face with a heavy pan-stick base, crimson lipstick and black eye-liner, which had to be painted into the popular doe-eyed look. We had to wear pristine white gloves when we went out - at least mine covered the bitten fingernails—and to give us tiny waists, we cinched them in until we could hardly breathe with a wide leather belt or a Merry Widow, the basque-type undergarment popularised by Lana Turner, which was dreadfully uncomfortable. Skirts were mid-calf and either full and flowing or so tight it was hard to walk without waggling your bottom like an arthritic duck. Bosoms were pushed up and out, enhanced with up-lift bras. At eighteen I looked thirty.
Vivien Leigh had originally played my role in the West End and although I hadn’t seen her 1945 performance I based my Sabina look exactly on hers by studying photographs of her in the role: a strapless, tightly-boned, red-velvet bathing suit costume with sexy white frills around the décolleté and hips, black net stockings, stiletto sandals laced to the knee, black elbow-length gloves, all topped off with a long chestnut wig and a wicked pout.
I made films non-stop. A slew of ‘naughty girl’ roles came my way…a teenage prostitute fresh out of jail in Turn The Key Softly, complete with tight black satin slit skirt, fishnet stockings, suede ankle-strap shoes and three inches of make-up…
I was wearing a wimple and a ruff, with a tight corset under a huge velvet skirt and I could barely move my arms as my sleeves were so tight.
We were to test for an eighteenth-century epic called Lord Vanity, and I was thrilled to wear the gorgeous, tightly corseted brocade costumes…
He had been told by his bosses…to “Make ’em look sexy,” but it’s hard to be sexy when you’re laced into a constricting corset…
Every garment was made of fabulous fabrics and exquisitely finished. All the period bodices were authentically boned with stiff whalebone and the inside of each dress was as beautifully finished as the outside.
As the predatory show-girl Crystal [in The Opposite Sex], I had some sensational Helen Rose costumes, ravishing, tiny-waisted, boned to a T but hellish to wear.
“The usual.” She [Jayne Mansfield] smiled sexily and licked her lips. “Dick’s trimming things into a heart-shape down there, aren’t you, Dick? Mickey can’t get enough of it. We both want lots more kids.”
Since I knew she already had several I wondered how much longer she was going to keep her eighteen-inch waist, but then, glancing at her again, I realised that it wasn’t that small. A tight Merry Widow had obviously done wonders for her.
…I learned the intricacies of how to slide off a glove or a silk stocking with tantalising allure, how to entice an audience with just the subtlest shrug of a bare shoulder and a minimal twist of the hips, and how to look sexy while wriggling out of a tight dress with panache.
I was dressed in a Victorian Alice-in-Wonderland full-length frock with a large white hat, starched pinafore and agonising corset.
I was boiling hot, covered in sand and hardly able to breathe in my tight corset.
I was now wearing sunglasses, no lipstick, had a mouthful of sand and a corset that I was convinced was making permanent ridges in my waist.
Whenever we did any scene in which a normal boom mike couldn’t be used, we had to be wired. As our costumes were usually as tight as the skin on a grape, this was often an intricate operation. It wasn’t difficult to attach the tiny receiver mike to a bra—the sound man could always manage that—but the cigarette-pack-sized transmitter gave us huge problems. Our waists were already squeezed in too tightly for it to go there and the hips weren’t possible because we had to look snake-hipped and slinky and the bulge would show on camera.
Stephen K. writes:
"You might like to know that the film (Joan Collins) was making when this sequence was filmed was Can Hieronymus Merkin Forget Mercy Humppe And Find True Happiness? It has been described by some critics as the worst film ever made, and she said in an interview that when she watched the rushes in the editing suite she cried to think she had been involved in something so dreadful, so readers are unlikely to find it around, but that's what it was. You can read about it on the essential Internet Movie Database."
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