Orry-Kelly was a Hollywood legend, his costume designs adored by cinema’s greatest leading ladies – but in his home country of Australia his achievements remained unknown. Now acclaimed director Gillian Armstrong is bringing the legend home and celebrating the life of this extraordinary Australian in her new film, Women He’s Undressed.
Slightly chunky, a lover of boxing and booze, Orry-Kelly did not look like the cliché costume designer. Living a life of artistic and personal integrity, he was outrageous, witty, outspoken and uncompromising. He survived partially due his friendship with Jack and Ann Warner and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, and ultimately by his extraordinary talent.
During the boom years of Hollywood, he was costume designer on an astonishing 282 motion pictures. He designed for the stars like Marilyn Munroe, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Rosalind Russell, Errol Flynn and many more of the immortals. His films included classics like Casablanca, 42nd Street, Oklahoma!, Some Like It Hot, An American in Paris, Aunty Mame and Gypsy.
Orry-Kelly was as big a legend behind the scenes as the on-screen legends he adoringly dressed. Talented, daring, brash, bold, and the toast of Hollywood. He formed a close collaboration with Bette Davis and helped create many of Bette’s most outstanding films (over twenty in all) from Jezebel to Now, Voyager and Dark Victory.
He was still designing in the 50s and 60s with actresses like young Jane Fonda, Natalie Wood and Marilyn Monroe and won the Academy Award for Les Girls, Some Like it Hot and An American in Paris, before his death in Los Angeles from liver cancer in 1964. Known for bravery, class, understatement and style, he created clothes and wrote columns that affected women and dress worldwide, his designs have stood the test of time.
In Women He’s Undressed, director and producer Gillian Armstrong is reunited with her Unfolding Florence collaborator, writer Katherine Thompson in crafting a revealing behind the scenes look at the extraordinary life of Orry-Kelly.
Featuring Darren Gilshenan as Orry-Kelly, he is our narrator. Alongside historical footage, his commentaries are interspersed with a pastiche of stylised images and heightened re-enactments, articles, letters to his mother Florence (played by Deborah Kennedy), and featuring interviews with screen and fashion icons including Jane Fonda, Angela Lansbury, June Dally-Watkins, costume designers Catherine Martin, Ann Roth, Kym Barrett, Michael Wilkinson, Deborah Nadoolman Landis.
Also featured are Hollywood identities and historians including director/producer Eric Sherman, William J Mann, Jean Mathison, Larry McQueen and Barbara Warner Howard (daughter of Ann & Jack Warner).
“Orry was not one to compromise his art or his personal integrity,” says Armstrong. “It has been a challenge and a joy to try and bring his story alive and try to capture him with compassion and humour.”
Women He’s Undressed is screening nationally. For more information, visit: www.womenhesundressed.com for details.
Image: Darren Gilshenan as Orry-Kelly in Women He’s Undressed – photo by Anna Howard