Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Elizabeth Taylor's costumes for Cleopatra... designs that weren't to be

A collection of four costume proposals for Cleopatra, by Adele Balkan

Hollywood memorabilia is a frequent find in Los Angeles antiques shops, but there seems to be a lot of material turning up in Pasadena these days. Kathryn Grayson's wing chairs were a fun discovery in February, and I was particularly excited to stumble across this set of drawings by sketch artist and costume designer Adele Balkan at Pasadena Antiques and Design just a few weeks ago.

Balkan, who began her career in 1934 at Paramount sketching the costumes for Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra, enjoyed nearly 40 years in the business and worked for such other legendary studios as RKO and 20th Century Fox. Her credits include The Ten Commandments, The Young Lions, and Flaming Star, but sadly not the more infamous 1963 version of Cleopatra staring Elizabeth Taylor, for which these sketches were made. They do seem a bit "showgirl" compared to the final designs chosen for the film—designs that brought costumer Renie an Oscar.

"I had no style of my own," Balkan told an interviewer for the Academy's oral history program. Instead she learned to sketch to the taste of each director"every detail, every pearl." Tailoring her drawings to fit each studio or each particular film "gave me an education" she explained, and one that allowed her to also sketch for legendary clothing designer Irene Lentz, whose Bullock's Wilshire boutique dressed Hollywood's leading ladies for daily life.

Balkan retired in 1972 and devoted her time to more personal artistic pursuits. She died in Los Angeles at the age of 92.

The drawings are original, signed, and dated 1961. $3,500 each

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