As a follow-on to a decade of fantastic fur fashion, the 1940s stunk nearly as much as the '90s. Their only redeeming grace, the fact fur didn't simply vanish; it merely became far more conservative. Mink ruled the day in coats and jackets. Elegant and… boring. I refer to it as “church fur.” The ones the old ladies could be found in on freezing Sunday mornings. Fortunately, there are a few beacons of power fur to be found in the 40s, like those in Lady of Burlesque.
Lady of Burlesque – The Film
Perhaps Barbara Stanwyck‘s aura of power fox held over from the 30's just long enough to influence the costumers on Lady of Burlesque. Maybe it was the more “bawdy” burlesque setting. Either way, 1943's Lady of Burlesque featured a few notable foxes shining in a sea of otherwise dour mink to be found in the neighboring theaters.
Based on the novel The G-String Murders by notable burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee, Lady of Burlesque stars Stanwyck as Dixie Daisy. Dixie stands in for Lee, who starred in her own novel, solving the g-string strangulations of a couple of strippers in a converted opera house, aided by her would-be comedian boyfriend.
Lady of Burlesque – The Furs
Before her opening number, Dixie is pestered by Biff Brannigan (Michael O'Shea), which will prominently feature this huge white fox fur muff with long tails.
Dixie opens the show with “Take it off the A string, Play it on the G String.” Hampered by censors, the suggestive nature of the song isn't quite lived up to in the dance, but Dixie accentuates her movements with the huge fox muff nicely.
The tails' movement during the dance is a nice touch, though the giant silver bird covering up the body of the muff is an annoying distraction. Why hide such a great piece of fox?
Later Dixie and Biff meet for drinks at the bar. Dixie wears a large cape or jacket that looks like a very plush fox, though it may be a coyote. Color can be helpful from time to time.
This scene is an example of a good director of photography. Barbara Stanwyck and her fox fur are rarely out of frame during the entire sequence.
Their conversation at the bar switches between 2 angles but never lets Barbara leave the frame. This technique should be mandatory for any shot with a beautiful lady in a beautiful fur chatting with some idiot male.
You know that lovely stereotype of the haughty Russian vamp in fur with a long cigarette holder? Here's Stephanie Bachelor as “Princess Nirvena.”
The Princess, much like Ginger Rogers' Countess Scharwenka, isn't quite the old world royalty she claims to be, but that doesn't stop Stephanie from tearing up the scenery with her accent, fur stole, and cigarette holder.
Close up of the Princess. Miss Bachelor's look here is perfect, though it could certainly use even more fur.
Princess Nirvena and Dixie meet briefly before Dixie goes on stage. Princess Nirvena in her dark fox stole, and Dixie in a white fox stole, perhaps a less than subtle play on their characters' inner natures.
Dixie and company do a comedy bit that segues into a dance number during some backstage commotion. The white fox stole is gamely flung about like the fox muff in the opening number. Though I'm not really a fan of the “mask” and “paws” style typical for stoles back then.
Lady of Burlesque is definitely a novelty for using large fox furs in the '40s, and that alone is worth notice. Stephanie Bachelor's pitch-perfect smoking, fur-clad faux Russian vamp could have used a much bigger fox for her outfit, but that is a minor nitpick. Though Barbara gets the better furs overall, Stephanie steals this one.