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Review: ‘Women He’s Undressed’

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The rise and fall (and rise again) of Oscar-winning costume designer Orry-Kelly.
By B. Root

Orry-Kelly is a name some might not recognize, but in Hollywood the name is more than well known—it’s legendary. Orry-Kelly is a three-time Academy Award-winning designer whose costumes made some of the most magical and memorable moments in film history. Gillian Armstrong’s new documentary Women He’s Undressed mixes recreations of scenes from Orry-Kelly’s life with testimonies from intimates, admirers, and film historians to recount his rise to stardom and his lasting impact on Hollywood.

Nathaniel Middleton (l) playing Archie Leach and Darren Gilshenan as Orry-Kelly. Photo: Prudence Upton/Courtesy of Wolfe Video
Nathaniel Middleton (l) playing Archie Leach and Darren Gilshenan as Orry-Kelly. Photo: Prudence Upton/Courtesy of Wolfe Video

Born in 1897 in Australia, Orry-Kelly moved to America in 1922 at the age of 25. He met Archie Leach after living in New York for two years, and they developed an intimate relationship. Beginning as an extra in New York productions, Orry-Kelly slowly worked his way up from wardrobe maintenance to costume design. Orry-Kelly and Leach relocated to Los Angeles together in 1931, and Leach then changed his name to become the insatiable Cary Grant. Orry-Kelly got a job as a designer at Warner Brothers, thus launching his over-three-decade career in film.

Orry-Kelly worked on an astonishing 282 classic films, some of which include Jezebel, 42nd Street, Casablanca, Oklahoma, Auntie Mame, Some Like It Hot, An American in Paris, and Now, Voyager. As a designer, he developed close relationships with some of cinema’s greatest icons, from Marilyn Monroe and Bette Davis to Barbara Stanwyck and Rosalind Russell.

WomenUndressedCoverArtOrry-Kelly always lived a life of artistic and personal integrity. Hollywood was very homophobic in the 1930s and ’40s, primarily because of who was running the city and who owned the production companies. Despite this fact, Orry-Kelly was outspokenly gay. He refused to hide his sexuality despite the fact that many closeted homosexuals of the time were passing as heterosexual by dating and marrying women. Even though he could have very easily lost his job because of how the public perceived him, Orry-Kelly was successful because of his impeccable vision and extraordinary talent.

Featuring interviews with Jane Fonda, Angela Lansbury, Leonard Maltin, Colleen Atwood, Anne Roth, Kym Barrett, and Barbara Warner Howard, Women He’s Undressed is an unforgettable portrait of one of Hollywood’s godfathers of glamour.

Women He’s Undressed will be available on DVD and VOD August 9 through Wolfe Video (wolfe
video.com).

B. Root is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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B. Root

B. Root is a frequent contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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