“You gotta work for what you’re getting…you’re going to be a great star, but you gotta get there on your feet, not your face.” That’s what Danny McGuire tells his fiancee, Rusty Parker, who aspires to become a star on Broadway.
Cover Girl is a musical, starring Rita Hayworth as Rusty, Gene Kelly as Danny, and Phil Silvers as Genius. Supported cast include Lee Bowman, Eve Arden and Otto Kruger. Danny owns a small nightclub where he trains his girls rigorously with the belief of hard work over just looks. When an advertisement from a fashion magazine is seeking a model, Rusty follows a co-worker to the interview. To everyone’s surprise, Rusty lands herself on the cover of the magazine and becomes an instant star who is tied between choosing a life with Danny or Wheaton, a wealthy guy.This musical explores the sacrifice and joy of fame and love.
Let’s talk costumes. Costumes were designed by Gwen Wakeling, Travis Banton and Muriel King.
Rita Hayworth plays Rusty Parker. During the scenes we see her while working at Danny’s the costumes are sophisticated but casual. The dress suit’s (below) coat is in the standard 1940s style of padded shoulders and square shape, a skirt that is most likely A-line and feathered hat dresses up the outfit, suggesting that Rusty can afford the style but also the occasion she is returning from. We can infer that she was not at home listening to the radio in her pajamas until work, rather she was probably at the office of the magazine! I love the wide shoulder bag with this. Usually you’ll see wide clutch bags but the shoulder bag like this isn’t as common. Above far left, you’ll see another dress suit that Rusty wears to the office of the magazine, it’s tailored and once again follows the everyday woman’s dress suit even with the simplified but stylish beret. Though the red details show this isn’t a repurposed menswear suit. In the middle is the pastel evening gown gifted to Rusty once she’s become recognized from the magazine cover. It’s elaborate but elegant, fit for occasions beyond a date with Danny or hanging out with the girls from work. In result, the costume marks in the film where Rusty is becoming well known and her life is beginning to change where she’ll be able to go to fancy events with people who are elite. On the right is Rusty once she’s made it to Broadway. Notice the brocade dress with fur stole–two extremely expensive materials that showcase she’s moved up in class. As a side note, I feel like Hayworth’s hairstyles also change. The pin curls aren’t as brushed out.
Gene Kelly plays Danny McGuire, the owner of the club and Rusty’s fiance. Kelly’s costumes depict his character as the average middle class guy. From the far left, this is Danny during the night of a show. It’s evident that he may be going back and forth from backstage to the lobby so he’s got on a nice tie and pleated tweed pants in the muted colors typical in 40s menswear. In the center, this is when Danny goes to the magazine editor’s house about Rusty. Notice that Danny’s suit is tweed, most likely the matching coat of the slacks he wore to the nightclub. However the change to a bow tie creates his version of an evening look. It’s evident that he doesn’t own a tuxedo and serves as a pivotal point in the story. He’s finding out that Rusty is seeing the wealthy theatre owner, Wheaton, who can give Rusty so much more than he can.Look at the set in the background, Danny is clearly out of place in more ways than one! Sure, he’s jealous of Wheaton, but he has doubts about the intentions of the people Rusty is mixing with. On the far right, this is Danny during rehearsals. Remember he works the girls hard so the rolled sleeves suggest that they’re going to be practicing for awhile.The lack of tie also gives the costume a more casual look.
Here’s the pastel dress again that I just mentioned. Rusty and Danny are dancing after closing hours to the song “Long Ago and Far Away”. Danny can sense that Rusty is going astray. The costumes reveal this. Look at the contrast between Rusty’s pastel evening gown against the slacks and knit sweater of Danny’s.
I wanted to also mention Kelly’s performance of the alter ego dance of whether or not Rusty is worth having in his life anymore. Kelly himself would recount this dance as being one of the hardest in his career, except for the dance he performed while having a high fever in Singin the Rain (1952).
The montage of Rusty’s transformation to a cover girl is fascinating because it gives an uncommon glimpse in the makeup artist kit! The wooden box holds all of the tools. The lip palette is similar to the kind that’s still in use as well as loose powder. Makeup artist Clay Campbell, and uncredited Robert Schiffer, create looks throughout the film focusing on a bold lip color (for Hayworth, bright pink is used for the scenes off stage while red is for the performances), lightly shaded eyes (gray being the most used), false lashes, pink blush and sleek arched brows. These are the elements that we would expect in 1940s makeup. But look at the scenes of Rusty’s co-workers and you’ll see that everyone’s makeup is slightly different, tailored to their own individual facial structure. (Click here to see). I wanted to note this mostly because I feel like 1940s can become misunderstood in the way that there was only one way for 1940s makeup. But in fact there were many brow shapes and lip colors for instance that existed!
Lionel Banks and Cary Odell art directed, with Fay Babcock as the set decorator. First off in set design is Danny McGuire’s. It’s pretty modest with cafe style seating and glass bottle light fixtures. I love the light fixtures because they look homemade. I imagine someone making and installing each fixture. Notice how small the nightclub is from the photo on the right. The stage is barely big enough for the line dance and judging by the relation of the stage to audience, the venue allows itself to a more close knit and personal performance. The color scheme of the sea green and gold, glass bottle and cartoonish murals (cut off on the left) relate to the geographical location of the setting, Brooklyn. (Think water and shipping port.)
And in contrast, this is the venue of the wealthy and young Wheaton, who is in love with Rusty. Wheaton’s theatre is so big there’s never any angle of the audience like in Danny’s. With a larger stage, the performances can involve more elaborate design. Check out the curved platform on the right with confetti. There’s no way that Danny McGuire’s would be able to do something half that size. So we can infer that Wheaton’s really is a theatre not a nightclub in any respect and the audience would be well to do. There’s no theme of a shipping port either since this is set in New York City now–with an entirely different class of people obviously. This is from the scene that symbolically represents Rusty’s rise to fame in Broadway as she runs up the platform.
Lastly, I wanted to talk about Joe’s, where Danny and Rusty go with Genius after the shows. They order clams to search for a pearl, hoping that one day they’ll find it for good luck. Joe’s is art directed similar to Danny’s with the sea green/port theme. (See the ship’s wheel on the wall and model ship hanging in front of the window). The table cloths and candles suggest that this is a cafe you can go to for an intimate dinner, most likely by middle class people.Don’t you just love the piano that Genius is at? This shot is more of an establishing one, but I love to pause it and study the details of the cafe.
Cover Girl is a wonderful film with lovely musical numbers and absolute feast for enthusiasts of the 1940s or art direction in general. There’s so much to see in this film that truly showcases a vast amount of the fashions of the era as well as really highlighting different communities and classes of New York. Highly recommend the film for the performances of the cast as well. It’s obvious to see why this was such a popular and well received film when it was first released.