An outstanding exhibit honoring Cecil B. DeMille has been on display at the USC School of Cinematic Arts for some months now, in honor of a generous bequest to the department by the filmmaker’s granddaughter, Cecelia DeMille Presley. I am long overdue in writing about it and sharing some photos. (My only excuse: I teach in a different building and don’t walk by when I go to campus for my weekly class.) Drawing on materials from the Academy Archive and the DeMille estate, this small but impressive display presents a fine overview of the great showman’s career, from original scripts, production sketches, stills, and one-sheet posters on the wall to amazingly well-preserved costumes and props. The building is open to the public, and the exhibit continues
through March 16. Please bear in mind that photographing the display items through glass cases—with lights all around—was challenging, and try to excuse the inevitable glare that occurred.
Costumes are always eye-catchers, but few garments can match this peacock-plumed gown made for Hedy Lamarr to wear in Samson and Delilah. It’s a knockout!
This costume has survived, in exceptional condition, since opera star Geraldine Farrar wore it in DeMille’s Carmen in 1915! It may sound odd for an opera singer to have starred in silent films, but Farrar had beauty and charisma, and enjoyed working in pictures.
Here is a cast roster for C.B.’s landmark 1914 feature film The Squaw Man
. The filmmaker always had a sense of his own history (and his family’s) so he saved everything he could.
Natacha Rambova (née Winifred Shaughnessy) is best remembered as Rudolph Valentino’s wife, but she was also a talented artist who designed memorable sets and costumes for a handful of films including DeMille’s Forbidden Fruit (1921). Several of her original ink-and-watercolor originals are on display at USC.
DeMille saved this pencil rough for a Cleopatra poster; he must have liked it. We don’t often get to see prospective designs for vintage ad campaigns. In the same case is a choker Claudette Colbert wore in the film.
Another rare item: the director’s heavily annotated working script for The Plainsman,
which starred Gary Cooper as Wild Bill Hickok and Jean Arthur as Calamity Jane. DeMille never led historical facts stand in the way of telling a good story.
The space at USC may not be huge, but it holds a surprising number of display cases filled with goodies one doesn’t often get to see. On the far wall, a flat-screen television is running Kevin Brownlow’s 2004 documentary Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic,
produced by Patrick Stanbury.
One of my favorites of the rare photographs on the walls of USC is this shot, showing DeMille making plans with fellow showman Sid Grauman for the premiere of his silent epic King of Kings.