“Hurry up and wait!”
Anyone who has worked on a major Hollywood production is familiar with this ironic cry.
There is a tremendous amount of down time on a Hollywood film. It takes hours to set up lights, rig camera and sound, and make sure the sets and props are in place. Thus, actors spend a huge amount of time waiting, waiting, waiting for the the cameras to roll.
In the past, especially in the 1930s, scores of Hollywood actresses took up knitting to help pass the countless hours between takes.
Several years ago, at a swanky Hollywood party, I met the wealthy widow of a prominent producer who had been active during Hollywood’s Golden Age. After dispensing with a few glasses of champagne the elderly lady talked about, well, the good ol’ days. When I expressed my admiration for classic Hollywood movies she told me that at the tender age of 15, she was one of Busby Berkeley’s chorus girls.
Leaning boards ( also called Slant boards) were invented for Hollywood players to relax between takes. Hollywood costumes were frequently cut on-the-bias, and tailored so snugly that the actor could not sit without bursting a ladder of seams. In fact, most of the time, there were no zippers or buttons on the costumes. Actors were stitched into their garments.
When you see Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight, and marvel at the impeccable fit of the famous white silk gown, be aware that Harlow’s mobility was severely limited. In fact, just breathing was something of a chore.
Remember, classic Hollywood movies were designed to project images of glamour. For the screen, costumes had to be photogenic. Comfort and practicality were of little concern.
These days, leaning boards are still in use, but they are the exception rather than the rule, for a variety of reasons. Modern fabrics are more forgiving. It is also quite rare for a costume to be designed, cut and sewn, for one actress. Most costumes are off the rack, and modified. Besides, in today’s Hollywood, stars who receive multiple millions for one film are loathe to suffer the indignities of such a tight fit.