The Secrets of Berkeley Square (1933)
THE SECRETS OF “BERKELEY SQUARE”
How London has been created again in Hollywood for Leslie Howard’s new film by the man who made “Cavalcade”.
Frank Lloyd passed for a moment as Heather Angel petite and charming and looking as if she had just stepped out of the frame of an eighteenth century painting, tripped by in the direction of her dressing room.”Yes, we have taken a lot of trouble to ensure that we get the costuming right,” he went on, as my eyes followed the disappearing vision approvingly.
Mr. Lloyd is the director who made Cavalcade, in which the English atmosphere and detail were so perfect that even the most captious critics failed to pick up any holes in the settings, the dress or customs of the period covered by the story.
Now Frank has done it again in Berkeley Square, the charming John Balderston fantasy, which stars Leslie Howard, whose favourite play it is. Between scenes he was telling me the secrets of how he rebuilt a corner of eighteenth-century England on a Hollywood lot.
Again he has gone to extreme trouble to avoid incongruities and to be perfectly sure of authenticity of detail.
First there was the problem of settings, and Lloyd, as he did for the reconstruction of Victoria Station and Trafalgar Square in Cavalcade, asked for hundreds of photographs to be sent from England.
From these he built a complete section of Berkeley Square, absolutely authentic down to the smallest point.
Then there was this matter of furnishing his sets and dressing the players.
Now, less than twenty miles from the outskirts of Hollywood is situated the famous Huntingdon Collection, where world-famous portraits and books are guarded day and night from international thieves by armed patrols.
Here hang “Blue Boy”, “Pinkie”, “The Duchess of Devonshire”, “Lady Hamilton” and “The Tragic Muse.”
The majority of the daily visitors, incidentally, are travellers from other states and other countries. Many of the film stars have never heard of old masters such as Romney, Lawrence, Gainsbourough and Reynolds. Few would trouble to go twenty miles to look at their work.
Fortunately, Lloyd and his costume designer, William Lambert, knew they could gain access to this valuable collection. Armed with sketch books and note pads and permission cards which allowed them in the gallery late at night when visitors had departed, they spent three weeks browsing in a Georgian atmosphere.
Lloyd is certainly a stickler. “Reference books are handy but they cannot impart information that truly smites into the brain like pictures can,” he explained.
All the knowledge accumulated at Huntingdon has been put to an excellent use in the designing of the sets and costumes.
Many of Heather Angel’s eighteenth century gowns are modifications of “Pinkie” in her high waist and coloured sash.
Juliette Compton, who plays the “Duchess of Devonshire,” wears a replica of the costume shown in the famous portrait.
Valerie Taylor has an evening gown copied from that worn in the portrait of Perdita Robinson.
Irene Browne’ swishing taffetas and muslins were inspired by those worn by Mrs. Siddons in the Sir Joshua Reynold’s famous portrait.
Sir Joshua and “The Tragic Muse” figure largely in the story of Berkeley Square.
Then came the matter of furniture. Furniture and ornaments pertaining to the Georgian period are so scarce in California, Lloyd told me, that prior to the production of Berkeley Square, William Darlin the art director of the picture had to spend three months of persuasion and patience gathering together sufficient authentic “atmosphere” for his stages.
With the aid of thirty art and antique dealers, Daring scoured the coast up and down for the Georgian treasures he needed. Some were rented, some were borrowed from valuable collections.
“Fake period furniture is permissible in some pictures, where only long shots of settings are made, but in the case of a film like Berkeley Square, where so many close-up had to be photographed, fakes would have been impossible, ” the director went on.
“Even the silver vases, ink stands and candlesticks had to be real Georgian. It is quite out of the question to endeavour to reproduce the intricate designs and workmanship of the eighteenth century by cheap fakes without the camera detecting the fraud immediately.
“Practically every art treasure used on our sets was unique and could not have been replaced in case of loss or damage. Consequently, each night an extra patrol was engaged to guard the Berkeley Square stages.
“It was with a sense of great relief that I saw each valuable piece packed carefully on completion of shooting and sent back to its owners. There is something very satisfactory in knowing that authentic properties only are used in period pictures, but such treasures are a great responsibility.”
Winfield Sheehan, the Fox vice-president, lent Lloyd an eighteenth century grandfather clock from his own private collection.
Mr. Sheehan, who knows his antiques, picked up this old clock when on a recent visit in England, and thinks so highly of it that he had a special case made to take it across the Atlantic so that the sea air would not damage the fragile works.
The clock is 150 years old, still keeps perfect time and is one of those fascinating old timepieces which, in addition to telling the hour, shows the state of the tide, the date of the month and phases of the moon.
One day there arrived at Movietone City something much more engrossing than a mere jig-saw puzzle.
The “toy” in question was an eighteenth-century Georgian four-poster bed which had been lent to Jesse L. Lasky, the producer, by a friend in Santa Barbara.
It arrived in fourteen packing cases and is fitted together in eighteen different pieces. The only guidance the head carpenter had to help him in building up this piece of furniture was a copy of an old print showing the bed ready to be slept in.
It took the four carpenters the best part of twenty-four hours to get the antique assembled complete with its posts, each manufactured in for separate pieces, its chintz canopy, valance frills and dozens of intricate laths which form the mattress.
Then came the matter of wigs. Altogether thirty-two wigs were worn by the principle players during the making of the film. And each one of these took ten days to complete.
Their method of manufacture is interesting, for with the microscopic qualities of the camera bringing out the crude faults of old-fashioned wig-making, each wig had to be tailored and fitted to the individual player’s head.
To pay a visit to the Berkeley Square set is like stepping into the pages of an Oliver Goldsmith book. We find ourselves transported into an England of flounces and petticoats. There is a mellow smell of antiquity, of good old English wood and old lace. At any moment we expect the ghost of Beau Brummel himself to glide noiselessly into the room. Instead, in comes a bespectacled studio hand, hands in pockets, gum lodged in his left cheek.
“Now boys,” he says, “snap out of it.”
We pass out into the open where the hot Californian sun beats down on the sweating concrete. Everywhere is the ordered confusion that marks a film studio. . .
(“Picturegoer”, September 2, 1933)