Friday, December 18, 2009


Throughout the history of Hollywood, the love story of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony has been told numerous times on film and with some 14 productions over the years.

There have been three famous film versions. The first being the original 1917 silent production with "the vamp" Theda Bara. There is no surviving print of this film apart from a few short seconds of a dancing Bara which is attributed to the film. Many stills however have survived of this film to give a good understanding of the costumes made for the film. The other famous version is the 1963 20th Century Fox version with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. In between was the Cecil B Demille Paramount pictures version of 1934.

Claudette Colbert portrayed the Queen of the Nile in 1934. Colbert appeared in popular films including "Imitation of Life" and Frank Capra's "It Happened One Night" being the same year as Cleopatra. She is considered one of the strongest character portrayals of Cleopatra.

This black and white gown was worn by Claudette Colbert in the 1934 Cecil B Demille version of "Cleopatra" made at Paramount studios. The costumes were designed by Travis Banton.

The gown consists of a layered effect of black crepe fabric to resemble snake scales. The sheer bodice is decorated with eagles on each of the breasts. The production was made in pre code Hollywood before the Hayes office, the film industries voice of human decency at the time, introduced rules for what could and could not be seen on the screen. The costumes in this film, like those in "The Sign of the Cross" also directed by Demille in 1932, are shocking at times even for today's standards. Likewise the script.

The costumes designed by Banton were very much based on the art deco style which was popular at the time. Commentators have considered that many of the gowns worn by Colbert in the film would have been considered equally appropriate at any 1930's Hollywood party.

The film has recently been re released in a remastered print and looks amazing.

I had the pleasure of meeting this great lady many years ago during her tour in a play in 1985. A wonderful actress with lots of class!


  1. OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG!!! ALL of the costumes of this movie are gorgeous! sooo cool that there are still some!

  2. Yes it is amazing that pieces from this film have survived given how delicate they are. I am very lucky to have a piece such as this in my collection!