Thursday, July 7, 2011


Gladys Swarthout was an American mezzo- soprano opera singer who had a wonderful stage career in operatic roles and recitals and who for time attempted a career in film and radio.

In fact Gladys starred in five films for Paramount pictures including Rose of the Rancho, Romance in the Dark, Give Us This Night and Ambush.

This amazing costume ensemble was designed by the legendary Travis Banton and worn by Gladys Swarhout in the film "Romance in The Dark" (1944).

The gown is comprised of a heavyweight black silk velvet long coat with large skirt train, ¾ length sleeves, front closure, heavy embroidery including beautiful gold bullion threading, faux jewels, seed beads, faux pearls and sequins. The design moves around the sleeve hem, down the center of skirt and lavishly around the hem.

Below are more detailed photos of the amazing embroidery work that went into creating this piece of art. The gown is very heavy. I cannot imagine the hundreds of work hours that went into creating this gown only to be used on screen for 10 minutes.

You can see small details below that Banton factored into his gowns such as the velvet at the neckline to stop the embroidery touching the stars neck.

The gown was later used in publicity photos on actress Mady Correll. The photo below shows the costume in its second appearance. I would like to think it was used again and again.

The costume came from the personal collection of Edith Head who for a time used these costumes in her touring shows on costume in film. The gown was later used by Ms. Head in her fashion shows to represent Dorothy Lamour in Road to Morocco" (1942).

The film, presented as an operetta tells the story of Ilona Boros, a peasant girl with a voice who becomes a pawn in the rivalry between opera tenor Tony Kovach (John Boles) and his business manager Zoltan Jason (John Barrymore).

They are both infatuated with the beautiful, but cold, Countess Foldessy (Claire Dodd), and Tony plans to make Ilona a star so that Jason will be attracted to her instead. The scheme backfires and both men are fighting over Ilona, the outraged countess left to instead pursue Jason's butler, Von Hemisch (Curt Bois).

In between the comedy, Swarthout, Boles, and company perform such well-known selections as "Because," from the opera Jocelyn; "Habanera," from Carmen; "La Ci Darem la Nano," from Don Giovanni; and Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin's "Tonight We Love."

Gladys starred opposite some very big names at the time with John Barrymore and John Boles in the film.

Gladys is the only woman to have sung for the entire assembled Congress of the United States and has also performed for the Diplomatic Corps, Supreme Court and the President on the occasion of the 150th Session of Congress.

In 1956, Gladys was diagnosed with a mitral heart valve problem and eventually underwent open-heart surgery. In retirement she bought a villa in Italy.

Gladys died on July 7, 1969, aged 68, in Florence from the previously diagnosed heart disease.


  1. That is a stunning dress, I can only imagine how much it would have weighed wearing it!

  2. I've never heard of Gladys! Perhaps because I had never seen any of her movies. I will look out for them, but in the meantime, I can't take my eyes off that gown! Absolutely gorgeous. You described the incredible detail beautifully. And that hem! It must be breathtaking in person. Thanks for sharing this piece of real costume art, CC (is it OK to nickname you CC, or would you rather be Costume Collector? It's your call--LOL!

  3. Its a very heavy dress mad costumer. It would certainly have weighed you down under the hot lights and doing a scene in it!

    I only got to know Gladys as a performer after I bought the gown too Becky so you were not alone. If you do find any of her films, do have a look!

    Yes the detail in the hem is just amazing.

    CC is fine with me :)