Day 129 of Colourisation Project – September 13
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
One of Hollywood’s finest film stars to grace the silver screen was Claudette Colbert, born this day, 13 September 1903. A French-born American actress, she starred in more than sixty movies and was the industry’s biggest box-office star in 1938 and 1942.
In 1934 three of the films she starred in were nominated for Best Film Academy Awards – Cleopatra (1934), Imitation of Life (1934) and It Happened One Night (1934) for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She was nominated again for Private Worlds (1935) and Since You Went Away (1944).
Today’s image, a publicity still from the epic Cecil B. DeMille film, Cleopatra, shows Colbert with full face to the camera. All stars have their idiosyncrasies and Colbert’s was her profile. Most film shots of her were taken from her left profile which she considered to be her best side. An injury to her nose resulted in a bump on the right side and so very rarely do we see a full face or right profile shot. There are no bumps to be seen in today’s image. Once an entire set had to be rebuilt so she wouldn’t have to show her right side, resulting in some cameramen calling the right side of her face ‘the dark side of the moon’ or so the story goes.
Paramount Studios head Adolph Zukor instructed DeMille to make an historical epic with lots of sex in it on the back of the success of The Sign of the Cross (1932) another Roman epic which also starred Colbert and which was shot before implementation of the Hays Censorship Code in 1934. That film contained nudity, highly sexualised scenes and erotic dancing.
DeMille opens Cleopatra with an apparently naked but strategically lit slave girl holding up an incense burner in each hand as the film title appears onscreen. He made sure to push the boundaries as much as he could get away with, using more risque imagery and sexually suggestive costumes than he would be able to in his later productions.
DeMille always felt that previous Shakespearean versions of Cleopatra were too highbrow for American audiences. He wanted to bring the Cleopatra story to the masses and so he did, lavishly. The film was one of Paramount’s biggest hits of the year achieving five nominations and one Oscar for Best Cinematography.
Despite its box-office success however, Daily Variety reported that the film was badly panned by Italian critics, calling it a ‘travesty and a burlesque’ after its opening in Rome where it was met with ‘catcalls and derisive laughter’ from the audience. Seems you can’t please everyone.
By the mid 1950s, Colbert had largely retired from the big screen in favor of television and stage work. She earned a Tony Award nomination for The Marriage-Go-Round in 1959, and whilst work petered out during the 1960s, she experienced a career resurgence in theater throughout the late 1970s. In 1980 she received a Sarah Siddons Award for her Chicago theater work and in 1987 won TV’s Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and an Emmy Award nomination for The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (1987).
Following a series of small strokes during the last three years of her life, Colbert died in 1996 at her second home in Barbados.
In 1999, the American Film Institute voted Colbert the ’12th Greatest Female American Screen Legend in cinema.
Colbert has a Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6812 Hollywood Blvd.
“Books written by actresses are for the birds. Besides, what would I write? That somebody was looking for an Italian type to play the ingénue in a film and I might do?” Claudette Colbert [after having been asked to write her autobiography]