Author Topic: Vera West and her endless gowns  (Read 12204 times)

fmofmpls

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Vera West and her endless gowns
« on: February 07, 2008, 12:19:56 PM »
Vera West. It's a name you see almost every time you watch a Universal horror flick. Just who the heck was Vera West anyways? Little information comes up with internet searches. What we do know is that Vera West was the head costume designer for almost every Universal horror film during the golden age. I didn't realize just how fruitful she was until I recently checked her credentials over at the IMDB. Wow! This woman provided gowns and costumes from the late 20s starting with The Man Who Laughs (1928) all the way up until the time of her untimely death in 1947. That's a helluva a lot of gowns! Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man, Mummy, .. on and on it goes. She was there for all of it. 

What I did find during my internet search was a bit alarming if not entirely sad. Vera West died by her own hand much in the same way James Whale had; death by intentional drowning. Vera seemed to believe she was a victim of extortion and blackmail. In 1947 she had left behind a suicide note stating, “This is the only way. I am tired of being blackmailed.” Also in the note Vera states a fortune teller had told her that death was her only escape from this tortuous blackmail. Oddly enough, her husband at the time acknowledged no case of blackmail ever having taken place with Vera! Was Vera suffering from delusional paranoia? Police found her floating in the pool behind her home on June 29, 1947. Just as James Whale had grown weary of life's woes, so had Vera West. One is reminded of the fast paced way of life in Hollywood. It's sink or swim, and in this case two very talented individuals made their unfortunate decisions all too clear.   

« Last Edit: February 07, 2008, 12:34:19 PM by fmofmpls »
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ProfGriffin

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Re: Vera West and her endless gowns
« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2008, 01:38:45 PM »
Well...if nothing else, I owe Vera big thanks for this...



God rest you Vera....hope you found peace.
Rest in Peace,

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egorschamber

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Re: Vera West and her endless gowns
« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2008, 02:53:57 PM »
I know that department Heads (like Edith) probably got a lot of credit for things they didn't have much
to do with, but if Vera West had anything to do with costumes like Evelyn Ankers's nightgown in GHOST OF
FRANKENSTEIN and Louise Albritton's party gown in SON OF DRACULA, her contributions were standouts. 
Her credits include DRACULA, and the IMDb doesn't mention who did costumes for the Spanish Version -- I wonder if Vera poured Lupita Tovar into that negligee too?
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fmofmpls

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Re: Vera West and her endless gowns
« Reply #3 on: February 07, 2008, 03:37:24 PM »
Found this 1947 news clipping. I think it was from the NY Times.

June 30, 1947
San Fernando Valley

Film costumer Vera West died in her swimming pool at 5119 Bluebell Ave. over the weekend. She suffered from marital difficulties, but the blackmail to which she alluded in her suicide note was, according to husband Jack C. West, a figment of her imagination. Mr. West claims he was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel when his wife took her unfortunate dip, following a bad argument, and in anticipation of Mrs. West’s consultation with a divorce attorney.

Assistant county autopsy surgeon Dr. Marvin Goodwin’s initial report was of asphyxia, probably due to drowning, but Dr. Frederick Newbarr, his superior, is refusing to sign a death certificate until additional tests are performed.
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poseablemonster

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Re: Vera West and her endless gowns
« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2008, 08:45:37 PM »
Sounds fishy to me.  No pun intended.

egorschamber

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Re: Vera West and her endless gowns
« Reply #5 on: February 09, 2008, 08:06:46 AM »
I checked the ProQuest NYT archives and didn't find that one, Terry -- but this one turned up
from the same date, June 30, 1947:

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The Spangler

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Re: Vera West and her endless gowns
« Reply #6 on: February 09, 2008, 01:01:16 PM »
 If you ask me,  the "fortune teller", if indeed one ever existed; is at least partially to blame.

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Re: Vera West and her endless gowns
« Reply #7 on: February 09, 2008, 01:06:45 PM »
I wonder if she designed the gowns for the Bride of Frankenstein and the brides in Dracula.

Eye of Kharis

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Re: Vera West and her endless gowns
« Reply #8 on: February 09, 2008, 05:01:56 PM »
Interesting, very intriguing thread - something doesn't seem quite right at all... the husband's comments and his "claiming" to be out of town, coroner's refusal to sign a death certificate until additional tests are performed, etc. Gotta wonder if the husband did it/was involved somehow...?

Tragically, a real life Universal Monster Mystery... and unfortunately, nothing here suggests "case closed" to me - if anyone finds any additional info, please post!

According to the IMDb, Vera West wasn't involved with either of the James Whale Frankensteins - but as Terry said in the first post, is credited for work in just about every other Universal Horror ...

http://imdb.com/name/nm0922382/

ProfG, even though Vera may not have been responsible for Elsa/Mary Shelley in BofF, we still have her to thank for this silky little number (among countless, countless others!!!) :



As you said, I do hope she finally has found peace.
« Last Edit: February 09, 2008, 06:45:38 PM by Eye of Kharis »
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egorschamber

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Re: Vera West and her endless gowns
« Reply #9 on: February 09, 2008, 09:03:37 PM »
I don't mean to be disrespectful of this tremendously talented artist who contributed so much to the films we love, but her sad demise sounds like it would serve very well as a springboard for a new classic horror / mystery pastiche along the lines of Dwight Kemper's Rondo-nominated WHO FRAMED BORIS KARLOFF?, or the many "Toby Peters" hardboiled Hollywood detective novels by Stuart Kaminsky, notably NEVER CROSS A VAMPIRE.  Jam-packed with cameo appearances by all of our favorite character actors, but this time with an uncommon peek behind the curtain and into the closets of Tinseltown haute couture.

I have a pretty good idea about who should be the "fortune teller"...
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The Spangler

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Re: Vera West and her endless gowns
« Reply #10 on: February 10, 2008, 11:55:35 PM »
I don't mean to be disrespectful of this tremendously talented artist who contributed so much to the films we love, but her sad demise sounds like it would serve very well as a springboard for a new classic horror / mystery pastiche along the lines of Dwight Kemper's Rondo-nominated WHO FRAMED BORIS KARLOFF?, or the many "Toby Peters" hardboiled Hollywood detective novels by Stuart Kaminsky, notably NEVER CROSS A VAMPIRE.  Jam-packed with cameo appearances by all of our favorite character actors, but this time with an uncommon peek behind the curtain and into the closets of Tinseltown haute couture.

I have a pretty good idea about who should be the "fortune teller"...
Ok, I'll bite...who do you have in mind for the fortune teller?   I agree btw, it would make for an excellent fact-based mystery!

Eye of Kharis

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Re: Vera West and her endless gowns
« Reply #11 on: February 11, 2008, 11:48:26 AM »
Not a fan of the writing style (not to mention some of the article's accuracy - Larry Talbot jumping off a cliff in the end of House of Dracula?), but here's a link to an online column with a bit more info:

http://www.thefanzine.com/sections.php?s=columns&id=3&a=articles&p=1

It also credits her with some landmark 1930's UniMonster films not listed on the IMDb...?

I'm also not sure Vera left Universal because she had grown "tired" of costuming monster pics, as the writer suggests - remember there was a regime change over at the studio around that time.

« Last Edit: February 11, 2008, 12:19:15 PM by Eye of Kharis »
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egorschamber

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Re: Vera West and her endless gowns
« Reply #12 on: February 11, 2008, 12:44:52 PM »
Ok, I'll bite...who do you have in mind for the fortune teller?   I agree btw, it would make for an excellent fact-based mystery!

Maria Ouspenskaya -- but not in the stereotypical crystal-ball sense of "fortune teller."

Before she worked for Universal, she was a celebrated stage actress (Moscow Art Theater, student of Stanislavski), and a highly-respected, twice-Oscar-nominated film performer for all or most of the majors. She was also one of the tremendously influential acting teachers who introduced "the method" in America, whose students included John Garfield, Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler (imagine how differently acting styles might have developed without that influence). In the little I've been able to read about her, she's reputed to have been very difficult to please, sharply critical and highly opinionated. 

So I can see her as a very commanding presence on the set and behind the scenes of her Universal films, holding forth to the very small circle of intimates she had any respect for... which could have included an accomplished artist like Vera West.

In the course of their private conversations, Maria could have learned of Vera's troubles and offered advice as an older friend... or as a detached, cynical meddler. She may have had some actual interest in the occult, and divined Vera's grim future with tea leaves, Tarot cards or yarrow stalks.  The "fortune teller" persona might even have started as a private joke between them when Vera designed Maria's gypsy costumes for both THE WOLF MAN and FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN -- but then taken a more serious turn as Vera's mental troubles progressed.

Just a thought.
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The Spangler

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Re: Vera West and her endless gowns
« Reply #13 on: February 11, 2008, 03:10:41 PM »
Wow!  I never realized she was an acting teacher, with both Strasberg and Adler as her students! 
That makes her an "actor's pedigree grandmother" of sorts to many contemporary actors and actress's...kind of.           

     Excellent scenario you present there, Egor.                                                 

fmofmpls

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Re: Vera West and her endless gowns
« Reply #14 on: February 11, 2008, 04:56:05 PM »
Sounds like all the trimmings for a great mystery movie! I like it George! The Maria fortune teller tie-in is very intriguing! I think you either onto something, or your on something.  ;D
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