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For his work in Travels With My Aunt (1972), costume designer Anthony Powell won two prizes: an Oscar and a close and enduring friendship with the film's star, Maggie Smith. Powell would also dress Smith in Death on the Nile (1978), Evil Under the Sun (1982) and Hook (1991), as well as creating sets and/or costumes for her stage appearances including Private Lives (1972) and Lettice and Lovage (1987). After bonding with the brilliant actress, Powell compared her hypersensitive spirit to "flayed anatomy, with those missing layers of skin, stripped away to show the formature of muscles and bones. She is more scared of being touched and hurt than anyone I know." Powell, once a protege of John Gielgud, also won Oscars for Death on the Nile and Tess (1981), with additional nominations for Pirates (1986) and Hook (1991). Most recently he created Glenn Close's outrageous costumes for 102 Dalmatians (2000), as he had for 101 Dalmatians (1996).
Powell came close to creating the extravagant wardrobe in Travels With My Aunt for Katharine Hepburn rather than Smith. Hepburn had agreed to star for director George Cukor in a movie version of Graham Greene's comic novel, about a fussy banker caught up in the eccentric adventures of his long-lost aunt. Greene himself had recommended it to her as "a book made for films." After British playwright Hugh Wheeler created the first draft of a screenplay, noted screenwriter Jay Presson Allen (Cabaret, 1972) began rewrites.
But no version of the script pleased Hepburn. According to Cukor biographer Patrick McGilligan, Allen believed that, after the lackluster reception of Hepburn's performance in The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969), she simply didn't "want to play another crazy old lady." Allen finally suggested to Hepburn that she rewrite the script herself, which she proceeded to do. "Kate wrote and wrote," recalled Allen. "But she [still] didn't want to play it." Finally MGM gave Hepburn an ultimatum, ordering her to report to the film set within 10 days. Hepburn said no and quit the project, providing the opening for Smith to take on the flamboyant role. Allen claimed later that only one speech of hers remained in the screenplay and that the rest was written by Hepburn, who was denied screen credit because she was not a member of the Screen Writers Guild.
Travels With My Aunt won three other Oscar® nominations - for Best Actress (Smith), Art Direction and Cinematography. Cukor, like Powell, fell in love with Smith during filming and added the experience to his select list of favorite working relationships with actresses, along with Greta Garbo in Camille (1937), Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind (1939), Judy Garland in A Star Is Born (1954), Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964) and Katharine Hepburn in anything.
Producers: James Cresson, Robert Fryer, Russell Thacher (associate)
Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Jay Presson Allen, Hugh Wheeler, Katharine Hepburn (uncredited), from the Graham Greene novel
Production Design: John Box
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Costume Design: Anthony Powell
Editing: John Bloom
Original Music: Tony Hatch, Jackie Trent
Principal Cast: Maggie Smith (Aunt Augusta), Alec McCowen (Henry Pulling), Louis Gossett Jr. (Wordsworth), Robert Stephens (Mr. Visconti), Cindy Williams (Tooley), Robert Flemyng (Crowder), Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez (M. Dambreuse), Corinne Marchand (Louise).
C-110m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe