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Grace Kelly's decision to abandon her film career and become Princess Grace of Monaco provided a career boost for Lauren Bacall, who inherited roles originally planned for Kelly in two MGM movies: The Cobweb (1955) and Designing Woman (1957). Both films were directed by Vincente Minnelli, a personal friend of Bacall and her husband, Humphrey Bogart. Designing Woman in particular was a happy collaboration, providing Bacall with perhaps her best star vehicle in films aside from the early Bogart/Bacall pictures. In her 1978 autobiography, By Myself, she remembered Designing Woman as "a lovely, funny script, a terrific part - one of my happiest film experiences."
The movie was the brainchild of Oscar®-winning studio designer Helen Rose, who dreamed up a romantic conflict in the style of the Spencer Tracy-Katharine comedies, this one focusing on a sportswriter and a high-style fashion designer who fall in love and marry despite wildly different outlooks and lifestyles. George Wells developed Rose's idea into a breezy script that would win an Academy Award as Best Story and Screenplay. Studio head Dore Schary chose to produce the movie, which turned out to be his last for MGM before he was dismissed from the studio in late 1956.
The original plan had been to reunite Kelly with James Stewart, her co-star from Rear Window (1954), under the direction of Broadway hit-maker Joshua Logan. Cyd Charisse was inked in for the third key part, a musical-comedy star who competes for the sportswriter's affections. After Kelly fled to enact her own real-life Cinderella story, Gregory Peck and Vincente Minnelli came on board as male star and director. When Minnelli gave Peck his choice of leading lady, he asked for Bacall - a choice that also pleased the director. Because she was a bigger name at MGM than Bacall, Charisse no longer seemed appropriate casting as the second-fiddle female and that part went to Dolores Gray. Naturally, Rose designed the costumes - which included 132 gowns, an average of more than a-gown-a-minute for the 118-minute film!
Minnelli recalled in his 1974 autobiography, I Remember It Well, that during the film of Designing Woman, Bogart was already gravely ill with the cancer that would take his life in 1957. One of Bogart's last outings came on a day when he sailed his yacht to California's Marineland, where Bacall and Peck were filming aboard a sailboat. Minnelli considered that Bacall's role was "one she could sail through - which she did, with never a concession to the turmoil her private life was in at the time."
Producer: Dore Schary, George Wells (Associate)
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay: George Wells
Art Direction: E. Preston Ames, William A. Horning
Costume Design: Helen Rose
Cinematography: John Alton
Editing: Adrienne Fazan
Original Music: Andre Previn
Principal Cast: Gregory Peck (Mike Hagen), Lauren Bacall (Marilla Hagen), Dolores Gray (Lori Shannon), Sam Levene (Ned Hammerstein), Tom Helmore (Zachary Wilde), Mickey Shaughnessy (Maxie Stultz), Jesse White (Charlie Arneg), Chuck Connors (Johnnie "O").
C-118m. Letterboxed. Close captioning. Descriptive Video.
By Roger Fristoe