John Orry Kelly in Kiama, New South Wales, 31 December 1897; emigrated to
the United States, 1923.
Studied singing and art in Sydney.
Worked as mural painter in Sydney before emigrating, then worked as
waiter, clerk, actor, decorative painter for shops and theater
productions, and for Fox silent film titles, and costume designer for
vaudeville shows at the Palace Theater, New York; 1931—moved to
Hollywood, then chief designer for Warner Bros., 1932–43, 20th
Century-Fox, 1943–47, Universal, 1947–50, and then
Academy Award for
An American in Paris
Some Like It Hot
Hollywood, California, 26 February 1964.
The Rich Are Always with Us (Green) (co); So Big (Wellman); You Said a Mouthful (Bacon); I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (LeRoy); The Crash (Dieterle); The Match King (Bretherton and Keighley); One Way Passage (Garnett); Week-End Marriage (Freeland); Winner Takes All (Del Ruth); Crooner (Bacon); Tiger Shark (Hawks); Two against the World (Mayo) (co); Cabin in the Cotton (Curtiz); Three on a Match (LeRoy); Scarlet Dawn (Dieterle); Lawyer Man (Dieterle); Employees Entrance (Del Ruth); Frisco Jenny (Wellman); Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing (Curtiz); Ladies They Talk About (Bretherton)
Captured (Del Ruth); Central Airport (Wellman); Convention City (Mayo); Ex-Lady (Florey); Female (Curtiz); 42nd Street (Bacon) (co); Hard to Handle (LeRoy); The House on 56th Street (Florey) (co); The Narrow Corner (Green); The Picture Snatcher (Bacon); Private Detective 62 (Curtiz); The Working Man (Adolfi); The Mystery of the Wax Museum
As the Earth Turns (Green); British Agent (Curtiz); The Circus Clown (Enright); Dames (Enright); Dark Hazard (Green); Desirable (Mayo); Dr. Monica (Keighley); The Dragon Murder Case (Humberstone); Easy to Love (Keighley); Fashions of 1934 (Dieterle); The Firebird (Dieterle); Flirtation Walk (Borzage); Happiness Ahead (LeRoy); Hi, Nellie (LeRoy); Housewife (Green); I Am a Thief (Florey); Kansas City Princess (Keighley); The Key (Curtiz); Madame Du Barry (Dieterle); The Merry Frinks (Green); Merry Wives of Reno (Humberstone); Midnight Alibi (Crosland); Murder in the Clouds (Lederman); The Personality Kid (Crosland); Return of the Terror (Bretherton); Wonder Bar (Bacon); Babbitt (Keighley); I've Got Your Number (Enright); Gambling Lady (Mayo); Heat Lightning (LeRoy); Jimmy the Gent (Curtiz); Bedside (Flrey); A Modern Hero (Pabst); Twenty Million Sweethearts (Enright); Smarty ( Hit Me Again ) (Florey); He Was Her Man (Bacon); Underworld (Del Ruth); A Very Honorable Guy (Bacon); Fog over Frisco (Dieterle); Here Comes the Navy (Bacon); Registered Nurse (Florey); Friends of Mr. Sweeney (Ludwig); Side Street (Green); The Case of the Howling Dog (Crosland); A Lost Lady (Green); Big Hearted Herbert (Keighley); Gentlemen Are Born (Green); The St. Louis Kid ( A Perfect Weekend ) (Enright); I Sell Anything (Florey); Maybe It's Love (McG ann); The Secret Bride ( Concealment ) (Dieterle); Gold Diggers of 1935 (Berkeley)
Bordertown (Mayo); Broadway Gondolier (Bacon); Broadway Hostess (McDonald); Dangerous (Green); The Frisco Kid (Bacon); G-Men (Keighley); I Found Stella Parish (LeRoy); In Caliente (Bacon); Living on Velvet (Borzage); Miss Pacific Fleet (Enright); Page Miss Glory (LeRoy) (co); The Payoff (Florey); Shipmates Forever (Borzage); Stars over Broadway (Keighley); Sweet Adeline (LeRoy); The Widow from Monte Carlo (Collins); The Woman in Red (Florey); Front Page Woman (Curtiz); The Goose and the Gander (Green); Special Agent (Keighley); Stranded (Borzage); The Petrified Forest (Mayo); The Case of the Curious Bride (Curtiz); The Florentine Dagger (Florey); Going Highbrow (Florey); The Girl from Tenth Avenue ( Men on Her Mind ) (Green); Bright Lights ( Funny Face ) (Berkeley); The Irish in Us (Bacon); I Live for Love ( I Live for You ) (Berkeley); Little Big Shot (Curtiz); Ceiling Zero (Hawks); Freshman Love ( Rhythm on the River ) (McGann)
China Clipper (Enright); Colleen (Green); Gold Diggers of 1937 (Bacon); The Golden Arrow (Green); Hearts Divided (Borzage); I Married a Doctor (Mayo); Isle of Fury (McDonald); Jailbreak (Grinde); The Law in Her Hands (Clemens); Murder by an Aristocrat (McDonald); Polo Joe (McGann); Satan Met a Lady (Dieterle); The Singing Kid (Keighley); Snowed Under (Enright); Stage Struck (Berkeley); Stolen Holiday (Curtiz); Times Square Playboy (McGann); The White Angel (Dieterle); Cain and Mabel (Bacon); The Walking Dead (Curtiz); Three Men on a Horse (LeRoy); Jailbreak ( Murder in the Big House ) (Grinde); Give Me Your Heart ( Sweet Aloes ) (Mayo); Here Comes Carter ( Voice of Scandal ) (Clemens)
Another Dawn (Dieterle); Call It a Day (Mayo); First Lady (Hogan); The Go-Getter (Berkeley); Green Light (Borzage); Hollywood Hotel (Berkeley); It's Love I'm After (Mayo); Kid Galahad (Curtiz); Marked Woman (Bacon); That Certain Woman (Goulding); Ever Since Eve (Bacon); The King and the Chorus Girl ( Romance Is Sacred ) (LeRoy); The Singing Marine (Enright); Tovarich (Litvak) (co)
Confession (May); Angels with Dirty Faces (Curtiz); Four Daughters (Curtiz) (co); Four's a Crowd (Curtiz); Jezebel (Wyler); My Bill (Farrow); Secrets of an Actress (Keighley); The Sisters (Litvak); Comet over Broadway (Berkeley); Women Are Like That (Logan)
Dark Victory (Goulding); Juarez (Dieterle); King of the Underworld (Seiler); The Oklahoma Kid (Bacon); The Old Maid (Goulding); Women in the Wind (Farrow); The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Curtiz); On Your Toes (Enright); Wings of the Navy (Bacon); When Tomorrow Comes (Stahl); Indianapolis Speedway ( Devil on Wheels ) (Bacon)
All This, and Heaven Too (Litvak); The Letter (Wyler); The Sea Hawk (Curtiz); 'Til We Meet Again (Goulding); My Love Comes Back (Bernhardt); A Dispatch from Reuters ( This Man Reuter ) (Dieterle); No Time for Comedy (Keighley)
The Bride Came C.O.D. (Keighley); The Great Lie (Goulding); Kings Row (Wood); The Little Foxes (Wyler); The Maltese Falcon (Huston); The Man Who Came to Dinner (Keighley); The Strawberry Blonde (Walsh); Affectionately Yours (Bacon); Million Dollar Baby (Bernhardt); They Died with Their Boots On (Walsh)
Casablanca (Curtiz); In This Our Life (Huston); Now, Voyager (Rapper); The Hard Way (V. Sherman); George Washington Slept Here (Keighley)
Old Acquaintance (V. Sherman); This Is the Army (Curtiz); Mission to Moscow (Curtiz); Edge of Darkness (Milestone); Watch on the Rhine (Shumlin); Princess O'Rourke (Krasna)
Arsenic and Old Lace (Capra); Mr. Skeffington (V. Sherman)
The Corn Is Green (Rapper); The Dolly Sisters (Cummings); Conflict (Bernhardt); London Town ( My Heart Goes Crazy ) (Ruggles); Temptation (Pichel)
A Stolen Life (Bernhardt)
The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (Seaton); Ivy (Wood); Something in the Wind (Pichel); Mother Wore Tights (W. Lang) (co); Night Song (Cromwell); A Woman's Vengeance (Z. Korda)
For the Love of Mary (de Cordova); Larceny (G. Sherman) (co); One Touch of Venus (Seiter); Rogues' Regiment (Florey); Berlin Express (Tourneur) (co)
Family Honeymoon (Binyon); The Lady Gambles (Gordon); South Sea Sinner ( East of Java ) (Humberstone); Undertow (Castle); Johnny Stool Pigeon (Castle); Woman in Hiding (Gordon); Take One False Step (Erskine); Once More My Darling (Montgomery)
Deported (Siodmak); Under the Gun (Tetzlaff); Behave Yourself (Beck); One Way Street (Fregonese); Harvey (Koster)
An American in Paris (Minnelli) (co); The Lady Says No! (Ross)
Pat and Mike (Cukor); The Star (Heisler)
I Confess (Hitchcock)
She Couldn't Say No ( Beautiful but Dangerous ) (Bacon)
Oklahoma! (Zinnemann) (co)
Les Girls (Cukor)
Auntie Mame (Da Costa)
Too Much, Too Soon (Napoleon); The Hanging Tree (Daves) (co); Some Like It Hot (Wilder)
The Chapman Report (Cukor); Five Finger Exercise (Daniel Mann); The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Minnelli) (co); Gypsy (LeRoy); A Majority of One (LeRoy); Sweet Bird of Youth (Brooks); Two for the Seesaw (Wise)
In the Cool of the Day (Stevens) (co); Irma La Douce (Wilder)
Sunday in New York (Tewksbury)
Lady L . (Ustinov)
Chierichetti, David, in Hollywood Costume Design , New York, 1976.
Leese, Elizabeth, in Costume Design in the Movies , New York, 1976.
LaVine, Robert, in In a Glamorous Fashion , New York, 1980.
Gibb, Bill, in Films and Filming (London), December 1983.
* * *
Orry-Kelly studied art in Australia but came to New York as an actor. Between stints as a song-and-dance man, he designed for vaudeville and Broadway productions. After arriving in Hollywood, Jack Warner promised him a job in the costume department if he could please leading ladies Kay Francis and Ruth Chatterton. It was money in the bank for Orry-Kelly.
His style differed from those of other Hollywood designers. He avoided Adrian's black-and-white contrasts in favor of a wide range of grays. His fabrics were of as high quality as Travis Banton's, but he disdained the Paramount "shimmer." Nonetheless, costumes by Orry-Kelly were never dull. He cut with style and enhanced with intricate details. Tiny pleats and piping created subtle surface shadows, as did the textured embroideries, open work, crocheted lace, and trapunto. Appreciating skilled handiwork, he even included handpainted fabrics for some of his designs. As more daring decoration, he might add polka dots or punctuate with rows of buttons.
However, decoration was not his aim when working with Bette Davis. As a former actor, he understood the necessity of depicting a character's depth. Davis demanded that each role have a life of its own, with costumes playing a significant part in defining each character's image. At times, Orry-Kelly virtually resculpted her body to achieve a desired effect, and their successes included Jezebel , Dark Victory , The Little Foxes , Now, Voyager , and many others. One of Davis's earliest and least favorite films, Fashions of 1934 , which stars some of Orry-Kelly's more imaginative creations, stands out as a delightful spoof of the fashion world.
Orry-Kelly's unpretentious style well served Warner Bros. He peopled its gritty gangster features with many a well-heeled moll. He'd take the kind of girl that "a man's man" could "go for," and wrap her in wools as beautiful as chinchilla. His costumes for The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca spoke with the rich spareness of Hemingway.
But the Orry-Kelly style hardly suited everyone. The studio delegated Busby Berkeley production numbers to Milo Anderson, who also designed most of the Olivia de Havilland pictures. And when Orry-Kelly worked at Fox in the 1940s, he was never quite comfortable with those glitzy Betty Grable extravaganzas.
Freelancing in the 1950s widened Orry-Kelly's range. He put Katharine Hepburn in sportswear for Pat and Mike , Shirley Jones in gingham for Oklahoma! , Rosalind Russell in everything for Auntie Mame , and Marilyn Monroe in barely anything for Some Like It Hot . The early 1960s assigned Orry-Kelly to several adult dramas, including Sweet Bird of Youth and Five Finger Exercise .
—Edith C. Lee