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Cleopatra, 1934/Claudette Colbert
Cleopatra, 1934/Claudette Colbert
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Cleopatra, 1934/Claudette Colbert

Cleopatra, 1934/Claudette Colbert Travis Banton (1894-1958) A watercolour and pencil costume sketch of Claudette Colbert as Cleoptra in the 1934 Paramount film Cleopatra, directed by Cecil B. DeMille, the sketch showing the bias-cut gold lamé gown with gilt and emerald green scarab headdress and jewellery worn by Colbert in the scene where she tries to poison Henry Wilcoxon as Marc Antony, with additional pencil sketches of the rear and side angles, initialled in pencil by Travis Banton, numbered in pencil 995 and approved in red pencil OK by Cecil B. DeMille, the reverse with a similar watercolour and pencil costume sketch of Colbert as Cleopatra in a different pose, the pencil and colouring possibly by Paloma Gibson over a lighter sketch by Banton, initialled in pencil TB, production ink-stamp to front and reverse C. B. De Mille Productions Art Dept; accompanied by corresponding black and white reproduction still 22x14in. (56x35.5cm.)
SURMELIAN, Leon Studio Designer Confesses, Motion Picture, December 1938
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Image courtesy of Bison Archives

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Caitlin Graham
Caitlin Graham

Lot Essay

Travis Banton began designing costume for Paramount in 1924, after a successful career as a retail clothing designer in New York. Banton's career change from clothing designer to becoming the head of the costume department at Paramount came when Mary Pickford chose him to design her wedding dress for her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks. It was in the 1930s that Banton reached the pinnacle of his career dressing top actresses, including Marlene Dietrich and Clara Bow.

Leon Surmelian wrote in 1938, "...The toughest spot Banton found himself in was when Cecil B. DeMille started shooting Cleopatra and Claudette Colbert refused to wear the gowns made for her ...[by DeMille's] own staff at Paramount... Banton was called in to design an entirely new wardrobe for her, and the very next day he had the first dress ready. In fact, from day to day he produced the various items of one of the most extravagant wardrobes in the history of movies." Banton later adapted some of Colbert's Cleopatra costumes for her personal wardrobe. This is one of only two known Banton sketches for Colbert as Cleopatra - the other remains with the DeMille Estate.

The gold lamé gown shown in this sketch was sold at Christie's from the Collection of Paramount Pictures in 1990 for £16,000 to Debbie Reynolds. It recently came to the market again in Debbie Reynolds: The Auction at Profiles In History, Jun 18, 2011, selling for $44,000.

The headdress and cuff bracelet seen in this costume sketch are offered for sale in the following lot.


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