Reel Gems Stars and Their Jewelry Shine on the Silver Screen

Article excerpt

WHAT COULD BE more glamorous than movie stars? How about movie stars dripping with jewels?

Jean Harlow looking sultry in a slinky gown - with a diamond brooch pinned to a skinny satin strap. Joan Crawford leaning in a doorway - flashing a star sapphire bracelet and necklace. Or Elizabeth Taylor's violet eyes flashing over that 69-carat chunk of diamond given to her by Richard Burton.

Put the stars and their jewels between the covers of a glossy, oversized book and you have "Hollywood Jewels" by Penny Proddow, Debra Healy and Marion Fasel (Abrams, $49.50). It's 200 pages of black-and-white movie stills, candid shots around Hollywood and colorful close-ups of diamond bracelets, emerald necklaces and impossibly long strands of pearls.

"They were the top of the line," author Proddow says of the gems Hollywood stars chose. "A shade more photogenic. A shade brighter. Discretion was not their middle name."

She and co-author Fasel, will be in St. Louis next weekend to talk about their favorite subject at a lecture at the St. Louis Art Museum, scheduled in conjunction with the Museum's Jewelry Festival Weekend. Their story of Hollywood's love of jewelry - from Mary Pickford to Madonna - reveals not just the history of gems in the movies, but of jewelry in the 20th century as well.

***** The Real Thing

The first interesting tidbit you discover, browsing in the pages of "Hollywood Jewels," is that the jewelry on the big screen is almost always the real thing. Some pieces came from the stars' personal collections, others were loaned from prominent jewelry companies like Tiffany's, Harry Winston or Cartier.

Start to look for them, and you see these gems everywhere: Marlene Dietrich's diamond and emerald bracelet - a cabochon emerald the size of an egg yolk - shows up in several films. As do Joan Crawford's rings, Gloria Swanson's bracelets and Mae West's diamonds.

And that's just how the authors went about researching the book.

"We started from scratch. We knew nil," said Proddow, whose background is in archaeology and art history. "But four years after the project, we knew every star's preference."

First, they sat through hundreds of movies, notebooks in hand.

"We watched and watched. It was the movies that were the source of the jewelry," Proddow said. They plotted the movies and traced each glittery gem they saw. And they caught a few mistakes along the way.

"We'd notice that Norma Shearer would wear her engagement ring in one scene and then it would disappear," Proddow said. In "The Son of the Sheik," Valentino insisted upon wearing his Cartier tank wristwatch, though it didn't quite go with his elaborate desert chieftain's robes.

Sometimes the jewels even got separate billing. When Greta Garbo tries to win back Charles Boyer, playing Napoleon in "Conquest," she wears antique jewels believed to be the ones the real Napoleon gave to Marie-Louise at the birth of their son. The pieces were obtained in Vienna by Trabert & Hoeffer, who got a credit at the end of the film for supplying the jewels.

Not every movie featured jewelry, of course.

"People are surprised that some movies didn't end up in the book," said Fasel, who grew up in Columbia, Mo. …