SETTING THE HOLLYWOOD REGENCY STAGE
…should mention: my advance readers suggested that this essay wants a warning, “Prose Poetryish: Proceed with Sympathy”.
Well, perhaps all the world is a stage, yet there are stages, and there are stages. The Grand Canyon is one, sublime and breathtaking, set for heaven’s sun, a sky of glory, and God’s shimmering rays. Your local swamp too is a stage, fit for toads, zip-zips, slimy things and sticky green. Notice how at Grand Canyon’s rim you are different than you are when knee-deep in spawn green. Do you feel it? And so it is with houses – some enlarge, some reduce, and some are just … well, wrong for we children of God.
Hollywood Regency is a stage set for different scenes, suavity or modernity, fantasy or conformity. Sometimes in Regency the stage is set for absurdity, as in Dali’s modern fantasticals and the kookie eccentricities of the many modernistics (designers who each and all strive to be mods the very same … the modern, as we know, is a style of conformity). Which Regency yours might be, I cannot say. Perhaps you do not know. The lovely truth of Hollywood Regency is that it might be Imperial Roman or American Colonial, French Directorie or Chinoiserie, it might even be the Regent’s Regency, or as is mine, it might be Greek (being, as I am, an unreconstructed Athenian of the 5th Century B.C.). The Regency can be whatever of whichever period you choose because it is Hollywood, a make-believe, a scripted scene, a stage-set upon which to play the serious, and the not-so-serious episodes of life.
You might play Shakespeare, you might play Aristophanes, you might play Shaw, you might play Noel Coward. Whichever your play, whichever your part, Hollywood Regency has an interior design for you. Here, below, a few Regencies that might suit.
The Hollywood of Suavity is a Regency of grownups, smooth, smart, and stylish, the proper set for gentlemen and ladies who artfully navigate life, its foibles, fates, and fickle delights. Take a room, any room, raise the ceiling, elongate the door, panel the all in fine ruled line; upon windows elegantly tall drape a swag with measured folds composed and understated; lay low and long furniture fabricked tight; lacquer a table, mirror a wall, dark urn an arched white niche; mod some fine Athenian red-figure athlete in spare design and pose him in a thin gold frame; checkerboard a floor; draw out a tall molding low, a narrow molding high; lounge yourself in satin near a rounding light and wait the martini, white glove hand-delivered. Or, mom and dad, you might brighten the scene when in silk heliotrope pajamas you chase a pistol-packin’ boy across the floor. Either way, suave Hollywood Regency is a stage for grownups, inheritors of all that is best, and of the best the best of these simple and well placed, with care and measure, and taste.
The Hollywood of Modernity is a Regency machine, air-streamed, lean, metal-quick, a proper set fit to the gears of life, its facts, its acts in black and white and fast. Take a room, any room, make it a machine; electrify the drapes, the bar, the screen; glass the wall, steel the trim; square the wood and the stone and aluminum; mirror, lacquer, color highlight in “50s Mint” with a wall of “Jungle Red”, set a doo in “Golden Age” and ad a dad of “Silver Screen”, some actor, let us say, “James Dean”, framed large upon the wall, floor to ceiling. The furniture is low and slung about, alike little sets where clever people move to see and to be seen. Regency Modernity is clean, a logical machine for living, though not so much for life, unless a life in cigarette-tuxedo formal. The Hollywood of Regency Modernity is what today you see in Generation X towers of glass—though on the cheap—that touch the sky and show themselves at night to be white padded cells where people lounging seethe while staring at a screen, dreaming love into machines. So, if you’d have your Regency Moderne, have it of the old, last century.
The Hollywood of Fantasy is a Regency unreal, absurd, bombastical, a fairyland of the surreal, a set for drugs and sex, giraffe saltshakers and all the wild rest. Take a room, any room, and make it magical; a wall of abalone shell, a table set with Chinese bells, a screen of pink flamingos set in purple arabesque against a wall of silver black; Russian your tune in malachite, a swag of flounce in turquoise hue, a gentleman of paisley tie, blue, who serves a cocktail tinted rose into a twisted, pearled glass … and there! golden unicorns dance themselves over tiny crystalline hills. Regency absurdity is a decadence of sentiment for a Beau Brummell, for a Byron, for a Beatles Aubrey Beardsleyesque reborn into a 60s Pop! machine.
And yes, there is another Regency, the Hollywood of Normalcy, the wealthy Regency of middle-class conformity, a set for normalcy but prettily in florid prints, in scrolls of Rococo, in black and white with just a splash of Jamaica Aqua, or Gondola Ride (#602). Take a room, any room, it can be a normal nine (of height), lay in a bold design to wake the eye: upon a round strong table present a flock of many colored flowers in a full shaped, handsome vase; set the flower-full vase against a wall of female blue whose gloss white moldings are thick and strong and classical; at center wall place with care a portrait of some gentleman (or lady fine) safe within a gold worn handsome frame; each chair must have a personality, so too the chest, the mirror and divan; the coffee table is chinoiserie, the lamp is Louis XIV or Louis XVI; the floor is marble white yet checked with ebony, polished, spotless, bright; the light is crisp, banana plants are happy, the brass pineapple reflects a healthy glow, and yet all look to you, and only you, dressed tasteful in pale-pink chiffon. Rich Regency of middle-class is every Barbie’s best delight, a life of peace and pleasantness after 3,000 years of war and strife. There is but one and only one rule of this conforming Regency: After choosing what is best from all of history, place each thing respectfully, and suitably. “Yet I am not a student of aesthetic history”, you might say; yet know, “If it feels right, it is right.”
There is in Hollywood Regency a stage for each, the mature suavity of William “Billy” Haines, the sleek modernity of Cedric Gibbons, the studied fantasy of Tony Duquette, the refined conformity of Dorothy Draper. You will know which Hollywood Regency stage suits you best.
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Featured image: Monstrosities of 1819 & 1820, by George Cruikshank, George Humphrey, 1819 … a Regency caricature alike a Hollywood Regency stage. image credit: Everett Collection
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