May 13, 2009

Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)

Meet Me In St. Louis is one of my all-time favorite movies. Everything was in gorgeous, brilliant technicolor and Judy Garland was simply marvelous in this. This was also the movie where the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" first appeared. Hugh Martin had written it for Judy to sing but it almost didn't make it into the film because Judy considered his original lyrics to be too depressing and refused to include it in the story. It took a lot of convincing but Hugh finally rewrote it and well, as they say, the rest is history.

The period was turn of the century 1903, in St. Louis, Missouri. The booming city was just gearing up to launch what would go down in history as the legendary World's Fair. The Smiths were a upper-middle class family with five children, a live-in grandfather, and a couple of servants. The story follows the daily preoccupations of a teenage Esther (Judy Garland) and her delightful siblings (Margaret O'Brien was particularly wonderful as the little 'Tootie'...she was really just a spectacular child star and if you'd remember, would later go on to play the unforgettable Beth in the 1949 production of Little Women) for the length of about 7 months, right up to the World's Fair in the Spring of 1904. It really is just an irresistible film, full of charm, humour, and lots and lots of heart.

But let's talk about the house. It's obviously Victorian but I think this particular style is called Second Empire, distinguished by its characteristic mansard roof and dormer windows. Here are images of the house in the Spring and in the Winter:



I really love the stain glass windows seen in the following two images:



The entry opens directly into a neutral space flanked by a formal parlor on the right and a more casual family room to the left. The family room contains much more comfortable sofas and chairs and is considered the heart of the family's activities (they frequently gather around the piano for song and dance).


everyone gathered in the family room in their pajamas

white double front entrance doors, with attached screen doors.

The kitchen is another center of great activity. Most of the pots and pans were made of copper. I didn't see many cabinets/cupboards, which I later learned was because pots/pans were generally stored on open shelves because they'd often be greasy and closed shelves attracted mice and other creatures. I also love that there is a rocking chair in the kitchen....and if you'd look carefully, a birdcage hanging by the window!



Below is an image of the formal dining room, where the family always gathers for supper. There is a phone in the room as well, and I believe it was their only phone in the whole house.


Here is an interesting feature - the small "pass-thru" window. The cook is actually in the kitchen and looking out into the dining room. These pass-thru windows were a convenient way to transport food from the kitchen into the dining room without having to walk all the way around.


Grandpa's bedroom was my absolute favorite out of all the rooms shown. It's decorated in a very dark, masculine style, reminiscent of a hunting lodge.


But then he contradicts the dark, traditional mood of his furnishings with his whimsical collection of hats. Grandpa is hilarious, I tell you. Hilarious.


The following images are of the girls' bedroom. Although I'm not sure which sister it belongs to (there are 4 girls in the family) because even though there are shots of Tootie, the youngest girl, sleeping in the bed, there are also shots of the older two girls getting ready for the Christmas party in the very same room. But I guess it doesn't matter.


I love this gold bed-frame. I generally prefer a cushioned headboard b/c I like to sit and do work in bed a lot but I've always admired these older styles. Maybe if I had a guest room, I'd invest in an antique gold railed bed frame such as this one.

the footboard

Another shot of the room. I personally could never stand so much pink. I'm just not that girly... Remember, Grandpa's room was my favorite!


Esther and her sister in beautiful, silk robes. I wonder if the fabric was handpainted?

This dress makes her look like a maid or a candy striper but I posted it b/c I wanted you to notice her stockings!! Even they are striped! Hilarious.

You've seen this dress in several of the photos but here's a shot of the back. I like the button detail.

Judy Garland/Esther's dress looks like something Scarlet O'Hara made out of her last-resort curtains. But I really like Tootie's nightgown. I've always kind of had a thing for vintage nightgowns...

More colorful dresses: (I don't think these were 100% historically accurate...I mean, did they really wear such over-the-top outfits on a daily basis 100 years ago? Hmm...)



Here are a couple of coats. I really love the dark olive green one with the quilted front and the Asian buttons. It looks like something I could way today.



Here are the dresses they wore to the Christmas ball, including Judy Garland's legendary red dress, in which she'll later sing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."



More on the children's clothes:

the quilted peach robe is cute

love the little red coat!


And now the menswear:

Casual was jacket + tie but no vest. Otherwise a 3-piece suit was the norm. You know, I really miss the 3-piece suit on men. It makes them look so put together and dignified. Although the all-brown ensemble would be difficult to pull off nowadays.




Below is one jacket that really stood out to me. The character is just some line-less extra in the trolley scene. His moment on screen was very very brief and his expression is erroneously awkward but check out the detail in his jacket! I've never seen something like this in an old film before. I don't even know what this style is called but this is something that can be worn even now.



That jacket at the end is a trad british style called a Norfolk jacket - originally used for shooting and other country sports. You don't see them worn in town so much but it's a nice style.

Thanks for the info, Sophie! I love how this blog lets me learn new things from readers. :)

The bedroom is supposed to be Esthers - one of the things Tootie wants is to sleep in Esther's bed in her nightgown. Tootie and Agnes' room is upstairs on the third floor where the tower on the left juts out - cause they sit in that window seat to sing "have yourself a merry little christmas".

The most impressive costume in the whole movie is the one Mary Astor wore to the fair at the end of the movie. I saw it in person at the MGM Auction in 1970 and I'll never forget it. The whole thing was heavy white embroidered grapes from high collar to the floor, dripping with white grapes twines and leaves, it must have weighed 80 pounds. The parasol matched. There were white gloves and a huge Edwardian hat that went with it. Minnelli used the dress again on an extra in "Gigi" in 1958, same era, same studio.

I know what you're talking - I think I wanted to show it but there wasn't a good shot of it...I'll have to go back and look again. But you're right, it was amazing.

I believe the bedroom was shared by Esther & Rose. It shows them both getting dress in that room for the Christmas ball and it is a double bed and during that time period it was very common for siblings to share bedrooms and beds. Tootie and Agnes shared the bedroom to R at the top of the stairs. When Esther comes home from the ball, she's walking to her room, hears the music and goes to the other side of the stairs and into the girls' bedroom to find Tootie, and then sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

I agree, "Meet Me in St. Louis" is one of the all-time greatest movie musicals.

I believe some costumes (including Judy's blue pom-pom dress) were copied from a turn if the century Sears and Roebuck catalog.

I have always loved this movie. My grandmother, who was the age of Agnes, went to the St. L. Fair, and lost her big hat on the Ferris wheel!!

I adore Meet Me in St. Louis, the houses were sumptuous and the costumes were magnificent. I loved the coat Esther wears to the ball over the red dress.
I was so sad to read about how delapidated the 'Smith' house became and eventually demolished. There are so many movie houses i would of loved to live in but this one was definitely in my top 3.
Oh, one finally thing, I've just discovered yur blog and cant wait to work my way through the rest of it.

Judy Garland's striped dress is her first dress of the movie. She jumps out of a friend's carriage with a tennis racquet and is wearing white leather tennis shoes. Can you imagine playing tennis in that get-up?

Love the dress Mary Astor (the mother) wears to the fair. Reminds me of the beautiful lace dresses in the Ascot scene in My Fair Lady.

I have just found this blog after searching for the gowns Esther and Rose wear after washing their hair! I think they were called wrappers, or at least I think they were in the UK. Not sure if it's the same in the States? Anyway, am I trying to find out their actual name because I'm dying for one!

The screenshots are great and the clothes to die for. Can't wait to go through the rest of your blog!

Meet Me In St. Louis is one of my favourite MGM musicals. I love all the seasons, especially, Autumn and Winter. I love the Halloween scene and the Christmas dance scene. Love all the songs, 'Have Yourself A Merry Christmas.' is lovely and Judy Garland had an amazing voice! I watch this film every Christmas Eve and it makes me feel warm and cosy! I love your blog!

Though I found it several years later, I absolutely enjoyed this post! Thank you! :-)

I just want to respond to your comment asking about historical accuracy/ over the top wear.

Back then, what people wore on a daily basis would be what people would wear to weddings nowadays (very formal) so, while some of the patterns may not be 100%, just minding that they must have had artistic license, the over the top dress styles are accurate. The whole idea of city's having avenues or parks were for people to go for a stroll and show off their clothes. How the times have changed.


Just wanted to comment on the bird. My Grandmother born in 1907 (I know she was born after the time this movie took place) wrote that it was very fashionable (at least in the early 1910's) to have a canary. In fact, when her family traveled by train from Kansas City to Oberlin, KS my great grandmother handled 3 little girls under five and the canary in the cage.

Love movie! Lived in Lafayette Square.

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