TBT: Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story (1987)

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Welp, I watched Little Gloria … Happy at Last (1982), so there was only one possible option to follow it up with: Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story! A TV movie! From 1987! Starring Farrah Fawcett! With costumes by Jane Robinson of Brideshead Revisited (1981) fame! Was it great? Nope! Was it terrible? Nope. Poor Little Rich Girl attempts to tell the life story of Barbara Hutton, heiress to the Woolworth drugstore fortune, who was filthy rich, many-times married, and mostly miserable. There’s a brief glimpse of Hutton as a young girl, but mostly it’s focused from her debut in 1930 through her marriages to seven different men, including Cary Grant.

The film is mostly carried by Farrah Fawcett, and I was surprised at how acceptable she was as an actress, and how normal-looking she was when she wasn’t in a bathing suit with feathered hair. She was actually nominated for a Golden Globe for this performance, and the film won for Best Miniseries or Television Film.

As I mentioned above, the costumes were designed by Jane Robinson (Jennie: Lady Randolph ChurchillBrideshead RevisitedAnastasia: The Mystery of Anna, and A Handful of Dust), and she was nominated for an Emmy for her work. There was, predictably, a TON of costumes and not much budget to make them with:

“Fawcett … wears 168 costumes, which require her to change almost every 10 minutes … Hutton’s lifestyle created problems for the producer. The jewels could be borrowed, but [producer] Persky and director Charles Jarrott had to find a cheap way to recreate the clothes, houses and decor of Hutton and her friends in the U.S., Venice, London and Tangier. ‘Oh, God, it has been torture, absolute torture,’ moaned costume designer Jane Robinson … ‘They want a mega, mega, megarich production, but only give you 50 cents to do it.’ She had Savile Row tailor Edward Sexton recreate many of the men’s costumes and some of Fawcett’s, finding the others wherever she could. ‘We couldn’t simply copy all the clothes Barbara Hutton wore because it would be boring,’ she adds. ‘This isn’t a documentary'” (Arts & People: Barbara Hutton Warts and All, WWD, Oct. 12, 1987).

As mentioned in that article, Edward Sexton, a Savile Row tailor, made the men’s clothes:

“‘My style just fitted in right bang into what they were doing,’ said Sexton, who was in the city last week. His ‘practical’ style includes double-breasted, ventless jackets worn with high-waisted, cuffed pants. His two-piece suits for men and women cost about $1,800. ‘The film will certainly have a bearing on fashion,’ Sexton said confidently of his first film experience. No doubt he’s right, because Jane Robinson, the British costume designer of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ fame, designed the clothes for Fawcett. And Cary Grant’s sartorial style, which Sexton tried to capture, is legendary. One detail on Sexton’s impeccable suits are ‘street-walker’ lapels. These look like notched lapels, except the angle of the peak ‘is parallel with the pavement'” (Deco Jewels and an Innocent in Hollywood, San Francisco Chronicle, May 18, 1987).

As is my wont, I took a bunch of screencaps, so let’s take a wander through Poor Little Rich Girl!

We start with toddler Barbara, whose mother committed suicide when Barbara was just four years old in 1917:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Wearing the 1910s-does-1780s style so popular in this era.

Barbara grows up in just a few scenes, moving to England at one point:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Or as you and I know it, Downton Abbey! There was even an interior shot that was straight out of Downton.

Where she meets her governess:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Played by Brenda Blethyn (right) of the 2007 War and Peace, Atonement, and Pride & Prejudice & Pigs.

Pre-teen Barbara is played by Fairuza Balk (most famous for that mid-1990s cheese-fest The Craft):

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Wearing the same color scheme, now with braided buns.

Kevin McCarthy, who has been in a million things, from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Love Boat, is the daddy who never loves her enough:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

At her debut, Barbara wears a traditional white dress whose fabric just screams synthetic — or is it just the crappy YouTube version I’m watching?

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Here’s our third white dress, red sash combo!

Fawcett pulls off 1930s well:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl
1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

They occasionally edited black and white footage of Fawcett into newsreels, which actually worked quite well.

Some costumes just didn’t read well on my screen:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Like this one *shudder*

Miriam Margolyes (The Age of Innocence, the 1998 Vanity Fair, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Call the Midwife) shows up briefly as an American living in the south of France:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Here she’s cross-dressing and singing!

Where Hutton meets her first husband, a sleazy Georgian (country, not state) count:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Wearing a deco print.

And makes friends with the consistently-fabulously-attired Pauline de la Rochelle (Stéphane Audran):

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

LOVE THIS SO HARD.

And Jean Kennerly (Zoë Wanamaker of Mr. Selfridge and Britannia):

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Great colors, great use of plaid!

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Another great print.

Anne Francis turns up as Barbara’s step-mother:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Excellent wave.

Babs marries the sleazy Georgian:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

(Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

There’s lots of glammy satin:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl 1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

And sporty daywear:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

And shmucky soon-to-be ex-husbands:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

1930s suits:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl 1987 Poor Little Rich Girl 1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Some great contrast buttons:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

<3 <3 <3

New soon-to-be shitty husbands:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

More 1930s suits:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

You really can’t go wrong with navy and white, can you?

Embroidered fabrics:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Minnie Mouse-y numbers:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl 1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Glam friends:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

JAMES READ (George Hazard from North and South) plays Cary Grant and is shockingly convincing:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

(Photo by: Alice S. Hall/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

Shit gets dowdy in the 1940s:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

That hairstyle just doesn’t work on Fawcett.

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

OK, add a big hat and all is well!

But hanger-on Pauline still dresses well!

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Barbara moves to Morocco, which is an Orientalist escape fantasy for her:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Breaking out the big rocks!

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Hutton embraces Asian lounging wear (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank).

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

In Morocco, all the women wear these saris-over-long-sleeved-blouse combinations, which, is that actually worn in Morocco?

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Keeping it tasteful.

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

The real Barbara Hutton in Morocco. She’s wearing something very similar, although no long sleeves.

Is endlessly disappointed in love:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

If you’re going to marry a jerk, at least have fabulous hair, right?

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

(Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl 1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Zoe Wanamaker gets some more cute outfits:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

It’s the white trim that makes it fab!

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

And the dotted veiling.

We go to Carnevale in Venice:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

Ultra sparkly!

Bounce back to Morocco:

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

And die alone! What fun!

 

Are you a biopic fan? Got any recommendations for me?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

18 Responses

  1. Roxana

    I think the Woolworth fortune was cursed. Barbara wasn’t the only heir to lead a colorful and totally dysfunctional life.

    Reply
  2. Heidilea

    Is there a scene where she cuts her throat with a razor (I mean, it’s implied)? I think I may have seen parts of this movie as a kid.

    Reply
  3. Saraquill

    The outfits are lackluster and show the budget. While I’m not a fan of “The Makioka Sisters” movie, they did fabulous period outfits on a budget way better.

    As for biopics, I enjoyed “Heavenly Creatures” and “Leonie.”

    Reply
  4. Roxana

    Traditional Moroccan dress seems to be a long sleeved kaftan, often gorgeously embelished but Barbara could wear what she liked. Gorgeous clothes, favulouf jewls and even Cary Grant weren’t enough. Sad.
    Farah Fawcett looks amazing, and not at all like her Charlie’s Angels character.

    Reply
  5. Susan Pola Staples

    I vaguely remember watching it. Wasn’t one of the husbands a Nazi?

    Biopic suggestion: upcoming Harriet Tubman movie entitled – what else- Harriet? I saw the trailer and was impressed.

    Reply
  6. Nzie

    I always appreciate a reminder of how lovely 30s fashion could be. I feel like I forget it between the 20s glam and the 40s vintage/wartime/postwar vibe.

    For biopics, my favorite is probably Amazing Grace. I liked Belle, about the mixed race woman raised by her English judge great uncle, but I didn’t like some of the historical changes. I think you guys may have done short reviews of both of these. I don’t have TV so I haven’t watched a TV movie in years.

    Reply
  7. ljones1966

    I have mixed feelings about the costumes. But I loved that navy blue and white suit from the 1930s.

    [“Miriam Margolyes (The Age of Innocence, the 1998 Vanity Fair, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Call the Midwife) shows up briefly as an American living in the south of France:”]

    I believe the actress was portraying Elsa Maxwell, but I’m not sure.

    [“JAMES READ (George Hazard from North and South) plays Cary Grant and is shockingly convincing”]

    Was his grasp of Grant’s accent convincing? That would be a surprise. Although I’ve always regarded Read as a very good actor.

    Reply
    • MoHub

      We might need a Miriam Margolyes WCW. She was the Spanish Infanta in The Black Adder and Queen Victoria in Blackadder’s Christmas Carol.

      Reply
  8. Barbara Stolarski

    Love your articles but how can you mention Brenda Blethyn without including the fantastic PBS series “Vera”?

    Reply
  9. woostersauce2014

    I vaguely remember watching this and while many of the clothes do show that they were made from a limited budget, others are fabulous and captures the period well.

    Reply
  10. Elizabeth K. Mahon

    I think Winfield Hall is supposed to be on Long Island, although they probably filmed it in England. Barbara named her home in London in Regent’s Park Winfield House, which is now the American Ambassador’s residence.

    Reply
  11. SarahV

    Two points –

    1) Might I suggest as the third peice of these 80’s telepic costume extravaganzas to be reviewed The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, starring Ann-Margret and the estimable Claudette Colbert? I remember being dazzled by the costuming.

    2) The skeevy Georgian Count husband i8s Nicholas C lay, the oh-so-hunky lover of Lady Chatterley and also Queen Guinevere!

    Reply
  12. Emme

    I’m living for that white dress with the black buttons down the side. It’s beyond gorgeous. 😍

    Reply

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