Gillian Armstrong knew little if anything about George Orry-Kelly when she started making her zesty and intimate documentary about him, WOMEN HE’S UNDRESSED. The Australian with enormous talent and even more guts, hopped a boat to New York City when he was 24, where he met and fell in love with Archie Leach, and became part of the thriving Greenwich Village scene. Eventually, the two would make their way to Hollywood, with Leach becoming Cary Grant, and George adding a hyphen to his name and becoming the Oscar™-winning studio costume designer of choice for such stars as Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck.
When I Armstrong spoke to me by phone from Australia on August 3, 2016, my first question was about how such a style icon could have become all but unknown in his native land. We moved on to why she was so taken with this story that she was willing to spend years piecing together his story from newspaper clippings and interview with his friends and his clients, who were usually both.
One thing I most wanted to talk about was the approach Armstrong had used, which involves Orry-Kelly himself, played by Darren Gilshenan, sitting a red boat on a blue sea, talking to us candidly as he tells his story with his unique brand of wit. I also wanted to know what it was like for her to spend an afternoon being able to touch some of his most famous dress designs, including one of the dresses Natalie Wood wore in GYPSY. We finished up with my asking whether or not making a film about clothes designer had made her more aware of what the people around her were wearing.
The documentary tells the story of legendary costume designer George Orry-Kelly, winner of three Academy Awards, roommate of Cary Grant, and the man who brought out the woman in Tony Curtis in SOME LIKE IT HOT. Told as a poignant and witty monologue by Orry-Kelly himself, courtesy of actor Darren Gilshenan, Armstrong’s approach to her documentary is as innovative as the man himself, and as custom-fitted as one of his designs. Full of dishy stories, fascinating Hollywood insider information, and a redefinition of mother love, WOMEN HE’S UNDRESSED is not just Hollywood history, but also a snapshot American history told from the perspective of a gusty Australian. Armstrong’s previous films include LITTLE WOMEN, OSCAR AND LUCINDA, and MY BRILLIANT CAREER. She is also engaged in an ongoing documentary project that follows the lives of several Australians from girlhood to adulthood at crucial intervals of their lives.