The nickname cougar, signifying women who have “a thing” for younger men, hasn’t been around for as long as they’ve been cropping up in popular culture. Before she had an epithet, she was a moody manipulator whose wardrobe was as chic as it was sexy, her story the perfect narrative for a midcentury cougar. Her interiors were equally cosmopolitan, her milieu a long unfolding of style statements as she prowled through a 1967 Mike Nichols film that was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won the Oscar for Best Directing. It was one of the most popular movies of its era.
A Midcentury Cougar with Sensual Prowess
A now famous Simon and Garfunkel song introduced us to her—the cigarette smoke flowing from her ample lips brought to mind each time I hear, “And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson…”
I have been making my way through Nichols’ oeuvre lately—from beginning to end—revisiting her world in his second effort decades after being introduced to it. One of the surprises I had not anticipated was watching a fresh-faced Ben Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman at the launch of his career. His star has risen so high since then that seeing him was like experiencing a completely new character than the one I witnessed the first time around—the known leading man infiltrating the unknown neophyte with a strange familiarity that couldn’t have existed when the film debuted. The melodies also plucked at a poignant place in me given the distance of time, proving that nostalgia gleans its power only from afar.
The interiors created by production designer Richard Sylbert were smart enough to stand up to today’s highest standards of what it meant to be stylishly midcentury—only Mrs. Robinson’s bedroom feeling a bit dated because it was more fashion forward at the time. Though it would be easy to judge Sylbert for this, he at least managed a cosmopolitan presentation of 70s style before it raced America full-tilt into garishness—the shag carpeting, pops of overly bright purple and oversized movie-star-lit mirror in her lair hinting at the future she will have to face.
And Here’s to You, Mrs. Robinson
Looking back at the film in an article for Vanity Fair, Sam Kashner reports the furs Bancroft wore, which included a Somalian leopard-skin wrap, were worth $25,000, the value today adding up to around $180,000. Kashner quotes Nichols as saying he kept thinking about the beast in the jungle so animal skins seemed a natural extension of Bancroft’s character.
She is certainly feline as she tiptoes through the confines of her cage behind its mission-style façade, her acting out proving it is more a prison than a fortress. Slatted wood doors in a glacial white in the bedroom and lattice panels painted a provocative black in the den hint that someone could be there, peering from the other side as the seduction unfolds. These were simply midcentury era design moves, of course, but it is constructed storytelling at its most powerful because it lends the director an emotional edge.
The tailored pairing of black and white was ubiquitous—in the harlequin lozenges covering the floor of the hotel bar, in striped wallpaper and in the awnings just beyond the den’s sliding-glass doors. Then there’s Bancroft, rocking a black and white cheetah-patterned skirt so willfully I was determined to find newly released modern furnishings to surround her were she making her moves today. I spotted them in the spring introductions by Currey & Company, which will be on view at the Dallas Apparel & Accessories Market from June 22 through the 28, the Atlanta Gift & Home Furnishings Market from July 12 through 19, and the Las Vegas Market from July 31 through August 4.
This post celebrates the company’s ability to continually release timeless products with a thoroughly contemporary feel. It also pays homage to Mrs. Robinson, whose character was born on the big screen 49 years ago this coming December 22nd. The fact that she has remained a complex and compelling character speaks to Bancroft’s abilities as an actress. The film also proves that Nichols was one of the film industry’s greatest auteurs.
Currey & Company Continually Defines New Classics
Let me know if you agree that these Currey & Company spring releases would have been right at home in Mrs. Robinson’s cosmos. You can find them here: the Canto chandelier, the Gilda vanity and mirror, the Leandre chandelier, the Octave table lamp, the Monarch three-drawer chest, the Solene chandelier, the Longleaf wall sconce, the Briallen Demi-lune, and the Jubilee chandelier.
Anne Bancroft’s Moody Beauty
I highly recommend taking the time to read Kashner’s Vanity Fair article because it’s an excellent piece of reportage that tells the story of the evolution of the film. In the article, he notes, “Though playing mother and daughter, Bancroft and Ross never actually have a scene together. The closest they come is when Benjamin bursts into Elaine’s bedroom to confess his affair with her mother, and Mrs. Robinson, rain-drenched and desperate, stands outside the door, too late to stop him. Her elegant face is framed just above Elaine’s own.”
Quoting Ross, he writes, “You see Mrs. Robinson, disillusioned and bitter. It’s one of those very subtle moments that only a great actress can pull off. In that moment you see the story of her life.” It truly was a snapshot that embodied The Sound of Silence, one of Simon and Garfunkel’s songs that serve as lyrical characters in the film.
I also recommend reading the novel by Charles Webb that inspired the entire effort if you are compiling a summer reading list, as the dialogue is direct and snappy. Buck Henry did such an excellent job with the screenplay, you’ll be able to see the scenes unfolding as you read exchanges such as this in the novel if you remember the movie well:
“Haven’t you ever seen anybody in a slip before?” she said, letting the dress fall down around her and onto the floor.
“Yes I have,” Benjamin said, glancing away from her and at the portrait of Elaine. “But I just—“
“You still think I’m trying to seduce you, don’t you?”
“No I do not!” He threw his hands down to his sides. “Now I told you I feel terrible about saying that. But I don’t feel right up here.”
And the rest, as they say, is cinematic history!
The Currey & Company showroom in Dallas is in the World Trade Center at 2050 Stemmons Freeway, Suite 10000. If you go and you see other products you feel would fit Mrs. Robinson to a tee, Instagram them and call us out, okay? Also on the company’s summer event list is the Atlanta Gift & Home Furnishings Market from July 12 through 19, and the Las Vegas Market from July 31 through August 4.
The Modern Salonnière and this entry, A Midcentury Cougar on the Prowl, © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and SEO strategist. Her books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns.