A revealing production still from Naná (Celestino Gorostiza, 1943).

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Production stills often reveal facts about the making of a movie that were not documented in any other way: staff members that received no credit for their participation; techniques and equipment used; visitors to the sets, and so forth.

The production still featured in this page belongs to Naná, a Mexican film based on the novel by Émile Zola. Alberto Santander and César Camacho Corona produced the movie with financial backing from Azteca Films, the powerful Mexican distributor of Spanish-language films in the United States, and owner of the Estudios Azteca in Mexico City.

Naná was shot in sets and locations in November, 1943. Celestino Gorostiza directed the film. He was a noted playwright and stage director, as well as the head of a prestigious drama school.

Lupe Vélez starred in Naná, which was her second Mexican film, and the last of her career. Miguel Ángel Ferriz and Crox Alvarado played the male leading roles. The rest of the cast included well known actors, like Isabelita Blanch, Elena D’Orgaz, Conchita Gentil Arcos, Jorge Che Reyes, and Pepe del Río in his first role as a teenager, after a successful career as a child actor.

This production still revealed significant information about costume design for Naná. In them, we find two people that remained unidentified for decades: Norma Koch and Billy Livingstone.

It was known that a “Livingston” was one of the costume designers, along with Alberto Vázquez Chardy, who ran a high-end atelier in Mexico City. Naná’s credits state that “Livingston” took part in the movie “as a courtesy of RKO Films”.

Since no research about costume design in Mexican film has been conducted so far, nobody had paid much attention to those costume credits.

After some research, we found out “Livingston” was actually Billy Livingstone, renowned costume designer for revue theatre, ice shows like Sonja Heine’s and Holiday on Ice, and also for a few movies produced by Paramount and 20th Century Fox. Mr. Livingstone was known for creating very expensive and spectacular attires, made “with the best of materials”, and full of sequins, pearls, and other embellishments.

Livingstone had another specialty: the making of glimmering gowns for strip-teasers as famous as Gypsy Rose Lee, Margie Hart, and Jessica Rogers. According to a newspaper report, “[the designer] equips the dresses he makes for them with zippers, snaps, and ties in exactly the right places and in such a way that they are not visible to the patrons…”[1] And that sort of costume he designed for Lupe Vélez. There is a splendid musical number in the movie, which title is not given in the film.

The naughty lyrics are about the wind undressing women and how they were to cover themselves with their sun umbrellas. While singing, LupeVélez loses a few pieces of her outfit, apparently by the effect of a strong wind. She ends the song donning just some lavish –and quite modest- lingerie and embellished stockings. The costume is magnificent, and the effect of the wind sweeping it off is well made.

Livingstone not only designed the outfit for that performance; he also was there when the movie was made, as this production still, and others not shown here, prove.

As to Norma Koch, who appears in this still, she received no credit for her participation, and there was no indication at all about whom she was, until we found the clue in an interview Martha Elba Fombellida made to Lupe Vélez in November, 1943, while the latter was in Mexico City for the shooting of Naná. The interview was published in ‘Cinema Reporter’, one of the leading film magazines in Mexico back then.

The interview was illustrated with several photographs. Martha Elba and Lupe were in one of them with “Norma, the excellent designer Lupe brought with her from Hollywood lured by high wages.” This Norma was definitely the unidentified woman seen in the Naná production stills.

After some research, we found out “Norma” was Norma Koch, which later became a celebrity in Hollywood for her costume designs. Eventually, she won an Academy Award for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, and was nominated twice more after that. 

If not for Fombellida’s interview to Lupe Vélez, and the production stills Norma appears in, her participation would have remained unknown.

Looking at some of Norma’s later designs for period films, it seems she was responsible for the glorious gowns and day outfits Lupe Vélez wears along the movie. Most probably, Alberto Vázquez Chardy made the leading men’s outfits, since he was frequently appointed to design gentleman’s period costumes.

Livingstone, Koch, and Vázquez Chardy did such a splendid job that producers were forced to lease outfits for the rest of the cast from ‘Western Costume’, the well known Hollywood’s firm, in order to match the leading actors’ lush costumes.

Once more, production stills had shed light on unknown aspects of the making of a movie; in this case, Lupe Vélez's last film.


Agrasánchez Film Archive:

            Iconographic holdings, box ‘Naná still negatives’.

            Hemerographic holdings:

                        Cinema Reporter, Mexico 1943-1944

                        Novelas de la pantalla 1943-1944

[1] Where Strip Teasers Get Their Gowns (1942, enero 11), The Oregonian, Portland, OR, p. 56.