Beginning her career as a script supervisor at the age of just 19, Angela Allen has worked alongside Hollywood's most famous directors and stars, including Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart and Sean Connery. As an unrivalled collection of original film posters is offered for sale online, Allen walked around the exhibition at Sotheby's New Bond Street galleries, sharing stories from the sets of the these iconic films.
POSTER FOR THE AFRICAN QUEEN, 1951 (BRITISH). ESTIMATE: 6,000—9,000.
"You've got the two faces, the boat and a bit of jungle,"Angela Allen stands back and considers the poster for The African Queen (a highlight of Sotheby's Original Film Posters sale).
The faces are those of Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, the vessel is the film's eponymous steamboat and the jungle is in the Belgian Congo. In 1951 Allen got to know these disparate elements well. At 21, she was one of the youngest members of a crew embedded in the African bush to make John Huston's classic adventure. As the film's continuity girl – now called script supervisor – Allen took the crew and cast to task if they didn't keep to the script (frocks, props and wisecracks). She even stood in for Hepburn as the boat went down to the base of the Murchison Nile.
Allen's career began, continued and ended on A-List films, a trajectory that took her from The Third Man in 1947 (dealing with Orson Welles in the sewers of Vienna) to Tuscany more than half a century later for Franco Zeffirelli's Tea with Mussollini.
ANGELA ALLEN (FAR LEFT) WITH EILEEN BATES, KATHERINE HEPBURN, HUMPHREY BOGART, LAUREN BACALL AND JOHN HUSTON ON THE SET OF THE AFRICAN QUEEN, 1951. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF ANGELA ALLEN.
Allen has kindly agreed to give me the inside track on working with many of the stars on Sotheby's walls, including Monroe, Mitchum, Caine and Connery. "Most of the ones I worked with were already up there," she says, a reference to their box-office draw, but also their poster power. Publicity and film posters were, she tells me, the responsibility of the distributors: "They designed the shot exactly the way they wanted it, one that you hadn’t got on film," Allen explains. "In those days you had posters and then you had stills outside the cinema in showcases, which you don’t get any more. These were taken by the stills photographer from the studio."
The male stars, she notes, were less image conscious than the women. Bogart and Caine just wore what they were told to wear, says Allen. "They didn't argue." It was a similar story with Sean Connery, with whom she worked on several films. "He wasn't particular about his appearance, he never wanted to wear a toupé – his 'bloody rug'."
ANGELA ALLEN ON SET WITH SEAN CONNERY. COURTESY OF ANGELA ALLEN.
In North Africa on The Man Who Would be King she would tease Connery. "A little Moroccan boy came with a package for Sean and asked for Mr Seamus Canary" Allen smiles. "So that's what we called him."
Robert Mitchum was another atypical tough guy. "Well he drank and he smoked but he was very bright. We all loved Robert. It was a Huston film with Deborah Kerr, Heaven Knows, Mr Allison. She was a nun and he was a marine, marooned together on Tobago. We had a terrible American censor man come down. And suddenly the pair of them, the nun and the marine, went in for the clinch and, oh, his face…no sense of humour."
In 1961 she worked on The Misfits with Clark Gable and, in her final performance, Marilyn Monroe. As we look at a large-format Italian poster for Some Like it Hot (translated into the more melodic A Qualcuno Piace Caldo), I ask whether the actress was aware of her sex appeal. "Oh yes, she was aware. She loved being nude, she loved stripping off. And we didn't want her to," Allen sighs. "She wore no underwear."
POSTER FOR SOME LIKE IT HOT (A QUALCUNO PIACE CALDO), (ITALIAN) 1959. ESTIMATE: 1,500—2,400.
As we walk around the exhibition, Allen's taste is for the less photographic, more illustrative, European posters. "Much more interesting," says Allen, looking over Raymond Gid's noir design of silhouettes for Les Diaboliques (1955). "Well it's French. It's got elegance and line."
Allen explains that the name of the cameraman, art designer or costume designer would only appear on a poster if were written into their contract. "Mine never," she says. This practice was called "below the line" – the distinction between the stars, director, producer or writer and the rest of the crew.
POSTER FOR LES DIABOLIQUES, (FRENCH) 1955. ESTIMATE: 1,500—2,400.
Nor has she a collection of the posters from her almost 100 films. By the time a feature was showing in cinemas she would be on to her next. "The only one I was given was on Jim Henson's Labyrinth, it was an end of picture present which Jim signed to me," she smiles. "It's probably worth something now."
MAIN IMAGE: POSTER FOR THE AFRICAN QUEEN, 1951 (BRITISH). ESTIMATE: 6,000—9,000.