Well, we have it, and ‘unusual’ is said with an attenuated Hitchcockian accent, appropriately enough, because it is an item associated with the great man, albeit tangentially. Specifically, we have acquired out of the stock of Warner Brothers a George III demilune pier table of large size, well known to many of you, whether you know it or not, the result of its prominent placement in the Alfred Hitchcock film ‘Dial M for Murder’. With the movie itself taken from the play of the same name, cinematically it’s what’s known as a ‘rug show’, with all the action taking place indoors, in this instance in just two rooms of the fictional London apartment in Maida Vale occupied by the main characters, played by Grace Kelly and Ray Milland. We’ve got some great photos of Grace Kelly looking harried and Ray Milland deceitfully calculating- with the pier table prominently behind.
Although Warner’s, along with MGM and Paramount, would import vast quantities of European antiques for use in set decoration, it is interesting to note that this piece was actually purchased from ex-star, prominent antiques dealer, designer to the stars and progenitor of the Hollywood Regency style, Mr. William Haines. As well as the Warner Brothers inventory mark, the piece also has a label from Haines-Foster, then located in exquisite premises at 8720 Sunset Boulevard. It was an astonishing place. Purpose built for Haines, with a colonnaded façade and curved display windows, Haines served the ne plus ultra in the industry, with prominent commissions from Joan Crawford, George Cukor, and Louis B. Mayer’s daughter and son-in-law, Bill and Edith Goetz. Haines was also the antiques purveyor to and designer for Jack Warner, whose grand new house designed when Warner married his wife Ann replete with Haines-selected fine quality English antiques.
In this case, though, the pier table connection between William Haines and Jack Warner is incidental, but more substantially linked to the set designer for ‘Dial M…’, the redoubtable George James Hopkins. A designer with a career in movies that lasted from the late teens into the 1970s, Hopkins work, mainly at Warners, included some stunning sets- ‘Auntie Mame’, ‘My Fair Lady’, and- wait for it- ‘Casa Blanca’. In his salad days, he was reputed to have had an intimate relationship with the director William Desmond Taylor, whose yet unsolved murder has always conjured up lurid associations with drugs and unconventional sex. Don’t you just love the movies?