By Jennifer Tisdale
The personal archive of publisher, author, and artist Fleur Cowles (1908–2009) has been donated to the Ransom Center. The materials will be accessible once processed and cataloged, but an initial assessment confirms that the archive is as dynamic as Cowles was herself.
In 1983, Cowles celebrated the publication of The Flower Game, a book that shared hundreds of responses from friends around the world, all answering the question of what ten flowers they would like to take to a lonely island, assuming anything would grow there.
When soliciting friends, Cowles wrote, “The replies will determine the best loved flowers everywhere (I am writing to many places around the world).”
Participants ranged from European to Hollywood royalty, proving that Cowles didn’t limit herself to a continent nor to small social circles. A detailed chart documents the progress of Cowles’s initiative, revealing the friends invited to participate and the dates for solicitation and receipt.
Just as these responses provide insight into Cowles’s broad personal and professional network, the hundreds of typed and handwritten, signed responses represent just a small fraction of the correspondence found in the archive.
Below are highlights from a handful of the participants.
Photographer Beaton provided not only his list of flowers but also a handwritten note stating “Any large white orchid of any variety, as long as it is white.”
Actress Bergen’s list included wisteria and night-blooming jasmine, and she elaborated on her selections: “Flowers to see and smell—by day and night—that bloom underfoot and hang overhead, plus a few insect escorts—butterflies and caterpillars, the odd ladybug—for company.”
November 28, 1981
Olivia de Havilland:
Actress de Havilland gave herself an hour to construct her list, which contained water lilies, blue bells, and peonies.
Actor Fairbanks’s list includes a reference to his trademark carnation. Topping his list at number one is “The dark red (or Harvard red) carnation, as I have worn one in my button-hole actually since I have had a button-hole.”
March 6, 1979
The challenge of selecting flowers was difficult for anthropologist Goodall, who wrote, “The first 6 flowers were very easy to chose—but the last 4 were much harder. Not because it is difficult to think of 4 flowers one loves, but because it is difficult to reject others.”
February 27, 1979
Princess Grace of Monaco:
Listed among her favorite flowers, Princess Grace included bamboo, noting, “I hope you will accept bamboo although I have never seen it flower.”
March 7, 1979
Among his list of flowers, designer and interior decorator Hicks includes datura, hyacinth, and tuberose.
July 8, 1980
Lady Bird Johnson:
Former First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson touted resilient flowers, claiming “Since I am an intensely practical person, I would choose flowers which give the most results for the least work and Zinnias and Marigolds and white Daisies would have to be on my list of favorite flowers. In my lifetime experience, I have found them to be so hardy and they give a great profusion of color over long weeks—I’ve always saluted their generosity!”
February 8, 1979
Actor Olivier’s list focused on roses. He wrote, “At the moment my gardening mind is filled with roses, so let me offer you a dozen of these.” Some of the varieties included Papa Meilland, Panorama Holiday (an exquisite pink, commonly named Beautiful Flower) and Blue Moon.
August 10, 1981
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s list included sweet peas, freesia, and violets.
Journalist Smith, a native Texan, elaborated on her list, “But my favorites, the ones I would have to have, are the lovelies—the wildflowers of Texas: Bluebonnets, winecups, Indian paintbrush, wild daisies, wild poppies—a collage of color and nostalgia.”
June 10, 1980
Among some of the Mexican artist’s favorites, Tamayo includes the calla lily, hibiscus, and the yucca.
April 3, 1979
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By Alicia Dietrich
The web exhibition A Tonic to the Imagination: Costume Designs for Stage and Screen by B. J. Simmons & Co., which highlights the work of the British theatrical costumier company from 1889 to 1959, is now live on the Ransom Center’s website. Founded in 1857, Simmons & Co. dominated costume preparation in London for more than 100 years.
The web exhibition highlights the immense scope of the Simmons & Co. archive and is intended to encourage research in the collection. The exhibition is organized into 10 categories of costume design and showcases 228 selected images drawn from 60 film and theater productions. The Web exhibition was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
The Ransom Center acquired the voluminous archive of B. J. Simmons & Co. in two separate installments in 1983 and 1987. Comprising more than 500 boxes, the collection is one of the largest of its kind in the world.
From its founding in 1857 to its demise in 1964, Simmons & Co. created stage costumes for hundreds of theater productions in London, the provinces and overseas, ranging from Victorian pantomime to the “kitchen sink” dramas of the 1960s. Simmons & Co. also provided costumes for more than 100 films, including features directed by Alexander Korda and Laurence Olivier.
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