DRESSING "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS"

In the Spring of 1952, Cecil B. DeMille announced that he would direct a remake of his 1923 biblical epic The Ten Commandments. As was typical of a DeMille film, the production involved hundreds of crew members and months of research and preparation, leaving not even the smallest detail unattended. For the period costuming required, DeMille relied on Paramount’s chief costume designer, Edith Head, to lead a team that included four other credited designers: Arnold Friberg, Dorothy Jeakins, Ralph Jester and John Jensen. In this image from the Cecil B. DeMille photographs, Head discusses a costume with DeMille and others on set.

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The Ten Commandments (1956) cost more than thirteen million dollars to make and was shot in Hollywood and on location in Egypt at various intervals between October 1954 and August 1955. In early December of 1954, the company traveled from their headquarters at Giza to Fayoum to shoot the brick pits sequence. This page from the film’s wardrobe plot book in Special Collections shows Charlton Heston (Moses) appearing as a slave in Arnold Friberg’s design.

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According to documents in the Paramount Pictures production records, thousands of extras were also outfitted for the brick pits sequence. The supervising costume designer on location in Egypt, Dorothy Jeakins, called for “enough fabric yardage [to be] purchased, dyed and aged in Cairo to provide 2,150 loincloths for the men, and 800 simple, workable, functional garments for the women and 100 children (50 boys, 50 girls).” She also mandated that the “dying should be rich, ruddy colors to contrast with the elephant color of the mud and the dark skin tones of the slaves. If suitable ties or tapes are provided attached to each loincloth, no additional belt need be issued.” Jeakins was keen to keep costs to a minimum, working within the scene’s estimated budget of $7,000. The meticulous work of the designers, as well as the legions of assistants in the wardrobe department, earned the film an Academy Award nomination for Costume Design (Color).

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