Monday, April 21, 2014

David Hicks and Petulia

I recently spent a rainy afternoon watching the 1968 movie, Petulia.  Starring Julie Christie, George C. Scott, and Richard Chamberlain, the movie takes place in the swinging and psychedelic San Francisco of the late 1960s.  Christie played Petulia Danner, a young, glamorous wife who is, to borrow her phrase, a kook.  ("Kook" is really putting it mildly.)  Recently married to a wealthy, handsome, and violently abusive man (portrayed by Chamberlain,) Petulia embarks on an affair with Scott's character, a doctor going through a mid-life crisis.  The film's story unfolds in scattered rather than linear fashion, with flash-backs and flash-forwards (supposedly a novelty at the time) interjecting themselves throughout the movie.  Adding to the slightly chaotic film sequences are the acid-like, psychedelic images that flash up on the screen every now and then, set to the accompaniment of music by Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, all of whom make cameo appearances.

In a 2006 New York Times article about Petulia's release on DVD, Dave Kehr wrote that the movie was originally "released to largely uncomprehending audiences."  Had I been an adult watching Petulia in 1968, I would have been one of those uncomprehending viewers, and in fact, I'm uncomprehending in 2014.  The movie is too weird and, well, too kooky for me.  And the Janis Joplin/ Grateful Dead soundtrack does absolutely nothing for me.  But I really didn't watch this movie for its plot or to see a young Richard Chamberlain.  Rather, I watched it because David Hicks served as design consultant on the movie.


I had once read that Hicks was responsible for two rooms on the film's set, and I believe that both rooms were set in the home of Petulia and her husband.  The first Hicks room that makes an appearance is the Danners' living room.  You can see a glimpse of it in the photo below:

By the way, just what are those blue flowers? They look like blue carnations or mums.

In the three photos above, you can see a number of Hicks hallmarks, including bergères covered in bright blue, solid-colored fabric (which, along with the room's contemporary painting, cobalt glass collection, and shelves of blue books, punctuates the room with the color,) skirted, triangular-shaped sidetables, and a number of tablescapes.

But perhaps even more "Hicks-like" than the living room is the Danners' bedroom, in which one of Hicks's wonderful canopied beds plays a starring role.  (According to Ashley Hicks's most recent book, his father was not happy with the way the Petulia canopy was built, noting that the valance was too shallow.  He was right.)  Such an intense color combination of canary yellow and hot pink is not quite what I would expect in a house in San Francisco, and yet, it's really very striking.  Christie's bright yellow robe only adds to the intensity of color.  And I'm crazy for the pink fabric that lines the bed hangings.  Do you think it is a highly-glazed cotton?  It looks too shiny to be silk.

 Who knew that one could be so pensive while serving orange juice?

Although I wouldn't rate Petulia a movie classic, it is a rather interesting film.  If you love the swinging sixties and the music that went along with it, then you might well enjoy this movie.  And for those of us who don't, let's just appreciate the beauty and vitality of these David Hicks-designed  rooms...and the beauty and vitality of a young Richard Chamberlain, too.


  1. This is the best blog post anywhere ever. Peace.

    1. Why, thank you, Stephen! It was a fun blog post to write.

  2. Jennifer-

    This was such a fun post. Just when you think you've seen interesting color combinations, you go back in history and find that nothing is truly new.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. Your attention to interiors and their decoration as found in films has been an interest of mine also. I was unaware of "Petulia" and am grateful to put it on my list. May I recommend a few films for the same interest? "Who's Killing the Great Chefs of Europe" and "The Honey Pot" use the same sumptuous house in Venice--with different interiors; "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone" based on the novel by Tennesee Williams depicts a comfortable apartment in Rome in the mid 20th century; and my favorite: "Boom," perhaps the worst movie by Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Noel Coward (based on a play by Tennessee Williams "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore") shows a striking modernist interior of the 1960's. This last is difficult to find on dvd but worth the search.
    Thank you for your blog that always offers images that refresh me and a text that is so clearly written. Your blog was the Spring in my Winter.

  4. Your post on the film Petulia has got me frantically going through my memory file.
    I once had a carpenter friend who'd lived in San Francisco and known the family in
    whose house Petulia was filmed. In other words it was not, as I understand it, a built set.
    My friend had seen the house many times and described it to me---it belonged to the family of his then girlfriend, if I recall. Yet the moment I saw your post and that bedroom, it all came back to me, albeit in a hazy form.

  5. love your post + especially this one + who knew?

  6. Jennifer I may just have to watch this one. I often love movies for the interiors. Lately I have been watching The Marple 2004 Series because not only do the mysteries intrigue me; nearly every room is a design delight!

    The Arts by Karena

  7. Oh, I'm so going to show this post to my husband! He thinks I'm the only one who is obsessively looking at interiors while watching movies; turns out I'm not alone. I've been known to watch a movie more than once (a rare occurrence) just to check out the house/room/flow/chair. Ha! A fellow interior scout. Nicely written post.

  8. The blue flowers are hydrangeas. And they are one of the best things about this movie.

  9. Anonymous3:07 AM

    The flowers have to be hydrangeas on acid. And #OMGJulieChristie.

  10. Anonymous10:11 PM

    Best film ever for interiors (early 19th C) is Persuasion. The version with Ciaran Hinds. There is the medieval house of the sister, the mid-18th century squire's house, the up-to-that-date house of Anne's father, and the avant-garde interior of the house he rents in Bath. Dunno who the set designer was.

  11. thank you for this- i saw the film and want petulias beautiful bedroom! so happy i found your blog.

    1. Kathy, Petulia's bedroom is a favorite of mine, too. Thank you for commenting!