Castine, Maine is an indecently pretty place, the very paradigm of a New England village, classic crisp white houses on Elm-lined streets, sloping to a breathtaking harbor at the mouth of the Bagaduce River.   It is a history-proud town,with dozens of charming historical markers noting the sites of important events of the last four hundred years. Though the village has infinite charms, time is short, we all have lawns to mow, and we'll look at just a very few today.

The earthwork ramparts of Fort Madison, built as defense against the British in 1812.  It didn't work, and for a time  after, our peninsula was again part of England.

The rugosa roses are in full force this week, scenting the air and delighting the eye.  One hedge in particular sweeps uphill at a curve on Perkins Street in Castine, leading to the front door of a most unlikely and charming little cottage.

According to the 1896 edition of Augustus Wheeler's history of Castine, this cottage was originally the Witham farmhouse, its first floor one of the few stone buildings in town.  In 1884, Frank Wood, an entrepreneur from Bangor who built a number of picturesque log structures in the neighborhood in an effort to develop a summer colony, built a new cottage atop the stone foundation, using bark covered logs.  His original renovations can be seen below.   A few years later, another renovation gave the cottage its current form.



No matter how engrossed I am by a film,  I will eventually be distracted by the sets.  Such was the case during a recent viewing of 'Giant', the wonderful, wonderful George Stevens production of Edna Ferber's story of Texas rancher Rock Hudson, his refined aristocratic wife Elizabeth Taylor, and their neighbor James Dean.  I'm sure their characters had names, but let's face it:  They were  Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean.  Whenever the camera zoomed in on Taylor or Dean, the edges of the screen practically caught fire.  They really don't make them like they used to.

In this movie, the interior sets are as much characters as the actors, and change along with them.  The set design plot goes something like this::  Rock Hudson, back East on business, visits an associate at his old Maryland homestead---I did not get a screen shot of the exterior, but in Hollywood fashion, the set more resembles one of those Georgian country houses so beloved by the fox-hunting set on Long Island in the early years of the last century.  As he enters the front hall, one finds oneself not in Maryland, but instead suddenly in New England, for the set designer has based his design on one of New England's handsomest 18th century interiors, the hall of the Moffatt-Ladd house in Portsmouth New Hampshire.  There are differences---the door heads are Federal, in the style of Salem's Samuel McIntyre, not Georgian Portsmouth.  But, small quibble.  It is interesting to see all the same

In love, Elizabeth Taylor dances in her parent's hall
The original:  The hall at the Moffatt-Ladd house in Portsmouth NH
Later, we find Rock dining with Elizabeth and her family, partaking of Maryland hospitality.  This room was copied from the drawing room of Arlington House, the Custis-Lee mansion in Virginia.  We're getting closer---after all, Arlington is just the other side of Washington from Maryland

Despite a slight difference in proportion, there is no mitaking the historical source for the dining room set.

Two views of the White Parlor at Arlington house, with its lovely Leghorn marble fireplace surround, and reeded over doors.

In short order, Rock and Liz marry, and go home to the gloomy old house built by Rock's father on the family's Reata ranch, in the middle of Nowhere on the Texas plains.

The newlyweds are greeted in the baronial hall by Rock's less than friendly sister, Mercedes McCambridge.  The Old Dominion gentility of Liz's childhood home has been left far behind.

But not to worry, distraction from the brooding decor arrives in the person of brooding James Dean.

But, that doesn't keep Liz from updating the decoration in the hall to something more closely resembling her genteel youth.

After awhile, everyone in the movie seems to strike oil, and the decorating at Reata really takes off---Liz brings things  up to snuff, chic in monochromatic gray to complement her hair (The years have passed, and she's now the mother of nearly grown Carole Baker).

Rooms b y Frances Elkins

A bedroom designed by Frances Elkins
 The Hall gets yet a sleeker treatment also, but I didn't get a screen grab.  However, at some point, Liz and Rock wind up at a new hotel development built by James Dean, who also struck oil.  The set designer really knew what he or she was up to, for the suites in this hotel would do Dorothy Draper proud.

And there you have it---how a design fan sees a classic movie.

 Baz Luhrman's set designer could take lessons.