Best of the best ..Tony Duquette the amazing talent….

Friday, January 20, 2012


Hutton Wilkinson on Working with Design Icon Tony Duquette                               

Entrance to Frogmore at Sortilegium. Tony was the ultimate crafter. He could handle a glue gun and a can of spray paint with the best of them. Branch’s of driftwood could become coral in a jiffy with can of coral spray paint and sunburst medallions were fashioned out of shiny hubcaps.





Tony Duquette

A new biography pays homage to a 20th century design luminary.

Great design is all about grand illusion. No one knew this better than Tony Duquette, the self-styled do-it-yourself di Medici whose razzle-dazzle décor, costumes, jewelry and interiors took center stage in Hollywood’s heyday.
His larger-than-life, over-the-top creations, dubbed Duquettery, won starring roles in films and in the homes and lives of the stars, and, now, his staged life is charmingly chronicled in “Tony Duquette” by House & Garden design director Wendy Goodman and Duquette successor Hutton Wilkinson. “Tony Duquette was trying to enchant the world,” says interior designer Wilkinson, who was associated with the materials magician for three decades and now owns Duquette’s Los Angeles-based company. “He worked with gold paper, not solid gold, and he always said, ‘Beauty, not luxury, is what I value. I do it to see the smile on people’s faces.’”
Whether they included Versailles-style mirrors crowned with lobsters, 18th-Century French paneling studded with pieces of sea coral or antique Gobelin tapestries framed with leopard-print velvet, Duquette’s Hollywood Regency-style fantasies never failed to delight. “He was always 10 years ahead of his time,” Wilkinson says. “And he never stopped amazing me. He’d walk into a junk shop and buy everything or he’d choose a poison green color scheme, and he was always right.”
If Duquette’s designs are original, so are the fool-the-eye materials he chose for their creation. “His pieces, whether they are made out of hubcaps or old erasers from a grade school, are humorous,” Wilkinson says, “but they are done in a very serious way.”
Although Duquette and his artist wife, Beegle, had been regaling Hollywood for decades, it wasn’t until 1972 that Wilkinson joined the party. “When I was in seventh grade, I read an article in the Los Angeles Times about him,” he says. “Tony Duquette was everything I dreamed of. I saved the article and then when I was 18, I was in art school and the teacher told me that Duquette was looking for volunteers to help him put on an art exhibit. I ended up working for him for five years then started my own design business. He was extremely generous. He never gave me a dollar, but he did give me jewels, invitations to parties and introductions to clients.”
Early in his career, Duquette became the protégé of interior designer Elsie de Wolfe, and through her connections he ultimately attracted the attention of Hollywood.
By the 1940s and 1950s Duquette and his Duquettery had made their mark in a number of films, including “Lovely To Look At,” “Kismet,” “To Catch a Thief” and in 1960, “Can-Can.” At the same time, he was creating costumes and sets for the San Francisco Ballet and San Francisco Opera and won a Tony for the costumes in the 1960 Broadway production of “Camelot.”
Soon, he was designing whimsical interiors for stars like James Coburn and Jennifer Jones, creating jewelry for the Duchess of Windsor and working with the likes of Doris Duke, J. Paul Getty and Elizabeth Arden.
His frequent fantasy parties were as legendary as his interior design work and his fun furnishings. The Duquettes’ West Hollywood studio, which looked like a sultan’s pleasure palace, became the setting for formal black-tie dinners and costume parties that attracted star diners like Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and Fred Astaire. Footmen, dressed in 18th Century Venetian livery, waited on the guests, and original divertissements, everything from Duquette-produced square dancing to Chinese ballets, provided the entertainment.
“It was like dream central,” Wilkinson says. “There was all this glitter and glamour – the tablecloths were gold lame, silver lace overlay or vinyl snakeskin or leopard, but the Duquettes always served humble Mexican food. The studio became a real destination for people.”
Wilkinson, who bought Dawnridge, Duquette’s first house, has been keeping the tradition of theatrical theme parties alive since Duquette’s death in 1999. “I redecorated the house so that now it is furnished only with pieces Tony made, and when I have my monthly dances and weekly dinner parties, I decorate it with Tony’s props,” he says. “I carry it on in my own way, but I’ll never be Tony Duquette, I’m as much Tony Duquette as Galliano is Dior, but I do my best to follow in his footsteps. I don’t know whether there will ever be another Tony Duquette; he was completely original.”
As time went on, Wilkinson and Duquette collaborated on interior design projects. Wilkinson, who is redecorating the old Sophia Loren ranch in Hidden Valley, California, continues to create 18-karat custom jewelry with precious and semi-precious stones for Bergdorf Goodman under the Tony Duquette brand. “Tony never compromised on his art,” Wilkinson says. “The lesson I learned from him was to work from the gut, to be spontaneous. Tony didn’t do his designs for the money – he was never rich, but he was what I call successful – he did them for the look.”
Regardless of whether Duquette was putting his signature touch on an Irish castle or a Parisian villa, he made it entertaining. All you have to do is look at his designs – who else would ever think to jazz up formal Louis XV dining chairs by hand painting amethyst leopard spots on their cream leather upholstery? — to see that. “Working with him was the most fun in the whole world,” Wilkinson says. “We never stopped laughing.”
The Duquette biography, Wilkinson says, has been a long labor of love. The writing was as easy as gilding an antler horn for a Duquette-designed mirror, but it took an entire decade to get a publisher interested. It is Wilkinson’s hope that his ode to Duquette, who was his role model and best friend, will inspire a new generation and that it will fan the fantasy, leading Hollywood to film, once again, the Duquette magic. “His was a fascinating life,” Wilkinson says. “He was a gentleman of the old school, and he knew everyone in his time.”
In the event that there is indeed a happy Hollywood ending, Wilkinson has an entire collection of Duquette pieces waiting in the wings for their next starring role.
Duquette photographed among his floral sculpture creations

Duquette photographed with one of his jewellery pieces ~ a Duchess Necklace


Tony and Beegle ( Elizabeth) Duquette at Dawnbridge 1949 just after their marriage

No One Does It Better: Tony Duquette & The Exquisite Art of Excess …

       „It’s a constant evolution. There is no master plan, no order. When I decorate a room, I work like an artist painting a canvas ~ I use pillows, Chinese lacquers, draperies and hangings to accent the basic arrangement. In the garden, I work in a similar way, ‚painting‘ with leaves. I use yellow-greens to lighten areas and deep greens and bronzes for shadow and drama. I highlight with corals, bright yellows and flowering tree branches.“  Tony Duquette.

Good taste is subjective. One person’s idea or notion of ‚good taste‘ may vastly differ from another’s. And the demonstration of what is considered to be ‚good taste‘ is nowhere more apparent than in one’s sartorial choices as it is in one’s surroundings. That said, with all the countless sources of decorating books, websites, and magazines which are presently available at one’s disposal – and all of which pontificating on the merits and ideals of what a home in ‚good taste‘ ought to appear to be with generous layouts of step-by-step instructions – one can attain the basic principles of acceptable good taste; that is, one can learn to replicate – or imitate – the mainstream notion of ‚good taste‘ and, in turn, achieve a ‚veneer‘ of a tastefully-done interior.

Originality, on the other hand, is quite a whole other matter. Originality cannot be duplicated for the simple fact that it requires three essential components: courage, self-confidence and intelligence. Courage is needed to venture ‚out on a limb,‘ to use an old expression, and to withstand the (very realistic) possibility of ridicule for one’s unconventional ideas (the majority of people do not eagerly take to new ideas and denigrate that which they find incomprehensible or too novel); courage and self-confidence are also required to believe in one’s own principles when no one else is willing to believe or is ready to share in one’s vision. Sustained by curiosity, the third component, intelligence, is necessary in order to explore untried options and to think independently – free of the status quo mainstream and away from the ‚herd mentality‘ – while at the same time questioning established rules on what is and what is not acceptable – and to ask the pivotal why; or rather, the more pertinent why not?

Tony Duquette – inerior decorator, jewellery designer, sculptor and one-time MGM set designer and costumier – was, unquestionably, a complete original. And whether or not you agree with Duquette’s notions of ‚good taste,‘ one thing is for certain: he had the courage, coupled with the intelligence, to fearlessly pursue his own visions along with the self-assured confidence to create unique, distinctive interiors – all of which he did with audacious panache and deft wit.

Anthony Michael Duquette, the oldest of four children, was born in Los Angeles on June 11th, 1914. A precocious child, when he was twelve, Tony entertained his younger siblings with a puppet show of Scheherazade, for which he made all the costumes himself and the toy houses, which he also built, were cleverly lit with birthday candles.

Tony Duquette spent his early years between Three Rivers, Michigan – where he and his family spent most of the year – and Los Angeles, California – where the Duquettes wintered. Tony was awarded two scholarships as a student: the prestigious Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, and the other to the Yale School of Drama. After graduating from the Chouinard Art Institute, Duquette began working in promotional advertising where he created captivating environments for the latest fashions. His first job was at the Los Angeles department store, Bullock’s. Simultaneously, he also began to freelance for a few well-established and reputable designers, namely: the chic actor-turned-legendary-decorator, William ‚Billy‘ Haines (1900-1973); interior designer James B. Pendleton (1904-1995); and one of Hollywood’s premiere costumiers, (Gilbert) Adrian (1903-1959).

Duquette moved permanently to Los Angeles in 1935 where he was later joined by his parents and three siblings in the early 1940s. It was at this period in his career – the early 1940s – that Duquette was discovered by Elsie de Wolfe (Lady Mendl), the acclaimed international decorator and arbiter of taste, living out the war years with her husband, Sir Charles Mendl, in Los Angeles. After admiring a jeweled plaster-and-glass centrepiece he had made for a dinner party, Lady Mendl commanded Duquette to make her a meuble (the French term for furniture). What Duquette created for Elsie was a black-lacquered secretaire en portefeuille with Moors set against a mirrored background festooned with Venetian glass flowers. Pleased with the result, it was enough to convince Lady Mendl of Duquette’s talent and she began to recommend him to influential editors, friends and clients (a collaboration developed between the two decorators – mentor and protégé -which lasted till Lady Mendl’s death in 1950). (After the liberation of Paris in August of 1944, Duquette was asked to accompany the Mendls back to France where they had a house in Versailles known as Villa Trianon – just outside of Paris – and where Lady Mendl continued to introduce her protégé to many of her Continental friends.) It was through the patronage and endorsement of the Mendls that Duquette established himself as a leading set and costume designer in the film industry, most notably for Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s studio productions (his roster of films included: Yolanda And The Thief (1945), Lovely To Look At, Kismet, The Ziegfeld Follies of 1944, and Jest Of Cards).

It was at MGM that Duquette worked under the producer and lyricist, Arthur Freed (born Grossman) (1894-1973) and director, Vincent Minnelli (1903-1986). (In the 1940s, Duquette was at the height of his career designing interiors for Mary Pickford and Buddy Rogers as well as nightclubs, along with jewellery and custom, special-order furnishings for Lady Mendl. Along with other young men of his generation, Duquette was also conscripted into the United States Army as a private where he served for four years and from which he was honourably discharged.)

(Sources: Iovine, J.V.,, September 14, 1999;, undated;, 2011;, 2010)

Upon his return to America from Europe in 1947, Tony continued to work in the film industry, designing sets and costumes, in addition to the commissions he undertook for private clients. Then in 1949, as with many returning officers and eager couples after the traumatic events of the Second World War, Duquette met and married an artist by the name of Elizabeth Johnstone (the two would collaborate together on many design commissions after their marriage). The actual wedding ceremony was held at the legendary Pickfair – the residence of ‚America’s Sweetheart‚ Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks; Pickfair also has the distinction of being the first mansion to ever be built in Beverly Hills – with Mary Pickford standing in as matron of honour for Elizabeth while Buddy Rogers stood in as Tony’s best man. At the reception for the newlyweds that followed, the guest list was stellar: Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, Fred Astaire, Vincent Minnelli, Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper, Vernon Dyke and Marion Davies to name but a few. The Duquettes became a fixture on the Hollywood social scene.

1949 was a notable year for another reason. It was the year that Tony Duquette presented his first exhibition at the Mitch Liesen Gallery in Los Angeles. Then, not long afterwards, Duquette was asked to exhibit at the Pavillon de Marsan at the Louvre Museum in Paris, an unprecedented prestige. Until recently, Duquette was the only American artist to ever be honoured with a one-man show at the Louvre. Having spent a year in France where he fulfilled commissions for such prominent clients as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor – Duquette also crafted unique jewellery pieces for the Duchess of Windsor, a woman celebrated for her fabulous jewellery collection – and the immensely wealthy industrialist, Paul-Louis Weiller, Duquette returned to America and to another one-man show, this time at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. ‚One-man shows‘ at worldly museums and galleries would become a staple of Duquette’s long career: the M.H. de Young Museum and Palace of the Legion of Honour in San Francisco; The California Museum of Science and Industry and the Municipal Art Gallery in Los Angeles; The El Paso Museum of Art; The Santa Barabara Art Museum; The Museum of the City of New York. Ohter shows were held in other cities, including Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Sources:, undated;, undated)

Affectionately nicknamed ‚Beegle‚ by her husband and those close to her – an amalgamation of the words ‚bee‘ and ‚eagle,‘ Duquette concocted the nickname for his wife in reference to the industriousness of the bee and the soaring flight of the eagle – in 1956, Elizabeth and Tony opened a salon, The Tony Duquette Studios, in an abandoned silent film studio that once belonged to screen idol Norma Talmadge. It was here, at the Duquette Studios, that Tony and Elizabeth lavishly entertained some of the most celebrated names of Hollywood’s golden era.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the Duquettes travelled extensively, working on commissions across the globe and for an eclectic mix of international clienteles. Some of these commissions included interiors for Doris Duke, Norton Simon and J. Paul Getty, a castle in Ireland for Elizabeth Arden and a penthouse suite in the Hawaiian islands, also for Arden. Duquette also worked on public commissions as well: The Hilton Hawaiian Village, Sheraton Universal Hotel, and the sculptures and tapestries for the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Chicago. In 1969, Hutton Wilkinson – the man who would befriend and collaborate with Duquette on numerous projects for thirty years – met and began working as a volunteer/apprentice with Duquette and did so in that capacity for two years; then as a paid assistant for the next three years before establishing his own design firm. (The two men would work together in partnership on commissions for Mr. and Mrs. Norton Simon, Herb Alpert, Doris Duke as well as the Venetian and Parisian residences of Mr. and Mrs. John N. Rosekrans.)

In addition to his design work in the film industry, Duquette branched out to include other artistic disciplines such as the theatre (the original Broadway production of Camelot for which Duquette won the Tony Award for Best Costume in 1961), the ballet (Beauty and the Beast and Dance Concertants for the San Francisco Ballet), and the opera (Der Rosenkavelier, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and Salomé – for all of which Duquette designed the costumes and sets).

(Sources:, undated; Iovine, J.V.,, September 14, 1999;, undated)

The Anthony and Elizabeth Duquette Foundation for the Living Arts, a non-profit foundation whose purpose of existence is to present museum-quality exhibitions of artistic, scientific and educational value to the public, was formed in 1979. In conjunction with other museums and foundations, the Duquette Foundation has sponsored exhibitions and lectures in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Texas and New York.

Following a fire in 1989 which completely destroyed the Duquette Pavilion of Saint Francis (created on the site of an abandoned synagogue as a space in which to celebrate Saint Francis, the patron saint of San Francisco) and all that was contained in the Pavilion, including collections and works of art gathered over the years, the Duquettes decided to put their efforts into creating a modern-day Shangri-la: the result was Sortilegium. Latin for enchantment, Sortilegium was a 150-acre ranch nestled into the Malibu Mountains of California. A work in progress, at Sortilegium, Tony concentrated his efforts into creating a living work of art. Tragedy struck for the second time and in the same manner in which the Duquette Pavilion was destroyed: Sortilegium was consumed in the 1993 Green Meadows Fire of Malibu.

In 1995 and after a marriage that lasted forty-six years, Elizabeth ‚Beegle‘ Duquette passed away from Parkinson’s disease in Los Angeles. Tony outlived his wife by four more years, finally succumbing to complications from a heart attack at U.C.L.A. Medical Center, also in Los Angeles. He died at 3:40 in the afternoon on September 9th, 1999, aged eighty-five. According to his wishes, his design firm endures under the direction of his business associate and collaborator of thirty years, Hutton Wilkinson, who is also the President and Artistic Director of the Tony Duquette Studios, Inc.

He did a necklace for the Duchess of Windsor that she wore throughout her life. Elsie De Wolfe mentored the young Tony both in Hollywood and Europe

Elsie de Wolfe (Lady Mendl), who discovered Duquette in 1941, advised him:
You work for who you see, you are in a luxury business, no point living like a starving artist in a garret. Nobody is going to hire you if you live worse than they do!

Elsie, Lady Mendl pictured in front of the secretaire en portefeuille (the meuble) she commissioned from Duquette

Elizabeth ‚Beegle‘ Duquette

The Duquette studio on Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles ~ 1960s

Ziegfield Follies set and costume design directed by Vincent Minnelli with Chinoiserie inspired design

Elizabeth Arden’s cosmetic displays at Bullock’s department Store where Tony Duquette was working in the late 30′s

This photograph was taken at Duquette’s old studio on Franklin Avenue, Los Angeles

Tented ceiling, wire screens, metal-mesh fireplace and sea-shell framed mirror

Dawnridge, Tony and Elizabeth’s extraordinary house in Beverly Hills, continues to be the headquarters of Tony Duquette’s design firm.
Baroque in their exotic excesses, Duquette’s lavish interiors are still a source of inspiration for new interior decorators – he somehow managed to seamlessly combine whimsical, luxurious fantasy with easy comfort and originality to create unforgettable interior and exterior settings. His signature elements, from crystal obelisks, coral (real or fake), malachite-print textiles, metal insects, sea-shells, chinoiserie, pagodas, antlers and stuffed birds – these have all become synonymous with Duquette’s name.

With the pursuit of beauty as his main objective, Duquette boldly mixed the cheap with the costly, the authentic with the imitation, in what we today refer to as ‚high-low,‘ a concept championed by Duquette as was his love of exoticism and the synthesis of miscellaneous cultures.

Tony Duquette was a true American original.

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