|Elizabeth Taylor as Velvet aboard King Charles, |
the horse who played The Pie.
That's how author Enid Bagnold introduces Velvet, the main character in her novel National Velvet. Velvet was also scrawny and prone to vomiting whenever she got nervous.
So of course Elizabeth Taylor would be the first person you'd think of to play her in a movie.
I never was able to figure that one out, back when I was a horse-mad girl. I knew Taylor was regarded as a great beauty, and that even as a kid in the 1944 film she was cute as a bug. But that's just the thing. Velvet was a scarecrow.
|Taylor was given King Charles at the close |
of the movie's production. Taylor and the
horse got along famously. She spoke lovingly
of the bond they had and never forgot him.
It made me cross that they turned her into a dreamy, pretty girl in the film (though I do like the film a lot, including Taylor's performance, on its own).
The original 1944 review in The New York Times describes how "little Elizabeth Taylor...plays the role of the horse-loving girl" with a "face alive with youthful spirit, her voice has the softness of sweet song and her whole manner in this picture is one of refreshing grace."
It also was vexing to see what the short, strong black- and white-spotted horse, The Pie, turned into. In the book, Velvet calls him "the piebald" and dubs him The Pie. In the movie, he's played by a rangy chestnut Thoroughbred called Pie, short for Pirate.
|King Charles and Taylor. And the amount of |
hay our horse Avi would eat in a week.
It would be a long time before I'd learn that directors don't want spotted horses in movies because it's difficult to swap in other horses to play their roles. It's well nigh imposible to find exact matches, and though it's easy enough to touch up a star on a forehead, painting an entire animal is not.
As I was rereading National Velvet (which, incidentally, features one of the most excellently portrayed younger brothers in the history of literature) and noticing just how very much Bagnold did not write this book solely for children (it features a slaughterhouse, a suicide, blood, and plenty of exclamations of "hell"), I found myself lost in the rabbit hole of the Internet looking up different editions of National Velvet to see how Pie and Velvet were portrayed. It was pretty amusing. Check it out below if you feel a similar need to procrastinate.
|Here's the first U.S. edition of the book. Dramatic red and black, and sculptural |
pose of The Pie and Velvet. Velvet doesn't quite look fourteen years old,
but the image captures her drive and The Pie's willingness.
|Here's a 1960s British paperback version of the story featuring the sketches from the original, |
which were done by Bagnold's daughter, the inspiration for the story.
|A 1961 edition of National Velvet in classic "Little Golden Book" format. Velvet's gotten very |
Western U.S. in appearance, and The Pie has morphed into a bay, thus resembling neither his piebald
book self or his chestnut movie self. Pretty, though.
|A 1999 edition. The Pie is a piebald, hooray! Velvet's still rather |
too glam in a waifish way, but at least the burning intensity is there
instead of just dreaminess.