THE production of a documentary on the life of Kiama-born Academy Award winner Orry Kelly has taken a major step forward with the discovery of a copy of his unpublished memoir, Women I've Undressed.
Kelly, one of Hollywood's most celebrated costume designers, won three Academy Awards for his work on the films An American In Paris, Les Girls and Some Like It Hot in the 1950s.
The memoir, written by Kelly before his death in 1964, was never published amid rumours that the estate of actor Cary Grant put a hold on the book to protect Grant's reputation.
It was believed that the only copy of the memoir was in the possession of a distant relative of Kelly's until an uncatalogued copy was found in the archives of movie studio Warner Bros.
"We thought that the only copy of the memoir was in the possession of Kelly's great nephew, we searched and searched, but we couldn't find him. Then we heard a rumour that there was a copy in the Warner archives - Kelly was good friends with Jack and Ann Warner," documentary director Gillian Armstrong said.
"We wrote to Warner Bros and the library at USC but we had no luck in finding it, then our scriptwriter Kathryn Thompson was heading to Texas for a reunion and said she'd go to Los Angeles and see if being there in person would help.
"We got permission from Warners to have a look at anything we did find and, lo and behold, in a couple of uncatalogued boxes was a copy," Armstrong said.
The copy found was very much a rough draft of loose pages, and despite not being able to make copies of the memoir, it has very much helped in making the documentary.
"We weren't allowed to take it out the library or make copies so Kathryn and another researcher spent hours looking at it and making notes. We would have been able to go ahead with the documentary had we not found the memoir, but it's just been a great help in clearing up things where there was two or three different stories floating around, for example we now know he did serve in the army and wasn't kicked out for being an alcoholic," Armstrong said.
With the memoir found and actress Angela Lansbury already interviewed for the documentary, the film's producers are now looking to find the last $100,000 needed to fully fund the project.
"We're backed by Screen Australia and the federal government and we do have a distribution agreement, but we just need that last $100,000 and we would be delighted if there's anybody from Kiama who would like to help get the story of Orry Kelly out there," Armstrong said.
Sue Eggins from the Kiama and District Historical Society hoped there would be people from the Kiama area willing to help out.
"I was thinking maybe it would be possible to find 100 people in Kiama who might be willing to contribute $1000 each to help fund the film," she said.
"In the long term, it might be something that really benefits the town.
"If we can get it out there that a three-time Oscar winner was born in Kiama, well then it might be something that brings people into the town."