It was billed as “the motion picture the world has been waiting for!” But its whopping $44 million production costs — more expensive than James Cameron’s “Titanic” in today’s dollars — and extensive delays captivated the masses much more than the film itself. In January 1962, more than a year before the film was finally released, WWD columnist Dorothy L. Wallis expressed her personal frustration with the delays, the publicity blitz and the film’s potential effect on women’s fashion.
“If the producers of ‘Cleopatra’ ever get around to permitting a public to see the vast production, there will be one viewer who is set to view it with slightly less than palpitations,” she wrote. “We’ve already had a dose of overexposure.” Twentieth Century Fox had indeed been pushing the film hard, releasing new posters and advertisements every time the release date was changed. After all, they had a sizable — and growing — investment to protect. But on top of the media attention, from reports of Elizabeth Taylor’s monstrous compensation to her emergency tracheotomy (which left visible scars in some scenes) and illicit relationship with co-star Richard Burton, it was the “by-products” of the picture that worried D.L.W.
“Already we’re inundated with Cleopatra slink, the Cleopatra coiffure, and the Cleopatra jewelry and exposure,” she wrote, speculating the film’s heavy eye shadow would send beauty manufacturers into a frenzy. And it was a sudden change for a Hollywood leading lady. Recent films had favored a more untrimmed, ungroomed look mostly attributed to the influence of Italian cinema. “Must we fling ourselves with a swan dive into the other extreme?” Wallis wondered. “Certainly every woman has a small asp concealed about her person somewhere. But do we have to flaunt it?”