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jungle red_resize

At the end of the witty, bitchy, superbly filmed MGM classic of 1939, ” The Women”, a sadder yet wiser Mary Haines poses dramatically in her sumptuous white satin bedchamber, dons a lame gown similar in style to one that her husbands new wife/former mistress Crystal Allen once modeled for her and utters the immortal lines, ” I’ve had t…wo years to grow claws mother- Jungle Red!”

It’s an unforgettable moment and Norma Shearer plays it with just the right amount of humor and vitriol–she’s nobody’s fool and absolutely her own woman.

So where did the actual oft-mentioned siren shade originate? Although it’s suggested at a swanky Manhattan beauty establishment at the beginning–(Sydney’s by name), it is also applied by a somewhat vulgar, gossipy manicurist–Olga who was fired from Black’s Fifth Avenue sometime earlier.

Scarlet nails were considered somewhere between appealing and appalling at the time; some men reveled in needling wives, sweethearts and mistresses with,. ” You’re hands look as if they were dripping blood.” Echoing these sentiments cinematically is the lone masculine voice of acerbic writer Peggy (who is usually read as a lesbian), when she turns to viper-tongued Sylvia and states. ” You look as if you had been cutting somebody’s throat.”

This resplendent ravishingly and risqué image appeared on the back pages of the surprising, ‘Popular Song’ sometime prior to either the original play or the later film.

Boldly featuring the announcement of a wicked new shade for lips and fingernails- Jungle is feverishly described as vivid, brighter–willingly able to make you into the most disarmingly dangerous dame this side of the south seas.

This would have been the kind of makeup that girls, likely from poor or working class backgrounds would favor. It was meant to suggest in no uncertain terms that the brand and the shade were capable of making the wearer irresistible glamorous daring, an almost volcanically intense object of desire.

Bringing this back into the film–this all makes perfect sense. Duplicitous, disastrously loud-mouthed, gossip-ridden beastly blabber-mouthed, Sylvia Fowler suggests the shade after hearing a racy tale regarding Mary Haines perfect paragon (tall, fair distinguished’ an engineer), of a husband, realizing the second Mary puts on a coat or two of the tantalizing polish, the whole gruesome story will pour forth. It’s the first of two cinematic examples of how this shade is also a weapon; it leads to harmful gossip, that literally rips apart a supposedly elegantly ideal marriage.thewomen

Jungle Red, our newest color was new in 1936 and seen to provocative excess in the kind of magazine (Screen Stories, True Confessions, Popular Song), that a manicurist or a shop girl would be likely to read.

The shade Jungle and brand name, Savage, would have been sold in the five and dime, or the local drug-store thus equating in, in thirties parlance as common, vulgar and most definitely cheap. Each of these qualities is exactly what those untrustworthy supposedly straight-arrow spouses seem to fall for- a duo of the leads looses her man to respectively a shopgirl and a chorus dame!

Mystery solved.

–Adam

homesweethome

Vintage Powder Room spent the last year at Los Angeles Magazine blogging for THE CLUTCH, their online style page. It was a truly wonderful experience and I was privileged to work with some of the most incredibly talented people I’ve ever known, particularly my editor Shayna Rose Arnold.  I ended my collaboration with the magazine because I was getting homesick for this page, and because I felt I’d accomplished the goals I’d set for myself with the magazine.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be adding links to the L.A. Magazine content just in case you missed it, or better yet if you would like to revisit it.

Beginning on Tuesday, August 19th I will be home to stay; and  I’ve brought a friend–Adam Scott Crispo.  Adam has kindly consented to be the guest editor and contributor to the page. I am thrilled to pieces to have him.  He brings with him treasure trove of lovely vintage advertisements and other ephemera that will enchant you. Adam also has an encyclopedic knowledge of a variety of eras: their styles, popular culture, literature–in other words he is a perfect fit for Vintage Powder Room.  He  has already rolled up his sleeves and started to work, so stay tuned.

The two of us will post regularly and I know that you’re going to love  what we have in store for you.

Of course you can find always find Vintage Powder Room on Facebook and Twitter too.

It’s good to be home.

Best,

Joan Renner & Adam Scott Crispo

 

 

Click on the image to view the post at Los Angeles Magazine.

flamingo_1947_hairpins

http://www.lamag.com/lastyle/theclutch/2013/10/3/vintage-powder-room-flamingo-hairpins

1940s-fashion

 

I’m thrilled to announce that as of August 29, 2013 Vintage Powder Room has joined Los Angeles Magazine’s style blog, THE CLUTCH!

Please look for VPR there, and new posts coming to this page soon too.

Best,

Joan

 

the-great-gatsby-1926-film-poster

 

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel THE GREAT GATSBY has been adapted for film a few times. The first was in 1926 and starred Warner Baxter, Lois Wilson, Neil Hamilton, and Georgia Hale. As far as anyone knows the trailer for the film is all that survives.

 

 

In 1949, THE GREAT GATSBY was once again adapted for film.  This time it starred Alan Ladd, Betty Field, and Macdonald Carey.

 

 

THE GREAT GATSBY was lavishly produced in 1974, and Mia Farrow and Robert Redford took the lead roles. The first issue of PEOPLE magazine, March 4, 1974, featured Mia Farrow, as Daisy Buchanan, on the cover.

 

 

And now, nearly 40 years after the last big budget production of THE GREAT GATSBY, we have Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan as Jay and Daisy. I haven’t seen the film yet; I suppose I’ll get around to it eventually. Meanwhile, I think it is time to read the novel again.

 

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The Woodbury Face Powder box depicts a young couple during the early 1920s — it’s not clear if they are on their way to a dance,  if they have they become engaged, or if  they are they embarking on a love affair. Whatever their relationship, for me they call to mind Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age novel, THE GREAT GATSBY.

The golden hue and soft pastels of the c. 1920 Woodbury box would ultimately give way to the bright colors and bold graphics of the Art Deco Era — just as stolen kisses and chaperoned dances would yield to frank discussions of sex, and uninhibited flappers doing the Charleston.

THE GREAT GATSBY is set in 1922, just as the “Roaring Twenties” were picking up steam. The end of WWI signaled the beginning of a social revolution characterized by enormous changes in  the lifestyles, attitudes, and sexual habits of the generation who had survived the conflict. The younger generation had found the values of the older generation lacking in honesty and in fun.

flapper_flask

Adding fuel to the revolutionary fire in the U.S. were two Constitutional Amendments: the Eighteenth Amendment which took effect on January 17, 1920 and established the prohibition of alcohol; and the Nineteenth Amendment which was ratified on August 18, 1920 and which gave women the right to vote.

In THE GREAT GATSBY Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan represent a collision between old and new money and, additionally, the different ways in which men and women sought to achieve the American Dream. The nouveau riche Gatsby earned his wealth rapidly, in part through bootlegging; Daisy was a privileged daughter who made an advantageous marriage to become an even more privileged wife.

When Daisy was told that she had given birth to a daughter she offered up her interpretation of the American Dream for women:

‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.’”

Gatsby’s dream is to win Daisy, and he believes that in order to manage it he is going to require money — one hell of a lot of money. Nick Carraway, the narrator in the novel says of Gatsby:

“He hadn’t once ceased looking at Daisy, and I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes.”

The dichotomy of old and new money and the pursuit of the American Dream are also represented by West Egg and East Egg. The two Long Island communities are separated ideologically by the condescension and suspicion of old money for new, and physically by a lake. Gatsby watches the lights of the Buchanan’s East Egg mansion from the shore of his West Egg estate as he holds fast to his dream of once again winning Daisy’s love.

Gatsby wouldn’t survive to play out his personal dreams; nor would he be around to witness the crash of the collective American Dream on “Black Tuesday”, October 29, 1929 when Wall Street would free fall into a decade of oblivion.

We can only hope that the sweet looking couple on the Woodbury powder box weathered the financial uncertainties of the Great Depression — I hate to think of them in standing in a bread line.

depression_soup_line

Bette Davis is a natural for the Vintage Powder Room — she was a woman with style and substance. To appreciate Miss Davis you really need to see her films.  So put your feet up and enjoy Bette Davis in DANGEROUS (1935).

 

Look at those Victory Rolls! If there was a third woman on the hairpin card they could be the Andrew Sisters.

LaVerne, Maxene, and Patty began performing when they where kids and they won first prize at a talent contest at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis.

early_andrew_sisters

The sisters got their professional start touring with Larry Rich and his 55 member troupe. They quit the troupe in 1932 and began touring on their own. They performed at fairs, vaudeville shows, clubs and they would often rehearse in the back of their father’s Buick while on their way to the next gig.

The sisters lived on the road for six years before their first major success with “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” (“To Me You Are Beautiful”) which charted at the top of the U.S. Billboard for five weeks. The Andrew Sisters had become celebrities. Their backseat rehearsals had paid off.

The 1940s brought enormous sucess to the Andrew Sisters. They appeared on the radio, in 17 Hollywood films, and earned $20,000 a week! That is $328,000 in current USD — not exactly chump change. But the sisters weren’t just about the money, they were patriots and participated whenever they could in wartime entertainment. In June 1945 they were a featured act in an eight week USO tour and performed for thousands of servicemen.

As harmonious as they were on stage, sadly the sisters were occasionally in conflict with one another. They broke up for the first time in 1951 because Patty had joined a different group, with her husband as her agent. It may not have been such a big deal if Maxene and LaVerne hadn’t first learned of Patty’s defection in a newspaper gossip column.chuckberry

In 1954, Patty decided to pursue a solo career. She was good, but she couldn’t duplicate the success she’d had as a part of the sister act. Maxene and LaVerne formed a duo and were well received, but the truth is that the 1950s were shaping up to be a much different decade than the 1940s had been.

Rock ‘n Roll was gaining in popularity and the audience for music was changing. A show called BANDSTAND premiered locally in September 1952 on a Philadelphia television station. The sisters couldn’t compete with newcomers like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.

LaVerne (the eldest of the trio) died of cancer in 1967. It was LaVerne who had founded the original group and she was frequently the peacemaker when there was a falling out. Maxene and Patty performed together for another year before Maxene announced she would become the Dean of Women at Tahoe Paradise College. Patty was again a soloist.

When Bette Midler had a hit in 1972 with “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”, Maxene and Patty made something of a comeback.

Maxene and Patty had their last hurrah with the 1971 reveue “Victory Canteen”, but when Patty’s husband brought a lawsuit against the show’s producers an extensively scheduled road tour, which included the sisters, was quashed.

Patty and Maxene reunited on October 1, 1987 when they received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame; but the reunion was short-lived. The sisters would never again be close.

Maxene died of a heart attack on October 21, 1995, and Patty died today, January 30, 2013, at age 94.

I had no idea when I began this post that Patty had just died. I find that a bit unsettling.

 

The Adoration Face Powder box dates from the 1920s/1930s, and because the design on the box appears to be that of a spider web it brings to my mind the spooky goings on of Halloween.

Halloween is a contraction of “All Hallows’ Eve” and it is an annual celebration observed in many countries on October 31, the eve of the feast of All Hallows (or All Saints).

Scholars believe that the celebration was originally influenced by western European harvest festivals and festivals of the dead. The end of the harvest season is a symbolic death — the fields are left fallow for a period of time in order to restore their fertility — to be resurrected in the spring.

In A HARVEST OF DEATH, Civil War photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan captured the image of dead soldiers on a battle field waiting to be collected, or harvested, for burial.

A Harvest of Death

The dead have a powerful hold on the living, and festivals of the dead have been observed in many different cultures for centuries.

One of the best known festivals of the dead is Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday  and is held on November 1st (honoring deceased children) and November 2nd (honoring deceased adults). The living go to cemeteries to be with the souls of the departed. Private altars are built at grave sites and may contain favorite foods, beverages, photos, and other memorabilia of the departed.

Spending quality time with the souls of the departed wasn’t enough for the Victorians, they wanted to speak with their deceased loved ones. Elijah Bond, an American lawyer and inventor, made chatting with the deceased a reality — well, if you believe in the power of the Ouija board.  On July 1, 1890 the Ouija board was introduced by Bond, and he received a patent for it in 1891.

Elijah Bond

The Ouija board was originally regarded as a harmless parlor game; but following the carnage of WWI many people were desperate to reach loved ones who had been killed during the conflict, and they searched for ways in which to communicate with their sons, brothers, and husbands. Many of the survivors of the Great War, including the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, found comfort in spiritualism.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Pearl Curran was an American spiritualist who popularized the Ouija board as a divining tool. By all accounts she was an ordinary girl with no special gifts or particular ambitions. She married John Howard Curran when she was 24.  The couple’s upper middle-class lifestyle afforded Pearl the opportunity to spend her free time playing cards and calling on friends.

In 1912 Pearl and her friend Emily Grant Hutchings paid a call on a neighbor who had a Ouija board.  During the visit Emily claimed to have received a message from a relative. Emily purchased a Ouija board and took it to Pearl’s house with the plan of communicating further with the spirit of her deceased relative.

Initially Pearl was indifferent to her friend’s new obsession, but she finally agreed to participate at the board.  On June 22, 1912 Pearl received a communication from a spirit who identified herself as only as Pat-C. Then on July 18, 1913 the board became possessed with unusual strength and energy and Pat-C began to reveal further information about herself. She said “Many moons ago I lived. Again I come. Patience Worth my name. Wait, I would speak with thee. If thou live, then so shall I.”

In 1916, Pearl Curran wrote a book publicizing her claims that she had contacted the long dead Patience Worth.  By 1919 the pointer on Pearl’s board would just move around aimlessly, but it didn’t matter.  Pearl had progressed to pictorial visions of Patience Worth. She said “I am like a child with a magic picture book.  Once I look upon it, all I have to do is to watch its pages open before me, and revel in their beauty and variety and novelty…”

Pearl became Patience’s amanuensis, and she faithfully transcribed the stories that came to her through Worth’s spirit.  Together the pair wrote novels including: Telka; The Sorry Tale; Hope Trueblood; An Elizabethean Mask as well as several short stories and many poems.

Of course there were the inevitable naysayers who didn’t buy Pearl’s story of a long dead writing partner. Some of the skeptics noted that Patience was somehow able to write a novel about the Victorian age, which came 200 years after she had lived.

However it happened, the literature produced by Patience Worth was considered by many to be first rate.  Worth was cited by William Stanley Braithwaite in the 1918 edition of the Anthology of Magazine Verse and Year Book of American Poetry by printing the complete text of five of her poems, along with other leading poets of the day including William Rose Benet, Amy Lowell, and Edgar Lee Masters!

Here is one of Patience Worth’s poems, The Deceiver:

I know you, you shamster! I saw you smirking, grinning

Nodding through the day, and I knew you lied.

With mincing steps you gaited before men, shouting of your valor,

Yet you, you idiot, I knew you were lying!

And your hand shook and your knees were shaking.

I know you, you shamster! I heard you honeying your words,

Licking your lips and smacking o’er them, twiddling your thumbs

In ecstasy over your latest wit.

I know you, you shamster!

You are the me the world knows.

Pearl Curran’s husband, John, passed away on June 1, 1922. It was John who had kept meticulous records of the Patience Worth sessions, so with his death the records became sporadic and fragmentary.

Pearl married two more times but the marriages were short-lived.  In the summer of 1930 Pearl left her home in St. Louis for good and moved to California to live with an old friend in the Los Angeles area. On November 25, 1937 Patience communicated for the last time; she said that Pearl was going to die very soon.

Even though Pearl had not been in ill health, she developed pneumonia in late November and passed away on December 3, 1937.

A thorough investigation of the Pearl/Patience case was conducted during Pearl’s lifetime by Dr. Franklin Prince. In 1927 the Boston Society for Psychic Research published Dr. Prince’s book. As a part of his investigation Dr. Prince wrote an article entitled The Riddle of Patience Worth, which appeared in the July 1926 issue of Scientific American. He asked that anyone with information on the Pearl/Patience case to contact him, but no one ever did.

If you’d like to learn more about Pearl Curran and Patience Worth, visit the website dedicated to her (them?)

Photo from the LA Times

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Let’s keep this party polite
Never get out of my sight
Stick with me baby, I’m the guy that you came in with
Luck be a lady tonight

A lady never flirts with strangers
Shed have a heart, she’d be nice
A lady doesn’t wander all over the room
And blow on some other guys dice…

Capricious and captivating, Lady Luck is the dame that every guy wants to meet and make his own – at least that is what Frank Sinatra had in mind when he sang LUCK BE A LADY.

Lucky face powder was made in Tennessee for women of color, and was very likely part of the tradition of hoodoo. Cosmetics were manufactured and/or distributed by companies such as Famous Products and Valmor. A contemporary company, Lucky Mojo Curio Co., adopted the abandoned trademark of Lucky Mojo for their own products, and they sell a variety of spiritual supplies.

Not to be confused with the religion of voodoo, hoodoo is folk magic practiced primarily, but not exclusively, by people of African descent. There a many synonyms for hoodoo: conjure, rootwork and witchcraft are but a few.

Sources cite homemade potions and charms as the basis for old-time rural hoodoo; however, there have been many successful commercial companies that have sold spiritual supplies which include herbs, roots, minerals, candles, incense, sachet powders, colognes and even cosmetics.

One of the colognes associated with hoodoo is Florida Water, and it is still in production today. Florida water is an American eau de cologne that varies slightly from the older European version. The American version is citrus based, but instead of lemon and necroli it relies on sweet orange with added spicy notes from clove and lavender.

People practice hoodoo because they believe it allows them access to supernatural forces whose power they can harness to improve their lives. If you want more luck, money, love, and good health, hoodoo may be for you. As a believer in hoodoo you might expect to make contact with ancestors or other spirits of the dead, and you would recite Psalms from the Bible. The Christian tradition is strong in hoodoo, forming the basis for its worldview.

An important component of hoodoo is music, especially the blues. Examine classic blues lyrics and you’ll find evidence of the influence of hoodoo. Conjure terms like hoodoo and mojo are ubiquitous in the blues, but there are lots of lesser known conjure words too, like jinx, goofer dust, and black spider dumplings.

Goofer dust is most often used maliciously and may cause swelling in the extremities, blindness and sometimes death.  Willie Mabon, in his song, I DON’T KNOW, sang: “Getting sick and tired of the way you do; good, kind mama, gonna poison you; sprinkle goofer dust all around your bed — wake up in the morning, find your own self dead.”

Goofer dust can be, but is rarely, used as a protection spell. Recipes for goofer dust vary in their ingredients which can include graveyard dirt (from a loved one), salt, pepper, ash, sulfur, and powdered bones. One of the most intriguing ingredients in goofer dust is something called anvil dust. Unless you know a blacksmith you’re not likely to find anvil dust, it is the fine black iron detritus found on a blacksmith’s floor.

A mojo is  a magical charm bag used in hoodoo; essentially it is a spell or prayer in bag that you carry with you. Over the years mojo has become synonymous with sex-appeal, and for that much of the credit (or blame) goes to DOORS front man, Jim Morrison. MR. MOJO RISIN’ is an anagram for Jim Morrison.

If you have a mojo it is intensely personal belonging. It should not be seen or touched by anyone else or its magic may be lost. In the song SCAREY DAY BLUES, Blind Willie McTell sings about his gal trying to keep her mojo hidden.

Blind Willie & Kate McTell

My good gal got a mojo, she’s tryin’ to keep it hid

My gal got a mojo, she’s tryin’ to keep it hid

But Georgia Bill got something to find that mojo with.

Cosmetics are a modern woman’s mojo. The magic inherent in the lure of cosmetics can be compared to the appeal of magic potions concocted by believers in hoodoo.  Both cosmetics and hoodoo rely on a fundamental belief that they can work miracles. Consider the juxtaposition of cosmetics and hoodoo – a faithless lover brought home, an unwanted wrinkle removed. 

In her book HOPE IN A JAR, Kathy Peiss describes how women throughout the ages have created cosmetics and passed the recipes to daughters, neighbors and friends – no different than hoodoo charms and spells passed from person to person.

To paraphrase Clint Eastwood from the film DIRTY HARRY, “But being as this is Alpha Lipoic Acid, the most powerful antioxidant in the world, and would blow your wrinkles clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya?”

If you’re feeling especially lucky, find an old jar of Tho-Radia, a radioactive face cream!  Yes, I said RADIOACTIVE!!  Tho-Radia was a line of cosmetics that was introduced in the early 1930s by a pharmacist, Alexis Moussali and a Parisian doctor, Alfred Curie (no relation to Pierre or Marie).

 

So, ladies, apply the balms, creams, and potions – and let the magic begin.

 

NOTE: If you are interested in learning more about Hoodoo, you may want to check out HOODOO & CONJURE QUARTERLY.

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