Wed 4 Sep, 2013
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.
Wed 4 Sep, 2013
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.
Tue 28 May, 2013
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.
Mon 27 May, 2013
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.
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.
Fri 22 Mar, 2013
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).
Wed 30 Jan, 2013
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.
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.
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.
Wed 31 Oct, 2012
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?)
Mon 27 Aug, 2012
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.
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.
Sun 1 Jul, 2012
All hail the Queen! The Regina hair net envelope suggests that any wearer of the net inside will become a queen. Well, a hair net is much easier to wear out in public than a jeweled crown is — unless you’re Miss America.
The Miss America Pageant was conceived in Atlantic City. The Businessmen’s League of Atlantic City devised a plan that would keep profits flowing into the city past Labor Day, which was when tourists traditionally left for home.
The kick-off event was held on September 25, 1920, and was called the Fall Frolic. Who could resist an event in which three hundred and fifty men pushed gaily decorated rolling wicker chairs along a parade route? The main attractions were the young maidens who occupied the chairs. The head maiden was Miss Ernestine Cremona who, dressed in a flowing white robe, was meant to represent peace.
The Atlantic businessmen had scored a major success with the Frolic. They immediately realized the powerful appeal of a group of attractive young women dressed in bathing suits, and so a committee was formed to organize a bather’s revue for the next year’s event.
The bather’s revue committee contacted newspapers in cities as far west as Pittsburgh and as far south as Washington, D.C. asking them to sponsor local beauty contests. The winners of the local contests would participate in the Atlantic City beauty contest.
Atlantic City newspaperman Herb Test reported that the winner of the city’s pageant would be called Miss America.
The 1921 Fall Frolic was five days of, well, frolicking. There were tennis tournaments, parades, concerts, a fancy dress ball and SEVEN different bathing divisions! If you were in Atlantic City during those five days and not dressed in a bathing suit you would have been out of place. Children, men, even fire and police personnel, all were in bathing suits. There was a category created specifically for professional women, and by professional the pageant’s organizers didn’t mean corporate women, secretaries or hookers, they meant stage and screen actresses.
The first Miss America was chosen by a combination of the crowd’s applause and points given to her by a panel of artists who served as judges. Sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman (30-25-32), who bore a strong resemblance to screen star Mary Pickford, was proclaimed the winner. Gorman was crowned, wrapped in an American flag, and presented with the Golden Mermaid trophy and $100.
Atlantic City expanded the frolic during the 1920s and the number of contestants grew to 83 young women from 36 states. The event drew protestors who thought that the girls were immoral — why else would they be willing to parade around in bathing suits in public? The organizers countered the protests by publicizing that the contestants were wholesome, sweet young things who neither wore make-up, nor bobbed their hair.
With the runaway success of the Atlantic City pageant, other groups saw an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon by promoting their own ideals of beauty. The 1920s saw pageants for a Miss Bronze America, and even the Ku Klux Klan staged a pageant for Miss 100 Percent America! It’s difficult for me to visualize a woman wearing a bathing suit and one of those dopey conical hats.
For the next several years the Atlantic City pageant continued to thrive and to change. One of the changes was in scoring. How does a panel of judges determine a beauty contest winner? By the mid-1920s a points system was established: five points for the construction of the head, three points for the torso, two points for the leg…I’m wondering just how many points a perky rounded posterior was worth.
In 1926, Norma Smallwood, a small-town girl from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was crowned Miss America. She parlayed her reign into big bucks. She reportedly made over $100k — more than either Babe Ruth or President Calvin Coolidge!
Smallwood appears to have been the first Miss America who realized that her crown was a business opportunity. When she was asked to return to Atlantic City in 1927 to crown her successor, she demanded to be paid. When the pageant reps didn’t come forward with a check, Norma bid them adieu and headed for a gig in North Carolina.
By 1928 women’s clubs, religious organizations and other conservative Americans went on the attack and accused the organizers of the Miss America Pageant of corrupting the nation’s morals. One protester said, “Before the competition, the contestants were splendid examples of innocence and pure womanhood. Afterward their heads were filled with vicious ideas.”
The controversy over the beauty contest scared the Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce so badly that, in 1928, they voted twenty-seven to three to cancel the event!
The stock market crash and resulting economic depression made the Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce rethink the event, and it was revived 1933.
In 1933, thirty young women were brought to Atlantic City aboard a chartered train called the Beauty Special.
The Atlantic City Press newspaper reported:
“Queens of pulchritude, representing 29 states, the District of Columbia and New York City, will arrive here today to compete for the crown of Miss America 1933.
The American Beauty Special train will arrive at the Pennsylvania-Reading Railroad Station at South Carolina Avenue at 1:20 p.m. to mark the opening of the eighth edition of the revived Atlantic City Pageant. The five-day program will be climaxed Saturday night with the coronation ceremonies in the Auditorium.
A collection of blondes, brunettes and red heads, will assemble in Broad Street Station, Philadelphia, this morning, and the beauty special will leave at 11:55 a.m.”
It is surprising that more women didn’t participate in the 1933 Miss America pageant. In the midst of the Great Depression the contest prizes sounded fabulous, “Wealth and many honors await the Miss America this year. She will receive many valuable prizes and a cash award as well. In addition, she will have opportunities to pursue a theatrical career.”
Some of the contestants may have believed the stories related in rags-to-Broadway-riches films like GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933. The opportunity for a girl to win a part in a film or on Broadway would have been a potent lure for those who saw themselves as the next Joan Blondell or Ruby Keeler. I can imagine many of the Miss America hopefuls on the Beauty Train singing WE’RE IN THE MONEY.
The 1933 winner was Marian Bergeron, a talented girl from Westhaven, Connecticut. She was poised for a shot at stardom until the newspapers reported her age; she was only fifteen. Her young age put a damper on an offer from RKO, but she was buoyed by a two year reign – no pageant was held in 1934.
During the 1930s the Miss America pageant continued to be viewed by many as a circus of sin. In October 1935 a scandal rocked the contest.
Less than a month after seventeen-year-old Henrietta Leaver had been crowned Miss America, a nude statue of her was unveiled in her hometown of Pittsburgh.
Henrietta swore up and down that she had worn a bathing suit when she posed for the statue, and she also said that her grandmother had been with her each time she had posed. Nobody bought Henrietta’s story and the image of the Miss America pageant was further tarnished.
One of my favorite Miss America contestants of the 1930s was Rose Veronica Coyle (1936 winner). Rose was twenty-two when she won title of Miss America. Rose wore a short ballet shirt with a white jacket, brightened by huge red polka dots, and sang “I Can’t Escape from You”.
She then wowed the judges with her eight-minute long tap dance routine performed to TRUCKIN’. The audience loved her so much the judges allowed her an encore — the first in the pageant’s history.
The Miss America Pageant lost its venue after WWII broke out because it was needed by the military. Rose Coyle and her husband, Leonard Schlessinger (National General Manager of Warner Bros. Theaters) saved the day by relocating the Miss America Pageant to the Warner Theatre on the Boardwalk. It would be the pageant’s home until 1946.
Wed 18 Apr, 2012
I was recently interviewed by Michael Dooley for Print Magazine. Dooley is the creative director of Michael Dooley Design, and he also teaches design history at UCLA Extension, Loyola Marymount, and Art Center College of Design. The interview is in two parts, and we covered everything from my interest in historic crime to my love of vintage cosmetics ephemera.
Follow the link to part one of the interview entitled: BLACK DAHLIA MURDER: THE CRIME, THE COSMETICS, AND THE FOLKSINGER
Wed 18 Apr, 2012
In part two of my interview with Michael Dooley of Print Magazine, I talk about my collection of vintage cosmetics ephemera, and I also discuss my personality profile of Elizabeth Short (The Black Dahlia) based upon her choice of makeup.
Follow the link to part two of the interview entitled: BLACK DAHLIA MURDER, PART 2: THE VICTIM’S MAKEUP