Next Page »

A STAR IS BORN

Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  Tonight’s feature is A STAR IS BORN in glorious Technicolor. It has an all-star cast: Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou, May Robson, Andy Devine, and Lionel Stander.

Enjoy the movie!

From TCM:

 A screenplay entitled “A Star Is Born” is stamped with the words, “Final Shooting Script,” then opened to reveal the following story: Esther Blodgett returns one winter evening to her home, an isolated farmhouse in North Dakota, after seeing a movie with her little brother Aleck, which starred her screen idol, Norman Maine. Esther’s Aunt Mattie disdains Esther’s obsession with the movies, and her father and grandmother Lettie are surprised to hear that Esther wants to be a movie star. After Mattie berates her, Esther runs to her room in tears. Lettie then tells Esther of her own past dreams of coming across the country in a “prairie schooner,” and although she cautions Esther about the heartbreak that always comes to those who pursue their dreams, Lettie encourages Esther and gives her money to take a train to Hollywood.

 

hollywood_rapid_dry_curlers_4

Before her face appeared on this beauty ad, Betty Burgess was a screen actress hoping for fame

One of my favorite events is the Vintage Fashion Expo which is held a few times annually and alternates between San Francisco and Los Angeles. I’ve been to both venues in search of vintage treasures, but it was in L.A. that I found this Hollywood Curler card (c. 1935). After some haggling, I paid five dollars apiece for two of them.

The image of an actress, Betty Burgess, appears on both cards, so naturally I wondered who she was. She was gorgeous enough to have been a leading lady, yet I’d never heard of her. I concluded that she had never “made it big.”

During the Great Depression films often featured a young woman with no place to sleep, nothing to eat, and only pennies in her handbag. Ah, but the girl always had a dream that shone as brightly as a theater marquee, and in the movies those dreams invariably came true.

 In the 1937 drama A Star Is Born, for example, Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor), a North Dakota farm girl, leaves home after seeing a movie at the local Bijou featuring her screen idol, Norman Maine (Fredric March). Painfully naive, as only a small town girl in a 1930s film could be, Esther hops a train to Hollywood where she meets her screen idol and, yes, realizes her dream of stardom.

The career of real life starlet Betty Burgess took a different path. I discovered that unlike Esther, Betty didn’t have to hop a train or board a bus to get to Hollywood. She was born in Los Angeles on February 15, 1917. Also unlike Esther, Betty’s break didn’t come through a meeting with one of her idols—she was discovered by a talent agent who was scouting local acting schools for potential clients. In 1935, after beating out forty other actresses, she won the lead role in the musical Coronado.

Betty’s performance was positively reviewed and I imagine it was because of that success that her photo turned up on my Hollywood Curler cards. Betty didn’t become a household name though; she only acted in a handful of films between 1935 and 1939, then her career abruptly ended.

Betty was talented, so I believe that she voluntarily abandoned her acting career to pursue something, or someone, she wanted more than fame. Her image on the Hollywood Curler cards reminds me that life evolves, and so should one’s dreams.

yank in the raf

Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  In keeping with the theme of yesterday’s post, victory rolls and the Greatest Generation–this week’s feature is A YANK IN THE RAF starring Betty Grable and Tyrone Power. Enjoy the movie!

From TCM:

Prior to the United States’ entry into World War II, egotistical American pilot Tim Baker seeks adventure and money by ferrying a bomber from Canada to England. While in London, he meets a former girl friend, Carol Brown, a nightclub performer who volunteers in the ambulance reserve during the day. Carol is both pleased and annoyed to see Tim, with whom she broke up a year earlier because of his irresponsible nature. Hoping to win Carol back, Tim accepts her dare to join the R.A.F. but quickly becomes bored with the classes teaching basic flying techniques. One afternoon, Carol goes to the airfield and meets Wing Commander John Morley, who is immediately taken with her. Morley sees her nightclub show and escorts her home, after which Carol, angry at Tim for standing her up that evening, tells him that she has a new man in her life. 

sta_rite_ginny_lou_hairpinsI paid $8 for this pack of Sta-Rite hair pins at a vintage textile show (cosmetics items pop up in all sorts of places) and it obvious to me from the women’s hairdos that the card dates from the 1940s.

I have dozens of items from the ‘40s in my collection because I am fascinated by the ways in which patriotism was used to market cosmetics to women during WWII. American pride was often denoted by red, white, and blue packaging as well as in advertisements which depicted women engaged in war work, or as pin-up girls awaiting husbands or lovers off fighting for our country. These ads make it clear that the women shown look as beautiful as they do thanks to a certain face powder or lipstick (which came in a wood or paper tube because metal was required for the war effort). Patriotic beauty didn’t stop at the hairline, either; each of the women on the Sta-Rite card is wearing her hair in a Victory Roll.  If you’re a vintage fashion maven you’re probably already familiar with the style but, if not, a Victory Roll was one of the most popular ‘dos of the WWII era.

Magazines and newspapers all over the country provided women with directions for creating Victory Rolls; in fact, in 1944, the Los Angeles Times featured an article on “Factory Glamour” with these styling tips: “Part hair in center…roll it up on the sides, higher near the crown, tapering to the back of the neck.  From the rear you show – a V for Victory!”

victory roll

When I see the two young women on the Sta-Rite hair pin card I reflect on the meaning of patriotism. Victory Rolls may seem like a superficial way to show support today; but I have always been impressed by the eagerness of women during the 1940s to embrace styles that reflected their commitment to something greater than themselves. I don’t think that selflessness ever goes out of style.
Over the years I have amassed hundreds of hair net envelopes. I love them because their artful graphics often evoke the era in which they were created. Plus, they are inexpensive and easy to display or store.

I bought this Miss Freedom hair net package in an online auction several years ago for $10, and it feels like an appropriate item to spotlight this holiday week. The package portrays a WWII-era woman at her glamorous and sophisticated best—coiffed in face framing curls and wearing a blue gown that’s aglow with spangles.

Despite wartime shortages and restrictions, women were exhorted during the 1940s to keep up their appearance as a way to boost the morale of their military mates and fellow factory workers. Headlines such as “Feminine Role in National Defense Starts at Beauty Shop” were typical, and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles offered tips for maintaining a beauty routine while sticking to a budget that provided few funds for frills. After all, women didn’t put down their lipstick, face powder, or nail polish when they stepped in to fill gaps in the workforce, nor did they quit styling their hair.

My mom, Phyllis Renner

Many of the factories that employed female workers were savvy enough to understand the complex relationship between home front productivity and beauty rituals, so they installed onsite salons where a woman could get a manicure or a perm between shifts.

Imagine a woman, exhausted after a long shift at an airplane factory, stopping by her local five and dime for a hair net to keep her ‘do in place as she riveted pieces of a B-52 together. The patriotic design of the Miss Freedom hair net envelope would have caught the eye of any “Rosie the Riveter,” and the practical contents would have enabled a woman to volunteer at the local Red Cross, plant a victory garden, and build a tank all without mussing her hair.

The Miss Freedom hair net package recalls for me the women of the Greatest Generation—especially my mother. My mom, Phyllis, worked for Cadillac in Detroit during WWII and she shared with me during my childhood stories of her wartime experiences, particularly how she and her friends scrimped and saved to buy the everyday beauty products we take for granted. My mom passed away over the Fourth of July weekend eight years ago, so the holiday is a melancholy time for me. This year when I think of her I will also mediate on the bravery and beauty of the women of her generation—and l will try to live up to the example they set.

paris-when-it-sizzles-poster-for-1963

Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES in glorious Technicolor, starring Audrey Hepburn and William Holden. Enjoy the movie!

From TCM:

Film producer Alexander Meyerheimer is in Cannes and upset because scriptwriter Richard Benson is late delivering the script for The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower , Meyerheimer’s latest production. He wires Benson in Paris that he has only 2 days to complete the script; and Benson, who has written nothing, hires a secretary, Gabrielle Simpson, to move in and assist him. As they grind out a script that combines all the elements of a spy thriller, a comedy, a love story, a western, a musical, and every other basic motion picture genre, Richard and Gabrielle project themselves into the story and actually become the hero, heroine, and villain of each scene they create. They return to reality only for story changes, champagne suppers, and romantic interludes.

Pals, they call Mary Garden and Madge Kennedy at the Goldwyn Studio, where the singer has just completed her newest motion picture, which she calls "a gorgeous thing". Here she is seen on the last day of her studio work on this production saying au revoir to the piquant Madge Kennedy and telling her that sh'd give a fortune for her eyes and smile. Mary Garden is soon to be seen in her newest picture "The Splendid Sinner."

Pals, they call Mary Garden (R) and Madge Kennedy (L) at the Goldwyn Studio, where the singer has just completed her newest motion picture, which she calls “a gorgeous thing”. Here she is seen on the last day of her studio work on this production saying au revoir to the piquant Madge Kennedy and telling her that she’d give a fortune for her eyes and smile. Mary Garden is soon to be seen in her newest picture “The Splendid Sinner.”

I love to shop for old cosmetic ads because they provide important information, like the dates when specific products were available. I purchased the Mary Garden advertisement below at an antiques mall for $10.

What does it remind us? That celebrity endorsements are nothing new, for one thing. In fact during the first quarter of the 20th century, female performers of all types started appearing in ads and often had their own line of products manufactured by an established company.  I profiled one such woman, actress Edna Wallace Hopper, in October 2013. Another international celebrity who promoted her own product line was opera singer Mary Garden, who partnered with manufacturer Rigaud. Unless you’re a devotee of opera you have likely never heard of her. Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, but reared in Chicago, Illinois, Mary was opera’s reigning diva from the 1910s until she retired from the stage in the 1930s.

Although she traveled the world, Mary was fond of Los Angeles and performed here many times to sold-out crowds at the Philharmonic Auditorium on Fifth Street (sadly, it is now a parking lot).

By the 1910s Los Angeles aspired to become a cultural center, but first it had to brush off the dust it had accumulated during its Wild West days. Hosting a world-renowned opera company was one way to show the folks back east that L.A. wasn’t a bush league outpost inhabited by tobacco chewing cowpokes.

In March 1913, the grande dames in town put every hairdresser, milliner, jeweler, and dressmaker in the area to work. All of the shops became beehives of activity in anticipation of a week long visit by the Chicago Grand Opera Company featuring soprano Mary Garden.

Today’s Hollywood movie premieres often draw large crowds, but their numbers are a mere fraction of the thousands that turned out in 1913 to catch a glimpse of ticket holders arriving at the Philharmonic Auditorium. The week of opera was enormously successful, and Garden went on to perform in L.A. many more times in her career.

What I have often wished for when reflecting on this Mary Garden advertisement is a return to a more glamorous time when men and women dressed for an occasion. I’ve attended the L.A. Opera dozens of times and the audience dons everything from evening wear to California casual. More than once I’ve curled my lip in a moue of disapproval. Then again I’ve observed men in tuxedos, chins on their chests, snoozing through Tristan und Isolde and I’ve also seen guys in T-shirts mesmerized by the same performance. If what motivates L.A. audiences is the genuine love of art, I can find nothing wrong with that.


LADY OF BURLESQUE

Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is LADY OF BURLESQUE [1943] starring Barbara Stanwyck. Enjoy the movie!

From TCM:

S. B. Foss, owner of the Old Opera House on Broadway in New York City, promotes his new recruit, burlesque dancer Dixie Daisy, hoping that she will draw a large audience. Dixie’s performance draws cheers from the crowds and from comedian Biff Brannigan, who ardently admires Dixie even though she hates comics because of past experiences with them. When someone cuts the wire to the light backstage that signals the presence of the police, the performers are surprised by a raid, and pandemonium ensues. As Dixie flees through a coal chute, someone grabs her from behind and tries to strangle her, but her assailant escapes when a stagehand comes along.

nupical_face_powder_2

I found this Nupcial Face Powder box (c. 1920s) in a booth at an Orange County antique mall several years ago. I paid $30 for it.  I’d never seen the brand before and expected never to see it again, but I was wrong. Earlier this week I discovered four Nupcial product labels for sale at an online auction site. I happily spent $95 for the labels in various sizes and shapes—they will look absolutely splendid framed.

What interests me about the powder box is its unusual mash-up of styles. Here, brightly colored geometric shapes, the hallmarks of Art Deco style, surround a classic 1920s bride. But while the graphics are era appropriate, they seem jarring.  Brightly colored spears are attacking the poor woman!

The peculiar design of the Nupcial box sends a mixed message. Was the product meant to appeal to a traditional bride or to someone more fashion forward?  The effect symbolizes the social chaos that characterized the Jazz Age, probably unintentionally so.

Inspired by the box to learn more about marriage during the 1920s, I did some digging.

Apparently the widespread fear of moral decay that resulted in Prohibition led California legislators to pass a “gin marriage” law in 1927. The law was well meaning—it mandated a three day waiting period to discourage couples from drinking in speakeasies then making a mad dash for a local preacher to unite them in matrimony while three sheets to the wind.

Enacting a law may seem like a drastic step, but concerns about inebriated brides and grooms weren’t entirely unfounded.  On December 19, 1930, the Los Angeles Times reported the story of a failed gin marriage.  A pretty blonde stenographer, Creola McCarter Milner, sought an annulment from her husband of a few months.  Creola told the judge that she had become intoxicated on the eve of her marriage and awakened four days later to find herself married to someone other than her intended.

Many women’s and religious groups believed that the law would lead to more and better marriages.  Instead, it drove couples out of state to places like Yuma, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada where they could marry on a whim; the marriage rate in California declined precipitously and the divorce rate increased. Legislators came their senses and repealed the gin marriage law in 1943.

Upon second reflection, I think the graphics on the Nupcial face powder box conveys a decipherable message after all. The design may be a jumble of traditional and trendy, but it works in its own quirky way. I think the same can be said of marriage. My husband and I are a mixed bag of idiosyncrasies, yet our marriage thrives.  And before you ask, we were sober when we exchanged our vows.

BLONDIE

 Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is BLONDIE [1938] starring Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake and based on the comic strip by Chic Young.  If you’ve never heard of a Dagwood sandwich, it was named after Blondie’s hapless spouse, Dagwood Bumstead

From TCM:

On the eve of their fifth wedding anniversary, Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead, and their child Baby Dumpling, are in financial trouble. Blondie presses Dagwood to ask his boss Mr. Dithers for a raise because she has purchased a new set of living room furniture on credit as a surprise. Unfortunately, when Dagwood arrives at the construction company where he works, he discovers that he is being held responsible for repayment of a loan note he approved for Mr. Dither’s former secretary, Elsie. Anxious to cover the loan, Dagwood begs Mr. Dithers for a raise.

Next Page »