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.
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.
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.
Sat 31 Dec, 2011
The woman on the LA BARA face powder box (c. 1920s) appears to be posing for a picture in the midst of a celebration — perhaps a New Year’s Eve party. The gaiety of the box speaks volumes about the spirit of the 1920s – it was a decade of parties.
There was at least one infamous New Year’s Day get together during the 1920s that ended in a shooting, rather than in a mere hangover.
It was the first day of 1924 and two of the most famous actresses in Hollywood, Mabel Normand and Edna Purviance, had joined wealthy Denver oil man Courtland S. Dines for afternoon cocktails in his apartment at 325-B North Vermont Avenue.
Mabel Normand’s chauffeur, twenty-seven year old Horace A. Greer (alias Joe Kelley) arrived at Dine’s apartment at around 7 pm stating that he’d been called to pick up Miss Normand and take her home.
For whatever reason, Greer was under the impression that Mabel was being detained at Dine’s apartment against her will. Greer thought subterfuge would be needed to gain entrance to the apartment, so he pretended to be a delivery man. When Greer opened the door to the apartment he said that he saw Dines sitting behind a little table in the living room, and saw Miss Normand half-lying on a davenport. Greer thought that Miss Purviance was in a rear bedroom.
Greer later told cops that upon his entrance into Dines’ apartment, he’d announced that he’d come to take Miss Normand home. Despite Mabel’s initial reluctance to depart with Greer, he said that she finally placed her hand on his arm and they started for the front door.
Greer said that Dines picked up a liquor bottle and attempted to strike him, presumably to prevent him from leaving with Mabel. Greer reacted by shooting Dines three times with Mabel’s .25 caliber automatic. He’d slipped the weapon into his pocket earlier in the day.
Edna Purviance, who said she’d been in one of the bedrooms powdering her nose (an activity of which the Vintage Powder Room highly approves) ran into the living room and found Dines still seated without a bottle in his hand. She declared “There was absolutely no reason for him (Greer) to shoot”.
In true Hollywood fashion, rather than phone for an ambulance or the cops, Normand, Purviance, and Greer helped Dines to a bedroom where they undressed him and attempted to give him first aid. They weren’t up to the task — multiple gunshot wounds aren’t something you cover with a band-aid.
The shooting occurred at approximately 7 pm; by 8:20 pm Greer had driven himself to the Wilshire police station and turned himself in. Moments after his confession to the desk cop, an ambulance, trailed by police cars, was dispatched to the scene.
The cops and caregivers arrived at Dines’ apartment to find him in bed, bleeding profusely and smoking a cigarette.
According to news reports Dines arrived at the Receiving Hospital in “a cloud of cigarette smoke and profanity” — hospital attendants were forced to strap the injured man to a stretcher.
In addition to reporting on the Dines’ shooting, the papers reported on Mabel Normand’s attire. Fans always want to know what a star is wearing, particularly in the midst of a scandal. She was, according to the Los Angeles Times, “…dressed in black velvet. She wore two diamond bracelets. In one hatpin were forty diamonds in a cluster.” The LA Times further reported that Edna Purviance was “likewise lavishly attired”.
Both Mabel and Edna were described as being highly excited. I believe we can infer from that description that the two women were tipsy.
After giving her statement to the cops Purviance was allowed to see Dines. When she entered his hospital room she rushed over to him, threw her arms around him and cried “Oh! Courtland! I love you — please don’t die!” The wounded man assured her that he’d been told by the doctor that he was going to pull through just fine.
Barely two years before Courtland was shot Mabel had been embroiled in a legendary Hollywood scandal, the mysterious murder of her pal William Desmond Taylor (a murder which remains unsolved).
The shooting of Courtland Dines by her chauffeur was more trouble than Mabel needed.
Immediately following Dines’ shooting, Mabel was grilled by cops and interviewed by reporters; all of whom wanted to discover Greer’s motive for the shooting. The best they could come up with was that Greer had been a secret admirer of Mabel’s and when he thought she was in trouble he rushed to her aid.
Mabel didn’t subscribe to the secret admirer theory — in fact she pooh-poohed it. “Impossible,” she said. “The man must have been insane. He was only one of my servants and was only treated like one.” Mabel went on to say that “I used to ask my chauffeurs, the ones before this one, how they liked a certain scene or something like that, but I got tired of all that blah-blah. Good gosh, I didn’t even hire him. My secretary did that.”
On top of everything, Mabel was scheduled for surgery to remove her appendix the second day after Courtland Dines was shot by her chauffeur.
The good news was that Mabel came through her surgery; the bad news was that the press was having a field day — once again Mabel was making news by being in the middle of a bad situation.
Courtland Dines declined to appear in court against Greer. He stated that he’d had so much to drink the day of the shooting that he couldn’t recall anything anyway.
Horace Greer refused to testify on his own behalf at his trial because he said he was afraid of hurting Mabel. He said “Rather than hurt Mabel, I’ll take a chance with the pen.” Unfortunately for Mabel, Greer’s attorneys didn’t share his affection for the actress, at least not when they had her on the witness stand. The story they put forward of the New Year’s Day debacle was risqué at best, and at worst it presented a vivid picture of absolute Hollywood depravity.
Counsel for the defense characterized the New Year’s get together at Dines’ apartment as a Roman saturnalia — a den of infamy — with the “drunken gladiator” Dines posing on one foot while garbed only in an undershirt!
Attorney Hahn of Greer’s defense team picked at omissions and flaws in the testimony of Purviance and Normand and he concluded that “They don’t want the truth of this affair to become known. They are afraid it will besmirch the motion-picture profession.”
It seems unlikely that Hollywood’s image could have been tarnished any more than it had been over the couple of years prior to Dines’ shooting. During the early 1920s Hollywood scandals had included the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the trial of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle for the death of bit-player and party girl, Virginia Rappe, and the drug-related deaths of stars Olive Thomas, Wallace Reid, Barbara La Marr, and Jeanne Eagels.
Without the testimony of the complaining witness, Courtland Dines, the jury took only four hours to acquit Horace Greer of the charges against him. Greer didn’t have much time to celebrate the verdict; he was busted two hours later on liquor charges.
Mabel Normand’s film career began to decline; after all she’d been involved in two major Hollywood scandals. During Greer’s trial there were calls to ban Mabel’s films, but she’d already begun to do a bit of damage control through newspaper items.
Mabel was popular, talented, and given time she may have survived the Greer scandal, just as she’d done the William Desmond Taylor murder in 1922. It’s more likely that her career suffered as a result of a recurrence of tuberculosis in 1923. She retired from films and passed away in 1930 at age 37.
Edna Purviance had been romantically involved with Charles Chaplin for several years prior to her relationship with Courtland Dines. She would marry neither Charlie nor Courtland; she wedded John Squire, a Pan-American Airlines pilot, in 1938. Edna died of cancer in 1958 at age 62.
Courtland Dines was 34 years old when he was shot by Horace Greer. He’d spend the next couple of decades acquiring wives, four of them, and a stepson. Dines died of a heart attack at age 55 in his hometown of Denver, Colorado.
I do hope that you will celebrate the new year with less drama than Mabel, Edna, Courtland, and Horace did!
Take care, and have a spectacular New Year! I’ll see you in 2012.
Wed 31 Aug, 2011
Who wouldn’t powder her nose in anticipation of a fling with the legendary libertine, Don Juan?
There have been countless tellings of the Don Juan legend; however, it is likely that it first appeared in print in Spain around 1630 as a play by Tirso de Molina. Molina’s output as a playwright was prodigious — he’s alleged to have composed over four hundred plays during a twenty year period! That is mind boggling!
Molina introduced the character of Don Juan in his play “El Burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra” (The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest).
The legend of Don Juan describes him as a rogue who enjoys seducing women (especially virgins) then dueling with their men. Hmm. How very macho. But that kind of bad behavior doesn’t come without a price.
There appear to be several interpretations of the legend of Don Juan; the most common one is that Don Juan seduces a girl from a noble family. When the father seeks revenge on his daughter’s behalf, Don Juan kills him.
Don Juan possessed neither a conscience nor, apparently, a capacity for shame; so, when the dead father’s ghost turns up one night and warns him that his days are numbered, Don Juan refuses to repent for his past transgressions. Not a smart move. Don Juan is then eternally damned.
Variations of this story include one where Don Juan encounters the statue of the dead father in a graveyard. Don Juan, in what is obviously appalling bad taste, invites the ghost to join him for dinner. (What DO ghosts eat, anyway? And can you imagine the awkward pauses in the dinner conversation?)
The father’s ghost arrives at Don Juan’s house at the appointed hour and then, as good manners would demand, extends an invitation to Don Juan to dine with him in the graveyard. Don Juan may have been a world class seducer of women and a fierce fighter of men, but he was too self-absorbed to be a good judge of another’s motives. When Don Juan extends his arm to shake hands with the ghostly father, the mad dad grabs hold of him and drags him down to Hell.
Being dragged to Hell was a fitting punishment for Don Juan, but was it a fair judgment on loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), who tried to impress her boss by refusing to extend a loan (at least three times) to a gypsy woman by the name of Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) in the 2009 film DRAG ME TO HELL?
Yes, I think maybe it was. Come on, who hasn’t been humiliated or tormented by an officious little bureaucrat? When it’s happened to me I’ve wished that I could place a curse on them. Maybe not something as serious as having them dragged to Hell to roast on a slow spit for eternity, but then again…
I love opera, and you can’t miss with Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI.
There have been many films and plays based on the original premise of DON JUAN – some of them very creative. One of my favorites was a story thread in the seminal TV sitcom, I LOVE LUCY. The Lucy and Ricky Ricardo would leave New York for Hollywood when Ricky was offered an opportunity to test for the role of Don Juan in a major motion picture.
There was a 1926 feature film based on the legend of Don Juan which starred John Barrymore as the handsome womanizer. The film is notable for a couple of reasons. The first is that the number of kisses in the film set a record, and it was also the first feature-length film with synchronized Vitaphone sound effects and a musical soundtrack (but no spoken dialogue.
DeMarco undergoes psychiatric treatment with Dr. Jack Mickler (Marlon Brando). DeMarco’s sessions have an unexpected effect on the doctor’s staff, some of whom are inspired by DeMarco’s delusion.
Let’s end with a quote from DON JUAN DeMARCO: “Every woman is a mystery to be solved.”
Sat 25 Jun, 2011
In previous posts I’ve discussed the creation and marketing of face powder for African American women. Among the pioneers in cosmetics for women of color was the brilliant business woman Madame C.J. Walker.
“Sweet Georgia Brown” face powder wasn’t one of Madame Walker’s products, but it was obviously intended for sale to what was then often referred to as the “race” market. Although in hindsight the term “race” in the context of marketing products may seem to be a derogatory one, in the early 20th century the African American press routinely used the term “the Race” to refer to African Americans as a whole, and used the terms “race man” or “race woman” to refer to African American individuals who showed pride and support for their people and culture. In other words, it was a different time.
Among the women who may have used products such as “Sweet Georgia Brown” face powder was entertainer Ethel Waters. She may have even powdered her nose with it for the photo of her which graced the cover of the catalog for “New Race Records”. Race records were 78 rpm phonograph records made by and for African Americans, particularly during the 1920s and 1930s. Billboard magazine published “Race Records” charts between 1945 and 1949, finally dropping the term (at the suggestion of journalist Jerry Wexler) in June 1949 and replacing it with “Rythm & Blues Records”.
Ethel Waters was born the child of a teen-aged rape victim on Halloween 1896. Young Ethel didn’t have any adult supervision to speak of, yet she managed to look after herself. She began, as had many of her contemporaries, performing at church functions. By the time she was a teenager she was renowned locally for her “hip shimmy shake”.
The shimmy was first introduced to Americans in 1883 at the Colombian Exposition Chicago World’s Fair by Farida Mazar Spyropoulous, aka “Little Egypt” (she was actually Syrian). Farida mesmerized audiences with the dance she referred to as the Hoochee-Coochee, or the shimmy and shake. Americans had not yet become familiar with the term belly dance, an entertainment which had first been seen by the French during Napoleon’s incursions into Egypt — the French called the dance danse du ventre (dance of the belly).
When people refer to hoochee-coochee (it’s spelled about six different ways) today they generally mean an erotic, highly suggestive dance, which isn’t quite the same as the dance that Little Egypt was performing in 1883.
Even during the Roaring Twenties the Shimmy raised eyebrows. But when Ethel Waters and Earl “Snake Hips” Tucker “shook the shimmy” in New York cabaret floorshows, it soon became a craze that swept the nation!
Earl “Snake Hips” Tucker was often billed as “The Human Boa Constrictor”. I would have thought that “The Human Cobra” would have been more apt.
In any case, critics of the day were hard pressed to find the right words to describe the movements that Earl was making on stage. I guess it wasn’t polite to discuss the shimmy in print.
A few decades after Earl “Snake Hips” Tucker writhed his way across a stage, Elvis Presley’s pelvis would get him into a bit of trouble with the critics, and prompt a letter from a Catholic diocese to J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI!
After a show in La Crosse, Wisconsin, an urgent message on the letterhead of the local Catholic diocese’s newspaper was sent to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. It warned that “Presley is a definite danger to the security of the United States. … [His] actions and motions were such as to rouse the sexual passions of teen-aged youth… After the show, more than 1,000 teenagers tried to gang into Presley’s room at the auditorium. … Indications of the harm Presley did just in La Crosse were the two high school girls … whose abdomen and thigh had Presley’s autograph.”
Before “Sweet Georgia Brown” became a line of cosmetics, it was a snappy tune written in 1925 by Ben Bernie & Maceo Pinkard (music) and Kenneth Casey (lyrics).
“NO GAL MADE HAS GOT A SHADE
ON SWEET GEORGIA BROWN,
TWO LEFT FEET, OH, SO NEAT,
HAS SWEET GEORGIA BROWN!”
I had hoped that Elvis and Ethel had more than swiveling hips in common so I looked for a performance of “Sweet Georgia Brown” by The King. No such luck. But I did find an interesting recording from the early 1960s.
On May 24, 1962 The Beatles recorded the instrumental track (with backing vocals) on a version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” for musician Tony Sheridan. Sheridan had met The Beatles in Hamburg, Germany at a club owned by Bruno Koschmieder. Sheridan liked The Beatles, and the feeling was mutual; in particular on the part of George Harrison who never missed an opportunity to jam with Tony.
Sadly, Sweet Georgia Brown face powder no longer exists; however, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Sweet Georgia Brown hair pomade is once again available! There are three different varieties, so one of them is bound to be perfect for your man’s classic pompadour.
Mon 24 Jan, 2011
The most recent addition to my collection is an exquisite sample envelope for Henry Tetlow’s GOSSAMER face powder.
Gossamer debuted in 1888 and the sample envelope in the photo has a copyright date of 1895, which means that it was available during the “Gilded Age”.
The term ‘Gilded Age’ was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their 1873 book, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. The name refers to the process of gilding an object with a superficial layer of gold and is meant to make fun of ostentatious display while playing on the term golden age.”
“What is the chief end of man?–to get rich. In what way?–dishonestly if we can; honestly if we must.”
— Mark Twain-1871
Mark Twain’s quote accurately sums up the Gilded Age; it was an era during which every man was a potential Andrew Carnegie. The Americans who achieved great wealth flaunted it in ways that would have cost them their heads in 18th Century France. One of the most outrageous examples of enormous wealth, coupled with a profound lack of taste, was at a dinner party thrown by Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish to honor her dog – who arrived sporting a $15,000 [$389,637.70 in today’s dollars!] diamond collar.
To put that kind of money into perspective, while Mrs. Fish’s spoiled pooch wore diamonds, many human Americans wore rags. In 1890, 11 million of the nation’s 12 million families earned less than $1200 per year [$28,818.49 current U.S. dollars]; of this group, the average annual income was $380 [$9,125.85 current U.S. dollars], well below the poverty line.
Of the women who would become well-known during the Gilded Age, one would leave her mark on history – and that woman was Jennie Jerome.
Jennie was born Jeanette Jerome in Brooklyn, New York on January 9, 1854. Jennie’s first marriage was to Lord Randolph Churchill, the second son of John Winston Spencer-Churchill, the 7th Duke of Marlborough and Lady Frances Anne Emily Vane. The couple wed on 15 April 1874, at the British Embassy in Paris.
Jennie had the money and the time to indulge her wild side. There was a persistent, unverifiable, rumor that she’d had a tattoo of a snake twined around her wrist, which she would hide with a bracelet when required.
Even if the rumor of a tattoo is false, Jennie’s wild side would lead her into numerous affairs while she was married to Lord Randolph Churchill. Among Lady Randolph’s conquests were Karl Kinsky (aka Karl, 8th Prince Kinsky of Wchinitz and Tettau) and King Edward VII of England.
Lady and Lord Randolph had two sons: Winston (born less than eight months after the marriage) and John. Jennie’s sisters believed that John’s biological father was Evelyn “Star” Boscawen, 7th Viscount Falmouth.
Known in society for her intelligence and wit, Jennie’s affairs not only provided her with excitement, but they enabled her to make the kinds of connections that would help Lord Randolph, and later Winston, in their careers.
Lady Randolph played a limited role in her sons’ upbringing – a hands off approach to child rearing was typical of the day for women in her social circle. Winston had a nanny, Mrs. Elizabeth Everest, whom he adored – however he worshipped his mother. He’d frequently write to Jennie, begging her to visit him, which she rarely did. Their relationship changed after Winston became an adult; the two became friends and allies. Winston came to view his mother as his advisor and political mentor.
Lord Randolph died in 1895 at age 45, reportedly of syphilis, although given his symptoms it’s been hypothesized that he actually succumbed to a tumor deep within the left side of his brain. The hypothesis of a brain tumor is credible, particularly when you consider that neither Jennie, nor her sons, exhibited any signs of syphilis.
On July 2, 1900 Jennie married George Cornwallis-West, a captain in the Scots Guards who was the same age as her son Winston! Neither John nor Winston was particularly thrilled with Jennie’s choice of a husband, primarily due to the age difference. Even with the difference in their ages, the marriage lasted for twelve years; the couple was separated in 1912 and was divorced in 1914.
Jennie remained single until June 1, 1918 when she was married to Montague Phippen Porch, a member of the British Civil Service in Nigeria. If John and Winston were dismayed by her marriage to Cornwallis-West, they must have been apoplectic when she wed Porch — he was three years Winston’s junior!
Personally, I think the “boys” should have lightened up. It sounds to me as if Jennie aged chronologically, but retained a youthful outlook and personality that drew the younger men to her. Perhaps a man her own age couldn’t have kept up with her!
Jennie was 67 years old when she slipped while descending a friend’s staircase; she was wearing new high heeled shoes. She broke her ankle and gangrene set in and her left leg was amputated above the knee. She died soon afterward in her home in London following a hemorrhage of an artery in her thigh (a direct result of the amputation).
Six years later there would be another freak clothing-related death of a prominent woman. On September 14, 1927 Isadora Duncan (whom many consider to be the creator of modern dance), was riding in an open car when one of her signature long, flowing scarves became entangled around one of the vehicle’s open-spoke wheels and rear axle, breaking her neck.
While searching for a photo of Isadora Duncan, I found the nifty photo of the plug-in heated scarf. Does it have anything to do with Isadora’s death? Not really; I was just enamored of the advertisement.
However, whether you favor a traditional scarf, or one of the plug-in varieties, I must advise you to accessorize with caution.
Mon 10 Jan, 2011
Are you feeling lucky? If you are, I have the perfect event to suggest to you, CASINO MODERNE!
By the light of day, you may be a businessmen, banker, housewife, shop girl or Sunday school teacher, but this is 1920 and the dawn of Prohibition, where by night you are limited only by your imagination.
Inspired by the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire,” the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles brings a 1920s casino to life on Saturday, February 5, 2011. For one magic night, immerse yourself in living history of the most scandalous kind as you wander, cocktail in hand, through the oldest private club in Los Angeles or settle in at a gaming table that will be legal in the year 2011.
The Los Angeles Athletic Club was founded in 1880, but old Hollywood made it glitter. Add to the gleam as the evening begins at 7 p.m. until it ends at 11:00 p.m. (unless, of course, the cops raid it first!) Purchase a Prohibition-era cocktail, as you enjoy complimentary hors d’ oeuvres and games of chance.
Members $50 (ADSLA and LAAC)–Please note that membership will be verified at Will-Call. If no proof of membership is produced at this time, attendees will be responsible for paying the difference between Member and Non-member rates.
Advance tickets are available via Brown Paper Tickets.
Tickets at the door will go up by $10/each.
Los Angeles Athletic Club
431 West Seventh Street, Third Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Parking $4.50. Parking structure is adjacent to the Club. Entrance is just past LAAC’s awning on the right.
Spend the night in Charlie Chaplin or Rudy Valentino’s rooms!
The Los Angeles Athletic Club has generously offered Casino Night attendees a discounted room in their historic hotel for $134.00. Rate includes American Buffet Breakfast in the third floor Grill Room, in-room WiFi, use of the Athletic Facility and discount overnight parking of $12.00/car. Not included is the city occupancy tax, currently 14%. Call 1-800-421-8777 to book your room.
Thu 6 Jan, 2011
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that celebrity endorsements and branding of cosmetics is nothing new. One of the earliest and most successful brandings of a line of cosmetics would use the name and image of actress Edna Wallace Hopper.
Edna Wallace was born in San Francisco, California to Waller and Josephine Wallace. She was likely born on January 17, 1872, but throughout her life she steadfastly refused to reveal her age. She said that no one could verify it because her birth records had been destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
Acting was in her blood, well, sort of – her father was head night usher at the California Theater. Even if her father didn’t act in the theater there was sufficient drama at home to make an impression on young Edna.
Edna’s dad was also employed as a barkeep, and it was in that capacity that he met Alexander Dunsmuir in about 1879. Dunsmuir was the son of a wealth Scots coal baron in Victoria, B.C. He’d been sent to run the family’s business office in San Francisco, but he much preferred a glass of whiskey. And who can blame him?
Waller eventually moved his wealth drinking buddy into the family home as a boarder. That wasn’t a very smart move. On one side of the coin was hard working Waller, on the other side was the enormously wealthy Alex. Could anyone have been shocked by the outcome when Edna’s mother fell in love with Alex, and the Wallace’s divorced? Waller was left with Edna and her brother, but after a while Josephine missed her kids. When Waller was offered a settlement in exchange for custody of the kids, he accepted.
Alex and Josephine may have been in love, but Alex’s mother had a vice-like grip on the purse strings and she wasn’t about to accept “that woman” as her daughter-in-law. She was so adamant about her disapproval that she even threatened to disinherit Alex.
Rather than annoy Alex’s mother by forcing the issue, the lovers quietly set up housekeeping (pretty risqué for the time) and waited for the inevitable – the woman couldn’t live forever, right? In 1898 Alex and his brother James finally gained control of the family business.
Alex took $350k (approximately $9 million in current dollars) of his share of the family fortune and built Josephine a fine home near San Leandro, California. He deeded the house to Josephine.
With no further family hurdles to overcome, Alex and Josephine were married. On their much-delayed wedding day Alex made out a will leaving everything but the San Leandro home to his brother James. The couple was married on December 21, 1899 at a hotel in San Pablo, California and honeymooned in New York City – where just one month later, while still on their honeymoon, Alex died. His years of hard drinking had taken their toll. Sadly, Josephine didn’t live much longer, she passed away in 1901.
In 1904 Edna filed suit hoping to crack the will and walk away with about $1M. Even with the evidence of Alex’s drinking, the judge determined that he’d been of sound mind when he willed everything (but the house) to his brother James.
By the time of her mother’s death Edna had already starred in her most famous role, Lady Holyrood in the popular London stage play FLORADORA [see my earlier post on FLORADORA]. Though not playing one of the renowned Florodora Sextettes, she shared in some of the wild adulation of male admirers who mobbed the backstage door after every performance.
During the late 1890s Edna had married, and divorced, a fellow actor DeWolf Hopper. DeWolf had been as bald as a billiard ball from childhood (he had alopecia), so he wore wigs both on and offstage. In later years a reaction to harsh medicines that he took for throat problems gave his skin a bluish tinge. Being bald and blue did not diminish his powerful voice and great sense of humor, so DeWolf was still able to attract women – apparently in legion numbers. He reportedly had an insatiable appetite for young actresses and he’d left a trail of six wives and countless mistresses in his wake—he became known as the “The Husband of His Country.”
If the name Hopper seems familiar to you, you may be thinking of famed gossip columnist Hedda Hopper to whom DeWolfe was married from 1913-1924.
Edna took fewer acting roles in the 1910s, but her career took off in a surprising new direction in the 1920s. She was one of the earliest stage actors to have a facelift – she even had the operation filmed! She would make personal appearance tours over the next eight years showing the film and giving beauty tips.
Edna’s beauty advice appeared often during the 1920s in newspapers like the Los Angeles Times.
Edna’s tours and timeless good looks captured the attention Claude C. Hopkins, and advertising man who worked for American Home Products. The cosmetics line was a success and was still be advertised in the 1940s, although by that time only Edna’s name was being used.
Hopper separated from her second husband and he died in the 1930s. She went on to become the only woman of the thirty-six member board of L. F. Rothschild & Co. She traveled daily by subway to her office to handle investments until shortly before her death in New York City from complications of pneumonia on December 14, 1959. The news reports of her death gave her age as anywhere from the mid-80s to 95.