Next Page »

lana turner_redhead_lipstick_resize

A redheaded Lana Turner advertises Max Factor lipstick and her role in the MGM film “Cass Timberlane”


Lipstick has been around for centuries. The women of ancient Mesopotamia crushed gemstones and applied them to their lips, and Egyptian women colored their lips using crushed carmine beetles. But arguably the most important lipstick innovation was made by Max Factor when, in 1930, he created lip gloss.

Factor began his incredible career by creating makeup specifically for film, so it is not surprising that many of his ads featured Hollywood stars. The Max Factor ads were frequently a clever cross promotion highlighting not only the cosmetics, but a popular actress and her current project, too.

butterfield 8 elizabeth taylorI know I am not alone in believing lipstick to be the perfect cosmetic; It is small enough to tuck into an evening bag and most women will not leave home without a tube of their current favorite color in their purse. Applying lipstick may have become second nature for those who wear it, but it is a uniquely feminine and extremely intimate act—perhaps that is one of the reasons people during the 1920s were scandalized when women first began to use it in public (this despite the beauty preferences of the women of ancient Mesopotamia).

Then and now, a delicate pink lipstick was as sweet and innocent as a girl’s first kiss. In deep, luscious red it can be seductive, lustful and, quite frankly, a home wrecker. The wicked little cosmetic leaves tell-tale traces on clothing and skin, and it’s famous for lingering provocatively on a cigarette smoldering in an ashtray and smeared cocktail glasses. And it has other applications, too. Lipstick has been used to write love letters and ransom notes, and even to spark romantic connections in films. (Butterfield 8, in which Elizabeth Taylor used lipstick to scrawl NO SALE across a mirror—her message to a lover who thought he could possess her soul, and The Postman Always Rings Twice, in which a tube of rolling lipstick creates the sexual tension between John Garfield and Lana Turner come to mind.)

On screen and off, I believe that a woman watching herself in a mirror as she touches up her lipstick is far sexier than the lowest cut dress or the highest heels. The next time you apply your favorite lip color, pause and reflect on the history of the beauty essential, then send up a silent thank you to the many innovators who’ve put work into perfecting your pout—Max Factor included, of course.
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.

irresistible_adI have always been drawn to the Irresistible cosmetics ads because, well, they truly are irresistible. The colors are lush and the ads depict women who are individual beauties, not cookie cutter glamour girls.

It is rare to discover the identity of an artist working in cosmetics advertising—their art is generally unsigned and they are often employed by the container company or the cosmetics manufacturer who wants the focus placed on the product, not the artist.


The unique renderings of the women in the Irresistible ads are so compelling, though, that I had to seek out the artist. Fortunately the Internet has made such spur-of-the-moment quests possible and within a few keystrokes I had a name: Zoe Mozert.

zoe-mozert-the-outlawZoe Mozert worked as a commercial artist during the 1930s, creating the dreamy, romanticized images for Irresistible, and she was also one of the few women working as a pin-up artist.

Mozert was attractive enough to be a pin-up girl herself and frequently posed in front of her camera for early selfies, which enabled her to be the model for her own drawings.

Zoe eventually moved from the East Coast to Hollywood, where her portraits of stars such as Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy, and Jean Harlow graced the covers of movie magazines. Mozert was also in demand as a movie poster artist. Her design for the 1937 comedy True Confessions might be her best, but my favorite is the one she created for the 1943 Howard Hughes horse opera The Outlaw, the film that introduced newcomer Jane Russell to audiences as the seductive Rio McDonald. Russell’s talent made her an actress, but I believe that it was Zoe’s depiction of her in the notorious poster that made her a star.


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.




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.





Will-O-Wisp is a rather curious name for a hair net.

Frances Griffiths & Elsie Wright c. 1917

In Medieval Latin will-o’-the-wisp means foolish fire.  The will-o’-the-wisp has been described as a ghostly light sometimes seen at twilight over bogs, swamps and marshes.  The light resembles a flickering lamp and will often recede if approached, as if it was being carried off by a fairy.

The Will-O-Wisp advertisement above appeared in ASIA magazine in 1922, so perhaps the name and the fairies had something to do with an incident a couple of years earlier in Cottingley, near Bradford, England.  Two young cousins Elsie Wright (16) and Frances Griffiths (10) alleged that they had photographed fairies near Cottingley Beck (stream).

Cottingley Stream

 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, spiritualist and author of the Sherlock Holmes tales, learned of the existence of the the fairy photographs after he was contacted by the editor of the Spiritualist publication LIGHT. 

Doyle was convinced that they were incontrovertible evidence of psychic phenomena.  Not everyone agreed; some felt as Conan Doyle did, and others were certain the photos had been faked.  

Following WWI many people turned to spiritualism to ease the pain of losing loved ones either in combat or to the Spanish flu pandemic in  1918. Conan Doyle had his own reasons for his belief in spiritualism.  

Doyle’s wife Louisa had been deceased for over ten years when their son Kingsley died on October 28, 1918 right before the end of WWI. Kingsley had contracted pneumonia while convalescing after having been seriously wounded in 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. Kingsley’s death plunged Doyle into a deep depression.  The grieving man had little time to mourn his son before he lost his brother Innes, his two brothers-in-law, and two nephews.  Suffering so many devastating losses in rapid succession set Doyle on a quest to find a way to cope with his anguish.

Séances and Ouija boards became popular ways in which to attempt to make contact with the spirit world.  There were people who were sincere in their beliefs in paranormal phenomena, and of course there were countless charlatans out to make a quick buck by exploiting the grief of those whom the dead had left behind.

The Cottingley photographs became public in mid-1919 after Elsie Wright’s mother Polly attended a meeting of the Theosophical Society in Bradford. The lecture topic that evening was “Fairy Life” and at the end of the meeting Polly Wright showed two photographs taken by her daughter and niece to the speaker.  The photos caused a stir.  They were displayed a few months later at the Society’s annual conference in Harrogate where they came to the attention of Edward Gardner, a Theosophical Society big-wig.           

Gardner embraced the photos for what he believed them to be, evidence that humanity was undergoing a cycle of evolution.  He said:  “… the fact that two young girls had not only been able to see fairies, which others had done, but had actually for the first time ever been able to materialise them at a density sufficient for their images to be recorded on a photographic plate, meant that it was possible that the next cycle of evolution was underway.” 

Initially Gardner had the photos examined by Harold Snelling, an expert in photography.  Snelling concluded that the negatives were genuine, which wasn’t exactly the same thing as verifying their content; however, an enthusiastic Edward Gardner used prints of the fairy photos in illustrated lectures he gave around the U.K.   

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle  had become aware of the Cottingley photos at about the same time that he’d been commissioned by THE STRAND MAGAZINE to write an article on fairies for their Christmas issue. Just as Gardner had done, Doyle took the photos to various experts in an effort to determine their authenticity.  Kodak declined to issue a certificate of authenticity, as did another photographic company, Ilford. 

Gardner and Doyle wanted desperately to believe the the photos were genuine.  They concluded that the fairies in the photos must have been real because only one out of the three experts’ they’d queried had reported unequivocally that there was “some evidence of faking”.  Gardner and Doyle heard what they wanted to hear.

In July 1920 the two cousins Elsie and Frances spent a school holiday together in Cottingley so that they could take more photos of the fairies.  Bad weather kept the girls, and presumably the fairies, indoors until mid-August.  The girls insisted that the fairies wouldn’t show themselves if others were watching, and so Elsie’s mother was persuaded to visit her sister’s home for tea leaving the two girls alone.

While Elsie’s mom was enjoying her tea the two girls were busying taking photos..  The first photo was entitled “Frances and the Leaping Fairy” and shows Frances in profile with a winged fairy close to her nose. 

The second photo “Fairy Offering Posy of Harebells to Elsie” shows a fairy offering Elsie a flower.

The third photo “Fairies and Their Sun-Bath” was taken two days later and shows only fairies.

The photographic plates were packed in cotton and sent off to Gardner in London who received them with joy.  He contacted Conan Doyle, who was on a book tour in Melbourne, with the good news. Doyle responded:

“My heart was gladdened when out here in far Australia I had your note and the three wonderful pictures which are confirmatory of our published results. When our fairies are admitted other psychic phenomena will find a more ready acceptance … We have had continued messages at séances for some time that a visible sign was coming through.”

Conan Doyle used the 1920 photos for a second article in THE STRAND MAGAZINE, and subsequently used the photos and the STRAND article to form the basis of his 1922 book THE COMING OF THE FAIRIES          

Many of the adults around Elsie and Frances continued to believe in fairies – they wrote books and held séances; but what about Elsie and Frances the fairy photographers?  Had they faked the photos?  Of course they had. The Cottingley fairies bear an uncanny resemblance to illustrations from PRINCESS MARY’S GIFT BOOK, don’t you think?

The controversy over the Cottingley photos continued without Elsie and Frances — the two girls grew up, married, and lived abroad for years.  In 1985 the cousins were  interviewed for Arthur C. Clarke’s WORLD OF STRANGE POWERS. Elsie said that she and Frances were too embarrassed to confess the truth after they’d succeeded in fooling Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. She went on to say: Two village kids and a brilliant man like Conan Doyle – well, we could only keep quiet.”


Frances said: “I never even thought of it as being a fraud – it was just Elsie and I having a bit of fun and I can’t understand to this day why they were taken in – they wanted to be taken in.”

Conan Doyle showed the Cottingley photos to physicist and psychical researcher Sir Oliver Lodge, who believed the photos to be fake.  Sir Oliver thought that a troupe of (tiny?) dancers had masqueraded as fairies, and in particular he expressed doubt as to their “distinctly Parisienne” hairstyles. Despite Lodge’s opinion, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle remained a true believer in spiritualism and in the existence of fairies to the end of his life. 

I don’t believe in fairies, but I do believe in the indefatigability of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable horror and tragedy.  If the human spirit occasionally needs to manifest itself in sweet-faced little beings with wings, that’s fine with me.

Another of the skeptics of the Cottingley photographs noted that the fairies “looked suspiciously like the traditional fairies of nursery tales” and that they had “very fashionable hairstyles” – which brings us full circle to the  adorable, and stylishly coiffed, fairies on the Will-O-Wisp hair net advertisement.



"Sure Will" by Zoe Mozert

You wouldn’t be surprised if a knock-out blonde with a gorgeous shape became a pin-up model. But what would you think if that same blonde also became a pin-up artist? You might think it’s impossible and that only a man would pursue a career as a pin-up artist; but you’d be wrong. There were a few female pin-up artists during the golden age of pin-up, and the most famous of them was Zoe Mozert.  The stunning illustration used in the IRRESISTIBLE advertisement above is representative of Zoe’s work.

From my collection.

Zoe Mozert was born Alice Adelaide Moser on April 27, 1907 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Her father was a mechanical engineer who invented and patented a design for a cast-iron stove vent. Her father’s invention brought the family modest wealth, and as a result Zoe was able to attend a private boarding school in Virginia.

Following high school Zoe enrolled in the LaFrance Art School. One of her fellow students was John W. Scott. Scott would become a free-lance pulp artist. His work appeared on the covers of “Uncanny Tales”, “Western Story”, “Marvel Tales” and many others.

Zoe posing for Earl Moran

From 1925 to 1928 Mozert was enrolled in advanced classes at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art. She paid for her tuition by modeling at the school, and she also modeled for her herself!  Zoe would photograph herself or set up a mirror in order to capture her pose — she must have saved a fortune in modeling fees.

H.J. Ward cover

While in school Zoe met other artists who would become well known as pulp or pin-up artists. Among her contemporaries was H.J. Ward. Ward was in one of Zoe’s classes and she probably posed for some of his paintings during this period. Ward’s illustrations for magazines such as “Spicy Mystery” are classic. Unfortunately, Ward’s career was cut short by a cancerous tumor in his lung. He died at age 35 on February 7, 1945.

In 1932 Zoe moved to New York City to seek employment as a free-lance illustrator. Her first jobs were for “True Story” magazine. In 1933 she won a scholarship to study at the Art Students League, and by 1934 Mozert was hitting her stride. She created some exquisite covers for pulp magazines, and her work also began to appear on movie posters.

Because Zoe’s work was as glamorous as it was as sexy, it was perfect for ad campaigns for cosmetics (such as for IRRESISTIBLE) and for Hollywood films.

In 1937 she was hired by Paramount Pictures to create the poster for the Carole Lombard film, TRUE CONFESSION. I’ve never seen the film, but I find myself mesmerized by Fred MacMurray’s pimp-like moustache.

The most sensational movie poster of Zoe’s career was, without a doubt, the rendering she made of provocatively clad Jane Russell for the Howard Hughes feature THE OUTLAW.

Howard Hughes was an engineer, inventor, and a man obsessed with women’s breasts. He designed a cantilevered underwire brassiere to emphasize Jane Russell’s “girls”. The bra sounds like it would have been a nightmare to wear — Hughes added curved rods of structural steel which were sewn into the bra below each breast.

Structural steel may be perfect for bridges and skyscrapers, but I think that it would be less than ideal for undergarments, at least in terms of comfort. Just thinking about wearing a bra with steel rods in it makes me wince.

Russell later said that she never wore the bra, and that Hughes never noticed. I can’t believe that he ever took his eyes off of her chest, so maybe he thought that that the steel rods were invisible.

Hughes’ underwire invention wasn’t the only brassiere designed with full-figured Jane Russell in mind. Years later she’d pitch a support bra for Playtex – but it probably didn’t have any structural steel in it.

In 1941 Zoe signed an exclusive fifteen year contract as a top pin-up artist for the publishing company Brown & Bigelow. Brown & Bigelow had other talented pin-up artists under contract such as Rolf Armstrong, Gil Elvgren, and Earl Moran.

In 1945 Zoe Mozert moved to Hollywood where she worked as an art advisor and as an artist.  Her original art, when it is available, is highly sought after.  I found an original illustration on the internet for $6500.

Sadly, that’s more than I can afford so I’ll have to be content with searching auction sites, ephemera shows, and antique malls for magazine covers and calendars.

Mozert retired to Sedona, Arizona in 1978 where she continued to work as an artist.  She passed away at age 85 in 1993.


 gossamer_sample_ closed_final  

 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.”    


Mark Twain

 “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.  


Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish

 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_Jerome_before marriage

 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.   


Lord Randolph Churchill

  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.  

snake tatoo

 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.  


John, Jennie, and Winston

 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.  


Elizabeth Everest

 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!  

tetlow gossamer powder_final  

 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.  




This wonderful 1947 advertisement showcases Daggett and Ramsdell’s Debutante collection of cosmetics.

The ad calls “Come out! Come out!” which is, of course, a reference to the “coming out” parties or cotillion balls which were held to introduce a young lady (known as a debutante) from an aristocratic or upper class family to society. 

The rich are not like you and me.

The idea for the parties was to literally bring a girl out and display her to eligible bachelors and their families with an eye to marrying her off to someone within a select circle of people. An early incarnation of TV’s popular “The Bachelor”.


Girl dressed for Quinceañero

There are many versions of a coming out party in different cultures. Here in Los Angeles most of us are familiar with a Quinceañera, Quince, Quinceañero or Quince años (English: “fifteen years”) which is a Latin American coming of age ceremony for a girl marking the transition from girlhood to womanhood.

If you drive around Los Angeles on the weekends you’ll often see these ceremonies taking place. They are just as elaborate as any wedding. Planning for the Quinceañera begins at least one year in advance and involves family, friends, and a priest who will perform the ceremony in church.

debutante gown_c1890

Debutante gown c. 1890s

The word debutante comes from the French débutante, and means “female beginner”. They were at their zenith during the nineteenth century; however, they exist to this day.

Personally, I’m fascinated by the American debutantes of the 1930s. The Depression era must have been a peculiar time to be a “deb”. Maybe that’s why magazines of the period focused on “poor little rich girls” like Doris Duke and Barbara Hutton.  Perhaps the fact that many of the debutantes had unhappy lives made their riches to riches stories more palatable to a woman in a bread line.

doris duke

Doris Duke

Born in New York City, Barbara Hutton was the only child of Edna Woolworth (1883–1918), who was a daughter of Frank W. Woolworth, the founder of the successful Woolworth five and dime stores. Barbara’s father was Franklyn Laws Hutton (1877–1940), a wealthy co-founder of E. F. Hutton & Company (owned by Franklyn’s brother Edward Francis Hutton), a respected New York investment banking and stock brokerage firm.

rudee valley

Rudy Vallee

Barbara Hutton came out on her eighteenth birthday on November 14, 1930. At the time an average ball cost around $16,000, ($208,872.81 in current dollars). Barbara Hutton’s debutante ball cost over $60,000 ($783,273.05 in current dollars). Who attended this party? The people that you would have expected to have been there, the Astor and Rockefeller families to name two. The guests were entertained by crooners Rudy Vallee and Maurice Chevalier.

barbarahutton_debutante Ritz Carlton 1931

She looked so sad - Barbara Hutton c. 1931

While the average family was struggling to make ends meet during the 1930s, girls like Barbara were coming out to continue their lives of wealth and privilege. It is no surprise that public criticism was so severe that Hutton was sent on a tour of Europe to escape the scrutiny of the press and the disdain of the public at large.

By the time of Hutton’s twenty-first birthday in 1933 she had trust fund worth roughly $2 billion in today’s money. Ironically much of Hutton’s fortune came from the Woolworth five and dime stores – places she would never have to shop.woolies1930's

Actually though, there appears to have been a kernel of truth to the “poor little rich girl” moniker. Barbara’s life may have been lived in the finest clothes and spent in the most sumptuous of surroundings but, by all accounts, she was never happy. The things that money couldn’t buy continued to elude her – for example, a happy marriage. She tried marriage seven times, each ended in divorce. None of the men seemed to possess much in terms of wealth or character.


"Cash & Cary"

Her first two husbands used her great wealth to their advantage, especially the extremely abusive Kurt Haugwitz-Reventlow, with whom she had her only child, a son named Lance. (Lance would die tragically at 36 in a small plane crash.) Reventlow was verbally and physically abusive. He finally beat her so savagely that she was hospitalized and he was tossed into the slammer. He had even managed to convince her to relinquish her American citizenship and to take his native Danish citizenship for tax purposes, which she did in 1937 in a New York federal court. Reventlow’s constant abuse led Barbara to drug abuse, and to anorexia (from which she would suffer intermittently throughout the rest of her life).

3brendafrazier party

Is it me, or is this a trifle kinky?

 Cary Grant, to whom she was married from 1942-1945, appears to have been the only one of her husbands who sincerely cared for her. The couple was dubbed “Cash and Cary” by the press but Grant, who had enough money and fame of his own, didn’t need anything from his wealthy wife. She would continue to describe him as the only decent man she’d ever married.


Brenda Frazier

Barbara Hutton would continue to fascinate people but arguably the most famous of the 1930s debutantes was Brenda Duff Frazier.

Brenda Diana Duff Frazier’s December 1938 coming out party was so heavily publicized worldwide she eventually appeared on the cover of Life magazine for that reason alone.

Brenda’s father, Frank Duff Frazier, came from a prosperous Boston family. Her mother, the former Brenda Germaine Henshaw Williams-Taylor, was the only daughter of Sir Frederick Williams-Taylor. He was a general manager of the Bank of Montreal who was knighted in 1910 and combined his middle name and birth surname into a new hyphenated surname. A hyphenated name sounds much ritzier, don’t you think? Brenda’s parents eventually divorced, causing little Brenda to spend much time with her social-climbing maternal grandmother.

paris hilton mug shot

Paris Hilton's latest mug shot

If you thought, as I did, that the term celebutante was coined recently for the likes of Paris Hilton – well, we’re wrong! The term was created in 1939 to describe Brenda.

Brenda was greatly admired and often copied during the years when she was dubbed “Glamour Girl #1”. She anticipated Goth girls by decades when she popularized her famous “white-face” look. She used a very light colored face powder which made a stark contrast to her red lips and deep brunette hair. Fame comes at a price though – Brenda frequently suffered with a stiff neck because she was afraid to move her head, lest she displace a single hair in her perfect coiffure. Brenda also started a trend when she was photographed wearing a strapless white velvet dress. Strapless gowns quickly became a must have for women of all ages – and they remain a classic style.

brenda strapless

Like the other “poor little rich girls”, the debs of the 1930s, Brenda’s life appeared enchanted when viewed from the outside. Sadly, like her fellow debs she was also unlucky in love. She was married twice, both unions ended in divorce. And, as Barbara Hutton had done, she suffered from anorexia throughout her life.

Eventually Brenda must have tired of the endless parties because she withdrew from the public eye for years. She may have slipped away unnoticed had she not been revealed at the end of her life in a photo by Diane Arbus.

If nothing else the photo serves as cautionary tale for those daughters of the fabulously wealthy who lead lives of excess without substance. 

Paris, take note.


Photo of Brenda Frazier by Diane Arbus





Good news, ladies. Mon Cheri products are on sale at The Owl Drug Co — or at least they were in November 1925.

Next Page »