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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.



The vibrant colors and Art Deco design of this Holdfast Hair Pin card didn’t catch my eye until I saw it listed in an online auction. The woman’s bobbed hair is typical of the flapper era, and it was easy for me to envision her in a short dress and rolled stockings, stopping by her local five-and-dime to pick up a card of Holdfast hair pins to keep her newly shorn locks in place.

I can’t conceive of life without bobby pins, and it is my contention that they are the unsung heroines of a woman’s beauty tool kit. I wear my hair short, so I don’t often use them, but I keep a few stashed in my bag anyway. A recent purse search turned up my wallet, cell phone, a handful of loose change, a lipstick I had been searching for since last week, and three bobby pins.

The spare change may come in handy, and I’m glad the lipstick finally turned up, but I tossed the bobby pins right back into my purse because I find the ingenious metal clips are as useful—or even more useful than—any multi-purpose knife. They can be used to create a halo of face framing curls or as an improvised paper clip, bookmark, screwdriver, fishhook, cherry pitter, or lock pick. Unconvinced of the bobby pin’s superiority? Just try holding your hair in place with any of the objects listed above.

Given their usefulness, it is no wonder that at least half a dozen people have sought to take credit for the bobby pin’s invention. First was an imaginative 15th century fellow, the eponymous Robert “Bobby” Pinsworth. According to some sources, Mrs. Pinsworth was having a bad hair day when she asked her husband for something to hold an errant strand in place. Bobby came through with a uniquely designed clip that changed Mrs. P’s life.

In March 1990, Luis Marco, a 1920s San Francisco cosmetics manufacturer was eulogized in a local newspaper as the originator of the bobby pin. His daughter said that he had toyed with the idea of naming it the Marcus Pin, but named it after bobbed hair instead.

The only historical consensus about the humble little clip seems to be that it was created during the Roaring 20s, like the Holdfast Hair Pins, for flappers coping with their newly cropped dos; but whether the clever ribbed metal device was the brainchild of Bobby Pinsworth, Luis Marco, or someone else altogether, its true creator remains a beautiful mystery.


Having lived in Southern California for most of my life I have a soft spot for the car culture that is woven into the strands of the area’s DNA. I had a classic fire engine red 1965 Mustang that was totaled in an accident years ago and I still mourn the loss. When I discovered this Mi-Lady Hair Net package in an online auction recently, I knew I had to have it; the little roadster is irresistible.

The automobile has had a profound effect on L.A.. While these days we have a tendency to focus on the negative impact of cars on the city–traffic, traffic, and more traffic–during the 1920s and 1930s, cars inspired a trend in architecture that would have made what Alice saw down the rabbit hole seem mundane.

Programmatic, mimetic, and novelty are terms that describe the whimsical style of architecture that was at its peak during the 1920s and 1930s. Structures were built to resemble the products or services they offered, the buildings were designed specifically to attract the attention of people as they passed by in their automobiles.

Even though the 1920s era auto depicted on the Mi-Lady envelope is a European model with right hand drive, I envision the couple tooling around Los Angeles in it. They could be newlyweds on a daylong excursion of dining and shopping in various novelty buildings.

Let’s tag along:


The pair begins their day by grabbing a cup o’ Joe and a pastry in a building shaped like a giant coffee pot. Later in the morning they find themselves craving freshly squeezed orange juice, so they pull into a café shaped like, what else, a giant orange!

The newlyweds long to find a sweet California bungalow to call home; so they are ecstatic when the salesmen at the Sphinx Realty Company, located in a replica of the Egyptian icon, help them track down their dream house.


After making a down payment on a cozy cottage, the couple decides to purchase a piano—just the thing for evening sing-a-longs with family and friends. With a colossal piano marking the entrance to the showroom, the California Piano Supply Company is the ideal place to shop for a baby grand. 00068648_tamale

Following bowls of chili at The Tamale in East L.A., the couple fire up their little sports car and speed off into the warm Los Angeles night.

Photographs courtesy the Los Angeles Public Library 



All about the L.A. actress who turned having a facelift into a beauty brand

The first facelift was performed on a Polish aristocrat in 1901 and by the 1920s many Hollywood actors were having cosmetic surgery to correct crooked noses, big ears, and non-existent chins, but they kept their procedures quiet. Edna Wallace Hopper changed that.

In 1922 Edna was nearing 50 and her career as an actress appeared to be over. Long admired for her beauty, at the half-century mark Edna felt her looks were fading, so she did something about it: she had a facelift and filmed it!

The Los Angeles Times reported that prior to the surgery Hopper was regarded as “an elderly person, eligible for an old ladies’ home,” but following the procedure she was described as being “…blessed with the bloom of eternal youth.”

Edna’s surgery was performed by a woman who called herself Dr. Gertrude Steele. Steele wasn’t  a medical doctor—she was a registered naturopath and a so-called beauty doctor whose license to practice had been temporarily revoked in 1919 when she caused the death of her son-in-law during a procedure to remove freckles from his face. Nevertheless, the work she did on Hopper seems to have been a success.

Post operation, Edna forged a career out of personal appearances, where she shared her beauty secrets, showed the film of her facelift, and preached a gospel of rejuvenation to middle-aged women longing for youth. Hopper admitted that she had inherited her good looks from her mother, but said that she maintained them by taking care of her health and her skin. According to Edna her surgery combined with her strict beauty regimen made her feel decades younger.  When queried about her taste in men Edna was as giddy as a teenager and gushed: “No age limit!  I love ’em all — from 19 to 90!”


Edna’s tours and timeless good looks soon caught the eye of an advertising man, Claude C. Hopkins, who worked for American Home Products. Hopkins approached Edna with a proposition: a line of cosmetics and beauty treatments bearing her likeness and name. Edna was an astute businesswoman who recognized the opportunity as a potential goldmine, and she was right; her line of cosmetics and treatments continued to be sold well into the 1940s.

Hopper had taken the very public step of filming her facelift, yet she would remain coy about her age.  She said: “People have been guessing my age since 1918. I just let them go ahead.  All records of my birth were destroyed in the San Francisco fire.”

When she died in 1959 people didn’t know if she was in her 80s or 90s—she had remained coy about her age—but the detail wasn’t important. She was eternally youthful where it counts: in her spirit.


No other item in my collection captures the feeling of Southern California during the 1920s as well as this West Electric Beach & Motor Hair Net envelope.

In addition to producing hair nets, West Electric, based in Philadelphia, manufactured hair curlers and shampoo. The company patented one of its hair curler designs as early as 1909 and ads for their products appeared in magazines such as The Ladies’ Home Journal.

The sandy beach and graceful palm trees depicted on the package are evocative of any location offering surf and sand, but the car is a dead giveaway of the L.A. life—no other place has embraced car culture with such frank enthusiasm and unconditional love as Southern California.

 As soon as I saw the hair net package I was drawn into 1920s Los Angeles, and the birth of modern styles in swimwear.

Prior to the 1920s women’s bathing suits were more concerned with coverage than with comfort. Imagine jumping into the surf at Santa Monica Beach in a black, knee-length, puffed-sleeve wool dress. Following WWI everything changed. Women painted their faces and bobbed their hair, and bathing suit designs started to reflect their new freedom. No right thinking flapper would show up at a beach party in anything that covered her knees or her arms.

In 1921 a local fashion show introduced inflatable bathing suits, which were described as pretty and practical because they allowed the wearer to float in the water, just like she was using water wings. The style sank without a trace.

Following the discovery of King Tut’s tomb by Howard Carter in 1922 people were consumed with all things Egyptian, and of course Egyptian themed bathing suits briefly became the rage on local beaches. What made the water wear Egyptian themed? Why the hand-painted hieroglyphics representing inscriptions from the Pharaoh’s tomb, of course.

Bathing suit designs then changed forever in 1925 when Fred Cole entered the swimwear business. Cole had been a silent film actor, an occupation his parents thought thoroughly disreputable, during the early 1920s, so they were pleased when he suggested that they start a swimwear line at their knitting mills in Los Angeles, and the staid sounding “West Coast Manchester Knitting Mills” became “Cole of California.” Cole would bring Hollywood glamour to the swimsuit industry.

In 1936, Cole hired Margit Felligi, who served as Cole’s head designer until 1972. Felligi was an inspired innovator and in 1943, during the wartime shortage of rubber, she created the first side-laced swimsuit. It was called the “Swoon Suit” in honor of popular crooner Frank Sinatra.

She continued to make fashion history over the years with her significant contributions to fabric and design, including the 1964 “Scandal Suit,” which was considered to be one of the most overtly sexy bathing suits of all time.

Cole still exists as Catalina-Cole, and in 1997 the company launched another winner, the “tankini.” I think Fred Cole and Margit Felligi would be pleased.


During the late 1920s La Cherte face powder claimed to be “The World’s Most Exquisite Face Powder.” Its ads even promised “it will endure through hours of dancing,” and the woman on this powder box from my collection seems to be testing the veracity of the company’s claim by strutting across a stage beneath a single spotlight.

It takes a woman with uncommon panache to take the stage alone, and that is why the La Cherte face powder box reminds me so much of Betty “Ball of Fire” Rowland, one of the most famous burlesque dancers of her era.

Betty was originally known as the “littlest burlesque star” because of her small stature, but her spirited performances earned the gorgeous titian-tressed dynamo the nickname “Ball of Fire”.  Betty wowed audiences for years at the New Follies Theater on South Main Street downtown in revues such as “Panties Inferno,” “It’s Wicked,” and “Julius Teaser”.

A few years ago I met the Betty Rowland and it was a treat for me. Of course I had dozens of questions for her but I didn’t want to overwhelm the fragile nonagenarian, so I settled on one I didn’t think she had been asked a thousand times before: Did she have a signature scent? She paused for a moment before she responded.

Betty told me that her favorite fragrance had been L’Aimant by Coty.  L’Aimant debuted in 1927 and it was the first perfume created by Francoise Coty. The scent is elegant and sophisticated, just like Betty.  She told me that she wore it in her daily life and also on stage as a part of her act.

Before each of her appearances Betty would spray a liberal amount of L’Aimant all over herself so that when she “worked the curtain” her perfume would waft over the gents seated in the first few rows.  I was awed by the anecdote. To incorporate the power of olfactory memory in her act was sheer genius. A large number of men must have seen Betty perform and carried with them the memory of her perfume. I wonder how many wives and girlfriends received gifts of L’Aimant from those men over the years; and I also wonder if the men knew why they’d selected that particular perfume at a counter crowded with choices.

As my conversation with Betty came to an end she lamented that Coty had long ago discontinued her favorite scent, but if you know where to look you can still find a vintage formulation of the famous floral.  I sent a bottle of L’Aimant to Betty, and I hope it transported her back to her glory days on the stage of the New Follies Theater.

 Here is Betty in action:


NOTE:  Betty ‘Ball of Fire’ Rowland recently celebrated her 100th birthday!


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.

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.

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.

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