1940s-fashion

 

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.

Best,

Joan

 

I’ve been on a lipstick kick for days now. The wicked little cosmetic can end a marriage. A tube of lipstick can bring about the meeting of two people who ultimately commit murder (as in the classic film noir “The Postman Always Rings Twice”).

With lipstick so much on my mind, how could I have forgotten this gem of a song performed in 1959 by Connie Francis?

Lipstick on your collar – gonna tell on you.

 

Lipstick is a wonderfully versatile cosmetic.  For many women it is the one beauty item they’d take with them if stranded on a desert island. I know that it would be my choice.

William Heirens

But, as we’ve seen over the past couple of posts, lipstick can be a trouble maker. It casts a spell on some men which lures them into liaisons with women other than their wives. It leaves tell-tale traces on clothing and skin, and lingers provocatively on cigarettes smoldering in an ashtray, or imprinted on a cocktail glass – so much power in such a little tube.  Is it possible that lipstick may drive men’s passions with a force so great that it may culminate in murder?

Take the 1946 case of William Heirens. It was alleged that between June 1945 and January 1946 the 17 year old had murdered two women, and murdered and dismembered a little girl. At the scene of the second murder, that of Frances Brown a former U.S. Navy WAV, there was message  from the killer scrawled in the victim’s lipstick. 

The Chicago press dubbed the fiend “The Lipstick Killer”, and residents of the city spent several nerve jangling months until William Heirens was arrested and they breathed a collective sigh of relief.

But did Heirens commit the murders, or was the teenager coerced into confessing by hard nosed Chicago cops desperate to make an arrest?

Sixty-four years later Bill Heirens is still alive, and still in prison.  At 81 years of age he is considered to be the longest serving prisoner in Illinois state history, and it seems that he may die there.  Death in an Illinois prison would be justice if he is guilty, but if he is innocent…

There have been many other crimes in which lipstick was used to scrawl a message on a nearby surface, or even on the body of the victim.  It doesn’t matter what words are used, or if the message consists only of cryptic symbols – there is something about the act of using lipstick that makes a compelling and strangely intimate statement.

My favorite lipstick as a portent of evil  moment comes in a scene from the 1946 film noir “The Postman Always Rings Twice” .  Frank (John Garfield) has just arrived at a small cafe. He’s a drifter and is considering responding to the “Man Wanted” sign outside when he’s greeted by the cafe’s owner, Nick (Cecil Kellaway), and urged to come in for a burger. Nick tosses a burger on the grill behind the counter, but is called away for a minute to pump gas at the station outside.

As Frank waits at the counter he hears something drop to the floor, and observes a tube of lipstick rolling toward him. As he stoops to pick it up he notices white open-toed pumps at the ends of two extremely shapely legs.  The dame wearing the pumps is also wearing white shorts, a white cropped top, and is a blonde. The blonde  is holding a compact and powdering her nose.  Frank has just met Nick’s young wife Cora (Lana Turner).  The tension between the two  is palpable.  Their eyes meet and they immediately engage in a power play.  It’s obvious from Cora’s demeanor that she is a woman who is accustomed to getting the attention of men, and having them do her bidding. She waits for Frank to bring her lipstick to her, but he doesn’t budge. Which of them will acquiesce to the other?

As you’ve seen, Cora finally gives in.  But that’s just in the short run – in the long run the breathtaking blonde convinces the drifter to commit murder. It is a perfect noir moment, made all the better in my book because a tube of lipstick is the catalyst.

A  lipstick tube introduced Frank and Cora, and it comes full circle with Cora’s death – just as Cora is promising Frank that they’ll share many kisses that “come from life”.

Ladies, when you apply your lipstick the next time  you may wish to pause and to reflect upon the power implicit in such a simple act.

I admit it – I’ve become obsessed over the past few days with the part that lipstick has played in divorce court.

A casual search of the historic Los Angeles Times unearthed about a dozen cases of divorce in which lipstick had a role.  I’ve covered two of them already this week. What I can’t figure out is if the men who came home to their wives smelling like a distillery and smeared with lipstick were simply clueless or if they wanted to be caught.

In 1935, the Le Roy Millers were a young couple married only eight months. Le Roy was a salesman who, according to his actress wife Dorothy, stayed out all night at least three times each week. 

Le Roy would come home with a lipstick stained collar and then clam up. He would refuse to divulge his whereabouts during the missing hours, and he became downright surly whenever Dorothy quizzed him.  Dorothy couldn’t rid herself of the lurid mind picture of Le Roy and some unknown cutie getting up close and personal.

Dorothy finally became so fed up with her husband’s antics that she headed for divorce court. She was accompanied by her friend, Eve Chutuk, who corroborated her testimony. 

Dorothy was granted a divorce.

 

 

 In 1955  Antoinette B. Grant, 29, a Dutch oil heiress filed suit against her psychiatrist husband Dr. Henry J. Grant, 42.  Mrs. Grant observed that she couldn’t believe that all of the lipstick marks on his clothing had come from grateful patients. She went on to say that ever since she’d started to voice her suspicions of Henry’s infidelity he had started accusing her of being mentally unstable.

Personally, I think that Henry must have been a fan of the 1944 film “Gaslight”.  In that movie Gregory (Charles Boyer) attempted to drive his wife Paula (Ingrid Bergman) mad. It didn’t work in the movie, and it wouldn’t work for Dr. Grant either.

In a vote of no confidence Antoinette consulted another psychiatrist who told her that she was fine, except for the stress caused by her failing marriage.

By September of 1955 the Grant’s divorce proceedings had heated up. Antoinette testified that her husband frequently called her a psychopath. According to Antoinette many of the couple’s quarrels were over money. Even though their combined incomes were more than $1000 a month, Henry permitted her a weekly allowance of only $70. With that measly sum she was supposed to run the household, including the wages of a twice-a-week maid.

Henry responded to his wife’s pleas for more money by calling her irresponsible and then beating her. When Antoinette couldn’t, or wouldn’t, iron one of Henry’s shirts on demand he crushed a lit cigarette out on her neck. 

Hmm.  Sounds to me like Henry was the crazy one in the family. Physician, heal thyself!

Ultimately, Antoinette walked away with the house in Bel Air, a car, $70 a month in child support, and retained a trust fund which would pay her $6,000 per year.

As far as I’m concerned, Henry did much better than he deserved to - he got $16,000 in cash and a car.

Another marriage destroyed by that evil home wrecker, liptstick!

 

 

In the previous story from 1930, Mrs. Mildred J. Arnold discovered her husband’s infidelity by recognizing that a lipstick on her dressing table wasn’t her shade.

Twenty-seven years later lipstick traces were again the cause of a divorce. This time the woman was twenty-five year old Darla Hood (of “Our Gang” fame). 

If you’ve never seen any of the Our Gang shorts, shame on you — they are wonderful.  Darla played the neighborhood femme fatale (at four years old!). Here’s Darla stealing the hearts of the local boys. Who can blame them for being smitten. She’s adorable!

During the divorce hearing Darla revealed that her husband, thirty-threee year old insurance salesman Robert W. Decker, would often arrive home in the wee hours of the morning drunk and with lipstick smeared on his clothing.

Darla told Superior Judge Frederick F. Houser that one morning she “…got up and found him in the kitchen washing his shirt.” According to Robert he was trying to remove some red ink that he’d spilled on himself. Darla didn’t buy a word of his lame tale, and told him that  she was sick and tired of spending her evenings at home alone.  Robert’s response to Darla was that whatever he was doing was none of her business, then he shoved her to the floor.

The final showdown between the couple came after Robert had stayed out all night and Darla was unable to reach him by telephone. She was on a trip to San Francisco to promote one of her records, and she  and was frantic when she couldn’t locate her missing spouse. Darla testified that when she finally caught up with him,  “he asked me if I wanted a divorce, and I said I did. He said swell, go get it.”

Darla let Judge Houser know that she didn’t want any alimony. She explained that she was accustomed to taking care of herself – all she wanted was to be out of the marriage. Her decree was granted.

Oh, and the name of the song she was promoting — “Just Wanna Be Free”.

 

Ladies, if you think your man is cheating on you forget the GPS, and don’t hire a private investigator — check his clothes for lipstick smears. If the color on his shirt doesn’t match anything in your cosmetics case, you’ve got a problem. For instance, one of my favorite shades of lipstick is Twig by MAC. If my husband came home with traces of a screaming red lipstick on his collar he’d better be prepared with a darned good story.

Mrs. Mildred J. Arnold’s husband was tacky enough to entertain his blonde on the side in his wife’s very own boudoir! No wonder she was peeved.  Add his infidelity to the occasional beatings he administered to Mildred, and the fact that he frequently went to dances on his own and it’s no wonder Mrs. A. sued for a divorce.

 March 7, 1930

The twenties were a time of change, and nothing was changing faster than the attitudes of young women regarding “powder and paint”. While makeup was never intended to be a political statement, whether or not to use makeup was becoming a highly charged issue for young women during the the 1920s.  On the lighter side of the topic I found this story in the Los Angeles Times, dated March 22, 1923.

 

In her false witness, we hope you’re still with us,
To see if they float or drown
Our favorite patient, a display of patience,
Disease-covered Puget Sound
She’ll come back as fire, to burn all the liars,
And leave a blanket of ash on the ground

I miss the comfort in being sad 

– from “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” by Kurt Cobain

 

There’s something about the woman on this lipstick card that reminds me of the actress Frances Farmer. Maybe it’s the caption as much as it is the picture.

Frances Farmer was an absolutely gorgeous blonde who first hit the newspapers when, as a drama student at the University of Washington in Seattle in April 1935, she won first prize in a subscription contest sponsored by a local radical labor newspaper “The Voice of Action”.   The prize for winning the contest was a six week trip via ocean liner to Soviet Russia to see a production at the Moscow Arts Theater. Frances’ mother Lillian wasn’t thrilled about the trip, and she told reporters “There has been no break between Frances and me over the trip.  My fight is with the Voice of Action for sending her to Russia where she will be thrown in full contact with people who will probably make every effort to persuade her to Communism.”

Frances wasn’t necessarily persuaded to embrace Communism, but she became even more determined to pursue an acting career.  She returned to the U.S. during the summer of 1935, and her first stop was New York where she sought to launch a career in the theater. What she found instead was a Paramount Pictures talent scout,  Oscar Serlin (credited with discovering Fred MacMurray).  Frances did so well in her screen test that she was signed to a seven year contract on her 22nd birthday, and she promptly moved to Hollywood.

While Frances had  more than enough talent for Hollywood she never had the temperament. She was headstrong (as evidenced by her trip to Russia against her parents wishes), and she had very little tolerance for the studio system which was firmly in place during the 1930s. Under the studio system every aspect of an actor’s life was managed — not the kind of arrangement designed to bring out the best in Frances. She was quoted as saying “Hollywood is a madhouse. It consumes ambitious youngsters. There’s no time to consider anyone.  Hollywood casts you, forces you, pushes you. If you survive you’re plain lucky.”

Very early on the studio machine began to spin the story of Frances’ trip to Russia into something less likely to draw negative attention to her, or her political leanings. Initial reports stated the truth, that Frances had won first prize in a subsciptions contest for Voice of Action — but immediately following her arrival in Hollywood the story was retold very creatively with Frances winning a  trip to Europe as the first prize in a popularity contest!

Paramount didn’t realize that they had a tiger by the tail. Frances arrived in Hollywood in September 1935, and by February 1936 she’d eloped to Yuma, Arizona with fellow actor William Wycliffe Anderson (aka Leif Erickson).  Friends said they were surprised by the elopement and Frances’ mother Lillian said she was “completely floored”. 

Clifford Odets c. 1937

Clifford Odets c. 1937

In 1937 Frances left her husband at home and went off to Connecticut to work in summer stock. There she was invited to appear in Clifford Odets’ play “Golden Boy”.  As were many people in the 1930s, Odets was a Marxist and his work reflected his politics. Ironically, when called before the House on Un-American Activities in 1952, Odets avoided being blacklisted by disavowing his past Communist affiliations and naming names.

Clifford and Frances had an affair while she was in New York; however, he was married to Acadamey Award winning actress Luise Ranier and he refused to leave her. Frances and Luise had more in common than Odets — both were creative, stubborn, and each was often characterized as “temperamental” by studios that were in the business of trying to crank out hits (particularly during the years of the Depression) and were not so much interested in whether a story had artistic merit.

After her affair with Odets soured Frances returned to her husband, Leif, in Los Angeles.  The marriage began to crumble and talk of a divorce turned up in a few gossip columns by November 1939. In fact over the next couple of years the two were referred to in the newspapers as “ex” so often that I assumed they were divorced. Then I came across an item from the Los Angeles Times dated June 10, 1942 that stated that Erickson had just filed divorce papers in Reno so that he could marry actress Margaret Hayes.

Hotel Knickerbocker c. 1930s

Hotel Knickerbocker c. 1930s

Frances had spent the late 1930s and early 1940s earning a reputation for being difficult, primarily due to alcoholism. In mid-October 1942 Frances was arrested in Santa Monica for driving while intoxicated and for having bright headlights in a dimout area. She was fined $250, of which she paid a portion. She was given additional time to pay the balance. When she missed the deadline for payment a bench warrant was issued for her arrest. The actress was finally located at the Hollywood Knickerbocker where the arresting officers had to use a pass key to gain entrance to her room. Frances wouldn’t leave without a fight and she had to be forcibly dressed and dragged out of the building. All the while she was shouting “Have you ever had a broken heart?”

Frances would first be diagnosed with manic depressive psychosis, and soon thereafter with paranoid schizophrenia for which she would receive insulin shock therapy (later discredited as a treatment method).

Over the next several years Frances would spend much of her time as a patient at the Western State Hospital in Washington.  Frances’ autobiography “Will There Really Be A Morning?” describes her incarceration at the hospital as a brutal nightmare. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but in Quentin Tarantino’s film “Kill Bill” the bride (Uma Thurman) awakens from a coma in a hospital to discover that a sleazy orderly has been pimping her out. Similar outrages were alleged in Frances’ autobiography (which was probably entirely ghostwritten by a friend of hers). In the book it is said that she was a sex slave for some of the doctors and male orderlies. This unsubstantiated treatment of Frances was depicted in the 1982 film “Frances” starring Jessica Lange.

In 1978 Seattle film critic William Arnold published a fictionalized, and highly sensationalized, account of Frances’ life entitled “Shadowland”.  The most salacious details of Frances’ life (many of which have been accepted as fact) seem to emanate from that book.

Frances at Television City c. 1958

Frances at Television City c. 1958

One of the most horrendous “facts” of Frances’ life at Western State Hospital was that she’d had a lobotomy. Transorbital lobotomies were performed at the hospital during Frances’ time there; however, there is no record that she was ever subjected to the procedure.  

Frances did make a comeback of sorts as the host of a local talk show that aired in Indianapolis from 1958 to 1964. The show “Frances Farmer Presents” remained in the number one position for its time slot during the entire run.

Frances Farmer died at age 56 of esophageal cancer in 1970.

The Guerlain advertisement by Jacques Darcy is one that I adore, and one which I have noticed is very similar to the Man Ray photograph of Elizabeth “Lee” Miller from 1930.

Elizabeth Lee Miller by Man Ray (1930)

Elizabeth "Lee Miller" by Man Ray (1930)

Both images are of a woman’s face — upside down, hair flowing, eyes shut. The images reveal women who appear to be sleeping peacefully. Because the advertisement has a caption, we know that the woman is dreaming. The father of modern psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, said that “wish-fulfillment is the meaning of each and every dream, and hence there can be no dreams besides wishful dreams”. Nothing like interjecting a bit of Freudian psychology into an advertisement for lipstick!

Man Ray may not have been probing the human psyche in the same ways as Freud, but he was exploring the landscape of the mind through his art. Ray was an American artist residing in New York in 1916 when he became acquainted with fellow artists, and recent arrivals from France, Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. The three men were kindred spirits and they soon became active in the anti-art movement in the U.S. Anti-art didn’t mean that they rejected art per se but rather that they were rebelling against conventional “museum art”. The movement was known as Dada and was a protest against the nationalism, capitalism, and other “isms” which many people felt were the fundamental causes of World War I. Artist George Grosz characterized his Dadaist art as a protest “against this world of mutual destruction”.

Observatory - The Lovers by Man Ray (1934)

Observatory - The Lovers by Man Ray (1934)

When Ray arrived in France in 1921 he was one of many expatriate artists and writers who would gravitate to Paris in the 1920s; and just as his predecessors had done he found his way to Montparnasse, sometimes referred to as the “Harlem of Paris”. Ray continued to pursue his art; however, Dadaism peaked by 1922 as many of his contemporaries embraced Surrealism.

La Magie Noire by Rene Magritte

La Magie Noire by Rene Magritte

There were several parallel, and very important, art, design, philosophical, and political movements gaining ground during the 1920s: Dada, Surrealism, Art Deco, Freudian psychoanalysis, and Existentialism (the term existentialism was not used in the 1920s; it was coined in 1943 by Gabriel Marcel, and it would be retroactively applied to philosophers such as Martin Heideggar and Soren Kierkegaard). I see subtle similarities between the Darcy ad and the painting La Magie Noire by Rene Magritte. Perhaps it is the coloration, or the peaceful expression on the face of the woman who seems to belong to both the earth and the clouds.

For most of the 1920s Ray’s muse was Alice Prin (aka Kiki de Montparnasse), the Queen of Montparnasse. Kiki had come up hard as the illegitimate child of a peasant girl, and was given over to her grandmother to be raised. The two struggled in extreme poverty (Kiki often stole food from local gardens) and so when at age 12 she had an opportunity to live with her mother in Paris, she took it. She was a headstrong girl and she and her mother frequently clashed. When Kiki finally left her mother’s home for the last time she was only 14 years old.

Kiki with vase by J. Mandel (c. 1928)

Kiki with vase by J. Mandel (c. 1928)

She was a lovely girl, and it wasn’t surprising that she was quickly discovered by local artists. Her relationship with the artists was often mutually beneficial — many times they produced their best work when using Kiki as a model. That was certainly true of Man Ray.

Kiki fled Paris in 1940 when the Germans began their occupation and she never returned as a resident. She died at age 51 — the likely result of alcoholism and drug abuse.

Le Violon dIngres by Man Ray (Kiki as model)

Le Violon d'Ingres by Man Ray (Kiki as model)

In 1929 Kiki was supplanted in Ray’s affections by Elizabeth “Lee” Miller. Lee arrived at Ray’s Paris studio and announced to him that she was his new student. He insisted that he didn’t accept apprentices, but Lee was extraordinary; she was gorgeous and talented. They became lovers as well as student and teacher. Lee had run to Paris after posing for a Kotex ad. The ad is famous for being the first feminine hygiene ad in which an actual photograph of a woman was used. At first Lee was mortified by the ad, apparently she hadn’t realized that she wasn’t to be a model for a drawing, but rather for a photograph.

Lee Miller in Kotex ad (1928)

Lee Miller in Kotex ad (1928)

Lee would stay with Man Ray for a few years, but eventually she grew restless and returned to New York where she opened her own studio. If her studio work was superlative, her work as a photojournalist for Vogue magazine during World War II was brilliant; however, witnessing scenes at liberated death camps, among other horrors, profoundly changed her.

She put away her camera in the 1950s and channeled her restless energy into gourmet cooking, at which she excelled. Lee succumbed to cancer in 1977; her ashes were scattered over her herb garden at her farm in Sussex, England.

Darcy ad for Guerlains Are You Her Type? ad campaign

Darcy ad for Guerlain's "Are You Her Type?" ad campaign

As for Jacques Darcy, the artist who created the distinctive advertisements for Guerlain, I have not been able to discover very much about him. I found conflicting information in various sources. The consensus seems to be that he was born on February 7, 1892 and died in 1963 in Michigan. His work appeared frequently during the 1920s and 1930s in such publications as Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, and Vogue. He is best known for the art he produced for Guerlain — in my opinion some of the best commercial art ever created.