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.
Tue 20 Mar, 2012
I’m pleased and proud to announce that a project on which I’ve been working for the past few months at the Los Angeles Police Museum has been completed and it opened to the public on Monday, March 19, 2012.
The project is an exhibit entitled ELIZABETH, and it is comprised of material used in the investigation of the most infamous unsolved homicide in Los Angeles’ history, the 1947 mutilation slaying of Elizabeth Short, The Black Dahlia.
LAPD Chief, Charlie Beck, gave the Los Angeles Police Museum unprecedented access to the files in the 65 year old Black Dahlia case; and from those files we selected artifacts that represent the depth and breadth of the investigation mounted by the LAPD six decades ago.
The museum owes a debt to novelist James Ellroy, who has played a crucial role in getting previously unseen material in the Black Dahlia case to the public for this exhibit.
Being able to examine files kept by the detectives who originally investigated Elizabeth Short’s murder has been a phenomenal experience for me. Everything I saw and read made an impression on me, but it was the scope of the initial investigation that stunned me.
We identified 329 individual officers who knocked on the doors of well over 10,000 separate addresses that were scrupulously recorded! Failure to locate the crime scene and identify and apprehend the killer was never due to a lack of willingness on the part of the LAPD to allocate resources to the investigation. The manpower expended on the search for Short’s slayer was staggering.
Among the items that we discovered in the files was an envelope filled with photographs of Elizabeth Short taken in Hollywood on a summer day in 1946, a few months before she was murdered. The photos were taken by a young man, a former soldier, she’d met while she was living in Long Beach. Beth and the young man spent a day in Hollywood seeing the sites and taking pictures.
In one of the photos Beth is posed beneath the marquee of the Earl Carroll Theater which declared “The Most Beautiful Girls in the World”. The young man was obviously smitten with Beth’s loveliness. Not all of the photos taken of Beth that day in Hollywood are on display at the museum; however, what’s there is a representative sample of what we discovered.
The photos wouldn’t come to the attention of the police until 1951 when the man was busted for beating his wife. In his statement to LAPD detectives he said that he and a friend, who had also known Elizabeth Short in Long Beach, had considered coming forward immediately following the news of her murder, but they’d decided not to get involved. The man may have been guilty of spousal battery, but he was eliminated as a suspect in Short’s murder.
And what, you may well ask, does the murder of the Black Dahlia have to do with vintage cosmetics ephemera?
Yes indeed, when there is a way to combine my twin passions of historic Los Angeles crime with vintage cosmetics ephemera I’m all over it!
A few years ago I was rereading some of the original newspaper coverage of Short’s murder and I was intrigued by a comment made by one of her roommates, Linda Rohr.
Linda was one of the women with whom Beth Short shared an apartment on Cherokee near Hollywood Blvd. Rohr, a worker in the “Rouge Room” at Max Factor in Hollywood, stated that she was fascinated by the way in which Beth Short applied her make-up.
According to Rohr, “She had pretty blue eyes but sometimes I think she overdid with make-up an inch thick.” She went on to describe Elizabeth Short’s finished look as startling and almost geisha-like.
Rohr’s description of Beth Short’s make-up caused me to wonder exactly what Beth was trying to accomplish with her look. During the post-war era women used make-up to enhance their natural beauty, not to alter it. Women such as actress Ingrid Bergman personified the ideal of natural beauty that was so popular at the time.
Beth Short lived decades too early for a Goth look, yet her reported penchant for make-up a shade or two lighter than her natural skin tone would give her more in common with Morticia, or Dita Von Teese, than with her contemporaries.
In my eyes the fact that Linda Rohr worked at Max Factor imbued her observations on Beth’s make-up with a degree of professional credibility – this was a woman who was familiar with current trends in cosmetics and their application.
As a result of Linda’s description, I concluded that Beth was using her make-up as a mask, a way in which to keep people at arm’s length.
I don’t think that it was a conscious decision; I believe that without ever realizing it Beth created the character she would become in death, the Black Dahlia. And I also believe that her distinctive look played a crucial role in her abduction and subsequent slaying. I don’t mean to suggest that Elizabeth Short deserved her death, or that she brought it upon herself, only that her killer was drawn to her because she fulfilled the criteria for his (or her) perverse desires.
For more on my personality sketch of Elizabeth Short hop aboard Esotouric’s crime bus for the next THE REAL BLACK DAHLIA tour (April 14, 2012). This particular tour is always a sell out so purchase your ticket soon!
I highly recommend that you visit the Los Angeles Police Museum to see the Black Dahlia exhibit. The exhibit opened Monday, March 19, 2012 and will run through Saturday, June 16, 2012.
Tue 31 Jan, 2012
If you’re going to be in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 11, 2012 I hope that you will attend the lecture that I’m giving at the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. My presentation will be followed by a rare theatrical screening of the 1933 pre-code film LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT starring Barbara Stanwyck.
If you’re fascinated by historic crime, in particuar women behaving badly, then I know you’ll enjoy Felonious Flappers.
Felonious Flappers will explore the lives and crimes of some of the baddest girls in Los Angeles, from actress and writer Dorothy Mackaye to the ironically named Helen Love.
What is it about Los Angeles that brings out the evil in a woman?
Crime writer Raymond Chandler speculated that a local weather phenomenon could cause a woman to contemplate murder: ”There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”
Whether it’s the climate, their greed, or that they’re just plain evil, curvy killers have always been a part of the fabric of Los Angeles. You may empathize with the femme fatales, or find them repellent, but you are sure to be fascinated by them.
I hope to see you at the Egyptian Theater on February 11th!
Fri 23 Sep, 2011
Los Angeles has always had more than its share of creative felons, so it stands to reason that it would take an equally creative, gutsy, and dedicated reporter to cover them. One of the most revered reporters who ever worked in Los Angeles was Agness “Aggie” Underwood.
Underwood began her career at the LOS ANGELES RECORD in the 1920s. She was sharp, but there were lots of sharp people in the news business at that time. What made Aggie great were her instincts. She seemed to know just how to approach a story to get the most from it. By relying on her gut feelings she managed to keep several paces ahead of her competition, and to earn a reputation for solving crimes.
When the Los Angeles Record folded in the mid-1930s Aggie, who by this time loved the newspaper business (and needed the money), agreed to work for William Randolph Hearst’s Los Angeles daily, THE HERALD-EXAMINER.
Her decision to join Hearst’s paper was the making of her career. Twelve years after joining the paper she was promoted to editor. Agness Underwood was the first woman in the U.S. to become the editor of a major metropolitan newspaper.
Aggie Underwood’s work as a reporter inspired the lecture that I’m going to give on October 8, 2011, 2 p.m., in the Taper Auditorium at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles.
The lecture is entitled “GOLD DIGGERS & SNAKE HANDLERS: Deranged L.A. Crimes from the Notebook of Aggie Underwood” and it is sponsored by Photo Friends. Photo Friends is a non-profit whose mission is to promote and to preserve the photographs in the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library.
I hope that you’ll join me as I examine two murder cases from 1936, both of which were covered by Aggie Underwood.
Fri 4 Mar, 2011
Happy Birthday, Baby.
I selected the MERRY WIDOW hairnet package in honor of Jean Harlow’s birthday for a couple of reasons; because it was made in England, I believe it demonstrates the world wide appeal of Jean Harlow – the woman on the package was obviously mimicking Jean’s look. Also, it’s an ideal segue into a reflection on Harlow’s ‘boudoir’ style.
Jean’s now iconic platinum blonde hair was a revelation when she appeared in her first big hit, HELLS ANGELS, in 1930. It was an otherworldly shade of blonde that made her appear as if she’d just stepped out of a cloud, and brought a part of it with her.
Hughes’ suggestion was dead on – Jean’s platinum tresses sent women stampeding to their local drugstores for cases of peroxide. And for those women who needed advice on hair tinting, J.W. Robinson Co. department store in Los Angeles offered a tutorial with Miss Marie Sample of London.
There were even a series of ‘Platinum Blonde’ clubs (organized by Hughes). The clubs offered a prize of $10,000 to any beautician who could match Harlow’s shade.
And long before the ‘underwear as outwear’ look became popular (think Madonna in a bustier), Jean Harlow was wearing gowns that would have been as much at home in the bedroom as at a party.
For DINNER AT EIGHT, the incomparable designer Adrian created a breathtaking gown for Harlow. The dress of white satin was as fluid as a chilled martini, and it hugged her curves so closely that she couldn’t even sit down in it.
Jean was made for the pre-code era; she was sassy, brazen, overtly sexual, and the films in which she appeared provided her with dialogue as provocative as her costumes. For instance: ‘Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?’
Lillian ‘Lil’: [trying on a dress in a store, Lil positions herself in front of a sunny window] Can you see through this?
Off-camera store clerk: I’m afraid you can, Miss.
Lillian ‘Lil’: I’ll wear it.
Off-camera store clerk: Oh!
My favorite of Jean’s films is RED DUST (1932) – and in the scene I love the most, Jean is taking a bath in a barrel of water. She’s effervescent, charming, and seductive all at once. It’s no wonder that Gable couldn’t stay away from her!
Jean Harlow was a cotton candy confection of a woman, but she never seemed aloof or unapproachable. She often wore a smile, if little else, and her eyes were full of intelligence, warmth, and humor. She will be forever mourned.
This Sunday, March 6, 2011, I’ll be attending a celebration of the centenary of Harlow’s birth at the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. The event is being hosted by the Los Angeles Art Deco Society, and co-hosted by American Cinematheque.
For information regarding the Jean Harlow Centenary please visit: http://adsla.org/info/content/march-6-jean-harlow-centenary-egyptian-theatre
I hope to see you there!
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 8 Jul, 2010
This is such a wonderful photo – it is of Raymond Chandler and Dorothy Fisher (nee Gruber). Dorothy worked as his secretary at Paramount Studios in the 1940s. I was fortunate to have met Dorothy, she was an honored guest on a couple of Esotouric’s Chandler tours, and she was a remarkable woman. Because we lived near each other we’d carpool to the departure location for the tour. We’d swap stories in the car on the way. She told me about a dinner date in Malibu with the actor Ray Milland, and she also told me about meeting Billy Wilder. She said that Wilder was a powerfully magnetic man: “he made you feel like you were the only person in the room” she said.
Dorothy passed away in December 2008, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to have spent time in her company. She was talented, intelligent, lovely, and a lady through and through. I think of her each time we visit Chandler’s Los Angeles.
So, if you’re a fan of noir, crime fiction, the Los Angeles Athletic Club and/or the best gelato in Los Angeles, this tour is for you! Because we stop at the historic Hollywood restaurant Musso & Frank, by the end of the tour I’m craving a gin gimlet something fierce. Lucky for me Scoops gelato generally offers a few liquor flavored choices (the vanilla/Jim Beam is delightful!)
I hope you’ll join us – especially since July is the month of Chandler’s birth.
Wed 26 May, 2010
Vintage cardboard face powder boxes simply don’t lend themselves to travel – which was a huge dilemma (and source of irritation) for me until I began this blog. Every collector wants to be able to show off what they’ve found, and I’m no different. I thoroughly enjoy having this forum to shine a spotlight on the fantastic boxes, hair pin cards, advertising, etc., that I’ve amassed over the years.
I’m careful to photograph each item as well as I can to try to capture their fragile beauty, but the photos are no substitute for seeing them in person. Only in person can you get the feel for them as having belonged to someone — having graced a woman’s dressing table. I never get over the fact that these items were packaging, designed to catch a woman’s eye, but ultimately meant to be discarded. I’m grateful to the women who, over the decades, kept the boxes safe from harm in dresser drawers, or in sewing rooms (the empty boxes often became a place to store buttons or other small sewing necessities).
I consider myself to be both a social historian and a cultural archaeologist. This definition I found for archaeology says it best: “the study of the past through material remains.” The powder boxes, rouge tins, and other cosmetics artifacts I collect tell the story of women in the context of different periods of time (my earliest items are over 100 years old).
This coming Sunday I’ll have an opportunity to put a few of my items on display when I host a curated conversation about vintage cosmetics ephemera and the history of cosmetics at Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown Los Angeles. My presentation will be part of a special program at the May 30th LAVA (Los Angeles Visionaries Association) Sunday Salon (http://lavatransforms.org/salon510).
I’ve entitled my presentation “Pandora’s Boxes”, and I hope you’ll join me (the link above provides all of the details). Where else but LA could you satisfy your craving for confetti Jello, AND see a great display of vintage cosmetics items?
Photograph is courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.
Wed 24 Feb, 2010
I want to express my thanks to those of you who attended my lecture last Sunday in the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. The lecture was co-hosted by the Los Angeles Art Deco Society, and American Cinematheque, and was followed by a screening (with LIVE musical accompaniment provided by pianist Robert Israel) of the 1927 film “It”, starring Clara Bow.
Here’s a clip from the film:
Clara sure had “It”, and her sassy bob was a major part of her appeal.
What about bobbed hair? Did Clara Bow create it? And if she didn’t, who did? There is evidence which suggests that Antek Cierplikowski (aka Mssr. Antoine) may have bobbed the hair of French actress Eva Lavalliere as early as 1909 — but it was dancer Irene Castle who popularized the style in 1914 when she cut her own hair in advance of elective surgery. Irene may have clipped her locks for convenience, but thousands of women were smitten by both the style and the ease of her adorable cropped ‘do and they immediately followed her lead. Scissors were soon flying in barbershops all over the U.S.
Irene Castle gave the bob its first little nudge into popular culture, but silent film star Colleen Moore brought the bob to mainstream America in the film “Flaming Youth” in 1923. Writer and chronicler of all things flapper, F. Scott Fitzgerald, said: “I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth, Colleen Moore was the torch. What little things we are to have caused all that trouble.”
Colleen’s hair was styled in a sweet dutch boy crop; but there was plenty of room for different interpretations of the bob from Clara Bow’s carefree tousled hair, to Louise Brooks’ sleek black helmet.
Despite their different on- and off-screen personas, all three women epitomized the flapper in general, and the glorified the bob hairdo in particular. The bob has survived to be 100 years old is because it has readily adapted to the whims of fashion.
Bobbed hair was de riguer for flappers, and of course flappers were glorified in film, literature, poetry — all of the arts. I believe that no single person did more to immortalize the flapper than writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. And he didn’t just talk the talk — he and his wife Zelda led others of the “Lost Generation” on a decade long party.
Years after the flapper had taken her last illegal drink, and attended her final petting party, Fitzgerald’s short story, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”, was brought to television by PBS. The 1976 production starred Shelley Duval (Bernice) and Bud Cort (Warren). In this clip Bernice asks Warren for his opinion on the hair bobbing issue.
Conversations like the one Bernice and Warren were having on the dance floor, were taking place in thousands of American homes during the 1920s. The hair bobbing issue was a hot topic and caused broken engagements, divorce, and even the spanking of a wife by her husband!
From our vantage point it may be difficult to believe that something as simple as a haircut could cause so much controversary — we’re accustomed to choosing our personal style with virtually no constraints (and that may not always been a good thing.)
Nevertheless, whether you have long hair, or short, props must be given to the women of the 1920s who paved the way for all of the rest of us — we owe them a debt.
Thu 12 Nov, 2009
This coming Saturday, November 14, 2009, it will once again be my pleasure to co-host Esotouric’s “The Real Black Dahlia” tour. The tour isn’t so much a “who done it” as it is an exploration of Beth’s last couple of weeks in Los Angeles.
My abiding interest in vintage cosmetics, social history, and crime led me to create a thumbnail sketch of Elizabeth Short’s personality based upon her choice of cosmetics. What was it about Beth’s make-up that set her apart from her contemporaries? Join us on Saturday and find out.
Her make-up selections may have been unusual, but in many ways Beth Short was typical of a certain group of young women characterized as the ”Children of the Night” by Caroline Walker in an interview she conducted with Lynn Martin (who had been one of Beth’s roommates in Hollywood). These young women floated from man to man, and occasionally from job to job (they weren’t often employed). They weren’t prostitutes, they were simply a part of the post-war generation who gravitated to Hollywood for reasons of their own. Maybe they believed what they’d seen in the movies, that Hollywood was glamorous place where a pretty girl could parlay her looks into riches and fame.
For the rootless young women in Beth’s set Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles were often desperately lonely places offering little more than dark barrooms in which to hang out and wait for a man to buy them a drink and dinner. Any of them could have ended as Beth did — dead and dismembered in a vacant lot in Leimert Park within view of the Hollywood sign.
Join us on the tour and learn more about the woman at the heart of Los Angeles’ most infamous unsolved murder.
See YOU on the bus!