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 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.
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.
I wish that this hair net package was in better shape, but they can’t all be perfect. I know that condition is crucial when you’re collecting, yet sometimes it doesn’t matter very much to me. I feel especially protective of the packages and boxes that are worn, and often the ones in rough and fragile condition are the only examples of certain designs that I’ve been able to locate. Regardless of their condition, I treat each addition to my collection as a treasured artifact from the past which deserves to be carefully and lovingly preserved.
The Hollywood Hair Net package is from the 1940s, and the bright red color, along with the four stars, brings to my mind Hollywood’s part in the war effort. The woman depicted on package looks like a starlet awaiting her big break, biding her time as a hostess in the Hollywood Canteen.
The stars would never shine as brightly as they did when they were doing their bit for servicemen, and women, from all over the globe. The Hollywood Canteen was the war time passion of Bette Davis, John Garfield, and Jules Stein. Miss Davis served as president, and Mr. Stein, President of Music Corporation of America, headed up the finance committee.
By the time the Canteen opened its doors On October 3, 1942, over 3000 stars, players, directors, producers, grips, dancers, musicians, singers, writers, technicians, wardrobe attendants, hair stylists, agents, stand-ins, publicists, secretaries, and allied craftsmen of radio and screen had registered as volunteers.
If you were a U.S. serviceman, or woman, or a member of the allied forces your uniform was your ticket to a star studded evening. Imagine the morale boost a solider would get when he was served coffee by Marlene Dietrich or Betty Grable!
Here is a photo of lipstick smeared Sgt. Carl E.W. Bell with Marlene Dietrich. Bell was the one millionth solider to visit the Canteen! It’s amazing that it took the Canteen less than one year to host one million servicemen. That’s a lot of coffee and donuts.
Servicemen could not only eat, socialize, and star gaze at the Canteen, they were treated to the best live entertainment that Hollywood had to offer. The roster of entertainers was a “who’s who” of radio and movie talent: Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth, Bob Hope, and many more.
One of the most spirited sister acts ever to boogie woogie across a stage, and a favorite of war time audiences, was the Andrews sisters. Patty, Maxine, and LaVerne travelled and performed for the troops throughout the war. Watch them perform, “I’m Gettin’ Corns for My Country” at the Canteen. I would have loved to have been in the audience on that night.
Many of the hostesses at the Canteen loved to jitterbug, but not every one of them was hep to the jive. Sometime during the evening of October 31, 1942, an overly enthusiastic Marine grabbed the hand of a hostess lieutenant, Florida Edwards, and began to spin her around the dance floor. Florida yelled for help, but none was forthcoming. The jiving Marine spun his unwilling partner so hard that she became airborne and landed with a crash on her spine on the hard floor. Florida was laid up for a month, and then decided to sue the Canteen for $17,250 in damages. The case would become a battle of the swing experts.
But before we go any further, let’s get hep to some hipster slang from the era.
Hep cat (n.) — a guy who knows all the answers, understands jive
Icky (n.) — one who is not hip, a stupid person, can’t collar the jive.
Jitterbug (n.) — a swing fan
Florida Edwards admitted in open court that she was an icky. She told Judge Henry Willis that “Jitterbugging is a very peculiar dance. Personally I don’t like it. It reminds me of the jungle antics of natives. There is a basic step, and then there are variations. It’s the most ungraceful dance I’ve ever seen. They whirl you. They pick you up. They throw you down.”
“Did you just stand still when you told him you didn’t jitterbug?” queried the Canteen’s Attorney Walter Schell.
“Well, you don’t stand still with a jitterbug. They don’t let you,” explained Miss Edwards to the attorneys and judge who had never witnessed jitterbugging.
Judge Willis wanted to know if the jitterbugs drank. “No”, replied Florida, “They’re usually sober. They’re just crazy.”
In dispute was how much control a woman had once she had been thrown into a spin. Florida’s friend Luise Walker, floor manager of the Canteen, stated that once a woman was in a spin she was in trouble. Luise compared a spin to a boomerang or “English on a golf ball”.
Rug-cutter and jive expert for the Canteen, Connie Roberts, (see photo) refuted Luise’s testimony, and in a demonstration she walked away unharmed from a spin.
Testimony and jitterbug demonstrations notwithstanding, Judge Willis declared that the jitterbug was a “weird dance of obscure origins” and awarded Florida Edwards $8170 in damages. The amount wasn’t exactly chump change – $8170 dollars in 1943 had the same buying power as $102,331.38 in current dollars.
In his decision Judge Willis wrote, “In an extra violent spinning of her body as a part of the extravagance of this weird dance, she missed connecting with her partner, due to his losing balance because a table was pushed against him by the crowd on the sidelines.”
Judge Willis held that the Hollywood Canteen had failed in its duty to furnish Miss Edwards with safe employment and permitted a jitterbug enthusiast to “indulge in his ‘crazy idea’ of dancing with the plaintiff as the helpless victim.”
I was curious enough about Florida to see if she ever again appeared in the news.
Sure enough on January 27, 1944 a notice appeared in the Los Angeles Times announcing the marriage of Miss Florida Edwards, actress, to J.C. Lewis a radio producer and author of the musical score for the service show “Hey Rookie”.
The pair was married at the Hotel Frontier. In attendance at the wedding was the groom’s sister, Diana Lewis who was married to “Thin Man” William Powell.
When I’m not writing about women, I’m reading about them; so, I was delighted when I received the latest catalog from ReadInk entitled: “Skirts, in Jackets”.
I’ve been poring over it for days now and there is so much to see (and desire). There are books from different eras covering topics ranging from flappers to girl gangs in the 1950s. As a woman who has purchased books strictly for their dust jackets, I’m having a difficult time deciding which of the glorious tomes I want to have grace my nightstand.
Oh, and the titles are simply amazing — “Ladies of the Evening”, “Women in the Wind”, “Yesterday’s Sin”.
You may order a hard copy of the catalog and/or view it online. Don’t wait — these are some restless dames!