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All hail the Queen!  The Regina hair net envelope suggests that any wearer of the net inside will become a queen. Well, a hair net is much easier to wear out in public than a jeweled crown is — unless you’re Miss America.

The Miss America Pageant was conceived in Atlantic City. The Businessmen’s League of Atlantic City devised a plan that would keep profits flowing into the city past Labor Day, which was when tourists traditionally left for home.

The kick-off event was held on September 25, 1920, and was called the Fall Frolic. Who could resist an event in which three hundred and fifty men pushed gaily decorated rolling wicker chairs along a parade route? The main attractions were the young maidens who occupied the chairs. The head maiden was Miss Ernestine Cremona who, dressed in a flowing white robe, was meant to represent peace.

The Atlantic businessmen had scored a major success with the Frolic. They immediately realized the powerful appeal of a group of attractive young women dressed in bathing suits, and so a committee was formed to organize a bather’s revue for the next year’s event.

The bather’s revue committee contacted newspapers in cities as far west as Pittsburgh and as far south as Washington, D.C. asking them to sponsor local beauty contests.  The winners of the local contests would participate in the Atlantic City beauty contest.

Atlantic City newspaperman Herb Test reported that the winner of the city’s pageant would be called Miss America.

The 1921 Fall Frolic was five days of, well, frolicking. There were tennis tournaments, parades, concerts, a fancy dress ball and SEVEN different bathing divisions! If you were in Atlantic City during those five days and not dressed in a bathing suit you would have been out of place. Children, men, even fire and police personnel, all were in bathing suits. There was a category created specifically for professional women, and by professional the pageant’s organizers didn’t mean corporate women, secretaries or hookers, they meant stage and screen actresses.

Margaret Gorman

The first Miss America was chosen by a combination of the crowd’s applause and points given to her by a panel of artists who served as judges. Sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman (30-25-32), who bore a strong resemblance to screen star Mary Pickford, was proclaimed the winner. Gorman was crowned, wrapped in an American flag, and presented with the Golden Mermaid trophy and $100.

Atlantic City expanded the frolic during the 1920s and the number of contestants grew to 83 young women from 36 states. The event drew protestors who thought that the girls were immoral — why else would they be willing to parade around in bathing suits in public?  The organizers countered the protests by publicizing that the contestants were wholesome, sweet young things who neither wore make-up, nor bobbed their hair.

Louise Brooks, bobbed haired beauty.

 

With the runaway success of the Atlantic City pageant, other groups saw an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon by promoting their own ideals of beauty. The 1920s saw pageants for a Miss Bronze America, and even the Ku Klux Klan staged a pageant for Miss 100 Percent America! It’s difficult for me to visualize a woman wearing a bathing suit and one of those dopey conical hats.

For the next several years the Atlantic City pageant continued to thrive and to change. One of the changes was in scoring. How does a panel of judges determine a beauty contest winner? By the mid-1920s a points system was established: five points for the construction of the head, three points for the torso, two points for the leg…I’m wondering just how many points a perky rounded posterior was worth.

Norma Smallwood

In 1926, Norma Smallwood, a small-town girl from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was crowned Miss America. She parlayed her reign into big bucks. She reportedly made over $100k — more than either Babe Ruth or President Calvin Coolidge!

Smallwood appears to have been the first Miss America who realized that her crown was a business opportunity. When she was asked to return to Atlantic City in 1927 to crown her successor, she demanded to be paid. When the pageant reps didn’t come forward with a check, Norma bid them adieu and headed for a gig in North Carolina.

By 1928 women’s clubs, religious organizations and other conservative Americans went on the attack and accused the organizers of the Miss America Pageant of corrupting the nation’s morals. One protester said, “Before the competition, the contestants were splendid examples of innocence and pure womanhood. Afterward their heads were filled with vicious ideas.”

Still from OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS (1928)

The controversy over the beauty contest scared the Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce so badly that, in 1928, they voted twenty-seven to three to cancel the event!

The stock market crash and resulting economic depression made the Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce rethink the event, and it was revived 1933. 

In 1933, thirty young women were brought to Atlantic City aboard a chartered train called the Beauty Special.

The Atlantic City Press newspaper reported:

 “Queens of pulchritude, representing 29 states, the District of Columbia and New York City, will arrive here today to compete for the crown of Miss America 1933.

The American Beauty Special train will arrive at the Pennsylvania-Reading Railroad Station at South Carolina Avenue at 1:20 p.m. to mark the opening of the eighth edition of the revived Atlantic City Pageant. The five-day program will be climaxed Saturday night with the coronation ceremonies in the Auditorium.

A collection of blondes, brunettes and red heads, will assemble in Broad Street Station, Philadelphia, this morning, and the beauty special will leave at 11:55 a.m.”

It is surprising that more women didn’t participate in the 1933 Miss America pageant. In the midst of the Great Depression the contest prizes sounded fabulous, “Wealth and many honors await the Miss America this year. She will receive many valuable prizes and a cash award as well. In addition, she will have opportunities to pursue a theatrical career.”

Some of the contestants may have believed the stories related in rags-to-Broadway-riches films like GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933. The opportunity for a girl to win a part in a film or on Broadway would have been a potent lure for those who saw themselves as the next Joan Blondell or Ruby Keeler. I can imagine many of the Miss America hopefuls on the Beauty Train singing WE’RE IN THE MONEY. 

 

The 1933 winner was Marian Bergeron, a talented girl from Westhaven, Connecticut. She was poised for a shot at stardom until the newspapers reported her age; she was only fifteen. Her young age put a damper on an offer from RKO, but she was buoyed by a two year reign – no pageant was held in 1934.

Marian Bergeron

During the 1930s the Miss America pageant continued to be viewed by many as a circus of sin. In October 1935 a scandal rocked the contest.

Less than a month after seventeen-year-old Henrietta Leaver had been crowned Miss America, a nude statue of her was unveiled in her hometown of Pittsburgh.  

Henrietta swore up and down that she had worn a bathing suit when she posed for the statue, and she also said that her grandmother had been with her each time she had posed. Nobody bought Henrietta’s story and the image of the Miss America pageant was further tarnished.

One of my favorite Miss America contestants of the 1930s was Rose Veronica Coyle (1936 winner).  Rose was twenty-two when she won title of Miss America. Rose wore a short ballet shirt with a white jacket, brightened by huge red polka dots, and sang “I Can’t Escape from You”.

Rose Coyle, Truckin’

She then wowed the judges with her eight-minute long tap dance routine performed to TRUCKIN’.  The audience loved her so much the judges allowed her an encore — the first in the pageant’s history.

The Miss America Pageant lost its venue after WWII broke out because it was needed by the military. Rose Coyle and her husband, Leonard Schlessinger (National General Manager of Warner Bros. Theaters) saved the day by relocating the Miss America Pageant to the Warner Theatre on the Boardwalk. It would be the pageant’s home until 1946.

 

Back view of Regina hair net envelope.

 

 

Imprint Illustration: Scott Gandell

 

I was recently interviewed by Michael Dooley for Print Magazine. Dooley is the creative director of Michael Dooley Design, and he also teaches design history at UCLA Extension, Loyola Marymount, and Art Center College of Design. The interview is in two parts, and we covered everything from my interest in historic crime to my love of vintage cosmetics ephemera.

Follow the link to part one of the interview entitled: BLACK DAHLIA MURDER: THE CRIME, THE COSMETICS, AND THE FOLKSINGER 

 

 

Photo © Joan Renner.

 

In part two of my interview with Michael Dooley of Print Magazine, I talk about my collection of vintage cosmetics ephemera, and I also discuss my personality profile of Elizabeth Short (The Black Dahlia) based upon her choice of makeup.

Follow the link to part two of the interview entitled: BLACK DAHLIA MURDER, PART 2: THE VICTIM’S MAKEUP

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.

James Ellroy

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.

View of a couple of the display cases for ELIZABETH

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.

Earl Carroll Theatre

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.

Suspects & Confessors

And what, you may well ask, does the murder of the Black Dahlia have to do with vintage cosmetics ephemera?

As a tour guide for the Los Angeles based company ESOTOURIC, I have created a personality profile of Elizabeth Short based upon her make-up for THE REAL BLACK DAHLIA tour.

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 Rohr (seated), Marian Schmidt (standing)

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.

Dita Von Teese

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.

Max Factor testing make-up

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.

 

 

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.

The lecture and film are being co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Art Deco Society and American Cinematheque.

Helen Love (R) looks at juror (L) removed from her trial for drunkenness.

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!

 

 

The woman on the LA BARA face powder box (c. 1920s) appears to be posing for a picture in the midst of a celebration — perhaps a New Year’s Eve party.  The gaiety of the box speaks volumes about the spirit of the 1920s – it was a decade of parties.

There was at least one infamous New Year’s Day get together during the 1920s that ended in a shooting, rather than in a mere hangover.

It was the first day of 1924 and two of the most famous actresses in Hollywood, Mabel Normand and Edna Purviance, had joined wealthy Denver oil man Courtland S. Dines for afternoon cocktails in his apartment at 325-B North Vermont Avenue.

Mabel Normand’s chauffeur, twenty-seven year old Horace A. Greer (alias Joe Kelley) arrived at Dine’s apartment at around 7 pm stating that he’d been called to pick up Miss Normand and take her home.

For whatever reason, Greer was under the impression that Mabel was being detained at Dine’s apartment against her will. Greer thought subterfuge would be needed to gain entrance to the apartment, so he pretended to be a delivery man. When Greer opened the door to the apartment he said that he saw Dines sitting behind a little table in the living room, and saw Miss Normand half-lying on a davenport. Greer thought that Miss Purviance was in a rear bedroom.

Greer later told cops that upon his entrance into Dines’ apartment, he’d announced that he’d come to take Miss Normand home. Despite Mabel’s initial reluctance to depart with Greer, he said that she finally placed her hand on his arm and they started for the front door.

Greer said that Dines picked up a liquor bottle and attempted to strike him, presumably to prevent him from leaving with Mabel. Greer reacted by shooting Dines three times with Mabel’s .25 caliber automatic. He’d slipped the weapon into his pocket earlier in the day.

Edna Purviance, who said she’d been in one of the bedrooms powdering her nose (an activity of which the Vintage Powder Room highly approves) ran into the living room and found Dines still seated without a bottle in his hand. She declared “There was absolutely no reason for him (Greer) to shoot”. 

In true Hollywood fashion, rather than phone for an ambulance or the cops, Normand, Purviance, and Greer helped Dines to a bedroom where they undressed him and attempted to give him first aid.  They weren’t up to the task — multiple gunshot wounds aren’t something you cover with a band-aid.                   

The shooting occurred at approximately 7 pm; by 8:20 pm Greer had driven himself to the Wilshire police station and turned himself in. Moments after his confession to the desk cop, an ambulance, trailed by police cars, was dispatched to the scene.

The cops  and caregivers arrived at Dines’ apartment to find him in bed, bleeding profusely and smoking a cigarette. 

According to news reports Dines arrived at the Receiving Hospital in “a cloud of cigarette smoke and profanity” — hospital attendants were forced to strap the injured man to a stretcher.

In addition to reporting on the Dines’ shooting, the papers reported on Mabel Normand’s attire. Fans always want to know what a star is wearing, particularly in the midst of a scandal. She was, according to the Los Angeles Times, “…dressed in black velvet. She wore two diamond bracelets. In one hatpin were forty diamonds in a cluster.”  The LA Times further reported that Edna Purviance was “likewise lavishly attired”.

Both Mabel and Edna were described as being highly excited. I believe we can infer from that description that the two women were tipsy.

After giving her statement to the cops Purviance was allowed to see Dines. When she entered his hospital room she rushed over to him, threw her arms around him and cried “Oh! Courtland! I love you — please don’t die!”  The wounded man assured her that he’d been told by the doctor that he was going to pull through just fine.

Mabel, Edna, Courtland

Barely two years before Courtland was shot Mabel had been embroiled in a legendary Hollywood scandal, the mysterious murder of her pal William Desmond Taylor (a murder which remains unsolved).

The shooting of Courtland Dines by her chauffeur was more trouble than Mabel needed.

Immediately following Dines’ shooting, Mabel was grilled by cops and interviewed by reporters; all of whom wanted to discover Greer’s motive for the shooting. The best they could come up with was that Greer had been a secret admirer of Mabel’s and when he thought she was in trouble he rushed to her aid.

Mabel didn’t subscribe to the secret admirer theory — in fact she pooh-poohed it. “Impossible,” she said.  “The man must have been insane. He was only one of my servants and was only treated like one.”  Mabel went on to say that “I used to ask my chauffeurs, the ones before this one, how they liked a certain scene or something like that, but I got tired of all that blah-blah.  Good gosh, I didn’t even hire him.  My secretary did that.”

On top of everything, Mabel was scheduled for surgery to remove her appendix the second day after Courtland Dines was shot by her chauffeur.

Mabel c. 1916 getting into one of her cars.

 

The good news was that Mabel came through her surgery; the bad news was that the press was having a field day — once again Mabel was making news by being in the middle of a bad situation.

Courtland Dines declined to appear in court against Greer.  He stated that he’d had so much to drink the day of the shooting that he couldn’t recall anything anyway.

Horace Greer refused to testify on his own behalf at his trial because he said he was afraid of hurting Mabel. He said “Rather than hurt Mabel, I’ll take a chance with the pen.” Unfortunately for Mabel, Greer’s attorneys didn’t share his affection for the actress, at least not when they had her on the witness stand.  The story they put forward of the New Year’s Day debacle was risqué at best, and at worst it presented a vivid picture of absolute Hollywood depravity.

Counsel for the defense characterized the New Year’s  get together at Dines’ apartment as a Roman saturnalia — a den of infamy — with the “drunken gladiator” Dines posing on one foot while garbed only in an undershirt!

Edna Purviance and Charles Chaplin

Attorney Hahn of Greer’s defense team picked at omissions and flaws in the testimony of Purviance and Normand and he concluded that “They don’t want the truth of this affair to become known.  They are afraid it will besmirch the motion-picture profession.”

It seems unlikely that Hollywood’s image could have been tarnished any more than it had been over the couple of years prior to Dines’ shooting.  During the early 1920s Hollywood scandals had included the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the trial of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle for the death of bit-player and party girl, Virginia Rappe, and the drug-related deaths of stars Olive Thomas, Wallace Reid, Barbara La Marr, and Jeanne Eagels.

Without the testimony of the complaining witness, Courtland Dines, the jury took only four hours to acquit Horace Greer of the charges against him.  Greer didn’t have much time to celebrate the verdict; he was busted two hours later on liquor charges.

Mabel Normand’s film career began to decline; after all she’d been involved in two major Hollywood scandals.  During Greer’s trial there were calls to ban Mabel’s films, but she’d already begun to do a bit of damage control through newspaper items.

Mabel was popular, talented, and given time she may have survived the Greer scandal, just as she’d done the William Desmond Taylor murder in 1922.  It’s more likely that her career suffered as a result of a recurrence of tuberculosis in 1923. She retired from films and passed away in 1930 at age 37.

Edna Purviance had been romantically involved with Charles Chaplin for several years prior to her relationship with Courtland Dines.  She would marry neither Charlie nor Courtland; she wedded John Squire, a Pan-American Airlines pilot, in 1938.  Edna died of cancer in 1958 at age 62.

Courtland Dines was 34 years old when he was shot by Horace Greer.  He’d spend the next couple of decades acquiring wives, four of them, and a stepson. Dines died of a heart attack at age 55 in his hometown of Denver, Colorado.

I do hope that you will celebrate the new year with less drama than Mabel, Edna, Courtland, and Horace did!

Take care, and have a spectacular New Year!  I’ll see you in 2012. 

 

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.

 

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.

Aggie Underwood interviewing mourner at funeral of Aimee Semple McPherson

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.

 

 

"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.

 

don_juan_face_powder_final

Who wouldn’t powder her nose in anticipation of a fling with the legendary libertine, Don Juan?

tirso

Tirso Molina

There have been countless tellings of the Don Juan legend; however, it is likely that it first appeared in print in Spain around 1630 as a play by Tirso de Molina. Molina’s output as a playwright was prodigious — he’s alleged to have composed over four hundred plays during a twenty year period!  That is mind boggling!

Molina introduced the character of Don Juan in his play “El Burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra” (The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest).

The legend of Don Juan describes him as a rogue who enjoys seducing women (especially virgins) then dueling with their men.  Hmm.  How very macho.  But that kind of bad behavior doesn’t come without a price.

Don Juan Errol FlynnThere appear to be several interpretations of the legend of Don Juan; the most common one is that Don Juan seduces a girl from a noble family. When the father seeks revenge on his daughter’s behalf, Don Juan kills him.

Don Juan possessed neither a conscience nor, apparently, a capacity for shame; so, when the dead father’s ghost turns up one night and warns him that his days are numbered, Don Juan refuses to repent for his past transgressions.  Not a smart move. Don Juan is then eternally damned.

Variations of this story include one where Don Juan encounters the statue of the dead father in a graveyard. Don Juan, in what is obviously appalling bad taste, invites the ghost to join him for dinner. (What DO ghosts eat, anyway? And can you imagine the awkward pauses in the dinner conversation?)

drag-me-to-hell

The father’s ghost arrives at Don Juan’s house at the appointed hour and then, as good manners would demand, extends an invitation to Don Juan to dine with him in the graveyard. Don Juan may have been a world class seducer of women and a fierce fighter of men, but he was too self-absorbed to be a good judge of another’s motives.  When Don Juan extends his arm to shake hands with the ghostly father, the mad dad grabs hold of him and drags him down to Hell.

Being dragged to Hell was a fitting punishment for Don Juan, but was it a fair judgment on loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), who tried to impress her boss by refusing to extend a loan (at least three times) to a gypsy woman by the name of Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) in the 2009 film DRAG ME TO HELL?

Yes, I think maybe it was. Come on, who hasn’t been humiliated or tormented by an officious little bureaucrat? When it’s happened to me I’ve wished that I could place a curse on them. Maybe not something as serious as having them dragged to Hell to roast on a slow spit for eternity, but then again…

I love opera, and you can’t miss with Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI.

There have been many films and plays based on the original premise of DON JUAN – some of them very creative.  One of my favorites was a story thread in the seminal TV sitcom, I LOVE LUCY.  The Lucy and Ricky Ricardo would leave New York for Hollywood when Ricky was offered an opportunity to test for the role of Don Juan in a major motion picture.rickyricardo

There was a 1926 feature film based on the legend of Don Juan which starred John Barrymore as the handsome womanizer.  The film is notable for a couple of reasons. The first is that the number of kisses in the film set a record, and it was also the first feature-length film with synchronized Vitaphone sound effects and a musical soundtrack (but no spoken dialogue.

donjuandemarco
In the 1995 film DON JUAN DeMARCO, Johnny Depp portrays John Arnold DeMarco, a young man who believes that he is Don Juan the world’s greatest lover.

DeMarco undergoes psychiatric treatment with Dr. Jack Mickler (Marlon Brando).  DeMarco’s sessions have an unexpected effect on the doctor’s staff, some of whom are inspired by DeMarco’s delusion.

 Let’s end with a quote from DON JUAN DeMARCO:  “Every woman is a mystery to be solved.”

Yes, indeed.

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