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Pals, they call Mary Garden and Madge Kennedy at the Goldwyn Studio, where the singer has just completed her newest motion picture, which she calls "a gorgeous thing". Here she is seen on the last day of her studio work on this production saying au revoir to the piquant Madge Kennedy and telling her that sh'd give a fortune for her eyes and smile. Mary Garden is soon to be seen in her newest picture "The Splendid Sinner."

Pals, they call Mary Garden (R) and Madge Kennedy (L) at the Goldwyn Studio, where the singer has just completed her newest motion picture, which she calls “a gorgeous thing”. Here she is seen on the last day of her studio work on this production saying au revoir to the piquant Madge Kennedy and telling her that she’d give a fortune for her eyes and smile. Mary Garden is soon to be seen in her newest picture “The Splendid Sinner.”

I love to shop for old cosmetic ads because they provide important information, like the dates when specific products were available. I purchased the Mary Garden advertisement below at an antiques mall for $10.

What does it remind us? That celebrity endorsements are nothing new, for one thing. In fact during the first quarter of the 20th century, female performers of all types started appearing in ads and often had their own line of products manufactured by an established company.  I profiled one such woman, actress Edna Wallace Hopper, in October 2013. Another international celebrity who promoted her own product line was opera singer Mary Garden, who partnered with manufacturer Rigaud. Unless you’re a devotee of opera you have likely never heard of her. Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, but reared in Chicago, Illinois, Mary was opera’s reigning diva from the 1910s until she retired from the stage in the 1930s.

Although she traveled the world, Mary was fond of Los Angeles and performed here many times to sold-out crowds at the Philharmonic Auditorium on Fifth Street (sadly, it is now a parking lot).

By the 1910s Los Angeles aspired to become a cultural center, but first it had to brush off the dust it had accumulated during its Wild West days. Hosting a world-renowned opera company was one way to show the folks back east that L.A. wasn’t a bush league outpost inhabited by tobacco chewing cowpokes.

In March 1913, the grande dames in town put every hairdresser, milliner, jeweler, and dressmaker in the area to work. All of the shops became beehives of activity in anticipation of a week long visit by the Chicago Grand Opera Company featuring soprano Mary Garden.

Today’s Hollywood movie premieres often draw large crowds, but their numbers are a mere fraction of the thousands that turned out in 1913 to catch a glimpse of ticket holders arriving at the Philharmonic Auditorium. The week of opera was enormously successful, and Garden went on to perform in L.A. many more times in her career.

What I have often wished for when reflecting on this Mary Garden advertisement is a return to a more glamorous time when men and women dressed for an occasion. I’ve attended the L.A. Opera dozens of times and the audience dons everything from evening wear to California casual. More than once I’ve curled my lip in a moue of disapproval. Then again I’ve observed men in tuxedos, chins on their chests, snoozing through Tristan und Isolde and I’ve also seen guys in T-shirts mesmerized by the same performance. If what motivates L.A. audiences is the genuine love of art, I can find nothing wrong with that.


Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is LADY OF BURLESQUE [1943] starring Barbara Stanwyck. Enjoy the movie!

From TCM:

S. B. Foss, owner of the Old Opera House on Broadway in New York City, promotes his new recruit, burlesque dancer Dixie Daisy, hoping that she will draw a large audience. Dixie’s performance draws cheers from the crowds and from comedian Biff Brannigan, who ardently admires Dixie even though she hates comics because of past experiences with them. When someone cuts the wire to the light backstage that signals the presence of the police, the performers are surprised by a raid, and pandemonium ensues. As Dixie flees through a coal chute, someone grabs her from behind and tries to strangle her, but her assailant escapes when a stagehand comes along.


I found this Nupcial Face Powder box (c. 1920s) in a booth at an Orange County antique mall several years ago. I paid $30 for it.  I’d never seen the brand before and expected never to see it again, but I was wrong. Earlier this week I discovered four Nupcial product labels for sale at an online auction site. I happily spent $95 for the labels in various sizes and shapes—they will look absolutely splendid framed.

What interests me about the powder box is its unusual mash-up of styles. Here, brightly colored geometric shapes, the hallmarks of Art Deco style, surround a classic 1920s bride. But while the graphics are era appropriate, they seem jarring.  Brightly colored spears are attacking the poor woman!

The peculiar design of the Nupcial box sends a mixed message. Was the product meant to appeal to a traditional bride or to someone more fashion forward?  The effect symbolizes the social chaos that characterized the Jazz Age, probably unintentionally so.

Inspired by the box to learn more about marriage during the 1920s, I did some digging.

Apparently the widespread fear of moral decay that resulted in Prohibition led California legislators to pass a “gin marriage” law in 1927. The law was well meaning—it mandated a three day waiting period to discourage couples from drinking in speakeasies then making a mad dash for a local preacher to unite them in matrimony while three sheets to the wind.

Enacting a law may seem like a drastic step, but concerns about inebriated brides and grooms weren’t entirely unfounded.  On December 19, 1930, the Los Angeles Times reported the story of a failed gin marriage.  A pretty blonde stenographer, Creola McCarter Milner, sought an annulment from her husband of a few months.  Creola told the judge that she had become intoxicated on the eve of her marriage and awakened four days later to find herself married to someone other than her intended.

Many women’s and religious groups believed that the law would lead to more and better marriages.  Instead, it drove couples out of state to places like Yuma, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada where they could marry on a whim; the marriage rate in California declined precipitously and the divorce rate increased. Legislators came their senses and repealed the gin marriage law in 1943.

Upon second reflection, I think the graphics on the Nupcial face powder box conveys a decipherable message after all. The design may be a jumble of traditional and trendy, but it works in its own quirky way. I think the same can be said of marriage. My husband and I are a mixed bag of idiosyncrasies, yet our marriage thrives.  And before you ask, we were sober when we exchanged our vows.


 Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is BLONDIE [1938] starring Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake and based on the comic strip by Chic Young.  If you’ve never heard of a Dagwood sandwich, it was named after Blondie’s hapless spouse, Dagwood Bumstead

From TCM:

On the eve of their fifth wedding anniversary, Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead, and their child Baby Dumpling, are in financial trouble. Blondie presses Dagwood to ask his boss Mr. Dithers for a raise because she has purchased a new set of living room furniture on credit as a surprise. Unfortunately, when Dagwood arrives at the construction company where he works, he discovers that he is being held responsible for repayment of a loan note he approved for Mr. Dither’s former secretary, Elsie. Anxious to cover the loan, Dagwood begs Mr. Dithers for a raise.

mannings stockings resize


Pretty in pink, and adorned with a stunning blonde in a classic pin-up pose, the Mannings stockings box piqued my interest about 10 years ago. I almost passed on it, because it was such a departure from the face-powder boxes and hair-net envelopes that I generally acquire. However, at $20 it was an inexpensive opportunity to broaden my collection in a meaningful way—meaningful, because I believe that the social evolution of modern women can be charted in part through their choices in makeup and lingerie. Think of the early days when women rearranged their internal organs with corsets so tight that they routinely fainted and you realize lingerie indisputably and dramatically altered the lives of women during the 20th century.

The 1920s saw profound social and political changes, particularly for women, and the garter belt originated during that time as an alternative to the restrictive corsetry that had been worn previously. Ironically, it was another call for movement (literally) that resulted in the garter belt being replaced by pantyhose. Allen Gant, a textile manufacturer, was inspired to create pantyhose after hearing his wife complain about the discomfort of wearing a garter belt while pregnant.

With the help of his colleagues, Gant developed the world’s first commercial pantyhose, a product called Panti-Legs, which debuted in 1959. Panti-Legs enjoyed modest success until the miniskirt became popular in the 1960s. Fashion icons Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton popularized pantyhose after being photographed wearing the new style of stockings with their miniskirts. It was the miniskirt that sounded the death knell for the routine garter belt, because the fasteners spoiled the smooth silhouette of the garment and it would have been considered tasteless for the garters to show.

 Today, garter belts and stockings are worn primarily by vintage clothing enthusiasts, sex industry workers, and burlesque queens. Stockings and a garter belt, once thought to be old-fashioned and restrictive, have become associated with erotica, and for good reason—slowly rolling a sheer black stocking up your leg and fastening it to a garter is, in my opinion, one of the most provocative and sensual acts a woman can perform.

As I hold the Mannings stockings box I reflect on feminine traditions, many of which have become lost to us over the decades. Slipping into your lingerie, whether it’s a lacy bra or a slip, is a powerful daily ritual and an affirmation of womanhood. The subtle brush of silk on your skin as you move through your day should bring a smile to your face because lingerie speaks the secret language of women—and everyone is entitled to her secrets.


Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is directed by Preston Sturges and stars Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

After Charles Poncefort Pike, an ophiologist and heir to the Pike’s Pale Ale fortune, leaves a zoological expedition in the South American jungle, he boards an ocean liner headed for the East Coast. Although the eligible bachelor only has eyes for his book on snakes and is oblivious to all the young female passengers, Jean Harrington succeeds in getting his attention by tripping him as he leaves the dining room. Jean, a con artist and cardsharp who works with her father, ensnares Charlie with her feminine wiles, and despite the warnings of Charlie’s suspicious guardian, Muggsy, Charlie falls in love with Jean.

I found the 1920s Gimbel Hair Net in an online auction over seven years ago and paid $8.99 for it. The delicate floral design in the upper corners is typical of the period, and the depiction of women playing sports reflects the mania for physical activity that characterized the era.

Over the past few decades, female athletes have embraced fashion as more than just an opportunity to endorse sportswear for a paycheck. In 1976 Olympic skater Dorothy Hamill won a gold medal for her performance on the ice, but it was her cute bobbed hairstyle dubbed the “wedge” that stole the show and started a fad.

gimbel_serena williams

In recent years tennis phenoms Venus and Serena Williams have pushed the fashion envelope on the court many times. Serena’s black lycra catsuit caused a sensation at the 2002 US Open; and Venus ignited a media firestorm when she appeared at the French Open in 2010 in a red-and-black outfit that appeared to be part corset and part French maid’s costume. The Williams sisters have received both kudos and condemnations for their choices in tennis wear—but they weren’t the first to shake up the world of women’s sports fashion; that distinction belongs to Suzanne Lenglen.

Suzanne Rachel Flore Lenglen was born on May 24, 1899, about 43 miles north of Paris. She was a sickly child, so her father suggested that she try tennis as a way to build her strength. Almost immediately she demonstrated a talent for the sport and her father began to train her in earnest.

Suzanne Lenglen. Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

In 1914, Lenglen won the World Hard Court Championship at Saint-Cloud; however, WWI put an end to most national and international tennis competitions for the duration, and Lenglen had to wait several years to compete on the world stage. Her turn finally came in 1920 when she faced Dorothea Douglass Chambers at Wimbledon. A seven-time Wimbledon winner, Chambers was a formidable opponent, to say the least.

Chambers took the court in the standard women’s tennis costume of the day: a voluminous skirt, long-sleeved blouse, starched collar, and a tie. Dressed like that it was a miracle she didn’t fall and break her neck.

Dorothea Chambers. Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

Lenglen arrived courtside in full makeup, wearing a dress that fell only to mid-calf (revealing the tops of her stockings when she moved just so) and carrying a flask filled with brandy that she sipped intermittently throughout the game. Unencumbered by multiple yards of fabric—and fueled by brandy—Lenglen won the match. Her daring costume (designed by legendary courtier Jean Patou) revolutionized the way women dressed for tennis, and she was just as stylish off the court with her bobbed hair and designer wardrobe. The Gimbel hair net package serves as a reminder to me that never does a woman look more stylish than when she’s pursuing her dreams.


Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on the novel REBECCA by Daphne Du Maurier. It is a wonderful mix of suspense and romance, and stars Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Maxim de Winter, who is in Monte Carlo to forget the drowning death of his wife Rebecca, meets the demure paid companion of matronly socialite Edythe Van Hopper and begins to court her. The girl falls in love with Maxim and happily accepts when he asks her to be his wife. The bride’s happiness comes to an abrupt end when Maxim takes her to his grand seaside estate, Manderley. There she is tormented by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who continually reminds the young bride of the great beauty and elegance of the first Mrs. de Winter and undermines her attempts to assert herself in the household. One night shortly after her arrival, a boat is wrecked off shore, and during the rescue attempt, another submerged boat is found in which the body of Rebecca is trapped.


Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is THE LADY VANISHES, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and  starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty. This is one of my favorites! Enjoy the movie.

TCM says:

Aboard a train bound for London, Miss Froy, an elderly English governess, makes the acquaintance of young Iris Henderson. When Miss Froy disappears, Iris asks for the other passengers’ assistance in finding the old woman, only to have all contend that Miss Froy was never on the train.


The Avon lipstick sample card was a lucky find at a flea market, and it was a bargain at $15, because it’s in wonderful condition with the miniature lipstick still attached. Judging from the woman’s hairstyle and makeup, I’d say it was manufactured during the ’30s. By then, Avon had been in business for nearly half a century, and had a fascinating history.

It began as the California Perfume Company founded by native New Yorker David Hall McConnell in the early 1890s. McConnell started his career selling books door-to-door, but he found it tough to make a decent living. He decided to offer his female customers free homemade perfume as an incentive. Over time, McConnell realized the women were more interested in the perfume than in the books, and thus his life-changing epiphany: If door-to-door sales worked for books, why not for perfume?

It was an inspired concept, and it changed the lives of scores of women who, instead of toiling 12 hours a day in a gritty factory or working as a domestic, could now become sales representatives for the California Perfume Company and make a living wage. Shopping from home was also a boon to women who were raising families and otherwise housebound.

The company changed its name to Avon in 1939, and its success continued, even during World War II. The post-war era found Americans trading their lives in cramped, big-city apartments for the green lawns, multi-car garages, and BBQs of the new bedroom communities that were springing up around every metropolis—and Avon followed them.

Vintage Avon ad. Source unknown.

Clever marketing increased demand for their products and spawned one of the most memorable and longest running ad campaigns in history. In the mid-1950s, Avon introduced a television commercial that would appear in various forms for close to two decades. The scenario was simple: A well-dressed woman was shown pressing the doorbell of a typical suburban home. The bells chimed—ding-dong—and the door opened. A jingle played in the background, “Avon calling at your door / bringing cosmetics and much more.”

Whenever I hold the Avon sample card I can’t help singing the jingle and reflecting on the ways in which life has changed since the era of “the Avon Lady.” Internet shopping has replaced door-to-door salespeople, and we have traded the opportunity to bond with a friend over a cup of coffee and the perfect red lipstick for a convenient point-and-click purchase from a laptop. Change is inevitable, and I have bought plenty of cosmetics online myself, but I would love to travel back in time and spend just one afternoon trying on lipstick in the company of a friendly Avon saleswoman.


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