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It wouldn’t do to let July slip past without acknowledging Miss Freedom.  After all, July is the month during which the U.S. celebrates its independence, and that is what the Miss Freedom hairnet package is all about; even though it is ironic that the Miss Freedom hairnet was made of imported English rayon. 

With a patriotic red, white, and blue color scheme, and the Liberty Bell depicted behind her, the woman on the cover of the package is a 1940s representation of the Statue of Liberty come to life — minus a torch, a tabula ansata (a tablet evoking the law), and a broken chain at her feet.

 The real Statute of Liberty isn’t overtly sexy as is Miss Freedom. The statute, designed by Frederic Bartholdi, is a neoclassical sculpture and represents Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom; and her formal title is “Liberty Enlightening the World”.

 The Statue of Liberty is an icon now but when the idea was first conceived it was a hard sell and fundraising was difficult; in fact, the project was threatened due to a lack of funds. Publisher Joseph Pulitzer of the newspaper The World initiated a drive for donations to complete the project and the campaign resulted in over 120,000 contributors, most of whom gave less than a dollar.

 Joseph Pulitzer arrived in the U.S. from Budapest in 1864 and immediately enlisted in the Lincoln Calvary, he was 18. Following the Civil War Joseph tried, unsuccessfully, to hold down a job. He worked as a mule hostler but quit after two days stating “The man who has not cared for sixteen mules does not know what work and troubles are”.

 Pulitzer was cut out for more intellectual pursuits than tending mules. Joseph became an attorney in 1868 but unfortunately his broken English didn’t gain him many clients.  Finally, later in 1868, Joseph was offered a job as a reporter for the Westliche Post.

Joseph had a demonstrated flair for reporting and business.  In 1872 he bought a share in the Westliche Post for $3,000 and sold it for a profit in 1873.  In 1879 he purchased the St. Louis Dispatch and the St. Louis Post and merged them as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which remains St. Louis’ daily newspaper.  While at the Post-Dispatch, Pulitzer became a champion of the common man with exposes and a hard-hitting populist approach. 

By 1883 Joseph Pulitzer was a very wealthy man in a buying mood, so he purchased the New York World from Jay Gould who had been running the paper at a loss (about $40,000/year). The energetic publisher turned the paper around by shifting the focus onto human interest stories, scandal, and sensationalism.  Under Pulitzer’s stewardship circulation of The World grew from 15,000 to over 600,000 — it became the largest newspaper in the country.

In 1887 America’s pioneer female journalist, Elizabeth Jane Cochran (aka Nellie Bly), left the Pittsburgh Dispatch after being relegated to theater and arts reporting — topics considered to be more appropriate for a woman than the hard-hitting stories Nellie preferred to cover.

Following her departure from the Pittsburgh Dispatch, Nellie went to New York where she joined the reporting staff of the World and accepted a risky undercover assignment; she agreed to feign insanity to investigate reports of brutality and neglect at the Woman’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

Nellie practiced deranged expressions in front of a mirror for a night ( I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall for that)!  Having perfected her demented look, she then checked into a working class boardinghouse.  She convinced the other boarders that she was crazy and was soon carted off to Bellvue Hospital where she was pronounced “undoubtedly insane” by the head of the insane pavilion.

Dubbed the “pretty crazy girl” by the media (they were unaware of her true identity and that she was employed by Pulitzer), Nellie was committed to the asylum where she experienced the horrendous conditions firsthand.  The nurses were abusive and would beat patients who didn’t respond immediately to their commands. Nellie also concluded that many of the patients were as sane as she was.  After ten days of mistreatment Bly was released from the asylum at the World’s behest.  Her report, “Ten Days in a Mad-House” won her lasting fame. The report was responsible for launching a grand jury investigation which resulted in a budget increase of $850,000 for the Department of Public Charities and Corrections in New York.

Whenever I think of asylums and evil nurses, I always conjure up a picture of Nurse Ratched (Big Nurse) from the 1975 film based upon Ken Kesey’s novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.   But I digress.

In 1895 Nellie Bly married Robert Seaman who was 40 years her senior. Seaman was  a millionaire manufacturer, so Nellie retired from journalism to become the president of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., which made steel containers.  Bly received two US patents, one for a novel milk can, and the second one for a stacking garbage can.

For a time Nellie was one of the leading female industrialists in the US, but she was forced into bankruptcy by embezzling employees and resumed her career as a journalist.  She covered the women’s suffrage convention in 1913, and reported from Europe’s Eastern Front during World War I. 

Joseph Pulitzer, who had wisely hired Nellie Bly, died of tuberculosis on his yacht, the Liberty, on October 29, 1911.  Pulitzer’s yacht lived on, at least for a while.  The Liberty served as a hospital ship during World War I and was broken up in 1937. 

Nellie Bly died of pneumonia at St. Mark’s Hospital in New York in 1922 at age 57.

 

In previous posts I’ve discussed the creation and marketing of face powder for African American women.  Among the pioneers in cosmetics for women of color was the brilliant business woman Madame C.J. Walker.

 “Sweet Georgia Brown” face powder wasn’t one of Madame Walker’s products, but it was obviously intended for sale to what was then often referred to as the “race” market.  Although in hindsight the term “race” in the context of marketing products may seem to be a derogatory one, in the early 20th century the African American press routinely used the term “the Race” to refer to African Americans as a whole, and used the terms “race man” or “race woman” to refer to African American individuals who showed pride and support for their people and culture. In other words, it was a different time.

Among the women who may have used products such as “Sweet Georgia Brown” face powder was entertainer Ethel Waters.  She may have even powdered her nose with it for the photo of her which graced the cover of the catalog for “New Race Records”.  Race records were 78 rpm phonograph records made by and for African Americans, particularly during the 1920s and 1930s.  Billboard magazine published “Race Records” charts between 1945 and 1949, finally dropping the term (at the suggestion of journalist Jerry Wexler) in June 1949 and replacing it with “Rythm & Blues Records”.

Ethel Waters was born the child of a teen-aged rape victim on Halloween 1896. Young Ethel didn’t have any adult supervision to speak of, yet she managed to look after herself.  She began, as had many of her contemporaries, performing at church functions.  By the time she was a teenager she was renowned locally for her “hip shimmy shake”.

The shimmy was first introduced to Americans in 1883 at the Colombian Exposition Chicago World’s Fair by Farida Mazar Spyropoulous, aka “Little Egypt” (she was actually Syrian).  Farida mesmerized audiences with the dance she referred to as the Hoochee-Coochee, or the shimmy and shake.  Americans had not yet become familiar with the term belly dance, an entertainment which had first been seen by the French during Napoleon’s incursions into Egypt — the French called the dance danse du ventre (dance of the belly).

When people refer to hoochee-coochee (it’s spelled about six different ways) today they generally mean an erotic, highly suggestive dance, which isn’t quite the same as the dance that Little Egypt was performing in 1883.

Even during the Roaring Twenties the Shimmy raised eyebrows. But when Ethel Waters and Earl “Snake Hips” Tucker “shook the shimmy” in New York cabaret floorshows, it soon became a craze that swept the nation!

Earl “Snake Hips” Tucker was often billed as “The Human Boa Constrictor”.  I would have thought that “The Human Cobra” would have been more apt.

In any case, critics of the day were hard pressed to find the right words to describe the movements that Earl was making on stage.  I guess it wasn’t polite to discuss the shimmy in print.

In the 1933 pre-code film “Hoop-La”, Clara Bow portrays a hula/hootchee dancer at a carnival. Now THAT is a hootchee costume!

A few decades after Earl “Snake Hips” Tucker writhed his way across a stage, Elvis Presley’s pelvis would get him into a bit of trouble with the critics, and prompt a letter from a Catholic diocese to J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI!

After a show in La Crosse, Wisconsin, an urgent message on the letterhead of the local Catholic diocese’s newspaper was sent to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. It warned that “Presley is a definite danger to the security of the United States. … [His] actions and motions were such as to rouse the sexual passions of teen-aged youth… After the show, more than 1,000 teenagers tried to gang into Presley’s room at the auditorium. … Indications of the harm Presley did just in La Crosse were the two high school girls … whose abdomen and thigh had Presley’s autograph.”

Before “Sweet Georgia Brown” became a line of cosmetics, it was a snappy tune written in 1925 by Ben Bernie & Maceo Pinkard (music) and Kenneth Casey (lyrics). 

“NO GAL MADE HAS GOT A SHADE
ON SWEET GEORGIA BROWN,
TWO LEFT FEET, OH, SO NEAT,
HAS SWEET GEORGIA BROWN!”

 I had hoped that Elvis and Ethel had more than swiveling hips in common so I looked for a performance of “Sweet Georgia Brown” by The King. No such luck. But I did find an interesting recording from the early 1960s. 

 

On May 24, 1962 The Beatles recorded the instrumental track (with backing vocals) on a version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” for musician Tony Sheridan. Sheridan had met The Beatles in Hamburg, Germany at a club owned by Bruno Koschmieder.  Sheridan liked The Beatles, and the feeling was mutual;  in particular on the part of George Harrison who never missed an opportunity to jam with Tony.

Sadly, Sweet Georgia Brown face powder no longer exists; however, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Sweet Georgia Brown hair pomade is once again available!   There are three different varieties, so one of them is bound to be perfect for your man’s classic pompadour.

 

 

 

 sally_hairnet_final

I’m always curious about the back story, if any, behind a product’s name.  It makes good marketing sense for most product names to reflect either a tangible attribute of the product being marketed, or to evoke a desirable emotion for the end user.  Cute little puppies make us feel warm and fuzzy about a product. In the case of the SALLY hair net I found that there was an extremely popular musical of the same name playing at the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway in New York in 1920 – which corresponds to the date of manufacture of the hair net.Sally1929_poster

SALLY opened on December 21, 1920 at the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway and ran for an incredible 570 performances!  By the time that the show closed in the mid-1920s, it would be among the top five money makers of the decade.

I can easily imagine women making a connection between the hair net and the hit musical.  SALLY boasted music by Jerome Kern, and lyrics by Clifford Grey.  It was produced by Florenz Ziegfeld, and starred Marilyn Miller.  

marilymiller_youngMarilyn Miller was an enormously popular stage and screen actress, and while she often played in rags to riches stories which end happily, her own life was marred by tragedy.  By the 1930s Marilyn had become increasingly dependent upon alcohol, possibly to relieve some of the discomfort of the frequent sinus infections from which she suffered.  

Marilyn checked herself into a New York hospital in March 1936 to recover from a nervous breakdown.  While there she underwent surgery on her nasal passages.  She succumbed to complications from the surgery on April 26, 1936 – she was only 37 years old.

There are a couple of interesting footnotes to Marilyn Miller’s story.  Census records reveal about half a dozen “Marilyns” in the United States in 1900; by the 1930s, following Miller’s stardom, it was the 16th most common first name among American females!

Marilyn-Monroe-and-Arthur-Miller-1956In the late 1940s, Norma Jean Baker changed her name to Marilyn Monroe at the urging of Ben Lyon, a one-time actor turned casting director at 20th Century Fox, who said she reminded him of Marilyn Miller.

And in an ironic twist, Marilyn Monroe would herself become Marilyn Miller when she wed the playwright Arthur Miller in 1956.

Another inspirational SALLY, whose name may have drawn women to the hair net package, was WAMPAS Baby Star, burlesque queen and fan dancer extraordinaire, Sally Rand.

What was WAMPAS?  It was a promotional campaign sponsored by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers which honored thirteen young women each year whom they believed to be on the threshold of movie stardom. They were selected from 1922 to 1934, and annual awardees were honored at a party called the “WAMPAS Frolic”. Those selected were given extensive media coverage.

 wampas 1927 headline

Sally Rand was one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1927and her stage name, like Marilyn Monroe’s, was chosen for her by someone else.  In Rand’s case the name was bestowed upon her by Cecil B. DeMille who was inspired by a Rand McNally atlas.

rand_paramountclub
 

After the introduction of sound film Rand became a dancer, and she was best known for the fan dance which she popularized starting at the Paramount Club.

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Her most famous appearance was at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair entitled Century of Progress. She had been arrested four times in a single day during the fair due to perceived indecent exposure while riding a white horse down the streets of Chicago, but the nudity was only an illusion.

 She also conceived and developed the bubble dance, in part to cope with wind while performing outdoors. She performed the fan dance on film in Bolero, released in 1934.

Sally Rand with her artfully manipulated fans and bubbles became a part of popular culture, and in Tex Avery’s cartoon Hollywood Steps Out (1941), a rotoscoped Rand performs her famous bubble dance onstage to an appreciative crowd. A grinning Peter Lorre caricature in the front row comments, “I haven’t seen such a beautiful bubble since I was a child.” The routine continues until the bubble is suddenly popped by Harpo Marx and his slingshot, with a surprised Rand (her nudity covered by a well-placed wooden barrel) reacting with shock. Rand is referred to as “Sally Strand” here.

 

Rand also makes an appearance in the crime fiction of Max Allan Collins in his book TRUE DETECTIVE.  If you like historical mysteries set in the 1930s-1960s, pick up one of Collins’ novels featuring the character Nate Heller.  I’m a fan of all of Collin’s work (he wrote the graphic novel THE ROAD TO PERDITION), but I’m particularly fond of the Nate Heller tales because Heller mixes it up with the likes of Chicago gangster Frank Nitti, and other historical figures such as Eliot Ness, and Amelia Earhart. 

AVearhart

In STOLEN AWAY, Heller becomes involved in the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. I’m looking forward to the first Nate Heller novel in about a decade – it’s entitled “BYE BYE, BABY” and it is due out in August.  The novel will feature Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmy Hoffa, and even the CIA.  

I’m always up for a historical thrill ride, which is why I’m cautiously optimistic about the release this week of Rock Star Video’s L.A. NOIRE game, which purports to be an accurate portrayal of the cityscape of Los Angeles in 1947.  I have a compelling interest in 1947 Los Angeles for a few reasons.  My friends (and fellow social historians) Kim Cooper and Nathan Marsak originated the seminal LA crime-a-day blog 1947project which undertook the mammoth task of the daily retelling of the crimes and human interest stories of 1947 in prose and in photographs.  As a tour guide for ESOTOURIC I participate in THE REAL BLACK DAHLIA tour, which seeks to examine Beth Short’s life in the weeks before her murder (in January 1947), as well as exploring the lives of other young women during the post-war era in Los Angeles. 

I was unable to make it to a preview of L.A. NOIRE a few weeks ago, but Kim and Nathan were on hand to critique the pre-release version from a historical (not game play) perspective.  Nathan blogged about the experience HERE.  

Unfortunately, Nathan’s free walking tour on May 29th, which will explore some of the locations used in L.A. Noire, is filled to overflowing; however, anyone may attend the free SUNDAY SALON that precedes the tour (noon-2pm), and Nathan’s pre-walking-tour presentation (2pm+) on the architecture of “L.A. Noire.”  

I’m attending the Sunday Salon on May 29th, and I’m fortunate to have scored a place for myself on the walking tour. I’m looking forward to a day of Noir fun in Los Angeles.

 

 

  fairsex_final

What exactly is meant by the Fair(er) Sex?  Are women less inclined to self-interest or deception than men?  Hardly likely.  The consensus appears to be that fair(er) sex simply means attractively feminine.  

SONNET 147 

My love is as a fever longing still,
For that which longer nurseth the disease;
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now Reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed;
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.
 

DoubleIndemnity1TN

Fred MacMurray & Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 147 describes a woman who was thought to be fair but turned out to be ‘black as hell, dark as night’.  I’m no Shakespearean scholar – my take on the sonnet is that it is the angry and rather sad rant of a man disillusioned by a woman – his love neither reciprocated nor cherished by the object of his affection/obsession. 

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Adam & Eve by Tamara de Lempicka

In other words, the guy in the sonnet is just like one of the poor saps in classic noir film – caught in the web of a woman who can manipulate him and cast him aside without a backward glance. The noir dame is a riff on a well established archetype, that of the femme fatale (French for ‘deadly woman’).  And don’t kid yourself that a deadly woman is just a gal who can wield a .38 with mortal accuracy – no way – a femme fatale speaks to the primal fear than many men have of female sexuality.  Just think Eve and the apple.  

20th Century femme fatales were prevalent characters in early Hollywood films and heralded the ‘modern’ woman of the post World War I era, at first typified by the kohl-eyed Theda Bara types, then later by the bobbed haired flappers of the 1920s. These ‘sexual vampires’, or vamps, would seduce a man taking from him his virility and independence and leaving him a shadow of himself. 

musidora

Musidora

Among the early screen sex vampires was the French actress Musidora (born Jeanne Roques on February 23, 1889).  She was raised by a feminist mother and socialist father, both of whom encouraged her artistic abilities.  Her first novel was published when she was just 15 years old. 

Musidora (the name she gave herself, which is Greek for ‘gift of the muses’)  began her acting career at age 15, working with the novelist Colette who would become one of her lifelong friends.  During the very early years of French cinema Musidora began a professional collaboration with the highly successful French film director Louis Feuillade. 

Musidora became famous for her vamp roles in such film serials as LES VAMPIRES and JUDEX, in which she developed a persona comparable to that of Theda Bara (whose name was an anagram for Arab Death).  In addition to acting she directed and wrote many of her films. 

In November 1915, the walls of Paris were plastered with street posters that depicted three masked faces with a question mark as a noose, and the questions “who, what, when, where?”. The morning newspapers printed the following poem:

Of the moonless nights they are kings,
darkness is their kingdom.
Carrying death and sowing terror
the dark Vampires fly,
with great suede wings,
ready not only to do evil… but to do even worse.

  

Lesvampires 

The posters were advertising for LES VAMPIRES, a ten part silent serial, very surreal, in which Musidora played the role of a cabaret singer, Irma Vep (an anagram for Vampire).  The film wasn’t actually about Dracula style vampires but rather about a criminal gang-cum-secret society inspired by the exploits of the real-life Bonnot Gang.  Vep, besides playing a leading role in the Vampires’ crimes, also spends two episodes under the hypnotic control of Moreno, a rival criminal who makes her his lover and induces her to assassinate the Grand Vampire. 

Musidora_as_Irma_Vep

Musidora as Irma Vep

The Bonnot Gang (La Bande à Bonnot) was a French criminal anarchist group that operated in France and Belgium during the Belle Époque, from 1911 to 1912.  The gang utilized cutting-edge technology (including automobiles and repeating rifles) not yet available to the French police. 

Originally referred to by the press as simply “The Auto Bandits”, the gang was dubbed “The Bonnot Gang” after Jules Bonnot gave an interview at the office of LE PETIT PARISIEN, a popular daily paper. Bonnot’s perceived prominence within the group (he was never actually its leader) was later reinforced by his high-profile death during a shootout with French police in Nogent. 

public enemy 1931

The Public Enemy

LES VAMPIRES was extremely successful, and Musidora went on to star in another popular silent serial JUDEX.  The director of JUDEX, Louis Feuillade, had made two earlier serials, FANTOMAS and LES VAMPIRES, about cunning criminals. Though popular with audiences, the serials drew criticism for glorifying outlaws. Similar objections would be raised in the U.S. in the 1930s by the depiction of gangsters in films such as THE PUBLIC ENEMY, and LITTLE CAESAR. 

aristide_bruantFeuillade addressed these concerns by creating the hero Judex.  Judex was a mysterious avenger who dressed in black and wore a slouch hat and cloak like Aristide Bruant (a French cabaret singer, comedian, and nightclub owner depicted in posters by Toulouse-Lautrec). This costume is strikingly similar to the costume of the later American pulp hero The Shadow. 

Judex anticipated later pulp heroes and superheroes in many respects. He was a masterful fighter, an expert at disguise, and boasted a secret headquarters in the subterranean passages beneath a ruined castle.  In true superhero fashion, Judex’s base of operations was outfitted with technological gadgets. He also had a secret identity Judex (the Latin word for judge) is a nom-de-guerre he had adopted in his quest for revenge. 

Musidora starred as Diana Monti in JUDEX opposite Rene Creste.   JUDEX was filmed in 1916 but delayed for release until 1917 because of the outbreak of World War I.  Feuillade didn’t consciously attempt to create avant-garde films; however, LES VAMPIRES and JUDEX have been lauded by critics as the birth of avant-garde cinema and cited by such renowned filmmakers as Fritz Lang and Luis Bunuel as being extremely influential in their desire to become directors. 

For an example of Luis Bunuel’s early surrealist work, probably inspired in part by LES VAMPIRES and JUDEX, you should check out his 1929 short film, in collaboration with the artist Salvador Dali, UN CHIEN ANDALOU (An Andalusian dog). 

musidora_vampUnder the tutelage of her mentor, Louis Feuillade, Musidora became a successful film producer and director.  Between the late 1910s and early 1920s she directed ten films.  Sadly, all but two of her films were lost.            

As Musidora’s acting career faded, she focused on writing and producing. Her last film was LA MAGIQUE IMAGE (1950) which was a homage to her mentor Louis Feuillade.  

Later in her life Musidora would occasionally work in the ticket booth of the Cinematheque Francaise.  I wonder how many of the patrons recognized her. 

Musidora died in Paris in 1957 and is buried in the Cimetiere de Montmarte.

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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 harlow phone
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.

harlow_cloud When she was cast with Loretta Young in PLATINUM BLONDE (1931), Howard Hughes convinced the producers of the film to rename it from the original title of GALLAGHER in order to promote Jean’s image. 

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. hairtinting

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.

 

harlow_harlowdress

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?’

harlow_black lace In RED-HEADED WOMAN (1932) Harlow had this delightful exchange with a sales clerk in a dress shop:

 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.

Jean Harlow_mirror                            

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!

 gossamer_sample_ closed_final  

 The most recent addition to my collection is an exquisite sample envelope for Henry Tetlow’s GOSSAMER face powder.   

 Gossamer debuted in 1888 and the sample envelope in the photo has a copyright date of 1895, which means that it was available during the “Gilded Age”.    

gossamer_sample_open_final   

 The term ‘Gilded Age’ was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their 1873 book, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. The name refers to the process of gilding an object with a superficial layer of gold and is meant to make fun of ostentatious display while playing on the term golden age.”    

MARK TWAINS WASHINGTON

Mark Twain

 ”What is the chief end of man?–to get rich. In what way?–dishonestly if we can; honestly if we must.”
– Mark Twain-1871     

 Mark Twain’s quote accurately sums up the Gilded Age; it was an era during which every man was a potential Andrew Carnegie.  The Americans who achieved great wealth flaunted it in ways that would have cost them their heads in 18th Century France.   One of the most outrageous examples of enormous wealth, coupled with a profound lack of taste, was at a dinner party thrown by Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish to honor her dog – who arrived sporting a $15,000 [$389,637.70 in today’s dollars!] diamond collar.  

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Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish

 To put that kind of money into perspective, while Mrs. Fish’s spoiled pooch wore diamonds, many human Americans wore rags. In 1890, 11 million of the nation’s 12 million families earned less than $1200 per year [$28,818.49 current U.S. dollars]; of this group, the average annual income was $380 [$9,125.85 current U.S. dollars], well below the poverty line.  

 Of the women who would become well-known during the Gilded Age, one would leave her mark on history – and that woman was Jennie Jerome.  

Jennie_Jerome_before marriage

 Jennie was born Jeanette Jerome in Brooklyn, New York on January 9, 1854.  Jennie’s first marriage was to Lord Randolph Churchill, the second son of John Winston Spencer-Churchill, the 7th Duke of Marlborough and Lady Frances Anne Emily Vane.  The couple wed on 15 April 1874, at the British Embassy in Paris.   

Lord_Randolph_Churchill

Lord Randolph Churchill

  Jennie had the money and the time to indulge her wild side. There was a persistent, unverifiable, rumor that she’d had a tattoo of a snake twined around her wrist, which she would hide with a bracelet when required.  

 Even if the rumor of a tattoo is false, Jennie’s wild side would lead her into numerous affairs while she was married to Lord Randolph Churchill. Among Lady Randolph’s conquests were Karl Kinsky (aka Karl, 8th Prince Kinsky of Wchinitz and Tettau) and King Edward VII of England.  

snake tatoo

 Lady and Lord Randolph had two sons: Winston (born less than eight months after the marriage) and John.  Jennie’s sisters believed that John’s biological father was Evelyn “Star” Boscawen, 7th Viscount Falmouth.  

 Known in society for her intelligence and wit, Jennie’s affairs not only provided her with excitement, but they enabled her to make the kinds of connections that would help Lord Randolph, and later Winston, in their careers.  

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John, Jennie, and Winston

 Lady Randolph played a limited role in her sons’ upbringing – a hands off approach to child rearing was typical of the day for women in her social circle.  Winston had a nanny, Mrs. Elizabeth Everest, whom he adored – however he worshipped his mother.  He’d frequently write to Jennie, begging her to visit him, which she rarely did.  Their relationship changed after Winston became an adult; the two became friends and allies. Winston came to view his mother as his advisor and political mentor.  

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Elizabeth Everest

 Lord Randolph died in 1895 at age 45, reportedly of syphilis, although given his symptoms it’s been hypothesized that he actually succumbed to a tumor deep within the left side of his brain. The hypothesis of a brain tumor is credible, particularly when you consider that neither Jennie, nor her sons, exhibited any signs of syphilis.  

 On July 2, 1900 Jennie married George Cornwallis-West, a captain in the Scots Guards who was the same age as her son Winston!  Neither John nor Winston was particularly thrilled with Jennie’s choice of a husband, primarily due to the age difference.  Even with the difference in their ages, the marriage lasted for twelve years; the couple was separated in 1912 and was divorced in 1914.  

 Jennie remained single until June 1, 1918 when she was married to Montague Phippen Porch, a member of the British Civil Service in Nigeria.  If John and Winston were dismayed by her marriage to Cornwallis-West, they must have been apoplectic when she wed Porch — he was three years Winston’s junior!  

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 Personally, I think the “boys” should have lightened up.  It sounds to me as if Jennie aged chronologically, but retained a youthful outlook and personality that drew the younger men to her. Perhaps a man her own age couldn’t have kept up with her!

Jennie was 67 years old when she slipped while descending a friend’s staircase; she was wearing new high heeled shoes.  She broke her ankle and gangrene set in and her left leg was amputated above the knee.  She died soon afterward in her home in London following a hemorrhage of an artery in her thigh (a direct result of the amputation). 

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Six years later there would be another freak clothing-related death of a prominent woman.  On September 14, 1927 Isadora Duncan (whom many consider to be the creator of modern dance), was riding in an open car when one of her signature long, flowing scarves became entangled around one of the vehicle’s open-spoke wheels and rear axle, breaking her neck.  

While searching for a photo of Isadora Duncan, I found the nifty photo of the plug-in heated scarf. Does it have anything to do with Isadora’s death?  Not really; I was just enamored of the advertisement.    

However, whether you favor a traditional scarf, or one of the plug-in varieties, I must advise you to accessorize with caution.  

   

 

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I was recently interviewed by the mysterious, and stylish, FILM NOIR BLONDE for her blog.  Over the course of the two part interview we talked about my collection of vintage cosmetics ephemera, as well as a runaway lipstick tube in the 1946 film noir THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE.  Please visit FILM NOIR BLONDE she is, as she says, “Black & white and chic all over”!

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Are you feeling lucky?  If you are, I have the perfect event to suggest to you, CASINO MODERNE! 

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Photo: Margaret Bourke-White

 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.

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Corbis Image

 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.casino_athletic club

 Non-members $65
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!

casino_valentinoThe 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.

 

 

 

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Edna_Wallace_Hopper_1910I’ve mentioned in previous posts that celebrity endorsements and branding of cosmetics is nothing new. One of the earliest and most successful brandings of a line of cosmetics would use the name and image of actress Edna Wallace Hopper.

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Edna Wallace was born in San Francisco, California to Waller and Josephine Wallace. She was likely born on January 17, 1872, but throughout her life she steadfastly refused to reveal her age. She said that no one could verify it because her birth records had been destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Acting was in her blood, well, sort of – her father was head night usher at the California Theater. Even if her father didn’t act in the theater there was sufficient drama at home to make an impression on young Edna.

Edna’s dad was also employed as a barkeep, and it was in that capacity that he met Alexander Dunsmuir in about 1879. Dunsmuir was the son of a wealth Scots coal baron in Victoria, B.C. He’d been sent to run the family’s business office in San Francisco, but he much preferred a glass of whiskey. And who can blame him?

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Waller eventually moved his wealth drinking buddy into the family home as a boarder. That wasn’t a very smart move. On one side of the coin was hard working Waller, on the other side was the enormously wealthy Alex. Could anyone have been shocked by the outcome when Edna’s mother fell in love with Alex, and the Wallace’s divorced? Waller was left with Edna and her brother, but after a while Josephine missed her kids. When Waller was offered a settlement in exchange for custody of the kids, he accepted.

Alex and Josephine may have been in love, but Alex’s mother had a vice-like grip on the purse strings and she wasn’t about to accept “that woman” as her daughter-in-law. She was so adamant about her disapproval that she even threatened to disinherit Alex.

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Rather than annoy Alex’s mother by forcing the issue, the lovers quietly set up housekeeping (pretty risqué for the time) and waited for the inevitable – the woman couldn’t live forever, right? In 1898 Alex and his brother James finally gained control of the family business.

Alex took $350k (approximately $9 million in current dollars) of his share of the family fortune and built Josephine a fine home near San Leandro, California. He deeded the house to Josephine.

dunsmuir-house-oaklandWith no further family hurdles to overcome, Alex and Josephine were married. On their much-delayed wedding day Alex made out a will leaving everything but the San Leandro home to his brother James. The couple was married on December 21, 1899 at a hotel in San Pablo, California and honeymooned in New York City – where just one month later, while still on their honeymoon, Alex died. His years of hard drinking had taken their toll. Sadly, Josephine didn’t live much longer, she passed away in 1901.

In 1904 Edna filed suit hoping to crack the will and walk away with about $1M. Even with the evidence of Alex’s drinking, the judge determined that he’d been of sound mind when he willed everything (but the house) to his brother James.

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Floradora Girls

By the time of her mother’s death Edna had already starred in her most famous role, Lady Holyrood in the popular London stage play FLORADORA [see my earlier post on FLORADORA]. Though not playing one of the renowned Florodora Sextettes, she shared in some of the wild adulation of male admirers who mobbed the backstage door after every performance.
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During the late 1890s Edna had married, and divorced, a fellow actor DeWolf Hopper. DeWolf had been as bald as a billiard ball from childhood (he had alopecia), so he wore wigs both on and offstage. In later years a reaction to harsh medicines that he took for throat problems gave his skin a bluish tinge. Being bald and blue did not diminish his powerful voice and great sense of humor, so DeWolf was still able to attract women – apparently in legion numbers. He reportedly had an insatiable appetite for young actresses and he’d left a trail of six wives and countless mistresses in his wake—he became known as the “The Husband of His Country.”

If the name Hopper seems familiar to you, you may be thinking of famed gossip columnist Hedda Hopper to whom DeWolfe was married from 1913-1924.

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Hedda Hopper c. 1920

Edna took fewer acting roles in the 1910s, but her career took off in a surprising new direction in the 1920s. She was one of the earliest stage actors to have a facelift – she even had the operation filmed! She would make personal appearance tours over the next eight years showing the film and giving beauty tips.

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Edna’s beauty advice appeared often during the 1920s in newspapers like the Los Angeles Times.

Edna’s tours and timeless good looks captured the attention Claude C. Hopkins, and advertising man who worked for American Home Products. The cosmetics line was a success and was still be advertised in the 1940s, although by that time only Edna’s name was being used.

Hopper separated from her second husband and he died in the 1930s. She went on to become the only woman of the thirty-six member board of L. F. Rothschild & Co. She traveled daily by subway to her office to handle investments until shortly before her death in New York City from complications of pneumonia on December 14, 1959. The news reports of her death gave her age as anywhere from the mid-80s to 95.

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This is just embarrassing – I’ve had my Halloween post up for the entire month of November! Clearly it is time to get back to work, and what better way to kick things off than with this lovely hairnet package. The package is dated 1925, and was designed and/or printed by Seidner & Hitzigrath in New York.

The package is unprinted, that is there’s no brand name on it. I can only imagine what fanciful name a company could have devised for this package.

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Of course when thinking of mermaids, the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the The Little Mermaid immediately comes to mind. Fairy tales, particularly Andersen’s, are so frequently painful reflections on love, loss, and rejection that I wonder why parents would ever have chosen to read them to a child. Yet he has always been widely acclaimed for entertaining and delighting children (The Ugly Duckling still makes me cry!). Having said that, I don’t necessarily find the stories great reading to or for a child. The tales illuminate some of the most remarkable traits of the human spirit (even when the “human” is a mermaid or a duckling); the quest to find oneself through sacrifice and/or love.

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Sacrifice and the quest for an immortal soul is the thread that runs through The Little Mermaid. The story sounds more like something from Plato than from a Danish writer of children’s books. Plato believed in an immortal soul and, apparently, so did the Mermaid; she went to extraordinary lengths to acquire her heart’s desire. Her longing for a soul would ultimately end her life as a mermaid (she would dissolve into foam) and deny her the Prince of her dreams.

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The Little Mermaid dissolving into foam

Andersen’s own longing for love was unrequited. At one point he wrote in his diary: “Almighty God, thee only have I; thou steerest my fate, I must give myself up to thee! Give me a livelihood! Give me a bride! My blood wants love, as my heart does!

Christian fell in love with the famous opera soprano, Jenny Lind (whose nickname, “The Nightingale”, was inspired by one of Andersen’s stories). He finally found the courage to propose to her, in a letter that he handed to her as she boarded a train. Her answer to him was: “farewell… God bless and protect my brother is the sincere wish of his affectionate sister, Jenny”.

Andersen appears to have been drawn to unattainable people of both sexes. Andersen wrote to Edvard Collin: “I languish for you as for a pretty Calabrian wench… my sentiments for you are those of a woman. The femininity of my nature and our friendship must remain a mystery.” Collin, who did not prefer men, wrote in his own memoir: “I found myself unable to respond to this love, and this caused the author much suffering.”
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Although Andersen was unable to find love at a personal level, he received it on a far grander scale. At the time of his death, he was an internationally renowned and treasured artist. He received a stipend from the Danish Government as a “national treasure”. Before his death, steps were already underway to erect the large statue in his honor, which was completed and is prominently placed at the town hall square in Copenhagen.

There is a statue of the The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen Harbor, as well as tributes to him in Solvang, California, and in Lublin, Poland.

Andersen’s birthday (April 2) is celebrated as International Children’s Book Day. That’s an extraordinary legacy.

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