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.


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.  


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.


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. 


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. 



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.



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

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.

Being in vogue in the 1910s

Doesn’t everyone want to be in vogue? Women in the 1910s certainly did, and one of the face powders they counted on to enhance their beauty was Vogue.

What’s playing at the Bijou?

The earliest ad I found for Vogue Face Powder appeared on July 12, 1914 in the Daily Review, which was a local paper in Decatur, Illinois. According to the advertisement, the purchase of a $.35 ($7.44 in current USD) box of the face powder would get you a free ticket to the Nickel Bijou! No right thinking woman could have passed up an opportunity like that. And what would have been playing on the big screen? The extremely popular serial, “The Perils of Pauline”, which debuted in 1914 and made Pearl White a star. There was a time when Pearl was even more popular than “America’s Sweetheart”, Mary Pickford!

The “Perils of Pearl”

Pearl White not only cheated death and escaped disaster in each of the films in the “…Pauline” series, she did a pretty fair job of cheating biographers out of the true story of her life. She had a flair for story telling, and she never let the truth get in her way. She told whoppers about her early life, at one point even telling reporters that there hadn’t been one natural death in her family in three generations and that except for herself, only her mother and one sister remained alive. It’s not clear how, or if, Pearl explained that story to her father and one of her brothers; both still very much alive at the time she told the tale! 

Another story that Pearl loved to tell was how she ran away from home at a young age and joined the circus, becoming both a trapeze artist and a bareback rider (undoubtedly another of her fabrications).

Pearl didn’t really need to manufacture any drama; her real life had plenty. She was married for the first time at age 18 (in 1907) to a fellow actor, Victor Sutherland. The couple divorced a few years later.

In 1919 Pearl met and married Major Wallace McCutcheon, Jr., a WWI vet. Wallace was an occasional actor, mainly on the stage and in light comedic roles; however, the war profoundly changed him. He was one of the many young men to return to their homes suffering from shell shock (i.e. psychological trauma). Only a couple of months following their divorce in 1921, a heavily armed Wallace vanished from a private club in New York. He was found many months later, and then spent the next several years drifting.  On January 4, 1928 Wallace was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a Los Angeles rooming house. Allegedly found near his body was a bottle of bathtub gin and a note that read: “Have a drink”.

And if there wasn’t enough excitement in her personal life, there was the day-to-day excitement of shooting action pictures in New York (Pearl never worked in Hollywood), as well as performing many of her own stunts.

Pearl’s later years

Like many artists and performers, Pearl was drawn to Paris in the years following World War I. She was offered film roles, but she preferred to perform on the stage. She did make one final film in 1924 — and then starred in a few stage reviews at the Montmarte Music Hall in Paris before retiring from performing.

One true thing about Pearl was that she knew how to hold on to a dollar. While in France she invested in a successful nightclub, a resort hotel and casino in Biarritz, as well as a stable of thoroughbred race horses.

At some point she became romantically involved with a Greek businessman, Theodore Cossika, with whom she travelled around the Middle East and the Orient.

As a result of injuries she sustained during stunt work, Pearl was in chronic pain. In order to ease the pain Pearl began to drink excessively. She was hospitalized in 1933 and was given opiates, to which she became addicted.

Pearl died of cirrhosis at age 49 on August 4, 1938 in the American Hospital in Neuilly, France. She was buried in the Cimetiere de Passy.