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I want to express my thanks to those of you who attended my lecture last Sunday in the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.  The lecture was co-hosted by the Los Angeles Art Deco Society, and American Cinematheque, and was followed by a screening (with LIVE musical accompaniment provided by pianist Robert Israel) of the 1927 film “It”, starring Clara Bow.

Here’s a clip from the film:

 

Clara sure had “It”, and her sassy bob was a major part of her appeal.

Irene Castle

Irene Castle

What about bobbed hair? Did Clara Bow create it? And if she didn’t, who did? There is evidence which suggests that Antek Cierplikowski (aka Mssr. Antoine) may have bobbed the hair of French actress Eva Lavalliere as early as 1909 — but it was dancer Irene Castle who popularized the style in 1914 when she cut her own hair in advance of elective surgery. Irene may have clipped her locks for convenience, but thousands of women were smitten by both the style and the ease of her adorable cropped ‘do and they immediately followed her lead.  Scissors were  soon flying in barbershops all over the U.S.

 

Irene Castle gave the bob its first little nudge into popular culture, but silent film star Colleen Moore brought the bob to mainstream America in the film “Flaming Youth” in 1923.  Writer  and chronicler of all things flapper,  F. Scott Fitzgerald, said: “I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth, Colleen Moore was the torch. What little things we are to have caused all that trouble.”

Colleen’s hair was styled in a sweet dutch boy crop; but there was plenty of room for different interpretations of the bob from Clara Bow’s carefree tousled hair, to Louise Brooks’ sleek black helmet.

Louise Brooks

Louise Brooks

Despite their different on- and off-screen personas, all three women epitomized the flapper in general, and the glorified the bob hairdo in particular. The bob has survived to be 100 years old is because it has readily adapted to the whims of fashion.

Bobbed hair was de riguer for flappers, and of course flappers were glorified in film, literature, poetry — all of the arts.  I believe that no single person did more to immortalize the flapper than writer F. Scott Fitzgerald.  And he didn’t just talk the talk — he and his wife Zelda led others of the “Lost Generation” on a decade long party.

Years after the flapper had taken her last illegal drink, and attended her final petting party, Fitzgerald’s short story, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”, was brought to television by PBS.   The 1976 production starred Shelley Duval (Bernice) and Bud Cort (Warren).  In this clip Bernice asks Warren for his opinion on the hair bobbing issue.

Conversations like the one Bernice and Warren were having on the dance floor, were taking place in thousands of American homes during the 1920s.  The hair bobbing issue was a hot topic and caused broken engagements, divorce, and even the spanking of a wife by her husband!

From our vantage point it may be difficult to believe that something as simple as a haircut could cause so much controversary — we’re accustomed to choosing our personal style with virtually no constraints (and that may not always been a good thing.)

Nevertheless, whether you have long hair, or short, props must be given to the women of the 1920s who paved the way for all of the rest of us — we owe them a debt.

 

The design on the hairnet package above is emblematic of the 1920s in Southern California: surf, sand, sun and sin. What?  You don’t see any sin in the design?  I guess it’s just my evil mind — the  first thing that I thought of was Sister Aimee Semple McPherson’s mysterious disappearance from Venice Beach on May 18, 1926.  What did her disappearance have to do with sin?  Read on.

Southern California beaches weren’t just places from which to disappear in the 1920s —  they were obviously places to relax (and to wear your prettiest bathing costume.)  I was pleasantly surprised to discover a beautiful souvenir folder of Venice Beach which not only shows people enjoying a day at the beach, but echoes the design of the hairnet package. Note the similarities in the coloration and overall design — really quite nice.

Aimee was born Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy on October 9, 1890 on a farm in Canada. It was her mother, Mildred (Minnie), who first introduced young Aimee to religion. Minnie worked with the Salvation Army and her daughter would often accompany her to soup kitchens.

Click on photo to see Sister McPherson preach.

While other little girls may have preferred to play house with their dolls, Aimee played “Salvation Army” with hers. Sermonizing to a congregation of dolls may not have been particularly thrilling or rewarding, but it was good practice for her adult life.

Aimee and Robert Semple

Given her interest in religion and the fact that, even in high school, she was protesting the teaching of evolution in public schools, it’s no surprise that she fell for a Pentecostal missionary from Ireland, Robert James Semple.

She converted to her husband’s faith and they married on August 12, 1908. The newlyweds immediately took off on an evangelistic tour of Europe. Continuing their mission they arrived in Hong Kong, China in June 1910, where both  contracted malaria. Robert died on August 19, 1910 and was buried in Hong Kong.  Aimee was just beginning to recover from the same illness that took her husband when she gave birth to a daughter, Roberta Star Semple, on September 17, 1910.

Newly widowed and a recent mother, Aimee continued to convalesce in New York, and it was there that she met accountant Harold Stewart McPherson. They were married on May 5, 1912, and their son, Rolf, was born on March 23, 1913.

Aimee on the road

In mid-1915 Aimee took her act on the road and held tent revival meetings up and down the Eastern Seaboard, eventually heading out to other parts of the country. Whatever his reasons, Harold wasn’t always able to travel with his wife and their marriage suffered.  In 1918 he filed a petition for divorce (citing abandonment) and the divorce was granted in 1921.

Aimee eventually tired of being on the road and settled in Los Angeles.  Her ministry was so successful that she was able to build the Angelus Temple in Echo Park (dedicated in 1923).

Sister Aimee was at the zenith of her influence and popularity by 1926. And then it all began to unravel.

On May 18, 1926 McPherson went with her secretary to Ocean Park Beach, just north of Venice Beach, to swim. It was from there that Aimee vanished. Had she drowned? Her mother thought so. Aimee had been scheduled to preach later that day, but Minnie filled in. She ended her emotional sermon by telling the parishioners that “Sister is with Jesus”.

Mourners kept a seaside vigil for their beloved Aimee, but she did not emerge from the sea. Sadly, one parishioner drowned searching for McPherson, and a diver perished from exposure.

It didn’t take long for people to notice that Kenneth G. Ormiston, the engineer for Aimee’s radio station, KFSG, had disappeared as well. Some felt that Ormiston and McPherson had run off together — they had become very friendly.

A month passed when finally there was word of Aimee in the form of a ransom note delivered to her mother.  The note demanded a half million dollars or else McPherson would be sold into “white slavery”. The note was signed “The Avengers”.  Believing that her daughter was dead, Minnie tossed the letter.

On June 23rd, like a biblical prophet, Aimee staggered out of the desert into a Mexican town just across the border from Douglas, Arizona. Aimee’s story was that she’d been kidnapped, drugged, tortured, and held in a shack until she managed to escape, walking 13 hours to freedom.

There were several gaping holes in her story: her shoes were grass stained and showed no signs of a 13 hour desert trek and, furthermore, she’d disappeared from the beach clad only in a bathing suit, yet she had turned up following her abduction fully dressed and wearing her own wristwatch. To make matters worse, no sign of the shack where she was allegedly held was ever discovered.  A grand jury convened on July 8, 1926, but they adjourned after 12 days saying they hadn’t enough evidence to proceed against the wandering minister. The Grand Jury reconvened when new evidence was uncovered. The evidence suggested that Aimee and Kenneth had been traveling together, and signing into motels along the way.

What had Aimee really been up to for over one month?  Had she been kidnapped as she continued to maintain, or had she gone off to have an abortion, or heal from plastic surgery? We’ll probably never know. District Attorney Asa Keyes dropped all of the charges, thus ending any official investigation.

Despite the bad press she’d received Aimee continued her good works, but her reputation had been permanently damaged. Involved in a power struggle with her mother over control of the church, Aimee had a nervous breakdown in 1930.

David Hutton w/ballet dancers

David Hutton w/ballet dancers

McPherson would marry for a third time on September 13, 1931 to actor and musician David Hutton.  Two days into the marriage the groom was sued for alienation of affection by Hazel St. Pierre. Hutton claimed never to have met Hazel, but she still managed to walk away with a settlement of $5,000.  Things would get worse.  Aimee was in Europe when she heard that Hutton was billing himself as “Aimee’s man” in his cabaret act.  Let’s hope he wasn’t performing “The Ballad of Aimee McPherson”.  David and Aimee were divorced on March 1, 1934.

 On September 26, 1944 McPherson traveled to Oakland, California for a series of revivals. When her son went to her hotel room at 10 am the next morning to fetch her for her sermon, he found her unconscious.  Aimee would die less than two hours later.  The coroner was not able to conclusively determine the casue of death.  Apparently Aimee had been taking sleeping pills (Seconal) and it is most likely that her death was the result of an accidental overdose.

I wonder if there was something in the air during 1926 that caused two very famous women to mysteriously vanish, and then to reappear without a credible explanation. The first woman was, of course, Aimee Semple McPherson — the second woman was famed mystery writer Agatha Christie!

On December 8, 1926 after being told by her husband Archie that he was in love with another woman and wanted a divorce, Agatha vanished. She’d left notes for both her husband and her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Her car was found abandoned and for a while it appeared that she’d been the victim of foul play.

About ten days later Agatha was identified as a guest at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel (now the Old Swan Hotel) in Harrogate. Agatha would never give a full account of her disappearance. Two doctors diagnosed her as suffering from  amnesia. I believe it was the news of Archie’s infidelity that caused her to go off the rails for a while.

Max and Agatha

Max and Agatha

Archie and Agatha would divorce, and in 1930 she would marry an archaeologist Max Mallowan, whom she’d met on a dig in the Middle East. The Mallowans would have a long and happy marriage.

 For a wonderful fictional account of how Agatha spent her missing days, watch the 1979 film “Agatha” starring Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Before I began to collect face powder boxes and other beauty ephemera, I collected compacts and vanity cases. I was recently poking around in the historic Los Angeles Times (from September 20, 1926) and I found a story about a young woman who used her vanity case to hold something other than a lipstick, so I thought I’d share it here. 

 

Twenty-four year old Gene Anderson was a lingerie designer , so she she took a particular interest in current fashion, and she loved to wear expensive clothes.  But Gene was in the same predicament as many young women were in the 1920s; she was employed but not very well compensated. The average man earned about $1313 per year (approximately $16,276 current USD) and the average woman made about half that amount.

 

The Myer Siegel & Company advertisement shows a dress that would have appealed to Gene; but it cost a small fortune! The $25.00 frock would be $304.65 in today’s dollars! Gene realized that if she was going to indulge her passion for high fashion, she needed to devise a plan to get her hands on some additional funds.  Finally she hatched what she thought was the perfect solution; she’d write rubber checks all over town.

 

As you may imagine, Gene’s plan was rather short-sighted; and after writing thirty-two bad checks (totaling over $1000!) the law caught up with her. Feigning illness, Gene was able to slip away from the officer who had taken her into custody and leap from the window of her Bixel Avenue apartment.  The slightly injured woman was discovered later in a local hospital, where she was once again arrested.

 

Upon being searched by a matron at the County Jail, it was discovered that Gene was packing a loaded revolver in her vanity bag!  Vanity bags were what modern handbags have become, a home away from home containing everything necessary for spending a day or evening out.  

 

Gene tried to talk her way out of the gun charge to no avail. She finally said “I want to go to San Quentin and get it over with”. She had reason to regret her statement. Her application for probation was denied and she was sentenced to from two to twenty-eight years in prison.  She served fifteen months of her sentence and was released in January 1928.

The Guerlain advertisement by Jacques Darcy is one that I adore, and one which I have noticed is very similar to the Man Ray photograph of Elizabeth “Lee” Miller from 1930.

Elizabeth Lee Miller by Man Ray (1930)

Elizabeth "Lee Miller" by Man Ray (1930)

Both images are of a woman’s face — upside down, hair flowing, eyes shut. The images reveal women who appear to be sleeping peacefully. Because the advertisement has a caption, we know that the woman is dreaming. The father of modern psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, said that “wish-fulfillment is the meaning of each and every dream, and hence there can be no dreams besides wishful dreams”. Nothing like interjecting a bit of Freudian psychology into an advertisement for lipstick!

Man Ray may not have been probing the human psyche in the same ways as Freud, but he was exploring the landscape of the mind through his art. Ray was an American artist residing in New York in 1916 when he became acquainted with fellow artists, and recent arrivals from France, Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. The three men were kindred spirits and they soon became active in the anti-art movement in the U.S. Anti-art didn’t mean that they rejected art per se but rather that they were rebelling against conventional “museum art”. The movement was known as Dada and was a protest against the nationalism, capitalism, and other “isms” which many people felt were the fundamental causes of World War I. Artist George Grosz characterized his Dadaist art as a protest “against this world of mutual destruction”.

Observatory - The Lovers by Man Ray (1934)

Observatory - The Lovers by Man Ray (1934)

When Ray arrived in France in 1921 he was one of many expatriate artists and writers who would gravitate to Paris in the 1920s; and just as his predecessors had done he found his way to Montparnasse, sometimes referred to as the “Harlem of Paris”. Ray continued to pursue his art; however, Dadaism peaked by 1922 as many of his contemporaries embraced Surrealism.

La Magie Noire by Rene Magritte

La Magie Noire by Rene Magritte

There were several parallel, and very important, art, design, philosophical, and political movements gaining ground during the 1920s: Dada, Surrealism, Art Deco, Freudian psychoanalysis, and Existentialism (the term existentialism was not used in the 1920s; it was coined in 1943 by Gabriel Marcel, and it would be retroactively applied to philosophers such as Martin Heideggar and Soren Kierkegaard). I see subtle similarities between the Darcy ad and the painting La Magie Noire by Rene Magritte. Perhaps it is the coloration, or the peaceful expression on the face of the woman who seems to belong to both the earth and the clouds.

For most of the 1920s Ray’s muse was Alice Prin (aka Kiki de Montparnasse), the Queen of Montparnasse. Kiki had come up hard as the illegitimate child of a peasant girl, and was given over to her grandmother to be raised. The two struggled in extreme poverty (Kiki often stole food from local gardens) and so when at age 12 she had an opportunity to live with her mother in Paris, she took it. She was a headstrong girl and she and her mother frequently clashed. When Kiki finally left her mother’s home for the last time she was only 14 years old.

Kiki with vase by J. Mandel (c. 1928)

Kiki with vase by J. Mandel (c. 1928)

She was a lovely girl, and it wasn’t surprising that she was quickly discovered by local artists. Her relationship with the artists was often mutually beneficial — many times they produced their best work when using Kiki as a model. That was certainly true of Man Ray.

Kiki fled Paris in 1940 when the Germans began their occupation and she never returned as a resident. She died at age 51 — the likely result of alcoholism and drug abuse.

Le Violon dIngres by Man Ray (Kiki as model)

Le Violon d'Ingres by Man Ray (Kiki as model)

In 1929 Kiki was supplanted in Ray’s affections by Elizabeth “Lee” Miller. Lee arrived at Ray’s Paris studio and announced to him that she was his new student. He insisted that he didn’t accept apprentices, but Lee was extraordinary; she was gorgeous and talented. They became lovers as well as student and teacher. Lee had run to Paris after posing for a Kotex ad. The ad is famous for being the first feminine hygiene ad in which an actual photograph of a woman was used. At first Lee was mortified by the ad, apparently she hadn’t realized that she wasn’t to be a model for a drawing, but rather for a photograph.

Lee Miller in Kotex ad (1928)

Lee Miller in Kotex ad (1928)

Lee would stay with Man Ray for a few years, but eventually she grew restless and returned to New York where she opened her own studio. If her studio work was superlative, her work as a photojournalist for Vogue magazine during World War II was brilliant; however, witnessing scenes at liberated death camps, among other horrors, profoundly changed her.

She put away her camera in the 1950s and channeled her restless energy into gourmet cooking, at which she excelled. Lee succumbed to cancer in 1977; her ashes were scattered over her herb garden at her farm in Sussex, England.

Darcy ad for Guerlains Are You Her Type? ad campaign

Darcy ad for Guerlain's "Are You Her Type?" ad campaign

As for Jacques Darcy, the artist who created the distinctive advertisements for Guerlain, I have not been able to discover very much about him. I found conflicting information in various sources. The consensus seems to be that he was born on February 7, 1892 and died in 1963 in Michigan. His work appeared frequently during the 1920s and 1930s in such publications as Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, and Vogue. He is best known for the art he produced for Guerlain — in my opinion some of the best commercial art ever created.

 

 

 

There was no shortage of such cartoons during the 1920s. Makeup (or powder and paint as it was frequently referred to) was causing a revoltuion.

I love the image of the woman on the Richard Hudnut Deauville face powder box. I’ve always thought of her as a courtesan dressing for her paramour — she’s just the right combination of innocence and decadence.  The face powder box dates from the early 1920s, but the image of the woman recalls an earlier time. While I love the blues and  rock ‘n roll, I’m also a fan of opera, and to me the woman in the design represents the beautiful but doomed Violetta Valery from Verdi’s  1853 opera La Traviata. Verdi based his opera on the novel Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas (the younger — it was his father who wrote The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo).

Marie Duplessis

Marie Duplessis

Dumas was born in Paris in 1824, and he was the illegitimate son of novelist Alexandre Dumas and dressmaker Marie-Laure-Catherine Labay. Dumas often tackled complex moral issues in his writings , such as the life of his fictional courtesan Marguerite Gautier. Dumas didn’t have to rely solely on his imagination to tell the story of Marguerite because she was a thinly veiled depiction of Dumas’ former lover Marie Duplessis.

Alexandre and Marie had a relationship that lasted only one year, and their affair was an open secret in Paris. It wasn’t until after Marie’s untimely death that Dumas began to write the story of the lady of the camellias.  Dumas was typical of the time in which he lived, he seemed to have no qualms about taking a mistress, nor about appropriating her life story for his fiction, yet he would write frequently about the evils of prostitution. In fact, Dumas went so far as to propose to the government that all street prostitutes be deported to the colonies — out of sight, out of mind. Not exactly an enlightened approach to public policy and social ills.

Marie’s life story was much different than Dumas’ romanticized version. She was born Rose Alphonsine Plessis in Normandy, France in 1824. Marie’s parents weren’t a good match, and when they split up Marie’s mother abandoned her own family and became employed as the maid to an English family living in France. Marie was left in the care of her father, who shipped her out to the boonies to live with relatives. She lost her virginity at age 12 to a farm hand, and by 13 she’d been returned to her father who began to pimp her out. Despite her earning potential Marie’s father shipped her off again, this time she went to stay with relatives in Paris who owned a grocery. She worked as a clerk in a hat shop and saved enough money to get her own apartment in the Latin Quarter. Because she was vivacious and pretty she soon came to the attention of wealthy men who could buy her a better life than she could afford on her own.

Her first benefactor lasted only as long as his money held out. Marie’s subsequent lovers were wealthier and more powerful in turn, and she was finally able to move out of the Quarter and into a sumptuous apartment on Boulevard de Madelaine. If spending money was an Olympic event,  Marie would have won multiple gold medals. She easily spent 100,000 francs per year on her personal upkeep, not including her staff. By the age of 20 she may have been the queen of the demi-monde in Paris — but she was also dying. Marie had consumption (tuberculosis) and it was destroying her. She knew she didn’t have long to live, and that knowledge, coupled with her deprived upbringing, undoubtedly fueled her compulsive spending and gambling habits.

Heroin Chic redux? An ad from c. 2007

Heroin Chic redux? An ad from c. 2007

Consumption has been common throughout human history. Ironically, during Marie’s lifetime women emulated the visible symptoms of the disease for fashion! People believed that the symptoms of the disease enhanced senstive, artistic dispositions. It was a kind of “TB chic” (just as the so-called “heroin chic” would have its day in the mid-1990s). The white skin, flushed cheeks, and luminous eyes were frequently achieved by using extremely dangerous substances. Among the potions used were compounds containing lead (many women died as a result of lead poisoning) and belladonna. Belladonna (the juice of the poisonous nightshade plant) was used to make a woman’s eyes bright as if she had a fever.

Greta Garbo in Camille

Greta Garbo in Camille

Marlene Dietrich may have presented a tragically romantic vision as she died in Robert Taylor’s arms in the 1936 film version of Camille (one of the many films based upon La Dame aux Camellias)  but Marie’s end was excruciating. Shortly before she died she had met and fallen in love with the composer Franz Liszt. The love may have been reciprocated, but Lizst didn’t take Marie on tour with him. This would have been the time when so-called Listzomania was sweeping Europe, so perhaps he thought better of taking a lover on a tour during which women fought over shreds of his hankies and gloves. Lizst left on tour, and soon afterwards Marie spent her last days in agony before death released her.

Theda Bara

Theda Bara

Marie was deeply in debt when she died, and her belongings were sold at auction — even her pet parrot! The auction drew crowds of people who were mostly interested in the vicarious thrill they could derive by handling the possessions of an infamous courtesan.

Among those in the crowd at the auction was author Charles Dickens. Of the crowd he said: “One could have believed that Marie was Jeanne d’Arc or some other national heroine, so profound was the general sadness.”

Marie’s life was brief, but she achieved immortality through Dumas’ work. Her story has been told many times in film and on stage, and she has been portrayed by actresses such as: Greta Garbo, Eleonora Duse, Lillian Gish, Theda Bara, and Sarah Bernhardt.

Marie’s funeral was reported to have been extravagant — drawing a crowd of hundreds. She is interred in Montmarte Cemetery.

 

 

Warm wishes for the holiday season

Warm wishes for the holiday season

 

 

 

The celebrity endorsement of cosmetics is nothing new. The Princess Pat rouge card featuring a photo of the lovely actress Loretta Young is a fine example of an early relationship between a cosmetics company and a Hollywood star.

Princess Pat used many Hollywood actresses to endorse their products, and I’ll be highlighting some of them in future posts.

The rouge card on which Loretta Young appears dates from the late 1920s to early 1930s when she had begun to establish herself as a  major star.  Loretta was born Gretchen Young in Salt Lake City, Utah on January 6, 1913. Her parents Earl Young and Gladys Royal had married impulsively as teenagers in 1908. Early in their marriage Gladys suspected that Earl was being unfaithful; so after several years of strife, and four kids, the couple separated and Loretta’s mom moved the family to Southern California where she ran a boarding house.

The Young Sisters

The Young Sisters

Baby Stars of 1929

Baby Stars of 1929

Shortly after their move to Los Angeles Loretta’s older sisters Polly Ann and Betty Jane began to appear in silent films, and Loretta would soon follow. 

Loretta’s first (uncredited) movie role was that of a fairy in the 1917 film “The Primose Ring”. In 1929 Loretta, as well as her sister Betty Jane (who was using the name Betty Blane), were pegged as two of the thirteen girls selected by members of the Western Moton Picture Advertisers (WAMPAS) to be baby stars.  WAMPAS had been naming girls for the honor since 1922, and from their ranks rose some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Mary AstorJoan Crawford, and Fay Wray were three of the thirteen picked in 1926! Quite a stellar line-up.

One of my favorites of the WAMPAS baby stars was Sally Rand. Rand was chosen in 1927, and by the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair  she was working steadily in burlesque. Sally was famous for her fan dance, and for the bubble dance, which she is credited with developing.

Sally Rand

Sally Rand

The annual WAMPAS Frolic, the event at which the thirteen young Hollywood hopefuls were feted, came to an end in 1934. The reason for its demise was primarily due to the studios creating their own awards for up and coming starlets — stealing thunder from WAMPAS and diluting what had once been a more exclusive honor.

Loretta would have succeeded even if she’d never been chosen by WAMPAS. She was beautiful, with amazing cheekbones, and she was also a very talented actress (she won an Oscar in 1947 for her performance in “The Farmer’s Daughter“). She starred opposite Spencer Tracy in his first Hollywood leading role in the 1933 film “Man’s Castle”.  Spencer was married and 13 years her senior, but that wouldn’t have made him any less attractive to 20 year old Loretta. He was a charmer and he was Catholic. That she and Spencer shared a faith would have been important to her — of course it would also be one of the many reasons why the two couldn’t pursue a permanent relationship, and Loretta said as much in a 1934 public statement.

Loretta and Clark

Loretta and Clark

In 1935 Loretta was working opposite the “King of Hollywood”, Clark Gable, in “Call of the Wild”. Loretta may have been seeking love and romance, but the married Clark was probably looking for a diversion from his marriage. The two had an affair and Loretta became pregnant. During her last trimester she and her mother went to Europe, and it was there that she gave birth to a daughter, Judy. That the child was Gable’s was not the best kept secret in Hollywood, but times were different then and Loretta was never directly confronted by the press.

Having a child out of wedlock in the 1930s, public figure or not, was a difficult situation.  Further complicating matters for Loretta would have been her ambitions for her acting career and her religious beliefs. Her solution was to place Judy in a foundling home for about a year until she could formally adopt her!  Judy’s true parentage remained an open secret, but she didn’t get the details first hand from her mother. She was 23 years old and about to be married when she heard the story from her fiancee for the first time. She had told him that she couldn’t marry him because: “I don’t know who I am.” He told her that he knew everything about her, and that she was Clark Gable’s daughter with Loretta.

On the advice of a priest she didn’t confront her mother about it at the time. She would wait for nearly ten years until she finally approached her mother and started to ask questions. Loretta came clean, but asked Judy to keep the secret — which she did. Loretta would not publicly confirm the story until she wrote her autobiography, and even then she asked that the book be published posthumously.

Loretta passed away in Palm Springs on August 16, 2000.

 

The Gimbel hair net envelope dates from the early to mid 1920s. The sweet little floral design in the upper corners is typical of the period, and the depiction of women playing sports reflects the sports mania that was a large part of the era.

I have an admission to make — I did not give up a promising career in sports to become a writer. Things may have been different for me if I’d been around in the 1920s because sports of all kinds were wildly popular. In particular, women enthusiastically participated in everything from tennis to hockey. Maybe I’d have found my sport and excelled in it, just like Suzanne Lenglen did.

Suzanne Rachel Flore Lenglen was born on May 24, 1899 about 70 km north of Paris, France, and she would become the first female superstar in tennis, and also the first major tennis star to turn professional.  Suzanne was a sickly child who suffered from several ailments, including chronic asthma, 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. He would place handkerchiefs around the court which he would then expect Suzanne to be able to hit with a serve or return. Young Suzanne was an apt pupil and she quickly became a player to be reckoned with.

In 1914, only four years after beginning to play, Suzanne spent her 15th birthday winning the World Hard Court Championship at Saint-Cloud.  The outbreak of World War I at the end of 1914 put an end to  most national and international tennis competitions, and Lenglen would have to wait until 1920 to begin to compete on the world stage.

King George and Queen Mary

King George and Queen Mary

At Wimbledon in 1920 the young French woman faced Dorthea Douglass Chambers. Chambers had won at Wimbledon seven times previously, and Suzanne had never before played on a grass court! The women played to a packed stadium of several thousand spectators, including King George V and Queen Mary!

Charlotte Cooper

Charlotte Cooper

Sure, it was a stellar match — which Suzanne went on to win, but what really captured the attention of the  crowd was the audacity of Lenglen’s tennis costume, and maybe the fact that she would sip brandy from a flask between sets. In the years prior to 1920 women had played tennis dressed similarly to Charlotte Cooper, and probably sans a booze filled flask.

Suzanne was a rebel. She would play tennis in a dress that fell only to mid-calf (revealing the tops of her stockings when she moved just so); and if that wasn’t shocking enough, she bared her forearms, wore a nifty little bandeau, often secured with a brooch, on her cropped ‘do and she frequently appeared on the court in make-up.  She was given the nickname La Divine and it suited her. She was a sports diva. She was passionate and wasn’t shy about showing her emotions. She would often pout or burst into tears if she played badly.

Suzanne Lenglen

Suzanne Lenglen

Imagine for a moment being dressed like Charlotte Cooper and then attempting to compete with Suzanne as she darted around the court unencumbered by a voluminous skirt, long sleeves, starched collar and tie!

Jean Patou

Jean Patou

Suzanne’s daring costume  revolutionized the way in which women dressed to play tennis, and in addition to her cutting edge tennis togs(designed by the legendary couturier Jean Patou!), Suzanne made a fashion statement off of the court with her bobbed hair, make-up, and clothing in the latest styles. She was admired for her skill with a tennis racket, and for her fashion sense. In fact, Miss Lenglen even had a tennis shoe named after her!

Suzanne at Wimbledon, 1926

Suzanne at Wimbledon, 1926

So, let’s raise a flask of brandy (or in my case a gin gimlet) and make a toast to the incomparable Suzanne Lenglen. What a remarkable woman. She won at both Wimbledon and the French Open setting records that would remain unbroken for decades.

Suzanne would retire from the world of tennis and go on to found a school where she would teach others to play and to love the game. Among her accomplishments she was an author who wrote Lawn Tennis (1925), Lawn Tennis for Girls (1930), and Tennis by Simple Exercises (1937).

Tragically, her life would be cut short. She was diagnosed with leukemia in June of 1938. Three weeks following a newspaper report of her ailment she went blind. She died at age 39 on July 4, 1938 of pernicious anemia.

Suzanne’s legacy lives on — Court Suzanne Lenglen is the secondary tennis court at the Stade Roland Garros in Paris, France. It was built in 1994 and holds 10,068 spectators. There is a statue of Suzanne, in full stride, outside of the stadium.

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