I admit it – I’ve become obsessed over the past few days with the part that lipstick has played in divorce court.

A casual search of the historic Los Angeles Times unearthed about a dozen cases of divorce in which lipstick had a role.  I’ve covered two of them already this week. What I can’t figure out is if the men who came home to their wives smelling like a distillery and smeared with lipstick were simply clueless or if they wanted to be caught.

In 1935, the Le Roy Millers were a young couple married only eight months. Le Roy was a salesman who, according to his actress wife Dorothy, stayed out all night at least three times each week. 

Le Roy would come home with a lipstick stained collar and then clam up. He would refuse to divulge his whereabouts during the missing hours, and he became downright surly whenever Dorothy quizzed him.  Dorothy couldn’t rid herself of the lurid mind picture of Le Roy and some unknown cutie getting up close and personal.

Dorothy finally became so fed up with her husband’s antics that she headed for divorce court. She was accompanied by her friend, Eve Chutuk, who corroborated her testimony. 

Dorothy was granted a divorce.

 

 

 In 1955  Antoinette B. Grant, 29, a Dutch oil heiress filed suit against her psychiatrist husband Dr. Henry J. Grant, 42.  Mrs. Grant observed that she couldn’t believe that all of the lipstick marks on his clothing had come from grateful patients. She went on to say that ever since she’d started to voice her suspicions of Henry’s infidelity he had started accusing her of being mentally unstable.

Personally, I think that Henry must have been a fan of the 1944 film “Gaslight”.  In that movie Gregory (Charles Boyer) attempted to drive his wife Paula (Ingrid Bergman) mad. It didn’t work in the movie, and it wouldn’t work for Dr. Grant either.

In a vote of no confidence Antoinette consulted another psychiatrist who told her that she was fine, except for the stress caused by her failing marriage.

By September of 1955 the Grant’s divorce proceedings had heated up. Antoinette testified that her husband frequently called her a psychopath. According to Antoinette many of the couple’s quarrels were over money. Even though their combined incomes were more than $1000 a month, Henry permitted her a weekly allowance of only $70. With that measly sum she was supposed to run the household, including the wages of a twice-a-week maid.

Henry responded to his wife’s pleas for more money by calling her irresponsible and then beating her. When Antoinette couldn’t, or wouldn’t, iron one of Henry’s shirts on demand he crushed a lit cigarette out on her neck. 

Hmm.  Sounds to me like Henry was the crazy one in the family. Physician, heal thyself!

Ultimately, Antoinette walked away with the house in Bel Air, a car, $70 a month in child support, and retained a trust fund which would pay her $6,000 per year.

As far as I’m concerned, Henry did much better than he deserved to - he got $16,000 in cash and a car.

Another marriage destroyed by that evil home wrecker, liptstick!

 

 

In the previous story from 1930, Mrs. Mildred J. Arnold discovered her husband’s infidelity by recognizing that a lipstick on her dressing table wasn’t her shade.

Twenty-seven years later lipstick traces were again the cause of a divorce. This time the woman was twenty-five year old Darla Hood (of “Our Gang” fame). 

If you’ve never seen any of the Our Gang shorts, shame on you — they are wonderful.  Darla played the neighborhood femme fatale (at four years old!). Here’s Darla stealing the hearts of the local boys. Who can blame them for being smitten. She’s adorable!

During the divorce hearing Darla revealed that her husband, thirty-threee year old insurance salesman Robert W. Decker, would often arrive home in the wee hours of the morning drunk and with lipstick smeared on his clothing.

Darla told Superior Judge Frederick F. Houser that one morning she “…got up and found him in the kitchen washing his shirt.” According to Robert he was trying to remove some red ink that he’d spilled on himself. Darla didn’t buy a word of his lame tale, and told him that  she was sick and tired of spending her evenings at home alone.  Robert’s response to Darla was that whatever he was doing was none of her business, then he shoved her to the floor.

The final showdown between the couple came after Robert had stayed out all night and Darla was unable to reach him by telephone. She was on a trip to San Francisco to promote one of her records, and she  and was frantic when she couldn’t locate her missing spouse. Darla testified that when she finally caught up with him,  “he asked me if I wanted a divorce, and I said I did. He said swell, go get it.”

Darla let Judge Houser know that she didn’t want any alimony. She explained that she was accustomed to taking care of herself – all she wanted was to be out of the marriage. Her decree was granted.

Oh, and the name of the song she was promoting — “Just Wanna Be Free”.

 

When I’m looking through my collection trying to decide on a subject for a post, I rely on free association.  According to Wikipedia free association is defined as:

 ”The method of free association has no linear or preplanned agenda, but works by intuitive leaps and linkages which may lead to new personal insights and meanings. “

When I picked up the Flamingo hair pin card a few days ago and flipped it over, I saw that it was dated 1947.  The first leap in my free association was to the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, which I’d thought had opened in 1947 (actually it opened in December 1946).  The next few associations I made were easy and seemed to me to be a natural progression: Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel who was responsible for building the Flamingo Hotel (and was murdered in June 1947), Virginia Hill (Siegel’s mistress, nicknamed “Flamingo”), and last I thought of Elizabeth Short (aka the “Black Dahlia”) who was found murdered in Leimert Park in January 1947.

Someone else may have thought of the lovely pink birds, but that’s just not how my mind works!

Virginia Hill was a stunner. Red haired, vivacious and headstrong, she was bound to get attention from men.  She was born in Alabama in 1916, and as a teenager she went to Chicago; however,  it’s not clear if she went there to ply her trade as a prostitute at the 1933 World’s Fair, or work there as a dancer.  In any case it was only a matter of time before she’d come to the attention of rich and powerful men looking for a little arm candy.  In Chicago in 1933 the rich and powerful men were primarily mobsters, or politicians.  She met Joseph Epstein, an associate of Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik (member of the Capone gang), and then she moved up through the mob hierarchy subsequently becoming mistress to Frank Costello, Frank Nitti, Charles Fischetti, and Joe Adonis.

Virginia testifying at Kefauver hearings.

Virginia testifying at Kefauver hearings.

“She was smart and she knew how to keep her mouth shut,” said Bea Sedway, the wife of mobster Moe Sedway.  Eventually Virginia’s smarts, and her tight lips, led her to become a courier for the mob. She’d deliver funds all over the country, and even make occasional trips to Switzerland with bags of cash for deposit in numbered bank accounts.

By 1940 Virginia had moved to Los Angeles where she met and fell for married wise guy Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.  He would give her the nickname, “Flamingo”. The relationship between the mobster and his mistress was volatile and their fights were legendary.  But they did make a handsome couple – the gorgeous red head and the mobster with the movie star looks.

Ben Siegel

Ben Siegel

Ben had met his match in Virginia.  She couldn’t stop his womanizing, but she knew how to hold his attention in a way that his other lovers did not.  In a situation that could have come out of a Noel Coward comedy, Siegel once had three of his mistresses lodged simultaneously at the Flamingo Hotel: Virginia Hill, Wendy Barrie, and Countess DiFrasso.  Virginia couldn’t abide the Countess and when she discovered that the woman was staying at the hotel she confronted her, and nearly broke her jaw. Virginia was definitely a tough broad. But then living and consorting with mobsters wouldn’t have appealed to a dame with a weaker constitution.

When Siegel became involved in building the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas it soon became clear that he wasn’t much of a businessman.  Cost overruns were adding up at a reckless pace. The local contractors were robbing Ben, literally!  They’d heist materials from the job site, and then re-sell them to Siegel at an enormous profit.  While the contractors were stealing from Ben, Ben was stealing from the mob.

The Flamingo opened in December 1946.  The weather was horrendous, and the hotel wasn’t even finished, so crowds of celebrities weren’t beating down the doors to get in. The big opening night was a total bust. Nursing a wounded ego, and fearing that the mob’s multi-million dollar investment in the hotel wouldn’t show a profit, Ben  scurried off to Beverly Hills where he holed up in the house that Virginia rented there on 810 N. Linden Drive. 

On the night of June 20, 1947 Ben would pay the price for his mismanagement of the Flamingo Hotel deal with his life.   As  Siegel sat with his associate Allen Smiley in Virginia’s Beverly Hills home reading the  Los Angeles Times, an unknown assailant fired at him through the window with a .30-caliber military M1 carbine. He was hit several times – twice in the head. No one was charged with the murder, and the crime remains officially unsolved.

Virginia was in Paris when she received the news of Ben’s death. It’s said that she fainted dead away.  There would always be speculation about Virginia’s possible role in Ben’s assassination.  But it’s highly unlikely that Virginia would have been tipped off about the plan to rub out Siegel, and even more doubtful that she’d have left one of her brothers in his company with the knowledge that a stray bullet could make him collateral damage.  

The truth is that she and Ben had had an argument, and she stormed out in a huff and left for Paris.  Any knowledge that Virginia may have had about the killing went with her to her grave. She’d been a mob gal for way too long not to understand that her best chance for survival was to keep quiet.  In fact right after Ben’s murder she was denying everything, including being his lover: “If anyone or anything was his mistress, it was that Las Vegas hotel. I never knew Ben was involved in all that gang stuff. I can’t imagine who shot him or why,” she reportedly told the police.

In 1950, Virginia would take center stage at the Kefauver hearings.  Senator Estes Kefauver headed a senate committee that was investigating organized crime.  The hearings were even televised; introducing Mr. and Mrs. America for the first time to the Mafia.  The televised hearings were compelling, but it was Virginia’s comments in the private sessions that would raise eyebrows.

She’d spent most of her time during the public hearings denying knowledge of, or involvement in, the rackets. But privately she was much more candid. She admitted to never having worked, and told the commission that she was able to survive on the generous gifts that were given to her by some of her admirers.  Time magazine reported in its obituary of Hill on 1 April 1966, that Hill spent her time on the witness stand “boggling Senators with her full-grown curves and succinct explanation of just why men would lavish money on a hospitable girl from Bessemer, Alabama”.   

What WAS her explanation for the gifts and money she received from mob big shots?  According to Virginia it was her unparalleled skill at giving oral sex!  Although I suspect Virginia would have phrased her explanation a little differently.

Virginia would eventually settle in Europe with her third husband, a former Sun Valley ski instructor, Hans Hauser. She was trying to avoid the IRS, and probably some of her former mob acquaintances. 

By 1966 Virginia was broke, and it may have begun to occur to her to tell her story in a book or film.  In 1962 retired mob boss Charles “Lucky” Luciano had reportedly considered a film deal and was supposed to meet with a producer at the airport in Naples, Italy; however, his famous luck ran out before the deal could be made. He died of a heart attack at the airport on January 26, 1962.

Maybe a visit she’d had from her former lover, Joe Adonis, days before her death was a meant to be a reminder that people don’t tell tales about the Mafia and live. Maybe their meeting was just the two ex-lovers chatting about old times.  We’ll never know.  

In March 1966, Virginia Hill’s body was found in a snow drift in Koppl, Austria.  She’d allegedly taken an overdose of sleeping pills.

Oh, and before I forget – the last leap in my free association exercise led me to Elizabeth Short (aka the “Black Dahlia”).  Her bisected body was discovered in a vacant lot in Leimert Park on January 15, 1947.  Beth Short’s murder is arguably the most famous in Los Angeles’ history, and remains unsolved.

The reason I thought of Beth is simple, the 63rdanniversary of her murder is fast approaching; and as a tour guide for Esotouric, I’ll be a part of the “Real Black Dahlia” tour this coming Saturday, January 9th.  I’ll be reading from some of the letters that Beth carried in her suitcase, as well as giving a thumbnail personality sketch of her that I’ve developed based upon her choice of make-up.   For tour information visit Esotouric.com.

 

References:

  • 1. Time Magazine
  • 2. Los Angeles Times
  • 3. Wikipedia
  • 4. Tru TV Crime Library
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Scent, Memory, and Burlesque Queens

I don’t normally write about perfume, even though I love it, because I don’t collect it. But this past August I had an occasion to discuss perfume and burlesque with a wonderful woman who knows a great deal about both. The woman I’m talking about is none other than legendary burlesque queen, Betty “Ball of Fire” Rowland. I met her because she was a special guest on Esotouric’s “Hotel Horrors and Main Street Vice” tour.

She began her professional dancing career as a Minsky’s girl in New York city; and she may have stayed there if it hadn’t been for a crackdown on the burlesque houses beginning in 1935. The citizenry and, perhaps even more importantly, Mayor LaGuardia, considered burlesque a corrupt moral influence. The mayor and the citizens groups couldn’t shut Minksy’s down without a good reason — there would need to be a criminal charge against Abe Minsky.  At last, in 1937, a dancer at Minsky’s was busted for working without her G-string and the law stepped in.  New licensing regulations would allow the burlesque houses in New York to stay open, provided that they didn’t employ strippers! Not surprisingly, that bit of legalese put a bullet through the heart of burlesque in the city.

Betty and her troupe of dancers headed west to begin a limited engagement at the Follies Theater on Main Street in Los Angeles. It may have started as a limited engagement but Los Angeles audiences loved Betty and she would continue to dance at the Follies for about 15 years. 

Before she was dubbed the “Ball of Fire”, Betty was known as the “littlest burlesque star”. That appellation may have described her stature (she is very petite), but “Ball of Fire” captured her spirit. Is she still a ball of fire?  You bet!

Because I had an opportunity to chat with her, I decided that rather than ask her to reminisce about celebrities she’d known, or places she’d worked,  I’d ask her if she’d had a signature scent, particularly something she’d worn when she performed. She seemed a little surprised by the question, saying she’d never been asked that before, but she responded instantly. Her favorite fragrance had been Coty’s L’Aimant; and it was part of her act! She told me that before she appeared on stage she’d spray a liberal amount of the cologne all over herself so that when she “worked the curtain” the scent would waft over the first few rows.

I told her that I thought it was absolutely brilliant of her to have conceived of using a fragrance in such a creative way. There has been an enormous amount of scientific research done on olfactory memory; but you don’t have to be a scientist to know that certain aromas trigger powerful personal memories. I cannot smell leaves burning without recalling my midwestern childhood.

As far as I was concerned, autumn had officially arrived when leaves, raked into neat piles, were burned in nearly every yard in my neighborhood.

I’ll bet that there were men who saw Betty perform who subsequently carried with them forever the memory of her perfume. I wonder how many wives and girlfriends received gifts of L’Aimant from those men over the years; and I also wonder if the men knew why they’d selected that particular perfume at a counter crowded with choices.

Betty lamented that Coty had long ago discontinued her favorite scent — but if you know where to look you can still find a vintage formulation of the famous floral.  I’ve ordered a bottle for Betty, and I hope it prompts her to relive some of her most precious memories.

If you’re interested in seeing one of Betty’s performances, all you need to do is to go to YouTube. I’ve also written a little different story about Betty for In SRO Land.

Betty Page

Betty Page