Mon 15 Mar, 2010
Tags: 1940s, Andrews Sisters, Bette Davis, Betty Grable, Bud Abbott, Diana Lewis, Hollywood Canteen, Humphrey Bogart, jitterbug, John Garfield, Jules Stein, Lauren Bacall, Lou Costello, Marlene Dietrich, The Thin Man, William Powell, WWII
Hooray for Hollywood!
I wish that this hair net package was in better shape, but they can’t all be perfect. I know that condition is crucial when you’re collecting, yet sometimes it doesn’t matter very much to me. I feel especially protective of the packages and boxes that are worn, and often the ones in rough and fragile condition are the only examples of certain designs that I’ve been able to locate. Regardless of their condition, I treat each addition to my collection as a treasured artifact from the past which deserves to be carefully and lovingly preserved.
The Hollywood Hair Net package is from the 1940s, and the bright red color, along with the four stars, brings to my mind Hollywood’s part in the war effort. The woman depicted on package looks like a starlet awaiting her big break, biding her time as a hostess in the Hollywood Canteen.
The stars would never shine as brightly as they did when they were doing their bit for servicemen, and women, from all over the globe. The Hollywood Canteen was the war time passion of Bette Davis, John Garfield, and Jules Stein. Miss Davis served as president, and Mr. Stein, President of Music Corporation of America, headed up the finance committee.
By the time the Canteen opened its doors On October 3, 1942, over 3000 stars, players, directors, producers, grips, dancers, musicians, singers, writers, technicians, wardrobe attendants, hair stylists, agents, stand-ins, publicists, secretaries, and allied craftsmen of radio and screen had registered as volunteers.
If you were a U.S. serviceman, or woman, or a member of the allied forces your uniform was your ticket to a star studded evening. Imagine the morale boost a solider would get when he was served coffee by Marlene Dietrich or Betty Grable!
Here is a photo of lipstick smeared Sgt. Carl E.W. Bell with Marlene Dietrich. Bell was the one millionth solider to visit the Canteen! It’s amazing that it took the Canteen less than one year to host one million servicemen. That’s a lot of coffee and donuts.
Servicemen could not only eat, socialize, and star gaze at the Canteen, they were treated to the best live entertainment that Hollywood had to offer. The roster of entertainers was a “who’s who” of radio and movie talent: Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth, Bob Hope, and many more.
One of the most spirited sister acts ever to boogie woogie across a stage, and a favorite of war time audiences, was the Andrews sisters. Patty, Maxine, and LaVerne travelled and performed for the troops throughout the war. Watch them perform, “I’m Gettin’ Corns for My Country” at the Canteen. I would have loved to have been in the audience on that night.
Many of the hostesses at the Canteen loved to jitterbug, but not every one of them was hep to the jive. Sometime during the evening of October 31, 1942, an overly enthusiastic Marine grabbed the hand of a hostess lieutenant, Florida Edwards, and began to spin her around the dance floor. Florida yelled for help, but none was forthcoming. The jiving Marine spun his unwilling partner so hard that she became airborne and landed with a crash on her spine on the hard floor. Florida was laid up for a month, and then decided to sue the Canteen for $17,250 in damages. The case would become a battle of the swing experts.
But before we go any further, let’s get hep to some hipster slang from the era.
Hep cat (n.) — a guy who knows all the answers, understands jive
Icky (n.) — one who is not hip, a stupid person, can’t collar the jive.
Jitterbug (n.) — a swing fan
Florida Edwards admitted in open court that she was an icky. She told Judge Henry Willis that “Jitterbugging is a very peculiar dance. Personally I don’t like it. It reminds me of the jungle antics of natives. There is a basic step, and then there are variations. It’s the most ungraceful dance I’ve ever seen. They whirl you. They pick you up. They throw you down.”
“Did you just stand still when you told him you didn’t jitterbug?” queried the Canteen’s Attorney Walter Schell.
“Well, you don’t stand still with a jitterbug. They don’t let you,” explained Miss Edwards to the attorneys and judge who had never witnessed jitterbugging.
Judge Willis wanted to know if the jitterbugs drank. “No”, replied Florida, “They’re usually sober. They’re just crazy.”
In dispute was how much control a woman had once she had been thrown into a spin. Florida’s friend Luise Walker, floor manager of the Canteen, stated that once a woman was in a spin she was in trouble. Luise compared a spin to a boomerang or “English on a golf ball”.
Rug-cutter and jive expert for the Canteen, Connie Roberts, (see photo) refuted Luise’s testimony, and in a demonstration she walked away unharmed from a spin.
Testimony and jitterbug demonstrations notwithstanding, Judge Willis declared that the jitterbug was a “weird dance of obscure origins” and awarded Florida Edwards $8170 in damages. The amount wasn’t exactly chump change – $8170 dollars in 1943 had the same buying power as $102,331.38 in current dollars.
In his decision Judge Willis wrote, “In an extra violent spinning of her body as a part of the extravagance of this weird dance, she missed connecting with her partner, due to his losing balance because a table was pushed against him by the crowd on the sidelines.”
Judge Willis held that the Hollywood Canteen had failed in its duty to furnish Miss Edwards with safe employment and permitted a jitterbug enthusiast to “indulge in his ‘crazy idea’ of dancing with the plaintiff as the helpless victim.”
I was curious enough about Florida to see if she ever again appeared in the news.
Sure enough on January 27, 1944 a notice appeared in the Los Angeles Times announcing the marriage of Miss Florida Edwards, actress, to J.C. Lewis a radio producer and author of the musical score for the service show “Hey Rookie”.
The pair was married at the Hotel Frontier. In attendance at the wedding was the groom’s sister, Diana Lewis who was married to “Thin Man” William Powell.
Sounds like Florida landed on her feet.