If you’re going to be in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 11, 2012 I hope that you will attend the lecture that I’m giving at the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.  My presentation will be followed by a rare theatrical screening of the 1933 pre-code film LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT starring Barbara Stanwyck.

The lecture and film are being co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Art Deco Society and American Cinematheque.

Helen Love (R) looks at juror (L) removed from her trial for drunkenness.

If you’re fascinated by historic crime, in particuar women behaving badly, then I know you’ll enjoy Felonious Flappers.

Felonious Flappers will explore the lives and crimes of some of the baddest girls in Los Angeles, from actress and writer Dorothy Mackaye to the ironically named Helen Love. 

What is it about Los Angeles that brings out the evil in a woman? 

Crime writer Raymond Chandler speculated that a local weather phenomenon could cause a woman to contemplate murder:   “There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”  

Whether it’s the climate, their greed, or that they’re just plain evil, curvy killers have always been a part of the fabric of Los Angeles.  You may empathize with the femme fatales, or find them repellent, but you are sure to be fascinated by them.

I hope to see you at the Egyptian Theater on February 11th!


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.