This is such a wonderful photo – it is of Raymond Chandler and Dorothy Fisher (nee Gruber).  Dorothy worked as his secretary at Paramount Studios in the 1940s. I was fortunate to have met Dorothy, she was an honored guest on a couple of Esotouric’s Chandler tours, and she was a remarkable woman.  Because we lived near each other we’d carpool to the departure location for the tour. We’d swap stories in the car on the way. She told me about a dinner date in Malibu with the actor Ray Milland, and she also told me about meeting Billy Wilder.  She said that Wilder was a powerfully magnetic man: “he made you feel like you were the only person in the room” she said.

Dorothy passed away in December 2008, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to have spent time in her company.  She was talented, intelligent, lovely, and a lady through and through. I think of her each time we visit Chandler’s Los Angeles.

So, if you’re a fan of noir, crime fiction, the Los Angeles Athletic Club and/or the best gelato in Los Angeles, this tour is for you! Because we stop at the historic Hollywood restaurant Musso & Frank, by the end of the tour I’m craving a gin gimlet something fierce. Lucky for me Scoops gelato generally offers a few liquor flavored choices (the vanilla/Jim Beam is delightful!)

I hope you’ll join us – especially since July is the month of Chandler’s birth.

I’ve always wanted to be Nora Charles (as played by Myrna Loy). She was a sharp, classy (but not stuffy) dame who looked gorgeous and cracked wise. My marriage is pretty darned good — but Nick & Nora had a PERFECT marriage. The way that they interacted and shared adventures entertains me to this day.

Because we’re into the last weekend before Christmas, many of you will be out trying to finish your shopping; and that made me think of Nora Charles, her arms piled high with holiday packages, dragging along behind Asta (the cute-as-a-button terrier) as she made her grand entrance into the film “The Thin Man”.  As she attempted to collect herself after taking a tumble, Nora pulled a vanity case out of her handbag to check her makeup. She was a woman after my own heart.

Thinking of the Charles’ also made me crave a martini (well, in my case a gin gimlet).  In a little while I’m going to go and fix myself a cocktail, put my feet up, and watch Nick & Nora celebrate the holidays in their own inimitable style.

 

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.

The streets were dark with something more than night.
Raymond Chandler

Deadly dames, snub nosed revolvers and gin gimlets – have I died and gone to noir heaven? No!  I’ve just climbed aboard the Esotouric bus for In A Lonely Place: Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles.  Please join us this Saturday, October 11, 2008 as we explore the mean streets of Chandler’s LA. It’s also a swell chance to visit the venerable Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena (the tour will depart from there).

Details at Esotouric.

Duska Face Powder Box c. 1925

Duska Face Powder Box c. 1925

The face powder box shown above is called Duska. You can tell that the box was created during the 1920s because the fountain design was borrowed from Rene Lalique’s crystal fountain, which had been a feature at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris during 1925. It was the exposition that introduced the moderne style, later dubbed art deco, to the world.

Lalique Fountain

Lalique Fountain

Lalique’s fountain had a structure reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower, but the water flowed out in way that gave it soft undulating curves, much like those of the Paris Metro signs. 

The expo had originally been expected to open in 1914 – but WWI intervened. It wasn’t until 1921 that the financing and location were settled, and the expo finally opened in 1925. 

The moderne style grew out of several styles, including art nouveau. While art nouveau reveled in sensuous curves and muted tones, the moderne style was vibrant in color, and its shapes were geometric.

The design of the Duska face powder box borrows elements from both Art Noveau and Art Deco.

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker

If I could time travel, I’d like to spend a while as an expatriate in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s.  Following WWI, the “War to End All Wars”, Paris was inhabited by artists, writers, and some of the physical and emotional causalities of the horrors of trench warfare. 

Many of the people who came of age during the years following WWI rejected 19th century values, and its art, and earned the moniker the “Lost Generation“. Some of the Americans who gravitated to the expat’s life in Paris would become international literary superstars: Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos. Others of them were artists and performers, like Josephine Baker.

I visualize myself at a sidewalk café (where else?) watching the passing parade of literati.  Maybe I’d be involved in a steamy assignation a la Anais Nin and Henry Miller.

Anais Nin

Anais Nin

It would have been an exciting place to be, with a cast of characters one can only dream about.  Fortunately, there are ways in which to vicariously experience life in Paris during the 1920s/30s – you can read Hemmingway’s novels, Anais Nin’s diaries or erotica, Henry Miller’s novel “Quiet Days in Clichy” (which I loved) or rent the 1988 film “The Moderns” or the 1990 film Henry and June” , which was based upon a portion of Nin’s diaries.

Until time travel becomes an option, we’ll have to use our imaginations – so mix yourself a gimlet (gin, please!), slip into vintage clothes, and curl up with one of the aforementioned books,  watch one of the movies, or listen to le jazz hot.

And ladies – don’t forget to powder your nose.