I love old Hollywood, especially the B movies of the 1930s and 40s, so when I first saw this Monogram hair net in an online auction it reminded me of Monogram Pictures Studios.
The quintessential B movie factory of its era; Monogram churned out westerns, melodramas, mysteries and, most notably, series like Mr. Wong, starring Boris Karloff. The design on the Monogram envelope above looks like it could be a studio logo, and the woman depicted on the front with her au courant hairdo and makeup could be a starlet on the verge of major motion picture career.
Of course, Hollywood stardom has proved elusive to all but a fortunate few. Of the actors who were making pictures in the 1930s, most were not on the payroll of a major studio like MGM or Warner Brothers. They were more likely working as extras or for a small studio, like Monogram.
One young Hollywood hopeful, Carmelita Geraghty, who graduated from Hollywood High School in 1919 and began her career as an extra, made many of her films for independent studios like Monogram. In 1931 she starred in a drama entitled “Forgotten Women.” Ironically, the trials and tribulations of women trying to succeed in Hollywood is the subject of the film.
A stunning girl with beautiful eyes, Carmelita was selected as one of the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers Baby Stars for 1924. By 1925 she seemed poised for great things; Carmelita had appeared in The Pleasure Garden, the first feature directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and would soon accept the role of Jordan Baker in the 1926 production of The Great Gatsby. Despite these successes Carmelita’s breakthrough role never came.
The unknown girl on the Monogram hair net envelope may have shared Carmelita’s fate and never have made it to stardom in the movies—or maybe not. I like to imagine her sitting for the portrait that will forever remind me of Hollywood during its heyday.
I’m always curious about the back story, if any, behind a product’s name. It makes good marketing sense for most product names to reflect either a tangible attribute of the product being marketed, or to evoke a desirable emotion for the end user. Cute little puppies make us feel warm and fuzzy about a product. In the case of the SALLY hair net I found that there was an extremely popular musical of the same name playing at the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway in New York in 1920 – which corresponds to the date of manufacture of the hair net.
SALLY opened on December 21, 1920 at the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway and ran for an incredible 570 performances! By the time that the show closed in the mid-1920s, it would be among the top five money makers of the decade.
I can easily imagine women making a connection between the hair net and the hit musical. SALLY boasted music by Jerome Kern, and lyrics by Clifford Grey. It was produced by Florenz Ziegfeld, and starred Marilyn Miller.
Marilyn Miller was an enormously popular stage and screen actress, and while she often played in rags to riches stories which end happily, her own life was marred by tragedy. By the 1930s Marilyn had become increasingly dependent upon alcohol, possibly to relieve some of the discomfort of the frequent sinus infections from which she suffered.
Marilyn checked herself into a New York hospital in March 1936 to recover from a nervous breakdown. While there she underwent surgery on her nasal passages. She succumbed to complications from the surgery on April 26, 1936 – she was only 37 years old.
There are a couple of interesting footnotes to Marilyn Miller’s story. Census records reveal about half a dozen “Marilyns” in the United States in 1900; by the 1930s, following Miller’s stardom, it was the 16th most common first name among American females!
In the late 1940s, Norma Jean Baker changed her name to Marilyn Monroe at the urging of Ben Lyon, a one-time actor turned casting director at 20th Century Fox, who said she reminded him of Marilyn Miller.
And in an ironic twist, Marilyn Monroe would herself become Marilyn Miller when she wed the playwright Arthur Miller in 1956.
Another inspirational SALLY, whose name may have drawn women to the hair net package, was WAMPAS Baby Star, burlesque queen and fan dancer extraordinaire, Sally Rand.
What was WAMPAS? It was a promotional campaign sponsored by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers which honored thirteen young women each year whom they believed to be on the threshold of movie stardom. They were selected from 1922 to 1934, and annual awardees were honored at a party called the “WAMPAS Frolic”. Those selected were given extensive media coverage.
Sally Rand was one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1927and her stage name, like Marilyn Monroe’s, was chosen for her by someone else. In Rand’s case the name was bestowed upon her by Cecil B. DeMille who was inspired by a Rand McNally atlas.
After the introduction of sound film Rand became a dancer, and she was best known for the fan dance which she popularized starting at the Paramount Club.
Her most famous appearance was at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair entitled Century of Progress. She had been arrested four times in a single day during the fair due to perceived indecent exposure while riding a white horse down the streets of Chicago, but the nudity was only an illusion.
She also conceived and developed the bubble dance, in part to cope with wind while performing outdoors. She performed the fan dance on film in Bolero, released in 1934.
Sally Rand with her artfully manipulated fans and bubbles became a part of popular culture, and in Tex Avery’s cartoon Hollywood Steps Out (1941), a rotoscoped Rand performs her famous bubble dance onstage to an appreciative crowd. A grinning Peter Lorre caricature in the front row comments, “I haven’t seen such a beautiful bubble since I was a child.” The routine continues until the bubble is suddenly popped by Harpo Marx and his slingshot, with a surprised Rand (her nudity covered by a well-placed wooden barrel) reacting with shock. Rand is referred to as “Sally Strand” here.
Rand also makes an appearance in the crime fiction of Max Allan Collins in his book TRUE DETECTIVE. If you like historical mysteries set in the 1930s-1960s, pick up one of Collins’ novels featuring the character Nate Heller. I’m a fan of all of Collin’s work (he wrote the graphic novel THE ROAD TO PERDITION), but I’m particularly fond of the Nate Heller tales because Heller mixes it up with the likes of Chicago gangster Frank Nitti, and other historical figures such as Eliot Ness, and Amelia Earhart.
In STOLEN AWAY, Heller becomes involved in the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. I’m looking forward to the first Nate Heller novel in about a decade – it’s entitled “BYE BYE, BABY” and it is due out in August. The novel will feature Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmy Hoffa, and even the CIA.
I’m always up for a historical thrill ride, which is why I’m cautiously optimistic about the release this week of Rock Star Video’s L.A. NOIRE game, which purports to be an accurate portrayal of the cityscape of Los Angeles in 1947. I have a compelling interest in 1947 Los Angeles for a few reasons. My friends (and fellow social historians) Kim Cooper and Nathan Marsak originated the seminal LA crime-a-day blog 1947project which undertook the mammoth task of the daily retelling of the crimes and human interest stories of 1947 in prose and in photographs. As a tour guide for ESOTOURIC I participate in THE REAL BLACK DAHLIA tour, which seeks to examine Beth Short’s life in the weeks before her murder (in January 1947), as well as exploring the lives of other young women during the post-war era in Los Angeles.
I was unable to make it to a preview of L.A. NOIRE a few weeks ago, but Kim and Nathan were on hand to critique the pre-release version from a historical (not game play) perspective. Nathan blogged about the experience HERE.
Unfortunately, Nathan’s free walking tour on May 29th, which will explore some of the locations used in L.A. Noire, is filled to overflowing; however, anyone may attend the free SUNDAY SALON that precedes the tour (noon-2pm), and Nathan’s pre-walking-tour presentation (2pm+) on the architecture of “L.A. Noire.”
I’m attending the Sunday Salon on May 29th, and I’m fortunate to have scored a place for myself on the walking tour. I’m looking forward to a day of Noir fun in Los Angeles.
The Lady Conceta face powder box was a lucky find (an antiques mall), and I believe that it dates from the late 1920s to the early 1930s.
Whenever I attempt to date a face powder box that has no manufacturer information on it there are a couple of preliminary steps that I will take. I’ll look at the back of the box, because sometimes the font used in describing the contents can be a clue to the era. The Spanish shawl which is draped so charmingly over the woman’s arm with the design spilling onto the sides of the box is what made me think of the 1920s/1930s.
It’s also helpful to have a general knowledge of popular culture during different decades because the graphics on the box very often reflect popular themes of a specific era.Spanish shawls were a popular fashion accessory during that period. I’ve seen them in old films and photographs; although I’ve never been able to make a distinction between a Spanish shawl as an accessory, and the virtually identical piano shawl (also popular during the 20s and 30s) which was used to protect the top of a piano from scratches. They may have been one and the same (if anyone knows for sure, drop me a note).
Another popular culture clue in dating the Lady Conceta box was the woman depicted in the design. During the silent movie era the screen was often dominated by exotic looking men (e.g. Rudolph Valentino, Ramon Novarro) and women. Of the women working in film during those years two came to mind: Delores del Rio and Lupe Velez. The woman on the box seemed to me to be Lupe.
Lupe was born Maria Guadalupe Velez de Villalobos on July 18, 1908 in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Her father was an army officer, and her mother was an opera singer. Lupe was educated in a convent in Texas, however she once said in an interview “But can you imagine a girl like me – all the time so happy – in a convent?” She found her calling and a place for her manic energy, when she first appeared at the Teatro Principal as a teenager. She was lovely, vivacious, and she wowed audiences in Mexico City.
When Lupe arrived in Hollywood in 1927 she was spotted by Hal Roach who cast her in a Laurel & Hardy comedy. She’d made an impression, and was selected as one of the WAMPAS “baby” stars in 1928. Even though Lupe’s big break would be in a dramatic role in “The Gaucho“, co-starring Douglas Fairbanks, Lupe had a flair for comedy. In 1933 she made the switch to comedy full-time. She won the role of Pepper in “Hot Pepper” and she would shine.
Lupe’s role in “Hot Pepper” provided her an easy segue into the “Mexican Spitfire” films. The Spitfire series was written specifically for Lupe to showcase her talent as a comedic actress. Lupe’s exuberance and sparkle would draw audiences to her. Of course it didn’t hurt that she was as madcap off screen as on.
Nearly every article written about Lupe described her as fiery, tempestuous, and the petite star did have a volatile personality. She was once at an airport, ready to board a flight, when she realized that her tickets had gone missing. She hurled her hat, handbag, and gloves to the tarmac and proceeded to stomp her hat into a pulp.
Her affairs were legendary, and she always had something provocotive to say about love. Her most famous quote is: “The first time you buy a house you think how pretty it is and sign the check. The second time you look to see if the basement has termites. It’s the same with men.”
She had a well publicized Hollywood romance with Gary Cooper in the late 1920s, but when it blew up the two bickered and took potshots at each other in the press. About Gary, Lupe said that he may have been an idol to his mother, but that to her he was less than nothing. The statement lends credibility to the rumor that the relationship was torpedoed by Cooper’s mom.
By early 1933 she was linked with Olympic champion swimmer, and star of “Tarzan, the Ape Man”, Johnny Weissmuller. On January 12th of that year she was quoted in the Los Angeles Times explaining that “Love is not for such as me, and anyone who says I am in love with Johnny Weissmuller is crazy”. It turned out that the rumors were true. Lupe and Johnny were married ten months later.
All of Lupe’s relationships seemed to have been turbulent on and off again affairs – and her marriage to Weissmuller would be no different. On August 13, 1938 the Los Angeles Times suggested that if only Weissmuller had “confined his warfare on the animal kingdom to tying knots in the tail of Numa the lion” perhaps his marriage to Velez wouldn’t have been on the rocks. During their divorce hearing in 1939, Lupe told the judge that “Johnee wanted to kill my little dog”. According to her Weissmuller would scare her Chihuahua so badly that it would turn tail and run, yipping, to hide in her lap.
A few years following her divorce Lupe became involved with French film actor Harald Ramond Marecsh. By Thanksgiving 1944 local newspapers were reporting that the two planned to wed. Only a couple of weeks later, on December 14th, Lupe Velez would be dead by her own hand.
Lupe was pregnant with Harald’s child, and he was very reluctant to get married. It may have been his suggestion of a mock marriage that pushed Lupe over the edge. The note she left for him (which was reprinted in full in the papers) said as much. She wrote: “How could you Harald, fake such great love for me and our baby when all along you didn’t want us”.
Lupe carefully staged her final scene in her home on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.She was discovered by her maid “sleeping peacefully” in her all white boudoir, on ivory satin sheets, wearing blue silk pajamas. On the nightstand was an empty bottle of Seconal and two notes, one for Harald and one for her secretary.
A rumor has persisted for years that Lupe didn’t die of a barbiturate overdose and that instead she was feeling very sick after ingesting the Seconal, got up out of bed and went into the bathroom where she stuck her head in the toilet to vomit and subsequently died by drowning. I’ve never found any credible source for that story.
When I think of Lupe I remember the life and energy that radiated from her in her films, and in the interviews that she gave. While re-reading Raymond Chandler’s great novel, “The Little Sister” I’ve found a character who seems like a deviant twist on Lupe’s public persona. The woman in the novel is Dolores Gonzales. Like Lupe she’s vibrant and sensual; but unlike Lupe she puts on a phoney accent and hails from Cleveland, Ohio. And Dolores is a very a bad dame.
One side note — I think that the woman on the cover of the Black Lizard trade paperback edition of “The Little Sister” is burlesque queen Dita von Teese. Anyone agree with me?
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
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 Astor, Joan 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.
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
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.