From the mid-1600s until 1854 Japan had been, by choice, a very isolated nation.  They may have continued their isolation for another 200 years if it had not been for the Treaty of Kanagawa (aka Perry Convention).  The treaty was signed by the Japanese under pressure from U.S. Commodore Matthew C. Perry.  In 1853 he had sailed into Tokyo Bay with a fleet of warships and had demanded that the Japanese open their ports to U.S. ships for supplies. It was clear to the Japanese that the Commodore would return and make things very unpleasant for them if they didn’t capitulate.  The Japanese signed similar treaties with Britain, France, and Russia.

Ad is circa 1918

As a result of these new trade agreements, Westerners became obsessed with all things Japanese. One of the things that intrigued Westerners the most were the bathing habits of the Japanese.  At a time when folks in the U.S. were setting aside a few moments on a Saturday to scrub themselves clean of a week’s accumulation of grime, the Japanese were bathing daily and, rumor had it, frequently more than once each day!  

The West, specifically the Caucasian West, felt that they were morally superior to nearly everyone else on the planet.  How alarming it must have been for them to reflect on “Cleanliness is next to godliness” – and realize that they’d fallen way behind the Japanese in honoring that virtue.

Companies such as Pear’s in the U.K., and Kirk’s in the U.S. jumped on the cleanliness bandwagon.  Instead of homemade soap used for everything from cleaning the day’s dishes to washing mom’s hair, personal bars of soap were being marketed with slogans such as “Have you used Pear’s soap today?”

The West’s fascination with Japan wasn’t confined to bathing habits, and it wasn’t an obsession of a few months duration.

Years after the treaties, on March 14, 1885, the Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera “The Mikado” opened in London.  It ran at the Savoy Theater for 672 performances!  Here’s a video, from the 1999 film “Topsy Turvy” a fictionalized account of the creation of the Mikado.

 Many Japanese were understandably ambivalent about the Mikado; however, maybe people were too quick to assume that all Japanese would be offended. When Prince Fushimi Sadanaru made a state visit in 1907, the British government banned performances of The Mikado from London for six weeks, fearing that the play might offend him—a maneuver that backfired when the prince complained that he had hoped to see The Mikado during his stay.  A Japanese journalist covering the prince’s stay attended a proscribed performance and confessed himself “deeply and pleasingly disappointed.” Expecting “real insults” to his country, he had found only “bright music and much fun.”

In 1947 General Douglas MacArthur banned a large-scale professional production of Mikado in Tokyo by an all-Japanese cast.   I’m surprised that MacArthur was even aware of the proposed production; after all he was busy being in command of the occupation forces, as well as undertaking the democratization of Japan – complete with a ratified Constitution and the enfranchisement of women.

None of this meant much to Iva Ikuko Toguri D’Aquino, or as she would forever become known, Tokyo Rose. 

Iva was born in Los Angeles, she was a Girl Scout, a Methodist, and she had graduated from UCLA with a degree in zoology. In other words, Iva was an all-American girl. She left for Japan in July 1941, possibly to care for an ailing relative, or to attend medical school. 

Iva had been issued a Certificate of Identification, she didn’t have a passport.  In September 1941 she applied to the U.S. Vice Consul in Japan for a passport, but she’d not received an answer by the December 7, 1941 attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. She was stranded in Japan for the duration.

Iva was pressured by the Japanese Central Government to renounce her U.S. citizenship; she refused. She risked her life to provide POWs with food.  By 1943 she, and prisoners of war, were coerced into producing radio broadcasts intended to demoralize the U.S. troops.  She participated, but would not speak against the United States – and at no time did she refer to herself as Tokyo Rose.  The name was a catch all used by U.S. troops to describe all of the women who made the propaganda broadcasts.

 Iva was arrested at the end of the war and thoroughly investigated by the FBI. The FBI concluded that:  “the evidence then known did not merit prosecution”.

Even so, in 1949 Iva was tried in San Francisco for treason.  She was found guilty on one count, that on a certain date in 1944 she “did speak into a microphone concerning the loss of ships.” She was fined $10,000 and given a 10-year prison sentence. Attorney Collins called the verdict “Guilty without evidence”.  She was sent to the Federal Reformatory for Women at Alderson, West Virginia. She was paroled after serving six years and two months, and released January 28, 1956.

 She was granted a full and unconditional Presidential pardon by Gerald Ford on January 19, 1977, his last full day in office.  She passed away on September 26, 2006; she was 90.

 

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.

 

 

Beth Short

Beth Short

Beth Short (aka “The Black Dahlia”) would have been 85 years old today.

It’s difficult for me to imagine her as anything other than a lonely, melancholy, enigma of a girl trying to navigate the frequently treacherous streets of postwar Los Angeles searching for someone to take care of her. Someone to love. During the late 1940s there were countless numbers of girls like Beth who were trying to find their way to different dreams: Hollywood stardom for some, and for others a cottage with a white picket fence, a loving husband and beautiful children.

If anything, the mystery of her murder has deepened since January 15, 1947 when her body was discovered on a vacant lot in Leimert Park. Her killer has never been positively identified.  There have always been theories, ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. The truth is that we’ll never really know for certain who murdered her. But if we can’t bring her killer to justice, maybe the best we can do is to learn something of Beth’s life and by so doing, we can honor her memory.

Beth at Camp Cooke

Beth at Camp Cooke

Beth was one of thousands of young women who had flocked to Los Angeles during, and immediately following, WWII. There were good times to be had drinking and dancing with soliders, sailors and, Beth’s favorite, pilots. But the city was also a dark and dangerous place to be. Many of the former soliders returned to civilian life with demons that could not be vanquished with a bottle of beer or a spin on the dance floor with a lovely girl.

Because of my passion for vintage cosmetics and historic crime, I became interested in Beth’s makeup after reading comments made about her by one of her former roommates, Linda Rohr. Linda was 22 years old, and worked in the Rouge Room at Max Factor in Hollywood. When she was asked about Beth, Linda had said: “She had pretty blue eyes but sometimes I think she overdid with make-up an inch thick.”  Linda went on to say that the effect of Beth’s makeup was startling, that she resembled a Geisha.

Makeup in the 1940s emphasized a natural look, and it seemed from Linda’s statement that Beth was applying her makeup contrary to the latest trends — something that women in their 20s seldom did. I began to wonder; what was Beth hiding? She wasn’t concealing a physical defect, she had lovely skin and as Linda had noted, pretty blue eyes. It struck me that Beth was subconciously using makeup as a mask – a way to keep the world at arm’s length and to become the character she needed to be in order to go out and hustle for drinks, dinner, or a place to stay.

For more information and insights into Beth’s last couple of weeks in Los Angeles, including the REAL last place that she was seen alive (no, NOT the Biltmore Hotel) join me on Esotouric’s The Real Black Dahlia tour this Saturday, August 1, 2009. Kim Cooper will tell you about the news coverage of the case, especially as reported by legendary newswoman, Aggie Underwood. Richard Schave will have tales to tell, and I’ll expand upon my personality sketch of Beth. Our special guest, Marcie Morgan-Gilbert, will treat tour goers to a look at fashion from 1940s.

Esotouric is the Los Angeles based, family run, tour company that was founded by the husband and wife team Kim Cooper and Richard Schave.

Years before she became known as the quintessential 1950s daffy housewife, Lucille Ball was the queen of the B movies. It’s no wonder — she was talented and stunning. The above appeared in the Los Angeles Times on August 9, 1942. Lucy was doing what so many other stars would do, lending her name in support of the home front mandate to conserve.

 

The roles that women played during World War II were as complex and contradictory as at any time in history. On the home front they were wives, mothers, sweethearts, factory workers, and taxi drivers.  War time propaganda encouraged women to keep the home fires burning, while simultaneously raising children and driving rivets into the hull of a destroyer or the fuselage of a bomber.

 

I have noticed that one phrase appeared consistently in wartime articles on make-up and fashion, and that was “morale is woman’s business”. It was made clear that in addition to any other responsibilities she may have had, it was a woman’s patriotic duty to look her best at all times. The business of morale was taken seriously, and countless articles were written to advise women on how to be competent, effective war workers, and yet remain attractive and cheerful companions.

 

While the women of the home front were keeping things on track, servicemen needed to be reminded why they were fighting, and what they were fighting for; and nothing sent a clearer message than a gorgeous pin-up picture.  Hollywood stars Rita Hayworth, Jane Russell and Betty Grable were the three most popular pin-up girls of the era, and their photos accompanied soldiers in their footlockers around the world. Five million copies of Rita Hayworth’s picture were sold; that number exceeded only by Betty Grable’s iconic photo.

 

Photos from home were crucial to a fighting man’s morale, but sometimes a candid snapshot wasn’t good enough. I found an article in the Los Angeles Times from October 1943 entitled “Send Him Your Picture”. The article described in detail how to apply make-up for a professional portrait, and it also provided tips on what to wear and whether or not to apply whitener to your teeth. This all speaks to the significance of the pin-up photo during the war. The pin-ups weren’t merely masturbatory tools for lonely troops, but they were a necessary, if idealized, connection to home.

 

 Not surprisingly, the focus of home front culture was on victory. There were victory gardens, victory pins (to wear on your sweater or jacket), and there was victory lipstick.  Victory lipstick came in tubes made of paper, plastic, or wood because metal was required for the war effort.

 

Jergens wasn’t alone in using patriotic themes in their advertising, but they put an imaginative spin on it when they hired world class pin-up artist Alberto Vargas to create both a package design and an ad that urged women to “be his pin-up girl”. And of course it was Vargas, among other pin-up artists, who inspired some truly glorious nose art (art that graced the fuselage of many of the aircraft during the war).

 

It’s plain to see that Jergens grasped the relationship between pin-up art and the woman’s business of morale and used it masterfully to their advantage.

 

The pin-up girl ad campaign appears to have run during 1944, and the face powder box with the Vargas art turns up in ads for about a year following the end of the war in 1945.