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Could the woman on the hairnet envelope be anyone other than Carmen, the fiery temptress and faithless lover in Georges Bizet’s opera?Georges_Bizet_-_Rosabel_Morrison

In the first act Carmen, a cigarette factory worker, seduces a young solider by tossing a flower at his feet. Really? Clearly it didn’t take too much to capture Don Jose’s attention, or his love.

By the end of the last act Carmen had dragged Don Jose’s reputation, and his heart, through the mud. Of course a woman of Carmen’s volatile temperament could not hitch her wagon to a doormat, so she would jilt Don Jose in favor of Escamillo, a handsome toreador.

carmen death sceneIn classic operatic tradition Don Jose doesn’t thank Carmen for the memories and bid her adieu – he picks up a knife and stabs her to death just as Escamillo wins the bullfight. Opera has never been known for its subtle symbolism. And that is precisely why I enjoy opera so much. It never makes a small gesture.

There is something else that has never made a small gesture – platform shoes. They are incapable of restraint.Kiss1

Apart from rock stars of the 1970s, my favorite wearer of platform shoes would have to be Carmen Miranda. It’s easy to think of her as an opera on two legs. And she did not earn the moniker “Brazilian Bombshell” by being a wallflower. She was bold and brash and so was her footwear.

carmen miranda and shoesCarmen was born in Varzea da Ovelha, a village in the northern Portuguese municipality of Marco de Canaveses. She was christened Carmen by her father because of his love for Bizet’s masterpiece. His passion for opera influenced all of his children, and especially contributed to Miranda’s love for singing and dancing at an early age.

Her father may have been a fan of opera, but he did not approve of her plans to enter show business. However, in true operatic fashion her mother supported her and was beaten when her husband discovered Carmen had auditioned for a radio show.carmen striped shoes

Carmen had previously sung at parties and festivals in Rio. Her older sister Olinda contracted tuberculosis and was sent to Portugal for treatment. Miranda went to work in a tie shop at age 14 to help pay her sister’s medical bills. She next worked in a boutique, where she learned to make hats and opened her own hat business which became profitable. She may never have envisioned just how well the hat making skills would pay off!

carmen miranda beaded shoes from her museumCarmen was very popular in Brazil, but once in the U.S., Carmen’s career (and platforms)  hit the ground running. She arrived in 1939 with her band, Bando da Lua. She was presented to Franklin D. Roosevelt at a White House banquet, and went on to star in a baker’s dozen of Hollywood films!

Just eight years later Carmen was the highest-paid entertainer and top female taxpayer in the U.S., earning more than $200,000!

On March 17, 1947 she married movie producer David Sebastian. He was not a successful producer and even more of a disaster when he declared himself Carmen’s manager. In the few months that they lived together as husband and wife he made a series of bad business decisions. He was a boozer, and dragged Carmen along with him. Carmen was a Catholic and would not seek a divorce so she and David were legally married until her death in 1955.

The “lady in the tutti frutti hat” has had a profound influence on popular culture, and her likeness has popped up in everything from cartoons to the character of Chiquita Banana.

On August 4, 1955 while appearing in a live segment of the Jimmy Durante Show, Carmen collapsed. She recovered quickly and resumed her performance not realizing that she’s suffered a heart attack. Her heavy smoking and alcohol consumption, compounded by her use of amphetamines and barbiturates had taken a serious toll on her health.

Carmen_Miranda full lengthLater that night Carmen suffered a second heart attack at her home in Beverly Hills and passed away.

Honoring her wishes, Carmen’s family had the entertainer’s body flown back to Rio de Janeiro. The Brazilian government declared a period of national mourning and 60,000 people attended a formal ceremony in Rio’s town hall. More than 500,000 people escorted the funeral cortege to her final resting place.

I’ve never had a burning desire to visit Rio de Janeiro, but after finding out that there is a Carmen Miranda Museum there – I may have changed my mind.







SF_chinatown gate_gift from china 1969

Grant Street, San Francisco

The first thing that this hair net package calls to mind is obviously the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco; but it actually bears some resemblance to the Grant Street Gate to that city’s Chinatown.  

My initial impulse when I sat down to write this post was to follow a straight line from the Golden Gate Bridge to Chinatown, but my thinking is rarely stays that linear.  After a few minutes I realized that what San Francisco means to me, other than 1960s psychedelic bands, is Sam Spade.  

bogart_sam spade

Humphrey Bogart

The novel THE MALTESE FALCON, featuring the character of Sam Spade, was written by Dashiell Hammett and was published in 1930 – during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.  

The golden age of detective fiction is generally considered to be those years between the World Wars.  Many of the writers of the Golden Age were British (e.g. Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers); however, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett were successfully writing classic American detective stories during that period.  Today Hammett and Chandler are two of the best known of the era’s hard-boiled detective fiction authors.  

ronald knox

Ronald Knox

As early as 1929, writers were attempting to define the mystery/detective genre. Ronald Knox, an English theologian, priest and crime writer published some rules for writing detective fiction.  

According to Knox a detective story: “must have as its main interest the unraveling of a mystery; a mystery whose elements are clearly presented to the reader at an early stage in the proceedings, and whose nature is such as to arouse curiosity, a curiosity which is gratified at the end.”  

Knox’s “Ten Commandments” (or “Decalogue”) are as follows:  

  1. The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know.
  2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
  3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
  4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
  5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.
  6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
  7. The detective himself must not commit the crime.
  8. The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover.
  9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
  10. Twin brothers and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

the-chinese-parrot1Rule number five is particularly odious. No Chinaman? What happens when the detective is a Chinaman?  Earl Derr Biggers created Charlie Chan during the 1920s.  There are many reasons to be offended by the portrayal of Chan both in the books and in the subsequent films; however, I think  a good rule of thumb is to never apply today’s sensibilities to yesterday’s literature.  My reading list would shrink to nearly nothing if I did that.  I look at the stories in the context of their time, and by putting Charlie Chan in a position of authority I believe that Biggers was taking an interesting, and somewhat risky step forward.  

Quoting from Wikipedia: “Interpretations of Chan by critics are split, especially as relates to his ethnicity. Positive interpretations of Chan argue that he is portrayed as intelligent, benevolent, and honorable, in contrast to most depictions of Chinese at the time the character was created. Others argue that Chan, despite his good qualities, reinforces Chinese stereotypes such as poor English grammar, and is overly subservient in nature.” I’ll leave the debate on ethnicity and stereotypes to others.  

Rule number seven was probably meant to discourage other writers from doing what Agatha Christie had done so successfully in 1926, which was to write a detective novel in which the narrator turns out to be the killer.  The novel, THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD, has been considered by many to have been Christie’s masterpiece.  

In 1930 Agatha Christie published her first Miss Marple novel, MURDER AT THE VICARAGE, (a classic “cozy”) and Dashiell Hammett published THE MALTESE FALCON, the only novel to feature Sam Spade and, arguably, the novel that first introduced the archetype of the hard-boiled detective to the world. In the novel Spade is cynical, bitter, and morally ambiguous, that is until he explains to Brigid O’Shaunassey his reasons for turning her in. Spade’s moral code may be non-traditional, but he adheres to it.  Spade tells her that he had fallen for her, but she had murdered his partner. He’d never be able to trust her, and he’d likely go to prison with her if he concealed what he knew from the cops.  Finally Spade tells Brigid that he’ll wait for her; provided she doesn’t hang.  


lillian hellman_young

Lillian Hellman

Hammett not only created the modern private detective, but he created two of my favorite film characters, Nick and Nora Charles.  Hammett wasn’t quite as enamored of the THIN MAN films as I am, but they did provide him with enough money to afford decent liquor, at least for a while.  Who were Nick and Nora in real life?  Hammett told his long-time companion, writer Lillian Hellman, that she was the inspiration for Nora. However, according to Hellman “Hammett said I was also the silly girl in the book and the villainess.”   

Hellman and Hammett had a 30 year long relationship – a part of which was depicted in the 1977 film JULIA starring Jane Fonda, Jason Robards, and Vanessa Redgrave.  Did Hellman really smuggle papers out of Nazi Germany in her hat as shown in the film, or had she taken another woman’s (i.e. Muriel Gardiner) story as her own?   The jury is still out on whether or not Hellman greatly embellished her autobiographies.  

In any case, JULIA was a compelling enough film to win three Oscars.  I love the movie – the costumes are exquisite, the acting superb.  It’s worth watching whether the story is Hellman’s or not. Oh, and look at this clip from the film with Meryl Streep as Anne Marie and Jane Fonda as Lillian.  

huac hearings

HUAC Hearings

During the 1950s Hammett was investigated by Congress, and testified on March 26, 1953 before the House on Un-American Activities Committee. Although he testified to his own activities, he refused to cooperate with the committee and was blacklisted.  

Others refused, as did Hammett, to cooperate with HUAC and they paid dearly.  A group of Hollywood writers who refused to cooperate with the committee became known as THE HOLLYWOOD TEN. They were Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson,  Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott and Dalton Trumbo.  


Dashiell Hammett

The ten men claimed that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to refuse to answer questions about their beliefs. The HUAC and, subsequently, the courts disagreed and all ten men were found guilty of contempt of congress. Each of them was sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison.  

Hellman had appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1950. At the time, HUAC was well aware that Dashiell Hammett had been a Communist Party member. Asked to name names of acquaintances with communist affiliations, Hellman delivered a prepared statement which read in part: 

“To hurt innocent people whom I knew many years ago in order to save myself is, to me, inhuman and indecent and dishonorable.  I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions, even though I long ago came to the conclusion that I was not a political person and could have not comfortable place in any political group.” 


Hellman may have embellished her autobiographies, but her statement to HUAC leads me to believe that she was also a stand-up dame.    

About Hammett’s writing career, Hellman said:

“I have been asked many times over the years why he did not write another novel after The Thin Man. I do not know. I think, but I only think, I know a few of the reasons: he wanted to do a new kind of work; he was sick for many of those years and getting sicker. But he kept his work, and his plans for work, in angry privacy and even I would not have been answered if I had ever asked, and maybe because I never asked is why I was with him until the last day of his life.”   

I’ve never been able to visit San Francisco without thinking of Dashiell Hammett or Sam Spade.  Even though Hammett never wrote another novel after THE THIN MAN, his contribution to mystery fiction, in particular to the hard-boiled genre, was seminal.


As soon as I saw the roadster (a  Duesenberg?)  in the illustration on the hair net package,  I knew that the  jaunty young lady at the wheel had to be the world renowned girl detective Nancy Drew.   

When you were a child did you ever want to be Nancy Drew?  I did.  And all these years later I’m still so captivated by the idea of being a gal gumshoe, a dame detective, a she shamus, that I give crime tours with the LA-based company Esotouric on most weekends.  But even the tours aren’t enough to satisfy my longing be a PI, cop, or a stylish and witty helpmate, like Myrna Loy in the Thin Man films.   

Just because I never became a private investigator or cop (I like to believe that I DID become a stylish and witty helpmate) that doesn’t mean that I can’t pursue my crime busting dreams.   I’ve discovered a few ways in which to get my crime  fix — the aforementioned tours, and I volunteer at the Los Angeles Police Historical Society (LAPHS).   

Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peel

The historical society has a fantastic museum which is housed in an old police station. I spend my time there organizing and digitizing a collection of Daily Bulletins, and Juvenile Reports.  The Bulletins began in 1907 and were distributed to each officer, every day (with the exception of Sundays and holidays). The Bulletins provide a daily snapshot of life in the growing city of Los Angeles, as reflected in the criminal behavior of its citizens. 

Nancy Drew did her sleuthing in River Heights, not in Los Angeles, and she began her amateur detecting as a 16 year old in 1930. The early books depict Nancy as a very modern girl — just as she should have been in the years following WWI.  She had a litany of accomplishments including: dancer, driver, cook, car mechanic, swimmer, seamstress, painter — and she was fluent in French!  If she’d had a leather cat suit, I’m sure she could have given Mrs. Emma Peel (of the  1960s series The Avengers) a run for her money.  

Mildred in mid-dive c. 1925

The woman who ghosted the Nancy Drew books for the Stratemeyer Syndicate from 1929 to 1953 was Iowan, Mildred Wirt Benson.  Mildred was nearly as accomplished as Nancy. At the University of Iowa she participated in swimming, soccer, and was a student journalist.  Following graduation  she worked as a general reporter for the The Clinton (Iowa) Herald.  

Mildred was only 21 when, in 1926, she answered an ad placed by the Stratemeyer Syndicate for ghost writers. Her first assignment resulted in the novel, Ruth Fielding and Her Great Scenario.   

Mildred appears to have remained as feisty as Nancy Drew ever was, because she began to take flying lessons at age 59.  I’m glad to report that Mildred lived a long life – she passed away in 2002 at the age of 96.  

Nancy Drew has gone on to have a long and eventful life too. There were some terrific films in the 1940s featuring Bonita Granville as Nancy, and more recently (2007) Emma Roberts played the girl sleuth. In 2002 the first Nancy Drew book, The Mystery of the Old Clock, sold over 150,000 copies!


 Oh, and if you think that Nancy Drew was a pre-feminist bimbo who couldn’t possibly have had an impact on intelligent and strong women, think again. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton cites her as an early influence, and so do Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Sonia Sotomayor.  

For more information on Mildred Wirt Benson visit the University of Iowa Digital Library.


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.

The design on the hairnet package above is emblematic of the 1920s in Southern California: surf, sand, sun and sin. What?  You don’t see any sin in the design?  I guess it’s just my evil mind — the  first thing that I thought of was Sister Aimee Semple McPherson’s mysterious disappearance from Venice Beach on May 18, 1926.  What did her disappearance have to do with sin?  Read on.

Southern California beaches weren’t just places from which to disappear in the 1920s —  they were obviously places to relax (and to wear your prettiest bathing costume.)  I was pleasantly surprised to discover a beautiful souvenir folder of Venice Beach which not only shows people enjoying a day at the beach, but echoes the design of the hairnet package. Note the similarities in the coloration and overall design — really quite nice.

Aimee was born Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy on October 9, 1890 on a farm in Canada. It was her mother, Mildred (Minnie), who first introduced young Aimee to religion. Minnie worked with the Salvation Army and her daughter would often accompany her to soup kitchens.

Click on photo to see Sister McPherson preach.

While other little girls may have preferred to play house with their dolls, Aimee played “Salvation Army” with hers. Sermonizing to a congregation of dolls may not have been particularly thrilling or rewarding, but it was good practice for her adult life.

Aimee and Robert Semple

Given her interest in religion and the fact that, even in high school, she was protesting the teaching of evolution in public schools, it’s no surprise that she fell for a Pentecostal missionary from Ireland, Robert James Semple.

She converted to her husband’s faith and they married on August 12, 1908. The newlyweds immediately took off on an evangelistic tour of Europe. Continuing their mission they arrived in Hong Kong, China in June 1910, where both  contracted malaria. Robert died on August 19, 1910 and was buried in Hong Kong.  Aimee was just beginning to recover from the same illness that took her husband when she gave birth to a daughter, Roberta Star Semple, on September 17, 1910.

Newly widowed and a recent mother, Aimee continued to convalesce in New York, and it was there that she met accountant Harold Stewart McPherson. They were married on May 5, 1912, and their son, Rolf, was born on March 23, 1913.

Aimee on the road

In mid-1915 Aimee took her act on the road and held tent revival meetings up and down the Eastern Seaboard, eventually heading out to other parts of the country. Whatever his reasons, Harold wasn’t always able to travel with his wife and their marriage suffered.  In 1918 he filed a petition for divorce (citing abandonment) and the divorce was granted in 1921.

Aimee eventually tired of being on the road and settled in Los Angeles.  Her ministry was so successful that she was able to build the Angelus Temple in Echo Park (dedicated in 1923).

Sister Aimee was at the zenith of her influence and popularity by 1926. And then it all began to unravel.

On May 18, 1926 McPherson went with her secretary to Ocean Park Beach, just north of Venice Beach, to swim. It was from there that Aimee vanished. Had she drowned? Her mother thought so. Aimee had been scheduled to preach later that day, but Minnie filled in. She ended her emotional sermon by telling the parishioners that “Sister is with Jesus”.

Mourners kept a seaside vigil for their beloved Aimee, but she did not emerge from the sea. Sadly, one parishioner drowned searching for McPherson, and a diver perished from exposure.

It didn’t take long for people to notice that Kenneth G. Ormiston, the engineer for Aimee’s radio station, KFSG, had disappeared as well. Some felt that Ormiston and McPherson had run off together — they had become very friendly.

A month passed when finally there was word of Aimee in the form of a ransom note delivered to her mother.  The note demanded a half million dollars or else McPherson would be sold into “white slavery”. The note was signed “The Avengers”.  Believing that her daughter was dead, Minnie tossed the letter.

On June 23rd, like a biblical prophet, Aimee staggered out of the desert into a Mexican town just across the border from Douglas, Arizona. Aimee’s story was that she’d been kidnapped, drugged, tortured, and held in a shack until she managed to escape, walking 13 hours to freedom.

There were several gaping holes in her story: her shoes were grass stained and showed no signs of a 13 hour desert trek and, furthermore, she’d disappeared from the beach clad only in a bathing suit, yet she had turned up following her abduction fully dressed and wearing her own wristwatch. To make matters worse, no sign of the shack where she was allegedly held was ever discovered.  A grand jury convened on July 8, 1926, but they adjourned after 12 days saying they hadn’t enough evidence to proceed against the wandering minister. The Grand Jury reconvened when new evidence was uncovered. The evidence suggested that Aimee and Kenneth had been traveling together, and signing into motels along the way.

What had Aimee really been up to for over one month?  Had she been kidnapped as she continued to maintain, or had she gone off to have an abortion, or heal from plastic surgery? We’ll probably never know. District Attorney Asa Keyes dropped all of the charges, thus ending any official investigation.

Despite the bad press she’d received Aimee continued her good works, but her reputation had been permanently damaged. Involved in a power struggle with her mother over control of the church, Aimee had a nervous breakdown in 1930.

David Hutton w/ballet dancers

David Hutton w/ballet dancers

McPherson would marry for a third time on September 13, 1931 to actor and musician David Hutton.  Two days into the marriage the groom was sued for alienation of affection by Hazel St. Pierre. Hutton claimed never to have met Hazel, but she still managed to walk away with a settlement of $5,000.  Things would get worse.  Aimee was in Europe when she heard that Hutton was billing himself as “Aimee’s man” in his cabaret act.  Let’s hope he wasn’t performing “The Ballad of Aimee McPherson”.  David and Aimee were divorced on March 1, 1934.

 On September 26, 1944 McPherson traveled to Oakland, California for a series of revivals. When her son went to her hotel room at 10 am the next morning to fetch her for her sermon, he found her unconscious.  Aimee would die less than two hours later.  The coroner was not able to conclusively determine the casue of death.  Apparently Aimee had been taking sleeping pills (Seconal) and it is most likely that her death was the result of an accidental overdose.

I wonder if there was something in the air during 1926 that caused two very famous women to mysteriously vanish, and then to reappear without a credible explanation. The first woman was, of course, Aimee Semple McPherson — the second woman was famed mystery writer Agatha Christie!

On December 8, 1926 after being told by her husband Archie that he was in love with another woman and wanted a divorce, Agatha vanished. She’d left notes for both her husband and her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Her car was found abandoned and for a while it appeared that she’d been the victim of foul play.

About ten days later Agatha was identified as a guest at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel (now the Old Swan Hotel) in Harrogate. Agatha would never give a full account of her disappearance. Two doctors diagnosed her as suffering from  amnesia. I believe it was the news of Archie’s infidelity that caused her to go off the rails for a while.

Max and Agatha

Max and Agatha

Archie and Agatha would divorce, and in 1930 she would marry an archaeologist Max Mallowan, whom she’d met on a dig in the Middle East. The Mallowans would have a long and happy marriage.

 For a wonderful fictional account of how Agatha spent her missing days, watch the 1979 film “Agatha” starring Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman.







The illustration on the Comfort Hair Net package reminds me of psychedelic rock ‘n roll posters from the 1960s. The ubiquitous posters advertised concerts that were held in every venue from the Fillmore West to the Fillmore East, and every dive bar in between.  Organic, sensual, and other worldly, the style of the posters owed a huge debt to artists such as Aubrey Beardsley, Alphonse Mucha, Gustav Klimt, and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Is the name of the hair net a discreet nod to Tiffany? It’s unlikely, but not out of the question.  Fixing a date for the hair net package is tricky, but because Art Nouveau was at its peak of popularity between 1890 and 1905 it is probably from that period.


Psychedelic art shared a similar aesthetic with its predecessor.  Both styles are considered to be applied art (i.e., graphic design, fashion design, interior design, etc.) and both were in some sense lifestyles – at least their artifacts could be incorporated into one’s daily life.  Art Nouveau was present in architecture, as well as in personal items such as jewelry. Psychedelic art encompassed music, light shows, fashion and interior design and was also a way in which to describe the experience of taking certain mind altering drugs like LSD or mescaline.

The most controversial artist of the Art Nouveau period was Aubrey Beardsley. Beardsley’s subject matter was often erotic in nature and grotesque in execution – occasionally depicting enormous genitalia. He was quoted as saying “I have one aim—the grotesque. If I am not grotesque I am nothing.” He was influenced to some extent by Japanese Shunga, which is erotic art. One of the most beautiful and disturbing of the Shunga images is “Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” by Katsushika Hokusai (c. 1820). 

Alphonse Mucha was another artist who worked in the Art Nouveau style (sometimes even referred to as the Mucha style); and it was his work that was often cited as a major influence by the psychedelic artists of the 1960s.  One of Mucha’s best known works is a poster that he did for the actress Sarah Bernhardt (“The Divine Sarah”) advertising her appearance as “Cismonda” in Paris.  Sarah adored the poster, and it wasn’t that last one that Mucha would create for her. 

Even though it was Mucha who produced posters of the “Divine Sarah”, she may have had more in common with Aubrey Beardsley. Both of them were extreme personalities, flamboyant and eccentric. Beardsley expressed himself quite often by donning outlandish garments, and Bernhardt frequently slept in a coffin so that she could “better understand my tragic roles”. 

Bernhardt may have been on to something when she chose to sleep in a coffin – in the 1930s members of the Group Theater in New York City popularized method acting, and Lee Strasbourg would continue to advance the method in later years. Students of Strasbourg would include Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. I can’t help but believe that Sarah would have embraced method acting with its emphasis on the sensory, emotional, and psychological components of a character.
Sarah was arguably the most skilled actress of her time, and  she lived as dramatic a life as any of the characters she portrayed on stage. She was rumored to have had an affair with the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). And it is also possible that she had a lesbian liaison with French painter, Louise Abbema.

Louise Abbema

Louise Abbema

During a performance of “Tosca” in Rio de Janeiro in 1905, Sarah injured her knee in a leap from a high wall. The leg never properly healed, and by 1915 gangrene had set in and the leg was amputated. It is said that she turned down $10,000 offered to her by a showman (not P.T. Barnum, who was long dead by 1915) for her amputated limb.  Despite the loss of her leg Sarah Bernhardt continued to perform, as well as to run her own repertory company, until her death of uremia on March 23, 1923.











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.


Because of my interest in Los Angeles history, crime, vintage clothing, and cosmetics history, I rushed out to see The Changeling last weekend. As a result, I decided to feature the Elite hair net package from my collection. The woman  on the envelope is from the same era (c. 1928) as depicted in the film, and the hairstyle resembles that worn by Angelina Jolie who stars in the movie.
The story that inspired the The Changeling is even more compelling and repellent than the story told by the film. Compelling because it is based upon an actual case from Los Angeles in the 1920s. Repellent because of the nature of the crimes (the kidnapping, molestation, and murder of young boys), and also because of the criminal — a sociopath by the name of Gordon Stewart Northcott. (Warning — spoilers for the film to follow.)
Walter Collins

Walter Collins

On March 10, 1928 Walter Collins, aged nine, vanished from his home at 217 North Avenue 23 in Lincoln Heights, CA. By August, Los Angeles police claimed to have located Walter in De Kalb, Illinois. The boy was returned to Los Angeles, but as soon Christine Collins, Walter’s mom, clapped eyes on the boy she knew that he was an imposter.
Corruption was rife in Los Angeles at the time and some members of the LAPD, as well as local politicians, were involved in bootlegging, gambling, and prostitution. The police department couldn’t bear further scrutiny or negative press, and they were anxious to have a public relations win. Returning the Collins boy to his mother was just what they needed. The difficulty that they couldn’t overcome was that the boy that they brought back to Los Angeles to be reunited with Christine was not Walter!
Arthur Hutchins, Jr.

Arthur Hutchins, Jr.

Christine resisted, but was finally convinced by LAPD Captain J.J. Jones to take the boy home with her. No amount of wishing, or coercion by Jones, would make the faux Walter morph into the genuine article. Christine kicked up a fuss and was summarily committed by Captain Jones to a local psych ward. It took about 10 days to pry the truth out of the devious counterfeit Walter.

After giving authorities at least two more aliases, the boy finally admitted that he was Arthur Hutchins, Jr. from Marion, Iowa and that he’d pretended to be Walter Collins to get a free trip to Los Angeles. It seems that young Arthur was a big fan of cowboy films — particularly Tom Mix.
Meanwhile, out in Wineville, CA (now Mira Loma) the depraved and profoundly evil Gordon Northcott was molesting, torturing and murdering young boys. One of whom was probably Walter Collins.
Gordon Stewart Northcott

Gordon Stewart Northcott

Then in a deus ex machina worthy of a Greek tragedy, a Canadian cousin of Northcott’s, Sanford Clark (aged 15) entered the drama. He’d been gone from his home for two years when he was arrested at the Wineville ranch as an illegal alien and held for deportation.  While in custody the young man broke down and told police a story so heinous that it was difficult for them to believe him. He said that Gordon Northcott had forced him to assist in the kidnapping and murder of several young boys.
Murder chicken coop

Murder chicken coop

Even as newspaper headlines screamed “Murder Farm” from the newsstands, Gordon and his mother fled to Canada to avoid prosecution. They could run, but they couldn’t escape the long arm of the law. The two were soon located and returned to California to stand trial.

In a noir twist echoed decades later in the Roman Polanski film Chinatown (“she’s my sister, she’s my daughter”) during his trial Gordon would learn that his mother was in fact his grandmother, and that he was the result of an incestuous relationship between his sister and his father.
Gordon was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. His mother/grandmother (who had initially confessed to killing Walter Collins, then recanted) was sentenced to life in prison, but she was paroled after serving only 12 years.
I loved being able to identify some of the buildings used in the film, and found the interior sets to be  faithful to the era. 
Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins

Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins

Angelina Jolie’s wardrobe in the film was gorgeous, and the credit goes to costume designer Deborah Hopper who has worked with director Clint Eastwood for over 20 years. According to Wikipedia, Hopper had to find 1920s style clothing for approximately 1000 people! Archive media featuring the real Christine Collins was used to create Angelina’s authentically styled wardrobe (note the cloche hat and the coat with the fur collar).  Jolie’s makeup was also correct for the time; but as you can see in the photo the real Christine wore few, if any, cosmetics.

One thing I noticed was that Angelina’s shoes are almost certainly reproductions made by an LA-based company called Remix Vintage Shoes.  Check out their site and see if you agree.
Christine Collins

Christine Collins

In the film, as in life, Christine Collins never stopped believing that Walter was alive. She pinned her hopes in part on Northcott’s cynical and cruel manipulations.  From death row he continued to taunt and torment the parents of the victims by sometimes accepting responsility for the killings, and then later insisting that he’d had nothing to do with the slaughter at the ranch. Remains found at the chicken ranch in Wineville could not be positively identified as Walter’s, and this too kept Christine’s hope alive. Her dream of a reunion with her son must have been rekindled when a boy believed to have been murdered by Northcott turned up several years later alive and well.
Sadly, Christine never saw Walter again in this life and she eventually disappeared from public view. The last mention of her that I could find was on January 21, 1941 in the Los Angeles Times.  The newspaper reported that she had renewed a suit for damages against Captain J.J. Jones, the cop who’d had her committed to the psych ward when she refused to accept Arthur Hutchins, Jr. as her son.
Floranet c. 1920

Floranet c. 1920

Advertising reflects its time, and the themes and designs are often derived from popular culture. Who hasn’t heard a pop song in a car commercial on TV? Things weren’t much different 80 years ago. The concept for the Floranet shown above was most likely a result of the New York revival of the musical Florodora in 1920. The play had its original debut on the London stage in 1899, and was one of the first successful musicals at the dawn of the 20th century.

Floradora Girls

Floradora Girls

When Florodora moved from the London stage to Broadway in 1900 it was a runaway hit. The women who played in the chorus were dubbed the Florodora Girls, and they were so popular that no fewer than 70 women rotated into, and out of, the first run production in New York. Many of the women were courted by wealthy young men whom they later married.

Not all of the Florodora girls would go on to have successful relationships with the men that they met. The most famous of them was Evelyn Nesbit.

Evelyn Nesbit

Evelyn Nesbit

Evelyn Nesbit was born on Christmas day in 1874 in Tarentum, a small village near Pittsburgh. Her family wasn’t well off — so when her father, a struggling attorney, died at age 42 they were left nearly destitute. Evelyn was a beautiful girl, and it wasn’t surprising when she came to the attention of artists in her hometown. She was soon earning enough as a model to support her family.  The Nesbits moved from Philadelphia to New York City in 1893 where Evelyn continued her career. Among the artists who hired her was famed illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. It is said that Evelyn was the inspiration for his famous Gibson Girls.

Gibson Girl

Gibson Girl

While playing in the chorus of Florodora, Evelyn caught the eye of millionaire architect, notorious womanizer, and grower of an extraordinary mustache, Stanford White. White was 47, and Evelyn only 16; however, it wasn’t long before the married White was pursuing the teenaged chorus girl. Evelyn’s mother was undoubtedly swayed by White’s fortune because she turned a blind eye to Stanford’s reputation and his married status, and encouraged her daughter’s relationship with “Stanny”.

Stanford White

Stanford White

 White had designed an opulent apartment in New York City, complete with many strategically placed mirrors and the most intriguing amenity of all, a red velvet swing suspended from the ceiling.  White loved nothing better than to push his nude young paramours in the swing! 

While Evelyn’s mother was conveniently out of the city, White made his move. He plied the young beauty with champagne, took suggestive photographs of her in a yellow silk kimono, and then he took her virginity. Of course the evening ended with Evelyn perched upon the red velvet swing. White would pursue other young women, and Evelyn would begin dating the actor John Barrymore [yes, Drew is related].

Harry K. Thaw

Harry K. Thaw

The stunning chorine finally became involved with Harry K. Thaw. Thaw came from money – his father was a coal and railroad baron.  She married Thaw, who was no less kinky in his sexual habits than White had been. Thaw had a history of violence and drug use. He had a rapacious appetite for cocaine and morphine, both of which he injected, and he was in the habit of carrying a pistol and a whip. 

Evelyn was obviously attracted to older “bad boys”; however, Harry wasn’t just bad, he was mad as a hatter. Perhaps fueled by cocaine induced paranoia, Thaw’s jealous obsession over Evelyn’s previous relationship with White finally drove him to confront the architect in the rooftop restaurant at Madison Square Garden. In full view of the patrons,  the whip cracking, pistol packing Thaw produced a gun and fired three times into White’s face, killing him. Some of the diners thought that the shooting was part of the play they were attending, and others thought that it might be part of an elaborate practical joke (practical jokes were de rigeur in society at the time). Holding the weapon above his head, Thaw calmly walked to the elevator to meet Evelyn.

Harry was shortly arrested for the slaying and put on trial. The jury deadlocked at his first trial. By offering her money and the promise of a divorce, Harry’s mother convinced Evelyn to testify during his second trial that she’d been raped by White. In the courtroom, all eyes were on Evelyn as she told tales of the red velvet swing. Evelyn was a compelling witness on Harry’s behalf – he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Following the trial Evelyn got the divorce, but none of the money she’d been promised. Harry’s ungrateful mother reneged on their deal and cut her off without a cent.

Even though Thaw was allowed almost total freedom at Matteawan, he escaped after a few years and fled to Canada. He was eventually extradited back to the United States, and in a second sanity trial he was determined to be sane.  Throughout the remainder of his life Thaw would have brushes with the law, and questions regarding his sanity would continue to arise. Thaw died of a heart attack in 1947.

There have been many references to Evelyn Nesbit in popular culture over the years. Joan Collins played her in the 1955 film The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing. Evelyn also became a character in E.L. Doctorow’s novel Ragtime.

The infamous “Girl in the Red Velvet Swing” died on January 17, 1967 in a Santa Monica, CA nursing home.

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