« Previous Page

Ladies, if you think your man is cheating on you forget the GPS, and don’t hire a private investigator — check his clothes for lipstick smears. If the color on his shirt doesn’t match anything in your cosmetics case, you’ve got a problem. For instance, one of my favorite shades of lipstick is Twig by MAC. If my husband came home with traces of a screaming red lipstick on his collar he’d better be prepared with a darned good story.

Mrs. Mildred J. Arnold’s husband was tacky enough to entertain his blonde on the side in his wife’s very own boudoir! No wonder she was peeved.  Add his infidelity to the occasional beatings he administered to Mildred, and the fact that he frequently went to dances on his own and it’s no wonder Mrs. A. sued for a divorce.

 March 7, 1930

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 above drawings represent the “Evolution of Garbo” as interpreted by Anne Rodman in her beauty book, “Lady, be Lovely”. I can’t say that I immediately identified the subject of the drawings as Garbo, but I can certainly appreciate a Hollywood Miracle when I see one. Below is a portrait of Greta Garbo which looks similar to the first of Anne’s drawings.

An early portrait of Greta Garbo

An early portrait of Greta Garbo

On page 12, Anne Rodman uses Ginger Rogers to demonstrate how women may develop their beauty with “thought and study” and the “aid of clever make-up and eye catching coiffures”. 

Rodman’s advice makes sense to me — well applied makeup and a flattering hairstyle can make or break a look; but then a couple of paragraphs later she baffles me with the statement “…do not be a slave to fashion. Change your style every season if you would be young.” Huh?

Even though I’m obviously confused about what constitutes being a slave to fashion, I agree with Anne’s advice to women that they emphasize their individual beauty. Find your unique qualities and enhance them.

In any case, Ginger Rogers managed to develop a look that suited her perfectly, and she dazzled film goers for many years.

I confess, once I started paging through “Lady, Be Lovely”, I couldn’t wait to post a few more pages from that delightful book. 

Today we’ll learn, among other things, that beauty has a viewpoint, that the queen of beauty is love, and how to be courageous.

There’s also a quote from the sanskrit, accompanied by a drawing that is obviously Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. I will devote more time to the Duchess in a future post on unconventional beauty.

I have an extensive collection of books on every subject of feminine interest from vintage fashion to cosmetics.  One of my favorites is “Lady, be Lovely” by Anne Rodman, published in 1939.  According to the introduction Anne worked as a copy writer for some of the leading cosmetics firms in the U.S.  She also had a background in commercial art.  Taking as her inspiration the notion that beauty could be taught to women from the viewpoint of an artist, she began to create “before and after” cartoons so that “a woman could see at a glance how to improve her appearance, just as if she were seated before the mirror of the best salon expert on Fifth Avenue.”  What a wonderful concept!

Anne Rodman’s book reminds me of the film “The Women“. Both the book and the film were released in 1939 and each deals in its own way exclusively with women.

The Women

The Women

The film was based upon a play by Claire Booth Luce, and was adapted for the screen by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin. The sets were glorious — designed by Cedric Gibbons; and the women themselves were utterly divine — dressed by Adrian.  Adrian’s designs were highlighted in a Technicolor fashion show sequence which was frequently cut from modern screenings.  With the exception of the fashion parade the film was shot in B/W. I would love to have seen Norma Shearer’s famously “Jungle Red” fingernails in color, but that is something left to the imagination. There is a NARS lipstick in Jungle Red that may be fun to try.

Because Anne’s book is so delightful, I’m going to share bits of it here on a regular basis. I don’t know about you, but I can always use beauty advice, even if it is 70 years old!  Get ready to “Kiss and Make Up” — the topic which begins Rodman’s book. 





















In her false witness, we hope you’re still with us,
To see if they float or drown
Our favorite patient, a display of patience,
Disease-covered Puget Sound
She’ll come back as fire, to burn all the liars,
And leave a blanket of ash on the ground

I miss the comfort in being sad 

— from “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” by Kurt Cobain


There’s something about the woman on this lipstick card that reminds me of the actress Frances Farmer. Maybe it’s the caption as much as it is the picture.

Frances Farmer was an absolutely gorgeous blonde who first hit the newspapers when, as a drama student at the University of Washington in Seattle in April 1935, she won first prize in a subscription contest sponsored by a local radical labor newspaper “The Voice of Action”.   The prize for winning the contest was a six week trip via ocean liner to Soviet Russia to see a production at the Moscow Arts Theater. Frances’ mother Lillian wasn’t thrilled about the trip, and she told reporters “There has been no break between Frances and me over the trip.  My fight is with the Voice of Action for sending her to Russia where she will be thrown in full contact with people who will probably make every effort to persuade her to Communism.”

Frances wasn’t necessarily persuaded to embrace Communism, but she became even more determined to pursue an acting career.  She returned to the U.S. during the summer of 1935, and her first stop was New York where she sought to launch a career in the theater. What she found instead was a Paramount Pictures talent scout,  Oscar Serlin (credited with discovering Fred MacMurray).  Frances did so well in her screen test that she was signed to a seven year contract on her 22nd birthday, and she promptly moved to Hollywood.

While Frances had  more than enough talent for Hollywood she never had the temperament. She was headstrong (as evidenced by her trip to Russia against her parents wishes), and she had very little tolerance for the studio system which was firmly in place during the 1930s. Under the studio system every aspect of an actor’s life was managed — not the kind of arrangement designed to bring out the best in Frances. She was quoted as saying “Hollywood is a madhouse. It consumes ambitious youngsters. There’s no time to consider anyone.  Hollywood casts you, forces you, pushes you. If you survive you’re plain lucky.”

Very early on the studio machine began to spin the story of Frances’ trip to Russia into something less likely to draw negative attention to her, or her political leanings. Initial reports stated the truth, that Frances had won first prize in a subsciptions contest for Voice of Action — but immediately following her arrival in Hollywood the story was retold very creatively with Frances winning a  trip to Europe as the first prize in a popularity contest!

Paramount didn’t realize that they had a tiger by the tail. Frances arrived in Hollywood in September 1935, and by February 1936 she’d eloped to Yuma, Arizona with fellow actor William Wycliffe Anderson (aka Leif Erickson).  Friends said they were surprised by the elopement and Frances’ mother Lillian said she was “completely floored”. 

Clifford Odets c. 1937

Clifford Odets c. 1937

In 1937 Frances left her husband at home and went off to Connecticut to work in summer stock. There she was invited to appear in Clifford Odets’ play “Golden Boy”.  As were many people in the 1930s, Odets was a Marxist and his work reflected his politics. Ironically, when called before the House on Un-American Activities in 1952, Odets avoided being blacklisted by disavowing his past Communist affiliations and naming names.

Clifford and Frances had an affair while she was in New York; however, he was married to Acadamey Award winning actress Luise Ranier and he refused to leave her. Frances and Luise had more in common than Odets — both were creative, stubborn, and each was often characterized as “temperamental” by studios that were in the business of trying to crank out hits (particularly during the years of the Depression) and were not so much interested in whether a story had artistic merit.

After her affair with Odets soured Frances returned to her husband, Leif, in Los Angeles.  The marriage began to crumble and talk of a divorce turned up in a few gossip columns by November 1939. In fact over the next couple of years the two were referred to in the newspapers as “ex” so often that I assumed they were divorced. Then I came across an item from the Los Angeles Times dated June 10, 1942 that stated that Erickson had just filed divorce papers in Reno so that he could marry actress Margaret Hayes.

Hotel Knickerbocker c. 1930s

Hotel Knickerbocker c. 1930s

Frances had spent the late 1930s and early 1940s earning a reputation for being difficult, primarily due to alcoholism. In mid-October 1942 Frances was arrested in Santa Monica for driving while intoxicated and for having bright headlights in a dimout area. She was fined $250, of which she paid a portion. She was given additional time to pay the balance. When she missed the deadline for payment a bench warrant was issued for her arrest. The actress was finally located at the Hollywood Knickerbocker where the arresting officers had to use a pass key to gain entrance to her room. Frances wouldn’t leave without a fight and she had to be forcibly dressed and dragged out of the building. All the while she was shouting “Have you ever had a broken heart?”

Frances would first be diagnosed with manic depressive psychosis, and soon thereafter with paranoid schizophrenia for which she would receive insulin shock therapy (later discredited as a treatment method).

Over the next several years Frances would spend much of her time as a patient at the Western State Hospital in Washington.  Frances’ autobiography “Will There Really Be A Morning?” describes her incarceration at the hospital as a brutal nightmare. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but in Quentin Tarantino’s film “Kill Bill” the bride (Uma Thurman) awakens from a coma in a hospital to discover that a sleazy orderly has been pimping her out. Similar outrages were alleged in Frances’ autobiography (which was probably entirely ghostwritten by a friend of hers). In the book it is said that she was a sex slave for some of the doctors and male orderlies. This unsubstantiated treatment of Frances was depicted in the 1982 film “Frances” starring Jessica Lange.

In 1978 Seattle film critic William Arnold published a fictionalized, and highly sensationalized, account of Frances’ life entitled “Shadowland”.  The most salacious details of Frances’ life (many of which have been accepted as fact) seem to emanate from that book.

Frances at Television City c. 1958

Frances at Television City c. 1958

One of the most horrendous “facts” of Frances’ life at Western State Hospital was that she’d had a lobotomy. Transorbital lobotomies were performed at the hospital during Frances’ time there; however, there is no record that she was ever subjected to the procedure.  

Frances did make a comeback of sorts as the host of a local talk show that aired in Indianapolis from 1958 to 1964. The show “Frances Farmer Presents” remained in the number one position for its time slot during the entire run.

Frances Farmer died at age 56 of esophageal cancer in 1970.

Scent, Memory, and Burlesque Queens

I don’t normally write about perfume, even though I love it, because I don’t collect it. But this past August I had an occasion to discuss perfume and burlesque with a wonderful woman who knows a great deal about both. The woman I’m talking about is none other than legendary burlesque queen, Betty “Ball of Fire” Rowland. I met her because she was a special guest on Esotouric’s “Hotel Horrors and Main Street Vice” tour.

She began her professional dancing career as a Minsky’s girl in New York city; and she may have stayed there if it hadn’t been for a crackdown on the burlesque houses beginning in 1935. The citizenry and, perhaps even more importantly, Mayor LaGuardia, considered burlesque a corrupt moral influence. The mayor and the citizens groups couldn’t shut Minksy’s down without a good reason — there would need to be a criminal charge against Abe Minsky.  At last, in 1937, a dancer at Minsky’s was busted for working without her G-string and the law stepped in.  New licensing regulations would allow the burlesque houses in New York to stay open, provided that they didn’t employ strippers! Not surprisingly, that bit of legalese put a bullet through the heart of burlesque in the city.

Betty and her troupe of dancers headed west to begin a limited engagement at the Follies Theater on Main Street in Los Angeles. It may have started as a limited engagement but Los Angeles audiences loved Betty and she would continue to dance at the Follies for about 15 years. 

Before she was dubbed the “Ball of Fire”, Betty was known as the “littlest burlesque star”. That appellation may have described her stature (she is very petite), but “Ball of Fire” captured her spirit. Is she still a ball of fire?  You bet!

Because I had an opportunity to chat with her, I decided that rather than ask her to reminisce about celebrities she’d known, or places she’d worked,  I’d ask her if she’d had a signature scent, particularly something she’d worn when she performed. She seemed a little surprised by the question, saying she’d never been asked that before, but she responded instantly. Her favorite fragrance had been Coty’s L’Aimant; and it was part of her act! She told me that before she appeared on stage she’d spray a liberal amount of the cologne all over herself so that when she “worked the curtain” the scent would waft over the first few rows.

I told her that I thought it was absolutely brilliant of her to have conceived of using a fragrance in such a creative way. There has been an enormous amount of scientific research done on olfactory memory; but you don’t have to be a scientist to know that certain aromas trigger powerful personal memories. I cannot smell leaves burning without recalling my midwestern childhood.

As far as I was concerned, autumn had officially arrived when leaves, raked into neat piles, were burned in nearly every yard in my neighborhood.

I’ll bet that there were men who saw Betty perform who subsequently carried with them forever the memory of her perfume. I wonder how many wives and girlfriends received gifts of L’Aimant from those men over the years; and I also wonder if the men knew why they’d selected that particular perfume at a counter crowded with choices.

Betty lamented that Coty had long ago discontinued her favorite scent — but if you know where to look you can still find a vintage formulation of the famous floral.  I’ve ordered a bottle for Betty, and I hope it prompts her to relive some of her most precious memories.

If you’re interested in seeing one of Betty’s performances, all you need to do is to go to YouTube. I’ve also written a little different story about Betty for In SRO Land.

The Guerlain advertisement by Jacques Darcy is one that I adore, and one which I have noticed is very similar to the Man Ray photograph of Elizabeth “Lee” Miller from 1930.

Elizabeth Lee Miller by Man Ray (1930)

Elizabeth "Lee Miller" by Man Ray (1930)

Both images are of a woman’s face — upside down, hair flowing, eyes shut. The images reveal women who appear to be sleeping peacefully. Because the advertisement has a caption, we know that the woman is dreaming. The father of modern psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, said that “wish-fulfillment is the meaning of each and every dream, and hence there can be no dreams besides wishful dreams”. Nothing like interjecting a bit of Freudian psychology into an advertisement for lipstick!

Man Ray may not have been probing the human psyche in the same ways as Freud, but he was exploring the landscape of the mind through his art. Ray was an American artist residing in New York in 1916 when he became acquainted with fellow artists, and recent arrivals from France, Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. The three men were kindred spirits and they soon became active in the anti-art movement in the U.S. Anti-art didn’t mean that they rejected art per se but rather that they were rebelling against conventional “museum art”. The movement was known as Dada and was a protest against the nationalism, capitalism, and other “isms” which many people felt were the fundamental causes of World War I. Artist George Grosz characterized his Dadaist art as a protest “against this world of mutual destruction”.

Observatory - The Lovers by Man Ray (1934)

Observatory - The Lovers by Man Ray (1934)

When Ray arrived in France in 1921 he was one of many expatriate artists and writers who would gravitate to Paris in the 1920s; and just as his predecessors had done he found his way to Montparnasse, sometimes referred to as the “Harlem of Paris”. Ray continued to pursue his art; however, Dadaism peaked by 1922 as many of his contemporaries embraced Surrealism.

La Magie Noire by Rene Magritte

La Magie Noire by Rene Magritte

There were several parallel, and very important, art, design, philosophical, and political movements gaining ground during the 1920s: Dada, Surrealism, Art Deco, Freudian psychoanalysis, and Existentialism (the term existentialism was not used in the 1920s; it was coined in 1943 by Gabriel Marcel, and it would be retroactively applied to philosophers such as Martin Heideggar and Soren Kierkegaard). I see subtle similarities between the Darcy ad and the painting La Magie Noire by Rene Magritte. Perhaps it is the coloration, or the peaceful expression on the face of the woman who seems to belong to both the earth and the clouds.

For most of the 1920s Ray’s muse was Alice Prin (aka Kiki de Montparnasse), the Queen of Montparnasse. Kiki had come up hard as the illegitimate child of a peasant girl, and was given over to her grandmother to be raised. The two struggled in extreme poverty (Kiki often stole food from local gardens) and so when at age 12 she had an opportunity to live with her mother in Paris, she took it. She was a headstrong girl and she and her mother frequently clashed. When Kiki finally left her mother’s home for the last time she was only 14 years old.

Kiki with vase by J. Mandel (c. 1928)

Kiki with vase by J. Mandel (c. 1928)

She was a lovely girl, and it wasn’t surprising that she was quickly discovered by local artists. Her relationship with the artists was often mutually beneficial — many times they produced their best work when using Kiki as a model. That was certainly true of Man Ray.

Kiki fled Paris in 1940 when the Germans began their occupation and she never returned as a resident. She died at age 51 — the likely result of alcoholism and drug abuse.

Le Violon dIngres by Man Ray (Kiki as model)

Le Violon d'Ingres by Man Ray (Kiki as model)

In 1929 Kiki was supplanted in Ray’s affections by Elizabeth “Lee” Miller. Lee arrived at Ray’s Paris studio and announced to him that she was his new student. He insisted that he didn’t accept apprentices, but Lee was extraordinary; she was gorgeous and talented. They became lovers as well as student and teacher. Lee had run to Paris after posing for a Kotex ad. The ad is famous for being the first feminine hygiene ad in which an actual photograph of a woman was used. At first Lee was mortified by the ad, apparently she hadn’t realized that she wasn’t to be a model for a drawing, but rather for a photograph.

Lee Miller in Kotex ad (1928)

Lee Miller in Kotex ad (1928)

Lee would stay with Man Ray for a few years, but eventually she grew restless and returned to New York where she opened her own studio. If her studio work was superlative, her work as a photojournalist for Vogue magazine during World War II was brilliant; however, witnessing scenes at liberated death camps, among other horrors, profoundly changed her.

She put away her camera in the 1950s and channeled her restless energy into gourmet cooking, at which she excelled. Lee succumbed to cancer in 1977; her ashes were scattered over her herb garden at her farm in Sussex, England.

Darcy ad for Guerlains Are You Her Type? ad campaign

Darcy ad for Guerlain's "Are You Her Type?" ad campaign

As for Jacques Darcy, the artist who created the distinctive advertisements for Guerlain, I have not been able to discover very much about him. I found conflicting information in various sources. The consensus seems to be that he was born on February 7, 1892 and died in 1963 in Michigan. His work appeared frequently during the 1920s and 1930s in such publications as Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, and Vogue. He is best known for the art he produced for Guerlain — in my opinion some of the best commercial art ever created.





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

The Young Sisters

Baby Stars of 1929

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 AstorJoan 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.

Sally Rand

Sally Rand

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

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.

« Previous Page