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Archive for the ‘STAGE & SCREEN’ Category

Princess Margaret of Britain loved to dress up. Here she is at age 34 at a Georgian ball at Mansion House, 1964. A Georgian-themed affair is a throwback to the days of French Queen Marie Antoinette: heavy on white wigs and powdered faces. Getty Images.

From a very young age, Princess Margaret of Britain (1930-2001) loved to dress up in costumes, act, sing, and dance—and she had real talent. At the age of nine months, for example, she had astounded her grandmother with her gift for music, by humming the waltz from “The Merry Widow.”

Her enchantment with the magical world of music, dance, and theatre was cultivated early, in large part, by her childhood attendance at the annual Christmas pantomimes in London prior to the outbreak of WWII in 1939. Her parents, titled at her birth as the Duke and Duchess of York and then, after 1936, titled as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain, would take Margaret and her older sister, Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II), to the rollicking shows every winter holiday.

In the Duchess’s box at the Lyceum Theatre, London, the Duke and Duchess of York and their daughters, Princesses Margaret (l.), 4, and Elizabeth, 8, enjoy the Christmas pantomime, “Dick Whittington,” in which Dick promises that his cat will rid the realm of rats. February 1935.

 

The 1934-35 playbill for the pantomime enjoyed by Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth and their parents in February 1935. Cast: Dick Henderson, George Jackley, Naughton & Gold, Molly Vyvyan, Elsie Prince, Audrey Acland and Eric Brock.

British pantomimes are a peculiar bit of theatre. The name, “pantomime,” is misleading, as the word “mime” evokes an image of the silent French mime Marcel Marceau alone on stage, in white face makeup, leaning into an invisible wind, battling to open an invisible umbrella, a sublime and subtle entertainment. A British pantomime, on the other hand, is pure camp—loud, boisterous, ridiculous and, sometimes, a little naughty. This musical comedy stage production is loosely based on a favorite children’s story such as “Cinderella,” “Aladdin,” or “Puss and Boots” but with dramatically-altered plot lines and a motley crew of characters. An assortment of costumed performers dance and sing, belting out tunes familiar to the audience but with new and absurd lyrics designed to draw a lot of laughs. Oddly, although pantos are Christmas entertainment, there are no references to Christmas in the scripts.

The panto audience is encouraged to participate. They shout out to the actors, “Look out, he’s behind you!” they hiss at the villain, they cry, “Awwwww” to the poor victims.

An example of audience participation in the pantomime version of “Sleeping Beauty”:

Wicked Queen – “I am the fairest of them all”

Audience – “Oh no you’re not!”

Queen – “Oh yes I am!”

Audience – “Oh no you’re not!”

There are sing-a-longs. Animals are usually humans in costume like the Pantomime Horse, with one person in the front and another pulling up the rear.

Famous English animal impersonator Albert Felino in the role of the cat in “Dick Whittington.” Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, Christmas (photo: unknown, England or Scotland, probably 1908; postcard, The Philco Publishing Co, London, Philco Series 3438E)

Think of a British pantomime as a cross between “Sleeping Beauty” and a vaudeville show with slapstick humor, bawdy jokes, gender-swapping, special effects like magical transformation scenes as in “Cinderella,” and capped by celebrity appearances.

With all their color, excitement, music, costumes, bright lights, gags, and laughter, these once-a-year pantomimes made a lasting impression on the young Princess Margaret. This special time with her loving family—before the bombs began to fall—was pure joy—and formed the foundation upon which she crafted her own talents as an amateur actress, mimic, and singer and developed a lifelong taste for theater, dance, and music.

Margaret’s childhood nanny from 1932-1948, Marion “Crawfie” Crawford, recalled:

In those happy pre-war days, theatre managers always had a large box of chocolates in the royal box. But the little girls’ great ambition was to sit in the stalls or the dress circle. They had to hang over the side of the royal box, to see properly. I can still see the Duke anxiously seizing his daughters’ petticoats, afraid they would fall over altogether in their immense enthusiasm. 

The children looked forward to these pantomimes for the remaining eleven months of the year. Margaret, as soon as she could talk at all, would reenact most of the parts….”

In 1936, the Duke of York became King George VI of Great Britain and his wife became Queen Elizabeth (who, in 1952, would be styled as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother or the Queen Mum). The young family, whom the King dubbed affectionately as “Us Four,” left their stately home at 145 Piccadilly and moved three miles, as the crow flies, across London to Buckingham Palace.

“Us Four.” The British Royal Family, 1937. Getty Images.

Four years later, in May 1939, England was at war with Nazi Germany. It was not safe for children in London during the bombing so Margaret and Elizabeth moved to Windsor Castle, a medieval fortress with thick walls, just 21 miles west of London. Margaret would live at Windsor until the war’s end in May 1945, from the age of nine years old to fifteen. The girls roomed in the “nursery” in the Augusta Tower.

a_068_windsor

an aerial view of Windsor Castle, over 900 years old (2020), a working palace and a setting for a fairy tale. Photo credit: Organic Society.

For the most part, the King and Queen stayed in London at Buckingham Palace, visiting the girls on Saturdays and Sundays. By staying in town during the Blitz, the royal couple put their lives in great jeopardy as the Palace was bombed nine times by the German Luftwaffe. In September 1940, they were almost killed when the Nazis dropped bombs on the Palace Chapel, destroying it.

At about 11 a.m. on 13 September 1940, a week after the start of the London Blitz, a German bomber ducked under the clouds, flew deliberately low across the capital [London] and dropped five high explosive bombs on Buckingham Palace. George VI and his wife, Elizabeth, were just taking tea. At the precise moment that they heard what she described as the “unmistakable whirr-whirr” of the plane, the queen was battling to take an eyelash out of his eye and they rushed out into the corridor to avoid the blast. Two bombs fell in the palace’s inner quadrangle a few yards from where the couple had been sitting, a third destroyed the chapel and the remainder caused deep craters at the front of the building. 1

Windsor Castle was near enough to the repeated shelling of London for the sisters to feel the walls of the great Windsor Castle shake and to hear the “whistle and scream” of the bombs as they fell from the skies. Although we know now that the Germans never did succeed in invading England according to their plan, during the war, expectation of an imminent invasion was an everyday worry for Britons. Windsor Castle was reinforced by barbed wire which Margaret thought rather futile, saying in a later interview that it wasn’t very capable of keeping the Germans out. Rather, it kept her IN.

(l. to r.) Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth on the grounds of Royal Lodge, Windsor, 1940. Getty Images

Windsor was a giant beehive of thirteen acres with 1,000 rooms just for the royal family. Over 350 servants lived and worked there. In addition, officials, courtiers, guardsmen, soldiers on leave, soldiers convalescing, boys from Eton buzzed in and about. Margaret remarked, “I was brought up among men,” which is no understatement. So, although life was serious: daytime lessons for the girls in academics, dance, piano, and language, and, as part of the war effort, bandage-rolling, sock-knitting, and tinfoil collection was obligatory, and Windsor was dark, with the sparkling chandeliers taken down, the state apartments cloaked in sheets, windows blacked out, and with only log fires in the sitting rooms for warmth, there were still lighthearted times for those forced to be there. The girls sang in a Madrigal Society with the soldiers and boys from Eton. There were occasional balls. The girls loved to dance and the King loved to waltz, in particular. The sisters served tea to the soldiers and, afterwards, played guessing games and charades. Crawfie and the two girls played one-man charades in which each one took a turn imitating someone they knew and the others guessed. Crawfie said that the sisters—in particular, Margaret,

had considerable talent for acting…There was never any doubt about Margaret’s efforts! They were unmistakable. She kept us in fits of laughter with this first manifestation of a talent that was one day to amuse a much larger circle…Lilibet [Elizabeth] was always a more serious child….

After dinner at night with their parents and their parents’ guests, they played more charades until midnight. (The Queen Mother would later become incensed when Crawfie wrote a book—the first of many nanny diaries to come—about her time in the royal household. Crawfie wanted to include in her tell-all about a night of charades when the Duchess of Kent imitated pulling a lavatory chain—flushing a toilet—as a clue to the phrase, “royal flush.” The Queen Mother insisted that Crawfie had violated the terms of her employment. Crawfie edited out this story, as per the Queen Mother’s wishes, but from then on, she was persona non grata.)

It was at Windsor that Margaret’s talent for acting found both a wider audience and a larger appreciation. Each Christmas from 1941 until 1945, the two princesses took the leading roles in locally-produced pantomimes for the benefit of the Royal Household Concert Wool Fund. The full-scale productions were staged in the Waterloo Chamber of the Castle. Although Princess Elizabeth did a good job at acting and tap-dancing for more than five hundred, including townspeople and soldiers, it was Princess Margaret, with her sparkle and spunk, that stole the show. Margaret’s admirers remarked on her skill in impersonating cockneys or Southern belles or shy town clerks. She had a knack for mimicking regional accents and dialects.

This “gift of fun-poking—and very clever fun-poking” as Crawfie termed it, would, in her adult life, when she had grown old, alcoholic, and sickly, be used by Margaret to craft remarks that cut people to the quick, alienating even those who loved her, and for which she would become notorious, reviled, and ostracized. Her sardonic quips were repeated, becoming legendary. Given that she was royal, she was unstoppable, as no one dared correct a woman to whom one curtseys and bows.

1941: Princess Elizabeth discusses the pantomime with her mother, Queen Elizabeth of England, while her sister, Princess Margaret, looks on. AP photo.

Sources:

Crawford, Marion. The Little Princesses: The Story of the Queen’s Childhood by Her Nanny, Marion Crawford. (1950)

multiple bios of QEII, Princess Margaret

Readers, for more on Marie Antoinette, click here. For more on Princess Margaret, click here. For more on the British Royal Family, click here.

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Asia Booth Clarke

The 19th-century American writer, Asia Booth Clarke (1835-1888), was born into a family of actors. Her famous brothers were Edwin Booth, Junius Booth, and John Wilkes Booth.

 

booth bros.

Credit…Brown University Library

On the morning of April 15, 1865, Asia was in bed in her Philadelphia mansion, sickly pregnant with twins, when she was handed the newspaper. She screamed when she read the headlines: her brother, John Wilkes Booth, was wanted for the murder of President Abraham Lincoln.

President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th president of the U.S.

Asia could not believe it—and yet it was true. On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, the actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated the 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln. Asia—and the nation—would never fully recover from Booth’s terrible act, his retaliation for Lincoln’s freeing of American slaves.

A copy of a hand colored 1870 lithographic print by Gibson & Co. provided by the U.S. Library of Congress shows John Wilkes Booth shooting U.S. President Abraham Lincoln as he sits in the presidential box at Ford’s Theatre

In the immediate aftermath of the crime, the nation went into shock. Disbelief gave way to tears, sobs, and solemn displays of mourning. The newspapers dubbed the moment “our National Calamity.” Easter Sunday came and went with little notice. The people were focused on the President’s funeral procession which was to take place Wednesday.

Lincoln’s body lies in state in the East Room of the White House. Harper’s Weekly, May 6, 1865.

Tens of thousands of people poured into the nation’s capital. Every hotel in Washington, D. C., sold out. Thousands of visitors slept in parks or on the streets.  Somber black crepe and bunting replaced the patriotic banners adorning buildings from just a week before when the city had been positively giddy with excitement, ablaze with candles and gaslights in every window, marching bands, dancing, singing, and the ringing of bells upon learning of the fall of Richmond, the capitol of the Rebel States, spelling a Union victory in the American Civil War.

In his diary, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles noted the city’s sad transformation from celebration to gloom:

Every house, almost, has some drapery, especially the homes of the poor…the little black ribbon or strip of cloth… (1)

On the morning of April 19, the funeral procession carrying the President’s body slowly made its way to the Capitol, “the beat of the march measured by muffled bass and drums swathed in crepe.”

Lincoln’s funeral on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., on April 19, 1865. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

At the Capitol, the President’s coffin was received in the rotunda, where, beneath the Great Dome, thousands of mourners streamed by to view the President’s remains in the open casket.

It was a sacred day except for one detraction. Five days had passed since John Wilkes Booth had killed this most beloved of men and Booth was still a free man.

John Wilkes Booth

The manhunters were aggressively tracking the fugitive’s movements in and around the capital, following all plausible leads and, still, they could boast of NO ARREST. The newspapers abounded with tales of those who had spotted someone matching Booth’s description. Meanwhile, the authorities descended upon anyone associated with Booth, questioning many and arresting scores. Asia Booth Clarke and her husband, the comedic actor, John “Sleepy” Clarke, were not spared. The day of Lincoln’s funeral, swarms of detectives appeared at their door. John Clarke was seized, taken to Washington, and imprisoned in the Old Capitol with two of Asia’s other brothers, Joe and Junius Booth. The Clarke’s house was raided. (2)

Booth was on the run a full twelve days before he was cornered. He refused to surrender and was killed. Three weeks after his death, Asia wrote her friend Jean Anderson:

Philadelphia, May 22, 1865.

My Dear Jean:

I have received both of your letters, and although feeling the kindness of your sympathy, could not compose my thoughts to write — I can give you no idea of the desolation which has fallen upon us. The sorrow of his [Wilkes Booth’s] death is very bitter, but the disgrace is far heavier; – 

Junius and John Clarke have been two weeks to-day confined in the old Capital – prison Washington for no complicity or evidence — Junius wrote an innocent letter from Cincinnati, which by a wicked misconstruction has been the cause of his arrest. He begged him [John Wilkes Booth] to quit the oil business and attend to his profession, not knowing the “oil” signified conspiracy in Washington as it has since been proven that all employed in the plot, passed themselves off as “oil merchants”.

John Clarke was arrested for having in his house a package of papers upon which he had never laid his hands or his eyes, but after the occurrence when I produced them, thinking it was a will put here for safe keeping — John took them to the U.S. Marshall, who reported to head-quarters, hence this long imprisonment for two entirely innocent men –

I was shocked and grieved to see the names of Michael O’Laughlin and Samuel Arnold. I am still some surprised to learn that all engaged in the plot are Roman Catholics — John Wilkes was of that faith — preferably — and I was glad that he had fixed his faith on one religion for he was always of a pious mind and I wont speak of his qualities, you knew him. My health is very delicate at present but I seem completely numbed and hardened in sorrow.

The report of Blanche and Edwin are without truth, their marriage not to have been until September and I do not think it will be postponed so that it is a long way off yet. Edwin is here with me. Mother went home to N.Y. last week. She has been with me until he came.

American actor Edwin Booth as Hamlet. Edwin Booth was so beloved that he was not arrested after the Lincoln assassination, although two of his brothers were. He testified at the trial of the conspirators.

I told you I believe that Wilkes was engaged to Miss Hale, — They were most devoted lovers and she has written heart broken letters to Edwin about it — Their marriage was to have been in a year, when she promised to return from Spain for him, either with her father or without him, that was the decision only a few days before the fearful calamity — Some terrible oath hurried him to this wretched end. God help him. Remember me to all and write often.

Yours every time,

Asia (3)

“Miss Hale” refers to Lucy Lambert Hale (1841-1915), the younger daughter of Senator John Parker Hale of New Hampshire.

Lucy Lambert Hale, ca. 1865, courtesy of Ford’s Theatre.

Lucy met John Wilkes Booth at one of his performances in Washington, D.C., when he played the character Charles De Moor in “The Robbers” (1862 or 1863). She presented him with a bouquet. (4) By early 1865, Booth was regularly lodging at the National Hotel in Washington, D.C., where Lucy lived with her parents and sister, Lizzie. We know they were close as Lucy’s cousin stayed in Booth’s rooms during Lincoln’s Second Inauguration. Lucy also procured a pass for Booth to attend the March 4, 1865, inauguration, a pass no doubt she obtained through her father, as only about 2,000 tickets for entrance inside the Capitol were issued. (It was later learned that Booth contemplated killing Lincoln then and there but was talked out of it by an associate also present.)

Although Lucy Hale and John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865) reportedly were seen in each other’s company around the city, it was not publicly known that they were engaged. This plan was kept secret, since Society considered an actor to be in a social class beneath the dignity of the daughter of a U.S. senator. Just a month before, President Lincoln appointed Senator John P. Hale to be the new ambassador to Spain. Shortly, Lucy, Lizzie, and their mom would be moving to Spain with Senator Hale.

By some accounts, Lucy, an ardent abolitionist, had broken off the engagement with Booth when she learned he had strong secession views. A newspaper article suggested that this rejection occurred ten days before the assassination, fueling Booth’s “mental excitement, occasioned by drink.” (5) However, Lucy’s letters to Edwin Booth—written after John Wilkes Booth’s death (as mentioned in Asia’s letter here)—suggest otherwise. According to those accounts, the engagement was very much active when Booth died.

A veiled reference to Lucy Hale’s grief over Booth’s death appeared on page five of the New York Tribune on April 22, 1865:

Lucy Lambert Hale, 1863, photo by Mathew Brady, courtesy of wikimedia commons.

On the afternoon or early evening of April 14, 1865, the day of the assassination, Lucy Hale, age 24, was reportedly studying Spanish with two old friends from the Boston area, where she had attended boarding school. They were President Lincoln’s eldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, and the president’s assistant private secretary, John Hay. She had many suitors but her heart was set on only one. She was one of multitudes of women around the country who were captivated by the charm and beauty of the romantic star of the stage, John Wilkes Booth.

When the fugitive John Wilkes Booth was killed at age 26 by U.S. troops, he carried a diary. Tucked inside were photographs of five women, four actresses and a well-known belle of Washington society. The horrified authorities recognized the society belle as the daughter of the new American ambassador to Spain and, as only Washington gossips knew, Booth’s secret fiancée: Lucy Lambert Hale. Someone ordered the pictures to be suppressed so tongues wouldn’t wag with the tale that Lucy Hale was engaged to a murderer! That knowledge would shred her reputation and Lucy would never find a suitable husband

It would be decades before those five photos were made public. The one of Lucy in Booth’s wallet is the photo of her face in profile.

Had Booth used Lucy to get into social and political circles denied to him as a mere actor? Or, as some close to him say, was he smitten by Lucy, head-over-heels in love to such a degree that he would commit to just one woman when so many threw themselves at his feet?

Lucy went off to Spain with the family. It was nine long years before she would wed—a senator.

As for Asia, when her husband returned home from prison mid-May, he announced he wanted a divorce and wanted nothing further to do with the name “Booth.” John Wilkes Booth had been right about John Sleeper Clarke. Booth had warned his sister not to marry “Sleepy.” He believed that Sleepy wanted to marry Asia only in order to capitalize on the name “Booth” to further his own acting career. The marriage continued but the union was an unhappy one.

Asia went on to establish herself as a writer, writing John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir, a slender volume that offers us a close look at the childhood and personal preferences of the complex arch villain John Wilkes Booth. To remove themselves from the stigma of association with the president’s killer, Asia and her family eventually decided to move away from America and settle in England, where her husband got involved with a mistress and treated her with “duke-like haughtiness and icy indifference.” (6)

Sources:

  1. Diary of Gideon Welles. Manhunt, James L. Swanson, p. 213.
  2. Manhunt, pp. 217-219.
  3. Asia Booth Clarke to Jean Anderson, 22 May 1865, BCLM Works on Paper Collection, ML 518, Box 37, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, Maryland. cited in John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day, Arthur F. Loux. Note: Only 3 conspirators were Catholic. There is no corroboration that John Wilkes Booth converted to Catholicism.
  4. John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day, Arthur F. Loux.
  5. Chicago Times, April 17, 1865, p. 2, bottom 3rd column.
  6. John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir, Asia Booth Clarke.

Readers, for more on Abraham Lincoln, click here.

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Constance Keane brushes her lustrous honey-blond hair. Undated photo. ca. 1940

Constance Keane brushes her lustrous honey-blond hair. Undated photo. ca. 1940

Constance Keane, 19, was sure she had blown her Paramount screen test. It was August of 1941 and the film was “I Wanted Wings.” Keane auditioned to portray a nightclub singer:

“We did a scene in which I was supposed to be tipsy at a table in a small nightclub. Things were going nicely until I leaned my elbows on the edge of the table….My right elbow slipped off the table edge sending my long blonde hair falling over my left eye. I spent the next few minutes trying to continue with the scene as I kept shaking my head to get the hair out of my eyes.” (1)

She knew she had lost the chance to play the part and left the studio sobbing. But then came the phone call from the picture’s director. He wanted her for the part. Her acting may not have been perfect, but she had a magnetism on film and, the biggest surprise of all, her hair had been a smash! He liked the eye-hiding gimmick of it. The picture was going to be a hit, he said, and that would make her Connie a star. A star, however needed both a gimmick and a good name. He hated the name Constance Keane so he rechristened her “Veronica Lake,” borrowing the “Veronica” bit from his secretary and adding the last name “Lake” because “her eyes are calm and blue like a lake.”

Veronica Lake liked to say that she didn't do cheesecake shots like Betty Grable but, rather, used her hair for sex appeal. Photo undated, ca. 1942

Veronica Lake liked to say that she didn’t do cheesecake shots like Betty Grable but, rather, used her hair for sex appeal. Photo undated, ca. 1942

“I Wanted Wings” was indeed a runaway success. It was the biggest picture of 1941 and Veronica Lake’s breakthrough hit. Veronica Lake (1922-1973) , all 4’11” and 90 lbs of her, became a big star overnight.

To get an idea of how tiny Veronica Lake was, she is shown here to the left of actress Dorothy Lamour. Undated photo, ca. 1942

To get an idea of how tiny Veronica Lake was, she is shown here with fellow film stars Paulette Goddard (l) and Dorothy Lamour (center). Lake is at our far right. From movie, “Star-Spangled Rhythm,” 1942.

The public loved her playful yet seductive, one-eyed look.

The poster for Paramount’s 1941 film, “I Wanted Wings” launched Veronica Lake’s career and her trademark peekaboo hairdo.

Lake’s honey-blonde hair – flat on top because women wore hats in the forties – was worn with a deep side parting and swept over to the opposite side. Soft waves draped her cheek and a single S-curl fell seductively over one eye. Long and loose, flowing over the shoulders and down the back, the hairstyle known as the “peekaboo” became a fashion must-have.

Veronica Lake at her most iconic. Ca. 1942

Veronica Lake at her most iconic. Ca. 1942

Women flocked to beauty salons all across the nation to get “The Lake Look.” The Fuller Brush Company advertised that Lake gave her hair fifteen minutes of stroking every day with one of their brushes.

Veronica Lake wore looser curls than actresses of the day. Photo undated, ca. 1942

Veronica Lake wore looser curls than actresses of the day. Photo undated, ca. 1942

Life magazine devoted an article to her hair and the sensation it caused, divulging such personal information as

“the fact that my head had 150,000 hairs, each measuring about 0.0024 inches in cross-section….[B]ecause Hollywood’s water was so hard, I rinsed [my hair] in vinegar,” wrote Lake. (1)

Veronica Lake at the height of her beauty and fame. Photo ca. 1942

Veronica Lake at the height of her beauty and fame. Photo ca. 1942

For the next several years, Lake’s hair would have the tendency to droop over one eye.

Veronica Lake was a great beauty. Ca. 1942

Veronica Lake was a great beauty. Ca. 1942

Her role in her next picture, “Sullivan’s Travels,” (1942), costarring Joel McCrea, won her both popular and critical acclaim. It was straight comedy and Lake proved to be very good at it.

Note the doodle in the bottom left of the poster. It is instantly recognizable as Veronica Lake.

Note the doodle in the bottom left of the poster. It is instantly recognizable as Veronica Lake.

Her next film, “This Gun for Hire” (1942), a film noir, was the first of seven she made with Alan Ladd. Both Lake and Ladd were short – Ladd was only 5’5″ – golden-haired, attractive, and aloof. The public loved the Ladd/Lake pairing (and Ladd didn’t have to stand in a pit when filming scenes with his leading lady).

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in the film, "This Gun for Hire." 1942

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in the film, “This Gun for Hire.” 1942

In “I Married a Witch” (1942), a romantic fantasy comedy, Lake is cast as a witch whose plans for revenge against costarring mortal Frederic March are foiled. Her characterization is a funky combination of kittenish allure and goofiness. The film was wildly popular and later sparked the creation of the TV series, “Bewitched” in 1964.

In filming "I Married a Witch," Veronica Lake played tricks on Frederic March, because she hated him, like kneeing him in the groin during a tender scene while the cameras were rolling.

On the set of “I Married a Witch,” Veronica Lake made Frederic March miserable because, in real life, she hated him. In one tender scene, the camera is filming Frederic March from the neck up while Lake is kneeing him in the groin. That was not in the script and March kept a poker face despite excruciating pain.

In "I Married A Witch," Veronica Lake plays a witch burned in the Salem witch trials, out to seek revenge.

In “I Married A Witch,” Veronica Lake plays a witch burned in the Salem witch trials, out to seek revenge.

In 1943, Veronica Lake was as popular as ever with the movie-going public. She was on a roll. She was one of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars.

Unfortunately, Miss Lake’s rise to fame coincided with America going to war (World War II, 1941-1945). Men left for the battlefield and women went to work in war industry factories.

Women were invaluable in the war effort. Soldiers without Guns poster, Office of War Information, ca. 1944. (National Archives)

Women were invaluable in the war effort. Soldiers without Guns poster, Office of War Information, ca. 1944. (National Archives)

Some of these factory workers wore their hair down in the factories, peekaboo style. Their drooping locks began to present a safety issue. The U.S. government intervened, asking the one-eyed beauty Veronica Lake not to wear her hair down for the duration of the war. She obliged, putting her hair up, and was praised widely for her patriotism, giving up her peekaboo look for the war effort.

In this Life magazine photo, movie star Veronica Lake illustrates the danger of loose hair for female factory workers. Her hair is tangled in machinery. Photo Undated. Ca. 1943

In this Life magazine photo, movie star Veronica Lake illustrates the danger of loose hair for female factory workers. Her hair is tangled in machinery. Photo Undated. Ca. 1943

Here is the public service announcement, “Safety Styles” she made to urge women to follow her example:

At the end of the “Safety Styles” video, the announcer says that, with her new updo, Veronica Lake’s “hair is out of the way and combed in a simple and becoming fashion.” That fashion was called a “victory roll,” making a “V” shape when seen from the back and a “victory” because of the gesture of choosing country over vanity. In the 1943 film, “So Proudly We Hail!” (1943), Lake wears her hair in a “victory roll” in her portrayal of Lieutenant Olivia D’Arcy. The movie was a success.

Veronica Lake in "So Proudly We Hail" (1943)

Veronica Lake in “So Proudly We Hail” (1943)

Veronica Lake shows her "victory roll" hairdo. 1942-43

Veronica Lake shows her “victory roll” hairdo. 1942-43

In 1944,  Lake’s career faltered with her unsympathetic role as Nazi spy Dora Bruckman in “The Hour Before the Dawn” (1944). The movie was a flop. Again, Lake is wearing her hair up in a severe style, as the war is still in progress.

"The Hour Before the Dawn" (1944) with Veronica Lake.

“The Hour Before the Dawn” (1944) with Veronica Lake.

Veronica Lake would make 26 pictures. By 1950, however, her career in films was effectively over. Some biographers say that abandoning her classic peekaboo hairstyle damaged her box office appeal. In truth, though, it was Lake’s heavy drinking and her devilish behavior that undid her hard-earned success. From the beginning, she was difficult to work with; she made enemies on every movie set, often running off and disappearing in the middle of filming. No one wanted to work with her. The studio stopped giving her plum roles.

Eddie Bracken, her co-star in “Star Spangled Rhythm” (in which Lake appeared in a musical number) was quoted as saying,

“She was known as ‘The B—h’ and she deserved the title.”

Joel McCrea, her co-star in “Sullivan’s Travels,” reportedly turned down the co-starring role in “I Married a Witch,” saying,

“Life’s too short for two films with Veronica Lake.”

(However, McCrea did co-star with Lake again in 1947 in the western, “Ramrod.”)

In Ramrod, Veronica Lake can let her hair down once again, as the war has been over for 2 years.

In Ramrod, Veronica Lake can let her hair down once again, as the war has been over for 2 years.

During filming of the film “The Blue Dahlia” (1946), screenwriter Raymond Chandler referred to her as “Moronica Lake”.

Lake’s romantic entanglements were a disaster. She grew tired of her children. Her mother claimed that Veronica had been diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teen and that she took her to Hollywood to study acting as therapy. Few people trust her mother’s words since she later sued Veronica Lake, wanting part of her estate. Nevertheless, Veronica Lake had a complex and volatile nature.

By 1948, her movies had become flops. Paramount Pictures did not renew her contract.

Veronica Lake  (1970)

Veronica Lake (1970)

Veronica Lake’s decline in mental health and descent into full-blown alcoholism was both severe and dramatically rapid. Her beauty faded; her health crumbled. In 1973, after years of ill health, menial jobs largely in hotels and bars, loneliness, numerous brushes with the law for public intoxication and disorderly conduct, and poverty due to untreated alcoholism, Veronica Lake, 51, died of cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis in a Vermont hospital.

Veronica Lake’s iconic look is still copied today. Countless Youtube tutorials teach how to achieve the peekaboo look, a classic style, a relic of the Golden Age of Hollywood, when Veronica Lake reigned.

How to get that retro look of tumbling waves.

How to get that retro look of tumbling waves.

Source:

(1) Lake, Veronica with Bain, Donald. Veronica. New York: The Citadel Press, 1969.

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“The Luncheon of the Boating Party,” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. (1880-81)

Many of you will recognize this impressionist masterpiece.

Technically, this is a great painting. Forget that. Get inside this dreamy scene. It’s a breezy Sunday afternoon. After rowing down the Seine with your friends – see the river in the background? – you stop at a charming little French café for a good meal in the fresh air.

Edward G. Robinson (1893-1973), actor and collector of fine art,  loved this painting, known in French as Le déjeuner des canotiers. Robinson once said:

“For over thirty years I made periodic visits to Renoir’s ‘The Luncheon of the Boating Party’ in a Washington museum, and stood before that magnificent masterpiece hour after hour, day after day, plotting ways to steal it.” (wiki)

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Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney gaze at one another in "Rings on Her Fingers" (1942)

Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney (1920-1991) gaze at one another in “Rings on Her Fingers” (1942)

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, actress Gene Tierney, age 21, and film star Henry Fonda were filming “Rings on Her Fingers” on Catalina Island, 22 miles off the southern California coast.

The cameras were getting ready to roll when a man came running down the beach screaming:

“The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor! “

Pearl Harbor was in Hawaii, just west across the Pacific from Catalina. Catalina was a dangerous place to be. No one knew exactly what was happening – or what would happen next – just as Americans felt as the events of 9/11 unfolded. Everyone had to get off that island. Since the attack on Pearl Harbor had come without warning and a formal declaration of war by the Japanese, the American people were in shock. They expected more attacks, possibly on California.

Gene Tierney, her husband Oleg Cassini, costar Henry Fonda and the rest of the film’s cast and crew piled into a boat and sailed hurriedly for the mainland. It was a nervous crossing. Rumors flew that the waters had been sabotaged with mines.

random-wallpapers-pearl-harbor-attack-wallpaper-36838

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by 353 Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four being sunk. All but one (Arizona) were later raised, and six of the eight battleships were returned to service and went on to fight in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. (2)

The next day, the U.S. declared war on Japan. Days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. Overnight, the United States was plunged into war in both the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.

The U.S. government enlisted the help of Hollywood stars to aid the war effort by boosting morale at home. Americans were urged to plant backyard “victory gardens” – vegetable patches – to help feed civilians at home. Suddenly, farm production was heavily burdened by having to feed millions of military personnel, as well as coping with fewer men on the farms.

War is expensive. The U.S. government encouraged people to buy War Bonds. You could purchase a $25 War Bond for $18.75. The government used that money to help pay for tanks, planes, ships, uniforms, weapons, medicine, food, and for the military.  Ten years from the time you purchased your War Bond you could redeem it and get $25.

Gene Tierney did her part for the war effort, whether it was planting a “victory garden,” promoting war bonds, or entertaining the troops.

Gene T tends her own "victory garden," in Fort Riley, Kansas, where her husband is stationed in the army.  She is pregnant with her first child, Daria. 1943. (photo courtesy Lou and Mary Jo Mari)

Gene Tierney tends her own “victory garden,” in Fort Riley, Kansas, where her husband is stationed. 1943. (photo courtesy Lou and Mary Jo Mari)

Gene Tierney encouraged Americans to buy war bonds.

Gene Tierney appeared in posters and went on campaign drives to encourage Americans to buy war bonds.

Gene Tierney took time to entertain the troops at the Hollywood Canteen. From 1942-45, three million service personnel on leave – men and women, black and white – would pass through the doors of that converted barn to rub elbows with the stars. On any given night, Bob Hope might be on the stage cracking jokes while Rita Hayworth made sandwiches, Harry James played trumpet, or Hedy Lamarr danced with the soldiers.

Film star Shirley Temple gives cookies to the soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen. Ca. 1942-45.

Shirley Temple passes out cookies at the Hollywood Canteen. Ca. 1942-45.

During the war years, Gene Tierney was at the height of her popularity. Her image graced countless magazine covers.Gene T Life Mag Nov. 10, 1941 Shanghai Gesture wardrobe gene-tierney-movie-stars-parade-magazine-cover-1940-s_i-G-54-5494-2D3WG00Z March 1946 mag cover tierney april 1943

Gene Tierney smiles broadly while husband, Oleg Cassini, looks away. ca. 1945

Gene Tierney smiles broadly while husband, Oleg Cassini, looks away. ca. 1945

Gene’s best pictures were made in the forties. Her beauty was extraordinary then. Her presence on screen was fresh and captivating. She had expressive green eyes, high cheekbones, lustrous, dark hair, and a sensual full mouth that revealed, when parted, an unexpected yet terribly endearing overbite. (Her contract with 24th Century Fox forbid her from correcting the crooked teeth.)

American film actress Gene Tierney. ca. 1941

American film actress Gene Tierney. ca. 1941

And she could act. She was only 23 when she appeared in “Laura” (1944), directed by Otto Preminger, a stunning film noir masterpiece, so richly layered with plot twists and great casting (Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson, Clifton Webb) that you can enjoy it again and again. It is her signature film. Also fantastic are “The Razor’s Edge” with Tyrone Power (1946) and “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” with Rex Harrison (1947). All three are available to rent on Amazon Instant Video. She plays against type – still classy in manner, yes, but devious in heart – in the film she received an Academy Award nomination for: “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945).

Gene Tierney smolders as "Laura." (1944),

Gene Tierney is smoldering as “Laura” (1944), one of my top five favorite films of all time. Gripping.

In the spring of 1943, Gene finished filming “Heaven Can Wait” in Hollywood. She was expecting her first child and, gratefully, not yet showing signs of pregnancy. She had kept that a secret for fear of being replaced in the film. She longed to be with husband Oleg in Kansas, where he was stationed in the army.

Before leaving Los Angeles and starting her maternity leave, Gene decided to make one last appearance at the Hollywood Canteen. So, that night, Gene showed her support of American troops by signing autographs, mingling with the crowd, and shaking hands. The troops were homesick and sad; a little stardust lightened their load.

A few days after that visit, Gene woke up with red spots covering her arms and face. She had the German measles, or rubella. In 1943, there was no vaccine to prevent contracting the measles. That would not be available for 22 more years. Obstetricians advised patients to avoid crowds in their first four months of pregnancy, to avoid contracting the measles. At the time, it was believed that measles was a harmless childhood disease.

Little did Gene know at the time, but, just two years earlier,

“…[B]y studying a small cluster of cases in Australia, [eye doctor] Dr. N. M. Gregg first noted that the rubella virus could cause cataracts, deafness, heart deformities and mental retardation [in an unborn child].” (3)

Of course, this was before TV and Internet gave us 24/7 news cycles that would have immediately alerted the public to this critical finding. Gene didn’t know that her small act of kindness at the Canteen would have tragic and long-term consequences for both her and her baby’s health.

After a week of doctor-ordered rest, Gene rested, got better, then packed her bags for Fort Riley, Kansas, to join Oleg. The next several months were devoted to making her Junction City home ready for the baby and being a couple.

Gene Tierney and husband Oleg Cassini celebrate the birth of their first child with a night out in New York City at the Stork Club. Mid 1943.

Gene Tierney and husband Oleg Cassini await the birth of their first child with a celebratory night out in New York City at the Stork Club. Mid 1943.

By the fall, Gene was living in Washington, D.C., while Oleg was awaiting orders in Virginia. On the morning of October 15, 1943, Gene gave birth to a premature baby girl, weighing only two and a half pounds. Oleg flew to Washington and joined his wife at Columbia Hospital. They named their baby “Daria.”

Doctors informed them that Daria was not in good shape. She was premature and going blind. She had cataracts in both eyes. After reviewing Gene’s medical chart, the doctors concluded that Gene’s measles were responsible for the baby’s defects. They cited the studies done by the Australian eye doctor, Dr. Gregg.

Daria continued to have health problems and delayed development. She had no inner ear fluid and became deaf. It was clear that she suffered from mental retardation. Gene and Oleg hoped against hope that a doctor somewhere could cure Daria. But, after consulting one specialist after another (much of it paid for by Howard Hughes), they had to face the fact that Daria was permanently disabled and needed more care than they were capable of giving her at home.

When Daria was about two years old, Gene got an unexpected jolt. She was at a tennis function. A fan approached her.

“Ms. Tierney, do you remember me?” asked the woman.

Gene had no memory of having met the stranger. She shook her head and replied, “No. Should I?”

The woman told Gene that she was in the women’s branch of the Marines and had met Gene at the Hollywood Canteen.

Gene never would forget what the woman said next.

“By the way, Ms. Tierney, did you happen to catch the German measles after that night I saw you at the Canteen?”

The woman revealed that she had had the measles herself at the time but had broken quarantine just to see Gene at the Canteen.

Gene was dumbstruck. That woman had given her the measles! She was the sole cause of Daria’s disabilities. Gene said nothing. She just turned and walked away.

When Daria was four, Oleg and Gene made the difficult decision to institutionalize Daria (1943-2010). Daria spent most of her life at the ELWYN, an institution for specially disabled in Vineland, NJ.

Gene Tierney never fully recovered from the blow that Daria was disabled. Although she gave birth to another daughter that was healthy, her marriage to Oleg ended in divorce, and her mental health began to deteriorate. She couldn’t concentrate. On the movie set, she would forget her lines. She began to fall apart and live a life of “stark misery and despair,” said ex-husband Oleg.

In much of the 1950s, Gene went from one mental health facility to another seeking help with her bouts of high and low moods and suicidal thoughts. She received 27 shock treatments, destroying even more of her memory. It is believed that Gene Tierney suffered from bipolar depression during a time when effective treatment for that disease was in its infancy.

If Daria had been born after 1965, Gene Tierney would have been vaccinated against the German measles and Daria would have been born healthy.

Currently, in Mexico and California, there is an outbreak of measles due to the antivaccination movement. Some parents in the western part of the United States have decided not to vaccinate their children due to unfounded worries about it causing autism. These few anti-vaxers are putting our whole population at risk.

Make no mistake. Measles is a highly contagious disease and is anything but harmless:

“Symptoms of measles include fever as high as 105, cough, runny nose, redness of eyes, and a rash that begins at the head and then spreads to the rest of the body. It can lead to inflammation of the brain, pneumonia and death.” (4)

AND

“Worldwide, 242,000 children a year die from measles, but it used to be near one million. The deaths have dropped because of vaccination, a 68 percent decrease from 2000 to 2006.

“The very success of immunizations has turned out to be an Achilles’ heel,” said Dr. Mark Sawyer, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. “Most of these parents have never seen measles, and don’t realize it could be a bad disease so they turn their concerns to unfounded risks. They do not perceive risk of the disease but perceive risk of the vaccine.” (5)

Postscript: In 1962, Dame Agatha Christie published the detective fiction, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, using the real-life tragedy of Gene Tierney as the basis for her plot.

SOURCES:

(1) Vogel, Michelle. Gene Tierney: A Biography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2005.

(2) wiki: Attack on Pearl Harbor

(3) Altman, M.D., Lawrence K. “The Doctor’s World; Little-Known Doctor Who Found New Use For Common Aspirin.The New York Times, July 9, 1991.

(4) LA Times

(5) New York Times

 

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Jessica James at Jose Luis Salon, Austin, Texas.

Jessica James at Jose Luis Salon, Austin, Texas.

Everyone talks to her hairdresser and I am no different. Jessica James is an awesome hair stylist and a terrific conversationalist. We talk about everything. I don’t know what it is about sitting in a hair salon that makes it so easy to talk about the most personal of things while someone is standing behind you, messing with your hair, but there it is. Jessica is marvelous company. We start talking the moment I get there and carry the conversation on through to the end.

Anyway, the other day I was at my regular six-weeks appointment at Jose Luis Salon, getting a cut and some color. I was in the chair wearing the snap-up gown. Jessica was sectioning off pieces of my hair, brushing on highlights, and wrapping the pieces in foil while we did some catching up. It’s kind of awkward because you can’t turn and look each other in the face while you talk; you have to look at each other in the mirror. Plus, she’s standing up and I’m sitting down.

As I was saying, we were talking. We talked about the book, Unbroken, which we have both read, and whether or not we will see the movie, “Unbroken,” directed by Angelina Jolie. I volunteered that I wouldn’t see it because I didn’t want to see the scenes at the Japanese prisoner of war camps. (I had to skim those parts in the book. Unbelievably brutal) Jessica had heard that a good chunk of the movie is devoted to that part of Louis Zampirini‘s life and wasn’t sure what her plans were regarding seeing the movie.

Next we compared notes about what each of us had been writing. We like to encourage each other in our writing because writing is a lonely business and writers are so hard on themselves. Jessica is writing a picture book inspired by her 3-year old son’s delight with the night sky. It is her first book. I told her that I had been blogging (on this site) about Bob Mackie.

“Bob Mackie?” she asked. “You mean the clothing designer, Bob Mackie? The guy who is sometimes  the judge on ‘Project Runway?”’

“Yes,” I said. “That’s the one. I’ve been blogging on the clothes he made for Cher and Carol Burnett. He’s really a funny guy. You can see his interviews on…” I started to say but was interrupted.

“You’re kidding!” said Jessica, laying the paint brush down in the bowl. “You aren’t going to believe this! The girl who cuts hair over there,” she said, pointing at a 45 degree angle to an empty hair cutting station, “Her name is Mandy – she’s wearing a Bob Mackie original today!”

“Get outta here!” I said, copying Elaine Benis from “Seinfeld” but without shoving her as Elaine does Jerry.

At that very moment, a petite and shapely woman came into view, taking her place at the work station Jessica had just pointed out.

“There she is,” said Jessica. “That’s Mandy.”

At first I could see only the back of her.

Mandy Denson

Mandy Denson poses in her Bob Mackie original blouse.

Fringes of her dark, asymmetrical bob peeked out from under her felt matador hat. Then she moved to the side and I caught her reflection in the long mirror.IMG_2655

The Bob Mackie shirt had a Spanish look, with embroidered neckline and sleeves, with sunny gold and orange paisleys cast against a blue background.

Mandy had some time between clients so she came over to Jessica’s station to talk to us. She told me all about the Bob Mackie blouse she was wearing. Mandy Denson is one-of-a-kind, a lovely girl. She has bewitching beauty. She is an accomplished hairdresser, fashion model, style maven, and vintage clothes hound – and a genuinely nice person.

IMG_2657 Here’s what Mandy has to say about shopping for vintage clothes here in Austin:

“The places where I shop most for vintage around town are Charm School Vintage, Frock On Vintage, and Prototype Vintage. The fabulous Bob Mackie shirt was scored at Frock On for a very reasonable price. The hat is from Charm School.

The tag from Mandy Denson's vintage Bob Mackie shirt.

The tag from Mandy Denson’s vintage Bob Mackie shirt.

“I’ve been hunting vintage for about ten years now, and what I love about the culture in Austin is that most of the shops support and admire one another. My favorites around town are owned by women who really take the time to get to know their customers. I visit them almost weekly just to catch up, look around, and talk about the beauty of our common interest.

“Vintage clothing has helped me shape my personal style into something that feels unique and interesting and a true reflection of myself.”

Mandy Denson in her vintage Bob Mackie.

Mandy Denson in her vintage Bob Mackie.

READERS: For more on Bob Mackie, click here

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Excerpt from interview by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete with American fashion designer, Bob Mackie.
“Bob Mackie Has Dressed Almost Everyone,” March 7, 2013. VICE online.

The television shows you designed wardrobe for back then were classic big productions like The Carol Burnett Show. It all seemed so cohesive. Were you responsible for designing every costume and look?
Well, not everything was designed. I would rent a lot of stuff like uniforms and period pieces, but we were doing 50 to 70 costumes per episode, and we had a show every week.

Carol Burnett and Bob Mackie at Carol's home, 1967

Carol Burnett and Bob Mackie at Carol’s home, 1967

I watched an interview with you during which you said that to get inspiration for sketch-comedy wardrobes, you’d walk around the mall and people-watch. You also said that you couldn’t believe what people thought they looked good in. Is strolling around malls or other public places something you still do? 
I don’t do sketch comedy anymore, but I definitely still walk around malls and airports—especially airports—and I think, Oh my God, look at her, or, Look at those ugly shoes! Today, a lot of women are wearing very unflattering clothes.

Yes, I think the worst-dressed people can be found at the airport because somewhere along the line everyone decided that unabashed comfort trumps any sort of decorum whatsoever. It’s crazy. You have people going on two-hour flights in pajamas with neck pillows and their bare feet stinking up the cabin. 
I know! But the thing is, you can be comfortable without looking like a pig. When I fly, I sit there and I watch people board the plane and I think, Where are they going when they arrive? Where can you go when you look that ridiculous?

Are there any specific current trends that you just can’t stand? 
Leggings worn on their own. It stops me cold some days; I just can’t believe my eyes! Just because it’s stretchy, it doesn’t mean it fits or looks good.

And what about from the past?
Well, sometimes, when they’re happening you think, Oh my God, what’s going on here? And then after a while you start liking it. Like when mini-dresses came in, they were just above the knee and everyone was so shocked. Then all of a sudden they were barely covering the crotch. And now everybody’s got it all hanging out and we’re used to it.

Does that happen with things you’ve designed in the past? Do you ever look back and go, “What was I thinking?”
Well, I look back and I say to myself, “That was 30 or 40 years ago and that was the trend at the time.”

READERS: For more Bob Mackie posts, click here

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In 1990, American fashion guru Bob Mackie began to design Barbie dolls for toymaker Mattel. A peek at that collection demonstrates Mackie’s incomparable creative imagination:

This one is exotic.

Brazilian Banana Bonanza Barbie is sultry.

Sterling Silver Rose is alluring and soft.

Sterling Silver Rose Barbie is elegant.

The Charleston Barbie is sassy

The Charleston Barbie is sassy.

Cher 1980 Barbie is provocative and skimpy.

Cher 1980 Barbie is outrageously sexy.

Fantasy_Goddess_of_Africa_grande

Fantasy Goddess of Africa is exotic.

Couture Confection Bride Barbie is classy.

Couture Confection Bride Barbie is classy.

Sultry. Elegant. Sassy. Outrageously Sexy. Exotic. Classy. While these Bob Mackie costumes are fantastically diverse, they have one trait in common. They are glamorous. They are designed to flatter the woman – and to make her stand out. Whether designing for the stars or for Barbie, the Bob Mackie name has become synonymous with over-the-top, splashy, flashy glamour.

Then isn’t it ironic that the costume for which Mackie may be most remembered is not glamorous at all but wildly funny and enormously unflattering?

Not really. Because Bob Mackie got his start in designing costumes for TV, most memorably for “The Carol Burnett Show” (1967-1978), a variety/sketch comedy show for which he designed costumes for all 287 episodes for the entire crew – from the dancers to the secondary actors to the stars – for all the skits, every week, comic and elegant clothing.

We made a lot of costumes!” said Bob Mackie. ‘Nobody had more fun than I did, doing that kind of a show, a weekly show like that…. We could be glamorous one moment, horrible the next. It was just crazy, It was crazy, and I loved it.'”  (1)

Carol Burnett’s costar Vicky Lawrence said of Bob Mackie:

I just thought he was a genius….I just remember always feeling either very funny or very beautiful.”

The Dress in the Window

The eighth episode of the tenth season of “The Carol Burnett Show” (Nov. 13, 1976) opened with Carol Burnett introducing the comedy sketch, “Went With the Wind,” a parody spoof on the 1939 epic film, “Gone With the Wind.” Carol said:

Recently, nearly the entire nation spent a total of 5 hours watching ‘Gone with the Wind’ make its TV debut. So for those of you who ran out of Kleenex and were unable to watch it, we put together our own mini-version to let you know what you’ve missed. Uh-huh.” (2)

Bob Mackie was responsible for the costume design for “Went With the Wind.” As usual, he had read the script for creative inspiration. When the script called for Carol Burnett, as Starlet O’Hara, to tear the curtains down and turn them into a dress that just hung off her, Mackie did not find it funny, as that is the same thing Scarlett O’Hara had done in the actual film. He had to think of something original. He was stymied for ideas.

In "Gone With the Wind," Scarlett O'Hara prepares to tear down the curtains to make a dress.

In “Gone With the Wind,” Scarlett O’Hara prepares to tear down the curtains to make a dress.

Finally, the morning of the Thursday filming, he thought of what to do. He ordered a real curtain rod to be fitted into the velvet drapes. The rod was enormously heavy. He carried it up the narrow back steps behind the stage staircase and helped Carol’s dresser – a tiny woman –  put it on Carol.

In the next scene, Carol makes her dramatic entrance. She descends the stairwell to greet Captain Ratt Butler, played by Harvey Korman, trying to entice him into giving her money. Carol is wearing not just the curtains and sash but also the curtain rod like a long shoulder pad. When the audience saw the curtain rod jutting out from Carol’s shoulders, they shrieked with laughter.

Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman as "Starlet and Ratt" in comic sketch, "Went With the Wind." (1976)

Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman as “Starlet and Ratt” in comic sketch, “Went With the Wind.” (1976)

Ratt tells Starlet,

Starlet, I love you. That – that – gown is gorgeous.”

Starlet replies,

Thank you. I saw it in the window, and I just couldn’t resist it.”

Bob Mackie's sketch of Carol Burnett wearing the curtain rod dress for "Went With the Wind."

Bob Mackie’s sketch of Carol Burnett wearing the curtain rod dress for “Went With the Wind.”

Remembers Mackie:

I’ve never heard laughter like that in my life. It just hit….It just made people laugh, and it still does. Every time I talk to anybody, they bring up this silly curtain rod outfit, with the velvet drapes attached to it. I had an exhibit in New York of my whole career and what was in the front window, that outfit! ….It will be on my tombstone one day.” (3)

At left, the green curtain rod dress designed by Walter Plunkett and worn by actress Vivien Leigh in the 1939 film, Gone With the Wind. At right, is the Bob Mackie spoof of this dress for the Nov. 1976 "Went With the Wind" parody shown on The Carol Burnett Show and worn by Ms. Burnett.

At left, the green curtain rod dress designed by Walter Plunkett and worn by actress Vivien Leigh in the 1939 film, “Gone With the Wind.” At right, is the Bob Mackie spoof of this dress for the Nov. 1976 “Went With the Wind” TV parody shown on The Carol Burnett Show and worn by Ms. Burnett.

This dress scene was number 2 in TV Guide’s January 23-29, 1999, list of “The 50 Funniest Moments in Television” (the funniest moment was the chocolate wrapping scene from “I Love Lucy”).

Now Mackie’s curtain rod dress is enshrined in the Smithsonian Museum as part of the American History Museum’s Kennedy Center Honors Collection.

Click here to watch the youtube clip of “Went With the Wind.” The curtain rod dress appears at 13:13. Enjoy!

Sources:

(1) Youtube clip: “Gags and Gowns: The Genius of Bob Mackie on The Carol Burnett Show.”

(2) wiki: “Went With the Wind”

(3) Youtube clip: Bob Mackie interview: “’The Carol Burnett Show’: TV legends”

(4) “Went With the Wind” script

READERS: For more Bob Mackie posts, click here

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American costume designer Bob Mackie in an undated photo.

American costume designer Bob Mackie in an undated photo.

In my last post, I introduced American fashion designer Bob Mackie (b. 1940), designer to the stars. He is famous for dressing entertainers such as Cher, Carol Burnett, Diana Ross, Barbara Eden, Bette Midler, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Tina Turner, Joan Rivers, Whitney Houston, Pink, Sharon Stone, Beyonce, Goldie Hawn, Barbra Streisand, Bernadette Peters, Lucille Ball, Ann-Margret, and Mitzi Gaynor. He also creates designs for collector’s edition Barbie dolls.

Although his designs can be elegant, they can also be outrageous. Many of Mackie’s most spectacular designs have a Vegas show-girl quality. They are flamboyant. The gowns and bodysuits are skimpy, clingy, see-through, and spangled with strategically-placed sequins, crystals, and feathers. Mackie has been referred to as “The Sultan of Sequins,” or “The Rajah of Rhinestones,” for his sparkling and imaginative costume designs. (1)

Often, his gowns leave little to the imagination of the girl underneath. Of this, he has said:

A woman who wears my clothes is not afraid to be noticed.”

Mackie has enjoyed tremendous success. He has received nine Emmy Awards and been nominated three times for an Academy Award for dressing Diana Ross in “Lady Sings The Blues,” Barbra Streisand in “Funny Lady,” and Bernadette Peters in “Pennies From Heaven.” In 2002, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.

Here are a few of his most memorable designs.

CHER

Cher wears a sleek Bob Mackie jersey dress for "The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour." ca. 1975.

Cher wears a sleek Bob Mackie jersey dress for “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.” ca. 1975.

Cher accepts the Best Actress Oscar for her film role in "Moonstruck" at the 1988 Academy Awards. Her costume was designed by Bob Mackie. It made headlines.

Cher accepts the Best Actress Oscar for her film role in “Moonstruck” at the 1988 Academy Awards. Her costume was designed by Bob Mackie. It made headlines.

Floral Cher

cher-1973-oscars

Cher Prison album photo shoot

Cher in Mackie TV

Cher in album cover B Mackie

Cher dripping Bob Mackie

Cher by B Mackie

Cher by B Mackie Egyptian

Cher B Mackie later

Cher B Mackie fire costume

Short hair cher

PINK

Singer Pink performs at the 2010 Grammy Award Ceremony in her nude sequined bodysuit by Bob Mackie.

Singer Pink performs at the 2010 Grammy Award Ceremony in her nude sequined bodysuit by Bob Mackie.

 DIANA ROSS

Diana Ross in B Mackie short

 BEYONCE

beyonce

 TINA TURNER

Tina Turner by B Mackie2

Tina Turner by B Mackie

ANN-MARGRET

Ann Margret in B Mackie seated

IVANKA TRUMP WEARS MOTHER IVANA TRUMP’S MACKIE

Ivanka Trump in Ivana's vintage B Mackie

MADONNA

Madonna in Mackie

MITZI GAYNOR

Mitzi Gaynor by B Mackie

RAQUEL WELCH

Raquel Welch in B Mackie

SHARON STONE

Sharon Stone in Mackie

AND, OF COURSE, CAROL BURNETT 

TSDCABU EC001

(1) ”Bob Mackie,” Wikipedia.

READERS: For more Bob Mackie posts, click here

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Before “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” debuted on CBS television in 1972, Cher said,

Sonny and I wore clothes, but they were so kind of unisex, you know? Some people don’t even know I was a girl!”

Here is a glance back at the American singing duo, Sonny & Cher, in their unisex phase of the 1960s, before they launched their glitzier TV career:

Salvatore Phillip "Sonny" Bono (1935-1998) and Cherilyn Sarkisian (b. 1946) AKA known as the American singing duo, Sonny & Cher, are shown here in their trend-setting unisex fashion. 1965.

Salvatore Phillip “Sonny” Bono (1935-1998) and Cherilyn Sarkisian (b. 1946) AKA known as the American singing duo, Sonny & Cher, are shown here in their trend-setting unisex fashion. They were married from 1964-1975. They had one child: Chastity “Chaz” Bono. Photo 1965.

Cher and Sonny wear matching striped bell-bottoms. Sonny often wore a furry open vest, as he is here. ca. 1965

Cher and Sonny wear matching striped bell-bottoms. 1965

Cher's father was of Armenian heritage and her mother had some Cherokee blood. She played up her Native American heritage by wearing traditional costumes with beadwork and fringe and singing songs such as "Half-Breed" and "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves." Note the unisex theme in their outfits. ca. 1965.

Cher’s father was of Armenian heritage and her mother had some Cherokee blood. She played up her Native American heritage by wearing traditional costumes with beadwork and fringe and singing songs such as “Half-Breed” and “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves.” Note the unisex theme in their outfits. ca. 1965.

In 1965, the Sonny (r.) & Cher song, "I've Got You, Babe," knocked the Beatles off the top of the British music charts. English teenagers copied the singing duo's iconic fashion style. Their shows "attracted girls who were ironing their hair straight and dyeing it black, to go with their vests and bell-bottoms" ("Cher,' wikipedia). Cher was fond of fringe; Sonny, of fur.

In 1965, the Sonny (r.) & Cher song, “I’ve Got You, Babe,” knocked the Beatles off the top of the British music charts. English teenagers copied the singing duo’s iconic fashion style. Their shows “attracted girls who were ironing their hair straight and dyeing it black, to go with their vests and bell-bottoms” (“Cher,’ wikipedia). Cher was fond of fringe; Sonny, of fur. 1965

Cher hoped that her new variety show would revive her flagging career. Sonny & Cher had been a big hit in the early to mid-sixties but, in the last several years, their popularity had taken a nosedive. By 1971, when CBS offered them a TV variety show contract, their folk rock style of music had given way to heavier sounds by groups like “Cream” and “Iron Butterfly.” In spite of their revolutionary, hip clothing style that set fashion trends in the sixties, Sonny & Cher were quite conservative when it came to sex and drugs, and, in their wholesomeness, had lost their fan base. They needed a new look to make their show a success.

And Cher knew just who could give it to them. She had met him four years earlier, on the set of “The Carol Burnett Show.” He was Bob Mackie; he worked in the wardrobe department. Mackie recalled:

It was 1967 and I was working on a loose thread on a beaded gown and Cher came over and said, ‘Oh, someday, I’m going to have one of those. And we became friends after that.”

Fashion designer, Bob Mackie, AKA "The Rajah of Rhinestones" or "The Sultan of Sequins" with TV comedienne, Carol Burnett, with whom he worked from 1967-1978. Photo 1967. Courtesy Bob Mackie.

Fashion designer, Bob Mackie, AKA “The Rajah of Rhinestones” or “The Sultan of Sequins” with TV comedienne, Carol Burnett, with whom he worked from 1967-1978. Photo 1967. Courtesy Bob Mackie.

Now that Cher had a production budget, she hired Mackie to design splashy costumes for the “Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” (1972-1975) as well as for many later productions. A collaboration that lasted forty-two years was born. From then on, Mackie designed clothes for Cher that left viewers with no doubt that Cher was all girl. With Bob Mackie in charge of Cher’s wardrobe, it was, all of a sudden,

Goodbye, baggy blouses and bell-bottom britches!

and

Hello, belly-buttons, bottoms, and bosoms!

Mackie outfitted Cher as a Native American princess for 'The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour' television show.

Mackie outfitted Cher as a Native American princess. Photo ca. 1973.

Cher in her 'Half Breed'outfit 1973

Cher’s song, “Half-Breed,” topped the Billboard charts for the week ending October 6,1973. Here she is shown debuting the song on “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.” She wears a Bob Mackie original costume: a headdress decked out in feathers, a sequined halter top, and a loin cloth that reached down to her platform shoes. Photo ca. 1963

Mackie transformed Cher from a shapeless hippie into a shameless sexpot. He created outlandish-for-the-day, navel-baring outfits bedecked with beads, sequins, and feathers topped off by enormous headdresses. Her skimpy outfits made the network censors question whether or not they were appropriate for prime time television. Cher’s bronzed and taut midriff was enviable.

Mackie had the time of his life designing for Cher:

 ‘She was like a big Barbie doll,’ he said. (1)

Cher 1975 B Mackie for tv special

Cher channels the Egyptian goddess Isis in this Bob Mackie costume designed for a 1975 TV special.

Cher’s TV shows were popular, as she was a talented singer, comedienne, and actress, but part of the reason she became such a towering success was because people tuned into her programs each week to see what she would OR WOULDN”T be wearing. And Cher never disappointed – thanks to Bob Mackie.

Cher began to make fashion statements on the red carpet, appearing at celebrity functions in “barely there” outfits by Mackie.

Cher and her designer Bob Mackie arrive at a Met gala, 1974. She is wearing a Mackie bodysuit embroidered with feathers and crystals. Mackie said of his muse, "She had such an unbelievable body. She could wear anything." This outfit would be featured on the cover of "Time" magazine the following spring. (1)

Cher and her designer Bob Mackie arrive at a Met gala, 1974. She is wearing a Mackie bodysuit embroidered with feathers and crystals. Mackie said of his muse, “She had such an unbelievable body. She could wear anything.” This outfit would be featured on the cover of “Time” magazine the following spring. (1)

Cher arrives at the 1974 Academy Awards wearing a Bob Mackie design.

Cher arrives at the 1974 Academy Awards wearing a Bob Mackie design.

Cher was miffed that she wasn't nominated for her 1985 starring role in the film, "Mask," prompting her to appear in her role as an award presenter in this provocative Mackie number. 1986

Cher was miffed that she wasn’t nominated for her 1985 starring role in the film, “Mask,” prompting her to appear in her role as an award presenter in this a provocative Mackie design that challenged the Academy’s dress code. 1986

Source:

(1) Barnard, Christopher. “Cher’s One-of-a-Kind Fashion Legacy,” November 10, 2010.  Vanity Fair. Web Exclusive.

READERS: For more Bob Mackie posts, click here.

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In the 1950s, Audrey Hepburn's face was plastered on magazines across the globe. She was a big hit. She was fresh. Harper's Bazaar, 1956

In the 1950s, Audrey Hepburn’s face was splashed on magazines across the globe. She was a big hit. She was fresh. She had style. Harper’s Bazaar, 1956

Readers, at the beginning of this year, I had entertained the idea of writing a juvenile biography of Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) and the five years she spent in Nazi-occupied Holland as an underground resistance worker. Having read many biographies on Audrey, I was familiar with the yarns about her being a courier for the Dutch Resistance movement against the German occupation and participating in clandestine dance performances to raise money for the cause.

I must say that, after scouring tons of resources -bios, interview transcripts, old Hollywood magazine articles – I am not sure that Audrey actually participated in any underground activities to fight back against the Germans. To begin with, she was only eleven years old when the war started and sixteen when it ended. Her name does not appear – nor does her mother’s – on any government list of resistance activists.

Audrey’s Real World War II Experience

The fact that Audrey did not work in the Dutch Resistance in WWII should not detract from the knowledge that the war took a great toll on Audrey’s physical, mental, and emotional health. She suffered from the horrors of war like any other citizen in a war zone. Germans were everywhere with guns with bayonets and barking attack dogs. Everyone’s liberties were restricted. There was no way to get real news as the newspapers were controlled by the Nazis and filled with propaganda. The BBC in England broadcast reliable news but the Nazis confiscated radios. Audrey saw people executed in the streets and Jewish families loaded into cattle cars bound for death camps.

German Nazis round up Dutch Jews for deportation to Poland's death camps. WWII. Photo undated.

German Nazis round up Dutch Jews for deportation to Poland’s death camps. WWII. Photo undated.

One of her brothers went into hiding to avoid being deported to a German labor camp. The other brother was deported to Germany. Her own uncle was arrested, imprisoned, then murdered as a reprisal against saboteurs. Sometimes 900 planes a day flew over Arnhem, German, American, and British planes, often engaging in wicked dogfights and crashing nearby. The Battle of Arnhem raged in the streets of the city and outlying towns.

In the winter of 1944-1945, 20,000 Dutch people died of starvation. There was no food to eat. Schools shut down. The trains were not running so no food was being delivered.  The people subsisted on a diet of 500 calories a day. They were reduced to eating bread made from flour from crushed tulip bulbs.  That “Hunger Winter,” there was no wood to build a fire to warm even one room in the house. It was a very desperate time, with the Germans taking over people’s houses and forcing large groups of people to huddle together in small dwellings.

Dutch people strip the tram rails out of the street to use for firewood. This was the last year of the war, a desperate time of scant food and resources known at "The Hunger Winter," 1944-45.

Dutch people strip the tram rails out of the street to use for firewood. This was the last year of the war, a desperate time of scant food and resources known at “The Hunger Winter,” 1944-45.

Audrey almost died from starvation. Her body, adolescent at the time, did not develop adequately and never fully recovered from the deprivations. Her rib cage was underdeveloped, and she suffered from an eating disorder all her life. She was so malnourished that her ankles swelled up and she could barely walk. She retained stretch marks on her ankles from where the skin was stretched from the edema. She suffered from anemia and respiratory problems, too.

Nazis required all Dutch people over the age of 15 to carry an i.d. card. Here is Audrey's at age 15. Her card doesn't bear the dreaded letter, J, for Jew, which would mark her for deportation to the east for gassing at Auschwitz. 1944

Nazis required all Dutch people over the age of 15 to carry an i.d. card. Here is Audrey’s at age 15. Her card doesn’t bear the dreaded letter, J, for Jew, which would mark her for deportation to the east for gassing at Auschwitz. 1944

For a long time after the war was over, she had no stamina. She would go on eating binges, as she herself said: she couldn’t just eat one spoonful out of the jelly jar. She had to eat and eat until the jar was empty! She would then get fat, then diet herself back to rail thinness so she could compete in the worlds of ballet, modeling, stage, and screen. She forever was nervous, adored chocolate most of all, worked hard, and chain smoked, dying of cancer at the relatively young age of 63.

What They Tried to Make us Believe about Audrey’s War Time

In interviews, Audrey did not volunteer that she was a resistance worker. She didn’t really talk about the war days. Those stories were mostly generated in the fifties by her Hollywood publicists, largely appearing in popular magazines such as Modern Screen and Photoplay. Although the stories were mostly false, they entered the public lore, were repeated in article after article, and thus acquired an undeserved air of authenticity. Some of the stories include:

  •  Audrey helped a downed Allied pilot in the woods. She encountered a German patrol on the way and pretended to just be picking flowers.
  • Audrey was almost deported by the Germans.
  • Audrey hid in a basement for a month with only a few apples to eat to avoid being picked up by a Nazi patrol who wanted her for a cook.
  • Audrey delivered illegal newspapers on her bicycle.
  • Audrey danced in blacked-out homes to an audience that didn’t clap for fear they would be discovered by the Nazis (Audrey claims this part is true; how many times did she do it, though, once? Also, her ballet teacher was a Dutch Nazi, so I doubt she would have approved of Audrey dancing for the Resistance.)

However, this resistance worker that braved life and limb for country and kin did not exist except in magazine articles. That Audrey Hepburn was a invention of Hollywood’s.

The irony is that Audrey’s World War II experience needed no embellishment. It is a tale of great endurance, of courage in the face of daily fear.

The lies about her involvement with the Dutch Resistance weren’t Audrey’s fault. Myth making was show business in the fifties. Hollywood wanted control. Hollywood wanted its leading ladies squeaky clean and, if they could keep her that way, Audrey was going to be a big star.

February 12, 1952 Look Magazine featuring rising Hollywood star, Audrey Hepburn

February 12, 1952 Look Magazine featuring rising Hollywood star, Audrey Hepburn

The Hollywood image machine went into overdrive creating the myth of Perfect Audrey, the Resistance Worker, to cover up the embarrassing truth about her past and her roots. They claimed her father was an international banker (a lie) and that her mother was a Dutch noblewoman (which was true, but no one mentioned that she liked rich playboys). Hollywood created this myth because Audrey Hepburn had a lot of skeletons rattling around in her closet. As it turns out, her parents – the Dutch Baroness Ella van Heemstra and her British husband Joseph Anthony Ruston — did some very bad things with some very bad people before and during World War II. And neither of them was a decent parent to little and lovely Audrey.

Audrey Hepburn's father in the Alps, 1927: Joseph Anthony Victor Ruston (later Hepburn-Ruston)

Audrey Hepburn’s father in the Alps, 1927: Joseph Anthony Victor Ruston (later Hepburn-Ruston)

The Dutch Baroness Ella van Heemstra and daughter, Audrey Ruston (Hepburn) ca. 1935

The Dutch Baroness Ella van Heemstra and daughter, Audrey Ruston (Hepburn) ca. 1935

In 1953, Audrey won the Best Actress Oscar for her debut American film, “Roman Holiday.”

Even a hint of scandal would have jeopardized Audrey’s budding career; Americans had no stomach for Nazis. So the Hollywood image makers hid the truth.

What Her Parents Were Really Like

The truth can now be told: Audrey’s parents were devotees of the notorious British fascist, Sir Oswald Mosley, a Hitler wannabe, whose followers were called the Blackshirts (the British Union of Fascists or BUF). Mosley, like Hitler, blamed the Jews for all the problems Britain faced. There was no truth to this monstruous lie, but this is how fascists always derive their short-term power, by turning one group of citizens against another.

ad Mosley Speaks October 29, 1938_ACTION. No. 141, Page EfcvcrtIn October 1934, Mosley was losing steam politically so, in order to keep his following and funding, he ramped up the anti-Semitic rhetoric. At the Albert Hall in London, he addressed a huge crowd, saying,

I openly and publicly challenge the Jewish interest in this country commanding commerce, commanding the press, commanding the cinema, commanding the City of London, commanding sweatshops.” (1)

Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts march to stir up hatred against British Jews and Communists. 1936

Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts march to stir up hatred against British Jews and Communists. 1936

What Audrey’s Parents Did for Her Sixth Birthday

Audrey Ruston (Hepburn) ca. 1936

Audrey Ruston (Hepburn) ca. 1936

Audrey Ruston Hepburn turned six years old on May 4, 1935, in Brussels, Belgium, but neither of her parents were there with her to celebrate. Ella and “Joe” were touring Germany with a delegation from Mosley’s BUF. They were there to observe what a wonderful job the Nazis had done in restoring the German economy. Along with the infamous Unity Mitford of England, Hitler’s lackey, they toured autobahns, factories, schools, and housing developments.

Adolf Hitler and British citizen and devotee, Unity Mitford. photo undated, ca. 1938

Adolf Hitler and British citizen and devotee, Unity Mitford. photo undated, ca. 1938

Then Audrey’s parents met Hitler himself at the Nazis’ Brown House headquarters in Munich. A photo was taken of Ella in front of the Brown House, showing her with her friends Unity, Pam, and Mary Mitford. Upon her return, Ella put the photo in a silver frame and displayed it proudly in her home.

Shortly after Audrey’s parents returned from Germany, her father and mother had a terrible argument. Audrey’s father walked out on the family, leaving her, her mother, and her two half-brothers to fend for themselves. (This was Ella’s second marriage). Some said Joe was a big drinker and that had caused the split-up. Others said he was a womanizer, with a lover or two on the side. Worse, it was rumored that the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina had spoken to Ella’s father, the Baron, about Joe’s embarrassing politics and told him to tell Ella to end the marriage.

Chances are, though, that Joe just wanted to be free of domestic entanglements to pursue his rabid anti-Communist agenda. At that time, he was very active in the Belgian fascist party, the Rexists. He would soon divide his time between Belgium and England.

Audrey remembers her mother sobbing for days on end, mourning the loss of yet another husband. But Ella must have recovered herself fairly quickly because, four months later, she was back in Germany with the Mitford sisters, this time, to witness the military pageantry of a Nuremberg Rally (and have a quick fling with the sexy and much younger journalist Micky Burn).

British citizens at the Nuremberg Rally, Germany, ca. 1935-35. Second from left is Diana Mitford, who marries Sir Oswald Mosley. Third from left is journalist Michael ("Micky") Burn.

British citizens at the Nuremberg Rally, Germany, ca. 1935-35. Second from left is Diana Mitford, who marries Sir Oswald Mosley. Third from left is journalist Michael (“Micky”) Burn.

Upon her return to Brussels, Ella wrote a gushing editorial in The Blackshirt, extolling Hitler’s virtues:

At Nuremberg…What stuck me most forcibly amongst the million and one impressions I received there were (a) the wonderful fitness of every man and woman one saw, on parades or in the street; and (b) the refreshing atmosphere around one, the absolute freedom from any form of mental pressure or depression.

These people certainly live in spiritual comfort….

From Nuremberg I went to Munich….I never heard an angry word….They [the German people] are happy….

Well may Adolf Hitler be proud of the rebirth of this great country…” (2)

Ella’s article appeared in column two of The Blackshirt. To its right, in column three, appeared this anti-Jewish propaganda fiction purportedly written by someone named “H. Saunders”:

I walked along Oxford-street, Piccadilly, and Coventry-street last Saturday and I thought I had stepped into a foreign country.

A Jew converted to Christianity becomes a hidden Jew, and a greater menace. Jews have conquered England without a war….” (2)

What Ella did Next

In 1939, Baroness Ella van Heemstra, now divorced, moved with Audrey to Arnhem, the Netherlands, where her parents lived. Ella’s noble and esteemed father, A.J.A.A. Baron van Heemstra, had been the mayor of Arnhem from 1910-1920.

Audrey’s maternal grandparents, Baroness Elbrig van Asbeck and Baron Aernoud van Heemstra, pictured in Suriname (the Dutch East Indies) where the Baron was governor 1920-28.

Then, in May 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. Ella and Audrey would spend the entire war years in Arnhem, (1940-1945) yet they would not live with Audrey’s grandparents much of the time.

In May 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. Sadly, there were Dutch citizens sympathetic to the Nazi Party. Here they provide the invading troops with the Nazi salute. These Nazi sympathizers were called "NSBers." They were collaborators and were always spying for the Nazis. May 1940

In May 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. Sadly, there were Dutch citizens sympathetic to the Nazi Party. Here they provide the invading troops with the Nazi salute. These Nazi sympathizers were called “NSBers.” They were collaborators and were always spying for the Nazis. May 1940

Although he had, at an earlier time, been somewhat pro-German in his outlook, the Baron van Heemstra had changed his views. When the Nazis occupied Arnhem, they tried to coerce him to become the director of a disgraceful charity called Winterhulp. However, the Baron refused the post. Stung, the Germans struck back. As a reprisal, early in 1942, they confiscated many of his lands, houses, bank accounts, stocks, and even jewelry. German soldiers were quartered in his grand home at Zijpendaal and he was forced to move to his country homes in the small villages of Velp and Oosterbeek.

Castle Zijpendaal (or Zypendaal in Arnhem, the Netherlands. This was the home of Audrey's maternal grandparents.

Castle Zijpendaal (or Zypendaal) in Arnhem, the Netherlands. This was the home of Audrey’s maternal grandparents.

Ella, on the other hand, had none of her father’s integrity. She liked to drink and she liked to have a good time. The way she saw it, the Germans had all the good things that she lacked. Unlike the average Dutch person, the German officers drank real coffee and real tea and champagne. They had cars, too, and petrol to put in them, whereas the Dutch citizens couldn’t even take their bicycles out into the street without the Germans commandeering them. Ella liked the good life and the German officers could give it to her. She openly fraternized with them, having them into the family home, and going out with them in their cars, even crossing the border and driving into Germany for entertainment. She even organized a cultural evening in Dusseldorf, Germany, along with the regional head of the NSDAP (the Dutch Nazi Party). She was ruthless in pursuit of pleasure.

The illegal press of the Dutch Resistance suspected the Baroness of being an agent for the Gestapo (the Nazi secret police). She worked for the German Red Cross in the Diaconessenhuis (hospital) in Arnhem, nursing wounded German soldiers. Before the war, Ella had already displayed a Nazi swastika and a German eagle on the wall of her house in Arnhem. (3) She was the worst of the worst. And this is the home and the atmosphere in which she raised sensitive Audrey.

Hatred ran so high against the van Heemstra family – because of Ella’s Nazi sympathies and her collaboration with the Germans – that, when the Allies liberated Arnhem in May, 1945, the Baron had to hang his head in shame. He felt compelled to leave town and move to the Hague. (4)

Ella van Heemstra and Audrey Hepburn, ca. 1946.

Ella van Heemstra and Audrey Hepburn, ca. 1946.

With the war behind them, Ella concentrated her energies in forging ties with people who could further daughter Audrey’s career in becoming a prima ballerina, then a model, followed by a film star. They lived in Amsterdam for a time and then The Hague before settling in London.

Audrey Hepburn as a model. 1952

Audrey Hepburn as a model. 1952

What Joe Had Been Doing

Meanwhile, in the time since Audrey’s father had left his family, he had managed to get in a lot of legal and financial trouble. From 1935-1940, “Joe” Ruston was involved in multiple questionable business transactions that kept landing his name in the news in the Netherlands, England, and Belgium. In 1938, for example, he was being investigated by both the Belgium Parliament and the British House of Commons for his involvement in a corporation with financial ties to the Third Reich:

Mr. Anthony Ruston, a director of the European Press Agency, Ltd. [was] alleged in the Belgian parliament to have received £110,000 from German industrial chiefs in close touch with Dr. Goebbels [Nazi propaganda minister] to publish an anti-communist newspaper.” (5)

His two business partners at the European Press Agency were a Nazi lawyer and a member of the Gestapo.

Curiously, a year later, Anthony Ruston officially renounced and abandoned the name Anthony Joseph Victor Ruston and adopted the new name of Anthony Joseph Victor HEPBURN-Ruston. (6) Ruston claimed to have had a Hepburn relative with blood ties to James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, the fourth husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. But the claim was bogus. True, there was a marriage to a Hepburn in his family line but there was no issue of which Ruston is kin.

Perhaps Ruston was attempting to prove his Britishness by connecting himself with a Scottish king. War clouds were gathering over Britain and Ruston was in hot water for his connections with Germany.

In June 1940, the Battle of Britain had begun, and England was earnestly at war with Germany. Anthony Ruston was arrested and imprisoned in England under Defense Regulation 18B, as he was considered an enemy of the state for his membership in “the British Union of Fascists…and as an associate of foreign fascists.” (7) He was interned for the duration of WWII, after which he settled in Ireland.

Sources:

(1) Dalley, Jan. Diana Mosley: A Biography of the Glamorous Mitford Sister who Became Hitler’s Friend and Married the Leader of Britain’s Fascists. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000. p. 195

(2)At Nuremberg,” The Blackshirt, October 11, 1935.

(3) 1557 Documentatiecollectie Tweede Wereldoorlog. Inventory number 247 Audrey Hepburn.  Gelders Archive. Arnhem, the Netherlands.

(4) Heemstra, Aarnoud Jan Anne Aleid Baron (1871-1957). Huygens: Biographical Dictionary of the Netherlands. (online)

(5) “Banned Nazi Barrister ‘Plays Violin Beautifully,'” Daily Express, March 31, 1938. (Manchester, UK newspaper with leading circulation in the 1930s)

(6) The London Gazette, April 21, 1939.

(7) Public Record, reference # KV 2/3190. The National Archives, Kew, UK

For more on Audrey Hepburn, click here.

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Katharine Hepburn from the Bryn Mawr College Yearbook 1928.

Katharine Hepburn from the Bryn Mawr College Yearbook 1928.

Alice Palache first met Hollywood actress Katharine Hepburn in 1924 when they were classmates at Bryn Mawr, an all-women’s liberal arts college near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The friends were a study in contrasts. “Palache,” as she was called, was popular, a great student, athletic, active in student council, and from a conventional home in which her dad, a Harvard professor and staunch Episcopalian, considered it sacrilegious for her to play with friends on Sunday. “Kath,” on the other hand, was a loner, one of the worst students in the class, and did whatever she pleased. She dressed as a boy, smoked scented cigarettes in her tower dorm room, and jumped into the cloister fountain – naked – to wake herself up after cramming all night for an exam.

This gallant good-time girl, her blazing red hair dragged back into a charwoman’s bun, wore baggy, unflattering cast-off clothes rumored to be held together with safety pins.”

Katharine Hepburn, age 21, performing in the dramatic production of "The Woman in the Moon," Bryn Mawr College, 1928

Katharine Hepburn, age 21, performing in the dramatic production of “The Woman in the Moon,” Bryn Mawr College, 1928

In their junior year, Kath invited Palache to visit her family home in Hartford, Connecticut. In between games of tennis, Kath and Palache spent time with Kath’s parents, Dr. Thomas Norval Hepburn and Mrs. Katharine (“Kate”) Houghton Hepburn. Both of Kath’s parents were highly-educated – Dad was a surgeon, Mom had 2 degrees from Bryn Mawr and was a prominent suffragette – and were militant public crusaders on the burning social issues of the day.

Dr. Thomas Hepburn and Katharine Houghton Hepburn, parents of Katharine Hepburn. Undated photo

Dr. Thomas Hepburn and Katharine Houghton Hepburn, parents of Katharine Hepburn. Undated photo

Katharine Hepburn's mother, Katharine Houghton Hepburn, was a prominent suffragette from Connecticut.

Katharine Hepburn’s mother, Katharine Houghton Hepburn, was a prominent suffragette from Connecticut. She is shown as “Mrs. Thomas N. Hepburn” in the photo at top center. Photo ca. 1925.

Dr. Hepburn’s dressing room was the center of the family home. Kath and Palache joined Dr. and Mrs. Hepburn there for  heated discussions. The family debated topics alien to Palache’s childhood home such as prostitution, venereal disease, and birth control. At times, Dr. Hepburn would be soaking in the tub during such discussions or, perhaps, shaving at the sink. The girls sat on a Queen Anne sofa in his dressing room as Dr. Hepburn would nonchalantly stride back and forth across the cork flooring wearing absolutely nothing.  Almost as shocking as the casual nudity – a naked man in his forties parading in front of his teenage daughter and her girlfriend – was Mrs. Hepburn’s attitude. When she would enter the room, she would hug and kiss her very naked husband, while declaring to the young women,

I find him beautiful,” while adding that the doctor “had no seat.”

Katharine Hepburn came from anything but a conventional home.

Katharine Hepburn, Bryn Mawr Class of 1928, is seen third from right in the dramatic production,"The Truth About Blayds," by A. A. Milne. At an all-girls college, Ms. Hepburn had the opportunity to play male as well as female roles.

Katharine Hepburn, Bryn Mawr Class of 1928, is seen third from right in the dramatic production,”The Truth About Blayds,” by A. A. Milne. At an all-girls college, Ms. Hepburn had the opportunity to play male as well as female roles.

Source: Leaming, Barbara. Katharine Hepburn. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. 1995.

Source: Bryn Mawr College Archives Online

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Diana Vreeland, Empress of Fashion, 1903-1989

Before her career as editor and columnist at fashion magazines Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, Diana Vreeland, like other society women of her class, ran a little lingerie shop near Berkeley Square in London. She often traveled to Paris where she would buy her clothes, notably, Chanel. She remembered one such trip in the summer of 1932:

“One night in Paris, after I was married, a friend and I went to a little theatre above Montmartre to see a German[-French] movie called “L’Atlantide,” with a wonderful actress in it called Brigitte Helm, who played the Queen of the Lost Continent. It was the middle of July. It was hot. The only seats in the theatre were in the third balcony, under the rafters, where it was even hotter. There were four seats in a row, and we took two.

L'Atlantide poster 1932

“We sat there, the movie started…and I became totally intoxicated by it. I was mesmerized! …I was absorbed by these three lost Foreign Legion soldiers with their camels, their woes…they’re so tired, they’re delirious with dehydration…And then you see the fata morgana [mirage]. That means that if you desire a woman, you see a woman, if you desire water, you see water – everything you dream, you see. But you never reach it. It’s all an illusion.

“Then…a sign of an oasis! There’s a palm…and more palms. Then they’re in the oasis, where they see Brigitte Helm, this divine looking woman seated on a throne – surrounded by cheetahs! The cheetahs bask in the sun. She fixes her eyes on the soldiers. One of them approaches her. She gives him a glass of champagne and he drinks it. Then she takes the glass from him, breaks it, cuts his throat with it…

Brigette Helm as the Queen of Atlantis, the Lost Continent, shown here with one of her screen cheetahs.  "L'Atlantide" (1932)

Brigette Helm as the Queen of Atlantis, the Lost Continent, shown here with one of her screen cheetahs. “L’Atlantide” (1932)

“This goes on and on. I hadn’t moved an inch. At some point I moved my hand…to here…where it stayed for the rest of the movie. I was spellbound because the mood was so sustained. I was sucked in, seduced by this thing of the desert, seduced by the Queen of the Lost Continent, the wickedest woman who had ever lived…and her cheetahs!

The essence of movie-ism.

“Then…the lights went on, and I felt a slight movement under my hand. I looked down – and it was a cheetah! And beside the cheetah was Josephine Baker!”

Josephine Baker was a hit in Paris cabarets, singing, dancing, and goofing around. In the 1930s, she was the most successful American entertainer in Paris. She got rich fast and was a superstar. She is wearing her notorious silly but erotic banana skirt. ca. 1925

When Josephine Baker began performing her exotic, erotic, and peculiar dances in Paris cabarets in 1925, she became an instant hit, a superstar. In the thirties, she was the most successful American entertainer working in France. She was known as “The Black Pearl” and “The Bronze Venus.” Whether sitting high up in a giant bird cage covered with peacock feathers or dancing semi-nude in a skirt of dangling fabric bananas, audiences were captivated by her infectious charm. ca. 1925

Meanwhile, back to our story:

Diana Vreeland was chatting with Josephine Baker in the balcony of a hot theater, looking at a cheetah.

Diana says to Josephine:

“‘Oh,” I said, ‘you’ve brought your cheetah to see the cheetahs!’

“Yes,” she said,’ that’s exactly what I did.’

“She was alone with the cheetah on a lead. She was so beautifully dressed.  She was wearing a marvelous little short black skirt and a little Vionnet shirt – no sleeves, no back, no front, just crossed bars on the bias. Don’t forget how hot it was, and, of course, the great thing was to get out of this theatre we were in. The cheetah, naturally, took the lead, and Josephine, with those long black legs, was dragged down three flights of stairs as fast as she could go, and that’s fast.

“Out in the street there was an enormous white-and-silver Rolls-Royce waiting for her. The driver opened the door; she let go of the lead; the cheetah whooped, took one leap into the back of the Rolls, with Josephine right behind; the door closed…and they were off!

…Ah! Style was a great thing in those days.” (1)

American entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1936) often performed onstage in Paris nightclubs with pet cheetah Chiquita. Chiquita wore a diamond collar. Sometimes, during a performance, Chiquita would decide to jump off the stage and into the orchestra pit, causing quite a ruckus. Early 1930s. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

American entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1936) often performed onstage in Paris nightclubs with pet cheetah Chiquita. Chiquita wore a diamond collar. Sometimes, during a performance, Chiquita would decide to jump off the stage and into the orchestra pit, causing quite a ruckus. ca. 1931. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

Heads turned when entertainer Josephine Baker took her pet cheetah Chiquita on a walk, sometimes down the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Ca. 1930

Heads turned when entertainer Josephine Baker took her pet cheetah Chiquita on a walk, sometimes down the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Ca. 1930

Sheet music with Josephine Baker and Chiquita

Sheet music with Josephine Baker and Chiquita.

Comparing Josephine Baker to a beautiful Egyptian queen,  artist Pablo Picasso dubbed her “the Nefertiti of Now.” She posed for him in all her glory: “tall, coffee skin, ebony eyes, legs of paradise, a smile to end all smiles.” (2)

Gorgeous, talented, and funny Josephine Baker, an original. Undated photo, ca. 1930

Gorgeous, talented, and funny Josephine Baker, an original. Undated photo, ca. 1930

(1)Vreeland, Diana. D.V. New York: Da Capo Press, 1984

(2) Picasso quote

 

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Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, the year she married John Warner. April 1976. Photo: Henry Wynberg

Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, the year she married John Warner. April 1976. Photo: Henry Wynberg

Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) was willing to do almost anything to get her seventh husband, Virginia lawyer John Warner, elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978.  To woo voters and the Republican Party leaders, Elizabeth had to prove to be an asset to the campaign. She had to make the transformation from movie queen to political wife. (Readers: For how they got together, read the previous post.)

During their brief courtship, Warner was given cause to worry that she could not make the leap. He recalled inviting Elizabeth to lunch with him in Washington, D.C.. Looking forward to showing her off, he was embarrassed when she appeared at the Bicentennial office (where he was director)

wearing a flowing black silk pajama outfit with a low-cut neckline.” (1)

Then there were her showy jewels, for example, an “eye-popping necklace of…egg-sized canary diamonds and amethysts as big as her fist.” Elizabeth promised her husband she would dress down, cutting down on the diamonds and the décolletage, opulence that would not go over big with plain Southern Virginia folk.

At a British Embassy reception, Queen Elizabeth II of England gets a look at Elizabeth Taylor's famous jewels: the Bulgari Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds from her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Richard Burton. July 1976

At a British Embassy reception, Queen Elizabeth II of England gets a look at Elizabeth Taylor’s famous jewels: the Bulgari Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds from her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Richard Burton. July 1976

The Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds, once part of the Elizabeth Taylor Collection

The Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds, once part of the Elizabeth Taylor Collection

Besides sacrificing her fashion sense, Elizabeth would set her career aside during this period, appearing in only a handful of films and, then, mostly in cameo roles, requiring only a short stint away from the campaign.

Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, wears her signature color, purple, to match her violet eyes. 1977

Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, wears her signature color, purple, to match her violet eyes. 1977

Then there were her friends of the moment, the hard-partying, cocaine-sniffing crowd of the notorious New York disco Studio 54: Liza Minnelli, fashion designer Halston, Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger. Warner steered her away from hanging out with them at the club (although she did install a discotheque at the farm for entertaining them).

Elizabeth Taylor dances with her fashion designer friend Halston at Studio 54. Note that Elizabeth wears a purple pantsuit. Feb. 1978

Elizabeth Taylor dances with her fashion designer friend Halston at Studio 54. Note that Elizabeth wears a purple pantsuit. Feb. 1978

Self-restraint, too, was called into play, if Elizabeth was going to help Warner hit a home run, for Elizabeth was a hot-blooded woman, prone to hard-drinking, cursing, and screaming at photographers trying to shoot her from uncomplimentary angles.

In January, 1977, weeks after returning from honeymooning in Switzerland, Elizabeth and John hit the campaign trail with an appearance at the Hearts of Gold Ball in Richmond, which they reached by Greyhound bus. From here on out, for Elizabeth, it would be a 23-month slog of kissing babies, speechifying, ribbon-cutting, riding in parades, chairing galas, raising funds, eating corn-on-the cob at county fairs, signing autographs, hurling cream pies, and pinning Warner buttons on Democrats. If a college campus had a drama department, she held a seminar for the students and allowed friendly question and answer sessions, unscripted, with no retakes, to which she was accustomed on a movie set. Toward the end of the race, she and Warner put in 12-15 hour days, riding in planes, buses, cars, and trains to reach their destinations.

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor in her favorite purple pantsuit by Halston. 1977

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor in her favorite purple pantsuit by Halston. 1977

Large, enthusiastic crowds turned out to see Elizabeth, accessible to them, no longer protected by bodyguards, as  in her movie stardom days. She shook so many hands that, one day, two blood vessels broke in her hand. That did not slow her down. She continued to shake hands, though her hand was swollen and protected by an elastic bandage. Elizabeth’s bursitis flared up in her shoulder from such rigorous handshaking. She received cortisone injections to help with the pain. Sometimes she campaigned in a wheelchair. But she kept going. She did it because

‘They come to see my wrinkles and pimples, and I don’t disappoint them, do I?’ she laughed. ‘This face has been around a lot of years. People want to see if my eyes really are violet or bloodshot or both. Once they check me out, they can go home and say, ‘I saw Liz Taylor and you know what? She ain’t so hot!'” (1)

At almost every campaign stop, Elizabeth Taylor look-alikes would show up, in big wigs and evening gowns.

Unfortunately, a lot of the people who showed up at rallies came to see if Elizabeth was as obese as it was being reported in the press. The strain of the campaign was beginning to take its toll on her. Her weight had ballooned and she was drinking booze in excess and eating way too much. Joan Rivers was regularly lampooning her with fat jokes on  “The Tonight Show“:

Every time Liz Taylor goes into McDonald’s, the numbers on the sign outside start changing. When she looks up and see five billion, she thinks it’s her weight.”

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor, ca. 1978

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor, ca. 1978

Elizabeth was affected by such cruel commentary. Nevertheless, she continued eating and drinking herself into oblivion. Dinner guests reported seeing her eat, in one sitting, mounds of mashed potatoes drowned in gravy, followed by five rich desserts and countless bottles of champagne. (2) In her defense, she remarked:

‘I am not a monument that pigeons can doo-doo on. I am a living human being, and if I want to eat fried chicken six times a day and can still function, that’s up to me!'” (1)

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner campaign for the U.S. Senate seat. June 2, 1978

In August, 1978, John Warner became the Republic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat from Virginia, when the original nominee was suddenly killed.

John Warner became the Republican nominee for the 1978 U.S. Senate race by a strange circumstance. Richard Obenshain was the nominee but he died in a plane crash. John Warner and wife Elizabeth Taylor are shown here at Obenshain's funeral. Aug. 5, 1978. Photo: Don Long, Richmond Times Dispatch

John Warner became the Republican nominee for the 1978 U.S. Senate race by a strange circumstance. Richard Obenshain was the nominee but he died in a plane crash. John Warner and wife Elizabeth Taylor are shown here at Obenshain’s funeral. Aug. 5, 1978. Photo: Don Long, Richmond Times Dispatch

The general election was on November 7; there were three months to go. The strain of the long and grueling campaign trail was apparent in both of them; tempers frayed and Elizabeth kept eating, eating, and then eating some more. Some campaign leaders worried that Elizabeth’s star appeal was overshadowing the candidate. They considered removing her from the campaign.

On October 12, 1978, three weeks before the election, Elizabeth was to suffer one of the many freak accidents for which she was known. She appeared at a rally at Big Stone Gap, Virginia. The whole countryside was in a dither to see her.

Elizabeth Taylor wore her purple silk Halston pantsuit accessorized with a sumptuous gold necklace studded with amethyst stones the size of cookies and matching drop earrings encrusted with pearls. She had tucked a small bouquet of fresh violets behind one ear. She posed for photo after photo with a smile that was genuine.

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner, center, pose at a campaign rally in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Oct. 12, 1978

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner, center, pose at a campaign rally in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Oct. 12, 1978. Note the purple Halston pantsuit Elizabeth is wearing.

Later that evening, John and Elizabeth stopped for a chicken dinner at Fraley’s Coach House, where Elizabeth took a bite of a fried chicken breast and accidentally swallowed a two-and-a-half inch bone. The bone lodged in her throat. She clutched her neck, barely able to breathe. She tried to cough it up, but in vain. She stuffed some rolls into her mouth to try to push the bone down her throat but it didn’t work. It was clear that she was choking to death. (3) She was rushed to Lonesome Pine Hospital, where a thoracic surgeon inserted a rubber hose down her throat and stuffed the bone down where it dissolved in digestion. She was overnight in the hospital. The next day, she made the headlines:

‘ACTRESS NEARLY CHOKES AT CAMPAIGN RALLY,’ screamed The Washington Star.

Elizabeth Taylor is assisted by her husband, John Warner (r.) as she returns from a hospital stay in Richmond, Va. Oct. 13, 1978

Elizabeth Taylor is assisted from an airplane by her husband, John Warner (r.) as she returns from a hospital stay in Richmond, Va. Oct. 13, 1978

Strangely, it was about this time that a delegation of women who ran the Warner campaign chose to approach Elizabeth and inform her that she could no longer wear purple to John’s rallies. Everyone knows that purple was her signature color. Her legendary eyes were violet. In a 1997 interview with Kevin Sessums, Elizabeth recalled:

‘If the woman is the politician, then it might be quite different. But if you’re wedded to the politician, it’s like your lips are sealed. You are a robot. They even tell you what you can wear. You can imagine how that sat with me! I was told that I—me!—was not allowed to wear purple because it smacked of royalty.’ 

She told Harper’s Bazaar:

‘The Republican women told me, ‘You simply cannot wear the purple pantsuit you’ve been campaigning in anymore.’ I ended up in a tweed suit. Me. Little tweed suits. What I won’t do for love.'”

Twelve days before the U.S. Senate election,Republican women crowd around Elizabeth Taylor Warner at the Meadowbrook Country Club, Richmond. Va.  Oct. 26, 1978.

Twelve days before the U.S. Senate election,Republican women crowd around Elizabeth Taylor Warner at the Meadowbrook Country Club, Richmond. Va. Oct. 26, 1978.

On November 7, John Warner squeaked to victory. Out of 1.2 million votes, he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Virginia by only 4,271 votes.  He could not have done it without Elizabeth. Some say that the chicken bone incident moved the public to sympathy for her, swinging the vote in Warner’s favor. Elizabeth joked later

‘I seem to have at least 4, 271 fans in Virginia, so at least I know I pulled my own weight!'” (2)

After the election, the Republican women threw Elizabeth a luncheon in her honor, for all she had done in the campaign. In her Kevin Sessums interview, Elizabeth said she

…put on my purplest Halston pantsuit. I told them the story that the women who ran John Warner’s campaign had forbid me to wear purple. I got up and pointed out one specific woman. I said, ‘That one! Right there!'”

The subjugation of her own ego to John’s for two full years damaged Elizabeth’s self-esteem. There were few movie roles for an aging beauty, especially a puffy one. Elizabeth Taylor, movie star, had lost her self-identity.

John and Elizabeth moved to Washington, D.C., where, on January 16, 1979 in the gallery of the U.S. Senate, John was sworn in with Elizabeth and her mother in attendance. Things looked rosy for the couple at that moment. John and Elizabeth threw each other big Hollywood kisses, but John immediately became consumed by his new job, declaring he would never miss a roll call. Elizabeth was left alone for long stretches of time in their Washington home or Virginia farmhouse, consoling herself with massive quantities of Jack Daniels and chili dogs. She resorted to trips to New York to hang out at Studio 54. Elizabeth liked to have a man around and John wasn’t there for her. Whereas John may have loved Elizabeth, he loved work more.

Elizabeth Taylor, center, hangs out at Studio 54 with singer Liza Minnelli (l.) and First Lady Betty Ford (r.). 1979

Elizabeth Taylor, center, hangs out at Studio 54 with singer Liza Minnelli (l.) and First Lady Betty Ford (r.). 1979

Elizabeth had married John Warner in the hopes that he would give her the roots (and a private life) that she had longed for so much in her hurried life. Instead, she had spent the first two years of their marriage on the campaign trail and in the public eye more than before, if that is possible. Her life was more stressful than ever. As a star, she was used to crushingly cruel movie reviews but nothing could have been as brutal as the punishing ridicule she had received from the media for her weight gain.

Though these years were painful for Elizabeth – she and John Warner would divorce after six years of marriage – her worsening addiction to alcohol, pain pills and food would put her feet firmly on a path that led, in 1983, to a life-changing stay at the Betty Ford Clinic. A new Elizabeth Taylor would emerge from the famous rehab: a savvy and respected politician who would use her high profile celebrity to raise mega millions to combat the deadly disease, AIDS, by creating AMFAR.

Elizabeth Taylor, age 55, looking healthy and trim. 1987

Elizabeth Taylor, age 55, looking healthy and trim. 1987

(1) Kelley, Kitty. Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981.

(2) Heymann, C. David. Liz: An Intimate Portrait of Elizabeth Taylor. New York; Simon & Schuster, 1995.

(3) Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Elizabeth. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2006.

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor, click here.

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Engaged to be married, Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner visit his alma mater, Washington and Lee, as well as visiting nearby Virginia Military Institute. November 11, 1976

Engaged to be married, Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner visit his alma mater, Washington and Lee, as well as visiting nearby Virginia Military Institute. November 11, 1976

They made their debut as a couple at the Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, on Founders’ Day on November 11, 1976, where John Warner gave a speech and Elizabeth Taylor looked up adoringly at her fiancé – rugged yet stately, tall, muscular, with “marvelous silver hair.” John then introduced Elizabeth, who promptly stood up and saluted the cadets. The men temporarily forgot their military bearing and tossed their hats up into the air.

John Warner had been appearing at functions around Virginia, testing the political waters for a possible U.S. Senate run in 1978. Elizabeth’s name recognition lent star power to his possible candidacy, raising his political profile.  He amused audiences with this oft-repeated anecdote:

I feel just like Ben Franklin. He was born in Boston. Moved to Philadelphia. Met a lady on the street. They got engaged. And then he discovered electricity. Ladies and gentleman,’ he would conclude, turning toward wife Elizabeth, “allow me to share some electricity with you.” (1)

Elizabeth Taylor, 44, and John Warner, 50, prior to their marriage, December 1978.

Elizabeth Taylor, 44, and John Warner, 50, prior to their marriage, December 1978.

Elizabeth was bowled over by Warner from the start, when he was her blind date to a British Embassy ball in honor of Queen Elizabeth II of England on July 8, 1976. Elizabeth was in the middle of a second bruising divorce from Richard Burton. Three years earlier, Warner had divorced Catherine Mellon, the daughter of billionaire Paul Mellon. Their divorce was so friendly that she lived next door to his 2,600 acre farm outside Middleburg, Virginia, in Atoka, to more easily share the care of their three children. Elizabeth was worth $50 million; Warner, $10 million, a result of his hefty post divorce settlement. Warner was one of the nation’s most eligible bachelors – a playboy, definitely – who unabashedly selected dates and debutantes out of the Social Register and Washington, D. C., Green Book, copies of which he kept on his desk at all times. He had dated many desirable women, including TV host Barbara Walters, remarking to her that

A woman like you could probably get me elected senator. “

She declined his proposal. (2)

But Barbara Walters was no match for the celebrity and mega-glamour of super-sexy La Liz.

British

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor, first date, July 8, 1976, at a reception for Queen Elizabeth II at the British Embassy. At the time, John Warner was the Director of the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, appointed by President Gerald Ford.

There was much speculation about this power couple. Was John using Elizabeth to advance his career? Would she boost his chances of winning the 1978 U.S. Senate seat from Virginia? Or, rather, would her five previous marriages and scandals drag him down?

Elizabeth Taylor, 39,  in a scene from X, Y, and Zee, 1971

Elizabeth Taylor, 39, in a scene from X, Y, and Zee, 1971. Elizabeth Taylor was a beautiful and talented woman with a name known around the world.

Elizabeth was ready to leave behind the showbiz life, marry this country gentleman farmer/lawyer, and become the Lady of the Manor. Warner’s farm at Middleburg was a little over an hour away from Washington:

It sat at the end of a mile-long drive, amid spacious fields where a herd of 600 pedigree Hereford cattle grazed….Elizabeth was enchanted by the duck ponds….The farm won her heart….She married John Warner for his roots.” (2)

There were horses there, too, evoking Elizabeth’s idyllic childhood in England. Although Elizabeth owned homes in Mexico and Switzerland, she had spent the bulk of the last fifteen years living on her and Burton’s yacht, the Kalizma, and in hotels around the world. She had made over fifty films, had four children, and had been married six times, twice to Richard Burton. Elizabeth, a star since childhood, had been a vagabond her entire life. She needed a change. A marriage to John Warner would bring with it a home, something sorely lacking in her chaotic world.

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner exchange wedding bands on Dec. 4, 1976

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner exchange wedding bands on Dec. 4, 1976

Five months after their first date, they tied the knot. On Dec. 4, 1976, Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner were married at the top of a hill on the farm, in a simple Episcopalian ceremony, at sunset. Only Warner’s son, the rector, and a few friends were also in attendance. Elizabeth wore a purple turban, a dress of lavender grey, with gray suede boots and a matching coat of silver fox. She carried a bouquet of lavender and her husband’s gold wedding band in her glove.

Elizabeth relaxed into her new role. “I’m so happy to just be John’s wife. I finally feel that I have a home. My search for roots is finally over.” (3)  John called her his “Little Heifer” and “Pooters.”

She was now Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner but she called herself “Mrs. John Warner.” The wedding was international news, one paper shouting:

Here She Goes Again, Number 7 for Liz

(1) Kelley, Kitty. Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011.

(2) Heymann, C. David. Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995, 2011.

(3) Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Elizabeth. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2007.

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor, click here.

 

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