Archive for the ‘STAGE & SCREEN’ Category

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)


  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.


(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.


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)


“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.


(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 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!


(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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