Sunday, November 28, 2010

Brenda Frazier

The China doll loveliness of young Brenda Frazier, compared with the later, ravaged beauty of older Brenda Frazier, has a Grey Gardens ghoulishness I can't resist. How has Hollywood overlooked this story?

Brenda Frazier, the 1938-39 social season's queen of the sub deb set, made the cover of Life magazine that same year (November '39). She was always one of my favorite parts of the 1930-1940 volume of the This Fabulous Century set. One section of that book highlighted the hottest society names of the 30's debutante scene, and Brenda Frazier was hands down the prettiest and the most popular. She made famous, at the time, her signature look of perfectly coiffed, dark hair, pale white face powder, red lips, a strapless gown, and minks, minks, minks. How many minks gave their lives in the service of Brenda Frazier!

Her sweetheart face and birdlike slightness, combined with a studied sense of put-togetherness, a pushy mother, and a knack for self promotion, were just an unstoppable glamour recipe. She rose from an eight million dollar heiress with "piano legs", to "Glamour Girl #1", the girl for whom the term " celebutante" was coined by Walter Winchell, all within the space of three or four years. She belongs in that same "begging for a biopic" category of high social register histrionics and heartache as the Beales (the aforementioned Grey Gardens), the Baeklands (Savage Grace), and the von B├╝lows (Reversal of Fortune). Yet, if you note my parenthetical citations there, Brenda Frazier is missing (in spite of her first name having the alliterative quality to be grouped with the others) her 15 minutes of celluloid fame.

The pug nosed lug on the right is John Simms "Shipwreck" Kelly, halfback for the New York Giants (1931) and the Brooklyn Dodgers (1933-1937, now the Indianapolis Colts). Kelly married Brenda in 1941... they spent fifteen years together knocking around vacation spots and upper class suburbia until their divorce in the mid fifties. Look at the sheer SIZE of this guy. Her outfits in the two pictures above and the one below are so prim and neat without being stuffy or drab...I wish I could strike that balance as effortlessly.

Below, more debutante pictures (I'm going at this kind of backwards, but I so love the 40's pictures, it would've been hard to put them after the [still very pretty] 30's ones). Douglas Fairbanks, Jr was in an attendance at her debut, which ran from 11:30 pm until well into the next morning... at seventeen, doing a rumba (did they spell it "rhumba" back then, usually?) with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. probably would have ended my young life, from sheer heart failure... but Brenda was probably made of stiffer social stuff than to collapse at the foot of a debonair, second generation movie star.

From reading Debutante: The Story of Brenda Frazier, I remember being struck by a few things: one, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was there (I might have mentioned this), amid lots and lots of American and European society, something like two thousand people; two, Brenda's feet had swollen to twice their size from either nerves or edema, or nervous edema just before the affair, but she bravely soldiered through dancing pretty much ceaselessly for hours in order to fulfill her social obligtation, and three, a college freshman girl from Brooklyn Heights dressed in her best taffeta, rode the subway to the Ritz, gatecrashed with her school's newspaper ID, and was part of the presentation line as Brenda greeted her guests (she said in her later writeup for the school's paper that Brenda looked "bored but beautiful". A great description.). After her debut, she subsequently dated ladies man Peter Arno (an urbane cartoonist for the New Yorker, who has the square jawed good looks of Dana Andrews, or the like) before settling down with friend-of-Jock-Whitney, "Ship" Kelly.

As you could imagine from my opening, things kind of went downhill from there. She had a daughter, a divorce, another marriage, and battles with anorexia, bulimia, prescription pills, and mental breakdowns. The last few chapters of the book reminded me of many of the old celebrity biographies I've read-- Brenda went into seclusion in her later years and rarely left her bed, much less her apartment, until her eventual death in 1985. These disquieting photos of ruined glamour were taken by the great Diane Arbus, and it's funny to me how gruesomely glamourous she still looks inspite of her failing looks and health. All the trappings are there, only the base of her great beauty and youth is eroded.

So. Hollywood. Could we make a movie already?

PS...if you search Google Books for Life magazine, Novermber 1939, or Brenda Frazier, it should take you right to the cover and a full text of the entire neat is that?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Boot plagarism!

Double vision! These are two different shoes, but boy do they look alike!

The one on the left is from, an example of their "Toe the Shine" boot, which retails for $114.99. From the description:

When it comes to clothes, the distinction between cute and comfortable can be a big one - but this fab flat boot definitely walks that line with confidence. This vegan-friendly shoe has a soft, faux-suede upper in a deep charcoal that feels like heaven from the moment you pull it on. Its the shiny black-capped toe, bow, and back heel, though, that really make you pine for this lovely boot. Imagine the delight that will ensue when you pair this cozy cutie with a prim wool mini dress, black leggings, and a tweed coat for a warm but stylish ensemble in which to face the frigid fall temps!

Gee, but this looks just like some shoe I've seen before...where did I see that shoe?! I remember distinctly being struck by the idea of a boot that wears like a shoe plus stocking, without the inconvenient froideur of wearing flats with tights. I wracked my brain for a good twenty minutes before the correct context shuffled its way the top of my mental Rolodex.

The shoe on the right is featured in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection, which has an amazing online search feature-- tons of fashion items dating back to practically caveman times, and all photographed and digitally added for my perusing pleasure. I found this item, a man's "Opera Boot" from the 1840's, when I was drooling over their (at the time traveling) Golden Age of Couture collection. Per the website:

Opera boots were also known as 'Dress Wellingtons' and were often worn when going out to dinner, the theatre, opera and other social evening occasions. Although they were shaped like a boot, they would have resembled a dress shoe when worn under trousers. Many opera boots had bows attached, and the uppers were often made of different textures of leather to give the appearance of a dress shoe worn over a stocking. Some even had silk stocking legs laid over the leather to give even more of a stocking-like effect.

An anonymous cavalry officer described how this style of boot could be used as a substitute for shoes in his book The Whole Art of Dress (1830):
'This boot is invented, doubtless, for the mere purpose of saving trouble in dress; for without attending to silk stockings or the trouble of tying bows, you have merely to slip on the boots, and you are neatly equipped in a moment.'

My sentiments exactly! Luscious kudos to the man/woman who first dreamed up what is the very soul of convenience!

Wouldn't you include the provenance of this cunning little number in your description if you were the cobbler who drew (kind of blatant) "inspiration" from it? I mean, I guess not, if you were trying to protect your perceived quality of "unique vision", but when most everything on the site's kind of an homage to some vintage that came before it, I certainly can't see any harm in mentioning it.

All that said, how neat is it that I can buy a brand new reproduction1840's novelty boot without having to call up the local costume shop? Now, if only I could raise one hundred and twenty dollars worth of foldin' money...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Frances Espy 1931-1935

Wouldn't you know the prettiest girl in the 1935 Agnes Scott yearbook would have the same hair as me?

My two newest obsessions, my Tyrolean hair style and mid 1930's ephemera, come together nicely in my discovery of The Internet Archive's scanned copies of Agnes Scott College's school annuals. I was flipping through the online book version and stopped in my tracks upon seeing SEVERAL girls with the hairstyle which has led my coworker Doug at the Non Fiction desk to affectionately bestow upon me the moniker "Hilda". Hurray! A coif that was born out of a bored moment of hair braiding gone serendipitously RIGHT for once actually has a style connection to the very era in which I'm now most interested. Frances Katheryn [sic] Espy, whose surname puts me in mind of Esquire magazine's first mascot Esky, was a gorgeous English major from Dothan, Alabama. Vice president of her senior class, president of the Lecture Association and the Poetry Club, on the Agonistic newspaper staff, and member of the basketball team her junior year, Miss Espy was certainly a girl with "go". The curious letter below, from "Earl Carroll Attractions" (click on the image for a full size version), ranks her a very politely worded "honorable mention" in what appears to be a competition for most attractive. All the girls' pictures follow, but I can tell you from thumbing through them, the gal (whose top most picture is the one from the running) was robbed.

Side note: Earl Carroll, come to find out, was a Broadway producer (just like all those fame hungry dames in movies like Stage Door were trying to make splashy impressions on, in hopes of a part) of some note, who threw a party that resulted in his having to appear before a Grand Jury. GOOD. NIGHT. Wiki Quote here:

During the private party a bathtub was brought out in which there was a nude young woman bathing in illegal liquor. One of the guests at the party was Philip Payne, editor of the New York Mirror. Although Carroll expected his guests would be circumspect about what happened at the party, Payne published a report. This was noted by federal authorities, and they subpoenaed Carroll to appear (with others) before a grand jury. The authorities were apparently determined to learn the source of the illegal alcohol. Carroll denied the incident happened, but others at the party confirmed it. The federal government prosecuted Carroll for perjury, and he was convicted and sent to the Atlanta Penitentiary for six months.

I, for one, am impressed.

Anyway, enjoy the pictures of my new beauty role model, and search "yearbooks" on the Internet archive sites if you want more on dazzling eds and coeds of yesteryear. I'll keep you posted if any more catch my eye!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Some Girls:Jerry Hall

Now that I'm committed to growing my hair out (after years of being in various stages of bobs and bangs), I have to say that I'm more envious than ever of Miss Jerry Hall's blonde, mane like head of GORGEOUS hair. She really is the one, contemporary style icon I can think of with just ef-off, seriously long hair as an accessory. Do I get a perm to achieve this level of volume? How to ask for one without coming out looking like one of the various forms of the comic strip Nancy?

Jerry Hall dated Bryan Ferry from Roxy Music for a few years, appearing on the cover of Siren as well as this undated photo shoot I keep seeing pop up:

From what I understand, she was hired for the Siren cover shoot and Bryan Ferry made a move by inviting her back to his apartment to get out of all the blue and gold mermaid body paint she wore (into something a little more comfortable? They moved in together not long after, got engaged, and were one of those late 70's wonder couples.

In the same sense as Morrissey, Bryan Ferry doesn't have cover boy good looks, but he certainly makes up for it in style and musicianship. Mr. Ferry's panache, and streed cred as the day is long for his soaring vibrato and helmship of a critically important art rock band to end all art rock bands, should probably count for a lot. My favorite collaboration of theirs would obviously be Jerry Hall's cameo in the music video for "Let's Stick Together" (super clear video of it here ).... I just love Jerry's "Yi yi yi yi!" solo, there:

The Ferry/Hall relationship has always blown my little pop culture hugging mind in terms of pitting celebrity vs. celebrity vs. celebrity. You're a statuesque blonde SUPERmodel (when that meant something) with a Texas twang who's dating a critical darling of a rock star. He'll put you in his videos, album covers, etc... who do you leave him for? Oh, just Mick Jagger. Just THE BIGGEST ROCK STAR ON THE PLANET. Apparently, she and Mick met THROUGH Bryan Ferry, and she actually up and left him for Mick Jagger (who wrote "Miss You" about the touch and go makings of their relationship). Wow, people. Wow.

Other than the dubious prospect of having a married name of "Jerry Ferry", I can see where the jet set glamor of a bonafide, honest-to-God Rolling Stone might dazzle you right out of love with any other celebrity attachment. Though I do feel sorry for old Bryan Ferry. He wrote a song after her memoir Tall Tales came out called "Kiss and Tell"...I think in the end, he wasn't very happy she'd done either the kissing or the telling.

What I like so much about Jerry Hall is really her larger-than-life-ness. Six feet tall, perfect, stick thin body, long, perfect hair, and sculpted perfect cheekbones-- mixed with that outrageous Texan accent and an out-there personality (not Janice Dickinson out there, thank God, but very outgoing, flirty, cute). I like her best of all three of the Jagger consorts because it seems like she would be the most fun to have a drink or eight with.

Jerry and Mick Jagger had FOUR, count 'em, FOUR kids together (the next to youngest, Georgia Jagger, is a pretty high profile model herself these days. Doesn't hurt to have super genes, I guess) before splitting up in the late 90's after Mick Jagger got a Brazilian super model pregnant. It's what the man does, I would defend, but it's still a lousy end to a lovely twenty years.

Jerry has a new book out, but I can't figure what the US release date can see it here at and cross your fingers it shows up at a bookstore near you soon.

People article from the year Mick Jagger broke up with Bianca for Jerry below:


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