Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"Women Cram Handbags" (Celebrities and their purses, 1945)

Good morning!

Boy, is it gloomy outside here in Nashville! I've spent most of this day so far gluing book spines back together and trying to get the chill out of my bones with some coffee and Google books. Today, while flipping through a wartime era Life magazine, I noticed an article on women's handbags. As I scanned through the photos, what to my wondering eyes should appear but celebrities of 1945 and the contents of their purses! Wow doesn't even cover it, folks!

Let's take a look!

Lovely Lucille Ball, who would have been a hundred and two on her birthday yesterday (!!), carries a circular brown felt hand bag with everything from sunglasses to tweezers and cuticle scissors inside. The caption reminds us that the initials on her leather notebook stand for "Lucille Arnaz", something nobody would have to be reminded of six years later when she and husband Desi became two of the most recognizable people in the country with their hit tv show. I see sunglasses, a billfold, Revlon cosmetics, lipstick, and a solitary key among her other belongings. What do you think is in the Revlon boxes? I can't make out the writing on it other than the brand name.

How fun is it to snoop through these purses in pictures? I'm straining my eyes trying to figure out what some of this stuff is!

Claudette Colbert carries cigarettes and matches, what looks like a driver's license (maybe?), and bicarbonate of soda. I also see a comb and a change purse, and look at the pecan roll CC has for breakfast on set every morning! How does she keep that tiny figure having the equivalent of a Little Debbie snack cake for breakfast? I'm partial to the rest of her outfit in the sidebar photograph. How about that pancake hat,  brooch, square neckline, and built-up shoulders? Yes, yes, yes, and yes!

Greer Garson, who I've never been a huge fan of but who would have been at the height of her stardom as wartime movie icon Mrs. Miniver just three years earlier, spills the most of all the stars here with letters, a movie script, a pocket knife...all kinds of junk! Do you see the little "see no evil" monkeys on a charm in the center of the photo? How about those tiny forties' sunglasses? I love that this is the equivalent of today's mammoth carry-all, only sixty five years ago!

How! Cute! Is! Betty! Grable! She had me at that ringlet up-do. I liked seeing the sunglasses, gum, cigarette holder, that rock at the upper left hand corner? Maybe some kind of change purse? And a two dollar bill, to boot. Hornplayer and band leader Harry James would have been two years into his twenty-two year union with WWII's most famous pin-up at the time his photograph was traveling along the inside of her alligator clutch. How did she get all this stuff in that little bag? Shades of Mary Poppins.

Maria Montez made a splash in 1944 with Cobra Woman, a camp classic (even under Robert Siodmak's direction!), and left an impression on me for her marriage to French actor Jean Pierre Aumont. Look how cute he looks in that tiny photo! Also, the cigarette lighter shaped like a fish. The only thing I could find similar to it online (there's a TON of weird, bass fishing style lighters on ebay, but nothing gold or dainty or antique like this) was a Tiffany creation favored by Diana Vreeland (see below). Sign me up!

And there's even a youth-set actress to round out the bunch!

Little Margaret O'Brien wins my own personally bestowed award for LEAST cloying child actress of the 1940's. Remember her in Meet Me in St. Louis with Judy Garland? Her purse is similarly unpretentious or nerve grating, with a little porcelain doll and some other childhood flotsam floating around in her round, red leather bag. 13 cents in 1945 would be $1.64 cents in 2012 money. She's rich! Rich beyond her wildest dreams!

I figured it wouldn't be fair not to have a moment of introspection regarding the bits and baubles I carry around in my own little leather hand bag, but sadly, I forgot the transfer cord to my camera! You'll have to settle for this dramatic recreation, featuring lipstick-printed post it notes, a pair of chopsticks from the Thai restaurant the other day, and more makeup than I thought I had! Oh, well. Judge away, haha!

What do you carry in your purse or wallet? Are you a Spartan like little Margaret O'Brien or a pack rat like Greer Garson? What forties' movie star's purse would you like to see the interior of (coughcough JOAN CRAWFORD cough)?

That's all for today, but I'll see you back here tomorrow. Hope the grey skies clear up by that time! Til then.


  1. How fun!! Is the Revlon in Lucy's purse the two nail polishes mentioned in the caption? Everything looks so much more glamorous than what's in my purse (way to many lipglosses, wallet, phone, etc.). And I like your dramatic recreation of your own items. :)

  2. Great post...I love this. I'm the kind of girl who carries all of the things in her purse. I like to be prepared for any sort of emergency situation. It's a little ridiculous.

  3. I squinted at all the pictures, LOVE this. My purse has my thin wallet, pens & pencil , composition notebook, smart phone, usually a book depending on where I'm going, chapstick, spare hairties, spare pads, two small hand towels from Japan (for trying my hands in the bathroom after washing) and this tiny thing of all natural bug spray I always forget to apply while I'm getting eaten alive out there by mosquitoes :) Sometimes my SLR, too. And I thought I was minimal! Many days it's just me and my wallet on the go.

    This is the purse I still use, now very faded, and the items that were in it at random:

  4. Love looking at photo's of the contents of star's handbags, though I can't help thinking that they did a little purging before the photo was shot.
    Also love looking at vintage magazines. You might be interested in this link to online archive copies of our Australian Women's Weekly 1903's til 1980's and still being published.

  5. i love whats in my purse posts, and those old celebrity ones are amazing! i carry almost nothing in my purse. my wallet, my phone, a chapstick, and my nook.



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