Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"A Statement of Purpose and Policy" (1920)

Digging once again through the prodigious holdings of the Internet Archive, I discovered this title explainin' and exploitin' the formation of "Associated Exhibitors Inc", a company consisting of almost 200 motion picture exhibitors. Formed in 1920 to look out for the interests of both movie house owners and their patrons, the main "statement and purpose" of the company was to discourage monopolies held by the movie production companies. "Vertical integration" is the micro economic term we were taught in film history class that pretty much meant any given movie company (say... MGM, for example) could (and sometimes did) own the means of production and exhibition right down the line... from the writing of the film and producing of the film to its premiere to its last screening, every aspect of production and exhibition would be owned by MGM. Which was a system that made those multi-year contracts, back in the day, so iron clad, and one in which anyone with aspirations towards working outside the studio was just soooo out of luck. But anyway.
I found two, same year clippings from the New York Times mentioning the corporation's inception, here and here-- one quote from the first article reads: "every exhibitor affiliated with the organization will be assured productions of the highest class and will not be left at the mercy of those who are endeavoring to obtain a monopoly on the production and distribution of motion pictures". Don't you love the high-falutin' oratory skills of whomsoever was the spokesperson for the company at the time? I'd like to be the man on the horn giving speeches about movie revenues that make me sound like a Tinseltown Abe Lincoln. The second one had to do with the comedian Harold Lloyd signing some kind of million dollar contract with them... it's pretty nuts-and-bolts, so I'm not exactly sure how it works. But I digress. The book.

The opening section of "A Statement of Purpose and Policy" is a ten page spread extolling the various merits of this "association for protection and profit, based on mutual confidence and justice for all". The illustrations heading sections with titles like "What it Means to Producers", "What it Means to Stars", and "What it Means to Exhibitors" are just gorgeous. The (unnamed) artist's choice of bold colors and dramatic compositions remind me a little of the illustrations of N.C. Wyeth or Howard Pyle. These alone were enough to draw me into the slim, e-volume.

But soft! What about after the "explanation of benefits"? The second half of the pamphlet is made up of advertisements for upcoming attractions. Oh, neat! Vintage 1920's movie promotional material, hurray!

Ummmm... did anyone catch this title? Louise Glaum in...."Sex"? Really, guys? Really? (as a side note, sneak a peek at the clothes in the righthand page...just my style. Oh, let me be mistaken for Norma Desmond at all turns, sir... there will be an unusual number of naked peacocks in the great Southeast due to my wardrobe choices.)

This piece of pre-Hays code marvelment and wonder is indeed the actual promotional advertisement for a 1920 melodrama entitled "Sex". I know. My ears are burning. Please, as always, click on any of the images for a supersized version. Why? Because you CAN'T resist ad copy like this:

S is for Sorrow and Suffering, that are the lot of all women. E is for Experience that refines the Soul of all women. X is the great unknown in the fascinating game of life.

SEX is not merely powerful and techincally fine-- it is commercially sure-fire and artistically amazing. And in treatment, it is as wholesome and genuine as a mother's embrace.

Good to know! Because, I guess I'm a little off base here, but you'd think with a title like "SEX" in all caps, there might...and I do say something slightly less wholesome than a mother's embrace there., how do you embrace YOUR mother?

The exotically coiffed, and unexotically named, Louise Glaum was an early "vamp", a contemporary of Theda Bara (Miss "Arab Death" herself!) who came from the stage and began in ingenue roles before graduating to "woman of the world" parts. Glaum played a number of femme fatales before leaving motion pictures in 1921 (only a year after this pamphlet describes her as "the screen's greatest and most successful emotional star"... go figure) to hit the vaudeville circuit. She opened her own theater in 1935 and continued to be active in the arts for the rest of her (total) 82 years.

Did I expect, after the shock of the full on 'SEX' of the first ad, to see another ad of similar, pre-code sentiment? I did not. Was I then surprised by a title called " Virgin of Stanboul"?

A little, yes. Look at Priscilla Dean's delciously piquant pose! Those eyes are like exclamation points.

I mean, really, what a great poster! See the tiny chameaux gallivanting around the title lettering in the sand dunes below her pretty face. Just great. And below, not only a two piece bikini slash harem outfit, not only a be-robed sultan giving the illustrated title character a smooch, but a little bit of typed information that would make me even more interested to see this picture!

Where the last production was helmed by Ben Hur (silent) director Fred Niblo, this one is directed by TOD BROWNING himself, director of Dracula, Freaks, and a number of Lon Chaney pictures. The imdb synopsis describes it so:

"Achmet Bey, a Turkish chieftain, catches one of his many wives in adultery and murders her lover. Throwing aside the cuckolding wife, he abducts an innocent girl into his harem. However, a brave American who loves her comes to her rescue."

Pretty basic melodrama material...but again, with Tod Browning in charge, and Wallace Beery playing a supporting role, it might be worth a shot if it comes up on TCM anytime soon. Besides the fact that the copy calls it a "gorgeous, glowing, mind-filling photodrama"... again, my new dream occupation is ad copywriter for the movies, circa 1920. Lemme just get my thesaurus out... annnd.....

Watch out, famous prize fighter Jack Dempsey! That guy on the cliff does not wish you any goodwill! Daredevil Jack was directed by W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke, the director behind the electric crackle of the Thin Man movies. I have no idea what's going on in the photo to the right, listed as a still from the movie on ebay, but as the UCLA film archives only has a partial, extant print of this flicker, I guess I never will. I thought... this looked like a Western? And yet their apparel just screams Beau Brummel? Who knows.

To the left, Who's Your Servant, to your right, with Lois Wilson, who in life had the enviable position of being one of my beloved Gloria Swanson's best friends. To the right, A Woman Who Understood with Bessie Barriscale, "a major star for Thomas Ince"... yes, the same Ince who was probably maybe kind of mostly you would be led to believe was shot aboard W.R. Hearst's yacht, the Oneida, over a weekend cruise. I know it's probably a just a persistent myth that covers up some other cover up, but the movie The Cat's Meow made such a compelling case of it (better than Anger's Hollywood Babylon entry, at any rate)....that I kind of want to believe. Fox Mulder style.

Sadly, I do not remember "the thrilling, breath-catching storm scenes in Should a Woman Tell". But I love the ad's affable assertion with regard to the picture they're hawking: "Well-- the ones in James A. Herne's immortal sea story Shore Acres, featuring Alice Lake, eclipse even those!" It seems that both films have storm scenes and Alice Lake, who models a fur-coat and sequins flapper ensemble very prettily in the picture to the right.

Lew Cody, star of The Butterfly Man, was married to Mack Sennett star Mabel Normand (badly portrayed by a usually wonderful Marisa Tomei in the Chaplin biopic Robert Downey Jr. did a while back) during the last four years of her life. I picked up Mabel by Betty Harper Fussell from the library in early high school, just liking the cover, and got pretty crazy into her life story, which would make a fantastic movie of its own. I don't know much about Lew Cody but that they spent a lot of time very, very drunk during the darker periods of her decline. The Bottom of the World is an early adaptation of the Ernest Shackleton story, which is anything but dull. If you'd like to see the whole pamphlet in living color, click here to visit the document on Internet Archive. I'm going to try some new search words and see what other kind of early movie ephemera I can track down!! Very exciting. Til next time.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Clothes Off My Back (7)

Boy! What a 72 hour flu won't do to knock you for a loop on all your good resolutions! I was stricken by malady Tuesday or so and actually had to take a day off work last week , which, if you knew my resolution towards saving any kind of paid time off for hypothetical trips to Acapulco, you would understand as a grave matter indeed. Two bottles of Nyquil and a box of sugar-free popsicles later-- many, many episodes of American Pickers and Law and Order: CI later-- my fever and chills had subsided, and no one had to choose whether to bury me or forge on along the Oregon Trail. I had fully intended to post some of these photos, oh, I don't know, ANYWHERE NEAR the time that they were taken... but instead, let's take a nostalgic walk through some pickings from my costume closet in the months of February and March.

I blame Stevie Nicks for my unhealthy fixation on black lace dresses. I've managed to scale it down from high school a notch or two, but sometimes I give in to my darker (80's hair band) nature. In one weekend, I wore not one, but TWO circa 1986 sensations. The former is a strapless number ($3.99 half off, the now defunct Donelson Goodwill) with a completely sequined bodice and a puffy, tiered lace overlaid skirt. The velour jacket (with its "All That Jazz" tag), has extremely fitted sleeves (to the point that you have to kind of turn your wrist and hand to wriggle in or out of the narrow hem at the wrist), square, Hepburn-worthy shoulderpads, and (wait for it) a huge panel of lace across the back instead of a traditional all-one-material type construction deal (Goodwill, $4.29). I like to think of it as 1940's in the front, and straight Heathers in the back. Did I, or did I not, sing "Total Eclipse of the Heart", to the greater glory of my karaoke reputation, in this outfit? I did. The earrings are little 45 records, but I don't expect you to be able to see that at this distance.

The dress on the right is a drop waisted 1920's meets 1980's piece of formalwear, with a truly prodigious amount of swing allotted to the swing skirt. Here I demonstrate just how rad my radius is going to be if you put me in a dancefloor spin. I wore this to a Telecommunicators show the night before the Bonnie Tyler action at karaoke. If you haven't checked out the greatest and best band that has ever been, you probably should. Not that I'm biased because Bab's the creative force behind the band. Of course not. But if you're into neo New Wave, it might be just thing for you.

This dress does not fit me AT ALL. For once, the problem of this vintagewear is a strange shoulder width (too wide) and overly generous, Grimace like silhouette. I have no idea who originally could wear this dress with chic and aplomb. However! Could you love the actual rhinestone encrusted collar (matched at the sleeves, not shown) any more than I do? If you click on the picture, you might be able to see a) the ruinous effect of static electricty on an otherwise well behaved mane and b) the detail on the beading. Those aren't just sequins, but individually mounted green and white glass rhinestones. Add some clear-ish seed shaped beads, and the sea foam green silk the dress is made of, plus a $2 second day estate sale price tag? I was swept up with emotion and bought the silly thing. I'm thinking I might take it to be altered-- never having done that before, I wonder how expensive it would be?

To the left, one of my very favorite dresses, a simple simple black sheath-ish piece with a great white lace detail at the collar. I always feel so prim in this one. The hat is a recent acquisition ($1, estate sale), but the frock dates back to high school. I wore them both to go catch Wild River at the Belcourt , which is part of their ongoing Southern Voices series. Stone in love with Lee Remick in that movie, and while I thought the plot and the pacing was patchy, there was something about the characters and the atmosphere that made me keep watching. Interesting, too, to see later career Montgomery Clift (only six years before his death), still handsome but haunted-looking, and very physically small, in a role that really should have gone to Rock Hudson, or maybe Gregory Peck. In any case, I' d see it again, and it was lovely to watch a print just awash in Technicolor.

To the right, a JC Penney's Fashion Store dress from the late 70's, I expect (Southern Thrift, $4.98), which has two odd, Klingon-like shoulder ruffles at either épaule, and makes me feel weirdly grown up each time I wear it. Please note the insane handmade purple teddy bear in the background, making a very special cameo in this photoshoot. Also, my favorite oversized lamp is nodding into the frame from the left (and again below). I hope that someday I move into a house large enough to reasonably support the grande size of this lamp... it's a little Alice and Wonderland to me, but I had to have it (estate sale, $12). I think I wore the Klingon dress to get coffee with my friend Rob.

The infamous Veronica Lake dress, which, in reviewing these photos for publication, I realize I might still be a leeeetle too large to wear, but if you'd seen the pin-narrow dresses at the same sale, you would realize my overwhelming joy at being able to fit in it at all, and forgive my mild (and in this case, mustard yellow clad) girth. The biggest acquisition I've made, clothing wise, in a long time, this dress set me back two point five sawbucks. That's right, $25 USD. And despite some discoloration to the wearer's lefthand side, I'm seriously still a bit giddy about it. The top is handbeaded with some of the smallest, brightest looking beads you've ever laid eyes on, which just flare red and amber and gold at the slightest glint of light. Being as you can't usually try things on at sales, I took a chance on this guy and was over the moon I managed to wriggle into it in the safety of my own bedroom (even if you could try on clothes at estate sales, who wants to get stuck in someone's recently deceased relative's pencil skirt suit dress in someone's recently deceased relative's home? Not I, sir. Not I).

As said in an earlier post, this sale had an unusual number of seriously vintage dresses... I place this one sometime in the late forties, but I also saw a dressing gown from the turn of the century, and several flappery velvet confections, which escaped my grabbing hands before landing in those of other sale go-ers. C'est la vie. The half price day, where I snagged this dress, was especially interesting because within about fifteen minutes of arriving, hovering behind a woman examining the beadwork before replacing the dress in the closet, grabbing it out of the closet, and buying the dress, there wasn't a stitch of vintage clothing in the house. People had all waited for the second day, and then just ran around amok, grabbing things for their etsy stores. Who wouldn't! I was very happy to be the buyer of these threads, though. About 10 lbs from now, I'm bound to be a knock out in it.

Last but not least, we were talking about hairstyles in the old yearbook photos I posted the other day, and I bemoaned the fact that my high maintenance look in wardrobe does not often match my low maintenance look in hair care. Simply put, I am not good with curlers. Since a traumatic hair shearing about a few years ago, I've managed to let my locks lengthen from Jean Seberg short (around 2008) to their current, below the shoulder level. However! I am no less worse at knowing what to do with a mop of bone straight, recalcitrant hair now than I was when all it took was a brief combing to diminish cow licks and subsequently walk out the door. Ergo, when I found this tutorial from Fleur de Guerre on how to use Hot Sticks with 10 minutes prep and 30 minutes set-time, I took a boring Saturday afternoon (post-estate sales, natch) to give it a shot. Below, you see the video, and the results.

Frame one... the most darling, Scarlett O'Hara worthy ringlets... I really didn't know my hair could do that! Frame two... a brush out the likes of which I have also never seen on my very own head! When I get the gall to wear that mustard evening gown out, I would definitely like to wear my hair in these Rita Hayworth-y waves. Success!!

The only downside I saw to the process was that an hour or two after setting my hair, every single curl was trying to flatten itself out. I need a higher octane hairspray, or maybe a stronger mousse, and I'll be good to go. Ten out of five stars, Miss Fleur!!

Anyway, that's what I've been up to closet-wise in the last few weeks. I'm glad to rejoin you in the land of the living and will try and update about some thrift store and estate sale acquistions ASAP. We have some catching up to do, readers! Til then.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sylvia Sidney's Needlepoint (1968)

Ohhhh, if isn't just the spitting image of my future self immersed in my future sixty year old life. A bit smaller, but the likeness isn't bad. In the photo to the left, I demonstratre how would like to wind down the evening... ankle-deep in craft projects, clad in a chic mustard and chartreuse combo, a sturdy Don-Draper-brown couch and suitably MCM lamp at my side. Did I mention, embroidery-wise, I work primarily in capuchin monkeys and psychedelia? I do. Is my hair a kind of casual perfect? It is. Does the carefree, whismy of my lifestyle strike me all at once, so I just have to give a merry laugh in mid-Bargello-stitch? Yes.

The lovely lady leading the life I would like to lead in the photo above is Sylvia Sidney. Neverheardofher? Miss Sidney was the star of such silver screen successes as Fury (with Spencer Tracy, directed by Fritz Lang), Sabotage (Hitchcock, anyone?), and Street Scene (under the helmsmanship of the great King Vidor). She wrote a book about her lifelong love affair with needlework called, succinctly enough, Sylvia Sidney Needlepoint Book.

You might remember her as the brash-voiced underworld secretary at the beginning of Beetlejuice, or as Grandma Norris in Mars the eighties and nineties, she usually plays a tiny woman in pearls shrieking at someone through the benefit of sixty some odd years of unfiltered Marlboros. I first saw her in Used People, in the midst of a Marcello Mastroianni fit which ended at an abrupt halt when I sadly went from seeing him in his Fellini incarnation just before seeing this movie, in which he's...well, less than jet set, let's say... less than his former jet set heartthrob self. Miss Sidney, in the movie, was somebody's wise-aleck grandmother, I think, part of a duo of trash talking old ladies that were more or less the highlight of an otherwise mopey movie. Who knew she was also a gifted needleworker?

And pug owner? Looka them cuties.

I would obviously memorialize my pug in neat needlepoint, were it my strength. I would obviously have three pugs, had I the room for them. The names of the dogs in the author and subjects photo above are Ch [sic], Pug Pens, and Captain Midnight. ((beat)) Your guess is as good as mine.

The enthusiastic spirit in which she tackles each of these projects, and her fluid, conversational writing style, make the book a lot better "read" than many craft books or even Hollywood books I've managed to sleuth down. Example: she and first husband Luther Adler buy an old, upstate farmhouse in 1938 (back when "old farmhouse" begged the question "pre or post Revolutionary?"... hers dated from 1780). Disappointed with the poor selection and exhorbitant cost of available hooked rugs to furnish the house in period decor, Sylvia sets out to learn how to make her own. Thereafter, unimpressed by the techniques in the instructional books she's found, she begins to search through museums and art galleries for examples of the types of rugs on which she has her heart set. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she makes the acquaintance of a woman whose sole job is to curate and repair the rugs in the MMA's collection, and from this lady, picks up invaluable tips on how to authentically get "the look" of colonial rug hooking! What kind of a movie star does this much footwork to decorate their home themselves? I love the intrepid-quality of her search and eventual success....reminds me a lot of we vintage-hoarders, who occasionally get lost in the dogged pursuit of something that went out of style fifty years earlier. :)

Above, some less figural, more abstract designs by Miss Sidney, and then...this bearded monkey. She reveals in her book that the key to making your own designs is using graph paper-- at a particularly sticky moment in trying to adapt someone else's design, her son came in with the bright idea, "Well, graphing paper has a grid...muslin is essentially a grid...what do you think about that?" One of my favorite parts of cross stitch, for example, at which I used to be halfway decent, has always been its relation to 8 bit graphics... you can make anything look so handmade and 80's at the same time by simply plotting it out in x's. Obviously, SS's designs are very complex... how pretty they turn out! And weird. Can you see this kooky older lady flipping through books on frogs and monkeys to find just the right one? Still, if I saw this at a thrift store or a estate sale, it would definitely be one of those knuckle biting, man-oh-man, I-have-to-buy-this moments. Behold:

Now, before she went on to be said kooky older lady, remember how I said she was in pictures with the likes of Henry Fonda (You Only Live Once, 1937)? Reasons why, exhibit one:

Look! At! Those! Eyes! Couldn't they just swallow you up whole?

She makes reference in interviews to being called "the ugly kid" around the Paramount lot... her unconventional, petulant prettiness seems to me very contemporary. But then, Bette Davis always thought herself ugly, so what can you say. B.P. Schulberg was a) big time head of Paramount Pictures in the early to mid 30's and b) her live-in love interest at that time, despite the fact of a wife and two kids... one of the latter of which grew up to be screenwriter Bud Schulberg (On the Waterfront, A Face in the Crowd... oh, you know, just this and that). Schulberg the senior kept Miss Sidney in maiden-waifs-in-distress roles for most of the decade, but with his professional decline, so went the career of Sylvia Sidney. She was also briefly married to Bennett Cerf, known wit, co-founder of Random House, and panelist on one of my favorite game shows, What's My Line...The dissolution of said marriage prompted the immortal quote from Cerf: ""One should never legalize a hot romance." Preach it, Cerf. But still! How could you not fall in love with that winsome face?

I love the outfit on the right....suede black gloves, 40's print rayon dress, and a headpiece/hatpiece only a girl like I (or a girl like she) could love. Gimme gimme gimme.
Looking at me; looking at you.

One of her more successful roles in Madame Butterfly, with CARY GRANT of all people (before Cary Grant was quite Cary Grant). See film clips at the link above.

An update on the New Deal dolly from earlier... here, she reminds me of a more bluntly modeled Gene Tierney. I love the hair. I am not being sarcastic.

So, if you're into needlepoint, or if you're into old Hollywood, or, happily, both, you should definitely take a gander at this book. As well as her movies. The difficult to come by Street Scene is actually up on YouTube, grace à some wonderful TCM viewer. You should really catch the whole movie, but Miss Sidney shows up around the eleven minute mark, here. Happy stitchin!


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