Film History Buff?

All I know about this vintage photo is what the seller notes:

a vintage & original 1963 gelatin silver publicity photograph promoting “The Obscene Couch” featuring “Lovely Karen.” Karen is lovely indeed as she shows off her curvaceous beach body and wild, mod blonde hair. This film was also known as “The Oblong Couch” and was eventually released under the title “Saucy Aussie.” An exciting film artifact and interesting in the fact that all publicity images advertised Lovely Karen yet she appears nowhere in the credits of the film. Starring role went to Sheree Steiner and the production company went on to make a few other sexploitation films such as “Wild Hippie Orgy.”

Measures 8″ x 10″ with margins on a glossy, single weight paper stock.

No one seems to know who the lovely Karen is… Not even TCM.

While the “Lovely Karen” isn’t quite in the buff (at least not here), I’m thinking fans of nudies also know their sexploitation films. And I’m hoping buffs of in-the-buff can share what they know…

vintage The Obscene Couch karen in lingerie still promo photo

Vera Francis As The “Indian Girl” In The Prodigal

For those of you who love Vera Francis, here’s another vintage photograph of the nearly forgotten & neglected African-American actress.

From the 1950s, this photo features Francis in what is called “a Southeast Asian view” of costuming.

vera francis vintage MDM publicity film photo

Publicity from MGM’s 1955 film The Prodigal, in which Vera played an “Indian Girl.”

Measures 10″ x 8,” on a single weight glossy paper stock.

For sale here.

“Topknot Troubles”

If you collect vintage magazines and ephemera like I do, you know there’s nothing new under the sun. The celebrity names & faces change, there’s “modern” graphics and trends too. But the push on beauty and grooming products remains true. This little bit comes from Beauty On A Budget, a promotional piece for hair & beauty products (copyright 1957 The Gillette Co.). The illustrations may be period, and the kitschy-cute names too, but the tips on treating your hair problems are rather straight out of any beauty column today. Meet Harriet Haystack, Olivia Oilwell, Selma Snowfall, Cora Cornsilk, Barb Wire, and Delia Droop — “six sisters with vexing hair problems.”

beauty on a budget hair problems

Despite their hair problems, most if not all of the sisters must have gotten married as they all have different last names! Perhaps that’s because they were lucky smart enough to watch Gillette’s helpful film, a Toni Company’s color movie entitled Heads Up For Beauty. It included pointers from “famous beauty consultant” Carol Douglas — and those pointers helped Ann Watson “change from an unattractive girl into a radiant bride by improving her personal grooming.” One prays to the YouTube gods for someone to find and put this movie up online.

1957 beauty

Are You Desperately Seeking These Boots, Susan?

Five years ago I wrote about the fashions in 1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan — and ever since, the popularity of that post seems to have grown. Nearly as fast as the cult classic itself, I daresay. Halloween costume time especially drives interest, I suppose. However, my main interest in posting this today is because — hold onto your hats! — I’ve a pair of the very rare black sequined Desperately Seeking Susan boots up for sale in our Etsy shop! (It includes some ephemera too!)

black sequin covered desperately seeking susan boots 1985

80s desperately seeking susan movie boots booties

Some Of You May Recognize This Song As Hi-Ho Silver Away

In celebration of the new Lone Ranger film (with the usual semi-racist depictions of Tonto, this time played by Johnny Depp), we dug out our copy of The Masked Man by Eddy Bell & the Bel-Aires. Since TheRodge76 already did the work of uploading it to YouTube, my work here is done. (Though now that we are digging through the old vinyl, lord knows what will show up in our online shops and in our spaces at the antique stores; so keep an eye out.)

masked man 45 rpm

The Smell Of Fear (Or Something Stinks In Vintage Film Ad)

From the Corpus Christi Times , March 29, 1957, comes this frightful ad featuring scary movies boldly warning things such as “Do not judge by anything seen before!” and “Girls! Come with a Big Strong He-Man to Protect You When Lights Go Out!”

As if that weren’t sexist enough, there was a special promotion targeting women in this vintage horror film ad too:

We Double Dare Girls! Win This Too In Addition

So much scarier than other shows — we bet girls don’t sit thru it.

If you have the never to sit thru it all — you win a FREE full dram of one of such famous perfumes as Arpege, Chanel No. 5, Indonesia, Black Leopard, My Sin

Or at least it would seem to be targeting women… I mean, on the surface it seems a ploy to appeal to women, to get women into the theaters once again; but if you look at it long enough, it sure seems to be an ad targeting men to bring a date to this movie. They get to play “big strong man” and provide her with a gift of perfume too.

Can You Smell That Smell? A Mystery Is In The Air

A vintage text ad from the Ritz for Michael Todd Jr’s 1960 film, Scent Of Mystery (1960), in “glorious” smell-o-vision! A film which “positively cannot be shown in any other southern California theatre.”

Along with being the first (and only) film in smell-o-vision, the first picture in Belock 8-channel sound (sound which used a control signal to “steer” the single surround channel to three surround tracks: right wall, left wall and rear wall), Scent Of Mystery used the “best 70mm process and “new” Eastman color. The film also had two songs sung by Eddie Fisher — and, because that’s how Liz rolled with her lovers, Elizabeth Taylor appeared in the uncredited role of the American heiress targeted murder victim in the film.

The film stunk-up the theatre. In a bad way. The technology was all-but abandoned, and the film was re-edited, converted, and re-released without the odors as Holiday in Spain in 1961.

Of course, smell-o-vision, as a concept, was not entirely abandoned. In the stink-o-rific world of 1980s scratch ‘n’ sniff cards, , , and scented toys, John Waters released Polyester (1982) in Odorama, which used . A decade later, MTV would re-air Scents Of Mystery using the same scratch and sniff technology. Since then, a number of other films and have used aromas as a gimmick.

It’s a shame the idea of aromas accompanying a film are now such a kitschy gimmick. I’m sure Todd and Waters were trying to tap into something more than that. For smell is a powerful and unique sense, strongly and uniquely linked to memory. Properly used and executed, smell-o-vision and all the rest could do more than entertain; it would evoke and create memories. It could boost the cinema and revive community theaters.

When Movie Theatres Die

I watched both of these on TCM a few weeks ago and was thrilled to find them available online. This Theatre and You was put out in 1948 by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to educate about the importance of movie theatres in a community — your community. And 1953’s The Case Against the 20% Federal Admissions Tax on Motion Picture Theatres provides a look at an industry which may seem like a dinosaur now, as we sit solo and absorb our individual digital media. But moving away from the shared experiences of film certainly explains a lot about the failings of old downtown centers and communities alike.

It’s well worth the little over 30 minutes of your life to watch both of these.

Image of the Fargo Theatre, 1941.

The Early History of Women & Film

Every so often, we women complain about women in the media. When it comes to movies, we complain about the diminished roles for maturing women; we complain about the way women are portrayed in films; we complain about the history of films, most notably The Hollywood Code which seemed to destroy & limit our potential as women in film — on both sides of the camera. But long before all that, in the very beginning, it was even worse.

In Movie-Struck Girls: Women & Motion Picture Culture After the Nickelodeon, by Shelley Stamp, we learn more than just the roles of women in films or behind the camera — we learn about women’s role as patrons of cinema.

The book is an eye-opening look at a long ignored part of American film history — and an astonishing look at the history of women as media consumers.

Stamp spent over ten years researching for this book. She studied trade journals, fan magazines, ephemera, and many official documents and records at the National Board of Censorship Archives in New York City, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles, & the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Many of the films she reviewed are no longer readily available, let alone circulating, but can be found at the Library of Congress & the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

It sounds like a huge undertaking, & I thank her for it. ‘Movie-Struck Girls’ presents a wealth of information that I had never known before.

Movies began with the nickelodeon, and as such, movies were not places for proper or even improper ladies to be. In the early 1900s, when films were being moved from temporary places with projection onto sheets & walls, and cinemas were being built, many in the business of film, began to reconsider women. This was a purely economic move. For if these new developments, these more expensive buildings, were going to pay for themselves & gain profits to pad pockets, the new movies must include women as patrons & gain their approval.

Why? In ‘Movie-Struck Girls’ the author reminds us of an America where women were seen as the keeper of the family morals. Neither little Johnny Jr. nor Johnny Sr. would be allowed to go to such places if Mother didn’t approve. In order for women to view movies as more than sordid places where her family wouldn’t be caught dead, these new cinemas would need to gain the respect of women. The best way to do that, would be to show women, fine respectable women, how respectable & fine the theaters were. It was thought that if women would give the theaters a try, and continue to come, their physical presence would elevate the standing of film viewing.

So, movie theater owners began to court women as patrons.

They did so via premiums & tie-ins & in addressing the decor of the cinemas themselves. As a marketing person, I enjoyed the conceptions about women, and how they would lure them into the movie-going fold — with many of the tricks still employed in the movie trade today. As a woman, I felt more than a bit bitter to see what they thought…

As Stamp illustrates, cinemas were designed with appeal to women in mind. They were located near shopping and offered services such as package holding with hopes of luring women into the buildings. The buildings themselves were decorated to attract the feminine. It was suggested in industry publications that cinemas ought to have lobbies, with plenty of mirrors, to encourage female patrons — by appealing to their vanity. They thought ‘what woman doesn’t want to see herself & parade for others?’

But then, they complained that women didn’t know how to behave properly: they talked, they interrupted the absorption of the movies themselves. The very women they encourage to be vain, to come to the theater to be seen, these women didn’t want to sit quietly in a dark room full of others who were not paying attention to them. These women who were, by societal standing, to ‘dress’ for these public events, they wore hats that blocked views. And so even while courted by the film industry as valuable assets to ensure the viability of films as safe, moral entertainment for families, the industry mocked them in articles & cartoons. The debate within the industry as to the need for women, how to both cater to while educating them to achieve their purpose, was entering full swing.

But this was only the industry side of the debate; Next, Stamp shows us society’s debates.

In the early 1900’s, the most popular films were vice films, & in the teens, a major societal concern was The White Slave Trade. Sensational white slave films were made during this time, to warn folks of the dangers to their women. Conflicting with the as-billed-educational-films messages, cinemas brought women-folk out into public where they could easily fall prey to such ills as the white slave trade. Debate centered around the irony. Other debate focused on the films themselves, and censorship issues were raised. And to make matters worse, women seemed to enjoy such films! Oh, how could such tender beings watch & enjoy such lewd filth such as scenes from brothels?!

Obviously, women enjoyed the films from the same points of fascination as men, but as the author clearly reminds us, there is more. Adding to the fascination, was the fact that women themselves has seen little of ‘the world’ — even if that ‘world’ was part of their very own city. Through movies, women vicariously saw their nation. This alone would make these films riveting for women.

Again, as movie houses were public gathering places, classes mingled. Not only were there the fine upscale families as so recruited by theater managers, but along with them, the working class — including single women. Single women moved about the theater as patrons, both in danger & dangerous themselves. A woman alone could end up in the slave trade, or she might mingle with gentlemen of good standing… In fact, theaters often hired pretty, single young girls to be ticket sellers, ushers, cigarette girls etc. This was seemingly at odds with the motives of ‘women adding respectability’ and elevating the idea of theater, but it was a lure that worked. But the independent woman, even if only a work-class-girl, is dangerous. Much debate centered around the appropriateness of such places for women & families.

Since the elevation of cinema depended upon the stamp of approval from women, including materials & promotions designed to engage them, the talks about women’s roles in film viewing were discussed by women. Given the general fear of ‘those darn suffragettes,’ encouraging women to debate the social & safety issues of women viewing film — in the context of women viewing educational films about civil matters — seemed a dangerous thing indeed.

The film industry needed to ‘clean up’ the entertainment, so they began to focus on films aimed at women, with stories & formats they knew — Enter the serial film.

The industry coordinated film with print versions of stories in newspaper & print publications. Again, these were often aimed at women, but then came the ‘oh no!’ cry, as women did in fact enjoy the adventure stories. It is at this time that film gave rise to the very popular female star. She was now revered for both her on-screen & off-screen antics. So much so, that young women everywhere started dreaming of being a movie star themselves!

To counter act the scary notion of independent women, adventure serials, & vice films it became routine to mock independent women, with notions of becoming a movie star, or worse, civic ideas. The author clearly shows examples, such as a 1916, The Motion Picture Classic cartoon with the following poem to illustrate this concern:

“When our dear grandmas were girls,
They’d smile and smooth their pretty curls.
Look in the mirror then & say
“Oh, will he think me fair today?”

Today the girlies everywhere,
In the mirror gravely stare;
“Am I fair enough,” they day,
“To be a movie star some day?”

But poetry would not be deemed enough. There would also be many films to lampoon the suffragette.

Mainly these films attempted to show how crazy things would be if women could vote. Movies depicting women taking over government & leaving men’s needs behind darkly illustrating the dangers present to men were made, but more often, comedy was used. Cross-dressing men & women exchanged roles, with only love ‘saving’ the women from their folly. Ironically, it seems to the reader that perhaps these movies did more favor to the opposition than to their own cause.

The suffragist movement noted the power of cinema. If educational films were popular, and women not only allowed but encouraged to attend, why not make propaganda films of their own? Both the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) & the Women’s Political Union (WPU) made films to both rally women to the cause & to educate resistant men & women. Sadly, many of their films seemed to falter at romantic notions. In order to make the female stars appealing, less threatening, most often the female lead would succumb to love & home, happy with her vote, but definitely not claiming civic responsibilities.

In ‘Movie-Struck Girls’ you learn all about these long-hidden details of American film history & it’s collision with turn of the century American values — including titles, studios, stars, organizations, & political figures. For a person who adore film & is a passionate feminist, this is a great read. Why it’s as thrilling as those old adventure serial films!

Stamp does a great job of presenting this long ignored part of film — and women’s — history. It’s definitely an academic read, which means it is meaty enough for those who want to further search for clues, artifacts & films themselves. It may not read like a novel, but it’s so fascinating & full of details, it won’t disappoint. Fans of film, especially silent films, cannot call themselves educated in the subject unless they know this history. And women, well, we start to see a much larger image emerge — our complaints regarding women in the media have much deeper roots than we previously knew.

The Power Of The Female Voice In Silent Film

Over at (one of his) sites, Dakota Death Trip, hubby posted this fabulous old ad. While you might think it’s an advertisement for a woman, Clara Kimball Young, it really is promoting a film, 1920’s The Forbidden Woman (not to be confused with 1948’s Forbidden Women, which allegedly stars women recruited from a Los Angeles whorehouse).

Why is Clara Kimball Young such a focal point? Because back in the day, women ruled the box office!

As I wrote in my review of Mick LaSalle’s Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood (my review is fine, but NWS ads in sidebar):

In the 20’s and early 30‘s women dominated at the box office. Women were the biggest stars, featured month after month on the covers of fan magazines (it was a rare month indeed when a male face turned up on the cover!), and society was fascinated with women in general.

If you’re curious about the historical role of women in and out of film, how they once held all the power and how it was taken from them, read LaSalle’s book.  And then read Movie-Struck Girls: Women & Motion Picture Culture After the Nickelodeon, by Shelley Stamp. (Here’s my review.)

Also related, my post on female celebrity pitch women at the turn of the (last) century: Julia Marlowe, Selling Stuff From Head To Toe.

Reflections On A Pretty Baby

I often wonder about Brooke Shields, especially when I see Pretty Baby. It’s been a few years now since I’ve watched it last, but when I saw this image, I started thinking about the movie and the actress again.

Most people wonder about young Brooke for her notorious advertising gigs, and for the film Blue Lagoon (NWS), but it’s Pretty Baby which makes my head spin. That’s why I’ve watched the movie several times. The are multiple layers of uneasiness and creep that I know I must work out for myself, so I continue to watch it. (This posting likely ensures a viewing sooner rather than later.)

In the film, a 12-year-old Brooke Shields plays Violet, the 12-year-old daughter of a prostitute working in Storyville, the red-light district of New Orleans, in 1917.  It would be an interesting and uncomfortable story by itself, but unlike a book, film requires more than your mind — characters are brought to life by actors. As noted in the post about Blue Lagoon (above), a lot of watching a film is about what we bring to it. I didn’t see the film when it came out in 1978 (yet I often wonder what my 14-year-old self would have thought about it);  I was both an adult and a mom. And as a mom — who knows that Brooke is a mom — I can’t help but wonder about the actress herself. What was it like to be a child and pretend such a role? When a kid plays in a horror movie, I have those thoughts too; but then kids know scary monsters under the bed. I’m no prude, and I don’t think sex is worse than violence, but Pretty Baby is/was different. Its sophistication is what makes it a great film. But is such sophistication suitable for children — viewers or actors? …Was young Brooke aware that her position as a child actress was a lot like the role she played? How does Brooke the mother feel — would she allow, encourage, or discourage one of her children from playing such a role?

Brooke’s written books, but her autobiography was written before she was a parent, and I doubt the postpartum depression book mentions any of this… I’d love to get my hands on a copy of her 1987 senior thesis, The Initiation: From Innocence to Experience: The Pre-Adolescent/Adolescent Journey in the Films of Louis Malle, Pretty Baby and Lacombe Lucien; but that too was ages ago. Has age and motherhood changed how she views these experiences?

Thoughts On Gypsy Rose Lee

I recently, again, watched Natalie Wood’s Gypsy (1962). While the film is stunning — as rich & saturated in period color as it is fashion and sex appeal, I’m always moved by the story.

Yes, there’s the somewhat dated camp we now expect of a vintage musical movie, but along with the comedic moments of dancing cows and the suspended belief required for any drama to contain people breaking out into song (often with dance), there’s a story. What made me go back and watch the film again was what Peter Burton wrote in his review of Noralee Frankel’s Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee:

Like the musical, Stripping Gypsy is dominated by Rose Hovick, Gypsy Rose Lee’s overbearing mother. But whereas the Rose of the Broadway show is a larger-than-life and bullying archetype of the stage mother determined that first one daughter and then the other would become a star, the reality was grimly different.

“Rose’s mental illness, emotional brutality and overt bisexuality were not the stuff of a Fifties musical,” explains Frankel in the preface to the book, surprisingly the first ever biography of the star. Nor had Rose’s more glaring character defects been a part of Gypsy Rose Lee’s autobiography, from which the show had been loosely drawn. Frankly she was a monster, entirely without redeeming qualities.

A native of Seattle Gypsy came from a family of strong women who had little use for men. Her grandmother married young, believing that marriage would give her freedom. She spent much of her life as a travelling saleswoman, marketing hats and lingerie to women in far-flung logging and mining camps.

Rose also married young – she was 15 and used marriage to escape her convent school. Once intent on a stage career of her own she soon diverted her ambitions on to her daughters and created a musical act built around June, Gypsy’s younger sister.

When June defected also by way of an early marriage Rose turned her attention to her eldest daughter who soon became Gypsy Rose Lee. A legend (fostered and burnished by the star in press interviews and self-penned articles) was born.

Perhaps it’s not fair to compare the Broadway musical with the movie version. But then Burton isn’t the first to make such comparisons; his was merely the most recent I’d stumbled into. And what always strikes me most about these sorts of comments, that the telling of the story for entertainment purposes isn’t properly expressing the grim realities — of Gypsy Rose Lee (born Rose Louise Hovick in 1911), or anyone else’s — life.

Obviously, entertainment, be it film or live theatre has it’s own unique bumps and grinds translating the real story with what people will pay to see. (See this week’s episode of Smash, when the audience fails to enjoy the show because — shocker! — Marilyn dies at the end.) But for me, the real issue has to do with our current level of expectations with the storytelling in movies, television programs and other shows.

We (the collective cultural “we” that does not include me) can no longer handle subtle. We need to be hit over the head, we need to be spoon fed every little thing, and we need it to be as graphic as an explosion.

Maybe you have to have some personal experiences with mental illness, abuse, alcoholism and the like in order to feel the sharp “grim realities.” …But that can’t be true, for if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all these years is that no one can really be free of these sorts of situations. We have them. We feel them. But when it comes to films and storytelling as entertainment, so many of us can’t trust them on the screen unless they are worse than what we’ve felt or can imagine.

Not me.

I find many of the scenes in Gypsy difficult to watch. I feel the pain, the losses. I feel the embitterment, the waste, even in the triumph of success.

Gypsy Rose Lee may be, arguably, the most famous striptease artist; but for me the story is tainted. Not by the shame or dirt of sex; but by the shame and dirt of a mother’s cruelty — which is sad it it’s own way too.

In my opinion, no biography or even autobiography is ever capable of exposing the whole truth.

But for me, Gypsy, even as a musical, exposes enough of The Truth to be powerful. As a result, I cannot even look at these vintage black and white photos of Gypsy Rose Lee (take by George Skadding for Life) and not have them tinged with the color of the exhaustion of triumph over sadness. But sadness remains just the same.

My gawd, how does anyone ever form relationships, mother, after the sort of mothering Gypsy Rose Lee had? So much hard work. …But there are hints of this in Gypsy, if you care to look for the subtle signs.

You’re In The Exact Bad Relationship You Want?

In Every Woman Has the Exact Love Life She Wants, The Lazy Housewife writes:

There are women who are in relationships that are not good for them. I’m not saying that she consciously wants to be in said bad relationship per se BUT until she makes the decision to change her circumstances, her inaction shows that she is content with the situation for now. When she wants to – truly wants to – she will find a happier situation for herself.

On one hand I agree; staying & complaining (or not complaining) is a tacit agreement that you accept the relationship as it is. But that’s not always true or that simple. For example, many people opt for counseling — and even when both parties what the relationship to improve, it isn’t an instantaneous thing.

"Every Woman has the Exact Love Life She Wants"

However, what makes me bristle about this post by The Lazy Housewife is this “women who are in relationships that are not good for them” line.

I know bad relationships. Bad relationships are abusive — and when abuse is involved, the “decision to change circumstances” is at least blocked, if not out-right removed.

I’m not saying there is no release; obviously I am “free” of those relationships. (The use of air-quotes indicates that those relationships which involve children never really end — and even when there are no children, there are long-term repercussions to deal with.) I am indeed in a “happier situation”, a better relationship. But it was far from easy, far from the simple “choice to be happier.”

Attitudes & judgments like this blame us, and that blame & further victimization has much to do with why we do not have the “exact love life we want.”

[The quote, and photo, are from The Wedding Date.]

Cool Winter Events To Deal With Cabin Fever

Despite what the official website doesn’t say, Jay & Silent Bob Get Old will be here in Fargo on March 6th — I know, ‘cuz we got tickets!

Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith will be at the Fargo Theatre to kick-off the 12th annual Fargo Film Festival. (Yes, we have a film festival here in Fargo; no, we don’t just watch Fargo.) If you can’t make the Jay and Silent Bob show, don’t worry; the duo will be recording a podcast during the Fargo appearance.

I don’t know where you live, but there’s something going on where you live too…

How about going to see Daughters Of Lot and making me green with envy?

Want to participate, more than just watch? The Bunker Hill Community College Art Gallery is seeking female artist/creators and collectors of kitsch from the Mass and Boston area for a group showing March 8 through April 13, 2012, called Everything But The Kitchen Sink: Women Create and Collect KITSCH.

Work sought in varied media including 2-D works; photography, printmaking, drawings, painting, digital video, 3-D; sculpture, installations, etc. that would be considered within the category of kitsch. …Acceptance of work will be ongoing until Feb. 29. Notification will be immediate upon receipt. For consideration of artwork to be included in promotional material, please submit artwork ASAP!

Those interested should contact Ms. Laura L. Montgomery, M.F.A., Director of the BHCC Art Gallery at 617-228-2093; or email montgomery@bhcc.mass.edu &/or artgallery@bhcc.mass.edu.

If that’s not your thing, it’s not too late to catch the gallery’s THAT’S A FACT: Young, Gifted & Black, a group exhibition of Massachusetts/Boston area African American artists under 40. Another cool Black History Month idea.

Turning The Tables On Fairy Tales With Red Hot Riding Hood

Tex Avery’s Red Hot Riding Hood (MGM, 1943) turns many tables — but not enough — on old stereotypes:

According to Wikipedia:

The most famous element is the musical scene where Red performs and “Wolfie”, as she calls him, reacts in highly lustful wild takes. Those reactions were considered so energetic that the censors at the time demanded cuts in this scene and others.

The film’s original conclusion had Grandma marrying the wolf at a shotgun wedding (with a caricature of Tex Avery as the Justice of the Peace who marries them), and having the unhappy couple and their half-human half-wolf children attend Red’s show[citation needed]. This ending, deleted for reasons of implied bestiality and how it made light of marriage (something that was considered taboo back in the days of the Hays Office Code), was replaced with one (that, ironically, has also been edited, but only on television) where The Wolf is back at the nightclub and tells the audience that he’s through with chasing women and if he ever even looks at a woman again, he’s going to kill himself. When Red soon appears onstage to perform again, the Wolf takes out two pistols and blasts himself in the head. The Wolf then drops dead, but his ghost appears and begins to howl and whistle at Red same as before.

Prints with the original ending (where the Wolf is forced to marry the lusty Grandma) and the Wolf’s racier reactions to Red are rumored to have been shown to military audiences overseas during World War II, though it is not known if this print still exists.

‘Cuz suicide is funny. Or at least suicide, like most violence, is preferable to sex.

And in on of the weirdest decisions regarding bestiality ever, it’s only offensive if the woman is older — and lusty.

Jessica Savitch (Part One?)

I watched Almost Golden: The Jessica Savitch Story, starring Sela Ward, tonight. During commercial breaks, I Googled Jessica Savitch. To my surprise — and major disappointment — there’s not really any website devoted to this groundbreaking woman who earned four Emmys, an Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award, and election to the board of trustees at Ithaca College.

If you start at Wikipedia (and I never trust Wiki completely, so please only let it be a starting place), the entry on the anchorwoman pretty much follows the made for TV movie. The Accuracy Project has basic bio info, but leaves a lot to be desired as it really only presents corrections, and a handful of them at that. And there’s this bio by Abigail Griffith (Spring 2008).

Reading all of those, there are odd discrepancies which mainly center on Donald Rollie Payne, a gynecologist in Washington, DC, who was Savitch’s last husband who committed suicide on August 1, 1981 by hanging himself in the basement of their home. Abigail Griffith says that Payne “committed suicide after becoming aware of a diagnosis of incurable cancer,” while Wiki says he was a “closet homosexual.” I don’t suppose that matters much to most of us, but I’m certain these things mattered to Savitch and possibly say a lot about her (continued) relationship choices.

For something that fills in more gaps, you can try this archived article from People magazine on Savitch’s death.

And in 1988, five years after her death, a Current Affair episode in which Savitch’s family calls Gwenda Blair’s book lies:

(Worth watching for so many reasons — we can discuss in the comments!)

But for my money, the most insightful piece about Jessica I found online was this article written by Maury Z. Levy when Savitch was still a broadcaster in Philadelphia.

Since her death, Jessica Savitch’s been inducted into The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia’s Hall of Fame, and the Park School of Communications at Ithaca College hosts a Journalism Lecture Series in her honor as well as named an on-campus television studio in her honor. There should be some sort of official website in her honor.

I bet Jessica would have loved the Internet, even if it/we would have had a field day of speculation and fun at her expense with the gaffes (largely exaggerated in the movie and historical footnotes) made on her last broadcast — just 20 days before her death. So someone, give her her due.

Spin The Wheel, Land On Vera Francis

Who wouldn’t fall in love with a vintage roulette wheel of pinups?

The seller (Grapefruit Moon Gallery), says this in the item’s description (links added by me):

ITEM: You are bidding on a very rare vintage pin up photograph of African American 1955 Hollywood sensation, and later boulevard of broken dreams archetype Vera Francis and a number of other showgirls as a proverbial roulette wheel where every spin is a winner. Measures 8″ x 10″

We are happy to be offering examples from the archives of Vera Francis, who was called a Hollywood Tragedy after being blacklisted from the screen for allegedly selling stories to the scandalous tabloid Confidential, about the inappropriate behavior of her often white co-stars and superiors. But the real tragedy of her career is that despite appearing in movies throughout the early 50s and being splashed upon magazine covers (Jet and Ebony notably) for her breakthrough role in “The President’s Lady” a story about the interracial affairs of American president Andrew Jackson, her name isn’t even featured in imdb for many of her known parts. The combination of her outspoken role in civil rights (Lena Horne was her oft mentioned hero), her “loose talk” and the scarcity of roles for black actresses in the 1950s meant that she disappeared quickly from the scene. However, she retained a lot of her allure in African American theater communities, performing in touring productions throughout the 1950s and 1960s and appearing in cabarets and as a model and pitch woman.

I was intrigued…

According to the San Mateo Times (September 30, 1954), the photo isn’t a true movie still, but promotional photo for MGM’s film, The Prodigal, sent out on the AP.

Researchers working on “The Prodigal” discovered that beautiful girls were the stakes in a gambling game popular in ancient Damascus of about 70 B.C., and so this wheel of feminine fortune was incorporated in the movie now being made at M-G-M. The girls will wear Damascus costumes in the movie, but for this photo the studio dressed the beauties in modern swim suits. The girls, all from Southern California and all making their movie debuts are: (1) Nancy Chudacoff, (2) Alice Arzaumanian, (3) Jolene Burkin, (4) Bobbie White, (Barbara White, (6) Aen-Ling Chow, (7) Marion Ross, (8) Patrizia Magurao, (9) Marjory May, (10) Vera Francis, (11) Jeanette Miller, and (12) Sheela Fenton.

But who was Vera Francis?

In the Encyclopedia of African American Business: Volume 2, K-Z, Vera is a single line entry, listed among the “pioneer models” which drove the development of the Barbara Watson Charm and Model School. In Style and Status: Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920-1975, she’s merely a “Los Angeles model” quoted along with a few other models quelling the fears of middle-class magazine readers, of the non-white variety, that “the image of models as reckless party girls with loose morals was much exaggerated.” Vera’s comment was “I always keep a regular job, it’s one sure way of staying out of trouble.”

What were Vera’s “regular” jobs? According to the September 25, 1952 issue of Jet magazine, which contains a profile of the young starlet, “Curvaceous Vera Francis, a Hollywood nurse and model, is the comely girl who will steal the affections of Susan Hayward’s husband in the forthcoming 20th Century-Fox film, The President’s Wife the life story of Mrs. Andrew Jackson. Best known for her magazine photo stints, Miss Francis is a Boston-born beauty who worked as a dental assistant and later a nurse for Jeanne Crain‘s children before getting a movie break.”

But sadly, there’s not much more known about Vera — despite the fact that, at least since 1952, Vera Francis was a staple on the covers (and pages between) of Jet, Hue, Sepia and other magazines for persons of color.

So, you know me, I obsessively set about researching Vera Francis, trying to create a biography…

However, I can’t honestly call this a biography; it’s more of a Vera Francs timeline at this point as most of what little (too little) I found is centered on gossip and one-line bits of info. However, given that Vera was a starlet, one can’t entirely ignore the gossip; that’s the only way one really finds more photos. In the Jet pages especially, you’ll see that Vera’s “loose talk” was probably based on some pretty hot action — along with movie talk and other gigs, there was plenty of gossip to rival the starlet’s “staying out of trouble.” Clearly, Vera was out and about, making the scene, hoping to make it in Hollywood.

[If you take these images to post elsewhere, please credit me with a link — I spent more hours than you want to know researching, scanning, cropping, editing this!]

The Vera Francis Timeline

The Daily Gleaner, Jamaica, April 11, 1935, Vera and Beryl Berth were arrested by Detective Hutchinson on a charge of selling ganja.

The Daily Gleaner, June 1, 1935, Vera Francis was “fined five pounds or two months hard labor for a breach of the Dangerous Drugs Law, to wit, selling ganja.” (No mention of Beryl.)

The Daily Gleaner, July 27, 1936, Miss Vera Francis is mentioned in a recital and is listed as being from Boston, U.S.A.

Oakland Tribune, July 13, 1937, Vera was mentioned as an NBC staff actress to take on the roll of Molly Pitcher on the Professor Puzzlewit program.

Jet, September 25, 1952: Announcing Vera’s role in the interracial romance film The President’s Lady.

Jet, October 16, 1952: Featured in “Why Brownskin Girls Get The Best Movie Roles.”

Jet, September 25, 1952: In press about The President’s Lady, a studio spokesman says, “When Lena Horne retires, Vera Francis will take her place.”

Jet, February 19, 1953: Photo caption reads:

Rock-A-Bye Baby: Midget liquor salesman Frankie Dee proved a real attention-getter when he turned up at New York City’s Beaux Arts ball in diaper attire. Actress-model Vera Francis and actor Jimmy Edwards made it a family threesome by obliging “baby” Frankie with his bottle.

Jet, April 16, 1953: when returning to Hollywood, “received offers as high as $100 for her address book that contains names of New York’s bachelors.” (Foreshadowing of the Confidential scandal?)

Jet, August 27, 1953: A guest at a birthday party for Lucky Millinger — Millinder is fed cake by “hi-de-ho” bandleader Cab Calloway while Francis and others look on.

Jet, September 10, 1953: Vera Francis crowns Betty Elaine Parks “Miss America” in an Elks Beauty Contest in Atlanta.

Jet, Sepembert 17, 1953: The actress is featured in the article “Why Hollywood Won’t Glamorize Negro Girls.”

Jet, October 8, 1953: Talking About “Exotic Vera Francis who does public relations work for a national cosmetics account. She was assigned to demonstrate the beauty products in an Atlanta five and ten, but when the store managers, who had asked for her, discovered that the movie starlet’s features were brown, they quickly called off the deal.”

Jet, November 26, 1953:  “Movie actress Vera Francis lost her job as assistant to disc jockey Jack Walker. He fired her for not having ‘humility’.”

Jet, May 6, 1954: At the Shalimar Cafe party for disc jockey Tommy Smalls “Joe Louis is fed by Delores Parker, Vera Francis.”

Jet, May 13, 1954: Caption for the photo reads Elephant Girl: Turning out for the spring arrival of Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Baily Circus in New York, film actress Vera Francis and comedian Nipsey Russell visit with a friendly elephant named Ruth. Vera climbed aboard but Russell played it safe on the ground.

Jet, April 22, 1954: The actress has “midgets” Frankie Dee and Pee Wee Marquette fighting over her.

Jet, June 17, 1954: Caption for the photo reads “Cotillion Capers: A guest at the Cotillion Club’s annual deb ball in Detriot’s Graystone Ballroom, movie star Vera Francis gets an affectionate lift by admiring club members. Curvacious Vera recently embarked on a new career as a calypso-style song and dance entertainer.”

Jet, June 24, 1954: Poses for amateur photographers.

Jet, July 22, 1954: Sheesh — “Mose Thompson, the Detroit  financier, who invited movie starlet Vera Francis to town for a little light balling only to have her snatched from his fingertips by dapper cigar huckster Sterling Hogan.”

Jet, Augus 19, 1954: Vera Francis and Juanita Moore, signed to portray women inmates in Columbia’s Women’s Prison.

Hue, August, 1954: Vera Francis photographed at the Surf Club “Puckered Up for Kissing”.

Jet, September 2, 1954: Said to play role of a jungle girl in the next series of Tarzan pictures.

Jet, September 30, 1954: Said she signs for a feature role as one of 12 international beauties in MGM’s Biblical movie, The Prodigal to play a “maid of India.” (The roulette wheel that started all my obsessive hunting.)

Jet, December 2, 1954: “Now that she has had several minor roles in Hollywood films, shapely actress-model Vera Francis has changed her stage name to Vieja.”

Jet, December 16, 1954: A note that the  “model-actress” to appear in Kiss Me Deadly (a Mickey Spillane feature) and Universal-International’s Tracey (starring Anne Baxter and Rock Hudson — near as I can tell, eventually titled One Desire).

Sepia, December 1954: Vera Francis on the cover and the subject of a feature story.

Jet, May 12, 1955: “Showgirl” Vera Francis adjusts Sammy Davis Jr.’s Windsor knot at the Harlem YMCA’s salute to Sammy.

The Gleaner, March 17, 1955: “Vera steals the show” in Kitty Kingston’s Personal Mention column. Vera is said here to be “of Indian as well as Jamaican origin” which “thrilled” party guests, especially “the ten Government employees of Pakistan on UNESCO Fellowship.” Here Vera’s new professional name, “Veijah” is mentioned and stated as meaning “victory.” The films Vera is to be gearing up for are listed as The Ten Commandments, Kismet, The White Witch of Rose Hall, and The Jungle Drums, to be filmed in Tunisia for Italian Films.

Also in that paper, an ad for Vera Francis appearing in person on the Carib Stage. (Note that Vera Francis is listed as “Jamaica’s Very Own” despite the paper saying in 1936 that she was from Boston.)

Jet, September 8, 1955: Francis “the movie bit player,” underwent a hernia operation at Cedars hospital, LA.

Jet, October 6, 1955: A note that Vera is rehearsing for a road company tour of the play Seven Year Itch. “She’ll wiggle her hips in the role that move actress Marilyn Monroe made famous.”

Lima News, August 24, 1957: In coverage of the Confidential libel scandal, Vera was named as paid informant regarding John Jacob Astor and Edward G. Robinson.

No details were offered. But, according to Shocking True Story: The Rise and Fall of Confidential, “America’s Most Scandalous Scandal Magazine”, “Vera Francis, a black actress, was paid for a story on her affair with socially prominent John Jacob Astor.” (I believe it was this John Jacob Astor — a family with enough scandal that whatever info Vera sold is a footnote too small for me to bother researching. At least right now.)

Jet, January 2 1958: Words fail, so I quote:

Ex-actress Vera Francis writes pals from the West Indies that she’s been secretly wed to a white employee of the New York Central Railroad she met at Billy Graham’s recent revival meeting.

Jet, May 15, 1958: “Former actress-model Vera Francis has turned “producer” in Jamaica, BWI. She presented her husband, George Handiwerk Jr., with a bouncing seven-pound, three-ounce daughter.”

The Gleaner, August 24, 1958: Mentions that Mrs. Vera Handwerk (the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Carby) is slated for the leading role in Calypso, to be filmed in Jamaica.

Jet, June 18, 1959: Vera “now Mrs. George Handwerk Jr. is four months again on her motherhood career, leaving behind in Kingston, Jamaica, her German husband to mind the first-born which she visits her sister.”

Jet, August 27, 1959: Vera Francis divorced “her white husband, George Handwerk,” married on September 8, 1957. They had a daughter, Francena, and Vera was pregnant with a second child.

Jet, January 14, 1960: “Pretty actress Vera (Francis) Handwerk gave birth to an eight-and-one-half pound girl, Janna, her second, in Jamaica, Britsh West Indies.” Here’s the photo that accompanied the news bit.

The Gleaner, November 26, 1961: Vera is listed as the hostess who also M.C’eed a fashion show at Babs Boutique.

But by September 1962, in Negro Digest (Black World), people were wondering where Vera Francis was.

The Gleaner, October 3, 1964: Vera is listed at the Bunny Mother for the Jamaican edition of the Playboy Bunnies.

Pontiac Daily Leader, February 12, 1969: She is mentioned as the “former Vera Francis” — now the Mrs. in Mr. and Mrs. Harlan Robertson. The couple, along with son Randy, were in Odell visiting Vera’s father, Perry Francis. No mention of the daughters.

Nowhere do I find any proof of Vera’s “outspoken role in civil rights”, though clearly she lived her life as a woman who resisted labels and limits — in terms of color and gender.

Additional image/info: In June of 2011, Bonhams auctioned off a lot of Vera Francis archives for $915.

Of Research & Tinkle Troubles

Beautiful Sybil Tinkle As A Teen In Texas

Thanks to Twitter and my friend Cliff Aliperti of Immortal Ephemera (and occasionally blogging with me at Inherited Values — nudge, nudge, Cliff lol), I was alerted to a fabulous post by author Michael G. Ankerich (I now want every single one of his books!). Ankerich’s post is right up my alley — right down to the word “tinkle” lol

Olive Borden: The Sybil Tinkle Connection includes everything I love…

Beautiful female silent film stars, the joy and anguish of impeccable obsessive research, a case of mistaken (or misleading) identity which is only partially solved… For now.

Ankerich may have proved that Olive Borden was not Sybil Tinkle (despite the perpetuation of the story long after it was corrected), but so many questions remain…

Why does mythinformation continue to spread? What is it about this legend that keeps it going? Why the mix-up in the first place?  Accident or on purpose?

And, most importantly, whatever happened to Sybil Tinkle?

I want to know because I’ve fallen in love with her.

Young Sybil was said to be the first girl in Timpson, Texas, to smoke and “often painted outdoors, clad only in lingerie.” After a disastrous marriage in the early 1920s, Sybil ran away to California where she attempted to break into the movies. “Once in Hollywood, she wrote notes and sent portraits but, after a while, the family lost touch with her–forever!” (I say, has anyone ever looked at her husband?!)

From there, the Tinkle trail runs dry. A tasteless pun, perhaps; but it also captures the essence of things for me… Researching through old newspapers and other ephemera is rather like CSI work: you can only work off of the evidence left behind and, as time passes, it’s much harder.

Kudos to you, Mr. Ankerich, for the work you’ve done, for the women you’ve introduced me to — and for leaving just enough of a mystery for me to become obsessed with.

Foot Fashions A La Purple Rain

In the 80s, we used to decorate our boots with chains and wraps, just because we could. Or maybe it’s where we kept our gold, which could quickly be converted to cash — you know, like when when we needed to buy our boyfriend guitars, like Apollonia did for Prince in Purple Rain.

Your desires to buy a sperm-shaped guitar or pull your finances literally up from your bootstraps aside, you might just find these shoe and bootstraps by Lizette quite fetching. They are not only stylish (and retro 80’s style at that!), but practical in that they hold loose shoes, like mules, on to your foot to boot!

A Chilling Cold War Reminder Of The Freedom Of Media

Making Democracy Work & Grow: Practical Suggestions For Students, Teachers, Administrators, and Other Community Leaders, from the Federal Security Agency, Office of Education, Bulletin 1948 No 10, Oscar R. Ewing, Administrator, John W. Studebaker, Commissioner.

A more subtle Cold War publication, preaching that we must do more than “learn the values & working habits of democracy,” we must “live it” to “strengthen national security and to win the peace.” “We must also work together — to keep democracy free and make it strong and positive.” On the last page, advice on “cooperating” with the Motion Picture Council to “encourage the showing and reshowing of movies that stimulate an understanding and appreciation of American democracy” in your own community. Other media is included in this vintage propaganda booklet; but the film section rather covers it all — the seemingly benign advocacy setting darker things in motion…

New Vintage Reviews #8

New Vintage Reviews Carnival

Welcome to the long overdue New Vintage Reviews Carnival, edition #8.

In this blog carnival, we review everything from classic film to vintage vinyl, from out-of-print books to games found in the basement — we hope to make the old seem shiny and new again!

If you’d like your review (or one you’ve read) to be included in the next edition, please submit it!  If you’d like to host, just contact me (Deanna.Pop.Tart@gmail.com) and put “New Vintage Reviews Host” in the subject line.

Books:

At A Penguin A Week, Karyn reviews The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley.

At { feuilleton }, a review of Joseph Balthazar Silvestre’s Alphabet-album, circa 1843, by John Coulthart.

My review of 1962’s Royal Canadian Air Force Exercise Plans For Physical Fitness, here at Kitsch Slapped.

Film:

At Immortal Ephemera, a review of 1950’s Bright Leaf, starring Gary Cooper, Lauren Bacall, and Patricia Neal.

At Out Of The Past, a review of Garbo’s Ninotchka (1939).

Games:

At Steamboat Arabia, an illustrated review of The Game of Life aka Checkered Game of Life by Milton Brady — first sold in 1860.

Music:

At Scratch, Pop & Hiss, a review of James Luther Dickinson’s Dixie Fried (1972).

At Kitschy Kitschy Coo, my review of Toni Basil’s self-titled album.

At Silent Porn Star (obviously NWS), a review of the 1957 LP My Pussy Belongs To Daddy, which is silly and risque.

At The World’s Worst Records, Darryl W Bullock reviews A Soldier’s Plea by Bishop J M Smith and the Evangelist Choir.

My review of MTV’s High Priority, here at Kitsch Slapped.

And… This last one isn’t truly a review… But in the spirit of living with “old stuff,” surely the story of Phil Cirocco’s full restoration of a Novochord dating from 1940 fits in.  (Via Scratch, Pop & Hiss.)

Back to the Future II Nike Mag Shoes To Benefit Parkinson’s Research

Love and the shoes Marty McFlyin wore in Back to the Future II? Spread the love by getting yourself a pair of rare and collectible NIKE MAG shoes while raising money for Parkinson’s research.

Auction giant eBay will auction off 150 pairs of 2011 Nike Mag sneakers each day, ending September 18, 2011. All net proceeds from the auction sales of the 2011 NIKE MAG go directly to The Michael J. Fox Foundation — the largest private funder of Parkinson’s research.

The shoe auctions began on September 8th, and the first 150 pairs sold for approximately $6,100 per pair — reportedly raised an amazing $921,290 for The Michael J. Fox Foundation. Since then, prices have dropped to roughly $4,500 per pair. Prices may still very well continue to drop. While still not affordable for me, those of you looking for something rare for yourself –or to give that special someone, this is the gift that “kicks.”

The “Cherry Bomb” Bomb: An Ignorant Hetero Midwest Girl Reviews The Runaways Film

Cherie Currie and Joan Jett, back in the days when they were Runaways.

I don’t ever claim to be first with the reviews (I deal in old stuff, so why even rush to hop on the bandwagon with films about retro bands?), so you’ve likely already heard about, read reviews of, or even seen 2010’s The Runaways, starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning. Anyway…

The Runaways is an incredible film. You should see it. My only real comments are really about my impressions of myself…

I wasn’t actually going to write any sort of a review, but then I stumbled onto Susie Bright’s commentary:

“What is this Little Debbie BULLSHIT?” I said. “This is a disgrace.”

Director Floria Sigismondi’s “pretty-in-glam” Runaways promo wasn’t the underground punk scene I remember from Los Angeles in the 1970’s.

And then I thought, “Hey, someone needs to speak for the rest of the un-cool kids here in the Midwest.”

You see, I didn’t know of The Runaways until after there was Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ I Love Rock and Roll.  That made it on the radar — and radio waves — in Midwest suburbia.  Heck, my mom was a HUGE fan of that song!  (Rock on, Mom!)

Before Bright’s commentary, I’d viewed the relationship between Jett and Currie as a more complicated version of the college lesbianism experience, mixed with drugs, celebrity-too-soon, and, sure, what looked in the film like a bit of opportunistic, if not predatory, moves on Jett’s part — which seemed more natural and less creepy than it sounds, really. And I don’t suppose Bright’s commentary really changes any of that. ( Or that my interpretation of the film is accurate; or even that the film was entirely explicit about many intimate aspects of their personal lives. It was, after all, a film; not a documentary.) But I feel it’s worth noting that Los Angeles is, and was, a million miles away from my Milwaukee suburban experience. Or even my imagining.

I was in gay bars in the 80’s. However, I’m sure they weren’t anything like the punk scenes you big coastal cities had. I’m sure even the leather and dungeon rooms would have seemed comical (at least by comparison at the time). But my point is that even though I wasn’t phobic, wasn’t ignorant, and therefore wasn’t shocked or put-off by anything in The Runaways that would have freaked my version of the world at that time, the sort of cultural context Bright feels was a necessary part of the story has me thinking… Maybe too much.

Yes, it may be accurate to say, as Bright does, that, “The Runaways band would not have happened, could not have been conceived, without the Underground Dyke Punk Groupie Slut culture that stretched from the San Fernando Valley to the bowels of Orange County,” but is it necessary to understand or appreciate the film, the story of (at least two of) the girls in the all-girls band?

Maybe it’s some sort of “ism” for a heterosexual chick to say it doesn’t matter; or at the very least, I’m being insensitive and dismissive to a movement. I certainly don’t mean to be.  Yet, I thought the film was about forging ahead against the odds, the isolating experience of individuals — of female individuals — and maybe all that cultural context wasn’t integral?  Then again, I’m always harping on the context of things, and certainly the counter-culture is as important in the story of where this band, these women, sat as the cultural norms I was carrying in my own head.

I just can’t decide.

Because fundamentally, I felt the tidal waves of emotion of abuse (self, drug, management, the industry, etc.), dreams gained and lost, friendships, trust, creativity, and being a woman with little respect through it all… And I’m not sure that being more precise in the documentation or depiction of what Bright described as the scene at the time is would have enhanced that ride. Though I guess I’ll never know because that film hasn’t been made.

At the end of The Runaways, I was left wanting to discover what others already had; the music of the band itself. (And the music each made with other bands and in solo careers — save, perhaps, for Lita Ford.  Hubby had a crush on her, so her discs are around… Plus, at the end of The Runways, I didn’t like her. Sure, I understood what motivated her snits; but ick.)   Though, what Susie Bright said now not only colors my thoughts about the film, but thoughts about the music as well.

Such is the plight of one who thinks too much, I suppose.

Can I continue to rock to Crimson & Clover without having any such thoughts of celebrating a “dyke rock’n’roll legacy” — and not have that be dismissive or exclusionary, not have it be a political or social statement at all? Yes, I think I can. So I think I can enjoy The Runaways as a film without any of that too.

I think that’s the question, and the answer.  For me.

I’ll tell you how that works as I listen to more of the music.  …Maybe watch the film again.

PS The end of the movie left you rather feeling like Cherie had relegated herself to, or was even happy with, some sort of boring mainstream life after the band split. Clearly the film focused on Jett. (Odd because the movie was based largely on Currie’s autobiography, Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runawayoriginally published in 1989; reprinted to coincide with the film.) But Currie’s life indeed went on.  Cherie also went on to play more music; to marry and divorce from Robert Hays (of Airplane! — what an odd pairing in my mind) — they even had a son, Jake Hays, who accompanied his mom and dad at The Runaways premier, and to rock the art as a chainsaw chick.

Resist, And You Are Called Confrontational. Or Mentally Ill.

Remember the Nirvana song Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle?

Here’s Kurt Cobain’s response to, “So why was Frances Farmer such an inspiration?” (Melody Maker, August 28th, 1993)

“Well, you know, I’d read some books about her and I found her story interesting. She was a very confrontational person.”

Extremely confrontational.

Selfish, maybe. “That’s not what I got from the books I read. Actually, I did from two of the biographies I read about her, but there was one, ‘Shadowland’, the best one, written by this PI from Seattle who researched it for years, and I didn’t get that impression from that one. She was obviously a difficult person, and got more and more difficult as the years went on, as people started to fuck with her more and more.

“I mean, she was institutionalised numerous times and, in the place in Washington where she ended up, the custodians had people lining up all the way through the halls, waiting to rape her. She’d been beaten up and brutally raped for years, every day. She didn’t even have clothes most of the time.

“Courtney especially could relate to Frances Farmer. I made the comparison between the two. When I was reading the book, I realised that this could very well happen to Courtney if things kept going on. There’s only so much a person can take, you know?

“I’ve been told by doctors and psychiatrists that public humiliation is one of the most extreme and hardest things to heal yourself from. It’s as bad as being brutally raped, or witnessing one of your parents murdered in front of your eyes or something like that. It just goes on and on, it grinds into you and it’s so personal.

“And the Frances Farmer thing was a massive conspiracy involving the bourgeois and powerful people in Seattle, especially this one judge who still lives in Seattle to this day. He led this crusade to so humiliate her that she would go insane. In the beginning, she was hospitalised – totally against her will – and she wasn’t even crazy. She got picked up on a drunk driving charge and got committed you know. It was a very scary time to be confrontational.”

Though nothing could excuse what was done to her, even the most reverent accounts of Farmer’s life don’t attempt to deny that she was on extremely difficult person, that her much-vaunted independence often amounted to a ruthless self-interest that left her indifferent to the suffering she caused. So she was no martyr.

But Farmer – beautiful, arrogant, creative, destructive and destroyed –does appear impossibly glamorous, especially from the safe distance of a few decades.

Is that what drew you to her?

“No. No, not at all”

The song, especially if Geffen have the good sense to release it as a single, may succeed in glamorising her.

How would you feel about that?

“I’d feel bad about that. I just simply wanted to remind people of tragedies like that. It’s very real and it can happen. People can be driven insane, they can be given lobotomies and be committed and be put in jails for no reason. I mean, from being this glamorous, talented, well-respected movie star, she ended up being given a lobotomy and working in a Four Seasons restaurant.

“And she hated the Hollywood scene, too, and was very vocal about it, so those people were involved in the conspiracy, too. I just wanted to remind people that it happened and it has happened forever.”

Most of your songs are, in one way or another, about suffering. A popular liberal notion is that suffering ennobles. Do you think there’s any truth to that?

“It can, it can. I think a small amount of suffering is healthy. It makes your character stronger.”

Do you think you’ve suffered on a large or small scale?

“What do you think I think?”

Don’t know.

“I’ve suffered on a large scale but most of the attacks haven’t been on me, they’ve been on someone I’m totally in love with, my best fucking friend is being completely fucking crucified every two months, if not more. I read a negative article about her every two months.”

Why read it? Why torture yourself?

“A lot of the time I can’t escape it because Courtney gets faxes of articles from the publicist all the time. But also it’s a form of protection. It enables you to remember … and to make sure you never deal with those people again. And another reason we like to read it is that we can learn from the criticism, too. If I never read any of the interviews I did, I’d never be able to say ‘Jeez, that was a pretty stupid thing to say. I’d better try to clear that up.’”

I was first introduced to Frances Farmer — and subsequently fell in love with both her and Jessica Lange — in Frances (1982).

The book Cobain “recommends,” Shadowland, by William Arnold, and the ensuing (no pun intended as Arnold sued regarding the film) Lange movie may not be reliable, according to journalist and researcher Jeffrey Kauffman who has spent decades unraveling the Frances Farmer story. However, this doesn’t change much for me.

It’s not that I refuse to accept fact or Kauffman’s research; quite the contrary.  I find all the representations and misrepresentations as detrimental to Farmer as the life she did lead. Mental health, especially then, was not kind, no matter what the ignorant intention. The media has only become worse. Her life as a creative, passionate woman was painful, co-opted.

Shopping For Awesome Toys In Retro Sexploitation Flick

Over at French blog Au carrefour étrange, a review of Joseph W. Sarno’s Flesh and Lace (1965).

Since the site is in French, you may be confused — but it’s apparently exactly how it looks: A film that starts at a strip club and ends up at a toy store, with a woman seduced by a giant stuffed lion.

The images expose glimpses of tantalizing toys and nostalgic games from the 60’s, such as Mastermind, Hands Down, Marx toys, robots, and stuffed animals.

Ah, to be teased by vintage lingerie, nudity, and some incredible retro toys — I must buy this film!

Thanks to Klaudia’s post on the shoe and stocking scenes which sent to me in the right direction to find this review.

Of Brown Marie, Yellow Marie, And Pickaninny (Or, Of Racism In The Toy Wife)

I don’t think I can let Black History Month go by without mentioning 1938’s The Toy Wife.

Primarily the movie is the story of Frou Frou (played by Luise Rainer), a woman found to be so guilty of a frivolous nature, so childlike in her approach to life, that she must suffer the wrath of The Motion Picture Production Code (aka the Hays Code or Hollywood Code). But I think any woman or thinking man who watched the film will see that others are not only guilty of perpetuating her frivolous nature, but of exploiting it as well — especially those who claim to love her.

In many ways, Frou Frou, the character, reminds me much of Norma Jean Baker, or at least the creation of Marilyn Monroe… A woman literally and figuratively corseted by the studios to be “feminine charms personified,” who was then resented and mistreated by the very persons who had shaped her. (Any feminists reading here likely can feel the echoes of such things in their own lives.)

Jaynie’s done a great job in her review of the movie, so I’ll leave it at that and get onto the other thing to note about this film: the racial issues.

Heck, slavery and racism are so prominent in this film that it’s used as proof of Frou Frou’s poor frivolous and immature state.

Her inability to manage her household and slaves leaves her poor husband dealing with bickering slaves; leaving us to conclude that Frou Frou is so childish, she cannot even manage the childish Negros.

Sure, The Toy Wife is a period piece set during the Civil War on a plantation — with all that implies. But unlike Gone With The Wind, The Toy Wife shocks with insights into the treatment of slaves.

We see the traditionally accepted sanitized version of supposed mutual devotion and affection between master and slaves, both on individual bases and and in groups — such as when the mistress of the household stand on the magnificent steps of her plantation mansion and leads the slaves in prayer.

We see Frou Frou slap her slave, something which tells as much about the immediate situation straining their close relationship (you know how women are so willing to slap one another’s face when we get peeved *snort*) as it depicts slave relations.

But we also see and hear family slaves threatened with whippings and being sold, the rather nonchalant pronouncement of such things by white folks punctuates their manipulation and mastery of human beings — exposing the very same frivolous, spoiled, childlike assumptive behavior that Frou Frou is charged with.

But perhaps most shocking is the story of Frou Frou’s devoted personal slave. Played by Theresa Harris (more here), this slave hasn’t any name — they just call her “Pic” (or “Pick”) short for pickaninny.

We discover this supposedly amusing fact when Frou Frou returns home after years away, being schooled abroad. One by one the female slaves identify themselves — including both Maries who individualize themselves as “Brown Marie” and “Yellow Marie.” You will see and hear it in this YouTube clip (at roughly 37 seconds) but Pic’s story, which should immediately follow once the young woman is spotted beneath the stairs, has been (curiously and infuriatingly) omitted.

So while The Toy Wife offers a sad story of womanhood, it also offers an historical slice of southern pie that’s hard to swallow.

But you should watch it. It’s a wonderful film, capturing so many moments of truth… Even if a lot of them are ugly and painful.