Collecting vintage smut, as I do, I know who Vikki Dougan is; but I’ve been surprised a number of times by both the lack of recognition this iconic beauty has and the lack of information about her. So, ever obsessed as usual, I set out to correct the situation.
Vikki Dougan: you may not recognize her from the front, but you likely recognize her backside — hence her nickname, “The Back”.
A particular prominence was assigned, for instance, to ads which featured a young actress named Vikki Dougan. In memoirs of the period, individual ads featuring Miss Dougan are traced from house to house in ways that recall the hunt for a respectable provenance which plays so large a part in the authentication of Old Master paintings. Of an Esquire photograph of Miss Dougan, Richard Hamilton remembers: “I first saw it decorating a wall in [Alison and Peter] Smithson’s home. I gained my own copy from a student’s pinboard in the interior-design department of the Royal College of Art. Lawrence Alloway gave me the data on her; the photograph had impressed him sufficiently to make him regard it as a file-worthy document. It turned up again recently as one of a group of pin-ups in a painting by Peter Phillips.”
This biography attempts to fill in some of the blanks about Vikki Dougan.
Before she earned the notorious nickname (and a plethora of puns), Vikki Dougan was born Edith Tooker in New York in 1929, to her parents Wilber and Mary (nee Dougan) Tooker. Legend says that in 1946, at the age of 16, she becomes both a Miss Rheingold finalist (but is disqualified for being underage) and the wife of a William Symons, the owner of a local photo studio.
Vikki’s big break came in 1948, when she (as Vikki Stappers Dougan) won the eighth annual New York Skate Queen competition. In promoting the ninth annual event, the following was mentioned in Billboard (April 2, 1949):
The purpose of the event, a joint promotion of Empire and The New York Journal-American, is to select an ideal girl roller skater and glorify her for a year. Judging will be based on charm, beauty and personality, with no points whatsoever for skating skill. Contestants must only appear on skates. …Professional skaters models and actresses are banned.
(Vikki, as Queen, and finalists followed up in 1949 by heading the “first ever” fashion show, sponsored by the Roller Skating Institute of America (RISA), in which they modeled “30 attractive rink costumes, loaned for he occasion by the Lence Company,” according to Billboard, March 1949.)
Winning the 1948 skating title would launch Vikki’s pretty face and figure into work as a model — and into gossip Walter Winchell‘s gossip columns, linked to DJ Art Ford. Note that in this 1948 “Look Pink” ad for cosmetic company Cutex, she is even credited — but as Vikkie Dougan, “New York model and prize-winning skater”.
In 1949, Vikki Dougan the “’48 Beauty Queen of Figure Skating” is featured in a comic-strip-style ad for Camels cigarettes, meeting Betty Lytle, one of America’s top-ranking women’s roller skaters. (Skates would be sold with Lytle’s name.) This appears to be the last mention of Vikki Dougan the skater; probably to great relief of Lytle, Dougan, and everyone else.
All this attention unsettles her husband, Bill Symons. At some point after their daughter Debbie is born in 1950, he is said to have walked-out on their marriage. Dougan gets a divorce in Mexico and (per Winchell’s column in February of 1952) Vikki establishes residency in Florida while working as a cover girl at Ciro’s, in Miami Beach. Also about this time, she is signed to agent Louis Shurr.
In the October 26, 1953, issue of Life, Dougan appears not only on the cover, but in the feature article Careers Aplenty: Vikki Dougan models, acts, designs, mothers. In this article, Vikki is listed as 21 years old and is accompanied in the photographs by her three year old daughter, Debbie. The Life article lists Vikki as having started in modeling at age 13 (as Deirdre Tooker), studied at Betty Cashman studio, and appeared weekly in Jackie Gleason’s TV show — along with the clothes designing, mothering, etc. Life also mentions that Vikki “once caused a stir in fashion circles by using wigs to change her appearance and help her get more modeling jobs” — something also featured in Life (July 28, 1952).
Vikkie Dougan, the pretty blond model who made such a hit with Frank Sinatra in Florida recently returned to New York to discover that thieves had cleaned out her apartment. They took her dresses, jewelry, mink coat… and black wig!
May 28, 1954, there are the gossip reports that Vikki, “the young model, who made the cover of Life recently” had posed as Miss General Electric earlier that day.
Dougan continues to model (including the 1955 Flexees lingerie ad and on the cover of the George Shearing Quintet’s Velvet Carpet LP), be seen on Gleason’s show — and be mentioned in the gossip columns. In 1956, it was rumored that Gordie Hormel asked her to marry him. She appears as a show girl in Back From Eternity. On April 27, 1956, Winchell On Broadyway reports that Vikki Dugan, “the ‘Away We Go’ gal with the Jackie Gleason show”, signed with MGM. Or did she? On December 21, 1956, Dorothy Kilgallen reports that Dougan “is the first girl to be signed to a Batjac (John Wayne) contract since Anita Ekberg was given her big opportunity.”
In January of 1957, there are reports that Dougan has a role in The Great Man. (She would play Marcia, the new receptionist.)
March 29, 1957, Erskine Johnson‘s Hollywood Today column is titled Vikki Dougan Reverses Trend And Backs Into Film Career:
February 13, 1957, Hedda Hopper reveals that she, Louells Parons, and Hub Keavy are to “pick Miss 8 Ball of 1957. The choice has narrowed to Venita Steenson, Carolyn Jones, Vikki Dougan, Kipp Hamilton, and Adrienne Alison, all beauties. But we’ve go to decide on one, O, dear.” Vikki Is New Ca-rear Girl In Hollywood, by Lee Belser, is so full of puns that they couldn’t publish this on April Fool’s Day and instead published it on April 2, 1957.
Through this time, Vikki “The Back” Dougan makes the rounds in men’s mags, including pictorials in the April 1957 issue of Nugget.
May 7, 1957: Hollywood gossip columnist Harrison Carroll reports that Vikki has been made queen of the California Chiropractic Association’s “Perfect Posture Week.”
In Clothes Make The Act — And The Actor (Oakland Tribune, May 19, 1957), Lloyd Shearer writes a piece that seems to be tailor made for getting The Back out of negative press. In his article, Shearer begins by discussing this “new trend in show business” whereby talent draws on fashion and “practically any female “name” can earn “5,000 a week and up if her attire clicks with the press.” The piece appropriately finishes with Vikki Dougan & her dresses, stating that it was Milton Weiss (Hollywood publicist who’d worked with Anita Ekberg) who was, umm, behind Dougan’s look.
His first move was to have three expensive dresses made for her — without backs. He then titled his client “The Back” and had her appear at previews and parties in her plunging creations. Soon local photographers zeroed in on Miss Dougan’s bare spinal column, and gagsters began originating such cracks as, “Vikki Dougan makes the best exits in town.”
Finally Vikki was banned from someone else’s preview party because her backless formal was drawing too much attention. The incident received proper press coverage. Today Vikkie — born Edith Tooker in Brooklyn — is riding toward fame on the strength of her clothes, what there is of them. It’s a trend, all right.
You might not want to put too much stock in that story tho; it changes, as you’ll soon see.
As noted in that issue of Playboy, the photo that really started it all was a wirephoto which came from Dougan’s appearance at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s 1957 awards banquet. On July 10th of that year (some Old Guard Hollywood retaliation, perhaps?) Mike Connolly reported in his column, “New Hollywood game called True Or False: Guessing whether Vikkie Dougan got her idea for backless dresses from watching and old Marlon Brando movie…” (In reference to Sophia Loren in A Countess from Hong Kong.)
These photographs (undated, circa 1950s) taken by Life staff photographer Ralph Crane capture America’s love-hate with Vikki Dougan & her notorious backside.
In October of that year, press for Hollywood Queens Of Tomorrow, including an AP photo — in which Vikki is not shown from the back:
Fifteen young actresses for whom stardom is predicted wait to go on stage in Hollywood Friday at the fifth annual Deb Star Ball, sponsored by the Hollywood Make-up and Hair Stylists. Several thousand movie people were in the audience at the Palladium. Left to right: Joan Blackman, Peggy Connolly, Patricia Craig, Vikki Ddougan, Dolores Hart, Diane Jergens, Barbara Lang, Ruta Lee, Jana Lund, Carol Lynley, Erin O’Brien, Joan Tabor, Joyce Taylor, Rebecca Welles and Gloria Winters.
Ten days later, Vikki Backs In, Helps Maxie Promote Ice Cream Breakfast (by George Flowers, Independent-Press-Telegram, October 20, 1957).
On the 21st of that month, Vikki the starlet appears at the annual Publicists’ Association Ballyhoo Ball. This is the famed party where Greta Thyssen had a cheetah on a leash, Joan Bradshaw brought a lion, and Errol Flynn and Maura FitzGibbons were arrested on drunk charges; Vikki “Lady Godiva” Dougan was on an artificial horse.
December 22, 1957, Dougan uses giant scissors for the ribbon-cutting opening of a Safeway Market in Tarzana.
In 1958, Dougan attempts to change her image. It is noted; but still does not please. On March 24, 1958, Harrison Carroll accuses Dougan of wearing “a shapeless sack (looked like a nightgown) over a satin sheath.” On March 27, 1958, Vikki Dougan was reported to be at the Oscar Award Ceremonies — but still not pleasing anyone:
A bizarre note was added by eager starlet Vikki Dougan, who arrived in gaudy makeup and flapper costume.
Poor Vikki can’t win!
In his June 2, 1958, column, Earl Wilson asked Vikki “about the alleged practice of Hollywood gals calling guys for dates.”
“No, but suppose you’re going with an actor and you say after a premiere, ‘I’d like to go to Mocambo’ and he says, ‘But I can’t afford it.’ So you say, ‘I don’t want to embarrass you but couldn’t we go it I paid the bills?'”
It happened to her, she said, “and strangely enough, if men accept it, they resent it.” Vikki said she may be a sexbomb in the papers but she’s had three dates in a year. “The men you go with want to get married,” she added. “The trouble is, they never say when.”
Meanwhile, photos of her continue to circulate in the various men’s mags.
May 23, 1959, Harrison Carroll uncovers Dougan professional and relationship news.
If she listened to Lili St. Cyr‘s estranged husband, Ted Jordan, actress Vikki Dougan soon will be displaying even more epidermis than in those backless gowns that used to make Hollywood night clubbers gasp.
Jordan, who just started to date Vikki, tells me she would be great in a genteel strip act.
“She reminds me so much of Lili,” he says. “They have the same nose and mouth, the same beautifully arched back. Vikki is not quite as tall as Lili, but, otherwise, their measurements are about the same.
“And I heard Vikki sing. She’d really do great in night club work. I know the ropes and I could help her.”
I checked with Vikki. She’s not convinced, but she’s listening.
In October of 1959, “Remember Vikki Dougan?” is the headline. Not only has she fallen out of the press, but apparently work of any kind. She, and her nine year-old daughter, have been living off a $40 weekly unemployment check for the past eight months.
A similar article runs in November of that year, in which Dougan says the reason she wore a backless dress in the first place was to avoid posing “in bikinis and other cheesecake.”
The ever-helpful Erskine Johnson’s got Dougan’s back again at the tail-end of January of 1960, allowing the actress to spin more tales about her notorious backside.
February 22, 1960, Vikki Dougan (misspelled “Vicki Dougan” in the photo caption) is one of the judges for the Miss Pasadena Contest.
But then crickets chirp and Dougan disappears until August 28, 1960. Then photos of Vikki and former Texas Christian football player tuned actor, Jim Sweeney, appear over the AP and are widely picked up — primarily because he places the diamond engagement ring (along with a friendship ring) on the toe of her left foot. Days later, on September 3rd, she (as Edythe A. Tooker) marries James R. Sweeney; he’s 25, she’s 24.
The Pacific Stars & Stripes reports that “Vikki Apparently Needs No Direction” on the set of Peter Gunn (The Candidate episode). (September 16, 1960; photo of Dougan with caption about her appearance on Peter Gunn from San Antonio Light, October 23, 1960.)
Dougan appears in episodes of Michael Shayne (Murder Is a Fine Art) and Sea Hunt (Amigo) in March of 1961. But it’s rather silent, again, until November 20, 1961, when promo photos and pun-y lines about Dougan doing the twist at New York’s Peppermint Lounge appear.
On November 26, 1961, Walter Winchel reports that Vikki had “told chums she will sue Leo Guild for including her in his soon-due book Hollywood Screwballs which mentions Oscar Levant, Bing Crosby, F. Sinatra, and Jayne Mansfield, who aren’t suing.”
September 9, 1962, columnist Connolly quips, “Vikki Dougan, who used to pose in backless gowns, is slamming out a slim volume of verses to be titled “Purple Mud.” Vikki tells me it will be a backless book.” (If anyone show me a copy — or even prove it wasn’t just a joke, please do!)
January 18, 1963 Vikki appears in Los Angeles court to divorce Sweeney, claiming he deserted her after going through her $10,000 savings. The divorce is granted and she accepts a $1 per month alimony.
On June 3, 1963, Earl Wilson reports that Vikki plans to open up a Hollywood barbershop for men.
“Remember Vikki Dougan, Hollywood’s gift to the world of backless dresses? She just signed for a feature role in Hootenanny at MGM,” reports Connolly on July 22, 1963. (She did appear in 1963’s Hootenanny Hoot.) But that didn’t pay the bills; August 11, 1963, Wilson says, “Backless Vikki Dougan now works for a cosmetic company.”
In its January 1964 issue, Cavalier runs a “The Back Is Back” pictorial which features 12 nude photos of Vikki Dougan. Dougan initiates a lawsuit against publisher Fawcett, stating that she posed nude for photos for Playboy, but later backed-out, and they did not have her permission to publish them.
There are a few scattered gossip “spottings,” but nothing much of note until February 22, 1967, when Harrison Carroll reports:
Despite the fact that she took along four wigs, my scouts spotted actress Vikki Dougan at a Houston prizefight with famed attorney Melvin Belli. And they looked just as affectionate as they did recently at Scandia. Can’t blame Melvin. Vikki is a beauty. Understand the two also were in Chicago together and visited Hugh Hefner.
Also in 1967, she would appear in Hotel. And there were reports Dougan, along Sugar Ray Robinson, was part of the cast of Tony Randall & Mickey Rooney’s Las Vegas rendition of The Odd Couple at Casear’s Palace.
In November of 1969, the Fawcett/Cavalier lawsuit is settled out of court. Vikki says the magazine paid her $75,000 to settle; Fawcett Publications, Inc., says it didn’t pay that much.
March 21, 1974, Earl Wilson’s It Happened Last Night column focused on “Shutterbug Respect” and mentions that Vikki Dougan (still haunted by her notorious back-side views) “has joined the profession.” (The profession of photographers, that is.)
And after that, Vikki Dougan seems lost — save for those who fell in love with her image. Along with inspiring pop art, Vikki and her sexy back would be the inspiration for Jessica Rabbit.
Here’s a 2009 interview with Dougan, in which she dishes about Jessica Rabbit and Sinatra:
I’d love to know more, so, if you know something — if you know Vikki! — please do share.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
So you want to be a glamorous Hollywood star, hmm? Well, it’s time to get beautiful, baby!
Have a few extra pounds, but exercise is leaving you without your pep? Did dieting only take the weight off of your face and neck, leaving you feeling irritable and looking like a scarecrow? Did diet pills take too much weight off, leaving you without your feminine curves? What’s a woman to do?!
Well, if it was 1936, you’d have The Roving Reporter to help you. But then, she’d be stuffing you into a girdle. Like a sausage maybe even.
Apparently it takes a long time to get you into this girdle; you have 10 days to lose 3 inches — or is that 3 pounds in 10 days? The ad states both… Maybe that’s the way around the money-back offer; confusion.
The good news is that the Perfolastic Girdle also massages you. I can’t imagine how… Damn, now I can’t stop imagining it. Ack!
Meanwhile, as your nether-regions sweat it out, your hair is breezing through life.
In that same 1936 issue of True Confessions, an ad for the “Air-Conditioned” Hollywood Rapid Dry Curler:
Hollywood stars like Jane Hamilton fawn over these curlers — likely that’s what they used to set their hair (while sitting in girdles), preparing for a chance to get in the movies. Which is exactly what the next ad from this vintage magazine is about.
Hey, little girl, step into my truck and I’ll make you a star!
Super Bonus Points for the talent truck to be sponsored by The Hump Hairpin Mfg. Co. (makers of Hold-Bob bobbypins).
My mom would totally kick my ass if I went near that truck.