Archive for beauty

Billie Dove: Follies Girl

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2017 by travsd

Silent film star Billie Dove (Bertha Bohnny 1903-1997) was born on this day. Born to Swiss immigrant parents in New York City, the stunningly beautiful teenager began her working life as a model to artists like Charles Dana Gibson and James Montgomery Flagg. She was also said to have worked as an extra on the Mabel Normand picture Joan of Plattsburg (1918), although she is not visible in the finished picture. In 1919, she was hired as a replacement for the Ziegfeld Follies during the infamous strike; she was also cast as a replacement in the Marilyn Miller show Sally, also produced by Ziegfeld.

With Fairbanks in “The Black Pirate” (1926)

She moved to Hollywood right after this, where she was a star for just over a decade. Her first proper role was in the screen adaptation of George M. Cohan’s Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford (1921) starring Sam Hardy. Interestingly, though her time as an actual chorus girl was brief, she would PORTRAY a chorus girl on screen so often that it became a big part of of her Jazz Age image, in movies like At the Stage Door (1921), Polly of the Follies (1922), An Affair of the Follies (1927), The Heart of a Follies Girl (1928), and her very last film Blondie of the Follies (1932). Among her other notable pictures were, The Black Pirate (1926), opposite Douglas Fairbanks, and Kid Boots (1926), Eddie Cantor’s screen debut, an adaptation of his Ziegfeld-produced Broadway show featuring Cantor and Clara Bow. Billie Dove also was known for co-starring in numerous westerns with the likes of Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, and others.

Dove had a three year romance with Howard Hughes, who’d produced several of her films. In 1933 she retired from the screen to marry oil tycoon Robert Alan Kenaston. After a 30 year absence from the screen she stepped before the camera one last time for a cameo in the Charlton Heston vehicle Diamond Head (1963). Singer Billie Holiday is said to have taken the first part of her stage name from Billie Dove’s.

For more on silent film, consult Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,  released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc. For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

The Ups and Downs of Lina Basquette

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Child Stars, Dance, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2017 by travsd

Lina Basquette (Lena Copeland Baskette) was born on April 19, 1907. Basquette was a star of stage and screen through several different phases, but is perhaps best remembered today for her eight marriages, most notably the first one, to Sam Warner of Warner Brothers, with much ensuing personal drama.

Basquette was the child of an ambitious stage mother. Her life took a sharp turn at the tender age of eight when she was spotted dancing in her father’s drug store by a rep from RCA Victor, who hired her to dance in the company’s exhibit at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915. This led to a film contract with Universal Pictures, and she began starring (at age nine) in a series of films called Lena Baskette Featurettes. Her mother embraced the new life; the father did not. He committed suicide and her mother married choreographer and dance director Ernest Belcher. (Dancer/choreographer Marge Champion is the daughter of Belcher and Gladys Baskette and the half-sister of Lina Basquette).

Film work seemed to dry up an the end of the decade, so her dance skills were put to use on Broadway in a succession of shows. She appeared in John Murray Anderson’s Jack and Jill (1923), Charles Dillingham’s Nifties of 1923, The Ziegfeld Follies of 1924 and 1925, and Rufus LeMaire’s Affairs (1927).

Meanwhile in 1925, she had married movie mogul Sam Warner, who famously died on the eve of the opening of his seminal project The Jazz Singer (1927). There followed a bizarre custody battle between Basquette and the Warner family over her daughter (whom the Warners wanted to raise as one of their own in the Jewish faith, and probably by someone who wasn’t a famous Siren) which lasted many years.

The Godless Girl, 1929

In 1927, Basquette returned to films. In 1928 she was voted one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars. The biggest hit of this period (and her career) was Cecil B. DeMille’s semi-talkie The Godless Girl (1929). Her film career lasted until 1943, but her battles with the Warners resulted in a loss of star billing in the talkie era. Her parts got much smaller, sometimes even bit roles, and often in B movies. At the same time, she was making live appearances in night clubs.

In 1943, she was raped and robbed by an off-duty soldier whom she had picked up while hitchhiking. This traumatic event seems to have prompted a major life change for her. She took her savings, bought a farm in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania, and reinvented herself as one of the nation’s top breeders of Great Danes! In addition to raising and breeding purebred dogs, she wrote books on the subject and judged shows with the American Kennel Club, an involvement that lasted until the end of her life.

In 1991, she released her memoir Lina: DeMille’s Godless Girl, and emerged from retirement after 48 years to appear in the film Paradise Park. She passed away in 1994.

To find out more about show business historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on early  film please see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

NITA NALDI: A VAMP FROM VAUDEVILLE

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2016 by travsd

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NITA NALDI: A VAMP FROM VAUDEVILLE

Today is the birthday of Nita Naldi (Mary Dooley, 1894-1961).

Naldi was the child of working class Irish parents in New York City. When her (then single) mother died in 1915, she was forced to care for her two younger siblings. Fortunately her extraordinary beauty made it easier than it might have been. She worked as an artists’ model and then broke into a vaudeville in a two-act with her brother Frank. This led to chorus parts in Follow the Girl (1918), The Passing Show of 1918 and the Ziegfeld Follies of 1918 and 1919. This in turn lead to acting roles in plays, the biggest of which was aptly named Opportunity (1920).

From here she went into films, essentially starting out at the top, opposite John Barrymore in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920). She was to become of Hollywood’s top silent era vamps, starring in such notable films as Blood and Sand (1922), The Ten Commandments (1923), Cobra (1924), and Alfred Hitchcock’s second film The Mountain Eagle (1926). She was a frequent co-star of Rudolph Valentino and his wife Natacha Rambova.

It was during this heyday that she she sat for this famous illustration by Alberto Vargas:

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Starting in the late 20s she spent several years in Europe and married her longtime lover the millionaire J. Searle Barclay. By 1931 this had fizzled out. The pair separated, she came home, filed for bankruptcy and starred in two short-lived Broadway shows Firebird (1932) and Queer People (1934). At this stage, it was widely held that she was no longer a beauty; she had gained weight since her film stardom. But she continued to perform. She appeared in an off-Broadway revue with Mae Murray in 1942, had a role in the 1952 Broadway show In Any Language, and coached Carol Channing for The Vamp (1955).

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Doris Eaton, The Last Ziegfeld Girl

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Dance, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Doris Eaton (1904-2010), whose chief claim to fame was having been the last surviving Ziegfeld chorus girl. The amazing thing about that is, her time with the Follies had been so early. The original run of the Follies was through 1931, although there were several later Shubert revivals. Yet Eaton had been with the show from 1918 through 1920; countless others had come after her. But Eaton had been a very young teenager when she was employed by Ziegfeld (and yes, she lived to be 106). Prior to this she and her many siblings had been employed by the Poli stock company and appeared in production of The Blue Bird. Her first Broadway show was Mother Carey’s Chickens, in which she appeared with her brother Charles. From 1921 through 1929 she appeared in silent films, even starring in a couple of them, while continuing to appear on Broadway. While her sister Mary was able to briefly make a go of it in talkies, Doris did not. She continued to perform briefly in vaudeville, did some stock theatre, and became a successful dance instructor for many years. In 1949 she married one of her pupils, Paul Travis, becoming Doris Eaton Travis. The ultimate cornucopia for info on this long-lived lady can be found in the eye-popping book Century Girl: 100 Years in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziegfeld Follies by Lauren Redniss. 

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on comedy film history see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

 

 

Evelyn Nesbit in Vaudeville

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2013 by travsd
One of those rare times when a "legendary beauty" turns out to be a legendary beauty

One of those rare times when a “legendary beauty” turns out to be an actual legendary beauty. 

Evelyn Nesbit’s fame was similar to that enjoyed by such wonderful recent “entertainers” as Lorena Bobbit, Monica Lewinsky, and O.J. Simpson. Nesbit was an otherwise undistinguished chorus girl, when her husband, insane millionaire Harry K. Thaw shot and killed eminent architect Stanford H. White, her former (and probably current) lover. Nesbit moved to New York in 1900 at age 16 where she modeled as one of the famous “Gibson Girls”. From here she became a chorus girl, landing a role in the landmark show Floradora. Her distinguished stable of lovers included not only White but also John Barrymore. She dated and then married Thaw who was out of his gourd, but wealthy. Here’s how we know he was insane. He marries a chorus girl, and then dwells upon the fact the she is not a virgin!  At any rate, Thaw plugged White in the Rooftop Garden at Madison Square Garden in 1906, thereby increasing the circulation of newspapers and transforming himself and his wife into “somebody”, and ending the life of someone who actually was. White was the keystone of the firm McKim, Mead and White, responsible for the designs of the original Penn Station, the Morgan Library, and the Washington Square arch, among countless others. Now White was food for worms, and Nesbit used his grave as a foundation for a new career. Oscar Hammerstein nabbed her for his Victoria Theatre in 1913, offering her a whopping salary to do three dances, but really just to be Evelyn Nesbit Thaw. This engagement gave her a career enough boost to keep her working in vaudeville and films through the mid-20s.

In 1955, she was the subject of a bio-pic called The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, starring Joan Collins! But Elizabeth McGovern portrayed her far more memorably in Ragtime. 

Evelyn Nesbit is an abiding interest of my own General Jinjur, who has written about her far more extensively and memorably than I ever could. For that, go to http://cavigliascabinetofcuriosities.blogspot.com/2011/01/poor-evelyn-nesbit-american-eve-part-1.html

For more on vaudeville history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.  safe_image And don’t  miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

Anna Held: She, of the Milk Baths

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Burlesk, Frenchy, Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2010 by travsd

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Today is Anna Held’s birthday, she of the famous milk baths. Before becoming Flo Ziegfeld’s second great entrepreneurial project (after strongman Eugene Sandow) the Polish-born Held was a star of the Parisian variety stage. Ziegfeld discovered her there in 1896 and brought her back to the states, where together they made millions of dollars on Broadway. Their most famous publicity stunt had Held taking frightfully decadent baths in in tubs full of milk carted in daily from a local dairy. Her pregnancy in 1908 kept her out of the first Follies (the format of which she is said to have suggested) and then caused Ziegfeld to dump her in favor of Lilliane Lorraine. Whereupon she went back to vaudeville, touring the U.S. and France throughout WWI. She died of cancer in 1918. The moral? Milk gives you cancer.

Here’s some rare film footage of Anna Held in action: http://footage.framepool.com/en/shot/725177998-anna-held-drunken-slapstick-champagne-glass

In the clip below from the movie Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women, Held is played by Barbara Parkins, best known as the lead in Valley of the Dolls who was neither Patty Duke nor Sharon Tate. Here she sings “I Just Can’t Make My Eyes Behave” (Parkins appears after about a minute into the clip). As usual in nearly every movie I’ve ever seen, the costumes are wildly innaccurate, anachronistic, preposterous. But I wouldn’t change a thing!

To learn more about the roots of variety entertainmentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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