Archive for jazz age

Paul Colin: The Visual Spirit of Jazz Age Paris

Posted in African American Interest, Frenchy, VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , , on June 27, 2017 by travsd

June 27 is the birthday of the great French poster artist Paul Colin (1892-1985). A native of Nancy, Colin attended the École des Beaux-Arts and became a master of Art Deco style, incorporating earlier movements such as Cubism.

Colin had been living and working in Paris for over a decade when Josephine Baker arrived in 1925 to become his lover and muse. His most famous poster (above) is also the one that put him on the map. Baker and Colin promoted each other’s work; they became Parisian sensations hand in hand.

In 1927 Baker, all of 21, published a memoir, with illustrations by Colin:

From a 1927 event that drew 3,000 people:

Paris in the 20s and 30s was in the grip of Le Tumulte Noir, “The Black Craze”, and this inspired a series of works from him by that name, in which Josephine was not absent:

Exoticism was key to the fad; jungle themes were prevalent, as were depictions evocative of American minstrelsy caricatures. As a consequence, these Jazz Age images can be tough for us to unpack. Racist? Yet worshipful. The height of fashion? And yet animal, not quite human? “Negrophilia” — but how deep did that love run? As we say, Baker was his lover. If you’ll pardon the expression, Colin had skin in the game. The pair remained friends for life. But outside the nightclubs, cafes, and artist studios of Paris, racism continued to reign in French culture, as is it did throughout the Western world.

Colin had a wider scope of subjects, at all events. Here is an advertisement for the great clown Grock:

Here’s an ad for the 1926 Rene Clair film The Imaginary Voyage:

Colin advertised products of all sorts over the ensuing decades and turned out dozens of pupils through his “Ecole Paul Colin”. Before the dust had settled, he had created 1,900 theatrical posters, and numerous book, theatre set and costume designs.

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 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.

This Monday: A Talk at the Morbid Anatomy Museum

Posted in Broadway, Comedians, Comedy, Dime Museum and Side Show, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Jugglers, ME, My Shows, PLUGS, Vaudeville etc., W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2016 by travsd


Monday, December 12, 7pm: “W.C. Fields: From Dime Museums to the Jazz Age” an illustrated talk by Trav S.D., sponsored by Zelda Magazine 

A look at screen comedian W.C. Fields’ growth from humble sideshow and dime museum juggler to sketch comedian and one of the biggest stars of sophisticated Broadway revues like the Ziegfeld Follies, George White’ Sandals and Earl Carrol’s Vanities. Along the way meet the glittering stars he shared the limelight with like Louise Brooks, Fanny Brice, Will Rogers and Eddie Cantor. Admission: $8. Location: Morbid Anatomy Museum, 424 Third Avenue, 11215 Brooklyn NY. Tickets and information here. 

On the “Gold Diggers” Series

Posted in Broadway, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Playwrights, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2016 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Jazz Age playwright Avery Hopwood (1882-1928). Hopwood was long legendary for the feat of having four successful plays up on Broadway simultaneously, a feat later equaled by Neil Simon.

We have already done an extensive blog on one of the plays Hopwood was associated withThe Bat (1920), although that was primarily a Mary Roberts Rinehart work (Hopwood was called in to finish the third act and doctor the play overall). Today it seems apt to talk about what is now by far Hopwood’s best known legacy: the many versions and incarnations of The Gold Diggers. The best known one Gold Diggers of 1933 has a zillion fans even to this day; but folks may not realize that there was much that came before and much that came after.  


Original Broadway Play (1919)

The concept of the “Gold Digger” was a major part of the zeitgeist during the Jazz Age, when prosperity made for much gold to be dug. The phrase seems initially to have been applied to Peggy Hopkins Joyce, whose many marriages just happened to be to wealthy husbands. It’s not like such scheming isn’t as old as humankind. What was new about Joyce was the unprecedentedly open and frank way that she pursued her goals. Welcome to America! This was a new phenomenon. It inspired many writers, from Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925), to several characters in Fitzgerald.


Ina Claire and Bruce McRae

Hopwood’s The Gold Diggers was early in this cycle. It gives us the familiar kernel of the story: a chorus girl and a rich young man want to get married. Relatives disapprove and try to put a stop to it. Hypocrisy is exposed through funny stratagems, and it is demonstrated that the chorus girl really loves the rich young man (thus proving she is not a heartless monster). The original lead was played by Ina Claire, and the production was a smash hit thanks in part to rave reviews by Alexander Woolcott. 

Hope Hampton

Hope Hampton

The Silent Film (1923)

David Belasco, original producer of the play, also produced the first film version, starring Hope Hampton and Louise Fazenda. Like later versions it was made by Warner Brothers. Sadly the film is now lost.


Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929)

This is the unkindest cut of all. This one is partially lost yet just enough has survived to drive us crazy wishing we could see the rest of it. The earliest years of talkies left us some really incredible documents because of all sorts of factors which capture their moment in a way that Hollywood films which came before and after would be unable to do. Sound (Vitaphone)! Color (Two Strip Technicolor)! More realistic dialogue (Pre-Code)! For the first time Broadway spectacle could be brought to the screen in a way that made sense — and so they went at it, whole hog. Here’s a fragment:

It was the top grossing film of the year and made a screen star (for a time) of Winnie Lightner. Also in the film were Ann Pennington, Nick Lucas (who sang the version of “Tip Toe Through the Tulips” that later inspired Tiny Tim), Lee Moran, and Louise Beavers. It was directed by Roy Del Ruth, who was to marry Lightner a decade later.


Gold Diggers of 1933

Not a sequel per se, but yet another re-make with a new added poignancy (and sympathy for the heroines) because it is the depths of the Great Depression and the girls are literally starving. This (as far as we know) is the apex of the series, though one dreams about Gold Diggers of Broadway. 

Co-directed by Mervyn Leroy and Busby Berkley (musical numbers), and produced by Warner Brothers in much the same style as 42nd Street, which had been released just a couple of months earlier, and with much of the same cast (Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Ned Sparks, Ginger Rogers, and Guy Kibee). Sparks plays a producer who needs cash to put on a musical about the Depression (1933 was the very worst year of that worldwide financial disaster). Songwriter and juvenile Powell turns out to be a Boston Blueblood and underwrites the show — which (thanks to Berkley’s amazing staging) turns out to better than anyone’s wildest fantasies of a live stage show could ever be. Unfortunately Powell’s conservative brother and trustee (Warren William) and family lawyer (Kibee) want to break up his romance with Keeler. As they try to do so, gold-diggers Joan Blondell and Aline McMahon kick into action and eventually get both fuddy duddies to marry them. And a pre-Astaire Ginger Rogers is yet another gold digger. Happy ending, roll credits.


Gold Diggers of 1935 (film)

Some but not all of the luster is lost here. Here Dick Powell is a hotel clerk hired by miserly millionairess Alice Brady to escort her daughter Gloria Stuart. They fall in love though she is actually engaged to a doofus who is writing a monograph on the use of snuff (Hugh Herbert). Meanwhile, because this is a musical, the millionairess is bankrolling an annual charity show for the milk fund, and hires a wacky Russian stage director played by a very funny Adolph Menjou. It’s Busby Berkley’s first film as credited director, though of course he had choreographed many times before. The big number is “Lullaby of Broadway”: it’s brilliantly staged and shot, even surreal—it all takes place in her head, and has an amazing fantasy interlude. Of course it’s all apropos of nothing connected with the movie we’re watching!


Gold Diggers of 1937

This one has the morbid plot of producers and cast taking out a life insurance policy on hypochondriac moneybags Victor Moore so they can finance a show. With the now married team of Dick Powell and Joan Blondell returning, the picture also features Glenda Farrell and even more notably Susan Fleming (better known as Mrs. Harpo Marx). Busby Berkley staged the production numbers once more and Lloyd Bacon directed.


Gold Diggers in Paris (1938)

It’s always been an axiom of mine that you know your franchise has jumped the shark when you have to transplant it to another country for an angle. By these last couple in the series, it is becoming quotidian and a little tired (reminds me of the plots of some of the Fred and Ginger movies). The meat of the farce is that Hugh Herbert is sent to New York to bring back a certain ballet company to Paris. He accidentally books a bunch of chorus girls who work for Rudy Vallee and Allen Jenkins. Learning the truth too late, he hires Fritz Feld and Rosemary Lane to teach the girls ballet on the ship back to France. The fly in the ointment is that one of the French bookers (Melville Cooper) wants to watch rehearsals, and the company has to keep diverting him. The stakes in a scenario are too low to interest me. Give me the early “Gold Diggers”! Seems like the public felt the same way.

Dorothy Parker: Complete Broadway, 1918-1923

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, Broadway, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Jews/ Show Biz, LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, Women with tags , , , , , on June 3, 2014 by travsd


I’ve long held that the best writers make the best critics. In addition to aesthetic insight, the job calls for  descriptive powers both sufficient to engage the reader in art he hasn’t yet experienced and entertaining enough to attract those who’ve already seen the show. In the case of Dorothy Parker: Complete Broadway 1918-1923, “the show” closed over 90 years ago. The attraction here is the critic herself — and what a shiny bauble it is.

It’s shocking to me that (aside from a few selected samples) Dorothy Parker’s theatre reviews have never been collected and published in a volume. The columns she wrote for Vanity Fair and Ainslee’s were her first bread-and-butter job, and it was the writing on which she made her reputation. It was while she was at Vanity Fair that she met and befriended Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood, formed the Algonquin Round Table, and added folks like F.P.A., George S. Kaufman and Alexander Woolcott to her circle. The New Yorker, short stories, comic poetry, all of that would follow later. But at the dawn of the Jazz Age, she was reaching her readers once a month in these lengthy magazine columns describing all the Broadway shows she had seen.

A precocious 25 year old when she launched her career, subbing for P.G. Wodehouse, she astounds us by debuting with her familiar voice already fully-formed. She is cruelly, hilariously frank to a fault. Indeed it is that foible which got her canned from Vanity Fair in 1920 (with Benchley and Sherwood walking off with her in sympathy).   The pleasures of reading ANYTHING written by Dorothy Parker are among the numerous reasons for buying this valuable volume. As  in her creative writing, her criticism is concise, merry and devastating. One would hesitate to call it deep, though. She covers a lot of ground in the columns; no more than a few sentences are expended on any particular show, basically a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” based on how much Dotty was entertained. But what it lacks in depth, it makes up for in breadth. Anyone looking to experience Broadway during the Jazz Age could do worse than spending time in these annals, which chronicle some very exciting years: Eugene O’Neill, the Ziegfeld Follies, the premieres of plays like R.U.R. and The Adding Machine, and performances by so many past giants: the Barrymores, Nazimova, Ed Wynn and about five hundred more.

As an aid in appreciation, editor Kevin Fitzpatrick (founder and head of the Dorothy Parker Society) has preceded the book with an illuminating and perceptive introductory essay, and added a meticulous index of explanatory notes in the back.

I had originally intended to hold this blogpost until I had read the entire book, but as I began to delve into it, I realized that was crazy. It’s impossible to read without savoring and re-reading, which means I will spend the rest of my life with this book. It now sits on my shelf next to criticism by Shaw, Max Beerbohm, John Mason Brown, George Jean Nathan, Harold Clurman and John Lahr. Lovers of Parker’s work (and all lovers of humor), theatre buffs, and Jazz Age aficionados will all relish this book.

Buy it here. 

Ben Bernie, “The Old Maestro”

Posted in Ballroom/ Big Band/ Swing, Music, Radio (Old Time Radio), Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , on May 30, 2013 by travsd


Personality was everything in vaudeville. Pretty music aside, a major factor in the success of a band was a colorful and entertaining bandleader. Bernie and others we’ll meet frequently developed their own catchphrases, many of which outlived the fame of their originators. You may not have heard of Bernie, but you’ve certainly heard the phrase “yowsah, yowsah, yowsah.” That one was his.

Born Bernard Anzelvitz on this day in 1891, Ben Bernie set out to be a serious musician. He debuted as a concert violinist at Carnegie Hall at age 14. Apparently that didn’t go anywhere, for in 1910, he teamed up with accordionist Charles Klass to from the vaudeville act “the Fiddle-Up-Boys”. In 1915 he formed a more successful partnership with Phil Baker. Baker played the accordion and gradually added more and more jokes until it was essentially a comedy act. They parted ways in 1923, with Baker going to even greater fame on stage, screen and radio.

Bernie was more interested in music then laughs. In ’23, he formed Ben Bernie and All the Lads, which had a standing gig at the Roosevelt Hotel for the next six years. In the early 30s, the band toured vaudeville with Maurice Chevalier. For a long time, Oscar Levant was Bernie’s piano player. Bernie’s radio show was a fixture on CBS from 1931 until he passed away in 1943.

Bernie is responsible for Jack Benny’s stage name. In 1921, the comedian (whose real name was Benjamin Kubelsky) began calling himself Ben K. Benny. He soon received a “cease and desist” letter from Bernie’s lawyers – too similar. His music may have been sleepy and gentle, but in show business you played hardball. Yowsah, yowsah, yowsah.

Here he is with his orchestra, playing my grandmother’s favorite song, “Sweet Georgia Brown”

To find out about more about Ben Bernie and the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce: The Original Gold Digger

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Hollywood (History), Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , on May 26, 2010 by travsd


A genius at the art of celebrity for its own sake, this original “gold-digger” used show business as a means of leveraging husbands, and her notorious connubial life as a means of leveraging lucrative work in show business. She was born Marguerite Upton, the daughter of an humble barber in Norfolk, Virginia.

At 16, she ran off with a small time vaudeville troupe and wound up in Denver, which is where she bagged the first of her six husbands. The year was 1910. Her new husband, Everett Archibald, Jr. was a well-to-do salesman from a Mormon family. While he was on the road, Peggy would continue to entertain as many gentlemen as she pleased, a development that Mr. Archibald didn’t take kindly to. (“Hey! Who’sthe polygamist around here?”) Bored and chafing at Archibald’s unreasonable demand that she remain faithful to him, she packed her things and bummed around a bit before finding herself in Washington, D.C. Here she developed a relationship with a dressmaker who outfitted her with rich costumes with the understanding that she would show them off at fashionable gatherings. Before long she had trapped her second husband, this time a scion from one of Washington society’s most prominent families. Sherburne Philbrick Hopkins was a bit of a rake himself, but that still didn’t mean he was any match for Peggy. Among her other charming qualities, she was a profligate spender and wouldn’t brook any criticism about it. After a few knock-down drag-out fights, she left her second husband in 1915 and packed up for New York.

By now, of course, she was a well-known society person, accustomed to being seen, admired and written up in gossip columns. She was a known entity and already quite scandalous. In New York she hooked with dressmaker Madame Frances, and developed a preposterous if novel vaudeville act for the Palace. Billed as a “Style Show”, Peggy, who could neither sing, dance, nor act, simply paraded about the stage in stylish fashions, loosely timed to some music. This was enough to bring her ravishing beauty to the attention of Flo Ziegfeld, who booked her for his 1917 Follies. This was the most successful edition of the Follies to date, garnering still more undeserved attention for Peggy. She was booked, too, for Ziegfeld’s next show Miss 1917, which flopped. Along the way she made several silent films, such as The Bride and  The Woman and the Law. While touring with the Broadway show A Sleepless Night, she met Chicago millionaire James Stanley Joyce. Within a year or so of their marriage she pissed through a million and a half dollars of his money – jewels, furs, cars. Enraged at her profligacy and her infidelity, Joyce filed for bankruptcy in 1920, resulting in over a year’s worth of tabloid publicity for Peggy.

In 1922, she had an affair with Charlie Chaplin. She proved to be too much of a loose cannon for him, but he used aspects of her life as the inspiration for his 1923 film A Woman of Paris.

In the twenties she also had affairs with MGM producer Irving Thalberg and Walter P. Chrysler.  In 1923, she was the star of the very first edition of Earl Carrol’s Vanities. Her first real starring film The Skyrocket (1925) turned out to be one of the hits of the year. In 1924, she married into the Swedish nobility: Count Karl Gustav Morner. The marriage lasted two months.

Her private life was so legendary, Peggy’s name wound up in song lyrics by Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, and three by Cole Porter. In the 1928 show Whoopee, Eddie Cantor sang:

Take Peggy Joyce, with little voice,

She soon became, the nation’s choice.

I tell you, buddy, she’s made a study—

Of makin’ whoopee.

In 1931 she played her last gig at the Palace, a comedy sketch called “Rings on Her Fingers.” In 1933 she topped a bill that included W.C. Fields, Burns and Allen, Rudy Vallee, Baby Rose Marie and a dozen other stars in the Paramount Comedy International House. After this, she drifted out of show business. As her looks began to fade, so did her prospects. Two more husbands came along, but over the years she was forced to gradually sell off the jewels, furs and other valuables that were mostly trophies captured during her third marriage. She died overweight, poor and obscure in 1957, of throat cancer.

To find out more about Peggy Hopkins Joyce and the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever smart, fashionable books are proffered.



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