Archive for sex symbol

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.

Carmel Meyers

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Hollywood (History), Jews/ Show Biz, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Carmel Myers (1899-1980). The beautiful Myers was the daughter of a San Francisco rabbi. The family moved to Los Angeles when she was in her teens. The lore is that her father was one of the advisors on the Biblical scenes in Intolerance (1916) and that was how she broke into pictures, as she is a harem dancer in the film. But she has several film credits preceding Intolerance, though it is still possible that her well-connect father helped provide the entree (although her good looks didn’t hurt any).

From "Ben Hur" -- well, Ben and Jesus won't play with me...I guess I'll just have to make love to this leopard!'

From “Ben Hur” — “Well, Ben and Jesus won’t play with me…I guess I’ll just have to make love to this leopard!”

For all her religious beginnings, she became one of Hollywood’s most famous vamps in the teens and twenties. The titles of many of her films tell the story: The Love Gambler, Slave of Desire, The Dancer of the Nile, The Love Pirate, Poisoned Paradise: The Forbidden Story of Monte Carlo, The Devil’s Circus, The Gay Deceiver. Her stock went even higher when she played the vamp in Ben Hur (1925), attempting to seduce both Jesus and Ben Hur — and let me tell you, those gentlemen must have had ice water in their veins. Her transition to sound was initially successful; she had good parts in Svengali (1931) and The Mad Genius (1931). among many others.  After the mid-30s work was more sporadic, but she did act sporadically through the mid 1970s.

But we mention her today in the context of vaudeville. In 1929 she was one of many top movie stars who trod the stage of the Palace Theatre, singing songs from musicals she had appeared in.

To learn more about vaudevilleconsult 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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A Great New Book About Lili St. Cyr

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, BOOKS & AUTHORS, Burlesk, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Hollywood (History), Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2015 by travsd

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Burlesque being what it is, there aren’t many dancers who came up through its ranks during the classical era who broke through to mainstream fame. Lili St. Cyr was one of the few who did. I first truly became aware of her from watching Irving Klaw’s old burlesque films from the mid 1950s. But she also had some minor parts in several Hollywood films, was on the cover of magazines and was interviewed on television, wound up in Tin Pan Alley song lyrics, and was well known to all the show biz royalty of her day. While she did perform in New York sometimes, her main bases of operation were Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Montreal — people are apt to know her better in all three of those cities than in New York. So it has been a welcome experience learning more about her, for she was absolutely at the top of her field in the 1940s and 1950s (Gypsy Rose Lee had already moved on from burlesque by those years).

Leslie Zemeckis has written a rip-roaring new biography about this burlesque icon. And while it is expected subject matter from the woman responsible for Behind the Burly Q and Bound by Flesh, there are ways in which it feels like the author has struck out into new territory. Those documentary projects had an academic aspect. And while Zemeckis scored some excellent interviews for the new biography (including St. Cyr’s close relatives, ex-husbands, etc) there are ways in which Goddess of Love Incarnate feels novelistic…like the paperback bodice rippers and Hollywood tell-all books my working class mother use to devour (she would have loved this book). Zemeckis uses the omniscient narrator technique, imagining us privy to Lili’s thoughts and private conversations (but with footnotes so we know she didn’t just pluck these out of the air. They have their basis in truth).

But there is no word for it but juicy. I lost count of the men in her life a few pages after she began adulthood. Her lovers included Orson Welles, Yul Brynner, Victor Mature and several other famous gents. She married and divorced a half dozen times. None of her relationships lasted more than about three years. A workaholic, she seemed to give the men in her life something less than second place as a priority. They were around for comfort and company, but ultimately they were replaceable conveniences, no different from the maid who helped her change into her costume. This reflects the shifting nature of her childhood background, which contains some bombshells I won’t spoil for you by revealing here. Two of her sisters were also in burlesque; one of them married Harold Minsky. She and another sister were discovered by nightclub impresario Nils Granlund. (That’s always one of the questions, right? “How did you get into burlesque?” A common answer turns out to be: be beautiful, and some guy will spot you…and ask you to be in burlesque). And burlesque dancers — there’s lots in here about how she developed her classic routines.

And…as a major thread running through the whole book, the sad end we all know is coming: old age, the loss of her looks, poverty, obscurity, and drug addiction.

Speaking of addiction, I plowed straight through this baby like the show biz junkie I am. (I know that was an insensitive transition. I’m sorry, Lili). And I’m probably not the first person to suggest this — the story would make an excellent movie. Buy it now! You know you want to!

Gaby Deslys

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Dance, Frenchy, Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Gaby Deslys (Marie Elise Gabrielle Claire, 1881-1920). Originally from Marseilles, she became the toast of the cabarets and musical halls of Paris in the early years of the 20th century, and one of the world’s first sex symbols. Her stage name was initially Gabrielle Des Lys (Gabrille of the Lillies), later shortened to Gaby Deslys. In 1905, she conquered London as well (largely on the strength of the sensation she caused with her sleeveless gown. In 1909 her notoriety grew when she became the mistress of King Manuel II of Portugal; the scandal resulted in a revolution in his country a few months later.

In 1910, she cut a couple of records in Vienna:

The following year, thanks to the enterprise of Lee Shubert, Deslys conquered America. She appeared in the 1911 Shubert Shows The Revue of Revues and Vera Violetta (with Al Jolson) before undertaking a major vaudeville tour. The balance of her career essentially had her juggling major engagements in the three great show biz capitals of Paris, London and New York. She also had roles in five French and British films between 1914 and 1920. She died in 1920 following surgery for a throat infection.

To learn more about 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.

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And please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Sessue Hayakawa: First Asian-American Movie Star

Posted in Asian, Hollywood (History), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 10, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the remarkable trailblazer Sessue Hayakawa (1889-1973). A member of the Japanese nobility, he was thwarted in his ambition to serve in the military due to an ear injury in his youth. He studied for a couple of years at the University of Chicago, then began acting in Japanese-American theatres in Los Angeles where he was discovered by Thomas Ince in 1914. For the next decade, Hayawaka was a major Hollywood star and sex symbol, starring in such films as Cecil B. DeMille’s The Cheat (1915) He was America’s first Asian American movie star. From 1918 on, he was his own producer as well, releasing his films through his own company Haworth Pictures.

By the mid 20s things turned sour for Hayakawa financially, so he tried new directions. In 1925, he wrote the novel The Bandit Prince, then adapted it into a one act play, then toured the big time Keith and Orpheum circuits with it through 1927. In 1928, he toured again in the Edgar A. Woolf playet “The Man Who Laughed”, co-starring Lucille LortelIn 1931, he appeared in Daughter of the Dragon with Anna Mae Wong, then spent a few years in japan, then in France, making films in both countries.

Staring in 1949, he began to appear on American screens regularly again, in such films as Tokyo Joe (1949), Three Came Home (1950), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), The Geisha Boy (1958), and Swiss Family Robinson (1960). His last film was in 1967.

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

Eugene Sandow: Sex Symbol and Strong Man

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, German, Stars of Vaudeville, Strong Men, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2010 by travsd

Sandow Strongman

Born Freiderich Wilhelm Muller, in 1867, in Koenigsberg, Prussia, Eugene (pronounced “oy-gun”) Sandow was Flo Ziegfeld’s first p.r. masterpiece.

Ziggy billed him as “physically perfect. Acknowledged by anatomists to be the strongest man in the world.” His feats were the stuff of legend. He is said to have been able to juggle with one hand while holding a man in the palm of the other. In his act, he would carry a 350 pound pony across the stage, and lift a 269 pound barbell with one arm.

As if this wasn’t spectacular enough, it was Ziegfeld’s idea to make him into a sex symbol. Ziegeld presented him at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, naked but for a loin cloth, his body powdered to resemble white marble. Rich ladies paid extra money to sneak backstage and feel his muscles after the show. Talk about “dynamic tension!” Ziegfeld later toured Sandow throughout the U.S. in a show entitled “Sandow’s Trocadero Vaudevilles”.

Even Sandow’s death made good physical fitness copy. He died in 1925 when his brain ruptured as he single-handedly pulled a car out of a ditch. (What, no Triple A?) Harry Langdon memorialized him as the character “Zandow” in his 1926  film The Strong Man.

Marginally interesting note: My voice was heard in the Museum of Sex’s inaugural exhibit in 2002 as a carnival barker (or talker) hyping the sex symbol Sandow. I’ll link this entry to that audio track in the days to come, for what earthly purpose I have no idea.

Check out this actual footage of him in action circa 1894, courtesy an Edison film crew:

To learn 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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