Gabrielle Ray, Christmas Witch, 1907

Posted in 00s, Photograph, Postcard, SFW on 24 December 2011 by redwitch1

Apparently, I needed a break. So I took one. “Am taking one” I should say, ’cause I haven’t finished being broken, or breaking, or taking a break, or whatever. But I wanted to start the new year (NB to any non-pagans out there, the real new year has already started) with a pretty witch xmas card of the delightful Gabrielle Ray (1883–1973), “one of the most photographed women in the world” (according to Wikipedia).

Ray performed at leading West End venues, becoming famous across Europe for her youthful beauty and her skill as a dancer. As the bio. on this site explains, “She had a graceful fluidity coupled with an acrobatic prowess that made her dancing nothing less than sensational.” In 1907, Ray played “Frou Frou” in George Edwardes’ adaptation of The Merry Widow, which ran for 778 performances at Daly’s Theatre. Ray’s dance number, complete with handstands and high kicks, performed on a table at Maxim’s held head high by four men, was a show stopper. Probably a heart-stopper too.

This photo is slightly earlier: it is one of a series of photos of Ray as “So-Hie” in the “Chinese” comic opera, See-See at the 
Prince of Wales’s Theatre, London, 20 June 1906.
 The photograph has been altered by the Rotary Photographic Co. Ltd of London, probably in 1907, for issue in its Rotary Photographic Series. You can see others in this series, and find lots of information about Ray, here.

Sadly, as Ray’s career waned “a damaging combination of depression and alchoholism brought about a total breakdown in health”; in 1936 she suffered a total nervous breakdown which led to her remaining institutionalized in a mental hospital for nearly forty years! What an end for a woman with so much going for her.

And with this terrible warning before all of us I hope you’ll forgive me for continuing my break a little longer. I will start posting regularly towards the end of (my) summer. Adieu.

Bell, Book and Candle, 1958

Posted in 50s, Movies, SFW on 7 September 2011 by redwitch1

I was asked four years ago (!) why I hadn’t already done a post on Bell, Book and Candle (1958). I said then that I hadn’t managed to get any press-photos, that screen-caps were difficult to manage and that magazine images were always course-screened: some of which still applies, but I now have a mass of screen-caps, a full set of lobby cards, one press photo and a trailer. I have also just re-watched it so I thought it was time to do a post on this famous film. (However, I will do it in two parts: this one with the lobby cards, the next one the screen caps.)

Since there are numerous online reviews of the film, I really don’t need to go into any great detail about the plot. In a nut-shell: a bored witch (above, right) casts a love-spell, compelling a man (centre) to jilt his bride (left)—who the witch knows—to hook up with her instead; by the time he discovers the deception, breaks the spell and leaves her, she has fallen in love with him and—as a consequence—has lost her powers; later, when he discovers this, they get back together and live happily ever after. Some people would describe it as “a charming romantic comedy.”

Witches will be intrigued and amused by the representation of witchcraft and magic in the film, and delighted to see the stunning Kim Novak as the lead witch (more of which, anon), but the film’s message is ghastly. Novak’s character (Gilliam Holroyd) is young, cool, strong-willed beautiful, rich and independent (she owns the building, and her own business, and travels widely and at will), she is powerful and respected (as a witch), intelligent and knowledgeable in Art and Anthropology, is well-versed in witchcraft—African, South American and Asian. She is also a free-spirit, sexually independent, with exotic and avant-garde tastes and unconventional behaviour. And she has a great Siamese cat/familiar, Pyewackett.

By the end of the film, Gilliam has lost her hip and exotic charm, along with her familiar her powers and the respect of other witches, she gives up her avant-garde tastes, unconventional behaviour and clothes. African masks and statues are replaced by pretty shells and flowers; and her bare feet and simple and stark black and blood-red velvets and silks give way to heels, frilly and fussy pinks and white gauze. And the marker of her transformation from unmarriageable witch to bride is that her husband-to-be (Shep Henderson) makes her cry: and is over-joyed when he sees her cry! It is difficult not to see this as a transparent representation of what society demanded of women in the 50s.


When it is laid out as starkly as this you might expect some indication from the film (or the play it is based on) that this is a horror-story for women, that the only way this morality-tale could be any more bleak is if it went the direction of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962; 1975) or Sucker Punch (2011) by having James Stewart hold Novak down and perform a lobotomy on her with a drill and then stitch her into a chastity belt. (The fact that she performs the metaphoric lobotomy on herself—for “love”—only makes it harder to watch.) But no, the audience is encouraged to rejoice in Novak’s transformation—her romantic comedy make-over—and to see the story as an example of the triumph of unlikely love or of love in adversity. The feisty, naughty witch perishes at the end and the reviewers rejoiced—and rejoice still to judge by the reviews I have seen.


Of course, most of the film is dominated by the feisty, naughty witch, in a variety of stunning costumes and locations, and this hugely-appealing representation of Novak as a young witch is not erased by her anodyne transformation at the end of the film. The viewer goes away remembering how they were mesmerized by Novak humming a spell to her cat in a blood-red and backless velvet gown, or by the sight of her slinking around in a sheer black silk outfit. They don’t remember her crying and defeated, looking like a meringue.

But to return to the witchy-ness: the blurb on the play-script by John Van Druten reads, in part: “He thinks she loves him. How does she explain that while sex is encouraged among her ‘people,’ love is forbidden?” It is hard to know whether the constant circumlocutions in the play/film about “our people” are used to heighten the suspense and comedy, or whether they are representative of some sort of squeamishness about witches and witchcraft. But it is fun to see urban witches represented as a large and diverse (albeit hidden) group.

The action occurs in New York, in Jazz clubs, and in lounge rooms furnished at the acme of 50s taste. The denizens of the Zodiac Club—which offers beatnik Jazz and avant-garde theatre—are a mix of finger-snapping hipsters, elegant young women, suave city-men and formally-attired middle-aged (and older) couples.** We discover that witches “come into their power” at different ages, suggesting both that their powers are natural and that witches—as a group—are just as diverse as non-witches. Also, allthough the witches cast spells there is no hint of diabolism or demonism (though the African masks and totems do suggest a bit of this). We see a city herbalist, who has some distinctly odd-ingredients for sale, but both this and Gillian’s African sculptures smack more of cosmopolitanism than an anti-Christian conspiracy. In other words, the witchcraft in Bell, Book and Candle has been both naturalized and neutralised. Witches are shown to be caring (Gillian looks after her aunt), and non-witches, like Merle Kittridge (jilted by Shep) are shown to be petty-minded and uncaring (Merle made Gillian’s life very unpleasant at school, makes fun of her brother etc).

Although Gillian’s familiar is named “Pyewacket”—a name reported by Matthew Hopkins in The Discovery of Witches (1647)—that is the extent of the genuine or historical witchcraft in the play or film: the incantations and rituals are invented, and have only the most tenuous connections with traditional witchcraft and no connection with emergent Wicca. In fact, the influence all runs the other way: Bell, Book and Candle offered many hints to the writers of Bewitched (troublesome Aunt Queenie for instance became Aunt Clara), which brought the wonderful Samantha into the lounge-rooms of every television viewer of the 60s and 70s, convincing a generation that “sexy witch” was not a contradiction in terms.

* * * * *

Apparently Stewart was self-conscious about the age gap between himself and Novak (he was 50, she was 25), and after this film gave up on romantic roles all together. The large number of men and women in the film who are clearly even older than Stewart seem to have been included in the cast to contrast with romantic lead—to make him appear younger by comparison. And you have to wonder whether Novak’s hair colour—which is closer to grey than blonde—was tinted for the same reason. Van Druten specified that Gillian must be “twenty-seven—small, alert, direct, very attractive” while Shep “anywhere from thirty-five up, masculine and attractive”.

Etchika Choureau, Halloween Witch, 1958

Posted in 50s, Halloween, Photograph, SFW on 16 August 2011 by redwitch1

Some of my readers will have seen this press photo before. It features Etchika Choureau (i.e., Jeannine Verret, b. 1929), a beautiful, green-eyed, sometimes blonde-haired, French actress who had a short career in cinema in the 50s.

According to the French Wikipédia and this film-star postcard blog, her first three films appeared in 1953 (when she was 24), one of which earned her an award for the “Most Promising Actress.” Verret appeared in nine other films until 1957, and then tried to launch a career in Hollywood, appearing in two war movies in 1958 (at 29). Her career came to a halt during her affair with the Crown Prince of Morocco. After Hassan II’s accession to power in 1961—and the end of their affair—she tried unsuccessfully to revive her career, retiring permanently in 1966.

I highlight Verret’s age in 1953 and 1958 because this press photo is undated. I think the photo is more likely to date from 1958 (he first appearance in Hollywood) than 1953 (her first appearance on film)—it is certainly consistent with the Hollywood practice of issuing press photo of new-to-screen starlets—and she looks closer to 29 than 24 (as she is in this picture). The Halloween theme appears to be the clincher, but it is possible that a photo was produced for the US distribution of one of her earlier films, and the costume she is wearing dates to the late 40s/early 50s (see below). Still, on balance, I vote for 1958.

As I mentioned at the start, this photo appears in many places online (Google “Etchika Choureau” + “Halloween” or “witch” and you will see what I mean). This is at least partly because reproductions of the image regularly appear on eBay. Like most reproductions, the quality of the image is low, so I was particularly pleased to get an original so I could post a cleaner image.

Before I could do this post, somebody published online a “colourised” version of the image (below). It appears on Retrogasm’s tumblr page (here), without acknowledgment, but that doesn’t mean they produced the image: lots of my images appear on tumblr, without acknowledgment, on the pages of thieving “feral rats” (see here for an explanation). Whoever did the colourising: nice work! Unfortunately, though, they got the colours wrong.

If you look closely at Verret’s top, you will notice that it is one that has appeared regularly on this blog. It is the same top worn by Penny Edward, Barbara Bates, Martha Vickers and Gale Robbins! (Details here and here.) And, as you can see in the composite image below, when the photo of Penny Edward and Barbara Bates appeared on the cover of V [no. 296] for 4 June 1950, it was coloured red, not blue.

Virginia Curtis, Sparkling Witch, 1954

Posted in 50s, Photograph, SFW on 9 August 2011 by redwitch1

Virginia Curtis (1928–2004) had a brief and modest career on television as a “comedienne” (the feminine and the diminutive of “comedian”—both apply in this case but I have always thought it was a stupid word). Here is the snipe, which is dated 23 October 1954:

Going my Way?

Who wouldn’t accept a Halloween lift from as attractive a witch as Virginia Curtis, featured comedienne on Sid Caesar’s television show (8 to 9 P.M., E.S.T., Mondays).

As Wikipedia explains (here), Caesar’s Hour (1954–57) was “a live, hour-long American sketch comedy television program.” Sid Caesar, the eponymous “comedienne” (diminutive) of this show, describes the sketch series that featured Curtis in Caesar’s Hours: My Life in Comedy, with Love and Laughter (2005), on p. 164ff. The regular sketch was called “The Commuters” and it involved three couples—two of them foils for Caesar—struggling with the challenges of upward mobility. (Yes, that is how he describes it.)

Curtis is mentioned only as one of the five women who played the wife of one of these foils. Unless they were Mormons—which seems unlikely from Caesar’s description—it seems that these five women took it in turns playing the role of a wife, a role so undistinguished that they do not warrant differentiation or, indeed, any further reference in the whole book. I discovered elsewhere that Curtis played the character “Betty Hansen” from 1954–55. Despite the fact that Caesar’s Hour featured the likes of Joan Crawford and Peggy Lee most of the original recordings were destroyed by NBC, so we are unlikely to discover anything more about Curtis’s role.

However, although Curtis had a brief and modest career on television, she is significant on this blog as the first television actor to achieve immortality as a sexy witch in a press photo.

Madge Meredith, Playing Witch, 1946

Posted in 40s, Photogravure, SFW on 2 August 2011 by redwitch1

This Madge Meredith press photo was released while Trail Street—a “solid Randolph Scott Western”—was in production. Since the film was released on 19 February 1947 and the snipe was released for use on All Saint’s Day [aka All Hallows or Hallowmas]—the day following the big night for witches (i.e., All Hallows Eve or Halloween)—then I am assuming that this photo was circulated in November 1946 . The full snipe reads:

Bewitchin’ is the word for the well-dressed woman come All Saint’s Day. In proof—Madge Meredith all dressed up in a witch’s brew of a hat specially concocted by Designer Edward Stevenson, who threw into the pot a yard or so of night-black gaberdine, cooked it up into a tall, tall crown with a swoop of a brim (the better for riding whirlwinds) then added an old broomstick tipped with broomstraw yellow feathers. Madge, to add to the gaiety of the seasons, adds joak-o-lantern [sic] earrings. When she is not playing witch, Madge is engaged in playing a co-starring role in RKO Radio’s “Trail Street”

Here are the “joak-o-lantern earrings”:

And here is a broom-shaped hat pin. Or rather, a broom-shaped hat pin that has been painted onto the photo. (What this looks like to me, is a standard artist’s paint brush being used as a hat pin that has been “touched up” to look more like a witch’s broom).

I did a post in February of a 1922 postcard which included a “broom-shaped hat-pin thing”, and another in March of a 1912 postcard. I said in the first post that I had a few of these, and that I would post them all, and now I have! So, here they are:

[broom-shaped hat-pins from 1912, 1922, 1946]

Ann Miller, Captivating Witch, 1949

Posted in 40s, Photograph, SFW on 23 July 2011 by redwitch1

The two pictures of Ann Miller in this post are from a series of four, listed (on the snipe) with the serial numbers “3359, 3360, 3361, 3362.” The first picture here is an original, the second is a reprint, and I am not sure what the appropriate serial numbers are for each of them. The snipe on my original photo reads:

The Atomic Age of Witchery … Ann Miller is the captivating Halloween Miss who has pumpkins and black cats for her mascots in this beauty study. The young dancing star, under long-term contract to Metro-Goldwyn–Mayer will soon be seen in the techicolor musical “On the Town,” in which she shares top billing with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, Jules Munshin and Vera-Ellen. The musical was directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen and produced by Arthur Freed.

If you look at the Wikipedia and Imdb entries for Ann Miller, you will find that she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was inducted into the International Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2004: that is, she was very talented.

Miller started young (at 14, pretending to be 18), could tap at an extraordinary speed (she was considered a child dance prodigy), wore costumes that emphasized her lithe figure and long dancer’s legs (her measurements were, apparently, 35-22-34), was a famous for her appearances on Broadway as in Hollywood films, and married three times (unhappily).

She said that she difficulty maintaining relationships with men due to her being an Egyptian queen in a past life (Queen Hathshepsut) and having been accustomed to executing any men who displeased her. This may have been wishful thinking, because she seems to have married arseholes.

One, a piece of scum who does not deserve to be memorialised with a name, beat Miller up when she was nine months pregnant, throwing her down a flight of stairs and breaking her back. Miller had to give birth with a broken back and auditioned for Easter Parade (1948) in a steel back brace!

This press photo dates from a few years later, October 1949 I think, when Miller was 26, though the film it mentions as have been directed (past tense) by Kelly and Stanley Donen, On the Town, did not have its premiere until 8 December 1949 in New York.

Naturlich Harz sticker, 1980?

Posted in 2000+, NSFW, Photograph, Stickers on 17 July 2011 by redwitch1

Actually, I have no real idea when this sticker was printed and sold or given away [now updated, see below ], but I believe the caption translates as “Naturally, Harz.”

The caption might seem a little cryptic, unless you imagine a sticker with a women wearing nothing but a ten-gallon hat, with the caption “Naturally Texas.” That is because the witch is from the Harz mountains naturally (i.e., obviously), she is a witch and witches congregate on The Brocken in the Harz mountains, just as ten-gallon hats breed on the heads of Texans. Or something.

The witch is also as naked. That is, she is “naked as nature intended”—she is a natural beauty—and she is presented in her natural state (remember that nudists were also called—and may still be called—naturists [not naturalists, though they may be naturalists too].)

The Brocken, and large parts of the Harz mountains for all I know, sells itself as a tourist destination because it is an area of natural beauty, like a nature reserve or national or state park. So, the caption seems to also be both a claim (the Harz mountains is an area of natural beauty) and an invitation (“Come to the Harz Mountains to enjoy nature”).

Combine these three and you see that we should all go to the Harz mountains, to see nature and naked witches, or to enjoy nature and naked witches. Or something. I swear I am not making this up!

[UPDATE 18 July 2011: As Twixraider comments, the typography, photography, makeup and poor colour separation suggest a date earlier than 2000—which is the date given to it by the person I bought it from. I have chosen the mid-point of "the late 1970's or early 1980's": thanks Twix!]

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