Archive for the 50s Category

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.

Ron Turner Witches, 1959, and Pedigree Books

Posted in 50s, Book, Painting, SFW on 17 April 2010 by redwitch1

The “wonderfully lurid cover” of this book masks the serious nature of the text, as the Lilly Library notes (here). So does the advertising copy: “Weird Rites of the Middle Ages and the Black Mass.” The artists is—apparently—Ron Turner (1922–98), but no sources are cited for this on Wikipedia.

As for the date, almost everyone gives the original copyright date, 1957, which is actually the publication date for the first edition of the book (London: Chatto & Windus, 1957). (Which has a very boring cover by Paul Hogarth.) But this book clearly came out after the Pedigree edition of Jules Michelet, Satanism and Witchcraft: A Study in Medieval Superstition—which was issued in May 1959—because Michelet’s Satanism and Witchcraft is advertised on the back of this edition of Hole’s Mirror of Witchcraft (below).

The Pedigree reprint of Gerald Gardner Witchcraft Today was first published in 1960 and it is not mentioned on Hole’s Mirror of Witchcraft, so perhaps the latter dates from late 1959 (between Michelet’s Satanism and Witchcraft of May 1959 and Gardner’s Witchcraft Today of 1960).

It certainly must be at least a few years later than 1957. As it states on the rear cover: “This is an original PEDIGREE BOOKS reprint, Complete and Unabridged, of a book hitherto available only in full cloth-bound form and priced at 21s. net.” As you can see, this Pedigree Books paperback is only 3s 6d. I can’t see the publishers licensing a reprint until their ugly hardcover had sold out.

Looking around, I could not find any copies of this edition in any library on Copac or Worldcat (each of which is a kind-of Google for books held in major libraries around the world) and only three copies for sale via AddAll and eBay: none provide any useful details about the artwork, the date of publication etc.

I must say I was really surprised that there wasn’t a list of Pedigree Books publications online somewhere. They all have such outrageous covers that someone must be collecting them! I only have the three I mentioned—the cover to Mirror of Witchcraft is the only one with sexy witches—but I have seen three others. The lists is:

[1] Gerald B. Gardner, Witchcraft Today (London: Rider, 1954; repr. Pedigree Books, 1960). ¶ Cover art by S. R. Boldero. For more on S. R. Boldero, see here.

[2] Christine Hole, Mirror of Witchcraft (London: Chatto & Windus, 1957; repr. London: Pedigree Books, n.d. [1959?]). ¶ Cover art by Ron Turner.

[3] Donald McCormick, The Hellfire Club (London: Jarrold, 1958; repr. Pedigree, no date). ¶ Details here.

[4] Jules Michelet, Satanism and Witchcraft: A Study in Medieval Superstition, trans. A. R. Allinson (Paris: Carrington, 1904; repr. London: Pedigree Books, May 1959). ¶ Reprinted July 1960. Cover art by S. R. Boldero.

[5] H. T. F. Rhodes, The Satanic Mass (London: Rider, 1954; repr. Pedigree Books, 1957). ¶ Cover art by Ron Turner.

[6] Gerald Verner, ed., Prince of Darkness (London: Rider, 1946; repr. Pedigree Books, 1960). ¶ Cover art by S. R. Boldero

Seven Halloween Hats, ca. 1955

Posted in 50s, Costumes, Halloween, SFW on 20 February 2010 by redwitch1

I did my first post on this series of hats on 25 August 2006, did a second on 21 January 2007 (by which time I had three hats) and in April of last year I wrote that “I now have seven hats in this series … I suspect there were eight in all, so I am holding off on doing the post until I find the missing hat.”

Well, now I am not so sure there are actually eight hats in the series so I have decided to “post, and be damned.” My new-found skepticism is partly the result of finding this vast collection of Halloweeniana on Flickr, which contains five hats from my series, followed by a sixth hat (below) that I don’t have and which had me wondering in July of last year whether it could be my long-lost eighth hat.

Then, only a few weeks back, I found the same hat in Claire M. Lavin, Timeless Halloween Collectibles, 1920–1949: A Halloween Reference Book From The Beistle Company Archive With Price Guide (2005), 109. It is from the “Clown Hat” series [Stock no. 1749] originally released in 1940.

Looking closely at Lavin’s entry I realised (1) this was not my long-lost eighth hat and (2) there were only five designs in the “Clown Hat” series—just as there are five in the 1938 “Clown Hat” series [Stock no. 1731] (on p. 116)—so it is possible that only an odd-number of hats were ever released in my series too.

Another thing that occurred to me while looking at the six hats on the Flickr set, and the various “Clown Hat” series in Lavin’s book, is that it quite likely that my series was issued by the Beistle Company. I can only assume that it was issued after 1949—since it does not feature in Lavin’s book—but I had dated it from “the late 50s” on stylistic grounds anyway. Of course, the only way to confirm my suspicion would be to visit the Beistle archives, which may take some time to organise!

Unfortunately, Mark B. Ledenbach, who had a look at one of the hats for me back in 2006, was confident that it isn’t the handiwork of “Beistle or Dennison and probably isn’t Whitney or Gibson either,” suggesting that “it must be from one of the countless small firms supplying the Halloween market.” It is with the greatest reluctance that I would differ in opinion from an expert such as Mark, which is why it has taken more than three years, not just to collect the hats, but to come to this conclusion.

One final thing to note, if this series is from Beistle, then it is likely to be another “Clown Hat” series. I have said before just how similar the home-made clown and witchy costumes were in the first decade of the the twentieth century, and that one key difference is the hat. Witches hats do sometimes have a bushy/pom-pom top, as my last post showed (what an amazing coincidence that I just happened to do a post on the Columbia Pictures/Dusty Anderson/Adele Jergens chorus girl outfit last week!) but they are uncommon and Clown hats usually have more than one pom-pom.

There are also usually other features, like a neck-ruffle and an all-in-one loose-fitting Pierrot-gown, which help to separate the two. But, as I have showed twice before (in April 2008 and again during last Halloween (here), sometimes you do get a mixture.

Anyway, all of this is mere background to my main question: were Beistle’s “Clown Hats” really (only?) intended for Halloween Clowns (i.e., people who wore a clown costume on Halloween)? I have assumed that this series of hats was intended for women dressed as witches, as well as actually being hats that feature witches: a kind of symbolic tautology, like naming your dog “dog” or your car “car.”

And it has amused me no end thinking about this symbolic tautology, it would be like an accountant wearing a tie depicting accountants, a fireman wearing a protective suit covered in pictures of firemen rescuing people and putting out fires, or a politician wearing a shirt with little silhouettes of them kissing babies, talking to the press, emptying your wallet, taking bribes, and having sex with prostitutes.

Of course, it is scarcely less amusing to have a clown wearing a picture of a witch: they really aren’t supposed to be very funny, are they? And a happy or a smiling witch should really be quite alarming (“oh goody, your baby is nearly ready to eat!”), but perhaps a happy sexy witch is another matter altogether. Anyway, it would make more sense for them to have pictures of little bicycles and exploding cigars, no? Also, would a witch wear a hat depicting a clown? I’ve never seen one. Bats, Cats, Moons—all the gothic and macabre cliches in fact—yes, but clowns? It is all very silly. But perhaps I just need to get some more sleep…

Bronze Witch, ca. 1950

Posted in 50s, Figurine, SFW on 21 November 2009 by redwitch1

I love this little bronze sculpture of a young witch flying on her broom, she seems so happy! She also looks very Art Nouveau-ish, with her swirling fall of hair and her arching back.

I have seen small Nouveau bronzes like this before—of witches too—but they are inevitably signed, more carefully sculptured and finely detailed. I know that the Nouveau-style remained popular for medals and coins right through Art Deco and Modernism, but the later work in this style is usually pretty obvious. It is debased as well as derivative, it is a little less sharply defined and the composition is usually a little clichéd.

Despite my affection for this figurine, I suspect it is not from the Nouveau period (ca. 1895–1910). How much later is a guess, but the patina on the bronze suggests 50s to me. For the record, the bronze is 108mm tall, 104mm wide and 118mm from the tip of the broomstick to the back of the broom bristles; the circular base is 48mm in diameter. The base is hollow-cast and has a short cross-bar bracing the sides. Probably this enabled the bronze to be secured to a now-lost base.

When I first saw this bronze I wondered—given the slightly crude sculpting and aerodynamic shape—whether it might be a hood ornament or car mascot, but the base seems too small and I can’t find any record of a witchy hood ornament. I guess it might be a novelty or commissioned piece, but I am more inclined to think it is a work of art or art object.

31 Days of Halloween-Day 24–and more magazines

Posted in 50s, Halloween, Halloween Countdown, Magazine, Photograph, SFW on 24 October 2009 by redwitch1

While I agree with apples, that the main reason why magazine cover art from before the 70s is generally better than more recent work is because photography replaced commercial artwork about that time, here is one of many exceptions to that rule.

The model is Myrna Hansen, the composition—entitled “Be-Witching Hour”—was published by the Sunday Mirror, 25 October 1953.

I have other photographic covers, even better, and going back as far as the 20s, which suggest that photography alone is not responsible for the failure of more recent covers to match the earlier standards. I also have more recent covers, that employ commercial artwork, that are nowhere near as good as this earlier work. Why is not clear, but it is a story for another day anyway.

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