Archive for the 20s Category

The Bewitched Leila Hyams, 1928

Posted in 20s, Halloween, Photograph, SFW on 21 May 2011 by redwitch1

Leila Hyams (1905–77) is best known today for her role as the kind-hearted circus performer in Freaks (1932), the wronged woman in Red-Headed Woman (1932) and the heroine in Island of Lost Souls (1933).

In her early career she “was cast in a string of supporting roles, where she was required to do very little but smile and look pretty” (as Wikipedia puts it), but by 1928 she was playing starring roles. Hyams worked for MGM from their first talkie release, Alias Jimmy Valentine (15 November 1928) and The Thirteenth Chair (19 October 1929) to Red-Headed Woman (25 June 1932). This photo was probably from early in that period (for The Thirteenth Chair perhaps).

The press snipe on the verso of this press photo reads

What A Predicament On Halloween!!

Leila Hyams, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer featured player, finds herself bewitched on the eve of spooks and boglins, unable to move from the stocks a mean old witch has placed her in.

Whoever wrote this snipe was an imbecile. Hyams, wearing a sort-of witch outfit, a very close-fitting and revealing black witch outfit, is in the stocks. So far, so good. As a witch, we might imagine her being put into the stocks by a mob waving flaming-torches and pitch forks. Or a mean old preacher-man perhaps. But why would an old witch put her in the stocks. And if the said “mean old witch” was worth her cauldron and could bewitch Hyams, WTF would she need to use stocks to keep her in place!

Moving right along, you can see below the very-polite Clarence Sinclair Bull (1896–1979) has requested due credit for this photo. I am happy to oblige.

Bull was one of the great portrait photographers who worked for the movie studios during the Golden Age of Hollywood. He was head of the MGM stills department for nearly forty years and is credited with “virtually invent[ing] celebrity portraiture as we know it today” (brief bio here, cited by Wikipedia). This is not one of his best efforts, and seems particularly weak when compared to last-week’s photo of June Collyer by Eugene Richee, which was from the same period, but I am still quite happy to have it!

More Dorothy Dix, 1928

Posted in 20s, Halloween, Photograph, Pin-up, SFW on 23 April 2011 by redwitch1

This is the second Halloween-themed press photo I have of Dorothy Dix, which was taken in 1928.

In this photo Dix is wearing the same daring two-tone silk outfit, and showing off a lot of skin, baring almost every square inch of her lovely arms and legs. Also, once again, Dix, carrying a JOL, has a veil billowing out behind her (the end of which she is standing on). And she has been photographed standing in front of a bare wall casting what is supposed to be an eerie shadow.

The classic 20s spooky Halloween photo is below. The photo on on the left is from flickr, where the model is not identified. The photo on the right is a 2010 MichellexStar homage featuring Sabina Kelley.

In 2010, the model in the original photo was identified as Clara Bow, which is possible, but the photo is quite different from the Clara Bow Halloween photos I have seen elsewhere (gathered here), so I am a little skeptical.

Anyway, as you can see, the shadow play in both Dorothy Dix photos (and in the Colleen Moore photo I posted a few weeks back) is nowhere near as sophisticated as in the Clara Bow(?) photo above, but using shadows like this does seem to have been typical of the period.

Daring Dorothy Dix, Sexy Witch, 1928

Posted in 20s, Halloween, Movies, Photograph on 16 April 2011 by redwitch1

This is one of two press photos I have of Dorothy Dix (1908–2000), who was a “Hal Roach comedy player.” I know this because blind stamped on this photo is “Hal Roach * Studios Photo *” and typed on the back is the shout:

Dorothy Dix, Hal Roach comedy player, is the personification of the Spirit of Halloween. Starr, Sept 18, ’28

Penciled on the back of the second photo is “Dorothy Dix, Hal Roach M. S. M. Comedies.” I haven’t been able to discover who or what “M. S. M. Comedies” is, but I am assuming MSM does not stand for M[ust] S[ee] M[ovies]!

Dix’s first appearance in film was in a short, silent western, called A Fighting Tenderfoot, which was released on 29 December 1928. This photo is dated 18 September 1928, a month before the release of Dix’s first film. I said last week that press photos were used to promote new talent and this is a perfect example, where the photos were released to drum up interest in someone new.

Dix appeared in another seventeen films, nine shorts and four without appearing in the credits. So, not exactly the stellar career that Colleen Moore enjoyed, but she did appear in Dante’s Inferno (1935), which is pretty cool. And this photo is pretty cool too. Like last week’s photo of Moore, the props and backdrop are less interesting than the costume and the model. The floor and wall are bare, Dix holds a large JOL in her right hand and a pole(?) with a cardboard cut-out scaredy cat attached to it, in her left (detail below). The pole only appears in this photo, so I can’t tell if this is actually a broomstick, with the brush out of frame.

Like Moore, Dix has a veil draped behind her, but it is billowing out beside her, as it would if she were flying. (Which, of course, makes no sense since she is standing upright and has nothing to fly on …). Dix’s outfit is a lot more daring than Moore’s. Rather than a neck-to-toe dress, Dix is bearing her arms, legs, and her top has a plunging v-shaped neckline with a separate silk collar. Her daring silk shorts are two-coloured, as is her top—like these outfits from 1949.

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I think the outfit is probably orange and black, though the 1949 outfit worn by Penny Edward and Barbara Bates was coloured red and white when it was printed in V. (See below. The tone of the Dix photos looks closer to orange than white and I am not convinced the colouring of the Edward and Bates photo is original.)

Colleen Moore, 1920

Posted in 20s, Photograph, SFW on 9 April 2011 by redwitch1

As you can see, it is a photo of Colleen Moore [i.e., Kathleen Morrison] (1899–1988) which has been “Distributed by First National Pictures”.

Morrison appeared in over sixty films, most between 1917 and 1934, nineteen of which were distributed by First National. The First National films date from 1920 to 1929. Press photos were used by studios to promote new starts, so it is likely this photo was released in 1920. And, since Morrison was the top box-office star in 1927, First National were hardly likely to be promoting her in this way by the mid-20s. So, if it isn’t 1920 it could only be a few years later at most.

The date is important because almost all of the sexy witch press photos I have—or that I have seen—date from the 30s, 40s and 50s, mostly the 40s. The few I have see from the 20s (Clara Bow, Dorothy Dix, Leila Hyams) are from late in the decade. So, this is the earliest press photo by a long shot. It would be nice to find the image used in a magazine to confirm the date.

The outfit, and the styling of the photo, are interesting. Morrison wears a traditional pointed hat with a veil, which is tied at the front and drapes behind. The silk dress has a close-buttoned bodice with a deep point and sleeves to the elbow; the skirt is long, with the tunic open at the front, and bunched up on the sides.

Appliquéd to the skirt are a scaredy cat, a devil and a JOL. Morrison wears silk stockings and elegant lace-up, open-work, high-heel shoes; she holds a broom behind her in both hands, with one leg raised, as if riding the broom side-saddle. Strong side-lighting casts a deep profile-shadow. A white spot on the wall suggests a moon, but the props and backdrop are pretty crude compared to the dress.

Many of the details in this outfit—the deep pointed bodice, mid-length sleeves, bunched up skirt, the appliqué—are indebted to the costumes described by Ardern Holt in six editions of his book Fancy Dresses Described; Or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls (1879–1895).

My copy of the 6th edition of Holt has advertisements dated to 1901, suggesting that this hugely popular book was still being sold in 1901 and there is a pretty good chance that it sat on the shelves of the costume department of every theatre and film studio for many decades afterwards.

A Jolly Good Witch, 1922

Posted in 20s, chromolithograph, Halloween, Postcard, SFW on 21 February 2011 by redwitch1

The caption on this “Halloween Greetings” postcard is “Wishing you a jolly good time.” There is no publisher credited on the verso, just a series number (“Halloween Series No. 42”) and the statement “Made in U.S.A.”—which is likely to be untrue. J. L. Mashburn estimates that “at least ninety percent of all Halloween cards and almost all of the 1900–1915 era, were printed in Germany by the great German lithographers, and were done exclusively for the American trade” (Fantasy Postcards: A Comprehensive Reference (1996), 235).

A couple of specialists claim that this card was printed by E. Nash Co. of New York, but as I have explained previously, Nash was only in business from 1908–10 and “since Nash cards are highly sought after and expensive, dealers have a vested interest in attributing anonymous cards to Nash, even ones postmarked over a decade later!” The seller of this card went further and claimed that that the art is a “Schmucker-style lady-witch”—which rivals Arnie’s English-is-not-my-first-language effort: “Don’t be economic girlie men.”

What I can tell you is that Thelma posted this card from Wolfeboro, NH to Mr P. Nelson in East Wolfeboro on the afternoon of 30 October 1922. I can also tell you that Thelma had excellent taste in halloween postcards, because—as you can see—the vignette on this card is stunning.

One thing to note about the artwork is the broom-shaped hat-pin thing tucked into the hat-band. I have seen this in a few places now, but it seems that I have not published any of them yet, so you’ll just have to take my word for it: this is regular theme in witchy images! [see update below]

Regular visitors to this blog will, however, have seen the beauty-with-a-hag-mask theme before (or, as I like to think of it, the “OMG the hag is a hottie” theme). Two of the best examples of this are this one from 1949, where a woman, on her way to a Halloween fancy dress ball, has a hag mask hanging on her wrist, and this stunner from 1964, depicting a naked witch, bathing in her cauldron, who has taken off and hung up her hag mask—along with the rest of her clothes.

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Because I was so taken with this image, I photoshopped the caption away and re-oriented the image. I am not sure why I do these things, some images just cry out for it …

[UPDATE 2 August 2011: I have now posted these. See here and here (which includes an image of all three broom-shaped hat-pins together)]

Joan Crawford, A Modern Witch, 1927

Posted in 20s, Halloween, Magazine, Photograph, SFW on 20 October 2010 by redwitch1

Yes, the Joan Crawford, one of Hollywood’s most prominent movie stars and one of the highest paid women in the United States in the 20s; and yes 29 October 1927, when she was just 22. As Wikipedia explains, Crawford signed with MGM in 1925 (at 20), but she was frustrated by the parts offered to her, so she “began a campaign of self-publicity.” By the end of the 1920s she was known across the States. This is an example of Crawford’s, successful, “campaign of self-publicity.”

Here she appears on the cover of the Mid Week Pictorial 26:10 (week ending 29 October 1927), which was published by the New York Times Company, with this comprehensive caption:

A Modern Witch of Hallowe’en: She Uses a Parachute to Make a Forced Descent After Losing Her Grip on the Broom Which Witches Ride Through the Air. For the Witch of 1927 Is the Resourceful Joan Crawford, Metro-Goldwy-Mayer Movie Star, and She Knows Her Parachutes.

Did you miss any of that? Witches ride brooms through the air … resourceful Joan lost her grip … forced descent … knows her parachutes … Got it. I guess the caption is this long because it is all the explanation you get: there is no article inside. The image is just eye-candy, designed to encourage cashed-up and care-free Americans to reach into their pockets. (The Great Depression was a few years into the future. Think 2006.)

The modern Parachute was pretty new technology in 1927. According to Wikipedia (again): backpack style parachutes were developed in 1911, the German air service started using them in 1918; soft packing of parachutes started in 1924 and in 1927, several countries started experimenting with using parachutes to drop soldiers behind enemy lines.

I mention this because it is amazing how often images of witches pop up with some piece of new technology, like vacuum cleaners instead of brooms (here), in a 1923-image also captioned “A Modern Witch.”

As I have said before

This juxtaposition of “olde worlde” witches with new technology was particularly common in Swedish Easter Witch postcards, in fact it constituted an entire genre unto itself: brooms with propellors or rockets, witches flying in aeroplanes, or jets, racing trains and cars, using radios, re-fuelling in cloud-top petrol(?) stations, getting caught up in telegraph wires, or simply resting on their way to the sabbat by perching on top of the poles.

Not being a shrink, I can’t really explain why the juxtaposition of “olde worlde” witches with new world technology is so popular. No doubt it is mostly self-congratulatory: a not-very subtle pat on our own backs: “Gosh, aren’t we clever? Look at all the new-fangled things we have invented!”—with a touch of—”And weren’t they a pack of god-forsaken ignoramuses in the past! They believed in witches!” So, in as much as it is self-congratulatory, it is simultaneously poking fun at the belief in witches and witchcraft. Beyond that, who knows?

As for the twenty-two-year-old Ms Crawford, I hope you’ll agree that she is one of sexy witches. It is a shame my copy of the Mid Week Pictorial is so ratty, but how many people have seen it at all in the last eighty-three years? Not many I reckon. Which is a shame, because I think Ms Crawford, her familiar (the cat) and this mournful owl are all very cute.

Gibson Witch and Owl, ca. 1925

Posted in 20s, Halloween, Lithograph, SFW, Tally Card on 12 June 2010 by redwitch1

This is my fourth Gibson Halloween Tally Card, this one being much like the first one I did (this one), in that it is a reasonably simple image focussing just on the face our witch. In this case though we also have an owl illuminated by a full (orange) moon: very nice.

The composition is very similar to the Halloween diecut witch (below) that was produced by Dennison (see my post here).

Not only do both witches have an owl at their shoulder, sitting on a bare branch, illuminated by a full moon, but both witches have the ruffled collar, which I have argued before is a vestige of the clown outfit that was so similar to witchy outfits in the 1910s and into the very early 1920s. The Dennison witch is a bit prettier but …

I think this is the better owl though, the Dennison owl looks a little cross-eyed!

On the back, as you can see, we have the usual spaces to record ten rounds of scores, the name of the players, the table and couple numbers. And in writing at the bottom: “A Gibson Product Made in U.S.A.”

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I have now done posts on eight tally cards from the 20s (see my page about tally cards here), which is where I will pause for now. Next week will mark the end of my fourth year blogging. I will try to find something appropriate to mark the occasion.


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