Thursday, January 28, 2010

Vintage Books {Fate Keeps On Happening}

Published posthumously, Fate Keeps On Happening is a collection of Miss Loos' essays, historical snippets and short stories which can be neatly divided into five parts.

Part One: Have you ever wondered what happened to Lorelei Lee after GPB? Well, she did marry Henry Spoffard and became a wealthy society wife as a result. Her autobiography also sold like hot cakes, giving her an independent income too. When she got bored with living in Philadelphia, she got divorced, dragged Dorothy on another European tour and met a wealthy car man from Detroit and married him. However, Lorelei is still able to get what she wants from a man, such as a $1500 bracelet from a gentleman, who doesn't speak English, during a spur of the moment trip to Cuba. In these later writings, one can also see how Lorelei has matured as an authoress, being able to stick to one subject in her essays and tell of her humourous adventures into Hollywood and the publishing world as well as her own view of the history of the Jazz Age, prohibition and blondes.

Part Two: Miss Loos' own tale of how she came upon the idea to write GBP and how it's resulting fame effected both herself and the world at large. As the first American writer to directly make fun of sex and as a writer during the Roaring Twenties and the Lost Generation of very witty and creative writers, these essays are extremely informative, not only as an insight as to how a novel is born, but are also immensely significant to the history of literature. I can think of no other author who has documented their own personnel history of their most popular work. But if anyone can think of one, could you please send me a note as I would like to read it.

Part Three: Mixed in throughout the book are Miss Loos' personnel reflections and anecdotes of her famous and non-famous friends. Especially charming are her two tales of Colette and AH at the time of when she was adapting Gigi for the Broadway stage and her account of the oft repeated story of how Colette spotted AH in the hotel lobby and announced "That is my Gigi!" and Miss Loos' own role in interviewing AH before she accepted the role that made her famous. There is also included her own version of the lives of Jean Harlow and Louise Brooks, which I found much more personnel than the David Stenn and Barry Paris biographies of the two icons. My own favourites are her stories of her close friend Paulette Goddard and how she would buy diamonds whenever the stock market took a dip (which made her financially secure as a result) and of her friendship with the fabulous Tallulah, whom she met as she was beginning her career in the lobby of the Algonquin when she was sixteen.

Part Four: These are mostly autobiographical sketches throughout the book, however some are also more of her opinion essays. These were evidentially written in her later years and were previously unpublished for the most part. Her opinions are mostly reflections on the changes in fashion, dancing and morals that came about during the Sixties. Although I may not agree with her opinions on the decline in morals and the consequences that they had on relationships, (and neither will you) I do however agree with the arguments that she gives in order to justify her "old-fashioned" opinions. I love how viciously she uses her wit in order to critique the sloppy fashions worn by teenagers in the Seventies (baggy jeans and whatnot) and you'll love how she attacks the discotheque for ruining the point of dancing in pairs. Her autobiographical essays are fantastic as the tell of her life as a child actor in California before the First World War, which included playing the lead opposite the young Harold Lloyd and how she first got into writing scenarios for D.W. Griffith at the age of twelve. Miss Loos did truly lead a fascinating life and knew some really terrific characters, who threw some dinner parties that will never be repeated (there are quite a few of those stories)

Part Five: Is a novella published in 1926 in Harper's Bazaar entitled Why Girls Go South, about a debutante named Judy Revell, who's family has run up quite a lot of bills and has decided that she no longer wants to be in dull family who is stuck in the past and has decided to become a flapper. It's slightly similar to some of Fitzgerald's short stories, only much funnier and Lorelei Lee does make a brief appearance. But I shan't tell you anymore then that.

Well, that's it for Anita Loos month. Any requests for February's literary selections?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Daily Outfit

Now that January is almost over, (which I can't believe) I have decided that next month, the theme of Cinema Tuesdays shall be James Bond Parodies. And by James Bond, I of course mean Sir Sean Connery's era. Is there any other Bond? I think not. The sixties were a great time for spy films, with the Cold War being at it's height, the Space Race (hey, remember when we used to go to the Moon? We should do that again) and the big red button came this close to being pushed. If anyone would like me to talk about the non-Bond '60's films, just let me know. And since my classes at university have been cancelled for two weeks and I'll have some time on my hands, so I'll also delve into television spy shows from the sixties as well. Because the vintage community should not just be interested in classic films and older jazz and pop music, we should also watch more classic television. Shows may have had a smaller budget, but they did have more creativity, better plots, a better wardrobe and they are funner to watch.

Cardigan: gift, not handmade though
Shirt: thrifted
Skirt: Plum
Belt: thrifted
Tights: Hue
Shoes: The Bay

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Daily Outfit

I feel like I want to apologize for living in the only part of the Western Hemisphere for having had a mild and warm (8 Celsius today) winter this year (we did get our huge blizzard last winter but no one else did). If it helps, I can tell you that if it keeps being so warm then the snow on top of the mountains will start melting before the economic disaster Olympics start.

Cardigan: vintage
Shirt: thrifted
Skirt: vintage
Tights: Hue
Shoes: The Bay

Cinema Tuesdays {Easy Living}

From 1937, it's a screwball comedy staring that wonderful comedianne Jean Arthur (she's also my favourite actress). I took 300 screen shots while watching this, not because of Miss Arthur's extensive wardrobe (she only wears three dresses and a pair of pyjammas) but because of it's lavish sets and the fact that the film is all about a fur coat. It's also one of the most quick witted of all screwballs, mostly because this fellow wrote it before he started directing too:
Now, Mrs. Ball has done a very silly thing. She has bought a non-refundable $58,000 sable coat without telling Mr. Ball first. He gets quite upset and, naturally, throws the coat off of the roof.
Wouldn't you just kill for this coat closet? It reminds me of Lana Turner's closet in Ziegfeld Girl (or is that the other way round), only with more furs.

The coat just happens to land on Jean Arthur while she's riding the bus to work and it ruins her hat.
Being the nice girl that she is, she gets off the bus and walks up and down Park Avenue, trying to return it.
Mr. Ball meets her and tells Jean Arthur that she's stupid for not accepting a free gift. He then gives her the coat and takes her to a hat shop and buys her a matching sable hat.
This doesn't go well when she arrives late to work with an expensive fur coat. After all, there's only one reason why a girl is suddenly able to afford a fur coat.

They don't believe her story of a coat landing on top of her and she if fired just before pay day.

Meanwhile, the hat shop just happens to be inside of the lobby of the Hotel Louis. The hat seller just happens to mention to Louis that the banker Mr. Ball has a new mistress. Louis, since he's three years behind on three different mortgages, which he owes to Mr. Ball who will foreclose in a week. Louis decides that the best way to stay afloat is to have Jean Arthur move into the hotel.
And a good thing too, as Jean Arthur was breaking into her piggy bank.
So, Louis gives her the Imperial Suite for a dollar a night. It has two bedrooms, a kitchen and five receiving rooms (which makes my two and a half receiving rooms seem rather inadequate). Of course, decorum wont permit him to directly say why she's there, so Jean Arthur thinks that she's been hired to spread a word-of-mouth campaign to promote the Hotel Louis.
Since she is only allowed breakfast at the hotel, she goes off in search of dinner. At the automat, she, naturally, meets Ray Milland who's playing Mr. Ball jr. going throught that rich kid storm out of the house and get a minimum wage job. Naturally.
They hit it off right away and cause a food fight and have Ray Milland fired.
Look, early pre-Orwell CCTV.
After they leave the automat, Jean Arthur takes him back to the hotel to shows that she wasn't kidding.
Maybe he can figure out how to work the new bath system.
Or not.
The hat seller then turns up to give her some free stuff.
I still can't believe that Jean Arthur was 37 when she made this film.
How to get the Code (that is the one foot on the floor rule): put the couple on the couch instead of the bed.
Louis leeks the story to the press and people crowd into his lobby in order to get a glimpse or to at least say that they were there.
Jean Arthur is then inundated with phone calls offering her free stuff and seeking endorsement.

Ray Milland also finds some more offerings when he opens the suite door to get the paper.

"Do you worry to much? See the Professional Listener for $1.50 a day." Say, I could do that, I wonder if that offer is still available
The only people not to see that gossip item are Jean Arthur and Mr. Ball.

Jean Arthur also causes an inadvertent by telling some nutbar in the hall that steel would go down. It's so serious that Mr. Ball has to cal Mr. whatshisface out of the barber shop to deal with it.
Jean Arthur however, has made a lot of money throught the stock market and celebrates by going to a pet store.
The Balls and Jean Arthur do find out what the mix up his and she is kicked out of the Hotel Louise as a result of not being a mistress.
But don't worry, it has a funny, happy ending.

Here's the famous piggy bank scene:

Monday, January 25, 2010

I Want To Dress Like Anna Karina

Over the past year in blogland, I've noticed how much people seem to admire Anna Karina's style, something which I've never fully understood as I had never seen one of her films until last night when I watched Une Femme Est Une Femme. She's now my new style icon. What I loved most was how she dresses in bright primary colours and combines them with neutral whites, greys and blacks in order to reflect her charming, bubbly personality. A bright red cardigan is now at the top of my thrifting wish list. And her hairstyle is so simple, yet it can be worn so many ways. I've secretly wished for years for my jaw to be not as square as it is so that I would be able to have bangs.
I've never directly copied a character's outfit from a film before, but I loved this one so much (and already had all of the clothes) that I decided to try it out. What do you think?
Cardigan: I don't remember, I haven't worn it in years
Skirt: vintage
Pin: vintage
Tights: H&M
Belt: thrifted
Shoes: The Bay

Friday, January 22, 2010

Daily Outfit

Dashed sorry about the skirt wrinkles, I didn't have time to take this in the morning before wrinkle-causing activities.

Sweater: thrifted
Scarf: vintage
Scarf Clip: Penorus
Skirt: Plum
Belt: thrifted
Tights: Hue
Shoes: The Bay

For a weekend video, I have Wayne and Shuster's Shakespearian Baseball Game. Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster had a show on the CBC for fifty years which showcased their own literary slapstick style and invented Canadian comedy. This, however, is the best Canadian sketch ever:

How to Tie a Scarf #2

This is an easy style to wear and if you carefully pin the safety pin wear you want it on your sweater and make sure that the pin is dead straight, then the scarf will stay put (even under your coat) and you wont have to adjust it all day!

My Grandmother gave me this book, it's fantastic and explains what I did so much better then I could. The Knaughty Look by Lorraine Hammett (who, according to the introduction, introduced the scarf clip to southern Ontario)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Vintage Novels {Gentlemen Prefer Blondes}

How could I not do Anita Loos month without including her most popular work. First serialized by Harper's Bazar in 1925 and published that same year, it sold literally millions of copies. I have the movie edition and according to it, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady was first published in November 1925 and my copy was printed in October 1926 and it was the seventeenth printing! In less than a year! I've never seen that with any single book published in the Noughties, not even with Harry Potter (but correct me if I'm wrong). When it came out, it was such a massive hit. Everyone from James Joyce down to housewives and businessmen read it. Edith Wharton even dubbed it to be "the great American novel". It's been turned into a play, a musical and two films (one now lost). Miss Loos said that the meaning of the title came to her in 1923 when she was travelling on the train from New York to LA with Fairbanks, her husband and other important movie people, including the leading lady for the new Fairbanks picture. Now, Miss Loos was not even five feet tall and weighted about ninety pounds, but she was a brunette. The leading lady was several inches taller and weighted a lot more than Miss Loos, but she was a blonde. As a result, Miss Loos was allowed to lug her suitcases up and down from the luggage racks, but as soon as the leading lady dropped her books a half dozen men jumped up to retrieve it. No one else had ever before realized just how significant hair colour was in terms of how women were treated. Naturally, she wrote a book about it.

If you think you know the plot of the novel from the movie, then you're somewhat wrong. Yes it is about Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw being sent to Europe and Miss Lee does deliberately try to con expensive gifts out of men. However, Lorelei is not a showgirl and Gus is not a milquetoast (he's actually the Button King). We are never told exactly what Lorelei's profession is, but I think that she's along the lines of a kept woman, but an extremely smart one. The novel is actually her diary, written just after stuff happens and told with the poor spelling that she brought with her from Little Rock (where she accidentally shot a man). Lorelei has decided that she would like to become an authoress and to do so she must improve her mind and keep a diary, which she is very devoted, so devoted in fact that she often gives up dinner or a party in order to write up her day's adventures. Now, Gus Eisman is worried that she might be attracting the wrong sort of man while he's out of town, so he sends her to Europe for an education and Lorelei brings her friend Dorothy along. Dorothy is not the chaperone that Jane Russell played; she is unrefined, rather daring and not as concerned with her career as Lorelei is. The girls do get into lots of adventures during their Grand Tour, but they never get abandoned and have to work in a night club. And Lorelei does meet a nice, rich young man and gets married in the end.

Let us now compare it to that other "great American novel" of the Twenties, The Great Gatsby, which was not a best seller when it was first published. Both GPB and Gatsby can be seen as the literary representation of the zeitgeist of the Roaring Twenties. Both Lorelei and Daisy desire security from men through the proof of material possessions. Daisy does love Gatsby, but she only really becomes interested in him when she sees the beautiful, expensive shirts he has in his mansion. However, Daisy does stay with Tom, because his income is secure and she will always be able to afford the lifestyle to which she has lived all her life. Whereas, Lorelei is just a pretty little girl with nothing but her charm and she is able to raise herself up in society so that she is able to have a live-in maid, meet the Prince of Wales (later the Duke of Windsor) and marry a millionaire. But in the mean time, Lorelei is concered with accumulating as much as she can from rich, older men, not by directly asking for it, but by hinting and suggesting that she was meant to own that tiara or that the nice thing to do for a girl is to send her a dozen orchids every morning. Unlike Daisy, however, Lorelei followers her belief that "kissing your hand might feel very good, but a diamond bracelet lasts forever". She knows that she wont be young and pretty forever and so she might as well be as successful as she can now and ensure that she will be able to be independent later on, if need be.
I'm sure that you've all had to read Gatsby in school as an example of the "great American novel" and as a showcase of what the Jazz Age was really like. Since I read GPB before I read Gatsby, I've always disagreed with that. Not to say anything against Gatsby, I think it's one of his finest novels and very important in the literary canon. But GPB is a better record of the Jazz Age and it's excesses. Not only does it show the changing fashions (it's also illustrated), music, parties and theatre, but it also shows the cultural differences. Miss Loos really shows her cutting wit though how society ladies and their husbands treat Lorelei and Dorothy and their obvious motivations. But one also gets to see how American, British and French gentlemen treated a pretty girl in an age when credit was king and what they expected from her in return, which was as a plutonic companion as far as Lorelei was concerned. I think that part of one of Louise Brooks' essays explained the rules behind having a male "shopper" friend. Lorelei is also sweet, she genuinely listens to the troubles of different waiters and bellhops, and terribly smart (not the dumb blonde that Marilyn played). She's also a believable character and one can identify more with her and her role in life (what else could one do at that time in order to earn a living without having any practical skills) rather than with Daisy Bunchanan. However, because GPB is a comedic novel and great fun to read (and it has pictures, remember what Alice thought of books without pictures) it will never be seriously taught in most universities, let alone in any high school. I think that this is a good thing, because if it were to become part of the curriculum, then it would have to be analyzed, subject to close reading and generally over thought. This is one of those books which cannot be over thought, because then it would become work to have to read it and then it would loose it's charm.

As for adaptations, there has never been a true to the novel adaptation (though I can't speak for the 1926 play or film). You can however, occasionally see clips of Carol Channing singing her songs from the 1949 musical on YouTube, along with clips from the 1953 musical film. The first film version has, unfortunately been lost and from the pictures it looked like it was a fun movie. However, Ruth Taylor, who played Lorelei, took the message of GPB to heart as she married a millionaire, quit the picture business and became the mother of Buck Henry.
GPB should be quite easy to find and it has never been out of print.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cinema Tuesdays {Hot Millions}

One of the greatest underrated films of the 1960's. Peter Ustinov, who also wrote the screenplay, plays a con-artist being released from prison. He has just learned from the warden that his last embezzlement scheme was caught by a computer (remember when they were the size of a room and programmed by punch cards?). Naturally, he swears revenge against computers, or just the first computer he can outwit (it's a matter of principal) in order to get enough money to realize his dream- to conduct an orchestra. So, he learns everything he can about the latest model and bluffs his way into getting the CV and references of Caesar Smith, a dissatisfied computer whiz and butterfly fancier.

He manages to get a job at an American insurance company's new London office. And yes, that is Bob Newhart playing Mr. Gnatpole who's not very nice but loyal to the company and his job as a pencil pusher.
Karl Malden plays the boss, one of the few Executive Vic Presidents at the company. He's not interested in computers, but he is worried about his ulcer.
Karl Malden's secretary hardly has any lines, but some terrific designer dresses.
What a monitor used to look like, back when they said that one would have to know how a computer actually works in order to be able to use it. I just know which button turns mine on and off.
This is the computer itself, one of the smaller models available. That blue light there protects the computer (and the cheques it issues) from any untoward acts that any embezzlers might be planning. So long as it is switched on.

That blue light actually becomes a character itself, by taunting Mr. Smith, who can't figure out how to turn it off without the police coming.
Maggie Smith plays Mr. Smith's new secretary. She also lives in the room next door to him. And has fantastic but understated eyeliner and all the latest fashions that the working girl of 1968 is wearing this season.
From Maggie Smith, we get good practical advice. For example, when changing the typewriter ribbon, always take your dress off, so that it doesn't get dirty.

Mr. Gnatpole becomes interested in her after walking in on the previous scene. After asking her to take dictation after hours in his office, which is equipped with the latest in hidden sound systems (let's see Mad Men try to do that), and failing, he offers to drive her home.
Fortunately for us, she's interested in Caesar, who conveniently only lives a plot device away. Yes, she is cutting out a dress pattern on her floor. I'm sure we've all done that.
However, she's not very good at being a secretary, but Caesar refuses to fire her because she'll starve.
But the computer can fire her for being a few minutes late a couple of days in a row.
"The computer never lies" says the nasty personnel lady. I think that those glasses would be cool, if it were someone else wearing them.

Unfortunately, Maggie Smith just can't hold down a job for long, no matter how great her boots are. So she marries Our Hero and double the size of their flat by removing the shared wall.

In the meantime, Caesar has been busy. He's been renting addresses all over Europe, in order to send claim cheques to himself, as president of several fake companies.
How did he do it? The blue light doesn't like it when you hit the computer with a bucket and reprogram it. If only it was so easy to embezzle nowadays.
Keep an eye out for the passersby in the street scenes as he goes around Europe to collect his cheques.
Mr. Gnatpole has been reviewing the books and has noticed some new claims for very large amounts of money. It's up to Maggie Smith to distract him long enough in order for Caesar to get a head start on emptying his different bank accounts.
So she takes Gnatpole to The Beatles' new Apple Boutique, which was only opened for a few months in 1968. This movie is one of the few filmed glimpses at the inside of the store.

However, Mr. Gnatpole does eventually fly across the Channel and phones in the report "Caesar Smith is a thief!"

What happens next? I will only tell you that you do get to see Maggie Smith modeling some groovy maternity wear.
Although rare, Hot Millions is sometimes shown on TCM and is available, that is legally, on VHS and an expensive multi-region DVD from the Warner Archives.

Here's the trailer: