Throwback Thursday: “And She Learned About Dames,” 1934

21/02/2013 § 1 Comment

When Martha Howson, a wallflower at the Rovina Finishing School for Girls in New York, wins a competition to become “Miss Complexion 1934” she also receives a grand tour of the Warner Brothers lot in Hollywood.  In a lovely little promotional short that is one part movie trailer and one part 1930s Entertainment Tonight, Marsha’s tour guide Lyle Talbot shows her around the production of the musical “Dames” (which I mentioned previously), introduces her to the director and choreographer Busby Berkeley, and makes himself scarce so she can request 5,000 kisses from actor Dick Powell — on behalf of the girls at finishing school, of course!

Introducing Air Mail!

02/02/2013 § 2 Comments

Speaking of addresses and letters, I happened upon this lovely silent film produced by the US Postal Service that I wanted to share with you.  Produced circa 1925, it describes the benefits of Air Mail and shows the progress of a letter mailed in New York and its journey to San Francisco — a journey that normally took 90 hours by train, but by air in a Dehavilland DH-4 it was only 30! 

This clip is part one of two, and you can find the second part here.  Please note: here is a very loud clicking noise on the second portion, so it is best watched on mute.  It is a silent film, after all.

Film via the archives of the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

Throwback Thursday || Stormy Weather

04/10/2012 § 1 Comment

  With today’s gloomy weather in New York, this seemed positively apropos…
As sung by Lena Horne in the 1943 film by the same name.
For more of the beautiful Miss Lena, head here.

A Girl’s New Best Friend

09/02/2012 § 4 Comments

I wonder if anyone uses their Apple TV to watch as many classic films as I do.
Doubtful.

After much deliberation, I finally purchased the Apple TV receiver from the sparkling new Apple Store in Grand Central two weeks ago.  Initially a bit daunted by the tiny black box, its attendant cords and its installation, I was quite pleased to find the process a breeze.  After five minutes of plugging things in and hiding the cords away and two minutes of linking my router and entering my Netflix information, I was streaming media like none other.  A minute after that I blew my own mind when I figured out how to find my iTunes account on my laptop.  It was like a real-life Minority Report!  Ok, not really — but I was rather pleased with myself.

I have been running through the classic films on the instant streaming service of Netflix ever since, which is only $8/month.  My one complaint, if I must have one, is that specific artists can be difficult to find if you can’t guess (or don’t know) the name of one of their films that Netflix has available to stream.  You can’t simply search by actor or director name.  Now departing from my soapbox.  Overall, I highly recommend Apple TV.  It’s kind of amazing.

I recently spent an evening revisiting one of my very favorite films — which also happens the inspiration source for the name of this blog, in fact.  If you have never seen the Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), I will pause for a moment for you to drop absolutely everything you are doing and go watch it.  No, really.  I’ll wait.  Most famous of course for the iconic musical number “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” the film is a madcap romp detailing the adventures of two best friends as they search for suitable mates with suitably fat wallets.  Both actresses are at their archetypal best: Monroe as the ditzy blonde, Russell as the wisecracking brunette.

It’s kind of amazing how every time I watch Marilyn, I discover again how damned talented the woman was.  When made the transition from actor to icon, it became so easy to reduce her to representative symbols: her blonde hair, the billowing white dress, her beauty mark, her voice.  In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes you get to enjoy all that Marilyn has to offer: her spot-on comic timing, her lovely dancing and her singing (mostly, she got a little help on some songs).  It really is no wonder Marilyn’s performance has inspired so many homages, and that none really come close to touching the original.  Even if I do enjoy watching Nate, Dan and Chuck attempt choreography.

The original, 1953.

Madonna, Material Girl, 1985.

Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge, 2001.

Blake Lively for Gossip Girl, 2012.

Also charming is “Two Little Girls from Little Rock.”

Images via Life Archives.

As I visit with old favorites and make new discoveries (Gregory Peck in Twelve O’Clock High was a revelation!) I can’t help but find it a bit humorous that I’ve taken what is the probably one of the most modern ways to consume media and have turned it into a time machine into the past.  Humorous, but not surprising.  In any event, if you like classic films as much as I do, the winning combination of Apple TV and Netflix instant will be your new Best Friend.

But of course I still like diamonds.

Coming Attraction: Red Tails

08/01/2012 § 1 Comment

It is with great excitement that I look forward to the release of Red Tails, the retelling of the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, on January 20. The film was produced by George Lucas, directed by Anthony Hemingway and stars Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American pilots in the United States armed forces and served in World War II, facing remarkable adversity and racism within the military as well as society at large. After African American soldiers were denied the opportunity to fly in World War I, Congress forced the War Department to begin training African American pilots in 1939, and forced the Army Air Corps to form an all-black fighter unit in 1941. The 99th Pursuit Squadron was formed in March 1941 and the unit was eventually expanded into the 332nd Fighter Group when the 100th Fighter Squadron, 301st Fighter Squadron and 302nd Fighter Squadron were added. The group saw action in Europe and North Africa, and are well-known for their excellence flying escorts for heavy bombers. The nickname “Red Tails” came from the distinctive red paint the pilots had applied to the tails of their planes.

The main reason for my excitement is my personal connection to the Tuskegee Airmen. My great uncle, Col. Edward Creston Gleed, served as the 302nd Fighter Squadron commander during WWII. He personally had two confirmed kills, while his squadron accounted for almost one third of the aerial victories recorded by the 332nd. He also served as operations officer for the 332nd. As you can expect, my family is exceptionally proud and very excited to see his story brought to life on the big screen. I can’t wait.

My Uncle Cres, on the far left.

Style Icons: The Women of the Wild Bunch

21/12/2011 § Leave a comment

Image via Tomboy Style.

Because I had a number of flights over the last couple of weeks, I had the opportunity to revisit some of my favorite films.  One of them yielded a bit of style inspiration in a roundabout manner and it has been on my mind for days now.  The film? Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Robert Redford as Sundance, Paul Newman as Butch.  If you haven’t yet seen the film, I highly recommend you make the time — it’s even on iTunes, in fact.  Loosely based on true events, the film follows real-life turn of the century bank and train robbers Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, members of the Wild Bunch and the Hole in the Wall Gang, through a series of heists and concurrent efforts to outrun the law.  Katharine Ross plays Etta Place, a woman who was companion to the Sundance Kid and traveled with both men across the country and to South America.  There are only two known pictures of the real Etta Place — in fact, it’s actually not even clear that Etta Place was her real name — and she vanished without a trace around 1909.  Quite the mystery.

The real Etta Place, with the Sundance Kid

At its heart, the film is about the relationship between Butch and Sundance and the chemistry between Newman and Redford is spot on. But I couldn’t help but be drawn to Etta Place, the school teacher who somehow became enmeshed with two of the most prolific thieves in history.  My favorite scenes are when Etta dresses a bit boyishly, but truth be told, she spends most of the film in very proper and very ladylike attire, usually complete with hats and gloves.  (Sidenote: The costumes in this film are a.MAY.zing.)

Image via The Selvedge Yard

A bit of further research led to an unexpected discovery.  While the film version of the Wild Bunch was men-only (with the tangential exception of Etta), there were in fact, a few female members of the gang.  Most notorious among these women, was Laura Bullion, “The Rose of the Wild Bunch.”

Laura Bullion’s 1901 mugshot

Far be it from me to glorify any real-life criminals, but I was taken aback by Laura’s mugshot and the scatty details of her life.  Born in 1876 to an outlaw father, she is linked romantically to Ben Kilpatrick, also a member of the Wild Bunch.  Her crimes tended toward robbery, prostitution, and forgery, for which she ended up spending almost 4 years in jail around the turn of the century.  After serving her time, she eventually moved to Memphis, where she posed as a war widow under assumed names and oddly domesticated herself, becoming a seamstress, drapery maker and interior decorator.  She died in 1961, the last living member of the Wild Bunch and last person to have actually known Etta Place.

The 1901 mugshot is arresting.  It’s almost like she dares you to look away.  Her gaze is all hardness and resolve.  For a woman at that time to choose such an unconventional lifestyle, one can only guess what her life must have been like, growing up surrounded by criminals.  Also, can we please note the bow tie?!

Interestingly, as I researched more female outlaws, I came to notice how frequently their sexual activities and partners were mentioned — distinctly different from the characterizations of their male outlaw counterparts — and how the accounts that were made at the time have a distinct impact on the accounts that are written today.  It is interesting to note that these women were frequently made out to be sexual deviants, loose women, and/or prostitutes — defined by that all too-familiar double-standard.  Not only did they break the laws of the land, but since they shirked sexual mores with abandon, society made it clear they were outsiders.  Perhaps even more so than male outlaws.

From Laura and Etta, I’m taking a sense of rebellion and adventure.
But I will leave it to them to break the laws.

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