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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Spotlight On: Joan Bennett

Joan Bennett was a natural blond
Joanie was a natural blond
Joan Geraldine Bennett, an American stage, film and television actress, was born February 27, 1910 to successful stage actors, Richard Bennett and Adrienne Morrison. 

The Bennetts
The Bennetts
Joan was the youngest of three daughters. Both her sisters, Constance and Barbara, became actors also, although Barbara never achieved the success of her sisters, and of the three, Joan became the best known. All three girls started their careers very young, working on the stage with their father.

The Bennett Sisters - Constance, Barbara, and Joan
Constance, Joan, and Barbara
Besides acting on the stage, she appeared in more than 70 motion pictures from the era of silent movies well into the sound era. She is possibly best-remembered for her film noir femme fatale roles in director Fritz Lang's movies such as The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street, which I recently reviewed. If you missed it, you can find that post here. She made five films for Fritz Lang, more than any other American actor or actress who worked with him (many actors disliked working with Lang).

Joan Bennett

Joan Bennett
At the age of 16, Joan married Jack Marion Fox, who was 26. The union was anything but happy, in great part because of Fox's heavy drinking. In February of 1928 Joan and Jack had a baby girl they named Adrienne, later to be called Diana. The new arrival did little to help the marriage, though, and in the summer of 1928 they divorced. With a baby to support, Joan turned to acting.

Joan Bennett 1935
Joan Bennett 1935

Joan Bennett with Spencer Tracy in Me and My Gal
Joan with Spencer Tracy in Me and My Gal
She moved quickly from movie to movie throughout the 1930s appearing as a blonde (her natural hair color) for several years.

On March 16, 1932, she married screenwriter/film producer Gene Markey, but the couple divorced on June 3, 1937. They had one child, Melinda Markey born February 27, 1934.

Joan Bennett with second husband Gene Markey and director Raoul Walsh in 1932
Joan with second husband Gene Markey and director Raoul Walsh in 1932

JoanBennett with Gene Markey and daughters Diana and Melinda
Joan with Gene Markey and daughters Diana and Melinda in 1936

Joan Bennett with daughter Melinda
Joan with daughter Melinda in 1936
In 1933, while pregnant with daughter Melinda, Joan played Amy, a pert sister competing with Katharine Hepburn's Jo in "Little Women". This movie brought her to the attention of independent film producer Walter Wanger, who signed her to a contract and began managing her career. Wanger and director Tay Garnett persuaded Joan to change her hair from blonde to brunette as part of the plot for a role. With her change in appearance, she began an entirely new screen career as her persona shifted from that of blond ingenue and evolved into that of a glamorous, seductive femme fatale.
Joan Bennett "Little Women"
Joan as Amy March in Little Women
Later, as middle age approached, Joan shifted to the role of witty and nurturing mother in Vincente Minnelli's comedies "Father of the Bride" and "Father's Little Dividend".
Joan and Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride
Joan and Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride
On January 12, 1940, Joan and Walter Wanger were married. They had two children together, Stephanie Wanger, born June 26, 1943 and Shelley Wanger, born July 4, 1948. The following year on March 13, 1949, her daughter Diana, from her first marriage, made her a grandmother at age 39.  

Fun fact: Her co-star in Father of the Bride, Elizabeth Taylor, became a grandmother at the same age. She and Taylor also shared a February 27th birthday, and each gave birth to one of their children on their birthdays. They also both played the part of Amy March in "Little Women".
Joan Bennett with husband Walter Wanger
Joan with third husband Walter Wanger

Joan Bennett with daughters Stephanie and Shelley
Joan with daughters Stephanie and Shelley
In 1951, Joan's screen career was marred by scandal after her third husband, Wanger, shot and injured her agent Jennings Lang. Wanger suspected that Lang and Joan were having an affair, which she adamantly denied. Joan made only five movies in the decade that followed, as the shooting incident was a stain on her career and she became virtually blacklisted. Blaming the scandal that occurred for destroying her career in the motion picture industry, she once said, "I might as well have pulled the trigger myself."
Joan Bennett

Joan Bennett

Despite the shooting scandal and the damage it caused her movie career, she and Wanger remained married until finally divorcing in 1965. 
Joan Bennett

Joan Bennett

She did continue to work steadily on the stage and in television and in the 1960s, she achieved success for her portrayal of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard on TV's cult classic, "Dark Shadows", for which she received an Emmy nomination in 1968. She was one of only three cast members that appeared in Dark Shadows from the beginning in 1966 to the shows end in 1971.
Joan Bennett in Dark Shadows
Joan Bennett in Dark Shadows
For her final movie role, as Madame Blanc in Suspiria in 1977, she received a Saturn Award nomination.
 On February 14, 1978, she and retired publisher/movie critic David Wilde were married and their marriage lasted until her death from a heart attack, on December 7, 1990 at the age of 80. In her 'New York Times' obituary she was said to be "...one of the most underrated actresses of her time".  At the time of her death, Joan had 13 grandchildren. Her first two great-grandchildren were on the way - one of her grandsons and his wife were expecting twins.
Joan had three distinct phases to her long and successful career, first as a winsome blonde ingenue, then as a sensuous brunette femme fatale, with looks that movie magazines often compared to those of Hedy Lamarr, and finally as a warm-hearted wife/mother figure.

Joan Bennett

Celebrated for not taking herself too seriously, Bennett said in a 1986 interview, "I don't think much of most of the films I made, but being a movie star was something I liked very much." And what a movie star she was!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Two Fritz Lang Film Noirs

1944's The Woman in the Window and the following year's Scarlet Street, are two of Fritz Lang's early film noirs, both very dark tales of passion and murder, and both featuring the same main cast.

The Woman In The Window

The first, The Woman in the Window stars Edward G. Robinson as Richard Wanley a timid, middle-aged psychology professor who yearns for the adventurousness of youth. After his wife and children leave for a vacation, Wanley spends a quiet night of drinking at a social club with friends, which happen to be the district attorney and a doctor. Before entering the club with his friends, he finds himself admiring a painting of a beautiful woman in a storefront window. He and his friends talk about the beautiful woman in the painting and joke about being old and stodgy.

The Woman In The Window

Later, while leaving the club, he once again stops to admire the painting when he is then surprised to meet the subject of the painting herself, Alice Reed, played by Joan Bennett. Wanley agrees to get a drink with Alice, thinking that he will have something fun to share with his friends the next evening but he soon finds himself at her home. Not long after that, her lover comes in, furious and violent. Wanley ends up killing him, and he and Alice work out a plan to cover up the murder.

The Woman In The Window

A lot of the movie shows Wanley trying to live with his guilt and trying to cover his tracks, as his own friends, the District Attorney, and the doctor, investigate the case and come ever closer to finding the culprit. At the same time, a blackmailer, played by Dan Duryea, is tormenting Alice with his knowledge of what really went down.

The Woman In The Window

Their efforts to cover up the murder, twists and turns and the whole thing builds toward a beautifully dark, ironic conclusion. Or at least it would have, had the strict guidelines of the Hayes Code accepted the original ending, which they did not, so Lang tacked on a crappy little scene, in my opinion, that negates pretty much everything that went on before. I thought the ending was very disappointing, but if you just turn off the movie a little bit early, you'll get a story that feels true.

Scarlet Street

Fritz Lang's very next film, Scarlet Street, explores some of the same themes of midlife restlessness, and of the nature of guilt. It essentially has the same cast as the previous movie and this time around, Robinson plays Christopher Cross, a timid, middle aged bank cashier in a loveless marriage whose true passion is painting. At a celebration honoring his long years with the bank, he jealously watches his boss leave the party with a young mistress. Walking home that night, he witnesses what he believes to be a mugging. Running off the mugger, he takes the victim, Kitty, played by Bennett, for a drink. Smitten with her, he tells her about his aspirations as a painter.

Scarlet Street

Kitty, in actuality, is the girlfriend of the mugger, Johnny, played by Duryea. Knowing little about the arts, Kitty believes Cross is actually a successful, but modest painter, not just a hobbyist. Together, Kitty and Johnny work up a scheme to bleed Christopher dry, with Kitty acting as a muse for his paintings and Johnny selling them. It all leads to, you guessed it, a murder, and then guilt. I won't spoil the outcome, though.

Scarlet Street

Of the two, I liked the second film better. The Woman in the Window almost felt like a trial run for what ultimately became Scarlet Street. The Scarlet Street characters were more three dimensional, the plot more fully formed, and the sad ending was not compromised. And, even though no blood is shown, the murder scene in Scarlet Street is still really brutal and effective. I was glad to see Lang sneak this one past the Hayes Code.

If you're in the mood for a good Film Noir double feature, you could do worse than these two movies. They play great as companion pieces to each other, and seeing Edward G. Robinson playing against the type he's come to be synonymous with is really fun. And Joan Bennett never disappoints, in my opinion.

The End

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Raising The Flag

On this day, February 23, 1945, during the battle for Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, the highest point on the island of Iwo Jima and a key strategic point. Marines from the 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment of the 5th Division take the crest of Mount Suribachi, the island's highest peak and most strategic position, and raise the U.S. flag. Marine photographer Louis Lowery was with them and recorded the event. American soldiers fighting for control of Suribachi's slopes cheered the raising of the flag.  Several hours later, Marine commanders decide to raise a second, larger flag and more Marines headed up to the crest with the larger flag. Joe Rosenthal, a photographer with the Associated Press, met them along the way and recorded the raising of the second flag along with a Marine still photographer and a motion-picture cameraman.  The resulting photograph became a defining image of the war, the most reproduced photograph in history and won Rosenthal a Pulitzer Prize.

Rosenthal portrait of Iwo Jima flag raising
Photograph of Flag Raising on Iwo Jima, 02/23/1945
ARC Identifier: 520748);
General Photographic File of the Department of Navy, 1943 - 1958;
General Records of the Department of the Navy, 1804 - 1958;
Record Group 80; National Archives.

Although the famous photograph has long led people to believe that the flag-raising was a turning point in the fight for Iwo Jima, vicious fighting to control the island actually continued for 31 more days and three of the six soldiers seen raising the flag in the famous Rosenthal photo, were killed before the conclusion of the Battle for Iwo Jima in late March.

By March 3, U.S. forces controlled all three airfields on the island, and on March 26 the last Japanese defenders on Iwo Jima were wiped out. Only 200 of the original 22,000 Japanese defenders were captured alive. More than 6,000 Americans died taking Iwo Jima, and some 17,000 were wounded.

Bronze memorial of Iwo Jima flag raising

In 1951, work commenced on creating a cast bronze memorial based on the photo, with the figures 32 feet tall and the flagpole 60 feet long. The granite base of the memorial bears two inscriptions:
  • "In honor and memory of the men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since 10 November 1775"
  • "Uncommon Valor Was a Common Virtue." 
The location and date of every major Marine Corps engagement up to the present are inscribed around the base of the memorial. 
The memorial was officially dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the Marine Corps. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation that a Flag of the United States should fly from the memorial 24 hours a day, one of the few official sites where this is required.
Less well-known is the fact that the large bronze memorial was not the first statue created.  The first was a 12 1/2-foot-tall statue created soon after the event. The original smaller statue of the U.S. flag raising at Iwo Jima in 1945 went up for auction recently at a New York auction dedicated to World War II artifacts but went unsold.  You can read that story here.

What a great tribute to the men who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Vintage Vogue V8728

Last week I told about making a dress to wear on my Valentine's date with the Mister, so here it is.  I used the Vintage Vogue pattern reprint of V8728 and a jersey knit, because I was looking for comfort.  

The pattern looks complicated but, really its not.  It went together rather quickly and simply but I did have to make some adjustments.  I chose the size that best fit my measurements but the bust and waist area were way too large so I had to take them in.  The length was just perfect for me, but I am 5'9" --on a good day-- so for someone shorter, they may want to adjust the length.

The pattern comes with two closure options, a snap placket or zipper.  I chose to do the zipper since I was in a time crunch but I think doing the snap closure would be a fun option next time.

All in all, this pattern was a very quick sew, as I did the whole dress up in one afternoon.  The most time consuming part was getting all the gathers in place and attaching the neck band.  It will be a definite sew again pattern.

This is how I styled the dress for my day out, since the pattern was a reprint of a 1946 original dress.

*Outfit Details*
Dress:  Made by me
Cardigan:  Walmart
Seamed Stockings:  Secrets In Lace
Shoes:  Aerosoles
Belt:  T.J. Maxx
Jewelry:  from a lady's auxiliary sale
Flower:  Belle Blossoms

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lauren Bacall Hair It's Not

Another trial of trying to master pincurls, I set out to attempt Lauren Bacall's famous waved hair.  My hair is several inches shorter than her longer locks so I was trying to achieve more of her shorter styles, such as these.

Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall

I did my wet hair up in pincurls with the top rolled back in two rows of four stand up curls, while the rest are all rolled forward.  I used this setting pattern that I found on Victory Vintage as a guide.

Lauren Bacall setting pattern

Here is what I got once I took them down and brushed the heck out of them.

Retro Gran's attempt at Lauren Bacall hair

Retro Gran's attempt at Lauren Bacall hair

Retro Gran's attempt at Lauren Bacall hair

I know it isn't perfect, but it is a start.  I'm thinking that part of the difference may be in the fact that I have some layering to my hair while Lauren appears not to have any, or if she does, it's a few long layers.  Plus, on the light side of my part, I chose to brush the curl down below my ear, where she had waves of curl above.

On day two, I had softer waves and less curl.

Retro Gran's attempt at Lauren Bacall hair

Retro Gran's attempt at Lauren Bacall hair

It is definitely something that I will try again with a few setting adjustments, but I wanted to share this attempt with you.  Any of you dolls have suggestions on what to do differently?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine Cards

Valentine Greetings

The rose is red, the violet's blue,
The honey's sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou'd be you.

Gammer Gurton's Garland (1784)

Happy Valentine's Day!  I have read that the Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion valentine cards are sent world-wide each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas.  Wow!  That's a lot of love!

Looking through some vintage Valentine cards, it struck me that many of them would be considered inappropriate, sexist, racist, and downright creepy by today's standards.  Here are some examples of such cards.

Creepy Valentine
Remember that the worm may turn -
You'd better treat me right..Tho' you're the apple of my eye -
There's others still in sight!

Creepy Valentine
You ain't so mild little girl, but you certainly satisfy!
Creepy Valentine
Hey Valentine!  Have you burned out your clutch?
You don't take hold like you used to.

Creepy Valentine
Some likes light girls, some likes dark girls, but all I wants is a good cook.

Creepy Valentine
Your coldness gave me the flew.

Creepy Valentine
The point is will you be my Valentine or I'll nail you yet, my Valentine

Creepy Valentine
Now or Never Will you be my Valentine

Creepy Valentine
Be my Valentine little one - or I will have to use my gun.

Creepy Valentine
I ain't kidding Valentine - I'd like to kidnap you!

Creepy Valentine
It's "loaded" but only with love......for you, Valentine
Creepy Valentine
Why the Frigid-Aire Valentine?  I'm ready to be de-frosted

Creepy Valentine
I'm out hunting for a Valentine.  Are you game?

Creepy Valentine
My Valentine, Can't I bring you to your knees too?  Love me

Creepy Valentine
Baby, you sure play havoc with my heart.

Creepy Valentine
You built a wall so fast and strong,
But with my magic ray, it won't last long!

Creepy Valentine
Snow use - I love you Valentine!

Creepy Valentine
Your "frigid air" is not so nice,
don't treat me like a cake of ice!

Creepy Valentine
Let's come to the point - Be My Valentine

Creepy Valentine
If you wanta be mine, fork over your heart

Creepy Valentine
I won't let go until you say yes, kid.

Creepy Valentine
Now will you be my valentine?

Creepy Valentine
I'm bound to be yours if you'll be mine

Creepy Valentine
I'd snap you up if you said be my valentine

Creepy Valentine
You're sweet enough to eat, my Valentine

Creepy Valentine
It "strikes me" that I love you.

Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, and the oldest known Valentine is one by Charles, Duke of Orleans which he wrote to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. The poem, written in 1415, is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England. Several years later, it is believed King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to comprise a valentine for Catherine of Valois. 

The first commercial Valentine's Day greeting cards produced in the U.S. were created in the 1840s by Esther A. Howland. Howland, known as the Mother of the Valentine, made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as "scrap".

The Howland Family operated the largest book and stationery store in Worcester, Massachusetts. After graduating at the age of nineteen, Esther received an intricate English Valentine from one of her fathers' business acquaintances, and she was sure that she was capable of making similar or even better ones.  Persuading her father to order lace paper and other supplies from England and New York City, she made a dozen samples, which her brother added to his catalog for his next sales trip. Hoping for as much as $200 in orders, they were shocked when her brother returned with more than $5,000 in advance sales.
Designing and creating these unforgettable cards required creativity and inspiration. The finished products suggested fantasy and romance, and set trends for more than thirty years. While other companies competed for sales to the public, none could compete with the value, taste, and style of Esther Howland. She was not the first to create Valentines in America, but she is credited with having popularized the lace Valentine, turning it into a major industry. The honor, "The Mother of the American Valentine" first appeared in a newspaper article shortly after her death. 

I'm sure the beauty and suggested romance of her cards are a far cry from those shown here!  One has to wonder what type of relationship the recipients of these cards had with the givers.  Ahh, love is a many splendored thing!

{All images were found using Google Image.  If they belong to you, let me know and I will link them back to you.}