Streamlined Style

Streamlined Style - Marlene Dietrich

Modern Industrial Buildings and Fairs

The Chicago Century of Progress fair, in 1933, introduced many novel schemes of construction, most of which were too bizarre to be practical. The chief advantage to be gained from a study of this Chicago fair lay in the use of color in architecture and in the development of lighting effects, which began to play an increasingly extensive role in the design of buildings after 1930.

Read the Article

Modern Technology and Its Efficiency in 1930s

In the industrial realm, modern technology and its efficiency have resulted in establishing norms and standards for production as well as consumption. The American emphasis on efficiency and expediency has always been of fascination to outside observers. The Germans coined the term Fordismus to describe the standardization, mass production, and “streamlined” efficiency of the American industry and business world, assuming that Ford represented the protoype of American productivity.

Read the Article

Fashion and Hollywood Glamor

The fashion image most associated with the 1930s – a decade of Depression, unemployment, fascism and the approach of war – is probably the glamorous Hollywood pale satin evening gown, a bias-cut creation slithering to the floor, lowbacked and clinging to the thighs.

This ambiguous garment did not look very different from a nightdress, and managed to appear both sultry and languid – chic and upper-class in the pages of Vogue or trampishly sexual when worn by Jean Harlow.

Read the Article

Filmic Images of Women in 1930s

Women’s magazines proliferated during the 1930s and contributed to the greatly increased circulation of fashion images, which could be copied by local dressmakers. Fan magazines and studio publicity also promoted “Hollywood” styles. There was a vogue for movies set in department stores, beauty salons or fashion houses. These films acted as showcases for the latest fashions, which could then be copied en masse and retailed through special promotions in the big stores.

Read the Article

Makeup and Cosmetics: Woman Movie Stars as Role Models

We know about the lives of the female actresses by reading the same magazines read by the fans. The juicy stories usually appeared in each and every feature about the person. Every time a new film appeared, the press office of the studio flooded the magazines and newspapers with stories on the movie and the players, a practice still in effect today.

Read the Article

Word Jazz

It was in Chicago that the word “jazz” (or “jaz” as it was sometimes spelled at first) came into general usage. On October 27, 1916, Variety commented as follows: “Chicago has added another innovation to its list of discoveries in the so-called ‘jazz bands.’ The jazz band is composed of three or more instruments and seldom plays regulated music. The College Inn and practically all the other high-class places of entertainment have a jazz band featured, while the low cost makes it possible for all smaller places to carry their jazz orchestras.

Read the Article

Word Jazz

Word Jazz

It was in Chicago that the word “jazz” (or “jaz” as it was sometimes spelled at first) came into general usage. On October 27, 1916, Variety commented as follows: “Chicago has added another innovation to its list of discoveries in the so-called ‘jazz bands.’ The jazz band is composed of three or more instruments and seldom plays regulated music. The College Inn and practically all the other high-class places of entertainment have a jazz band featured, while the low cost makes it possible for all smaller places to carry their jazz orchestras.

Where had the word come from? Its etymological origin has inspired some controversy and a great deal of speculation. Was it derived from the French word jaser — meaning “to chatter” or “to prattle”; or did it come from the minstrel show term “jasbo”? Some believe it came from Creole patois. Others suspect that a Negro musician in New Orleans may have been named Charles or James and that the word jazz might have arisen from the contraction of his name to “Chas.” or “Jas.” (“Let’s have some more of that music, Chas.!”). In the language of the gutter it had a definite sexual connotation. In theaters it was used by actors as a synonym for pep or excitement.

As early as 1908 Jelly Roll Morton, ragtime pianist and composer, had come to Chicago to work at the Elite. But the official introduction of New Orleans ragtime to Chicago came in 1914. In that year a vaudevillian named Gorham visited New Orleans. During his strolls in the streets he came upon a group of four white New Orleans ragtime players advertising a prizefight. The music held him spellbound.

He learned from the leader of this group (a fellow by the name of Brown) that not a single player could read a note of music, and that their playing was for the most part a spontaneous eruption. Gorham at once recognized the showman value of this ensemble. When he returned to Chicago he decided to import it. Now called the Brown Band from Dixieland, it was placed in Lamb’s Café where, featuring the Livery Stable Blues, it took the town by storm.

Brown’s success sent other cafs in Chicago scurrying for New Orleans bands of their own. To the Boosters’ Club at the Hotel Morrison and to the Schiller Café came the Original Dixieland Band. It was with this group that, it is now believed, the word “jazz” made its appearance. The story goes ( Nicolas Slonimsky has authenticated it by direct correspondence with original sources ) that while this group was performing at the Boosters’ Club, one of the dancing couples kept calling for “more jazz.” The persistence with which the couple kept referring to the music as “jazz” inspired the manager of the band to rename his group the Original Dixieland jazz Band. Tom Brown, too, added “Jazz” to the name of his organization.

By 1917 the word was in general usage by most of the leading ragtime bands in Chicago. As Variety noted on January 5, 1917: “The most popular attractions in Chicago cabarets are the jaz bands or orchestras, and every cabaret, regardless of its size, has a jaz aggregation.” In March of the same year Victor issued its first jazz record, a release by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band of Livery Stable Blues, coupled with Dixieland Jazzband One-Step. Dixieland recordings eventually sold millions of copies.

Next Page: Wall Street Crash in 1929

Makeup and Cosmetics: Woman Movie Stars as Role Models

Woman Movie Stars as Role Models - Marlene Dietrich

We know about the lives of the female actresses by reading the same magazines read by the fans. The juicy stories usually appeared in each and every feature about the person. Every time a new film appeared, the press office of the studio flooded the magazines and newspapers with stories on the movie and the players, a practice still in effect today.

While studios served as a major supplier of information about their “properties,” magazine reporters also sought out the most popular stars for interviews. Gossip columnists like Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons supplied readers with inside scoops as well. Collectively, these sources created a rich variety of gossip, rumor, and partial truth, material that was avidly consumed by the magazine buyers. The validity of the stories mattered less than the vitality of the news.

Even more important than Hollywood’s influence on clothes was the way in which the movies popularized cosmetics. In the 18th century and earlier, powder and paint had been freely worn, but for most of the 19th century makeup had been taboo for respectable women.

In the European capitals and American cities women had started to wear visible makeup again before World War I. In the 1930s cosmetic ranges proliferated for all classes of women, together with the more subtle and wider range of film-star types.

The movie stars of the 1930s generation came from a variety of class and family backgrounds. Katharine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, and Elizabeth Taylor, for example, all came from upper-middle-class families; they were raised to believe in their own worth and to stand up for their own opinion. Hepburn and Russell, especially, had fathers who encouraged them as did their mothers. Hepburn spoke admiringly of her mother, who was a suffragist and birth control advocate, and her father, who was a physician; both parents contributed to her sense of self assurance.

Woman Movie Stars as Role Models - Elizabeth Taylor

Hepburn’s image, in all interviews, was that of a self-confident person, someone who would succeed in whatever profession she chose. In 1950 she told a reporter, “I have to be a person, not a piece in a pattern.”

The pioneers of the beauty products that grew into huge business empires – Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein being two of the best known – certainly did not regard their products as tainted with immorality. Nor were cosmetics any longer seen as hostile to female emancipation; on the contrary, lipstick, like the cigarette, was a badge of liberation. The use of cosmetics even became a symbol of democracy and class equality, evidence that the culture of consumptian gave every woman not only a right to good looks but access to the improvement or even the dramatic transformatian of her appearance.

Along with the powders, lipstick and increasingly, the eye shadows and mascaras, came creams and lotions that were promoted as preserving youth and beauty, so that the industry latched on to powerful magical fantasies of unconscious origin: a pot of cream from Yardley or Max Factor became the elixir of eternal youth.

These developments were part of a move away from the idea of equality far women, which had lasted through the 1920s; the return of romanticism seemed to signal a retreat for women into more restrieted roles. Max Factor, a Hollywood firm, made much of its connections with the film industry, and the use of film stars in promotions pushed further the idea of distinet types of female beauty.

Joan Crawford ran a contest in one movie magazine in which she rewarded fans who sent in the best pieces of acting advice to her. The constant support of the fans was obviously essential to the success of a movie star, and she, and the public relations department of her studio, used many different techniques to achieve and then to maintain her popularity.

The best proof, of course, of the fans’ loyalty was their attendance at all of the movies starring their favorite actress. Despite the critics, in the 1930s and 1940s, audiences followed the stars, whatever the plot or the quality of the movie. New York Times critic Mordaunt Hall lamented this fact in his review of Crawford 1934 movie, Sadie McKee, when after panning the movie, he noted that Sadie “is acted by Joan Crawford which probably accounts for the throngs attracted to the Capitol yesterday.”

It was no longer simply a case of being a blonde, a brunette ar a redhead; qualities of character such as passion, class or independence came to be assoeiated with different types of looks, so that the popular consciousness was peopled with stereotypes of dumb blonde, wicked brunette or fiery redhead. “Dress to your type” became a new command to the ordinary woman, and typologies of various kinds were reproduced in magazines, encouraging women to think of themselves as sporty, fluffy, sultry, artistic, and so on.

The increasing romanticism of thirties’ fashion was brutally interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1939. Far the second time in less than thirty years women were conscripted into the war effort. Their being at risk, like their menfolk at the front, encouraged a renewed belief in women’s equality, but the idea that women achieved equality in wartime and were then pushed back into the home afterward is oversimplified.

Elizabeth Taylor arrived in Hollywood from England at the age of seven and went from being a child star to adult star successfully. She has observed how schooling at MGM, a traumatic experience for many child stars, amused her. Even the formidable head of the studio, Louis B. Mayer, failed to intimidate her. Taylor’s family provided her with emotional support. Biographer Dick Sheppard defined her strength and endurance as based on four things: “a sound family foundation and a consequent inner assurance which has never failed her; the mutual love and devotion of those closest to her; a bond with the public which transitory crises could never sever; and a professional knowledge of the crafts of film acting second to none.”

Though her mother had some of the characteristics of a pushy stage mother, she also acted as a refuge for Taylor. In 1950, at the age of 17, Elizabeth Taylor told interviewers that she was a traditional girl and very concerned with her mother’s opinion of her. “I’m being painted as a goodtime girl,” she told Louella Parsons, “who stays out all hours of the night. That is hard to take. If you could see how my mother cries, you’d know what I mean.”

Women did men’s jobs “for the duration”, but they did not achieve equal pay. Many women with children spent the war in quiet isolation.Rationing, queues, shortages and the constant anxiety about absent lovers, husbands, brothers and fathers – and the real danger to themselves and their families and friends because of air raids – must challenge the popular view of World War II as a period of glamor and freedom for women. Glamor there was, however, despite the hardship.

Paradoxically, women’s increased participation in the life of the factory, the forces and the office seemed to lead to a greater emphasis on femininity in moments of leisure, even though fashions certainly adapted to the exigeneies of the time. In spite of all the difficulties it seemed more impotant than ever to look nice in order to keep up morale, so there was a greater emphasis than ever before on face and hairstyle.

With occupied Paris no longer the source of new fashions, the war was the American industry’s great chance, but in spite of same highly original designers they did not achieve styIistic dominance of the market, partly because the fashions of the war years were relatively static.

The tight-waisted, full-skirted styles that were on their way back in 1938-39 were modified by rationing and the lack of materials. The influence of uniforms led to the widespread popularity of the tailored suit, with broad padded shoulders, revers, and a short narrow skirt. This fashion, which was popularized in films by Joan Crawford, symboIized the career woman. Sensible country fashions such as tweed coats, boots, ankle socks and headscarves came into vogue, while more casual trousers – often called slacks – finally became acceptable.

Many actresses described in movie magazines came from one-parent families where the mother became the positive model of independence for the daughter to emulate. Bette Davis’s parents, for example, divorced when she was eight years old, an unusual phenomenon in 1916. Her mother, Ruthie, had to earn a living to support Bette and her younger sister, Bobbie. Attorney Mr. Davis failed to support his family. Thus, Bette Davis saw a mother work at various jobs until she learned photography and became moderately successful at it. In high school, Davis decided to become an actress and after graduating spent some time at the Robert Milton-John Murray Anderson School of the Theater in New York. By 1930, at the age of 22, she was on her way to Hollywood under contract to Universal Studios. Once in Hollywood, the path was stormy but Davis’s determination kept her going.

Next Page: Word Jazz

Filmic Images of Women in 1930s

Filmic Images of Women in 1930s - Bette Davis

The movie stars became role models to their female fans in many senses: the fans demonstrated their admiration and loyalty by attending all of their favorite stars’ movies and buying whatever product they endorsed. Peroxide sales went up when Jean Harlow became a blonde; fashions, especially by designer Adrian who dressed Joan Crawford in all of her films, were copied for the masses.

Further, though impossible to document fully, it is also conceivable to imagine that people identified with the suffering of their favorite star and connected it to their own travails. The actresses, in this sense, provided a constructive model of how to survive adversity, how to develop self-confidence, and how to take control of one’s life.

Until television overtook them, movies were the favorite visual entertainment in the United States. Fully half of the population, 60 million people, went to the movies each week during the 1930s. Because it was a period of economic depression, people needed the enjoyment, the escape, and the fantasy of films more than ever. The 1930s and 1940s became Hollywood’s Golden Era.

Among the hundreds of movies produced by the big studios each year, women were featured both in the very popular romance-melodramas and in the newer form, the independent woman films. Often, there were creative mergers: romance combined with independence and Eve types displayed strength and assertiveness. The newer type of film, however, had stronger women playing stronger parts in greater quantity than ever before, or possibly since.

Filmic Images of Women in 1930s - Joan Crawford

The fantasy power of movies operated at full throttle. Precisely when the Depression created mass insecurity, vivacious women in film were surviving and taking control of difficult situations. As independent Eves, they used their physical attractiveness to carve out decent lives for themselves; as careerists, they became pilots, illustrators, reporters, doctors, lawyers, and businesswomen. And as aristocratic women whose family fortunes gave them unprecedented freedom, they often demonstrated, comically or melodramatically, some of the dilemmas of wealth; after all, women were not expected to function alone as adults.

Hollywood also reveled in the opportunity to satirize the rich while clearly showing them in enviable positions. Aristocratic women paraded around in sumptuous surroundings while the masses were unemployed. In My Man Godfrey (1936), a classic screwball comedy, Carole Lombard and her socialite friends went to a charity treasure hunt. Lombard won the prize by bringing back a real life bum. In The Women ( 1939) rich New York City women were ridiculed for their useless lives, while a lengthy fashion show punctuated the middle section of the movie.

It is an interesting cultural statement that in the classless United States, during the bleak days of the Great Depression, moviegoers were treated to films about rich women. Many movies showed country homes, servants galore, and gorgeously dressed hostesses presiding over classy cocktail parties. The conspicuous signs of wealth in a country that preached egalitarianism appeared ironic indeed. Yet these films produced no revolutions; audiences enjoyed them and kept coming back for more. Their dreamlike qualities seemed to provide the needed escape. The U.S. public accepted the myth of everyone being equal while knowing full well that it was a myth. Blacks were not equal to whites, and rich people were different from everyone else. But Hollywood’s movies about wealthy people in the United States were very popular in the 1930s.

The major studios of Hollywood each produced about 200 movies a year during that period. They satisfied an audience of all ages and races. There were family movies as well as special interest movies for every taste. Actresses found roles, as stars and in supporting roles, in most of Hollywood’s offerings, though they were featured in romance-melodramas and independent women films. A generation of female movie stars arose to meet this seemingly insatiable appetite for movies.

The list of women who became stars in the 1930s and 1940s cannot be rivalled by any subsequent generation of movie stars, primarily because there are no longer such large numbers of movies made each year. While Bette Davis, under long-term contract to Warner Brothers, often made three or four movies a year during the 1930s, a movie star in the post-1950 generation would be lucky to make one movie every two or three years. Joan Crawford, another star of the era, worked for MGM during the 1930s and made 29 movies during the decade.

While the 1930s generation of women actresses played in all of the standard fare–westerns, gangster movies, melodramas, and comedies–they also starred in the variations of independent women films. This role featured a heroine who was often restless and spent a lot of time discovering herself, though she usually ended up defining herself in terms of romance and marriage. The independent woman was also the working girl who found life bleak during the depression; her only path to future security and happiness was in the arms of a rich man.

This film genre, in its variety, distinguished itself from the other types by featuring women, especially strong women, whose personal quest seemed to personify everyone’s search for answers in very trying times. Indeed, this may have been part of its appeal; audiences were treated to unsettled times with a woman, usually the traditional anchor of the home, thrust into a new life situation. The resolution, with her returning to the home, offered assurances to both sexes that the difficult, and unusual, times would eventually be righted. The status quo ante depression would be restored.

Though many movie actresses played in this genre, Katharine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell are probably the most clearly identified as exemplars of independent women. In the period under discussion, 1930-50, Hepburn played in five career woman films and four aristocratic women films, while Russell was a career woman seven times and an aristocratic lady three times (see table). Other popular stars of the period, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, and Joan Crawford, though often known for their work in romance and melodrama, also played many roles where their strength, independence, and grit were critical factors. They demonstrated some of the varieties of independent women.

Careerists were portrayed along with aristocratic ladies and independent Eves. Hepburn was never an Eve. Her screen roles were the most consistent as she never entered into a long-term contract with any studio, in contrast to most other actresses. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, as already suggested, did not have the luxury of choosing roles, but their personalities and talents lent themselves to roles about unusual women.

Next Page: Makeupand Cosmetics – Woman Movie Stars as Role Models

Fashion and Hollywood Glamor

Fashion and Hollywood Glamor

Significant historical changes in the status of movie stars have paralleled decisive technological, economic, and social changes that have affected the American film industry as a whole, such as the coming of sound, the Great Depression, and the rise and fall of movie attendance. The contractual terms and salaries for movie stars have also been affected by the same factors.

In the highly competitive and expanding market that existed between 1910 and 1920, the most popular silent-movie stars eventually obtained contractual terms that equalled and possibly exceeded their individual contributions to box-office success, and some of them also became involved in film production themselves, although the development of sound and its demand for experienced stage and radio performers ended the careers of many silent film stars.

Those working during the early 1930s, when movie attendance declined and industry power was concentrated in the hands of a few studios, were placed in a poor bargaining position, and studios began exercising near autocratic control over the star system.

The fashion image most associated with the 1930s – a decade of Depression, unemployment, fascism and the approach of war – is probably the glamorous Hollywood pale satin evening gown, a bias-cut creation slithering to the floor, lowbacked and clinging to the thighs. This ambiguous garment did not look very different from a nightdress, and managed to appear both sultry and languid – chic and upper-class in the pages of Vogue or trampishly sexual when worn by Jean Harlow.

The revolution wrought by sound had given rise to a new galaxy of stars and introduced new types of pictures. Many of the familiar figures of the movie world continued in the talkies their success in silent films; a few staged remarkable come-backs after a period of eclipse while they adapted themselves to an unfamiliar technique. Actors and actresses of the legitimate stage, who had often scorned the pantomime of the silent film, made their hopeful way to California in droves, and a good many of them remained. Singers and dancers, for whom the talkies represented an entirely new opportunity, were suddenly in great demand. In a whirl of expanding energy, Hollywood exploited all the means at its disposal to reach the still broader market for popular entertainment now opening up.

The slinky lines of the early thirties, and the return to a more waisted, full-skirted and puff-sleeved silhouette later in the decade both emanated from Paris, but it was their interpretation by Hollywood designers such as Adrian and Orry Kelly that ensured their rapid dissemination to a much wider audience. Glamor lingerie, one of the consumer items popularized by the movies in the 1920s, began to be mass produced after the development of synthetic fabrics, notably nylon which was discovered in 1935.

The diversity of pictures that sound made possible was the most characteristic feature of the movies in the 1930’s. They were filling the democratic role that the theatre itself had played a century earlier, and nightly programs often showed a startling resemblance to those of the popular playhouses of that earlier day. As well as straight theatre, the movies offered a modern equivalent for the equestrian melodramas, elaborate burlesques, and variety shows which had once had such wide appeal.

At firstrun houses there might be seen in quick succession a classical play filmed with all the artistry the producers now commanded, an extravagant girl-and-music show, a detective thriller, a bloodand-thunder western melodrama, a sophisticated comedy, and a slap-stick farce. A single show, again like those of mid-century, invariably included one of these main features; one or more specialities, which might well be a singing or dancing act (the news reel was an innovation for which the theatre had had no parallel); and a comedy short, which took the place of the nineteenth-century afterpiece.

The feature films derived from plays of the legitimate stage ranged from Camille to Petticoat Fever, from Pygmalion to Idiot’s Delight. Historical romances were elaborately produced: Disraeli was a favorite picture one year, and in another Cimarron, a story of Oklahoma pioneering. Gone With the Wind was a sensation at the close of 1939. Well-known classics were adapted to the screen, with such notable successes as Captains Courageous and David Copperfield. New possibilities opened up with animated cartoons. The “Silly Symphonies” had a great success, and one of the most popular pictures in 1937-38 was the cartoon fairy-tale (photographed in color) of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Since the 19th century there had been attempts to manufacture an artificial substitute for silk, the most luxurious fashion fabric. By 1930, rayon was made from pulped wood cellulose; nylon and other synthetics were later developed from chemical products and by 1938 ten percent of apparel fibers in Britain were synthetic. The rich and elegant still wore underwear of real silk, but the availability of artificial substitutes meant that ordinary women could also aspire to a more glamorously attired sexuality and a greater sophistication.

Although sections of the clothing industry remained based in small craft tailoring shops and in the sweatshops of centers such as the Lower East Side in New York City and London’s East End there were also major innovations in the mass production of clothes, which further broke down distinctions between skilled tailors, semiskilled workers in tailoring shops and factory workers and outworkers. Conveyor-belt production was introduced, and the more precise sizing of mass-produced clothes developed.

This last was a contradictory development, far the intention was to individualize garments, yet individuals were sorted into groups according to their measurements. it eould be seen equally as an index of the expanding possibilities for the expression of a customer’s unique personality and as part of the increasing conformity of modem mass society.

Department stores, where clothes eould still be altered to fit or were even custom-made, remained the mecca of middle-class customers. The appearance of firms aiming to sell to this market to men as well as women – was a further development of mass production. Menswear firms with their own factories were able to transIate personal measurements into factory-made elothes, while for women “wholesale” ar “middle-class couture” firms designed distinctive house styles and took pride in the elegance of their creations. This was the era when it was distinctly possible but sartorialiy disastrous – far two identically dressed women to come face to face at a social function.

Next Page: Filmic Images of Women in 1930’s