Tag Archives: art deco

Searching The Sky

Irene Rich stands like a subdued bride.

She holds a silken bouquet behind her, drooping yet hopeful. The coat she wears is of white mink, and there are three rows of severed tails at the hem, decorative and barbaric.  Hidden shoes – satin, undoubtedly, with curving Cuban heels – tap the floor with delicate impatience.  The floor bearing the brunt of Irene’s disquiet bears the terse design that typifies the beginnings of Art Deco.


The photo must therefore date before 1925, before L’Exposition Internationale Des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes.  This was Paris’ months-long introduction of the new symmetries to a world still dreaming in the Ophelia-like embrace of Art Nouveau.  The old sentimentality and weak femininity had expired on the killing fields of Europe and the Middle East, and in the choking factories of the home front.

Irene has not cut her hair – not yet – but the curls have been piled into a soft volcano, until neck, back and shoulders show white and bare, an anthem to the new exposure of the 1920’s. She is not a beauty – there is a thickness to the neck, and a suspicion of fullness to the torso which might have been harbored within a corset in her younger days.  For Irene was born in 1891 and her body would therefore have known fashion’s shackles as well as its liberation.  She would be in her late 20’s when she stood for this photo and an actress for almost 10 years.  Later she worked in talkies, in radio, on the stage.  Her acting career would span three decades.

But Irene had another career, albeit a more emotional one. She had a marital calling; one that was more lengthy than her dramatic one.  Her first marriage was in 1909, a pre-emptive jump to the altar to presumably escape the plans of boarding school which her parents had for her.  One daughter and two years later, she divorced.

There quickly followed another wedding, in 1912. The end of this marriage led to Irene seeking work in the new frontier of Hollywood in order to support her family.  This fortuitous decision would promise that bauble in southern California a future of selfish hostesses, gallant frontierswomen, and strong-willed housewives.

When this curiously bridal photograph was taken, Irene stands waiting for her third husband, whom she would wed in 1926. Once more, it would not last long.  But finally, in 1950, she married a New York business executive; a union that lasted until the end of her life, in 1988.

But shortly before this final, stolid relationship; there was one more – a volatile and deadly one.

In 1949, secretary Agnes Elizabeth killed her employer: politician and business owner John Edwin Owen.  According to the sheriff’s report Garnier shot Owen and blamed Irene Rich for coming between them.  According to Garnier’s story the gun had gone off accidentally, as she took the gun from an intoxicated Owen as he was going to bed.  Rich claimed an innocent friendship, Garnier plead innocence.  In the end, Garnier was convicted of manslaughter, serving one and a half years out of her “one-to-ten” year sentence.  And Irene by then was very happily married.

I had found Irene some time ago, I forget where. I was taken with her face, her slightly debauched cloak, her sprite’s modesty.  So I bought her and framed her, and so she has hung in sepia glory in my hallway for many years.  Her photo was one of a few that I own where the image comes with an autograph – a key ready-made for any owner to use who is willing to research the past of a new possession.

So I had only recently decided to find where her name led me: a history of unions – most unsuccessful – one calamitous relationship based on conflicting stories, explanations and affections…and a body of work in television and radio which led to her two stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

In a way, I think, such research is like looking into the sky – the things that suddenly come into view when you look into vistas that most people will ignore.



26 Miles

Boyfriend and I will be leaving for Catalina Island tomorrow.  We will be celebrating New Year's at the Casino, and at midnight we will be standing beneath an avalanche of balloons.

On later days, we will tour the island, looking for bison, deer, quail, eagles and foxes.  We will play miniature golf, with the local cats s-link-ing behind us.  We will enjoy yourselves on that petite, happy island.

So while I'm away, behave yourselves – do – this New Year's.  I did receive some money for Christmas, but certainly not enough to post bail for the lot of you.

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“I Do Not Approve Of Your Methods!”

"I do not approve of your methods!
Yeah, well…you're not from Chicago."


Late breakfast at a place which will forever be remembered as the restaurant-whose-owner-ran-after-us-to-claim-a-gratuity-which-he-said-we-never-left-although-Michelle-said-otherwise-and-was-about-to-smack-him-down-for-his-troubles.  A weird situation.  It made our visit to the Shedd Aquarium even more urgent.  We needed to see belugas.

I don't know what our Saturday schedule was precisely, but I'm pretty sure it didn't involve spending ALL DAY at the aquarium.  And yet we did.

Anyway.  The Shedd was built in 1930; its interior is a divine mixture of art deco and maritime.  A zodiac of sea creatures swam above me:

There were plaster turtles…

and marble whales:

…all decorative enough to stay safe within their media, but realistic enough to threaten to break through their aesthetic dimensions.

We all wandered where we pleased.  AmyH and I saw beluga whales

and dolphins.  We were watching the tank, waiting for whales – I'm sure many of you have been in the same position – and were about to leave when we saw them.  They had such a calming effect – we were so comforted by the belugas' white grace.  A microphone picked up their clicks and singing, sounds that might have come from dead mariners, tapping out messages from their buried grottoes.

I got the story on Nickel the Snapping Turtle from AmyH (which didn't surprise me, as no on can resist talking to an outgoing strawberry blonde).  Hit by a car (the turtle, not AmyH), she was rescued and given a home at the aquarium.  X-rays revealed that she had swallowed a nickel, which must have added to her problems.  But it also gave her a name.

A small, lush aquarium.  There were penguins, which I said were like banjoes:  one you couldn't be sad while listening to it, the others you couldn't be sad looking at them.

And there were many other characters, besides:


Eventually we returned to our Palatial Suite to meet up with the others and decide on dinner.  It was a vexing topic:  some for pizza, some not.  I'm not fond of Chicago-style pizza, so I went with Brown Amazon and Valerae to Spring – a former Russian bathhouse from the early 1920's. 

Spring retained the old outer facade, and inside still had the tile that once housed sweating Russians.  The food was excellent; I forgot the cocktail that the others had, but it was strawberry-based and looked crisp and refreshing.  I had a sazerac – because it is an old classic, and because it had absinthe.  BrownA tried some rather toxic white wine ("This is horrible – try it!") as well.  

Back home.  Time for presents!  Arbed made post-its and refrigerator magnets for everyone to commerate our weekend.  She also brought some goodies to be given to whomever asked first.  The suited rabbit suited me, and the pancake pin I thought Boyfriend would appreciate.  The mini-whiskey came courtesy of Mariser, Milord and Kentucky:

For the tacky gift exclange, I claimed for myself a pair of Philadelphia socks from the Cap'n.  They hide my large feet admirably:

I brought a trio of gifts, the most successful being a bottle opener in the shape of a bikini-clad woman.  Milord asked for her immediately.  But first, she was passed around for everyone to observe (the destiny of many an unfortunate woman) and when she came back to me, all warm with everyone's fondling, she was finally given to the lucky Lord K.

By this time people were sinking fast.  Thick, humid weather, tons of walking, Vox excitement – it takes a lot out of a person.  And yet, Valerae and I stayed up talking until past 1AM.

(end of Part Two)

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A Game Of Hazard

I had been waiting impatiently for her to arrive.  For weeks, in fact.  And I was more than willing to pay her way.  Her lachrymose, melting eyes went far to validate her value.  I would spare no expense.

And last Friday when I got home, she was waiting for me.  She no doubt had been waiting for hours, but she still remained as I had first seen her:  a serene, sublime, dangerous girl.  A Deco vamp, with eyes yearning from the shadows, beneath the lengthened coastlines of her brows.  Her hair short and lacquered into an Eton Crop:  the slick, harsh masculinity challenging the muted planets of her pearls, the crocheted yoke of her dress, the shape of her mouth.

The mouth.  Whoever painted her let all other colors recede like tides returning to their islands:  they faded into her cheeks, her temples, her neck.  The painter spent all his time and skill creating a perfect, poisonous mouth colored with liquid rubies.

The dark eyes crying out of two wells of silence, the rouge, the broad plains of snowy skin…these qualities of light and color created the face of a vampire who has surrended her will to romance.  The 'vamp'  was originally called 'vampire':  a woman so beautiful, so alluring, with a face so full of peril, that she could suck the life out of her willing victims.  She left them bloodless servants, and collected them in her grim, locked household.

Within a face too beautiful to ignore, there are forbidden shores, hidden depths, buried secrets and hidden intents.  Approach at your own risk.

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A Ration of Fashion’s Passion

This afternoon mother and I took a toddle back in time:  we went to the old Bullocks Wilshire, located in the bowels of downtown Los Angeles.  It was a very deluxe department store in its time (built in 1929), attracting  entertainment's aristos to its silhouette of rose stone and copper highlights (now dimmed to a no less striking turqoise).

The reason why we decided to visit this landmark, was a charming idea the  Art Deco Society of Los Angeles had come up with:  to hold a vintage fashion show in Bullock's Louis XVI salon, (a little barren now, but still very grand).  I certainly wasn't going to pass a thing up like that and I knew that mother – who used to shop there and have lunch there with her mother – would be just as keen.

So.  I dolled myself up; the style I chose was a suit that fell into a sort of no-man's land between the 1940's and 1950's, before Dior came up with his 'New Look', featuring a nipped in waist which would have challenged Camille Clifford and a full, floofy skirt.

But I digress.

The show itself was delicious and frothy.  Each item of clothing was announced and described ("…and this little striped cap will take this dress from going to tea, to 'what are you thinking?'"  "Our model Sharlene might not have starred with Clark Gable but this gown certainly could have!") by a petite girl in a black and silver-spangled day dress and a strawberry blonde bob.

We admired silks, satins, brocades, taffeta, lace, corsets, petticoats and embroideries.  We saw dresses designed by Edith Head, Adrian and Irene.  We craned our necks to get better looks at gowns, lingerie, tennis dresses, bathing suits (a green one had a kicky little pleated skirt) and wedding dresses.  Many of the styles mother remembered wearing herself. 

The models were like saplings, and the clothes they displayed suited them well.  Except…well, mother – as is her wont – noticed this first:  they couldn't…quite…fill the tops out.  Some of the halter dresses featured some unfortunate upper sagging.  They posed, flirted, sometimes came close to dancing:  they were clearly having great fun.

And as I mentioned embroidery earlier, that reminds me:  some of the girls were too.  No problem, but it was still a little disconcerting to see a pair of tatted devil's wings when a girl slipped off a pink dressing gown to display a backless night dress.

Some of these drool-worthy items were for sale as well:

I sometimes wonder about people who work with societies like this, these girls who style their hair in the difficult shapes of the '40's, the guys in their hand-painted ties and two-toned shoes…is this their entire life?  Is this the face they present to the public?  Do they wake up in the mornings, with a mindset that is 60 years old? How do they talk?  Do they say 'my dear' alot?  Are they languid?  

Or on Mondays does the carriage change back into a pumpkin?

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Princesse Tam Tam


Last night my parents and I went to the Egyption Theater to view a multi-media retrospective celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Josephine Baker.  Frankly, it was a bit of a oddity.  The music was live, a chamber orchestra trying to take on Le Jazz Hot.  It needed to be loud and brassy – I know about loud and brassy - but came off a little confused.  The orchestra was accompanied by a singer who fancied herself a bit of a Persian chanteuse.  I just wanted to push her down.  When she sang 'Don't Touch My Tomatoes', by Christ I most certainly did not want to. 

The highlight of the evening, not surprisingly, was Josephine herself – in photographs, in movie exerpts, in a comedy short and, of course, dancing.  She danced with a type of happy madness, uninhibited and full of joy.  When she danced the Charleston, it wasn't graceful, but it was beautiful.

There was a musical number where she was in a cage, swinging back and forth on her perch and wearing just enough feathers to stuff a throw pillow.  She had a high, clear voice and was singing in French about Haiti.

There was an onscreen display of the programs for her shows – fabulous, colorful art deco designs.  It was like a giant eBay auction.  I wanted to stand up and yell 'HOW MANY DAYS LEFT?'

But that would have been wrong.

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