Hand-Painted Knees

On July 21, 1925, the same day as the St. Petersburg, FL, newspaper headlines featured the John Scopes trial (he was found guilty of teaching evolution in a Kentucky science class), there was also an article on the latest flapper fad: painted knees.

6ade6db95341a66ac19572a3a7d2534a“What is more appealing to the eye than a hand-painted knee? The answer, of course, is two hand-painted knees. And the world may expect from now on to see Flapperia’s dimpled knees exhibiting a painted pansy or a bleeding heart, or any other design of their choice.

This painting of the epidermis in the region of milady’s knees is predicted and advocated by Mrs. Ruth J. Maurer, beauty culture expert who has brought the question up for the approval of 500 beauty specialists meeting in Chicago. ‘It is an odd and beautiful fashion,’ Mrs. Maurer declares. ‘Hand-painted pictures on the knees are intriguing. Some of the designs are simple, some elaborate. Some girls prefer a flower or a group of blossoms of startling colors. Others like a portrait or a little landscape.”

I have my doubts as to how popular this was . . . I found only one image online that showed painted knees (and these, as you can see, are actually painted shins). Still, I think I’ll make a brief mention of this in the mystery I’m currently writing. Nothing big, maybe just a line where Jessie notices someone in New York with painted knees. If it happened anywhere, it would have happened in New York!

Here are some photos readers submitted:

1926 flapper

1926 flapper

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Published in: on August 20, 2016 at 8:09 am  Comments (9)  
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New Cover Art for Next Book

My publisher, Severn House, just sent the cover art for my next book. I really love it! Renting Silence is the third in the Roaring Twenties series and I think this cover is the best yet. The girl looks just as I imagine Jessie to look: unruly bobbed hair, confident stare, pretty but not glamorous. I’ve completed the editing process and now have nothing more to do but wait until it debuts, supposedly on August 31 in the U.K. and Australia/New Zealand; later in the USA.  

Renting Silence cover

Published in: on June 5, 2016 at 11:53 am  Comments (2)  
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Bernice Bobs Her Hair

MV5BMTU0ODM3NDYwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzQxMzcyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR2,0,214,317_AL_I recently got this short (48 minutes) movie from Netflix, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” filmed in 1976 and starring Shelly Duvall. It is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and, like much of this other work, concerns rich people in the 1920s. Bernice is visiting her cousin Marjorie for the social summer. Bernice is an old-fashioned girl–dull–all she can talk about is the weather. The boys don’t want to dance with her at parties. Marjorie complains to her mother that Bernice is ruining her summer. Bernice overhears and asks Marjorie to help her become popular. 

“I could do it in 2 days,” says Marjorie, and she starts with conversation skills. Primed to be more outgoing, Bernice announces at a party that she is going to bob her hair. This is a shocking idea. No one thinks she’s serious. But when she is goaded into it by Marjorie, who has become jealous of her cousin’s newfound popularity. Everyone troupes down to the barber shop to see if she will do something this daring. 

The barber is shocked at the request, saying he’s never cut a woman’s hair. No surprise there–no one back then has been trained to cut a woman’s hair. Women didn’t cut their hair. But he does it, rather badly. And the consequences backfire on Marjorie. Reminds me of “Mean Girls.” 

Good, short flick. Fitzgerald skewers the manners of the idle rich, feminine competition, and gives us a surprise ending. It was published in 1920, when bobbed hair was really quite scandalous. Long hair, a woman’s “crowning glory,” represented virtue and respectability; bobbed hair was synonymous with sin and immorality. By 1925, enough women had bobbed their hair so that it wasn’t quite as horrifying, but at the time this story takes place, Bernice was doing something few women dared. Interestingly, Fitzgerald seems to disapprove as well, because Bernice turns out much less attractive after she bobs her hair and the boys all lose interest. 

If you’d rather read the short story than watch it, click here.

Published in: on December 20, 2015 at 5:01 pm  Comments (2)  
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Lecture at the Downton Abbey Exhibit

 Downtown-image2_medium[1] - size 75

 On Nov. 14, I gave this talk at the Virginia Historical Society as part of their Downton Abbey exhibit, “Dressing Downton.” My presentation was titled Weird-but-True Things Most People Don’t Know about the Roaring Twenties. The VHS always records its speakers, so if you’d like to hear/see it, just click on the title. It’s a light, but serious, lecture that lasts 40 minutes (plus a Q&A). In it, I share some of the surprising things I learned during my research for my Roaring Twenties mystery series, things I have incorporated into my novels. 

 

Who is Beatrice Burton?

150px-Beatrice_BurtonI’ve now read two books by Beatrice Burton (FLAPPER WIFE and HOLLYWOOD GIRL), so I got curious about this woman who wrote in the mid-1920s–and who is helping me write my own stories today.

Her first book, FLAPPER WIFE, was published in 1925, exactly the year my novels are set. Her last came out in 1937. During those 12 years, she published seventeen novels. I’ve read only two, but judging from the titles and short descriptions, they are all romances about young women finding happiness in marriage. Her books are set in the year they were written, so they provide a fascinating glimpse of the prejudices, fashions, slang, values, and surroundings of the era. No writer of historical fiction could ask for a better source!

Little is known of Ms.Burton’s life. (This is the only image I could find of her.) She was born in Cleveland in 1894 and died in Florida in 1983. She wanted to be an actress–and in fact had at least three small parts in silent movies in the 1920s–and this may explain her interest in Hollywood as a subject for her books and magazine articles. Six of her stories were made into (silent) movies, none of which seems to have survived. Too bad–I’d love to see the one that was based on FLAPPER WIFE. 

 

Published in: on March 7, 2015 at 7:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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How to Catch a Man in the Roaring Twenties

imageFor the past few centuries, books have been written to instruct young women on matters relating to manners, beauty, and marriage. Most of these have been written by men, of course, and most are tedious tomes, but some can be highly entertaining as we look back and think, “Really? You’ve got to be kidding!” The 1920s saw the introduction of the Flapper, a young woman who flouted society’s conventions, including those that related to men and marriage. Most men (and most women) found this horrifying; some few found it liberating. Needless to say, books like these can be very helpful in setting the scene and making my readers feel as if they have stepped back in time.

I recently came across an interesting blog post that summarizes one of these books. Or, I should say, eight of these books, as they were a set of volumes devoted to catching a man. Check this out:

https://smileandgun.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/miss-innocent-and-johnny-hopeful-five-steps-to-marriage-in-1922/

Or, if you want to read the original books, published in 1922, you can do so online here:

http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/37886051.html

Published in: on March 1, 2015 at 8:19 am  Comments (4)  

The Flapper Wife: a 1925 novel for brainless young females

 

 

41wsoa78cmL._AA160_The Flapper Wife by Beatrice Burton (published 1925) is a marvelous find for me. It provides loads of information about the Roaring Twenties not easily found elsewhere. I picked up period language (“who is the sheik I saw leaving the house”, “What a poor simp Lola was!”, “you have it all over her like a tent”), historical details not found in history books (a punch is one-third fruit juice and two-thirds gin, women wore driving gloves in the car, a telephone is located in the coat closet under the stairs), clothing details (“she put on her kimono and went downstairs,”), information about medicine (milk toast and hot lemonade for a cold), makeup (removing it with a wad of cotton dipped in almond oil), food (a lettuce sandwich–no further explanation, but I assume is lettuce, bread, and some sort of mayonnaise?), and prices (a full-time maid earns $18/week, a very expensive hat is $55).

 I also learned about attitudes in 1925, the year that my Roaring Twenties mysteries take place. Read on . . . 

The miserably illogical and stupid plot centers around a 20-year-old who is just married. She’s grown up in a poor family, and somehow (inexplicably) has never learned to cook a meal or do any housework, not even dusting. She always telephones for her groceries; she’s never even been “to market.” This makes no sense and is never explained. So . . . anyway, she wants to marry a rich man, and she marries a young lawyer whom she doesn’t know well and turns out to be not rich at all. What attracted him to her is never explained; she’s pretty, but brainless. (Well, I guess he isn’t the first man to go for that combination.) They barely know each other. There is no pre-marital sex. She doesn’t even kiss him much. She is a wild “flapper” who wants to party and go to the pictures and have fun, and she is still in love with her previous boyfriend, a rotter (of course) who is a handsome, out-of-work actor (nothing worse than an actor).

Within a few weeks, this petulant, demanding young thing has gone through her new husband’s bank account, and he can’t suggest she stop spending because she’s so pretty. So he’s as big an idiot as she is. Anyway, after pages and pages of drivel and several separations, they manage to get back together. The moral that the author wants to drill into young women: women get their joy and fulfillment from cooking, cleaning, and having babies. (Everyone has been trying to tell her that throughout the book.) Once our young 20-year-old realizes that she’s been pursuing a flapper lifestyle rather than her true vocation, life is miraculously happily ever after. (Eye roll.) She chides her husband at the end, saying if he’d been stricter with her and disciplined her more, she’d have been better behaved. Amusingly, there is no hint of sex and the heroine, if she could be called that, hasn’t a clue, even as a married woman. When her actor-boyfriend kisses her and says he “wants her,” she wonders what on earth he can mean by that? 

So did you think I disliked the book? Au contraire! I thoroughly enjoyed it! It’s like reading a slice of history, and very amusing history at that. My two grandmothers, who would be the same age as the empty-headed young woman in this story, were nothing like that, nor were their sisters or contemporaries that I knew. But the author, a mature woman, is reacting to the widespread concern that all this independence for young women was bad for them and for society. She’s helping to convince readers (other young women) that subservience to the superior male is the definition of a successful marriage.  

Published in: on February 8, 2015 at 4:33 pm  Comments (15)  
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Roaring Twenties Revisited in Clothing

 Downton_Abbey_Winterthur-09848

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) – A new exhibit of costumes from the hit British television drama “Downton Abbey” at the Winterthur Museum could turn out to be the most popular in the history of the former du Pont family country estate.

The exhibit, which runs through January 2015, will offer visitors a firsthand look at the design and creation of the period fashions that are a focal point of the television show, in the context of comparing country house life in Britain and the United States.

Sybil-Crawley Museum director David Roselle said Wednesday that advance ticket sales are strong, and 11,000 tickets have been reserved for bus tours alone. “I believe it will be the largest attendance for an exhibit in Winterthur’s history,” said Roselle, who came up with idea for the exhibit, seeing an opportunity to seize upon the popularity of the television show while giving visitors a comparative look at life at the fictional British estate and at its real-life American counterpart.

Winterthur officials worked tirelessly to turn Roselle’s idea into reality, taking advantage of an indirect connection between Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes and Winterthur director of museum affairs Tom Savage. Savage knew a former associate of Fellowes and was able to connect with Fellowes in New York City last year. Fellowes, in turn, worked with the show’s production company, Carnival Films, to help bring the exhibit to Winterthur, which will be its sole venue.

“Julian Fellowes‘ advocacy for this exhibit has been a great help,” said Chris Strand, Winterthur’s director of garden and estate.
Winterthur is renting 40 Downton Abbey costumes, most of which are owned by Cosprop Ltd. in London, one of the world’s largest theatrical costumers. Carnival Films also is providing some of the costumes, including the infamous harem pants worn by Lady Sybil, the engagement dress worn by Lady Mary, and Lady Edith’s wedding dress.

thumbnail.php“Getting the costumes was the easiest part,” said co-curator Amy Marks Delaney, who found that securing the rights to intellectual property, including photos and script excerpts that serve as backdrops to the costumes, far more difficult. Sculpting museum-quality mannequins to properly fit the costumes also required time-consuming work by Winterthur staff.

In conjunction with the exhibit, Winterthur is offering a series of lectures, workshops and other events, including afternoon teas and English brunches. Those interested in a truly behind-the-scenes look at post-Edwardian fashion can take in a May 15 lunchtime lecture on “Downton Undressed: Underwear and the Fashionable Ideal in the Teens and Twenties.”

The exhibit is organized chronologically, with visitors moving from morning to night, and provides a look at life both upstairs and downstairs at a British country estate.

“There was a true regime about what was worn at different times of day,” explained Jeff Groff, director of public programs for Winterthur.

The exhibit opens with three servant costumes displayed in front of a working re-creation of the wall of brass bells used to summon help at the Yorkshire estate and concludes with examples of the evening finery worn by the Earl and Countess of Grantham and other members of the fictional Crawley family. In between are a host of other fashion statements, including garden dresses, cricket uniforms, walking and hunting tweeds, and housemaids’ aprons.

To complement the Downton Abbey costumes, Winterthur brought out several holdings from its own collection, including a well-worn dinner jacket that Winterthur founder Henry Francis du Pont bought from his favorite Savile Row tailor, Henry Poole & Co., and his wife’s custom-made leather travel case.

 

 

Book Review: Bobbed Haired Bandit by Duncombe & Mattson

UnknownIn 1924 New York, a young woman and her husband went on a short robbery spree, holding up grocery stores and drug stores in Brooklyn. The woman, Celia Cooney, had dark bobbed hair. She was pregnant, and she and her husband Ed wanted more of the good life for themselves and for their baby. The robbed ten stores before fleeing to Florida, where they were caught and returned to face a trial. The pled guilty, avoiding a sensationalized trial, and were sentenced to 10-20 years. They served seven, and went straight afterwards. 

Not a very gripping story, and certainly not an unusual one. Yet this 2-month crime spree gripped New York and the rest of the country as the “yellow press” spun the story into a year’s worth of frenzied newspaper accounts that made Celia the biggest celebrity of her day–with crowds of tens of thousands of people trying to catch a glimpse of the Bobbed Haired Bandit wherever she appeared in public after her arrest. Poor Ed got no coverage at all, except to suggest he must be a “cake eater” or a “nancy-boy.” After all, no “real man” would be bossed by a woman. 

In 1924, a woman bandit was unthinkable. Women simply didn’t commit violent crimes unless they were insane, and sassy, self-confident Celia was definitely not insane. She enjoyed her crimes and the power the gun gave her over a group of cowering men. She enjoyed what the money bought her. Widespread opinion equated bobbed hair with sin and mental illness–fathers and husbands forbade their women from cutting their long tresses, lest they be driven to a life of crime. 

The newspaper’s reaction to the crime spree, such as it was, mightily embarrassed the New York police. Tough cops couldn’t catch a tiny young woman? How humiliating! Jobs were at stake; the newspapers screamed insults at the police, but the Cooneys remained at large and active. The police, said the newspapers, were either incompetent or on the take–either way they deserved firing. Then Celia and Ed were caught, and the pitiful story of her childhood emerged, turning her into a poster child for society’s failure to care for the most vulnerable. 

All in all, The Bobbed Haired Bandit is a great book if you are interested in a comment on the times, which of course I am. Since my mysteries take place in 1924 and 1925–although not in New York–I found the authors’ use of primary sources helpful because they revealed the language of the day, words I can work into my own stories. Words like nifty and simp (simple or stupid). Mentally impaired people were known (politely) as morons or feeble-minded. I can also use descriptions of what people were wearing at the time. This book was a hit for me!

Published in: on March 9, 2014 at 8:59 am  Comments (4)  
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Downton Abbey Fan? See Winterthur Museum’s Upcoming Exhibit

thumbnail.phpA little more than 3 months from now, Delaware’s Winterthur Museum will host a traveling exhibit featuring costumes from the popular series, Downton Abbey. See it yourself from

March 1, 2014–January 4, 2015.

 Most fall into the late 1910s and early 1920s and so will delight those who love–as I do–the Roaring Twenties. I learned about this upcoming exhibit when I was in Delaware a few weeks ago as a guest of a museum conference held in Historic Odessa. Representatives from many museums in the state attended, and the ones from Winterthur were excited to be hosting this 2014 exhibit. If you live within striking distance of Winterthur, you may want to plan a trip for 2014 to see this special array of early 20th-century clothing styles.

“Costumes of Downton Abbey is an original exhibition of exquisite designs from the award-winning television series. Approximately 40 historically inspired costumes from the television show will be displayed and supplemented by photographs and vignettes inspired by the fictional program and by real life at Winterthur. Visitors will have a chance to step into and experience the world of Downton Abbey® and the contrasting world of Winterthur founder Henry Francis du Pont and his contemporaries in the first half of the 20th century. In addition, Winterthur will host a wide range of lectures, workshops, and exciting events for adults and families focusing on entertaining and country house life in Britain and the United States.

A co-production of Carnival Films and Masterpiece, Downton Abbey depicts life in an aristocratic household of the fictional Earl and Countess of Grantham and is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed period dramas ever produced. It has won a Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries and seven Emmys including a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries. It was the most watched television series in both the UK and the U.S. and became the most successful British costume drama series since the 1981 television serial Brideshead Revisited. By the third series, it had become one of the most widely watched television shows in the world. The Guinness World Records recognized Downton Abbey as the most critically acclaimed English-language television series of 2011.”