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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Obscure Novels about the Twenties, written in the Twenties

514VVou0LnL._AA160_Sure, we all know about The Great Gatsby and what it tells us about the Roaring Twenties, but some months ago, I came across an obscure novel that has been a gold mine of information about that era. It’s called The Hollywood Girl and was written by Beatrice Burton, published in 1927. I just ordered another of this woman’s books, one titled Flapper Wife, that she wrote in 1925. (Oddly enough, I tried to get these from our local library through Interlibrary Loan program, something I’ve done successfully dozens of times, but the few libraries that owned this book refused to send it out on loan, because it was so old and “valuable.” Valuable? I went online and bought a copy for $6.48. The one I just ordered was more expensive: $7.98. There were plenty for sale, if you should want a copy.)41wsoa78cmL._AA160_

Anyway, what did I learn from The Hollywood Girl? A lot of tidbits that give my novels the flavor of the times. Such as food specifics–just what did one eat for an impromptu supper at home? “A china bowl of cold chicken salad with mayonnaise piled on top of it, a glass pitcher of iced coffee, poppy-seed rolls, and a Lady Baltimore cake.” What about breakfast if you’re down to your last cent? “‘What I ought to be buying is Zweiback and instant coffee for breakfast tomorrow morning,’ she told herself grimly.” And what about ordering out at a restaurant on a date? “Then she ordered fruit cocktail, turtle soup, turkey with mushrooms under glass, tiny green peas, a vegetable salad in jelly, bran muffins, black walnut ice cream angel food cake, coffee and crackers and cheese!” 

What did the store windows look like on Hollywood Boulevard? “Shoes were in the next window. White sport shoes with green or scarlet leather trimmings. Silver slippers for evening wear. Little lace trimmed satin mules for the bedroom. Deauville sandals, and beach sandals, painted with bright colors.” (Also some good ideas for shoe descriptions.) And furniture? How about “a cretonne-covered couch.” (I had to look it up.) A modest apartment cost $8 a week. Owning a radio was a sign of success. 

But aside from the details like these, the language was helpful. Certain phrases that aren’t used today, like: “she had tried to get into the pictures” instead of trying to land a part in a movie, and “You jangle me all up,” and “I was a movie-mad girl.” 

And the story itself? Remarkably insipid. A pretty girl leaves a boyfriend who wants to marry her and goes to Hollywood where she is successful in getting into the pictures, but chucks it all to return home to the boyfriend after she realizes that fame and fortune are not what a woman really wants–it’s marriage and a housewife’s life. Can’t wait to get the second book in the mail!


Published in: on January 23, 2015 at 8:10 am  Comments (6)  
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The Invention of the Bathroom

page05Hard to believe (for me, anyway), but the Roaring Twenties was the decade that saw the introduction of the bathroom as we know it today. 

Today a typical residential bathroom combines three elements: a sink, a toilet, and bathing facilities. But throughout all history, until the twentieth century, those three had been separate. The toilet or outhouse was outside the dwelling, the washstand was in the bedroom, and bathing was usually accomplished in the bedroom or kitchen. There was a good deal of resistance to combining these–after all, since the earliest civilizations, man had tried hard to keep human waste at a distance from the living quarters. The invention of primitive flush toilets changed everything, but many people could not, at first, fathom putting cleansing functions in the same room as smelly, dirty, dangerous human waste. Initially, the indoor toilet was housed by itself in a separate room called a water closet. In fact, in many countries I’ve visited, it still is. Some have speculated that the reason for combining these elements in one room was for convenience of plumbing–it was cheaper to combine the fixtures that used running water. Tub, sink, and toilet were usually white porcelain, which was considered more sanitary. 

$(KGrHqZHJDoFDER9fCVbBQyJ)vj,g!~~60_3The “modern” bathroom starts to appear in America in wealthy homes in the early years of the twentieth century, but it doesn’t really spread to middle-class houses until the Twenties. Existing houses were renovated over the years. Often an indoor water closet would be installed first, crammed in under the stairs or in a hall closet. Or a bedroom might be turned into a bathroom with all three elements. New houses could include a modern bathroom, usually at one end of the upstairs hall near the bedrooms. Pricier houses included a separate toilet in the basement for the servants to use.

I’ve been careful with my passing mentions of bathrooms in my Roaring Twenties mysteries. In the third one, RENTING SILENCE, set in 1925, I describe a boarding house where a murder takes place, and it has separate facilities for the residents. I picked up some of the details from a novel, Hollywood Girl, written in 1927 by Beatrice Burton. Here is the relevant snippet from my mystery:

“There are four units on each floor,” the landlady continued as we climbed to the third floor, “each with two rooms, a parlor and a bedroom. But first, let me show you the bathing room.” We turned down the hall and walked to the door at the end. “Here is the bathtub that you would share with only three other young ladies. This other tub is for your laundry. And you see there are plenty of hooks for your clothing and towels. A colored girl comes every Friday to clean the public rooms, but residents are expected to wash the bathtub themselves after each use.” A washboard hung on a nail beside the tub, and there were several boxes of laundry soap on the shelf above it. Two shelves on the opposite wall contained a jumble of bottles and boxes of geranium bath salts, rose toilet water, lemon shampoo, and dusting powder with a pale blue puff tucked into the top.

“At the other end of the hall,” she continued, “is the water closet. It has a large window too, like this one, for the fire escape, and so the rooms are always fresh.” A door across the hall opened. A bottle-blond head stuck out, took one look at Mrs. DeWitt and the stranger and ducked back into her room. Ignoring the interruption, Mrs. DeWitt opened the door to Lila Walker’s rooms.