Natalie Kalmus was born in 1882 and has 404 credits on IMDB.
Just to give you an idea how incredible that is, Steven Spielberg has 299 IMDB credits, Alfred Hitchcock clocks in at 204 and James Cameron, 151 (come on James, get it together).
So who was Natalie Kalmus and how did this woman, born before the Hollywood boom even existed, rack up such an impressive cinematic CV?
Well, Natalie Kalmus gave us colour film.
The creation of colour film
Natalie was married to Herbert Kalmus, who was the founder and president of Technicolor. A graduate of MIT, Herbert founded the company with several of his friends in 1914.
Now, Technicolor was far from the first colour film technology maker. From 1909, British born company, Kinemacolor was the market leader, offering Hollywood tech for creating colour film.
Their system transformed black and white film by projecting it through alternating between red and green filters.
As you can see, there is colour, but it’s far from true to life.
Though there was scope for Kinemacolor to evolve, it was never going to move much past the heavy red and green hues.
So Herbert Kalmus and his pals at Technicolor ditched the green red method and spent the next 2 DECADES trying to come up with a better way to make colour film.
Sadly, everything Herbert tried was either ridiculously expensive, needed a ton of experienced people to operate or just didn’t create the desired effect.
But by 1932 Herbert had the system perfected! Essentially this new system worked from start to finish; from using refracted light in the camera to bathing the film strip in coloured dye (this is a really basic description, click here for more detail)
Finally, colour film was a go! Sadly… nobody wanted it.
The Great Depression had just hit and no one wanted to take a punt on Technicolor and its expensive services. This was not an economy in which to take a gamble!
That is, unless you were Walt Disney…
In 1932 Herbert Kalmus convinced Walt Disney to try out his new tech. Disney agreed, with the caveat he had total animation monopoly on Technicolor until 1935 (classic Disney business move: smart and oh so scary)
Disney’s Silly Symphonies, Flowers and Trees short, was the first animation by the studio to use Technicolor.
Released in 1933, it was an immediate hit with audiences and critics alike.
The worth of Technicolor had been proved and soon enough all the major studios were desperate to make the move to colour.
The race to make the next hit colour picture sounded one hell of a pay day for Technicolor.
You see, studios couldn’t buy Technicolor equipment outright, they had to rent everything. This massively boosted the companies bottom line.
BUT there was one huge issue:
The possibilities of what could be achieved with this level of colour were endless and as such, film makers were chomping at the bit to get to play with this new tech.
They wanted to use all the crayons in the box, at the same time. As anyone who has ever seen a child’s drawing can attest – that is not always a good thing.
But one person stood between directors and the future of film looking like a toddlers psychedelic nightmare doodle.
That person, was Natalie Kalmus.
Natalie wanted to ensure that Technicolor lasted as both a company and an industry standard. She believed that colour had the potential to be more than a money grabbing fad. It could totally revolutionise film as an art form.
But that couldn’t happen if film makers were able to just throw the entire kitchen sink at the screen!
So when you hired Technicolor equipment, you also had to hire Natalie Kalmus.
Natalie served as colour supervisor on almost every Technicolor film from 1934 – 1949.
A former art student and passionate art lover, Natalie was the perfect person to steer the future of colour film. Although Herbert Kalmus and Natalie had secretly split by 1922 (though they continued living together) she’d been right there during Technicolor’s decades long inception, often serving as it’s on screen test model.
There was nobody who understood the tech and its artistic capabilities better.
In 1935, Natalie wrote her magnum opus: ‘Colour Consciousness’
Rather than just throwing everything at the screen, Natalie wanted colour to be carefully orchestrated through the film. In the same way that a films score underpins the story, emotions and individual characters, so would colour.
Through Colour Consciousness, Natalie asked the filmmakers working with Technicolor to delve through art history, looking at how these painters used colours to tell their stories.
By doing this, Natalie was hammering home the importance of people’s psychological reaction to specific hues, as well as how good they’d look on screen.
As an example, lets take The
Wizard of Oz. In the film, Dorothy’s shoes aren’t just changed from their original silver, because red will look better!
Yes they pop on that yellow brick road, but they also contrast as the polar opposite to the Wicked Witches uncanny and sinister looking green skin.
The ruby slippers are that particular shade of ruby red because it’s one that creates a feeling of lively fun, rather than just a few shades darker, which can conjure thoughts of blood!
That’s a lot of thought on what’s essentially a prop. But it clearly worked, because decades later, those shoes are still world famous!
Natalie didn’t just boost a stories plot through colour, she also made the whole film a visual feast.
As we have covered, Technicolor was a totally new visual tech and black and white methods for camera, art design, lighting, costuming, and well, everything else would not work here!
There was a lot of scope to get things wrong! Seriously, if colour film isn’t done right it has the capability to make some people actually feel physically ill (kind of like how 3D films did a couple of years ago…)
NOT ON NATALIE’S WATCH!
So once more Natalie looked to art for inspiration and taught entire crews how to change their work to match this new tech.
She showed Art Departments how mix of warm and dark tones to make previously flat sets look deep. Lighting crews how ow to use shadow and coloured lighting together. And schooled directors in working within in a specific palette to create a colour scheme that didn’t detract but rather worked harmoniously to tell the story.
This is why the advent of colour films gives us these gloriously detailed sets. Sumptuous costuming and the first use of colour coding to set a character or mood.
If this sounds like big deal, it’s because it is. All of this is a HUGE part of the foundation for film making as we know it today.
BUT not all of Hollywood’s power players were down with Natalie and her new techniques.
Much of this was due to the old boys club not loving the fact that a woman was coming onto their set and having a say.
Add to that the fact that Natalie had no problem entering a shouting match with Hollywood’s leading male directors, and you have a powder keg just waiting to explode.
Thus, Natalie was loathed by the vast majority of the filmmakers she worked with.
David O Selznick was so riled up by Natalie that he actually tried to have Gone With The Wind shot in black and white, just to get her off his set!
Another film maker, Allan Dwan later summed up his opinion on Natalie:
‘Natalie Kalmus is a bitch’
But, did all this hate deter Natalie?
Instead of shying away, she built up a huge department of colour supervising specialists and led the charge of colour film-making.
Natalie had a direct hand in almost every colour film made for over a decade. THAT’S HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS OF FILMS!
It’s very much because of Natalie, her techniques and her work that Technicolor was a success. It didn’t die out as a fad, but proved colour was key to making films. Not only bringing in crowds but becoming a vital tool in making GREAT cinema.
This meant that studios were happy to continue paying more money to make colour pictures over black and white, during economic low periods like WW2.
Thus, Natalie Kalmus is arguably the reason that colour cinema sustained.
So then, if Natalie Kalmus is so great then why did she stop working and why haven’t we heard of her?
Well for 2 reasons:
The old boys club finally won
By the late 1940s, Natalie had pissed too many of Hollywood’s powerful men. She started to be removed from sets, gradually working less and less as rumours of her ‘hysterical’ outbursts spread.
This was exasperated by:
2. Her alimony case against Herbert Kalmus
Though Natalie and Herbert split in the early 1920s, their breakup was pretty amicable, they even continued living together! All was well, until the 1940s, when Herbert decided to remarry. Essentially kicking Natalie out.
So she went to court in pursuit of alimony.
After all, Herbert was a very rich man and much of that wealth was thanks to Natalie. She wanted what was hers.
Sadly the courts didn’t agree and Natalie’s case was thrown out of court. Upon the news, she broke down, begging the judge for ‘justice’.
As she sobbed, photographers snapped away and soon enough this was all over town:
After the fallout of the trial and the ongoing rumours of her ‘hysterical’ nature, Herbert stripped Natalie of her job at Technicolor.
Natalie never recovered from this career blow and she didn’t work in film again.
She died quietly in 1965, mostly forgotten by the industry she helped build.
But Natalie’s film legacy lives on. Her work is the building blocks for modern Hollywood. So next time you watch a colour film, be it Singing In The Rain, Gone with Wind, The Red Shoes, or the latest blockbuster, thank Natalie Kalmus.
This was interesting, where can I find out more? Well, there’s nobody better than the woman herself to show you how enduring Natalie Kalmus work is. So I suggest you check it her amazing, Colour Consciousness, which you can do, for free, HERE.
Almost 90 years ago, Betty Boop appeared in the 1930s cartoon, Dizzy Dishes.Over the next few years she’d transform from the anthropomorphic dog sidekick/girlfriend of leading man, Bimbo, to a woman who ran her own show.
Decades later she remains an icon, and a very profitable one at that! You can go almost anywhere in the world and pick up Betty Boop merch. Whether it’s a ‘Betty Boop Red’ MAC lipstick, an emblazoned tee or a $750 Boop inspired Zac Posen dress. The Betty Boop business is still booming.
But the story behind this gold mine is a dark one. Steeped in racism, theft and an infamous court case that saw a bloody battle for Betty Boop’s very soul.
Helen Kane had been treading the boards for years before she got a break.Vaudeville, singing troupes and chorus lines. You name it, she’d done it.
But then in 1928, Helen landed her big break. Snagging a gig singing at The Paramount Theatre, right slap bang in the middle of New York’s Times Square.
Helen took to the stage and sang (the then popular song)‘that’s my weakness now’ with a kind of coquettish knowing and humour that captivated the audience.
Then mid song, Helen busted out something truly unexpected – scatting:
‘Boop boop a doop’
Overnight Helen and her boop a doops were the talk of the town.
Months later, Helen sung what would become her (and Betty Boop’s) most well known hit, I wanna be loved by you (signature Boop oop a doops included!)
And just like that a star was born.
Films soon followed Helens stage success and by 1930 she was one of America’s most loved rising stars.
Her quirky flapper sex appeal and unique singing style, ensured that there was nobody quite like Helen Kane.
Until Betty Boop came along
Helen was understandably furious at her cartoon clone.Angrier still, that she wasn’t getting a dime from her!
So Helen took Betty Boop’s creators, Max Fleischer & Paramount, to court.
Fleischer claimed that Betty Boop was inspired by the likes of Clara Bow, as well as Helen Kane, but Helen argued that EVERYTHING about Betty was Helen: the look, the mannerisms, the voice! Helen’s case looked iron tight!
BUT Helen had a secret. You see, that act that made her so unique, the one she was fighting for… it wasn’t her act. She’d stolen it. From a black singer, called:
Esther Jones had gotten the nickname, Baby Esther, thanks to the high pitched cutesey voice she sang in.
A favourite of Harlem clubs like The Cotton Club, Esther was a rising star in the jazz world. Both because of her voice, that managed to be adorable and sexy, AND her unique style of scatting:
‘Boop oop a doo’
Sounds familiar huh?
Esther worked at her scatting by learning from the greats. Listening to the other Cotton Club artists and likes of Louis Armstrong, to hone her craft into a signature scatting style.
And then in 1928, Helen Kane came to see Baby Esther perform.
Months later, Helen was performing those signature scats to adoring audiences.
But the secret of Betty Boop’s true origins didn’t stay secret for long.
Helen was suing Boop’s creators for $250,000 (roughly 3.5 million in today’s money) and with kind of money at stake, the defence came at Helen hard…
They bought in Baby Esther’s manager Lou Walton
Helen was rumbled.
Lou not only explained how he and Esther had created and developed her ‘Boop Boop’ style BUT he also testified that Helen Kane had come to see Baby Esther perform, just before Helen debuted her ‘unique sound’.
This revelation effectively ended any hope Helen had of winning the case.
In fact, neither woman would win this fight. You see Baby Esther was nowhere to be found, never appearing in court. By the the time the trial wrapped up, she was presumed dead.
Betty Boop’s creators, Flieschman and Paramount left the court on a high, effectively getting out of two law suits. One from the woman they knowingly stole from and one from the woman they unknowingly stole from.
As for Helen Kane, she used the trial press to rebrand herself – The Original boop boop a-doop girl. Releasing records and even a rival cartoon under this moniker.
And Baby Esther?Well, after she’d served her purpose as a legal defence, she was dropped. No efforts were made to recompense her (or in her absence, her family). There would be no revival of her work.
Baby Esther had been literally white washed from history.
To this day, it’s near impossible to find Baby Esther mentioned in books on this era. There are whole documentaries on Betty Boop’s creation that totally leave out Baby Esther. And, hands up, we’ve also contributed to this – mentioning Helen Kane on Twitter and not also talking about Baby Esther. We were very rightfully brought up on that!
Stories like that of Baby Esther are often forgotten from history, omitted both by the actions by those of their era and then not perused by those that follow. That leaves us with a false history, and how can we possibly learn from the past, if we’re not seeking out its truth!
So, it’s important that we not only tell these stories, but actively seek them out.
Baby Esther and her work are just being re-discovered. That’s one facet of history that’s finally being made right, but it won’t be the last. There will be more. More untold stories, more people whose lives were written out, more uncomfortable truths. It will change how we see history and that can only be a good thing.
This was interesting where can I find out more?I’d suggest you go check out surviving recordings of Baby Esther, which you can do by hitting THIS LINK and heading to YouTube.
Ida Lupino was just 14 when she became a Hollywood starlet.If you’re thinking that’s kind of a lot for a teen, you’d be surprised.
Part of a British acting dynasty, Ida wasn’t like other girls her age. She’d been prepped for a life in the limelight since she was old enough to read, so her family got her learning lines.
Fast forward a few years and Ida, now barely out of tweendom, was headstrong and self assured; unsurprising given that her acting had been helping pay her family’s bills for years!
So when Ida landed her big break, with the lead role in 1932’s, Her First Affair, she took leading an entire film in her stride; no big deal.
What wasa big deal was the role Ida was playing – you see, very underage Ida was playing a nymphomaniac, who spent her time chasing men while wearing not a great deal.
Oh… and it was a role that Ida’s mother had originally auditioned for.
Somehow, despite the icky-ness of it all, Hollywood had taken notice of Ida’s, er, ‘grown up’ performance. Just not in the way you might think.
Weirdly, Paramount wanted Ida to play Alice (y’know… the young innocent girl) in their new mega expensive film adaption of Alice in Wonderland (life lesson: never try and make sense of Hollywood decision making)
Slight problem: Ida didn’t want to play Alice.
Ida didn’t see herself as Alice. She wasn’t wide eyed and naive, she was smart, independent and desperate to be taken seriously as an adult.
So Ida did what any teenager would;she dyed her hair bright blonde and wore as much makeup as humanly possible.
After this, it’s not exactly surprising that Paramount cast another girl as Alice.
Still, Paramount saw something in Ida, soon signing her up to an iron clad contract.
And so, Ida found herself trapped on the Paramount lot, playing dumb blonde after dumb blonde.
2 years into her contract, Ida was over Paramount.
Ida hadn’t come all the way to Hollywood to spend her days playing a brainless glamazon. She wanted to play bold women that made their own stories. Not only that- but she wanted to write, produce and more than anything, she wanted to direct.
Sadly in the 1930s, becoming a female director was much like becoming a unicorn (AKA: Never. Gonna. Happen!)
With the directing dream dead, Ida decided that if her only creative outlet was acting, you better bet your arse she was doing it her way.
So, in 1937 she did the unthinkable; she walked out of her contract.
Barely 20, Ida had gained a lucrative studio contract, lost it (along with a heap of money) and been banned from the lot of one of Hollywood’s biggest players.
Obviously, Ida didn’t let this get to to her.
She took time off to study, returning 2 years later in, The Light That Failed, and this time you best believe she wasn’t playing a bimbo but an actual character!
Ida continued to hustle and by the mid 1940s she not only had control of the roles she played, BUT was also known as one of the best dramatic actresses of her era.
So naturally, Ida decided to become a director
Now, As discussed, this was an impossible dream! Let’s put it in context: In 1943, the sole female in Hollywood’s directors guild (Dorothy Arzne) had retired. For the next 5 years, no major film in Hollywood was directed by a woman.
I repeat: From 1943-1948, no major film in Hollywood was made by a woman. The idea that this was changing anytime soon was, quite simply, impossible.
But when had impossible ever stopped Ida Lupino?
In 1949, Ida wrote Not Wanted, a drama about the then incredibly taboo topic of unwanted pregnancy.
Three days before the film was set to shoot, the director, Elmer Clifton, suffered a massive heart attack and couldn’t continue with the project.
Ida stepped up.
She directed The Unwanted at the last minute on a budget of basically $0, using her own wardrobe for costumes and repurposing any thrown out sets she could get her hands on.
AND she did all this whilst simaltanously fighting off censors who were at never before seen levels of horrified; not only was a film showing unwanted pregnancy, but a woman was leading the film!! Surely this scandal would not stand with audiences!
Sadly for the censors, Not Wanted went on to make millions.
On the back of The Unwanted’s success, Ida set up her own production company, The Filmmakers, alongside her then husband, Collier Young. Ida wanted her production company to be different, making films that tackled social issues other people were too scared to touch. So, Her next film, Never Fear, did just that. Giving an unflinching look at life with polio (an epidemic then sweeping America)
BUTNever Fear bombed at the box office. It turned out audiences wanted escapism, not a gnarly polio flick.
Still, in typical Ida fashion, she didn’t let this mammoth setback hold her back.Sure, Never Fear may not have broken the bank, but it was exceptionally well made. A fact Ida used to bag herself a three picture deal at RKO.
Ida Lupino was now Hollywood’s top (and pretty much only) female director.
She was also one of the only directors with the balls to tackle some seriously sensitive material. In her time at RKO, Ida’s films delved subject matter including rape, sexual assault and gender dynamics.
Ida didn’t stop her casual groundbreaking with her films subjects. In 1953, she became the first female director to direct a noir.
The Hitch-hiker saw Ida’s unparalleled handle on the human psyche, match with a tense noir, fit a breathless tale of two men trapped in a car with a serial killer. It remains one of the best film noirs ever made:
But after The Hitch-hikers success, Ida was starting to feel a little screwed over by RKO. She wasn’t seeing anywhere near the money her films produced.
And so, just like she’d she’d done when she was 20, Ida cut ties with the Hollywood machine and went solo.
She made her production company, Filmakers a fully independent machine that could make AND distribute its own films.
This would prove to be fatal.
The Filmmakers first film, 1953s, The Bigamist, soon saw Ida and the company drowning in a never ending money pit. With Ida leading the creative, her now ex husband and business partner Collier Young led the money side of things.
Yeah; turns out Collier sucked at that.
He constantly lost investment, overspent and despite being the one to push the idea of doing their own distribution… had no idea how to do it.
By 1955, The Filmmakers was kaput and Ida wouldn’t direct a film again for over a decade.
Yet (as always) Ida didn’t let this latest defeat stop her.
She moved onto the small screen, starring in a CBS sitcom (the horrifically titled)Mr Adams and Eve, with her new husband, Howard Duff.
The series was popular BUT Ida wasn’t able to go behind the camera. In fact the mere notion of Ida directing an episode – therefore being her husbands boss – caused massive tension between Ida and Howard.
This was a theme in Ida and Howard’s marriage. Ida’s success as a director rankling Howard, who just wasn’t ok with his wife doing what was still seen as a man’s job.
But Ida continued despite her husband
Over the 50s, 60s and 70s, Ida directed countless TV shows, including The Masks, a now iconicly creepy episode of The Twilight Zone (for which she was the series only female director)
Ida also went back to film. With her last directing credit, 1966s female driven comedy, The Trouble With Angels.
Now guys, I’m afraid the last part of Ida’s story is far from a happy ending.
Resilient though Ida was, she wasn’t made of steel. She’d started getting a drinking problem during her marriage to Collier Young, and the collapse of their production company.
Her drinking only got worse during her marriage to Howard Duff. And though the pair split in the 1970s, Ida could never shake her drinking habit.
Then Ida reached the age where her friends started to die. Soon she was suffering more and more regular bouts of depression.
When Ida’s Mum died, she just shut down; retreating into herself, barely leaving her home.
In 1995 Ida Lupino died following a stroke.
History has remembered Ida Lupino as an actress, but her real legacy is as one of films most groundbreaking directors. Forging a path for female directors as well as indie film makers.
She also bought the topics of sexual violence and gender into the mainstream ANDensured women got to tell their own stories.
Yet Ida’s influence is largely forgotten. Perhaps, unsurprising when 69 years since her directorial debut, just 1 in every 22 directors are women.
Which is why Ida’s story is so vital. It’s a legacy that needs to live on today, helping in the almighty push for women in film; after all there’s one thing we can learn from Ida it’s this:
nothing is ever impossible.
That was interesting, where can I find out more? Well, definitely check out Ida’s films, which still stand up today. I’d also suggest listening to the episode on Ida, on the fantastic Hollywood history podcast: You Must Remember This.
We’re currently in the midst of a much needed crack down on harassment, assault, abuse and general BS against women. With women in Hollywood and entertainment a driving force behind this huge shift.
But movements like #MeToo and Times Up, wouldn’t have been possible without the brave women that came before. The women that took a stand, knowing their lives would be torn apart for doing so. And so, lets take a moment to recognise them:
The Mothers of Me Too:
Note:This article contains raw accounts of sexual assault and rape.
1. The demonised ne’er-do-well: Maude Delmont
In 1921, Maude’s’ best friend, Virginia Rappe, died. That alone is so many shades of horrific, but the reason for Virginia’s death made it all the worse:
3 days before Virginia died, both girls were at a Labour Day party held by Hollywood’s biggest star, Fatty Arbuckle.
Fatty was apparently a fan of Virginia. Maude later saying that early on in the party Fatty had pulled Virginia into a side room, grinning:
‘I’ve waited for you five years, and now I’ve got you’
Almost immediately after Fatty and Virginia disappeared, the party was stopped by the sound of a woman’s screams.
Maude ran to help and found a drunk Virginia writhing in pain on the bed, while Fatty Arbuckle tried desperately to get out the room.
Virginia turned to Maude and cried:
‘He did this to me’
Several days after the party, Virginia was still in extreme pain, so Maude took her to hospital.
At the hospital Maude explained that from what Virginia had told her, she believed Fatty Arbuckle had at least seriously assaulted Virginia and more likely raped her.
Virginia died from her injuries; a ruptured a bladder.
The newspapers had a field day working out how Virginia had obtained her fatal injuries.
Had Fatty’s great weight crushed her during the assault? Perhaps her ruptured bladder been caused by the Fatty violating assaulting Virginia with a champagne bottle!
Rumours swirled and within days, Fatty Arbuckle turned himself into the police.
Maude Delmont quickly emerged as potential star witness for the prosecution…but she never took the stand.
You see Maudes past was, shall we say, murky.
She had a history of blackmail and in the run up to the trial, rumours of bigamy and extortion also began to emerge (quick note- it should probably be noted that handily timed rumours with some – but not much – evidence were common in cases around this time where large film studios were desperate to protect their brand)
Still possibly fake rumours aside, one thing did look certain… evidence pointed to the fact that Maude had approached Fatty Arbuckle after Virginia’s death, trying to extort him as revenge for Virginia’s death.
Yeah… not exactly fantastic star witness behaviour
OBVIOUSLY this was bought up at the trial by the defence; along with Virginia’s past and yet more rumours of Virginia having had abortions, hidden pregnancies and an unabated partying habit that had spiralled out of control.
With both Virginia and Maude’s reputations in tatters, Fatty Arbuckle was found innocent.
Even now, decades on, Virginia and Maude’s scarlet letters remain.
If you google Maude Delmont then you’ll find the vast majority of articles paint her as a lying bitch, who basically planned the whole thing.
Virginia’s death is now often cited as down to a bad case of cystitis….-BTW, For those wondering, NO, your bladder can’t rupture from cystitis; only from something severely injuring it.-
We probably won’t know exactly how Virginia got her injuries. But we do know that the trial of Fatty Arbuckle and the public treatment of Virginia and Maude led to many women in Hollywood remaining quiet.
That is until….
2. The teens that fought Hollywood
Betty Hansen was 17 and fresh off the bus; she dreamed of being an actress and often hopped around the Hollywood party scene, looking for her break.
It was at one of these parties that she met Errol Flynn.
Errol Flynn was Hollywood’s golden boy, playing every dashing lead going, from Robin Hood to Don Juan.
So of course Betty was ridiculously excited to see such a huge star at the party; hey if her luck was in, this could be her big break!
But soon, Betty realised that whatever she was drinking was making her feel really ill…
It was then, that Errol Flynn offered to take her to bed, to allow the sick teen to sleep her illness off.
That wasn’t what happened.
Errol Flynn took the, now half conscious, Betty to an isolated bedroom, undressed her and then had sex with her.
Betty wasn’t alone; See Errol Flynn was a serial predator.
Peggy Satterlee was 16 when she met Errol Flyn. His pet name for her, was:
Errol invited Peggy onto his yacht. There, as with Betty, Peggy was taken away from preying eyes and raped.
Stories like Betty and Peggy’s were rife in Hollywood during this time; BUT all were successfully buried by the Studios ‘fixers’.
Betty and Peggy sure as hell weren’t going to let that happen to them!
So they decided to take Errol to court; knowing that doing so would destroy any chance they had at film careers and leave their reputations in ruins.
The trial was a huge spectacle. Hoards of adoring fans came to support Errol, because what’s a little statuary rape if your famous!?
From the get go, it was clear the odds were stacked against the girls.
To say the defence teams methods were sketchy, is a huge understatement. Here’s just some of the evidence (I use that term very lightly!) They used.
Peggy had once danced in a ‘low plunge’ dress
With make up on, the girls looked older
Neither girl shouted for help during the attacks
Betty and Peggy didn’t cry on the witness stand
Errol Flynn was ultimately found innocent.
When the verdict was read, he reacted like any arsehat would – by leaping and dancing round the court.
Erorol celebrated with a party where his loyal fans ‘comedically’ re-enacted the trial. Then Errol jetted to Mexico, where he married a 17 year old he had met during his statuary rape trial.
Peggy later reflected:
‘ I knew those women would acquit him. They just sat and looked adoringly at him as if he was their son or something’
Though Betty and Peggy lost their battle, their actions did make a difference; shedding a much needed light on the sexual assault happy cess pool that Hollywood was.
Betty and Peggy had created a door that just needed opening, and one woman was happy to do that:
3. The Actress: Maureen O’Hara
While Betty and Peggy had to fight Hollywood from the outside, Maureen O’Hara was very much on the inside.
She was a bonafide superstar, staring in tons of smash hit adventure films and dramas.
Maureen’s success didn’t mean that she wasn’t open to Hollywood’s sexual harassment.
In 1945 she gave an explosive interview to the Daily Mirror, detailing the sexual harassment she experienced everyday, saying:
‘I am so upset with it that I am ready to quit Hollywood. It’s got so bad I hate to come to work in the morning’
Maureen also made it clear that her refusal to get on the casting couch meant she’d lost out in countless parts.
What Maureen did was monumental! Women didn’t speak out like this in 1945 And the fact that she did so, so publicly was unheard of.
Maureen’s words had successfully opened the door for countless women to come after.
This was interesting, how can I find out more?We have actually gone into this subject before, with an in depth long read into the story of Patricia Douglas, who risked everything to stand up to the studio system and take her rape case to court. You can check that out here.
*Trigger warning for violent sexual assault, this post includes some difficult but -I think-very necessary subject matter.
As decades of alleged abuse by one of Hollywoods most powerful men slowly unravel in front of the world, we’ve been understandably shocked… but not surprised.
What makes these appalling crimes even worse, is the network that formed itself around Harvey Weinstein, preventing his sexual abuse from ever seeing the light of day.
But this kind of cover up operation isn’t new and Harvey Weinstein isn’t the first.
This is a side of film making that has existed since Hollywoods conception. Men like Weinstein have littered it’s history, their victims are numerous and forgotten.
One man invective of this age old machine is Eddie Mannix.
Mannix worked as one of MGMs head honchos during Hollywoods golden age, though listed as a producer, Eddie Mannix really worked as MGMs ‘fixer’.
A softcore porn of Joan Crawford surfaced? Call Eddie. Jean Harlows husband turns up dead? Call Eddie. Clark Gable sexually assaults his young co-star? Call Eddie.
Covering Clark Gable’s attack (which Loretta Young’s daughter later called rape) was just the tip of the iceberg for Eddie.
Ensuring history forgot this kind of abuse was just part of his day to day. It was rare Eddie came across a sexual assault case he couldn’t easily sweep under the carpet…
And then Patricia Douglas happened.
By 1937, Patricia Douglas had been working in Hollywood for 5 years. A dancer and occasional extra, Patricia had already appeared in a couple of Hollywood classics (you can see her in the chorus in Busby Berkley’s Goldiggers of 1933)
So when MGM asked her along for a casting call, Patricia didn’t have to think too hard…a chance to work for one of the biggest and most beloved Hollywood studios was surely a no brainer!
(Just FYI…from here it gets pretty sexual assault trigger-ery)
On a hot June morning, Patricia headed to the MGM lots. There she was outfitted in a short cowgirl outfit and – along with 120 other young women – shipped off to a remote desert studio set.
When they arrived, Patricia noticed that there weren’t any lights, cameras or crew. But what could she do…this was MGM!
And so she and the other women stayed, waiting to see what they were there for.
Their use suddenly became very clear, when a horde of drunk MGM Salesmen burst through the studio doors.
The men had spent the day being plied with hundreds of crates of champagne and scotch; but that was just the starter.
The women, so kindly provided by MGM, were to be the main course.
In town for a 5 day sales conference, the men had been that day been promised a debauched Wild West ‘stag affair’; a reward for their hard work.
And so, when they arrived at the studio, they naturally assumed these cowgirls must be their prize.
Patricia couldn’t escape and was soon cornered on the dance floor by David Ross, a salesman from Chicago.
She turned him down, but David wouldn’t take no for an answer. Together with another man, he held Patricia down and poured alcohol down her throat until she was sick.
Patricia fled outside, but David Ross wasn’t finished.
He grabbed her from behind and dragged her to a parked car, crowing:
‘I’m going to destroy you’
Then he brutally raped her. Slapping her throughout to ensure she was awake.
A bloody and bruised Patricia arrived at a hospital immediately after; she explained what had happened and was quickly seen by an MGM paid doctor and then dropped home in an MGM car.
That was it.
But Patricia wasn’t going to let this happen to other girls
She reported the rape to the MGM casting agent and they ignored her; only offering her the $7.50 she had earnt for that night.
Patricia went to the police. When they didn’t do anything, she threatened to go the press. The police still refused to act. So Patricia picked up the phone and called the papers.
That’s when MGM called Eddie Mannix.
The sudden press attention forced the DA (by the way, a good buddy of Louis B Mayer) to act and David Ross was put in front of a Grand Jury. But MGM wasn’t out.
They hired a private detective to get dirt on Patricia, but only uncovered that she was a virgin who didn’t drink.
MGM sunk lower. They paid off and bribed any witnesses.
The doctor who examined Patricia that night claimed there was no sign of rape and having immediately cleaned Patricia with water douche, any evidence of rape wouldn’t exist anyway.
One parking attendant had actually seen David Ross flee the scene; but after being promised a job for life, he quickly changed his story.
An actor who had literally punched several salesmen at the party out (after seeing their treatment of the women) retracted his statements when his MGM contract was put in jeopardy.
Even Patricia’s own testimony was pulled apart. Forced to recount her rape on the stand – in front of her rapist – Patricia broke down as David Ross’s lawyer turned to the jury and jeered:
‘Look at her. Who would want her?’
The case ended. David Ross a free man.
But Patricia got back up.
She sued MGM… in return they destroyed her
They convinced Patricia’s attorney that continuing this case would destroy his career.
MGM even went so far as puppeteering events, so Patricia’s attorney would fail to turn up to court enough times that the case was eventually thrown out.
The studio paid budding starlets and friends of Patricia to give interviews to press, portraying her as a desperate wanton alcoholic.
By the time they were finished, Patricia was a joke. Friendless, in debt and with no hope of working in Hollywood ever again.
Patricia Douglas was now nothing but a warning;
What happened to girls who spoke out.
Decades later, When asked what MGM had done to silence Patricia, Eddie Mannix smiled:
‘We killed her’
They might as well have.
This was interesting where can I find out more? Theres a fantastic documentary on this, called Girl 27. Made decades after Patricia and her story were long forgotten, I urge you to dig it out and give it a watch.
Note: This post was a lot different to the normal content we post. But sometimes tackling a horrifying subject like this is necessary. Men of power using their positions to abuse and assult others is nothing new and it’s important to talk about how these systems establish themselves so we can dismantle them.
Normal gif and joke based history services will resume next post.
Hedy Lamarr is a goddess, she was a sultry screen siren who was famous for being one of the first to portray a woman having an ORGASM on-screen! Before the sodding film censorship boards nixed all the fun stuff in the 30’s…
Eat it bitches! Via Giphy
Hedy wasn’t just a Hollywood starlet though, she was also a badass inventor who gave the world frequency hopping which gave us the how-did-we-live-without-itWi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth. Honestly I think I’d be dead without them by now, having been eaten by bears after getting lost in IKEA.
Some people (they’re mostly dudes) claim she didn’t really have much of a hand in it and they put her name on the invention patent as she was a well-known celeb. To these people I say;
‘BOLLOCKS YOU CHUFFING BUM BAGS!’
She ain’t bothered. Via Giphy
Hedy was born in Austria in 1914. In the 1920s she was discovered as an actress and worked in the European film industry.
One of her most famous early roles was in Ecstasy (1933) where she portrayed a bored young housewife who gets it on with a big-buff-sexy-worker-man. She appeared nude in the film, but was tricked into doing this by the director (What a fucking surprise). This is also the film where she’s shown having a delightful orgasm on screen.
During her time making these European films, Hedy was trapped in a shitty marriage to an Austrian Arms dealer 15 years her senior.
He was a gross, controlling asshat and you know, A FUCKING NAZI ARMS DEALER, so Hedy decided to ditch the git. Hedy disguised herself as a maid and fled the country running off to Paris where she met Louis B. Meyer, of MGM studios. Louis then whisked her off to become a Hollywood film star.
BYE BITCH! Via Giphy
Hedy lamented only being given roles where she was a sexy, almost mute figure in most of her films; she was getting really really bored. So she decided she’d invent cool stuff on the side.
Hedy was totally self-taught, she’d had no formal training but she did have a brilliant mind and an eye for detail.
She dated the rather eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes for a while and he’d ask her advice when he was building planes. Hedy (being a fucking smart cookie) gave Howard a whole heap of drawings and research which she’d gathered using techniques from birds and told him he should start to go about making his planes more aerodynamic. SMART!
POW! Hitting you with knowledge… and cheekbones! Via Giphy
Her biggest breakthrough idea was based on a torpedo guidance system. You see, during WW2, torpedoes were radio controlled and this created huge problems because the signal could be easily jammed making the torpedo fly off course faster than your drunk Aunty Irene at your cousins wedding.
Hedy (having been married to an arms dealer) had knowledge of how these torpedoes worked AND how they were jammed. So she came up with the idea of frequency hopping to make the signal harder to jam.
This meant that the torpedoes could hit shit more accurately and thus blow up more Nazi’s. HUZZAH!
Hedy then asked her good mate, composer and fellow genius, George Antheil, to help her come up with a machine that could hop between frequencies.
She’s smug because she KNOWS she’s smarter than you. Via Giphy
George made a neat gadget from a tiny self-playing piano mechanism that synched up with radio waves. Each new note = a new radio frequency. Undoubtedly genius! BUT, this nifty gadget is why some argue Hedy gets too much credit for frequency hopping.
I’d disagree. After all Hedy came up with the idea and understood the musicality behind the theory of frequency hopping.
Anyway, Hedy and George both patented the idea in 1942 and gave it to the US navy as part of the war effort. The idea wasn’t immediately picked up by the Navy (dumbasses) and it was left in a pile marked TO DO until 1962 when they finally utilised the system in their fleets.
That’s morse code for ‘ABOUT FUCKING TIME!’ Via Giphy
I cannot express how incredible and important this invention was.
Frequency hoping is the Grandmother of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS and without it we could not watch amusing videos of cats all day instead of working!
Hedy and George were recognised by the National inventors Hall of Fame in 2014 when they were posthumously inducted. Took their fucking time with that one…
THANK YOU HEDY, WE LOVE YOU!
A truly smart, sassy & sessy lady. Via Giphy
This was really interesting, where can I find out more? I’m glad you asked babes. Richard Rhodes book: Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World (bit of a fucking mouthful) is a great read if you’re interested in the technical side of things.
Hedy also has a bonkers autobiography called Ecstasy and Me, which is mostly fabricated bollocks from the ghostwriter, but is a great trashy read.
Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.
The brain child of Bette Davies and John Garfield, The Hollywood canteen served up wartime escapism with more than a dollop of movie magic.
Opening in 1942, the canteen only served serviceman, but that’s not what made the canteen so special….see it was entirely staffed by Hollywoods entertainment elite. Rita Hayworth dished up pie, Shirley Temple worked behind the bar, Betty Grable waitressed and Marlene Dietrich washed dishes. It was a movie bought to life, players and all.
The incredible impact it made in cheering up the troops can not be denied…but the Hollywood Canteen couldn’t run on star power alone. With 3 million servicemen pouring through it’s doors (and those men getting through at least 30,000 gallons of punch a month!) there just weren’t enough celebrities to both make films and wash mountains of dishes.
So the canteen hired a small army of junior hostesses. Beautiful young women who dreamed of making it big in Hollywood, they jumped at the chance to both help the war effort and potentially get plucked from obscurity.
Now working for the canteen was a big deal! Sure you didn’t get paid, sure most of your work was cleaning up, serving and being made to dance…but you guys…there was a film about The Hollywood Canteen, stars and studio big wigs dotted it’s halls and to work there was a chance to be someone; if just for one night.
But, once hired, The junior hostesses had to play by a whole bunch of rules! They had to maintain their looks, they weren’t to even think about stepping on the floor with a hair out of place. They must dress appropriately and act appropriately at all times. And most importantly…they had to be good girls – so no going home with the servicemen!
Good food, good girls and good clean all American fun…
What could possibly go wrong?
Oil Heiress, Georgette moved to Hollywood with dreams of becoming an actress. So naturally, like scores of other budding starlets, she snagged a job as a junior hostess at The Hollywood Canteen.
Georgette was immediately a very popular hostess: charismatic and beautiful, her dance card was full. But the good times didn’t last. On the night of 11 October 1944, Georgette finished up another shift as a junior hostess, hopped in her car and headed home.
The next morning, her cleaner found Georgettes body face down in her bath tub. She’d been raped and strangled.
There was no sign of a break in, no sign of a struggle, nothing of value had been stolen; though Georgette did have some bruising, the killer had left no other trace. The last anyone ever heard of Georgette was a scream:
‘You’re killing me’
(Note: By the way, if you ever hear something like this, please be a babe and call the police immediately)
To this day, Georgettes murderer remains unfound….. But don’t worry, that’s not the end, of course not…the internet exists! So there are looooooots of theories
Some arm chair theorists believe Georgette was a victim of the Black Dahlia murderer…but the evidence on that one is pretty shaky (like HH Holmes is Jack the Ripper shaky…) So we’re just gonna discount that right now.
Where does that leave us? Well…it all points back to one place:According to her friends and weirdly also her Dad’s secretary, Georgette dated some of the men she had met whilst at work in The Hollywood Canteen; though she always did so under a shroud of secrecy, keen not to be shown breaking Canteen rules.
When going out with these men, Georgette insisted on footing the bill (after all she was an heiress and they weren’t making the big bucks in the army!) her good will didn’t end there. If she saw a soldier looking lost, she’d offer him a lift. If she saw someone counting their pennies at a sandwich counter, she’d pay for their meal.
Basically, Georgette was a good egg and through The Hollywood Canteen she soon amassed a whole network of soldiers she helped, dated and befriended.
The night of her death was no different, with Georgette meeting two very different servicemen. The first was an overbearing young solider. He followed Georgette around during her shift at The Hollywood Canteen, insisting she dance with him. Even when she obliged he continued to cut in on her work all night, arguing he needed anouther dance.
By the end of her shift, Georgette managed to shake the arse hole off and hopped in her car. That’s when she met serviceman 2; he seemed lost so Georgette pulled over and offered him a lift.
The man later reported that she seemed skittish and scared during the drive. This guy wasn’t the only one who thought Georgette seemed scared; earlier that night she begged a fellow junior hostess to sleep over, but refused to say why.
So what happened? Well, investigators thought it likely that Georgette knew her killer. With most of the men in her life from The Hollywood Canteen, perhaps someone followed her home? Maybe an ex came back to town or she’d been arranging an after work secret date.
Georgettes case remains open, but with any leads long gone, it’s very unlikely this Hollywood mystery will ever be solved.
Ok, that was all the bleak.
Let’s end things on a more positive note, with the story of one of Georgettes fellow Junior Hostesses:
In 1942, Florida suffered a nasty Jitterbug injury (yes, apparently that was a thing in the 40s). Whilst jitterbugging with a marine, she was thrown across the room, landing on her spine and leaving her bedridden and unable to take on work for a month.
Flordia felt that that the Canteen hadn’t looked out for her wellbeing. The floor had been slippery and during the unfortunate jitterbug she called for help, but nobody came… and so she was going to sue their sorry arses for $17,250!
Flordia took the stand and explained that she was iky (if you’re not hip to jive, that means: ‘I don’t like to do jive dancing’) , saying:
‘Jitterbugging is a very peculiar dance. Personally I don’t like it. It reminds me of the jungle antics of natives.’
Once she’d finished throwing in some casual racism, Florida went on to explain that when the Marine asked her to Jitterbug she had refused, instead standing stock still.
The Marine apparently took this is a firm ‘yes’ and threw Florida around the room, finally propelling her into an almighty (and soon to be catastrophic) spin, from which there was no coming back.
Fellow Hollywood Canteen worker, Luise Walker, backed Florida up and explained that in a spin like that, no dancer could have controlled her landing.
The Hollywood Canteen were having none of this and actually bought in a ‘jive expert’, Connie Roberts, to demonstrate how safe jitterbugging was. Connie had a partner throw her across the court in a dangerous spin to prove how much control a woman had in the landing:Despite dancing evidence, the judge sided with Florida, mainly on the grounds that after everything he had seen, he felt that jitterbugging was a:
‘weird dance of obscure origins’
Florida was awarded $8170 (which in todays money isn’t enough to buy a house –damn you economy! – but is enough to have a lot of fun with…or I don’t know, invest wisely or whatever)
Case finished, Florida went outside the court to meet the press, where she pulled this amazing face:
This was really interesting where can I find out more?Well, theres a great book on The Hollywood Canteen called (get ready for the worlds longest title): ‘The Hollywood Canteen: Where the Greatest Generation Danced With the Most Beautiful Girls in the World’
If you’re after something shorter I suggest checking out amazing podcast, You Must Remember This, it’s all about Hollywood History and is one of my favourite things.
Theres a great episode on the canteen called: ‘Star Wars Episode 1: Bette Davis and The Hollywood Canteen.’ (this is actually part of a series called Star Wars, looking at how Hollywood dealt with WW2, its great, go binge listen!)
In 36 years Marilyn Monroe achieved a kind of fame that had never been seen before. Gone was Norma Jean and in her place was the myth of Marilyn Monroe; unprecedented, unparalleled and unbreakable.
Seriously, even death couldn’t stop the juggernaut that was Monroe!
It’s now 55 years on from her death and Marilyn’s finger prints are still all over our everyday life, from lipstick lines to shitty faux inspirational Facebook quote posts. But Marilyn’s impact is so much more than that!!
You see, Marilyn’s legacy is bigger than you, me, or her….it’s what it is to be a woman.
The Marilyn Meat Market
Marilyn Monroe died at home on the 5th August 1962. Immediately paparazzi swarmed her house, desperate to get that hot body bag shot – now I’m not saying Paps are scum bags…but here’s what one was over heard saying:
‘I’m just as sorry as the next fellow about Marilyn Monroe. But as long as she had to do it, what a break she did it in August.’
But this wasn’t new…Marilyn had always been free game. After arriving in Hollywood, she posed naked for $50, with the understanding the pictures would never be printed (and that she now had money to eat- hooray!)
Flash forward to 1953; the nudes are sold without Marilyn’s knowledge to one Hugh Hefner, who uses them to launch his new magazine Playboy… Classy.
But it wasn’t just Mr Hefner skeezing it up, incredibly explicit pictures of Marilyn –obvs taken without her permission – were not rare. Photographers tried to get up the skirt shots all the time!
Even the most iconic image of Marilyn, was a cheap paparazzi photo op.
As Marilyn put it:
“My popularity seems almost entirely a masculine phenomenon.”
And it was. Unlike other female stars of the era, most of Marilyn’s media cuttings came directly from men. Similarly, the majority of books written about her have male authors.
The most obvious reason for this would be the kind of woman that Marilyn portrayed. A breathy mix of woman and child; malleable and rescue-able in equal measure.
Perhaps its this lack of on screen autonomy that is the reason that the media took so many more liberties with Marilyn than they did with her peers.. and 55 years on from her death, they continue to do so!
Those naked Playboy pictures still get paraded about every time Playboy has an anniversary. Private photos of Marilyn constantly go up for auction (to then be featured in celeb gossip magazines)
AND in February 2017 tabloids reached never before seen heights of bullshittery when they released images that ‘proved’ a woman who had been dead for 50+ years, had at some point possibly been ‘secretly pregnant’.
As with any tabloid starlet, it’s Marilyn’s body that she is most known for. With journalists in both 1950’s America and 2017’s America desperate to know just how she gets that body (see an August 2017 Buzzfeed piece which tests modern audiences against Marilyn’s daily routine, as told by a 1952 magazine.)
But why are we still so obsessed with Marilyn’s ass, tits and well….more.
Well two key reasons:
Marilyn was crazy beautiful!
Marilyn died crazy young!
Really, Marilyn’s story is one as old as Hollywood: Beautiful woman. Dies young. Sad times all around. The end right?
Well…no. See Marilyn’s death is different. Because much like her life, it was made to revolve around men
As with much of the literature we have on her life, the majority of writing on Marilyn’s death was written by men. Most of her obituaries were written by men (focusing on her sexuality, emotional damage, female form and love life) and the majority of theories surrounding her death are too written by men!
Here are just a few of the common theories around why/how Marilyn died:
Assassinated by John F Kennedy
Assassinated by Bobby Kennedy
Killed by the CIA/FBI to pressurize the Kennedys
Murdered by the CIA because Marilyn knew the truth about aliens!!!
Bar the whole aliens thing (and the obvious fact that Marilyn died from an overdose and none of the above…) all the prominent theories surrounding Marilyn’s death revolve around her relationships with men and her role as a sex bomb (literally in this case…)
These theories work to fit Marilyn into a specific narrative, emphasising her tragic femininity and sexual willingness.
Basically… it’s the plot of a film noir; attractive but damaged dame gets killed because she had sex with the wrong guy.
It seems strange that a figure so integral to how we see femininity, wasn’t addressed by women. But don’t worry, thats all changing!
In 1986, Glora Stienham released a biography, Marilyn, re-exmaining how we see Ms Monroe.
From there, it’s only been up and up. There’s been a huge turn in how historians view Marilyn and in the last 20 years more Marilyn books books than ever have been written by women. Huuuuuuge win!!
So what can we expect to see in this brave new dawn of Marilyn’s tale?
Well expect more research into Marilyn’s political views (…aside from which Kennedy brother was hotter…le sigh)
Marilyn’s political views really let her working class roots shine through. She was a founding member of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy and an elected member of the liberal caucus.
She was also open about her support of communism in Cuba and to be honest it is a bloody wonder she wasn’t bought up on that!!
Not only this, but Marilyn was an ardent supporter of civil rights.
She personally fought for Ella Fitzgerald to perform at whites only hot spot, The Morecambe Club. Arguing that Ella be allowed a regular spot and offering to sit front row for each performance (bringing the club and Ella tons of publicity!)
Ella personally credited this with getting her out of small time jazz clubs and getting her career in the mainstream. The two women remained friends until Marilyn’s death.
We’ve barley scratched the surface of who history’s most infamous blonde bombshell was, and I know I can’t wait to find out more!
This was really interesting, where can I find out more?Theres tons of really cracking books, but I’d suggest checking out Gloria Stienham’s book, Marilyn (she also has a couple of online essays on Marilyn that you can read for free!)