29 August 2014

El Morocco Memories

With Clifton Webb, c 1937.
The zebra print on the banquettes was really dark blue, but that pattern (which reproduced so well in newsprint photos) served as background for the rich, the famous and the climbers of a generation and clearly identified their location at Manhattan's El Morocco nightclub.

The club, originally opened as a speakeasy, on 54th Street in in 1931, claimed to have invented not only the velvet rope at the entrance, but Sibera, too (on the wrong side of its tiny dance floor, to which the socially undesirable were banished). Nanette Fabray remembered: “One entered, and there was a hierarchy of where one sat. The first table on the right was the best; the second was reserved for the owner, John Perona. You didn't dare go unless you were perfectly turned out.”

22 August 2014

The Scarlet Letters

Big-budget studio films were heavily promoted, and The Scarlet Empress was no exception. In addition to press coverage and ads, there were publicity stunts – worldwide.

Paramount's pitch to showmen.
In London, a waxwork of Marlene Dietrich was unveiled at Madame Tussaud's in conjunction with the opening of the film. John Armstrong, director of advertising at Paramount Theatres there arranged that the unveiling be broadcast via a transatlantic radio link to the US via NBC. The waxwork was dressed in ostrich feathers from South Africa – gaining press for the movie in far-flung parts of the British Empire. Even department store Selfridges joined in with displays. Across the channel, a special premiere was held at the Theatre Agriculteurs in Paris, with American envoy in France, J I Strauss in attendance. And cinemas from New York to Shanghai lured their patrons with special displays.

09 August 2014

An Interview with Sauli Miettinen

Marlene Dietrich: Nainen ja tähti 
[Marlene Dietrich: A Woman and A Star]
by Sauli Miettinen
Last year, I interviewed Sauli Miettinen, the author of the Finnish language Marlene Dietrich biography, Marlene Dietrich: Nainen ja tähti [Marlene Dietrich: A Woman and A Star], which will hopefully be translated into German and English. The questions that I posed to him had developed out of my interest in factors such as one's geographical location, linguistic abilities, age, as well as technological and media access that can affect one's ability to receive and seek information about a celebrity such as Marlene Dietrich. I also wanted to discover how Miettinen researched Dietrich's life and career and what his thoughts were on other Dietrich biographies--and on biographies in general. Miettinen answered these questions and more, and I now eagerly await the day when I can read his book in English translation. As you read this interview, please think of any questions that you may have. Hopefully, Miettinen will be able to respond in the comments section and turn this interview into an ongoing conversation about biographies and biographical research in relation to Dietrich and in general.

03 August 2014

Travis Banton's Inspiration

It all happened in Texas when Travis was a little boy, seven years old ...

His mother and father were going to a great ball given in honour of visiting celebrities. There had been talk of this occasion for weeks and weeks. All the women of the family had huddled in his mother's bedroom the day her gown came home from the shop in a big white box and mists of tissue paper.

Although it was almost nine o'clock the lights in the nursery were left on the night of the ball. He was waiting for his mother to kiss him good night. She was to stop in just before she left so he might see her in her gown.

His mother was so very beautiful. Her gown of soft blue chiffon might have been fashioned from a piece of Spring sky. It caught at her slim waist with crushed velvet. and on both of her shoulders were great bunches of forget-me-nots ...

"That gown of my mother's gave me my dream or whatever you want to call it of doing this sort of thing ... So in memory of that gown I designed one of the gowns Marlene Dietrich wears in Song of Songs the same way. Only Marlene's gown is violet, with violets on the shoulders."

 Modern Screen magazine, 1933

Designer Travis Banton with Marlene in 1937.