It was a dreadful time in America. Wall Street plunged into an abyss, millionaires flew from skyscraper windows, fortunes disappeared in one fell swoop as banks failed across the country and families lost everything. In 1935, the Dust Bowl compounded the country’s financial collapse. Topsoil blew from barren fields and storm clouds of dirt swirled about the sky, painting it shades of black. The Dirty Thirties had begun. Despite it all, people across the country found ways to bring a little levity into their lives.
Pig Latin - American children and teens have chatted in pig Latin, a language used by children and teens since the 19th Century. According to some sources, Thomas Jefferson used pig Latin to code his correspondence. The popularity of pig Latin rises and falls with each decade and it became a fad during the Depression. Ginger Rodgers added to its popularity by singing, “We’re In The Money” in pig Latin in Gold Diggers of 1933. Upon her arrival in Los Angeles, a chum introduces Mitzi to the ins and outs of pig Latin and like teens across the country, it becomes their special language. There has been a recent resurgence and a scholar even translated the Bible into Pig Latin.
Platinum Blondes - In nature, platinum hair is found in small children, albinos and the very old but it is the hair color most associated with Jean Harlow, a film siren who transfixed the world with her white tresses. The platinum blond was not created with laundry bleach; mixing bleach with peroxide would have created a toxic gas that would have landed poor Jean to the hospital or the morgue. In the days before modern hair lightening products, hair stylists blended hydrogen peroxide, ammonia and soap flakes into a frothy mixture that looked like meringue but stung like the devil when applied to hair roots. Our heroine, Mitzi Schector, arrives in Hollywood just as the craze was taking off across the country.
Jean Harlow eventually switched to a more user-friendly shade of blonde but in the early 30s almost every actress in Hollywood wore platinum hair and women across the globe copied the look. Harlow passed away in 1937 but thankfully the platinum blonde did not die with her. Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak and Jayne Mansfield restarted the craze in the 50’s and modern stars Christina Aguilera, Madonna, Taylor Swift, Pink, Rachel McAdams and Gwen Stefani have updated the platinum blonde and made it their own.
- www.jeanharlow.com - Fabulous site devoted to our favorite platinum blonde, Miss Jean Harlow.
- www.jeanharlow.org - A terrific site for Harlow fanatics
Ukulele Music - The ukulele plays a major role in Mitzi’s story. It is a plucked lute born in Hawaii in the 19th century and a staple in Hawaiian music. The uke gained popularity among American teens in the 1900s and was found in most fraternity houses in the 1920s and 30s. Hawaii was chockablock with uke players but it took Cliff Edwards who used the moniker Ukulele Ike, to bring the ukulele into the Depression era zeitgeist. Though Edwards is most known for singing When You Wish Upon a Star in the Walt Disney classic, Pinocchio, he became a recording star in the 20s and 30s because of the ukulele.
The uke’s popularity grew even wider with the nasal crooning of radio personality Arthur Godfrey along with the marketing of plastic ukes in the 50s. Tiny Tim brought the ukulele into more prominence in the late 60s but though a number of famed musicians like George Harrison played it, the ukulele largely faded from popular culture in the 70s and 80s. Hawaii’s Jake Shimabukuro has become a ukulele superstar and seven years after his death, Israel Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’ole had a hit with his ukulele version of Over the Rainbow. The ukulele has been reconfigured for the 21st century and now has achieved international popularity.
- www.janetklein.com - My favorite ukulele site, a fun look at the ukulele and the music of the 30s.
- www.picklehead.com - Home of Picklehead Music, the award-winning Comedy Music site!
Night Clubs - In the 30s, Los Angeles rolled the streets up after dark. There were no museums, concert halls, supper clubs, literary societies or football teams and nightclubbing became the way men and women socialized. Dancing became a necessity for social success and everyone learned to trip the lights fantastic. One of the favorite haunts was the Cocoanut Grove. It was located in the Ambassador Hotel and was an art deco dream. The men wore tuxedos, the women dressed in elegant gowns and waiters moved about, serving booze in coffee cups. Everyone in the film industry, including seventeen-year-old Mitzi Schector, eventually moved through the maze of palm trees made from papier-mâché that legend claims were swiped from the set of Valentino’s The Sheik.
The Grove was one of the places in Los Angeles where people stepped lively but if one tired of the Grove or the ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel, there were always the clubs and speakeasies on the Sunset Strip. The Strip was an unincorporated part of the city where the Los Angeles Police Department had no jurisdiction. County sheriffs patrolled the area but quite loosely. Clubs opened and closed at the whim of the public but the names of the great nightspots stills excite memory, the Trocadero, the Mocambo and Ciros. They are long gone but luckily, the Sunset Tower Hotel still exists along with the most famous place of all, the glamorous Chateau Marmont.
- www.maxwelldemille.com - This is the site of legendary actor, showman and impresario, the famed Maxwell DeMille. Maxwell’s site is replete with newsreels, posters, movie snippets and a lot more. He hosts regular dances downtown at the Cicada Club, an art deco supper club in downtown Los Angeles with wide appeal.
- www.mintun.com - Society pianist Peter Mintun harkens back to the era of café society and New York super clubs.
Tap Dance - There were different sorts of dance steps besides the tango, rumba and bolero. Like every singer, actor or dancer in the 1930s, at least those who wanted work, Mitzi learned to tap dance. Tap is an American original, a blend of Irish step, English clog and African dance. Tappers first strutted their stuff in vaudeville and minstrel shows then black dancers in the 1920s perfected their steps. By the 1930s, tap was all the rage and practically everyone in films, with the exception of Garbo, learned to tap. There is a grand resurgence of tap dancing every few years and thankfully, we’re in the middle of one now so five, six, seven, eight!
- www.atdf.org - The official site of the American Tap Dance Foundation
index.php?pid=265- A written tribute to dancing legend Eleanor Powell by tap dancer extraordinaire, Jim Taylor
Max Factor’s Glamour Factory - A visit to the Max Factor Building was de rigueur for young movie actresses for decades. Factor’s opulent beauty factory was located on the Highland one block away from Hollywood Boulevard and was the place women went to be revamped and glamorized. The look of the period 30s was one of artifice - skin powered to whiteness, false eyelashes and heavy eye make-up, full lips and over-plucked, “baby doll” eyebrows. The Factor look was the standard almost to the end of the decade until Producer David O. Selznick insisted his contract players, Ingrid Bergman and Vivian Leigh, grow out their brows and sport a more natural look.
Note the before and after photos of Mitzi:
html- Mark A. Vieira, author of Sin in Soft Focus and the two definitive biographies of Irving Thalberg, is also a photographer and had the honor of being the assistant to the late George Hurrell - Mr. Vieira is another expert in film noir portraiture of the 30s.
- www.moviediva.com - An excellent site created by the Film Curator of the North Carolina Museum of Art. Loaded with factual information on the stars of the 20s, 30s and 40s and many rare photos from private collections.
Yiddish - Ashkenazi Jews carried Yiddish from the ghettos of Eastern Europe to tenements of New York. The lingo soon bubbled up from the Lower East Side and made its way to Manhattan. It was the language of the garment district and the song pluggers of Tin Pan Alley. Hollywood moguls brought it west with them and Hollywood moguls sprinkled their language with Yiddish phrases in conversations with writers, directors and actors from the old neighborhood. Even some New York gentiles knew Yiddish. James Cagney grew up in an immigrant neighborhood, learned Yiddish as a child and easily conversed in the language with actress Sylvia Sidney and other Warner Brother’s stars. Singer and bandleader, Cab Calloway, infused his music with Yiddish that he picked up from Jewish hipsters who hung around Harlem. Jewish teens like Mitzi heard Yiddish from the time they were born and though they might not have been fluent, Yiddish was a large part of their culture and their world.
Dozens of Yiddish words and terms have made their way into the American vernacular i.e. shtick, glitch, nosh, yenta, tush, kibitz, zaftig, klutz, maven, shyster, kosher, kvetch, lox and since Yiddish is currently going through a worldwide resurgence, expect to hear many more.
- www.ariga.com/yiddish.htm - A glossary of Yiddish expressions
- www.jewfaq.org/yiddish.htm - Presents the history of Yiddish with several links to journals and articles
ary.htm- Scroll down the site and you’ll find a number of useful words and phrases.
ddish_phrases.htm - A list of Yiddish words and phrases
Netsky.htm- This is a link to writer Hamus Netsky’s colorful article about Cab Calloway’s jazzy use of Yiddish.
Depression Food - No matter how bad the Depression got, people had to eat. Despite the horrible times, the Depression brought out the best in people around the country. Americans subsisted on macaroni and cheese, mock apple pie, canned salmon and day old bread. Soup kitchens emerged to feed the poorest of the poor. In New York, social service organizations subsidized penny restaurants to provide hot meals to the people who were too proud to accept charity. Downtown Los Angeles also had a penny cafeteria too, the “cavateria”. The caveteria opened in 1933, courtesy of the Clinton family of Clifton’s Cafeteria fame. The Clinton family self-financed the penny-a-plate venture and depended on the goodness and honesty of people to make it the success it became. Charismatic radio evangelist Aimee Simple McPherson fed 1.5 million people in Los Angeles during the Depression, the poorest of the poor, without regard for race or creed. Somehow the country managed to survive and feed itself in the bleakest of times.
In the spirit of the Great Depression, here is a recipe for Mock Apple Pie :
- Pastry for 2-crust 9-inch pie
- 36 RITZ Crackers, coarsely broken (about 1-3/4 cups crumbs)
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 tsp. cream of tartar
- Grated peel of 1 lemon
- 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
REHEAT oven to 425°F. Roll out half of the pastry and place in 9-inch pie plate. Place cracker crumbs in crust; set aside.
MIX sugar and cream of tartar in medium saucepan. Gradually stir in 1-3/4 cups water until well blended. Bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer 15 minutes. Add lemon peel and juice; cool. Pour syrup over cracker crumbs. Dot with butter; sprinkle with cinnamon. Roll out remaining pastry; place over pie. Trim; seal and flute edges. Slit top crust to allow steam to escape.
BAKE 30 to 35 minutes or until crust is crisp and golden. Cool completely.
Feed Your Family on $75 per Week: and eat well by Michele C. Moore, M.D. Dark days are upon us again and Michele’s book is a terrific way to handle the challenges and is available on line.
Depression Era Recipes by P. Wagner - Compiled from actual recipes of the period
www.greatdepressioncooking.com - the site of 94-year-old Clara Cannucciari who prepares meals from the recipes she and her mother used during the Depression.
This doesn't qualify so much "fun" as interesting.
Sepulchral photographs were a part of Mitzi’s world as they were most Jews in the 20’s and 30’s. Visit most Jewish cemeteries and you’ll notice images of the dead attached the tombstones. The process was known as ‘enameling’, photographs of the deceased burned into porcelain. These formally posed images from the 20s and 30s were often retouched and colorized while others were candid shots. Since people died from illnesses that no longer kill, many of the images are of people in the prime of life or even children. This process is making a comeback and even gentiles are placing images of loved ones on the tombstones.
Mount Zion: Sepulchral Photographs by John Yang
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