She was the original funny girl but her life was not all laughs.
U.S. born Fanny Brice, née Fania Borach, was a theater, radio, and film actress mainly remembered today as the creator and star of the radio comedy series The Baby Snooks Show. For a time she was one of the most popular performers in America. What makes Brice pulp worthy? She fell in love with her second husband Nicky Arnstein while he was serving time in Sing Sing prison for wiretapping. After his release she lived with him for six years before finally marrying him in 1919. In 1924 Arnstein was charged in connection with a Wall Street bond theft, and Brice used much of her wealth on a failed legal defense that ended with him going to Leavenworth Prison. After he got out three years later he disappeared and left Brice to care for their two children. A decade after Brice died in 1951 Barbra Streisand portrayed her in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, later adapted to cinema. Both the musical and movie play Brice life events a bit lighter than they must have been in reality, but both were huge hits and brought Brice's name back into the mainstream—right where she would have wanted it. The racy photo you see here is from around 1915.
Yes, I’d like to order a pair of curtains, immediately please.
The French had a wide array of nudie—er, we mean, art—magazines during the mid-century period, including Paris-Hollywood and Folies de Paris et de Hollywood, which are the two we’ve focused on up to now. Regal was another popular publication—digest sized, light on text, and put together by Éditions Extentia, an outfit based out of 38 Rue du Monte-Thabor in Paris that also published Sensations, Chi-Chis, Paris-Broadway, and Paris-Tabou. It was a far-flung enterprise, even distributing issues in distant French Indochina via the loftily named Société Franco-Asiatique located in Saigon. Or if one preferred, issues could be obtained direct from France through the use of “envoi discret,” or discreet shipping, by which we expect they mean in a plain brown wrapper. This issue of Regal, with its voyeur themed cover photo suggesting a woman spied through an open window, was published in 1952. We have twenty-five scans below.
She may not be a champion of the ring, but she’s a winner just the same.
This photo of Elsie Connor looked to us as if it had been Photoshopped in a very interesting way but it wasn’t—we found a version on Getty Images and it was identical to what you see above. The image and the fact that she’s identified as an Irish boxing champion on various websites made us curious about her career, but after a bit of digging we discovered that she was actually a dancer and chorus girl, and appeared in the 1930 musical Earl Carroll's Sketch Book, the 1929 shows Fioretta and Earl Carroll’s Vanities, and the 1928 production Here’s Howe. That’s a pretty short career, and one that lacked any starring roles, but thanks to the internet she’s famous again, looking like a real world beater. The only thing is, we doubt she was ever a boxer. We can’t be 100% sure, but with no evidence that she ever stepped into a ring, as well as a very clear understanding of how often the world wide web is world wide wrong, we suspect this is just a very, er, striking publicity photo. It dates from 1931.
Who can take a tragedy and make it a success? The Candyman can.
A world-weary Sammy Davis, Jr. appears here in a photo shot by Peter Basch in the back of a Chicago limousine. Davis was about to go to New York to star on Broadway in Clifford Odets and William Gibson’s Golden Boy, a musical involving a boxer’s turbulent career, doomed interracial romance, and eventual suicide. Not exactly an uplifting night out, yet the show ran for 569 performances and the cast album cracked the Top 40. That’s called star power, and Davis, who was already huge in Hollywood and the music industry, had it to spare. The photo dates from 1964.
Are you serious? You call that thing a nose?
Comedian W.C. Fields, née William Claude Dukenfield, jokes around with chorus girls Helen Ellsworth, Helene Sheldon, Cricket Wooten, and Margy Martyn during a rehearsal for Florenz Ziegfeld’s Ziegfeld Follies revues. Fields was a Follies cast member off and on from 1915 until 1925. He was known from the beginning of his career for having a large nose, and it reddened and grew over time due to rosacea and rhinophyma. This shot is from today, 1925.
We thought we’d better share two photos so you could appreciate her fully.
These two eye-catching shots feature American actress Barbara Nichols, née Barbara Marie Nickerauer, who did the usual round of pin-up modeling and beauty contests before earning a running part in the Broadway musical Pal Joey. She later appeared in the film version along with Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak and other notables, and during her show business career became known for playing strippers. Pretty easy to see why. We have no date for these photos, but if we had to guess we’d say 1955 or 1956.
Attack of the 150-foot woman.
When Michael Todd’s famed musical Mexican Hayride opened in New York City he decided to have the program art, which had been painted by Alberto Vargas, aka Varga, reproduced at giant scale on the billboard atop the Winter Garden Theater where the show was being staged. This photo shows Varga’s giant pin-up almost completed. In person the matador-like figure, which is modeled after but isn’t quite a portrait of star June Havoc, was probably garbed in bright red with gold brocade, matching the colors of the program art. The reverse of the photo says: A gargantuan Varga girl, 157 feet wide and 30 feet high, has been completed atop the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway in New York. Sketches for the illustration were made by artist Varga in Chicago. Of course, the horizontal image doesn’t look very impressive at a mere 433p in width, so through the magic of Photoshop and for no other reason than we wanted to see what it looked like, we’ve reoriented the image below. There’s some egregious pixel stretching happening on the lower half of the figure, but all things considered, it looks pretty good. You can drag it to your desktop and rotate it for a better look. The photo was shot today in 1944.
Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum?
We’re at the penultimate page of the Goodtime Weekly Calendar of 1963, and as promised last week here’s a great shot from Ron Vogel of an unidentified model getting her groove on. This just cries out to be repurposed as a 12-inch cover or some kind of concert poster, don’t you think? The image actually brings up lots of humorous possibilities, and we were contemplating something along these lines for a subhead: She’s not the only one who loves beating something between her legs. But then we decided that was just too much. We have some class here.
Among the quips this week is one from a person named Barbette. We had no idea who that was, so off to the interwebs we went for an answer. Turns out Barbette was a famous trapeze performer and female impersonator. He was born Vander Clyde Broadway, and in his aerial act performed in full drag only to reveal himself as a man at the end. As his fame grew he worked all over the U.S. and Europe, selling out storied venues like the Casino de Paris, Moulin Rouge, and the Folies Bergère.
His renown extended beyond the realm of performance. He was photographed by Man Ray, cast in Jean Cocteau’s experimental film Le sang d'un poete, was the subject of Cocteau’s essay Le numéro Barbette, and choreographed aerial scenes for Hollywood movies. It’s also possible he was the inspiration for Reinhold Schünzel’s musical comedy film Viktor und Viktoria, which was remade as Victor Victoria by Blake Edwards. Quite a legacy. We aren’t sure if his quip is particularly insightful, but even Barbette had his off days.
Feb 24: “A college girl who eloped put the heart before the course.”—G.S. Kaufman
Feb 25: “Women think about love more than men; that’s because men think more about women.”—Barbette
Feb 26: A woman’s strength is her weakness. She fights by yielding and conquers by falling.
Feb 27: :One group of people who live on love are the owners of drive-in theaters.”—Jack Herbert
Feb 28: “For every man there’s a woman; but the chances are one may get the wrong number.”—He-who Who-he
Mar 1: “Alimony: The high cost of guessing wrong.”—Quin Ryan
Mar 2: Every girl should have a husband, not necessarily her own—Hollywood Code
Fame can be such a drag sometimes.
Above, a July 4 1965 issue of National Enquirer with Barbra Streisand on the cover and a lamentation inside on the hollowness of fame and fortune. Streisand was discovered singing in a Greenwich Village gay bar in 1960 and made her first appearance on television the next year on Jack Paar’s show. In 1964 she scored a Broadway hit playing Fanny Brice in the rags to riches musical Funny Girl, and her career took off from there. We don’t know if she ever actually claimed she was happier before her fame. If she did, all we can say is that into everyone’s life some rain must fall. And if that rain happens to be in the form of millions and millions of dollars, well, you just have to deal.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1954—First Church of Scientology Established
The first Scientology church, based on the writings of science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, is established in Los Angeles, California. Since then, the city has become home to the largest concentration of Scientologists in the world, and its ranks include high-profile adherents such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
1933—Blaine Act Passes
The Blaine Act, a congressional bill sponsored by Wisconsin senator John J. Blaine, is passed by the U.S. Senate and officially repeals the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, aka the Volstead Act, aka Prohibition. The repeal is formally adopted as the 21st Amendment to the Constitution on December 5, 1933.
1947—Voice of America Begins Broadcasting into U.S.S.R.
The state radio channel known as Voice of America and controlled by the U.S. State Department, begins broadcasting into the Soviet Union in Russian with the intent of countering Soviet radio programming directed against American leaders and policies. The Soviet Union responds by initiating electronic jamming of VOA broadcasts.
1937—Carothers Patents Nylon
Wallace H. Carothers, an American chemist, inventor and the leader of organic chemistry at DuPont Corporation, receives a patent for a silk substitute fabric called nylon. Carothers was a depressive who for years carried a cyanide capsule on a watch chain in case he wanted to commit suicide, but his genius helped produce other polymers such as neoprene and polyester. He eventually did take cyanide—not in pill form, but dissolved in lemon juice—resulting in his death in late 1937.
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