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Thursday, October 14, 2010


Ava Gardner (above) has long been labeled as one of the loveliest women to grace the silver screen. In a town full of beautiful girls, it is no surprise that she occasionally came gorgeous face-to-gorgeous face with one of her fellow competitors for the title of "Most Beautiful." One instance goes way back. When she was making her initial train ride to Hollywood in 1941, she was unaware that another MGM starlet was on board: Hedy Lamarr  (below).  However, while LB Mayer let Ava keep her melodic sounding name upon her arrival, Hedy had not been so lucky. When she was first signed at MGM, LB changed her name from Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, having decided to name her after Barbara La Marr-- one of Movieville's greatest forgotten beauties. Ava and Eva, who knew? Both girls had been plucked from their native homelands by MGM-- Ava from North Carolina and Hedy from Hungary-- to be made into stars, though Ava was a complete unknown, and Hedy had already appeared in several foreign films (including the notorious Ecstasy). In fact, when Ava first made the rounds in Los Angeles, Jimmy Fidler said she "looked like Hedy Lamarr, only better." Interestingly, the two women would cross paths again after they became famous, this time in Mexico when Ava was on her honeymoon with Frank Sinatra, and Hedy just happened to be vacationing in the same place! It's a small world for Goddesses.

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A similar parallelism happened to Norma Shearer (left) and another struggling actress. Back when Norma was a model in NY, playing the piano at local movie theaters to get by, she constantly bumped into another ingenue at casting calls. However, while years later people would recall the ambitious and passionate beauty that Norma was even then, they struggled to remember the other girl in their midst: Jean Arthur. Jean (below) was too shy and awkward to draw much attention behind the cameras, but Norma? As photographer Alfred Cheney Johnston put it: "Now... there was an outstanding personality!" The two ladies were very soon off to Hollywood, but they would not share a train. Norma made it out west in early 1923, and Jean followed a few months later. Strangely, people are more familiar with bashful Jean's movies than Norma's these days (thanks to the former's work with Capra and Stevens). Yet, while Norma's acting style seems a bit outmoded in these modern times, the eternal diva lives on in her celluloid kingdom as the dangerous, free-wheeling Prima Donna of her generation.

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Once upon a time in New York, a young dancer was being instructed on new  choreography for the "Embraceable You" number in her upcoming stage production, Girl Crazy. The man teaching her the new moves was a skinny, scrawny sort of fellow, but he also had a strange sort of charm and an amazing talent to boot. An initial curiosity was sparked, and they went out on a date-- dancing of course. Though they liked and respected each other a great deal, romance was not on the menu. Instead, they went their separate ways, working on their own individual entertainment careers. Years later, they would be re-teamed in a major motion picture in which their dance routines stole the show: Flying Down to Rio. Though the magic never happened between them in real life, in reel life they were electric, and audiences would savor them together on the screen nine more times. They would enjoy one of the most enduring romances of cinematic history despite their lack of attraction those years ago.  Back when Fred Astaire was polishing Ginger Rogers's technique on that NY stage, he had no idea that he had just met his professional soul mate!

Destined to Dance- Ginger and Fred

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When gifted thespian Judith Evelyn (right) was performing in the play "Craig's Wife" in 1947, she had the privilege of working with a young ingenue whom she found to be quite mature for her years. The young blond was educated, ambitious, patient, and generous with her co-stars-- a real pro. Judith was impressed and was certain that the lovely young lady would carve out quite a career for herself. Of course, she had no way of knowing that the junior actress's notoriety would eventually surpass her own. Years later, the two were reunited on the set of Rear Window, in which Judith played the important role of Ms. Lonelyhearts. When Grace Kelly (below) discovered that her former co-star and hero would be working with her, she invited Judith to her dressing room to share a bottle of champagne and celebrate their reunion. They often met during the shoot to catch up and reflect on old times. Judith found Grace to be as humble and sweet-natured as ever. At least some things never change.

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Now, for a bit of pre-Halloween spookiness...

Franchot Tone (left)was one of the handsomest leading men of his day. Though he is less remembered than some of his contemporaries, he was certainly man enough to win the affections of Joan Crawford, to whom he was briefly married. He was quite the Lothario-- a charming ladies' man. His position as a famous Hollywood actor only made it easier to impress women. One night in 1944, he was out at the infamous Formosa Cafe when he spotted a beautiful young woman with dark hair and piercing blue eyes. Naturally, he singled her out as his lady of choice for the evening. They got to talking, and he discovered that she was an aspiring actress. She was quite fascinated with him. She asked him questions and was eager to learn how she too could get her own career going. In his head he thought, "This one's in the bag!" Franchot assured her that he could give her some advice, introduce her to the right people, etc. She was eating out of the palm of his hand by the time he got her into his car to meet an "associate." 

They drove to his swanky bachelor pad, and the young lady's attitude changed when she realized Tone had no associate waiting for her and instead had other things in mind. When Franchot tried to put the moves on her, she resisted completely, trying instead to change the subject back to her career. He realized that he had made a mistake. Despite her beauty and gorgeous curves, she was really a naive little girl at heart. She hadn't come to his room for a rendezvous;  she had really hoped to learn something from him. Feeling a bit embarrassed, Franchot dialed things down, and they talked for awhile before he put her in a cab. Less than 3 years later, he would receive quite a shock when he learned that her body was found beaten, mutilated, and cut in half, lying on a patch of grass at 39th and Norton in downtown LA. The papers were calling her "The Black Dahlia." He had known her only as Bettie Short (pictured below). Disturbed by the experience, he probably looked at every woman he tried to pick up a bit differently after that...

Hope your costume hunting is going well! Just two weeks to go!!!


  1. I never knew that about Tone and The Black Dahlia.That is so interesting. I learn so much from you . Thanks

  2. Yay! So glad I am imparting new wisdom. Especially to a smarty pants like you!