Actual 1930s footage

A few of you were a bit scathing about my attempting to recast Kiss Me Kate as relevant to my 1930s NYC research. There can be no nay sayers to the following snippets of research.

First up the genius Duke Ellington & his Cotton Club Band with “Old Man Blues” from 1930:

Duke Ellington is far and away my favourite USian composer. Just for his & Billy Strayhorn’s “Far East Suite” alone. Oh, how I love “Isfahan”. Yes, I know they didn’t write that until the 1960s, but there was so much wonderful music before then. Including one of my favourite songs of all time: “(In My) Solitude” from 1934.

Next up a particularly nutty Busby Berkley number from Footlight Parade (1933):

Go, cats, go! The kid that shows up around the minute marks is SO disturbing. And I don’t want to be rude but Ruby Keeler? Not the world’s most impressive hoofer. She was no Eleanor Powell. Her singing wasn’t up to much either.

Footlight Parade’s one of my favourites of Busby Berkley’s insane extravaganzas. For some reason every single one of them features a woman putting on and taking of stockings very slowly. And many weirdo dance numbers. What is not to love? Added bonus: Footlight Parade has my favourite poster boy for ADD, Jimmy Cagney.

I’ve talked about Fredi Washington previously. If you haven’t seen Imitation of Life (1934) you really should and skip this next bit cause you wouldn’t want spoilers, would you? Reveals a lot about class, race and gender at the time. Plus I have a crush on Fredi Washington.

Here’s a pivotal scene with Fredi and Louise Beaver:

Lastly, more insanity. American fashion designers predict future fashions:

Oooh! Swish! Want. Pretty much every outfit. And the hair styles. Why aren’t we dressing like that? I sure would like to see Scott decked out in that last number. Bless!

Are you all starting to understand why I’m writing this book? Is just an excuse to swim about in an ocean of 1930s fabulosity. Music, movies, clothes, books. Everything really.


  1. Julia Rios on #

    He actually is outfitted with a telephone, radio (or MP3 player, but hey, close enough!), and containers for coins, keys and candy for sweetie (they are called pockets)! Of course, she is now outfitted with these things, too. Hurray!

  2. Sherwood on #

    My daughter and I watched Imitation of Life again just recently, and both of us cried just as much as we did the last time we watched it, when she was ten or so.

    The Ruby Keeler thing makes me reflect on what people found attractive at the time. She was very popular. I wonder if, in several generations, someone will be looking at 12 pound Kiera Knightley with her lips pooched out to there, and wonder what the heck was going on at the century change?

    The fashion thing was actually more right than not, though of course in thirties perceptive lens. They even predicted the beehive hairdo, though forty years off. Men (and women) do walk around with their own personal phones, etc . . . but men still haven’t got rid of their ties. I wonder if those will get smaller and smaller, like the gorget.

  3. Justine on #

    Julia: Also accurate prediction of pants being popular for women. Though not that huge a stretch as they were beginning to be worn by women around then. Though it was still a bit scandalous in some circles.

    Sherwood: Yeah Imitation of Life gets me every time. The racism and sexism are just so appalling. And I get so angry at what happens to Peola every time I see it.

    Some of us are looking at Keira Knightley RIGHT NOW and wondering how on Earth she became a star. I am one of them!

  4. E. Lockhart on #

    In a film class I took the prof argued that Depression era audiences loved Ruby Keeler because of her mediocrity. It somehow made the American dream possible: that this ordinary looking woman, who could sing and dance but only OKAY, could be a mega-star. They fell in love with her because she was so unexceptional. It relieved them of feeling they needed to be exceptional to get out of their difficult situations.

    Not 100% sure I buy that argument. But if correct, it applies to Dick Powell too, methinks.

  5. Justine on #

    E: Hmmm. But how does that explain all the astonishingly mediocre or flat-out untalented stars of every other decade?

  6. Laurel on #

    Oh my, but have you seen “Baby Face” starring Barbara Stanwyck? A must see.

  7. Justine on #

    I have indeed seen Baby Face. My current fave early Stanwyck is Night Nurse (1931) which is just mental.

  8. Laurel on #

    I’d better get hold of that right away, then! The pre-Code movies are great.

  9. Justine on #

    Don’t get me wrong Baby Face (1933) is a better movie. But Night Nurse has drug abuse and child starvation and Clark Cable as an evil chauffeur.

    Even though Baby Face was only made two years after Night Nurse it’s a big leap forward. One of the fun things about the early talkie films in seeing them learn how to do it. By the end of the 1930s you’re in a whole other era in terms of script writing and camera work and acting and, well, almost everything.

  10. Jodotha on #

    I adore 1930’s NYC. King Kong remains one of my all time favorite movies (both the 1933 and the Peter Jackson). Do please keep sharing your research with us, and via twitter! As for fashion, you’ve pegged my favorite era there, too. THE BIRTH OF THE BIAS CUT! It’s a beautiful thing. Cheers!

  11. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    Skirts will vanish? Never! Good girls don’t wear pants! *hides her fave jeans*

    Wedding dress of glass—you know, I think someone might just be crazy enough to try that. In fact, there was already a glass dress made in 1893… Of course, it would be harder to find that out without the help of the internet.


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