Saturday, March 16, 2013

What becomes of their Wedding Rings!?

I started out this post trying to find a good scan of some of the early film fan magazines like Picture Stories which basically retold the stories of films that were out in theatre, with stills from the production. As in, they told the whole story (with varying degrees of accuracy), not just part of it for review purposes. Anyway, I wanted that because a friend had told me that my blog reminds her of Television Without Pity and other recap sites. So I wanted to find something that showed the long history of ‘recaps’ as a way of engaging with media.

But instead I found this, and there was no way that I could post anything else:

“What Becomes of their Wedding Rings?: The Merry – and Otherwise – Widows of Hollywood Dispose of Them Variously” by Dorothy Manners, Motion Picture Magazine, 1928.

Surprisingly, none of the stories involve throwing rings into the water.

Oh My God! Celebrity Wedding Rings of the 1920s! Ex-Wedding Rings! None of them are actually widows, so far as I can tell - all divorcees. I love texts from the past which remind us that tabloid journalism, celebrity schadenfreude, and divorces didn’t just start happening with the downfall of society in the 1980s (or any recent decade to which is attributed the beginning of the end of the supposedly idyllic past).

And don’t you just love that picture? Stars of today – dump your rings in the pond!

So, you may ask, what did the stars of the past do with their wedding rings, “that little band of gold with which they once took vows to love, honor and obey?  That little gold circlet that at one time stood for so much happiness, or unhappiness, or alimony, as the case may have been?” So many things!

Of course, “some of the Hollywood ladies refused to answer” – which is why you will probably not recognize any of the names of the film stars who did answer. Any publicity is good publicity if you're up and coming, I assume?

Priscilla Bonner (“the downtrodden damsel of the movies who has always been cast out in the snow with a baby in her arms – for publicity purposes” – of course) giggles as she reveals that she pawned her ring: “I needed the money a lot more than I did that solid gold reminder of a tinsel experience. Why shouldn’t I have sold it? I paid for it in the first place.”   

Why not, indeed?

Still others, like Jacqueline Logan, give them to their chauffeurs! Jacqueline Logan’s story has a lot of great rhetoric in it: “peppy and red-headed,” Jacqueline “didn’t have much luck in her matrimonial flyer with Ralph Gillespie.” As Manners puts it, “as a husband, Mr. Gillespie was a great luxury. The girl has a lot of sweet memories – all of bills.”  Ouch. 

Anyway, her chauffeur, a “young coloured gentleman named Freddie” was about to get married, but couldn’t afford a ring. Instead of paying him a higher salary, Jacqueline gave him her ring, with the statement that it’s “just as good as new, and you can have the initials crossed out.” You could probably write an entire paper about race, gender and narrative in 1920s Hollywood just from that story...

Others are more “lavender and old lace,” as Manners puts it, and still wear their rings or keep them safe in a drawer. For example, “the separation of Virginia and Jack Daugherty is very recent. The imprint of the ring still shows on her finger.” A more poignant touch.

And then, of course, there is the art of making a story out of what is essentially ‘no comment.’

Leatrice Joy (yes, her name is Leatrice) ‘won’t tell’ about the whereabouts of the ring from her marriage to Jack Gilbert: “it’s too personal and too intimate.”  And “Florence Vidor felt the same way. Only more so.”

Which is just to say that the rhetorical work of film fandom is endlessly fascinating. At least to me… Has anyone seen this kind of story in current magazines, or would it be too tacky for current tastes?

Back to romances next, a more recent one this time: The Sheik’s Christmas Bride.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Rapture of the Desert: Finally, the Desert!

Wow, I’m finding this one a bit hard going. I don’t know what it is, because Violet Winspear is usually good for some enjoyable, if sometimes overdramatic, reading. This book, however, feels like it is missing a plot and is thus entirely stretched-out banter with nothing underneath it. The banter itself is occasionally entertaining, but without something moving it forward…

Anyway, here’s the conclusion of Rapture of the Desert:

Chrys spends the night at the Russian grandmother’s castle and wakes well-rested. Anton talks her into going to the beach with him. As he puts it: “I must bathe in English waters before I make my return to the desert” (87). Chrys talks to Anton as if she really hates him and has proof that he kills babies or something. And then Anton overbearingly doesn’t pay any attention to what she actually wants to do. It’s intended to be a Taming of the Shrew dynamic, I suppose, but things seem a bit mismatched to me. She accuses him of having a harem, he says, of course I don’t, but why are you so afraid of love. And then they swim in the ocean and have a picnic.

After the swim, Prince Anton gives her one searing kiss: a “shock of pleasure, contracting all the many tiny, sentiently placed nerves in her slim, cloistered body” (102). Basically, they should just have sex and I think both of them need a therapist. One kiss, and then Chrys heads back to her life and Prince Anton to his.

We fade back in after Chrys’ sister’s wedding. Chrys has taken  that job as a companion . She’s accompanying Maud Christie, an adventurous widow, on a dig in Egypt. Maud’s now deceased husband was an archaeologist and Maud got the travelling bug from him. Maud and Chrys arrive in to Port Said and Chrys is quite taken by the city: “the gleaming minarets and domes of an oriental city, floating on the horizon, and making her heart beat so much faster than the admiration of any man” (109). The last third of the book is set ‘in the desert’ and is mostly about how Chrys falls in love with ‘the East’. She really really likes the desert. She even suggests that her training as a ballerina has prepared her for desert life, not a particularly common suggestion in sheik romances.

As we might expect, Prince Anton shows up again in Egypt. First, he’s in ‘disguise’ as a mysterious Arab who appears wherever Maud and Chrys are travelling. He’s got a thin mustache, so Chrys doesn’t initially recognize him. He watches her get her pocket picked and then sends her a beautiful Hand of Fatima to make up for it.

Maud and Chrys meet up with a young Dutch archaeologist who worked with Maud’s husband and will be on the dig with them. As they head out into the desert, Maud worries about Chrys’ safety (around the native men, naturally) – she’s obviously read a lot of orientalist fiction. Fortunately (or unfortunately) there are no abductions in the book. Instead, as they are riding towards the desert camp, Maud’s horse is startled and runs away with her and Prince Anton somehow happens to be there to rescue her. He takes Maud and Chrys to his house (called Belle Tigresse) to recover.

It’s a beautiful house, of course; it also has an excessive number of fur throws. Like a Siberian tiger skin which matches the colour of Chrys’ hair. Anton and Chrys spar and then he strong-arms her into a kiss, quotes Oscar Wilde at her and proposes. She accepts, despite the fact that she won’t be able to be a top ballerina if she marries him (he has no interest in facilitating that). No one has changed their behavior and nothing is really resolved. It’s an abrupt ending.  The novel didn't follow the typical structure of a sheik romance, which could have worked in its favour, but for all that it just ended up feeling aimless, to me. A lesson in the effect of genre structure on genre readers?

Well, that was Rapture of the Desert. It started off so well, with the Russian prince named Casenove and the passionate ballerina (!), but maybe the next one will be better. Next up, twenties film magazine fun!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Rapture of the Desert: the grandmother edition

When last we left them, Chrys (a ballerina recovering from a terrible fall) and Prince Anton (a prince) were having dinner and dancing at a fancy Regency-style club in London. Then Prince Anton heads out into the night with Chrys in his car: destination unknown.

While they’re driving, we learn a little bit more about both of them.  As is common in many romances, Prince Anton had a strained relationship with his mother.  As in, she divorced his father and deserted him. She was too “selfishly gay” and needed more attention than his father gave her, and so ran away with a “French artist who came to North Africa to paint the Ouled Nail dancers, and the Arabian cavalry, and all the wonders I remember from my boyhood” (55).  Even Anton's tragic past is full of Orientalist motifs!

Anton tells Chrys that in the old days, this journey might be described as a “Cossack abduction, with the man snatching the girl away on the back of his horse and riding full tilt across the steppes with her” (60). Another commonality between Cossacks and sheiks, I suppose. As it turns out, Anton is taking them to Kent (which apparently reminds him a little of certain parts of Russia, due to the scent of apple orchards – UK and/or Russian readers: any truth to this?) to…wait for it…visit his grandmother!

He’s definitely a bit of a jerk, but his grandmother is charming (as is usually the case). She is also wearing a fabulous outfit: “a kaftan of deep-purple brocade, trimmed with braid around the full sleeves […] her hair was covered by a kind of veil, almost nun-like” (64). She has henna on her hands. And she is very happy to see her grandson. 

Anyway, they all have tea and sandwiches together and talk about Madame’s old days as a Russian ballerina and the nature of passion (both for people and for a career). Then Madame shows Chrys her guestroom and leaves her for the night, leaving behind “a subtle insinuation” which seems “redolent of the distant East” (79).

But when are we going to the East, that’s what I want to know?! So many hints, but no action yet!

We’ll see next time…

I'm back!

This blog has been quiet for a while for happy reasons; I've been defending my PhD about flexible labour and romance writing associations, teaching two courses and taking a trip to the UK with my girlfriend.

But now I have a bit more time (and mental energy), so it's back to all sheiks all the time. I still have a shelf-full of books to get through and I'm sure you were all waiting to hear what happens to the ballerina and the Russian sheik.  And you will find out in the next post!

Until then, here's a post on movie fan magazines by media scholar Anne Helen Peterson, who also occasionally writes fabulous gossip round-ups of classic star scandals on the Hairpin. Photoplay, how I love you!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Rapture of the Desert: Stuck in an elevator

Chrys and her sister Dove leave the hotel and Chrys is glad to get away from the burning gaze of Anton de Casenove, a gaze which “makes her feel that she was  girl of sixteen again, who had never been out of England, and never been kissed” (15). And we learn that she has in fact never been kissed except in the context of a ballet. I really, really hope she still gets to be a ballet-dancer at the end of this book… I’m worried about this.

In any case, Chrys has to return to the hotel because her sister has forgotten her wedding shoes inside and has to rush off to another appointment. Prince Anton, of course, is there and takes over the search in the guise of being helpful. She gets the shoes and then they get in the lift together (a lift rather than an elevator since this is from the age of almost entirely British-penned Harlequins). Which proceeds to stop between floors, throwing her against his manly chest.

Thus begins a period of banter/really, really uncomfortable conversation. Chrys tells Prince Anton she certainly didn’t come back just to see him and in fact she couldn’t care less about men. He asks her if she’s frigid. Anton suggests she might get some risqué press if it gets out she was stuck in a lift with such a well-known rake. Apparently he was once shot by an angry brother. And then he proposes a bet: if they’re trapped in the elevator until midnight, she’ll go out for dinner with him.  He’s wearing her down, and I’m finding it exhausting.

Chrys seems to find it a mixture of annoying and exciting.  She “flashes” that Prince Anton must be “accustomed to the type who fall at [his] feet like harem slaves, hair unbound and eyes pleading for the thousand delights of the Khama Sutra!” (27).

This book is really interesting in the way Winspear is connecting Russia and other parts of the world classified as ‘the East’: India, the Arabian deserts, North Africa. Russia has often sat in-between Europe and the East in the Western European imagination – and in its own (this book review from the Times Literary Supplement gives an interesting insight into the subject).

Prince Anton’s role as the ‘sheik’ in this sheik romance is ambiguous, but also over-determined.  So his foreign-ness is attributed to his Russian ancestry, in particular an ancestry of the steppes, Cossacks and Tartars: “dark, courtly, demonic attraction of this foreign prince, with Cossack instincts smouldering in his eyes, and there in the sculpture of his cheekbones and his lips” (26). But Chrys is also obsessed with the ideas of the harems he might have (not a typically Cossack thing, I think). To make him really a sheik (but still only partially a sheik, after all), Prince Anton’s father was raised by a Sheik in “a desert province called El Kezar” (29).

It’s a long story, but basically his grandfather was a Russian prince who saw his grandmother, a simple village girl, dancing, and enabled her to become a ballet dancer. Then they married in secret. During the Russian Revolution (or ‘uprising’ as Prince Anton describes it), his pregnant grandmother fled Russia and his grandfather was killed. Somehow she ended up in this ‘desert province’ of El Kezar (not a real place according to my googling skills, but I'm willing to be convinced otherwise) and was taken in by a Sheik, who treated her son like his own (like The Sheik, women always seem to be wandering into deserts pregnant). So that makes Prince Anton kind of foreign in a couple of ways. Romantic ways. 

Chrys loses her bet, as the lift keeps them trapped until after midnight, and the next chapter finds her heading off to dinner at a club with Anton. Not just any club, but the Adonis club, apparently “rigged out just like those clubs of the Georgian era, where Beau Brummel and the other rakes used to dine in alcoves with their ‘ladies of the night’” (35) according to Chrys’ sister. The patrons have to wear masks. I was curious and looked it up: there is a place called “Adonis Cabaret” right now in London which runs hen nights (aka bachelorette parties). Similar?

Chrys and Prince Anton dine in their masks and converse. He orders in impeccable French. Prince Anton raises the obligatory comparison of women with horses: “I grew up among Arabs, who regard women as mettlesome as horses. It does only harm to feed a woman and a horse with too much sugar” (48).  Mmm...sugar.... They dance the foxtrot, and Chrys is carried away by the music and the dance and Prince Anton's skill. And then Prince Anton carries her away in his car…to where?

Next time…grandmothers and travel!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rapture of the Desert: Half Russian prince, half man of the desert

I’m back with a fabulous new (that is, new to me) Violet Winspear novel, Rapture of the Desert, a Harlequin Romance from 1972.  Violet Winspear (who you may remember as the creator of the fabulous toffee baron heiress ) does not disappoint in this one.  

It’s interesting that the two covers (linked from Fictiondb because my picture uploading is not working right now) are both desert-y, but vary in their dress for the hero: djellabah versus suit. But nothing that says Russian to me…

Our heroine, Chrys Devrel (short for Chrysanthemum), is a young ballet dancer who has recently danced in Russia at the Bolshoi Theatre (this will become relevant soon). She is passionate and single-minded about dance. Unfortunately, she’s also very unlucky. Chrys fell down some steps in London (my perpetual fear about any metro stairs), seriously injuring herself. She’s recovering, but she’s been told that she must not dance for the next year if she wants a full recovery.

Chrys is not very enthusiastic about this, given that a year away from dance could permanently stall her career. Her doctor gives her some advice that would annoy me if given to me by my doctor and not, say, my mother: “You have, perhaps, never tried to love anything else because to dance was all-sufficing.  Now you have to face an alternative. Now you have time and leisure…” (6). Chrys counters with the fact that her operation has taken most of her savings, so in fact she will not have leisure, she will have to work.

Anyway, Chrys has a sister, Dove (their parents were very poetic with their name choices), who is the complete opposite of her. Dove “took life as it came and had never bothered about a career.  Dove had wanted only to marry” and she’s about to get her wish, as she’s engaged to a young executive (7).  
Dove and Chrys have tea and cream cakes together at a hotel after Chrys’ appointment with the specialist and Chrys debriefs her about the situation. Dove, like pretty much all of the other characters in the book so far, predicts that one of these days Chrys is going to fall in love. Everyone is sure of this.  It’s like Chrys’s cool interest in nothing but dance is a challenge.  And of course, it’s a challenge to us the readers as well, since we know that as a heroine in a romance novel she cannot avoid falling in love, despite her statements to the contrary:

“I just love to dance, and can’t believe that any man could offer me the delight I feel when I spin across a stage and stretch my body to the very limits of its endurance.” (10)

But Dove does have some more helpful suggestions going beyond 'find a man', which is that her fiancee’s aunt needs a travelling companion. She’s travelling to ‘the East’ and her usual companion has bailed. The aunt, to be frank, sounds like more fun that Chrys: "she once wrote a thriller about the tomb of that Egyptian boy king – king of the moon, wasn’t he? It was a best-seller, I believe.  And she knows lots of interesting people, and helpd to get refugees out of India not so long ago” (11).

Chrys is reluctant, and uses the opportunity to make a vaguely homophobic remark about a choreographer, a “butch with bobbed hair,” who made a pass at her and who held a grudge against her after she was rejected.  She mentions this because she wouldn’t want to work for someone like that. Or what she calls a “fluffy type of employer” (12). Lesbians are usually completely absent from (straight) romance novels of this period, so this is an interesting reference, but I don’t think it’s going anywhere.

But now we meet our hero, sitting across the hotel lounge staring at them.  He is well-dressed, handsome, and intriguing: “the very perfection of the dark grey suit he wore made him seem illimitably foreign” (13), meaning, I suppose, that British men are not well-dressed? Dove knows who he is, as he was written up in the paper the day before, as someone who “only cares about horses, cards, and fine living” (13).  He is Prince Anton de Casenove and he has “Russian royal blood in him, and they say he attracts women like a magnet” (14).  Casanova!

A marathon staring session follows. Chrys doesn’t have a good impression of Prince Anton (she thinks he’s interested in harems and card-sharping), but she really is quite attracted to him, although she denies it. I think we can all see where this is going. Anyway, Chrys and Dove scurry out of the hotel and Chrys hopes to never see Prince Anton again.

But will she? I predict she will take that job with the aunt and she'll run into Prince Anton somehow due to that...