Ruth Bayton

Ruth Bayton, originally uploaded by punalippu.

Photo: d'Ora, Vienna. From the cover of Swedish photoplay magazine Filmnyheter, 1928:1.

Ruth Bayton is practically unknown on the great internet, but my guess is that she was a British black dancer. There's an interesting article about black artists in 1920's Britain that mentions her, available on Jstor (if you have access to this database).

I'd really like to know more about her, so if you can help, I'd be happy...


Alfred Abel

I first encountered him in Metropolis (1926, good article at cyranos.ch). Abel played the future industrialist Joh. Fredersen, father of the young hero, who orders the creation of an artificial woman in order to provoke the oppressed workers into a fatal uprising. (I've always wondered why the robot woman is supposed to subvert the peaceful preaching of Maria, although the real Maria keeps the workers lulled in a state of passive hope, most useful to the rulers.)
Abel's gaunt look was very impressive, and his acting was wonderfully tactful (compared to the rest of the cast). Turns out that he was rather cute in real life, although the eyebrows were part of the mask. Behold:

What a striking difference!

Abel (1879–1937) was not only a successful and well liked actor in film and theatre (as early as 1914, he had performed in every theatre in Berlin), he was also a director and producer. His first film part was under the direction of theatre wizard Max Reinhardt (I found a book about him in Berlin last December). Besides Fritz Lang (Dr. Mabuse, Metropolis) he also worked with F. W. Murnau and Ernst Lubitsch - names that really should make your modern little hearts beat faster. Interestingly, he began his career by studying gardening and artistic drawing... and his own production company was called Artifex Film (something interesting for my mother!). He also had a well-kept wardrobe:
As usual in this blog, he died far too young, after a longer illness in 1937. He just escaped the claws of the Third Reich; his daughter Ursula, who was also pursuing a career in acting, could not produce proof that he was "Aryan", and she had to give up her dream. Without the proper pedigree, an actor was not accepted. Abel's father was a peddler, Louis Abel, married to Anna Maria Selma in Leipzig. Their names and trades would make them suspicious in the eyes of later generations. All clues pointed to a Jewish origin.

Sources: Wikipedia

I suppose that accusation was a sign of posthumous anti-Chirayliqism (as experienced by certain Russian actors, who, being too handsome, were accused of belonging to various politically incorrect ethnicities).


Zu Tee und Tanz

Zu Tee und Tanz - Band 11
Originally uploaded by punalippu
I found this amazing Weimar era music album in a local second hand book store. It's a potpourri of fox trots, tangos, schlagers and operetta hits.

"Wann kommst Du zu mir?"

Text von Karl Farkas; Melodie von Franz Steininger. 1927

Wo ist die Frau, die heutzutag'
dem Andrang wehren kann?
Sieht sie nur halbwegs aus,
sieht sie ein jeder an.
Der Smoking-Dandy wandelt sich
zum Liebesseladon
und macht ihr gleich die Proposition:

Wann kommst Du zu mir?
Wann kommt die Stunde, die uns vereint?
Ich sehn' mich nach Dir,
wenn Nachts der Mond in mein Zimmer scheint!
Die wahre Licht, die uns selig macht,
wird durch die Nacht erst an den Tag gebracht.
Kommst heut Du zu mir,
dann bleibst Du sicher bis morgen hier!
Wann ...

Man denkt natürlich nicht daran, daran zu denken je,
und sagt dem Rendezvous im vorhinein ade.
Doch andern Tages kommt ein Briefchen rosa oder blau,
und drin steht: "Hochverehrte, gnäd'ge Frau!

Wann ...

Puppy & Girl

Washington, D.C., 1920. "Miss Marie Smith." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. Found on Shorpy: The 100-year old photo blog.


La Campana di San Giusto

The Italian bersagliere is flirting with Valona (Vlorë in Albania) and makes Trieste jealous. A cartoon from the First World War.

1915. Seductive Trieste is tempting the bersagliere, whose hands are tied by Italy's neutrality. But not for long...

To understand a bit about the world of Goldenbird, one needs to know a little bit (or a lot?) about Italy's adventures around the Adriatic Sea in the 1910's and 1920's. Italy was originally neutral, due to its agreements with Austria-Hungary and Germany, but joined the war on the side of France and Britain in 1915 in the hope of gaining some so-called irredenta - external territories inhabited by Italian-speakers and claimed by the nation. In the world of Goldenbird, Ginestra is one such town, situated somewhere between Trieste and the Istrian peninsula, a multi-ethnic relic of the former Empire with a mixed population of Italian- and Slavic-speakers (perhaps also some unevacuated Austrians and Hungarians, as well as Romanian workers, thrown in for good measure).
Sung by the immortal Caruso, this is the liberation song of the former Austro-Hungarian Free Imperial City of Trieste, annexed by Italy in 1920.

La Campana di San Giusto

Per le spiaggie, per le rive di Trieste
suona e chiama di San Giusto la Campana:
l'ora suona, l'ora suona non lontana
che più schiava non sarà.

Le ragazze di Trieste
cantan tutte con ardore:
O Italia, o Italia del mio cuore,
tu ci vieni a liberar!

Avrà baci, fiori e rose la marina,
la campana perderà la nota mesta;
su San Giusto sventolar vedremo a festa
il vessillo tricolor.

Le ragazze di Trieste...


On Mustaches

A mustache-themed post at the lovely film star blog Allure inspired me to scan these images of silent film star David Powell, from an article about him in the Swedish photoplay magazine Filmen (1920, No.5), which included some musings on the subject of mustaches. Since many of Goldenbird's male characters have mustaches, I have given the subject a lot of thought. Mustaches are historical phenomena of great social and political import.

The 19th century could be considered the golden age of facial grooming. Looking at the 20th century, we see a continued interest in mustaches during the first decades, but gradually, mustaches fall out of favour. In the latter half of the century, the beardless mustache is more and more associated with subcultures or "others", non-Europeans. Why did it happen? I can speculate on several reasons. The mustache has always been a symbol of privilege. In many European armies of the 18th century, only officers were allowed to wear a mustache. With the democratization of Western culture, the mustache acquired a taint of aristocracy and backwardness (one might ask why the moderniser Kemal Atatürk, for example, shaved off his mustache). On the other hand, mustache-wearing has been seen as obligatory for men in many Southern European countries - as well as Arab, Turkish, and South Asian cultures. For example, in Italian regional proverbs, the mustache is a symbol of sexual prowess, and it is not surprising that the celibate priests were not expected to sport them (full beards are a different story - with a full beard, you're a patriarch, a revolutionary, a mystic, larger than life!). Perhaps the decline of the mustache was a new phase in the development of the Western bourgeois masculine ideal, as it became a trait of villains, often foreigners.

One thing is sure: The mustache had a rocky career in the dream world of Hollywood, often opposite to its popularity in the "real" world. Behold mild-eyed, Scottish-born Welshman David Powell (below, with Billie Burke).
"- Well, a mustachioed gentleman never looks quite correct, according to many. 'That's no good,' I once heard a couple of ladies utter when my likeness appeared on the screen. My acting was obviously of less importance. Due to the mustache, I was impossible from the very beginning. - On another occasion, I heard an older gentleman make the assumption that I surely was the villain of the drama - 'look at the whiskers'. The comment was incorrect, since my act at that occasion did not include any rascality or roguishness. - However, in a few of my latest films, The Firing Line and The Teeth of the Tiger - the latter currently in production - I believe that my mustache will be in harmony with the characters that I will play. In the first, I have to fall nobly in action; it is the prerequisite for the happiness of the heroine, Irene Castle, with Vernon Steele. And in the latter one I am very cruel; according to the script, I have to look like I had seven human lives on my conscience."
- David Powell, Filmen 1920 No5 (my translation)

NB: In both of the films that Mr Powell mentions, he played characters with French names - in the latter, the great Arsène Lupin himself!


Straw Hat Season

Street Scene: 1921 (From Shorpy, the 100-year-old photo blog.)
Falco is wearing a straw hat in Goldenbird #1. Back in the beginning of the century, it was the standard summer headgear of men, in Europe as well as in America. Just do a search in the New York Times archives on "straw hat season", and you will reveal the importance of a cultural institution, as well as the controversy that it could spark among well-behaved citizenry, especially if the holy limits of June 15th and September 15th. A sample of headlines follow...

KILLED IN STRAW HAT ROW.; Man Shoots Another Who Destroyed His Out-of-Season Headgear.
October 9, 1911, Monday [...more...]

FIRST STRAW HAT OUT; And Honeysuckle Blooms in Jersey, with Mercury at 70.
January 21, 1913, Tuesday
WASHINGTON, N.J., Jan. 20. -- It is straw-hat season here now. J. Clark Axford, a local business man, set the fashion by driving around town to-day with the Summer headgear adorning him. He was laughed at for the most part, but nobody could deny that there was nearly as much excuse for the light covering as in the middle of Summer. [...more...]

To the Editor of The New York Times:
In pointing out that the Italians are a highly civilized nation, would it not be of weight to adduce the fact that in Italy men continue to wear straw hats as long as the weather justifies them? - LOUIS HOW. New York, Sept. 20, 1917. [source]

CITY HAS WILD NIGHT OF STRAW HAT RIOTS; Gangs of Young Hoodlums With Spiked Sticks Terrorize Whole Blocks. VICTIMS RUN THE GAUNTLET Youths Line Car Tracks and Snatch --Mob of 1,000 Dispersed on Amsterdam Avenue.
September 16, 1922, Saturday
Gangs of young hoodlums ran riot in various parts of the city last night, smashing unseasonable straw hats, and trampling them in the street. In some case, mobs of hundreds of boys and young men terrorized whole blocks. Complaints poured in upon the police from men whose hats were stolen and destroyed. But as soon as the police broke up the gangs in one district, the hoodlums resumed their activities elsewhere. [...more...]

Whew! And people complain about today's youth. Among other interesting tidbits of straw hat related information: the trimmings were often made with "glycerined ostrich". "Anomalies in Millinery" is a lovely headline, too. I must remember to use it somewhere.


The Sin in Syncopation

Welfare workers tell us that never in the history of our land have there been such immoral conditions among our young people, and in the surveys made by many organizations regarding these conditions, the blame is laid on jazz music and its evil influence on the young people of to-day. Never before have such outrageous dances been permitted in private as well as public ballrooms, and never has there been used for the accompaniment of the dance such a strange combination of tone and rhythm as that produced by the dance orchestras of to-day.

Certainly, if this music is in any way responsible for the condition and for the immoral acts which can be traced to the influence of these dances, then it is high time that the question should be raised: "Can music ever be an influence for evil?"

Anne Shaw Faulkner, The Ladies Home Journal, August 1921 (pp. 16-34.)
Mrs Faulkner goes on to list several reasons to why jazz is evil, and the first reason is the most blatantly obvious one: because people think it is. Of course, not any kind of people. Clergy don't count - they can't be expected to approve of dancing generally. Jazz is recognised as an evil influence by the proprietors of "large dance halls" and "big country clubs", but interestingly also in "big industry", where it was claimed that workmanship and efficiency declined after the workforce had enjoyed jazz.

"Jazz" was defined differently in the early 1920's; for some, it was a very vague term, applicable to almost any kind of "out-of-tune" music, or syncopated rhythm. The latter is also common in many varieties of folk music around the world. Mrs Faulkner focuses on this trait:
Syncopation, this curious rhythmic accent on the short beat, is found in its most highly developed forms in the music of the folk who have been held for years in political subjection. It is, therefore, an expression in music of the desire for that freedom which has been denied to its interpreter.
Both Russians, Poles, Hungarian Gypsies and African-Americans share this historical experience. But is there also a universally human appeal in the rebellious, sinful syncopation? Is that why the workers become less efficient? Mrs Faulkner tries to exorcise jazz by explaining it, by dissecting it and analysing it to bits and pieces, but in the end, there's only strangeness and weirdness left. And when she cannot explain, she conjures up new demons.

Jazz originally was the accompaniment of the voodoo dancer, stimulating the half-crazed barbarian to the vilest deeds. The weird chant, accompanied by the syncopated rhythm of the voodoo invokers, has also been employed by other barbaric people to stimulate brutality and sensuality. That it has a demoralizing effect upon the human brain has been demonstrated by many scientists.
Mrs Faulkner now attacks the elusive jazz devil head-on, summoning "many scientists", the authorities of benevolent "white" magic, to her help. The "black" magic of jazz threatens not only workplace efficiency and public morality. It threatens the very foundation of bourgeois civilisation. Young people have become "imbued" with the spirit of rebellion - with jazz - "that expression of protest against law and order, that bolshevik element of license striving for expression in music".

And now we come to a piece of popular science that was quite en vogue in the early 20th century, and that I hope to return to in a future post. It is also vital to the later development of the storyline in Goldenbird.
The human organism responds to musical vibrations. This fact is universally recognized. What instincts then are aroused by jazz? Certainly not deeds of valor or martial courage, for all marches and patriotic hymns are of regular rhythm and simple harmony; decidedly not contentment or serenity, for the songs of home and the love of native land are all of the simplest melody and harmony with noticeably regular rhythm. Jazz disorganizes all regular laws and order; it stimulates to extreme deeds, to a breaking away from all rules and conventions; it is harmful and dangerous, and its influence is wholly bad.
Curious preferences, just a few years after the horrors of the Great War! No wonder that people should be trying out these new vibrations, after witnessing what the regular beat of marches and hymns could lead to! But Mrs Faulkner fears something else than war: she fears "degeneracy".
A number of scientific men who have been working on experiments in musico-therapy with the insane, declare that while regular rhythms and simple tones produce a quieting effect on the brain of even a violent patient, the effect of jazz on the normal brain produces an atrophied condition on the brain cells of conception, until very frequently those under the demoralizing influence of the persistent use of syncopation, combined with disharmonious partial tones, are actually incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, right and wrong.
Or - could it be - that syncopation and disharmony, those musical methods of rebellion, simply fan the flames of discontent with the present state of things and reveal the artificial nature and natural artificiality of society? There is a battle between two modern worlds - the good, hierarchical, efficient and regular world of Mrs Faulkner and her scientist sorcerers, and the evil, rebellious, crazy, disorderly, sexually charged and racially mixed world of jazz musicians and dancers.

I fear that "good" won the battle by taming the "evil", de-clawing it and fattening it on dollars if it conformed, banishing it into oblivion if it rebelled. But rebellion will always find a way...