We asked the fantastic Laura Pearman of Pearman Photography for her take on vintage movie pin-ups from the golden age of cinema.
If you go through my Insta-feed you will see I’m no stranger when it comes to the old archives of IMDB and vintage movie stars. So when I was asked asked to blog about my love of vintage movie Pin-Up’s, I found it hard to choose where to begin.
Being fascinated with the human condition as I am (nosey – if you are calling a spade a shovel) I will never tire of the Hollywood tales of what went on off-screen. Let me tell you honey. The dames of yesteryear completely trounce the starlets of today’s tinsel town. All the while being in times of “pre-feminism”. I revel in their bad behaviour!
Let’s begin with the long drawn out rivalry that went on for SEVENTY years.
Crawford Vs Davis.
In one corner you have Joan Crawford from poor beginnings, she sang and danced her way through vaudeville. Used her sass and beguile to shimmy her way to the top.
In the next corner you have Bette Davis. From a middle class background, she delicately carved out her career in the more “approved” way. She schooled in acting, trained thoroughly, prepared steadily and went the enviable expected way, virginal and chaste in reputation all the way.
It is said they were very aware of each other’s careers from a very early stage, but publically they did the classic female thing of claiming they “hadn’t a clue” who the other was. For years they battled, one-upping the other at awards ceremonies, over marriages (and many of them), over children, film roles and on and on it salaciously went. All to culminate in their Double-Billing:
Whatever Happened To Baby Jane:
Despite so many years having passed them both, and their collective careers having dwindled with their aging, the rivalry of their enduring war was still present during filming. Crawford was still just as vain, and slowly wore down the producers and director with her demands to become more and more beautiful throughout the movie (the opposite to her role as it was written). Juxtaposed to this, Davis’ classically trained approach ensued, she becomes more and more hideous in her appearance, as her character “unleashes”. Naturally there were no Make up artists involved in this game – these stars were old school, they did it themselves, from their own trailer.
They both objected to having their children near to the others, citing potential “treacherous bad influence”. During the finale beach scene, sources say that sets of children and nannies were directed to wait “supportively” at either end of the beach.
The attacks also became more direct. It is rumoured that Crawford put weights in her outfit to try and throw out Davis’ back during the bedroom lifting scene. In turn Davis would loiter with the rest of the crew, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer, near to Crawford’s trailer, to irritate her.
Bitter rivalries were not exclusive to just the ladies. What we all thought was a romance made in toe-tapping heaven, wasn’t so peachy after all.
Ginger Rogers has often told (after the hey-day) in interviews, how much she felt bullied by Astaire during their routines, and how much harder it was for her to do everything backwards, in heels and usually wrapped up in reams of gowns.
He was a perfectionist, and preferred to run rehearsals over and over. He always cited his sister as his best partner, and even tried to have a contract drawn up to limit his appearances with Rogers in movies to just 5 pictures.
Both Astaire and his wife Phyliss only ever had terrible things to say about the famous Ostrich feather gown from ‘Top Hat’ – 1935 (Cheek to Cheek). Describing it as a number that looked like the ‘murder of a chicken’.
Liz Taylor was famously given the actual horse as a ‘well done’ gift at the end of wrapping on her first movie ‘National Velvet’ – 1945 (kinda’ puts all of the merit badges you ever achieved through school to shame right?). In a Channel 4 documentary (‘Elizabeth Taylor: The Auction of a Life Time’) some cite this lavish gift as the beginnings of her desire for large gifts throughout her life.
It doesn’t explain her switching over to shiny jewels though!
And my did she get em!
Lovers fawned to please her with the most precious of jewels from the annals of history. She had pieces from the Spanish Royal family, diamonds that broke world records for an array of things like shape, carat, and colour.
Katharine Hepburn refused to play the game of glamour and ceremony much to her own detriment, despite her talent and education in acting. It took a long time for the world to realise that she would not conform to their expectations of her.
“Once a crowd chased me for an autograph. “Beat it”, I said, “go sit on a tack!” “We made you”, they said. “Like hell you did”, I told them.”
When Hollywood demanded their leading ladies to be bejeweled, made up and in frocks, Hepburn was there in slacks and with bedraggled hair. She would fight to select her own directors during a time when actors and especially actresses were the puppets. My personal favourite movie starring her is ‘The African Queen’ – 1951, if you haven’t seen this ultimate classic, you simply must allocate a Sunday afternoon (or fake a sick day ASAP).
I’m going to round up with an unlikely pin-up now.
Many associate Judy Garland with the idea of prim and properness frilled with musicality. But scrape a little bit of that icing off, and there is a wonderful layer of scandal beneath!
Put aside the saccharine sweet memory in your brain of Dorothy’s sparkling shoes.
My first memory of Queen Garland is the Gershwin film ‘Strike Up the Band’ – 1940.
I had a rare upbringing of dancing lessons combined with playing dress ups from the ironing basket whilst my Mammy would iron on the weekends, watching old black and white movies.
Picture this. The 40-sum orchestra has been in the giant MGM studio for probably a whole day. They must have been running take after take with them. There are so many components of shooting a scene like that, where a piece can go wrong. Its 1940, you can’t green-screen in a correction. So you have to re-take it from the beginning.
The two stars of the film are minors. They are very tired, and have lost their ‘special star quality’. Its getting late. You can’t afford another day of wages for all of these musicians to come back tomorrow to re-shoot this. What do you do?
Call in ‘Doctor Robert’
This results in a manic adolescent Mickey Rooney orchestrating; as wide-eyed Judy appears fists clenched, jaw grinding, both singing away. Its insane to watch this treatment of kids now.
I still have the shivers when I think of Rooney now!
Eventually Judy handed over the reigns to Liza, her daughter who had been in Hollywood next to her mother at work training since being a child. Quite literally in the wings having the odd dance lesson form the likes of Gene Kelly between takes and singing lessons from the greats (in addition to her own Mother of course).
People wondered why Judy Garland came across a little loopy in the end of her life?!
I love it all!
Then there are the ‘That’s Entertainment’ documentaries from the 70’s that interview the Hollywood stars about all their roles and difficulties during the ‘golden’ era.
In turn we then saw a wonderful array of parodies of ‘That’s Entertainment’ which were equally wonderful.
But we would ultimately have none of this if it wasn’t for the actual lives of the OG’s in the first place.
Just like the individuality I love to bring out when shooting my pin-ups on my adventures, every one of the ladies we’ve looked at today has a beautiful quality and mystique about them that makes them their very own kind of vintage pin-up. Yes their all actresses, so can perform somewhat, but what no one could have predicted was the darker element each of them possess. This for me is what makes them real. That is what makes them more beautiful.
Laura is a Vintage Pin-Up Photographer that shoots on location all over the world. She is based in the North-East of England.
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