Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Old Friends, New Friends, Desert Dreams.

Perhaps I gave the impression that my brief visit to Palm Springs was strictly about a little getaway vacation.  Well, yes and no.

Ostensibly the trip was planned to help the ever-lovin' kabuki zero unload his worldly lucre from the U-haul upon his arrival to neighboring Desert Hot Springs.  It was hard work but also a joy, as I haven't physically laid eyes on 'the kabook' since 1987.  I'm delighted that he is safely ensconced in his new headquarters and only two hours away from me!

As luck would have it another very dear old friend of mine George, just happened to have rented a place in South Palm Springs for the same week and so the decision was made to extend the visit by another couple of days on the front end before kabuki's arrival.

Then, as even further luck would be conferred on me, (interwebs research is a wonderful thing)  I stumbled upon a cyclonic force by the name of Shirley Claire.

The Unsinkable Shirley Claire!
The singer/actor/showgirl/trooper has lived in Palm Springs for the last twenty years or so, but she debuted on my computer a couple of weeks ago in a role that she played over sixty years ago:  That of a showgirl at the Earl Carroll Theater here in Hollywood.

Shirley is on the far right.
As the former Carroll Theater is on my tour route, and discussed at some length, you can imaging my thrill at finding Ms. Claire.  With the typical nerves that come with any schoolboy crush, I sent her an email describing myself, my tour, my upcoming visit and asked if we couldn't perhaps meet for an interview.  Her reply kicked off a series of emails and phone calls and culminated in a three hour visit that left me both dazzled and flummoxed!

The indefatigable Shirley (she eschews the phrase 'Senior Citizen' for the more appropriate 'Seasoned Citizen') made time for me after a morning of household chores (she maintains a very large home by herself with no help) and taking her four little beauties to the doggie park.  She said she would simply cancel her regular yoga class and stretch at home instead, but she would need to be wrapped up in time to go to the theater that evening.  Just hearing about her schedule wore me out.  Oh, and did I mention, she's 83 years old.

Charity Fashion Show 2009
Charity Fashion Show 2010

Having returned from the dog park moments before, she greeted me all hugs and smiles, with her knock-out body clad in a black V-neck sweater, fitted black slacks and black leather ballet flats.  Her first order of business was to have me follow her back to her dressing room so she could get out of those flats and put on a pair of black sandals with a 3" heel!  Once a Showgirl....

We then went to her office where she showed me several scrapbooks.  I got to see the original contract she signed with the Carroll organization.  Finally we settled at poolside for an extended period.  From the moment I walked in till the moment I left, we were both talking a blue streak like two people that had known each other (or had been looking for each other) for ever.  She was frank, forthcoming, wise and funnier than hell.

I don't think either one of us wanted the visit to end.  After we came back into the house for me to take off, more things to talk about came up and we found ourselves sitting side by side on a black leather bench in the living room.  It was an awkward set up to communicate sitting side by side like that.  At one point, feeling the need to face me, in mid sentence she did a fan kick with her left leg that went over my head and resulted in her straddling the bench facing me!

Apparently Shirley never got the memo that we live in a youth oriented culture.  She has never stopped (and doesn't intend to) working.  Since her move to Palm Springs she has appeared in a few seasons of The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies and done numerous club dates and one woman shows.  Please take a moment to scroll through her website, you be glad you did.

And rest assured, Palm Springs hasn't seen the last of me, Shirley Claire hasn't seen the last of me, and you haven't seen the last of Shirley Claire!!!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Just Got Back Home....

....and Dad and Mom were waiting.

**Somehow in my three year old mind, Rob and Laura Petrie and President and Mrs. Kennedy were the same people.  When the President was killed, I was very upset that I wouldn't get to see the show anymore.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


This poignant photo of Buster Keaton expressing his feeling over the death of his friend and peer Lon Chaney sums up things beautifully.  I attended the funeral of my best friends' mother yesterday.  She leaves us all better for having known an angel like her.  Rest in peace dear Faith.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How'd They Get Those Two Together!

Ella - Marilyn

Anna Magnani - Joan Crawford
Bette - Shirley

Rita Hayworth - Marlene Dietrich

Claudette Colbert - Alfred Hitchcock

Marilyn - Dietrich

Jayne Mansfield - Joan Collins

Mary Pickford - Female Impersonator Julian Eltinge

Vivien Leigh - Marilyn Monroe

Saturday, February 19, 2011

With Friends Like Peggy....

There's a very funny 1933 Paramount pre-coder called "International House" (Franklin Pangborn is in it, so of course I know about it.)  It is always thought of as a great W.C. Fields movie but, fact is, he was second billed.  The vaunted 'Cast No. 1' spot is claimed by Peggy Hopkins Joyce.  Peggy don't get much play these days, but believe me when I say, she was some dame!

Let's get a little 'P.H.J. 101' out of the way so I can get to the part I want to tell you about.

* She was born in 1893, in the Norfolk, VA area.

* She ran away at age 15, joined a vaudeville act, and by 1910 she married the first of her six husbands.

* They were all very rich men.

* She would spend a lot of their money and grab a lot more in each divorce.

* A marriage vow to Peggy had nothing to do with monogamy.

* She was a Ziegfeld Follies girl.

* She was an Earl Carroll Vanities girl.

* Not a very good actress or dancer, she was not without talent.  As she once said to a reporter:  "I may be expensive, but I deliver the goods."

* In the spring of 1920, and drunk with her new husband's money, the new Mrs. Stanley Joyce went on a shopping blackout and spent $1 million in a single week. Her trinkets included,  $300,000 worth of pearls, a $65,000 Russian sable coat and a $30,000 chinchilla.

* During her affair with Chaplin he collected stories she told him - they became the basis for his 1923 picture "A Woman Of Paris".

PHJ and Chaplin on a yacht off of Catalina Island 1922

* She once owned The Portuguese Diamond.  It now resides in The Smithsonian. 

* She is allegedly the inspiration for the Lorelei Lee character in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes".

* She was being honest-not funny-when she said, "It takes all the fun out of a bracelet when you have to buy it yourself."

* There is a stanza in the Eddie Cantor version of  "Makin' Whoopie" where he sings:
Take Peggy Joyce
With little voice
She soon became
The nation's choice!
I tell you, buddy
She's made a study
Of makin' whoopee

I think that should about bring you up to speed.  Now let's get a worm's eye view of Peggy in action, via an entry of her diary.
This particular episode takes place at a point in her life where things were perhaps a little too sedate for our girl.  After leaving her first husband, she had run home to mommy and daddy.  Though of modest means (pops was a barber) they loved there little darling, and after calling in some influential favors, managed to send her to an exclusive girls school in Washington DC to be finished.  

In an earlier diary entry from her days at the school she complains how none of the girls like her because she is so pretty.  The only one who is nice to her is her roommate Judy, a girl she considers her dearest friend.

Now this:

Monday morning
I feel terrible today.  I think Judy is mad at me.  I don't think she appreciates it, but last night I saved her from an awful experience....She's been going with a very tall, handsome young man.  His name is Sherbourne Philbrick Hopkins, Jr. and he is very social and Rich.  His eyes are sensuous-very dark brown-and the minute I saw him I was attracted to him and I felt he liked me.  Every time he came to pick up Judy I would catch him watching me as a cat watches a bowl of cream....

Judy says he's very much in love with her.  I told her You're mistaken, He's in love with me.  I can tell.  I told her she must not marry him until we found out who he really loved.  I told her to invite him over and I'd meet him alone and she should go across the street and if she sees the light turn off, come back right away.  When he came in and found that Judy wasn't there he walked over to me.  He didn't say much, but he didn't have to.  He took me in his arms and whispered Peggy I'm crazy about you.  He was wonderful-very loving and gentle.  As I turned off the light we laid down on the sofa.  I knew what he was up to but I had to go all the way because then I could prove to Judy he loved me....

Today "Sherby" took me shopping and bought me some beautiful clothes-two morning dresses, three tea frocks, and three Evening gowns-SIX PAIRS of shoes-and simply piles and PILES of the most wonderful LINGERIE, EVERYTHING WAS SILK....


We're eloping tomorrow....

In any case, I've saved my girl friend a terrible life....

PHJ, for whom all men were Santa Claus


Friday, February 18, 2011

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How Many Syllables, Your Grace?

Aboard the SS Constitution, on her way to Monaco to get hitched, Grace Kelly enjoys a game of charades - April 1956

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cut To The Chase

It just couldn't have been easy.  Growing up with alternative looks or 'non-conventional beauty', and being constantly surrounded by the best that beauty had to offer.

Like many women of her era, particularly those associated with the stage, the motion picture, or society, there is a veritable sampler platter of birth dates for her.  1900.  1903.  1905.  In these cases, I generally rely on the first date being the truth teller, but as Ilka's 'coming out' was held at the Cosmopolitan Club in 1923, this seems to lend credence to the latter date.

When she arrived may remain a question, but one thing's for certain:  how she arrived.  Ilka was issued from the womb of Edna Woolman Chase, the woman who ran Vogue Magazine from 1914-1952, and who, quite literally worked her way up from the mail room.

Ilka's mum, hard at work.

Looks be damned, with Ilka's connection she did some modeling in Vogue.

And by 1924 she hit the New York stage.  Then, after what George Cukor described as a whirlwind romance she married actor Louis Calhern in 1926.  The equally whirlwind marriage lasted less than a year.  It is at this time that we begin to see the emergence of that trait I love Chase for:  her wicked wit.

With the ink on her divorce papers still drying, Calhern was married again to actress Julia Hoyt.  Going through a closet one day Ilka discovered a box of her barely used calling cards.  They were on a beautiful paper stock, gorgeously embossed and simply said 'Mrs. Louis Calhern'.  It seemed like such a waste, until inspiration struck.  She packaged them up and had them sent to Julia Hoyt.  Knowing Calhern's mercurial nature only too well she included the note:  Dear Julia,  I hope these reach you in time. Ilka.

Cut for the Chase.  Ilka in Mainbocher.

By 1929 Hollywood came a calling.  For roughly the next 40 years she successfully juggled stage acting, film acting, radio show hosting (Luncheon At The Waldorf), television show hosting (The Ilka Chase Show), authoring 18 books, two more marriages and traveling the world.

On film, whether in "Animal Kingdom" in the thirties, "Now Voyager" in the forties, "The Big Knife" in the fifties, or "Oceans 11" in the sixties, her work is always competent, assured and memorable without resorting to  "scene stealing".

She earned a reputation for a frankness in observation that pulled no punches.

On cosmetics mogul Elizabeth Arden:
"....Arden is a lady of stamina and achievement, and one who hides her brains behind a bland, baby face.  She's one of the richest women in America who's built an industry independent of masculine aid and has held on to it against the encroachment of banks and other syndicates who wished to help lap up the gravy.  Yet to meet her is to wonder if she knows about coming in out of the rain.  She burbles on happily about her creams and lotions and her dear horses in Kentucky, that you smile indulgently and think, "funny little thing", and while you're thinking it, she's whipping up another million dollars."

Of Journalist Dorothy Thompson, she remarked that her gloom was gargantuan, her fighting spirit unquenchable, and that if she didn't know as much as God, she certainly knew as much as God knew at her age.

On Clare Boothe Luce:
"Clare is quick-witted on paper, but I would not say that in conversation she tossed off witticisms at the rate of Dorothy Parker.  I wouldn't say that of Dorothy Parker either."

Must get some of these pens.

In an encounter that has been credited to various people, but most widely agreed to be Humphrey Bogart, Bogart said, "I thought your book was wonderful.  I can't tell you how much I enjoyed it.  By the way, who wrote it for you?"  Chase's reply, "I'm so glad you liked it.  By the way, who read it to you?"

A couple of other reasons to love her:

While adapting her novel "In Bed We Cry" for the stage, she all but insured another acting job for herself by writing into the script that the lead character "should look and act exactly like Ilka Chase."

In 1963, she guest starred as Aunt Pauline on "The Patty Duke Show".

And, best of all, it was Miss Chase who originated the role of Sylvia Fowler in the Broadway hit, "The Women".

The marker on her grave reads:  "I've finally gotten to the bottom of things".

More Ilka Chase quotes to savor:

Democracy is not an easy form of government, because it is never final; it is a living, changing organism, with a continuous shifting and adjusting of balance between individual freedom and general order.

When he said we were trying to make a fool of him, I could only murmur that the Creator had beat us to it.

Among famous traitors of history one might mention the weather.  

The more I write, the more I find 'literary accuracy' a problem.

The only people who never fail are those who never try. 

It is usually when men are at their most religious that they behave with the least sense and the greatest cruelty. 

You can always spot a well informed man - his views are the same as yours.