Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Perspective On Fame.

"The motion picture business in those days was very different from the motion picture business of today. No other stars will ever hold the unique position occupied by Wallace Reid and Mary Pickford. The game has grown beyond that. There are too many attractive men and women, too much competition, too many theaters, too much interest now in the story, the settings, the cast, the photography. The motion picture fan has evolved, and the days of such enormous personal popularity as came to Wally are gone forever. No one can take Wally Reid's place because that place no longer exists. Like many another monarchy......it has become a republic."
- Adela Rogers St. Johns, Liberty Magazine, June 1928

Wallace Reid April 15, 1892 – January 18, 1923

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Some Dame!

Alright, not really a Dame if you want to be technical.  More like a Baroness.

Born in 1874 little Marie Rose Antoinette Catherine de Robert d'Aqueria de Rochegude of Le Havre would, in 1895, marry in Paris and hence become the Baroness Catherine d'Erlanger.  In London where she and the Baron lived at 139 Piccadilly (Lord Byron's old joint, don't you know) she would be more commonly known as "Flame" for her hair color.

Flame as painted by William Bruce Ellis Ranken

Before you begin to feel to sorry for Flame being couped up in that city house, do know that it was one of three in which the Baron and she encamped.

139 Piccadilly exterior and....

Then there was Falconwood the Palladian manse outside of town:

Falconwood drawing room as painted by Sir John Lavery

And lastly, there was the place in Venice.  What.  Everyone needs a place in Venice.  But do they really need to name it Villa La Malcontenta?

La Malcontenta 

The Baroness loved the arts and she loved the artists.  Here she is being the art by participating in a tableau vivant, The Five Senses at Her Majesty's Theatre in London, 1900.

"Tasting" is the sense that the Baroness embodied.

Catherine cultivated the most astonishingly irreverent continental society of bohemians, artists and aristocrats at salons in her homes.  She was pals with Ravel, Debussy, Nijinsky and Proust.  She was also financial patroness to Diaghilev, The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and Cecil Beaton. (why buy art when you can buy artists?)

In short, she knew people.  So much so that when Helena Rubenstein was launching what would become her empire in 1908, she hired Flame to be her guide though the complex hierarchy of London Society.

The other thing we find out about the Baroness (and in Rubenstein she had a kindred spirit here) she was a junker -- a picker!  She absolutely adored trolling through the London flea markets searching for 'beautiful things'...at bargain prices.  Cecil Beaton once described her homes as being "decorated with an eclectic display of shell flowers, witch balls and mother of pearl furniture, all picked up for a song at the Caledonian market!"

Things in the 1930s, as we know, were getting a little dicey on the Continent, and at some point she appears to have loaded a container or two with some treasures and beat a path to North America.  Now, should you even be surprised when I tell you that her move led her to settle in Hollywood, U.S.A.?

She bought a lovely and shockingly unpretentious home just a couple of blocks north of the Sunset Strip.  Life did not slow down for our Flame.  It's probably also no surprise that she discovered and became dear friends with the fabulously mad decorator/artist Tony Duquette.  They would actually influence one another.

You can see elements of her Duquette-icised living room.  The crystal room divider.  Silver lame drapes with crystal valances.

In 1939, in the same building that would house Spago in the 1980s, our gal opened up Cafe Gala.

As Spago.
This was a few years after the infamous 'pansy raids' of the early 30s but make no mistake, Cafe Gala was quite pansy.  In a reserved sorta way.  No touching beyond a handshake and all that.  But the clientele made it clear and the place was jokingly known around town as Cafegaleh.  Often, after hours and after closing Bobby Short recalled that the place would be taken over by that wacky bunch from MGM:  Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Conny Salinger, Roger Edens, Lenny Hayton and Kay Thompson.  The Cafe Gala sparkled and shone for a decade. After it's happy run ended, the Baroness d'Erlanger opened "881".

This nightery was recently mentioned again in the Scotty Bowers book as he was the bartender who opened the place.  Shortly after this time though, after a very large, long and fabulous life, the Flame started to dim.  She was getting a bit dotty and slowly receded from public life.  She spent her days, tiara firmly on her head sitting in the garden behind her house and in 1959 booked passage on the Fabulon Express.

Just another day in a Hollywood garden.

Thursday, April 5, 2012