Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hazel. She Was Much More Than A Maid.....



No, not that one.  We got a whole different Hazel on tap today.


If you are someday on a quiz program and you are asked (for a one million dollar prize) if a Caucasian movie actress ever appeared on the cover of Jet Magazine.........


You're welcome.

But, love Roz as I do, we need to take a closer look at the other woman with her......Hazel Washington.  What a gal.

Hazel was born in Dallas in 1915.  Somewhere in her early teens she came to Los Angeles and was, by age 16, married to Roscoe (Rocky) Washington.  There seems to be much higher ceilings (opportunity wise) for the Washington clan during those unenlightened days than for other minority families.  Rocky, a member of LAPD was the first uniformed African American to achieve the rank of Lieutenant on the force.  Rocky's brother Julius was a Captain in the Los Angeles Fire Department, and Rocky's nephew Kenny Washington was the first Black pro athlete to sign a contract with the NFL!  So, yes, the fellas did well, but Hazel was no slouch!

By the early thirties, Hazel found employment as a 'movie maid'.  To call the position a maid is really a bit of a misnomer.  The people who did these jobs were really a combination of servant, star chef, personal assistant, and (before the costume departments became unionized) wardrobe mistress.  In quick succession, Hazel worked for Virginia Bruce, Ginger Rogers and the Great Garbo.  But in Hazel's case, the number 4 was the charm.  When Garbo went back to Europe, Rosalind Russell was her next employer.   Russell had been looking for a replacement maid.  Her previous one was a tad, shall we say, star struck.  Roz said that when she would sit down to chat with Clark Gable on a set, her maid would park herself right next to them so she wouldn't miss a word that Gable said.  Further, the woman was fascinated by the camera.  "She wound up in more shots than me!"  None of this was an issue with a seasoned pro like Washington and, as Russell was willing to pay her year round and not just when she was on a picture, Hazel stayed. 

Hazel and Roz (being the women they were) found in short order that they had become good friends in addition to their employment arrangement.  Garbo's entreaties to come back to work for her fell on Hazel's deaf ears.  One day in '36 Hazel came to work carrying a beautifully stylish leather handbag.  Russell raved, wanting to know where it came from.  Hazel told her that she had seen one in a magazine and swooned.  She realized that she could never afford it, so she went to a leather and findings shop, purchased materials and made a copy of it for herself!  Flabbergasted at the workmanship from someone who didn't know the leather goods business, Roz told her friend that she wanted her to go to night school and study the craft and further that Russell would pay for it.

Then in early '41, in the most unlikely of places, Beverly Hills......

The Afro American newspaper, March 14, 1942

For a little perspective, that $100 bag mentioned in the article would be $1500 in today's dollars.  And it was on the low end of prices in the shop.  All of Hollywood flocked to the place.  Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Joan Crawford, Ann Sheridan, Mary Livingstone, and Lena Horne were clients.  Hazel did a custom order of gloves, made to measure, for Gable.  There was a portable bar in black kangaroo skin for Van Johnson at $250.  Picture frames in powder blue suede.


The shop didn't last very long, but not because of poor sales.  It was because leather became increasingly difficult to get during the war.  While planning their next business move, Russell and Washington continued the old arrangement of Star and maid.  Around this time (because apparently there was nothing Hazel couldn't do) Washington also became the first licensed hairdresser hired by the studios to do black hair for such films as "Cabin In The Sky" and "Stormy Weather".

Finally, as both Hazel and Roz were a wiz with the knitting needles, they started a business of handmade luxury cashmere knitwear trimmed, typically in beads, sequins, lace or fur.  That is the business that the Jet cover article above talks about.  You can read the full article here.

Hazel Washington's fabulous life doesn't stop there.  I found continued mentions about her. 

1959 - Rocky and Hazel celebrate their 28th wedding anniversary at Lionel Hampton's opening at Hollywood's Moulin Rouge.

1965 - Hazel has a furrier design a full length lavender mink coat.

1966 - While attending a Shriner's convention in Manhattan, the Washingtons occupy the duplex penthouse of the New York Hilton at a cost of $500 per day.

And this little item from 1962:




The last mention I can find anywhere of Hazel was squib in the Baltimore Afro-American from 1979.  It said that Hazel was planning, with the help of a Paul Gardner, to write her biography.  It doesn't appear that the book ever happened though.  And that, dear readers, is certainly our loss.


7 comments:

Ask the Cool Cookie said...

Wonderful! Ad if you read Roz's Life Is A Banquet, she really adored Hazel. loved this Felix!

Jon said...

I loved reading this fascinating story - such a shame that Hazel's biography never came to fruition... Jx

normadesmond said...

poifect!

Muscato said...

Too fab. And yet another reason to adore Roz Russell. As if that were even necessary.

You've got a great book idea there for someone with the energy to do some leg work - she must have surviving relatives, and it looks like both an inspiring and potentially commercial story.

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ilduce said...

Great post! I think Hazel's life needs to be your next full length project!

Anonymous said...

Wow, Roz is continuously interesting. Knew of her friendship with Hazel, didn't know they went into business together. Wish someone would do Hazel's bio