Saturday, October 31, 2009

Jack Holt and His Pastel Drawers

Jack Holt (May 31, 1888 – January 18, 1951) was a man's man in Hollywood. His career lasted through both silent films and talkies, mostly Westerns, up to his death in 1951.

Jack , a native New Yorker and son on an Episcopalian minister, who was expelled from Virginia Military Academy for bad behavior. He had aspirations of being a lawyer, but ended up traveling the country doing just about everything. He mined gold in Alaska, rode cattle, delivered mail, worked on the railroad, and was a civil engineer.

Author Zane Grey with Jack Holt

While employed as a surveyor in San Francisco in 1914, he got his big break into pictures. He offered to ride a horse off a cliff for a stunt, because no one else would do it. The director was so glad, he gave him a part in the film - and Jack Holt, actor was born.

Some Fun Facts About Jack:

  • His children Tim Holt and Jennifer Holt followed in his footsteps, making mostly westerns. Tim became quite a bit more famous than his father.

  • Chester Gould based the drawing of Dick Tracy on Jack Holt, particularly his granite jaw

  • Jack Holt was Al Capp's favorite actor and he drew his bumbling detective character Fearless Fosdick after Jack.

  • Became a life member of the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of California on July 13, 1928 based on his direct descent from Capt. John Marshall, 1700-1795. His General Society membership number was 7810 and his California Society membership number was 364.
  • He was Margaret Mitchell's choice to play Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind

Jack Holt and Norma Shearer

Sylvia gave Jack Holt facials quite regularly. She did not comment on anything about him, except that he preferred being naked, except for his silk purple drawers while getting his facial. Not quite what I expect from a macho western star.

Catch Jack in action in this flick

Next up - Why did Neil Hamilton freak out when Sylvia arrived on his doorstep?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Shy Ernest Torrence

Ernest Torrence (June 26, 1878 - May 13, 1933) was a silent film star, who made the transition quite well to talking pictures. Some of his best known roles include Captain Hook in 1924's Peter Pan and Buster Keaton's captain dad in Steamboat Bill, Jr (1928). Unfortunately he died of Gall Stone surgery complications at the age of 54.

Ernest did not want to get a massage. This Scot was quite leary of a woman giving him a massage, which is not a new phenomenon. But as the wise Sylvia knows, "all boys get girlish and skittish when they have to take a professional interest in their looks, and big Ernest is no exception" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 67).

Sylvia's impression of Ernest's home life was quite interesting, "Like all those oversize fellows, Ernest has a small, firm-minded wife who bosses him around as if he were a young St Bernard" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 67). Poor Ernest! I don't know much about him, except he did fabulous in Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Well, Ernest's wife, Elsie Torrence asked Sylvia to give Ernest a massage because Ernest was too embarrassed to have a female masseuse. So Elsie and Sylvia went to scheming. While poor Ernest was in the tub, Elsie had Sylvia come over and get ready for the massage. Elsie told Ernest while he was in the tub that the masseuse was here. He was so upset, that he refused to take off his robe!

When Elsie Sylvia finally got his robe off, they found that the ingenius Ernest had safety pinned three towels together around himself. His wife, Elsie and Sylvia tore them off, and the massage commenced. No word on whether he enjoyed it or not :)

Up next, what color do you think Jack Holt's drawers were?

Ramon Novarro - Secret Vampire?

Ramon Novarro (February 6, 1899 - October 30, 1968), the well-known silent star heartthrob, was one of Madame Sylvia's clients. He lived a quite interesting life, and unfortunately traumatic death. To read about his life and death, check out or

According to Sylvia, Ramon lived with his Spanish father, mother, and 10 brothers. I'm not sure how accurate this is. Every other biography I have read about him, says he had 3 sisters and 4 brothers. Not sure who the other boys were.

Madame Sylvia had a 7 AM appointment daily to give Ramon a massage. What creeped her out, was his bedroom. According to Sylvia, Ramon's room was a replica of the burial crypt of a saint that resides in Vatican City. In fact, his bed was "high, narrow, and set on a pedestal, is a sarcophagus, under a purple canopy crowned with a wreath of thorns" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 65). Sounds quite creepy to me! I know it's modeled after a Saint, but it sounds like something Dracula would sleep in :)

The only observation Sylvia made about Ramon himself, was that he was soft and delicate. She thought he was quite a sweet person. The only time Madame Sylvia had a problem with him was after he got back from a trip to Germany. You see, he got quite a bit of a tummy after the trip. To prove the point, Sylvia decided to trick Ramon. One day, Sylvia saw Ramon in his pool and asked him if he could float indefinitely. He said he could while smoking an entire cigarette. Well, his fat was obvious. Ramon's excuse was "Who can resist Munchener beer?" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 66). Who could indeed?

Next Up: Ernest Torrence gets tricked into a massage

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mary Duncan, flasher and Murnau, murder victim?

Mary Duncan (August 13, 1895 - May 9, 1993) had a relatively short career by Hollywood standards. She made about 20 films before getting married and retiring to Palm Beach where she became THE person in society, counting among her friends the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Rose Kennedy. She spent her days socializing, doing charity work, and golfing until her death at 97 years old.

Mary Duncan first encountered our wonderful masseuse, Madame Sylvia in 1928. Mary asked Sylvia to be her full-time masseuse. This would involve giving Mary morning, noon, and night massages - plus dietary tips for a period of 1 year.

Sylvia wasn't so keen on the idea, worried that there would be the same drama she endured during her association with Mae Murray. However, Sophia Wachner, dress designer at Fox Studious, needed Sylvia desperately to be Mary Duncan's masseuse. Mary did not fit into any of her dresses at the hips for the upcoming production of one of the last silent pictures, "Our Daily Bread".

Naturally, Sylvia couldn't refuse, so she accompanied Mary Duncan on the set in Pendleton, Oregon along with Mary's Sealyham pup named Topsy, Mary's hairdresser and maid, a gallon of mineral oil *an ace-in-the-hole of all reducing diets at the time), and of course, Mary Duncan herself.

Pendleton, Oregon was having a fair and they made Mary Duncan queen of the fair. They had her and Sylvia ride ponies down the street. Unfortunately, Mary did not know how to ride, and somersaulted off her horse and caused quite the scandal because she of course, was wearing no panties! How naughty of her ;)

During the filming, the crew and Mary (plus director Murnau) all rented bungalows in the city. Murnau is best known for the pivotal silent horror film, Nosferatu (which I watched Sunday night on TCM by the way). Murnau and the rest of the crew seemed to take advantage of Sylvia's skills, even though Mary was the only one paying her. This included massages and dietary food.
Well, one night Murnau couldn't make it over for dinner, so he asked Sylvia to make a meal of salad for him. One of the ingredients Sylvia used for weight loss was mineral oil salad dressing. As we all know, too much of it can make you quite sick. On this particular night, Sylvia had already dressed the salad. Sylvia's assistant did not realize this, so she put more mineral oil salad dressing on. The director Murnau got quite sick and accused Sylvia of poisoning him!
It was a complete accident, but Murnau did not trust her again. But the pain was so great, that he needed Sylvia's help to get better. madame Sylvia prescribed rice water, toast, and tea without cream or sugar.


When the party got back to Hollywood to shoot the interior scenes for the film, Winnie Sheehan, a Fox Executive, with livid with Madame Sylvia. Not they though Mary Duncan was too thin, and this would wreck the continuity of the film. So of course, Sheehan fired poor Sylvia, or "that lemon squeezer", as he called her.

Up next - Madame Sylvia gives Ramon Navarro a rubdown

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Diet Food Gone Wrong - the Mae Murray Episode

Mae Murray (May 10, 1889 - March 23, 1965) was a major Hollywood silent star, who unfortunately is remembered mainly for her loss of touch with reality and inspiring the character Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. She also happened to be Madame Sylvia's next famous Hollywood client.

The relationship between Mae and Sylvia began during the Christmas season of 1927. Mae asked Sylvia to go on a cross country trip with her as her masseuse. Sylvia was warned not to go, but she could not pass up this major opportunity. Mae Murray said this to get Sylvia on board:

"You come along with me on a coast-to-coast tour, and let's not talk dough. What you get by the week is - poof! - pin money. I've got plans for you. We'll launch a breakfast food! Say, we'll do a sanitarium right over in Westwood. There's millions in it! Think of your darling sons. Do it for them. They'll be rich!" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 26)

Now who could say no to that? I know I couldn't.

Well, it didn't quite work out that well. After the trip, Mae Murray and Sylvia ended up in court and they endured a 2 day trial. Mae wouldn't pay Sylvia for her work claiming she did nothing during the trip. Sylvia prevailed. Some of the juicy things that came out of the trial

  • Mae had to be reprimanded because she threatened to start throwing inkstands at the participants of the trial

  • Mae claimed Sylvia rubber her so hard that the arches in her feet fell

  • To prove that Sylvia really did good work, starlet Alice White was a witness and was willing to "show the court how Sylvia reduced her". She appeared in court in virtually nothing and a sweet pea corsage on her shoulder. (Hollywood Undressed, Page 27)

The drama between Sylvia and Mae was mainly due to Mae's husband, Prince M'Divoni. He hated Sylvia and didn't like his wife "getting so intimate with a peasant" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 29). Seems funny to me, because Mae didn't exactly come from royalty. It is also funny because it is widely questioned whether he is is really a Prince.

During the trip, Mae and her husband would fight about what to get the Prince's son for Christmas, apparently daily. Every time Sylvia would try to give Sylvia a massage, Mae and the Prince would be arguing for hours about the Christmas present

Anyway, every time Sylvia would try to give Mae her massage, the Prince would refuse Sylvia admittance to their suite. Sylvia earned $275 a week for this fun time.

The "wonderful" Prince M'Divoni

Coincidentally, he was an extremely horribly man from all accounts. According to divorce documents,

On March 2, 1928, at their home in Los Angeles, Mdivani was alleged to have beaten his wife in the presence of a servant, to have cut her lip, to have chased her with a loaded gun, and to have used profanity and called her ugly names"


And how did that diet food Mae and Sylvia worked on turn out? Well, According to Sylvia, it was canned and "looked like wood paste". Sylvia refused to even try it, let alone market it. When Sylvia said Mae could eat it if she liked it so much, Mae refused saying that Sylvia was the dietitian, she should eat it. Needless to say, it never was sold.

This "wonderful treat" was "tested" when Mae stopped in Chicago. She was supposed to take out a troop of girls to eat after their show. Instead, she had Sylvia mix up three cans of their "health food" with olive oil to teach the girls how to "eat healthy" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 42). They hated it and went to the doughnut shop after Mae left the room. The youngest girl of the group tried it and spit it out. Mae was apparently oblivious, and thought the girls loved her "treat".

Note, all photos are of Mae Murray unless otherwise noted

Next up, Mary Duncan fights for Sylvia's services.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Marie Dressler - Sylvia's First Hollywood Client

Marie Dressler (November 9, 1868 - July 28, 1934) was quite an unconventional star, but she was quite famous. Marie appeared in silent movies in the 1910s, went away do to illness, and them had a career comeback in the 1920s. While many may consider her a ham, she was quite a good actress, even winning a Best Actress Academy Award in 1931 for her work in Min and Bill. And who could forget her fabulous portrayal as Carlotta Vance in Dinner at Eight?

Madame Sylvia attributes Marie's fame to the fact that "she is competition for no one. Marie is nobody's rival for a beauty prize" (Page 13). In fact, to quote Marie herself, "I'm too homely for a prima donna and too ugly for a soubrette."

Marie Dressler started visiting Sylvia in 1925. Sylvia was recommended by a doctor at the Ambassador Hotel to Marie when she came in for gastritis. As time went on, Marie visited Sylvia intermittently because Madame Sylvia improved her looks too much, and as Marie put it "My fat is money in the bank (Page 22)." How many actresses would say that?

When Marie Dressler made it big, the first thing she did was to check into the Ambassador Hotel, the second was to send for her astrologer Nella Webb. Marie did nothing without her astrologer's o.k. Her astrologer, Nella Webb, prophesied that Marie would make it in Hollywood when she was getting nowhere in New York (Page 19). Some things I have read claim that Marie and Nella were lovers.

Marie knew that she was a valuable commodity. For example, when time came up for her to get a raise, the studio held out. She refused to cave, so Marie rented a mansion in the Hollywood Hills, got herself a second car ("just a little Packard for the servants, my dear!") and laid in a winter's supplies and high-priced Filipino Chef to cook them. Marie even went so far as to leave for Grand Central Station threatening never to return to Hollywood. It worked - for studio executives met her at the station with a new contract for twice what she asked (Page 24).

A fun side note, during the filming of The Callahans and the Murphys, Marie had to drink 12 steins of near beer every day for a week camera. Needless to say, Madame Sylvia was not pleased with this.

For some great sites about Marie Dressler, check out:
The Marie Dressler Story
Marie Dressler's Broadway Appearances
Up next, Madame Sylvia's entanglements with Mae Murray gets quite dicey.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

And the winner is . . . . Madame Sylvia!

The winner by overwhelming margin was Hollywood gossip, courtesy of Masseuse to the Stars Madame Sylvia. I found this really cool book, Hollywood Undressed: Observations of Sylvia Ullback as noted by her Secretary
Sylvia working her magic
We will hear more about Sylvia herself later, but I will start out with a few tidbits today. Please keep in mind that this book is from 1931, so the stars we will be hearing about were famous in the 1920s and 1930s.
Sylvia Stretching What I found out to be most interesting when I tried to find out info about the book and Madame Sylvia was that even though she was quite a famous masseuse, virtually nothing is known about her life. Many things I have read seem to confuse Sylvia (the masseuse) and restaurant owner Sylvia Wu. They are very different, so I am not quite sure what information is true. The Glamorous Madame Sylvia Hollywood Undressed, is about the exploits of the stars, and Sylvia's interaction with them. Much of it interesting, frustrating, and some quite juicy. This book is written from the perspective of Sylvia's secretary, but from what I was able to find out - Sylvia penned it herself. This was designed, apparently, to protect Sylvia's relationship with her clients and from libel. Some Sylvia tidbits for today: Sylvia paddled Jean Harlow on the rear for being hefty
Sylvia swatted an unnamed talkie star for being fat and not fitting into her gowns. As Sylvia says "The fat comes out through the pores like mashed potato through a colander"
And what did Madame Sylvia charge for her "beatings"? A mere $15
Tomorrow we will hear all about Sylvia's relationship with Marie Dressler.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

If Your a Brunette - Colors You Look Fabulous In!

The black-haired, dark-eyed women in this group can wear either black or rich brown as a basic color. Becoming to them also are white, peach, apricot, brick Chinese red, russet, sage green, bright greens provided they do not make the skin seem sallow, mustard, burnt orange, henna, tan, and beige.

Norma Shearer
If the hair is medium brown, skin is tanned, and eyes are blue or gray, brown is the most flattering basic color, especially in tobacco and in russet shades. Other flattering colors are dull gold, dusty rose, woodsy greens, soft dull blue and muted orange-reds.
Gail Patrick And now, to end on an optimistic note - no brunette need envy a blonde. Her type of beauty wears better, is not so fragile, and she can flaunt it more - use more daring perfume, brighter make-up, more striking coiffures. But she does have to work a little harder to get her effects! Gail Patrick

This ends lovely Ruth Murrin's beauty advice based on hair color. I hope this gives everyone ideas for how to be a fabulous 1938 beauty.
Carmen Miranda
I've been reading some fun vintage beauty and house keeping books from the 1930s and 1940s. Not sure what I will be posting next, but possibly some advice from one of the vintage books.
Ann Blythe

Monday, October 12, 2009

If you are a brunette - Makeup tips Part 2

By far the largest number of brunettes have warm coloring. Their skin tone ranges from light olive to a deep tan.

They look best when they use dark rachel, beige, ocher, or tan powder as dark as their complexions. Lighter powder makes this type of skin look muddy.

A yellowish cast can be avoided by choosing shades livened with red. Lipstick and rouge should be orange-red, the intensity of tone depending on the vividness of the individual.

Many women of this type look best without rouge. Mascara should be black or brown and eye shadow green, gray, or brown.

Friday, October 9, 2009

If You Are a Brunette - Coloring Part 1

Here's a Ruth Murrin's 1938 take on Brunette coloring - Part 1

With a clear complexion and shiny dark hair set off by perfect grooming, a brunette has a fine start. But to complete the picture, she must know her color schemes. There are warm brunettes and cool brunettes, and a girl must know to which side she belongs.

The most famous example of the cool group is the Irish type - black or dark brown hair, milky skin, pink cheeks, blue eyes. She looks best with creamy powder, rose rouge and lipstick, black mascara, blue eye shadow. She wears blue beautifully in every shade except harsh, bright blue. Powder blue is especially becoming. Black and navy are good basic colors for her, and she can wear purple bluish orchid, turquoise, gray, rose, ruby, and emerald.

Then there is the dark-haired, brown-eyed girl whose medium skin has lots of pink in it. Her best make-up is a pinky rachel powder, medium bluish red rouge and lipstick, black mascara, brown, purple, or green eye shadow. She like her "cool" sister avoids brown and chooses black or navy as her basic color. She looks well in bluish greens, bright jade green, warm pinkish gray, deep blue, pure soft yellow, crimson, American Beauty, wine, and all the deep bluish reds.

Part 2 coming soon!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

If You Are a Brunette . . . What about your skin?

If you are a Brunette by Ruth Murrin (from June 1938 Good Housekeeping)
The trouble with being a brunette is that there are so many of them. The competition is formidable. This situation daunts Miss Lazy Bones and Mrs Timid Soul, who think, "What's the use?" and let themselves go. But to any girl with an ounce of enterprise, it's a challenge. Perhaps that is why so many dark-haired girls with no looks to speak of grow up to be chic, distinguished-looking women.
These successful brunettes know that their effectiveness depends largely on contrast - dark hair framing a clear skin. They know, too, that among their liabilities is a tendency to murky complexion. In the teens and early twenties they are subject to oiliness and blackheads and blemishes that may accompany it, and as they grow older and their skins become dryer, they complain of the "dirty beige" color their faces take on instead of the bright, fresh aspect they need to set off dark hair.
At the oily age brunettes who are intelligent about their cosmetics use soap and water plentifully. They keep on hand liquid cleansers and tingly skin tonics. They use masks for cleaning and freshening. A starch mask, which is simple and inexpensive, interests them especially just now. When choosing face powder, they demand sticking power and suede finish; and because "Clean up before make-up" is a law for oily skins, they carry cleansing pads in their purses.
It is a canny brunette who knows when her skin has stopped making too much oil and actually has too little. Then her routine changes to include cream cleansing and cream at bedtime, for if she lets her skin get dry and scaly, it will soon look coarse, dark, and neglected. She stocks and uses preparations that protect her face from wind and sun, and likes a light, fine powder.

I am not quite sure why Ruth is so harsh on Brunettes! I know not just brunettes have oily skin issues. And I think I might be Mrs Timid Soul ;)
Starch mask – this mask helps to make enlarged pores less evident and restore healthy glow to the cheeks.
Ingredients are:. 1 tablespoon corn starch and warm water
Massage your face gently with a little olive oil, then apply starch mask on the face and neck and leave on for 20 minutes. Rinse off thoroughly with warm water.
Next up - Brunette hair care


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