Monday, November 30, 2009

Grace Moore - Ultimate Hollywood Hostess?

Grace Moore, who held honors in musical comedy and opera, was naturally noticed by Hollywood. She came out to Hollywood with cars full of secretaries, cats, maids, dogs, handboxes and singing teachers (Hollywood Undressed, Page 157). Not exactly sure what handboxes are. I found everything from tools to blood collectors to luggage that were called handboxes. I'm hoping it's luggage :) If anyone knows, please share with us. Grace went everywhere with her handmaids and secretaries.

According to Madame Sylvia, our Masseuse to the Stars, she wanted to upstage Gloria Swanson as most popular hostess. Surprise, surprise Gloria Swanson did not get along with Grace Moore. Could it be because Gene Markey passed up an evening of charades at Gloria's house in order to take Grace flowers?

Up next - Gorgeous Grace and Vivienne Segal fight on the slab

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What is wrong with Constance Bennett?

According to our masseuse Madame Sylvia, the studio believed there was something wrong with Constance Bennett. They thought she looked sick, but was afraid to say anything. To try to figure out what was going on, Sylvia and her crew, set a trap. Joe Kennedy had a dinner party with Gloria Swanson, Laura Hope Crews, some gents, and Constance Bennett. Sylvia was invited, so she could try to figure out what was wrong with Connie.

The problem was she looked sick, her face was skinny, and her vertebrae showed. These days Hollywood would give her a medal, not be concerned about her! Because of her appearance, Connie's first talkie Rich People (1929), was postponed.

According to our Masseuse to the Stars, Madame Sylvia, Constance Bennett was "high-bred, high-strung, restless, and jumpy as a flea" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 137) before she started working on her. Madame Sylvia started giving her nightly rubdowns to help Connie sleep.

And it's no surprise, Gloria Swanson and Connie Bennett hated each other. To keep Madame Sylvia on her side, Connie offered to introduce Sylvia to royalty and invited Sylvia to accompany her to Europe. Gloria Swanson freaked out and Joe Kennedy chewed poor Constance out!

Madame Sylvia decided not to go on the European trip, even though Connie also tried to bribe her with her Sapphire ring! Who could say no to a European trip and a fabulous Sapphire Ring? I know I couldn't! Poor Constance went to Europe without Sylvia and came back with a child.

Up next - Grace Moore tries to upstage Gloria Swanson

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why does Alan Hale Sr want to wear Billy Boyd's Pants?

Alan Hale Sr (February 10, 1892 - January 22, 1950) is probably best known as the father of Alan Hale Jr who was Skipper on Gilligan's Island. He was known as a great character actor, acting during both the silent and sound era in 107 films total.

Alan Hale Sr make a brief appearance in Hollywood Undressed, by masseuse Madame Sylvia. Alan was going to be a sailor in a film. He wanted to use Billy Boyd's sailor pants because Alan thought they were lucky. I wasn't able to determine which Billy Boyd he was referring to. There were two William Boyds acting during the time: William Boyd, most famous as Hopalong Cassidy; and William "Stage" Boyd who was arrested during prohibition for drugs and alcohol (incidentally adversely affecting both William Boyds because the newspapers would mix them up)

William Boyd, aka Hopalong Cassidy

William "Stage" Boyd with Barbara Stanwyck

Back to our story, Alan Hale didn't fit in Billy Boyd's sailor pants, so masseuse Madame Sylvia began working on Alan - but only did one side before Gloria Swanson dragged her away. As we know from previous posts, Gloria got top priority with Madame Sylvia. Madame Sylvia wrote, "To this day he claims that his two halves don't match" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 131).

Some Alan Hale Sr Trivia:
  • Was buds with Errol Flynn and had supporting roles or cameos in 13 of Errol's films
  • He holds the record for appearing as Little John in separate film productions: 3

Up next: Constance Bennet looks a little creepy

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ann Harding Needs to be Drowned Out

While Madame Sylvia was under contract to Pathe studios, she was housed in a stucco shack. It was affectionately called "The Torture Chamber" (for obvious reasons).

Actress Ann Harding is one of the reasons the building was christened "The Torture Chamber". Ann's husband Harry Bannister would be present at all of Ann's treatments to help out. Ann was much more vocal than any of Madame Sylvia's other clients when she was receiving her massage treatment.

Harry Bannister and Ann Harding

Ann's husband Harry would stand outside the "Torture Chamber" and smoke nervously. He would come in and make Sylvia stop the massage if he heard Ann cry out.

Ann Harding's screaming bothered everyone who walked by or had offices near the "Torture Chamber". Because of this, a radio with a loudspeaker had to be installed in the shack to drown out poor Ann's screams. The things we do for beauty!

Up next: Alan Hale needs help getting in his britches

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Joe Kennedy issues our Madame Sylvia a Test

Madame Sylvia, our masseuse to the stars, was offered $750 a week by Joe Kennedy to work exclusively for Pathe (basically to take care of Gloria Swanson), others at Pathe studio if Gloria didn't need her, and anyone else if there was time.

Joe Kennedy in the 1920s

Before Joe Kennedy would sign the contract, Madame Sylvia was given a test. The test - find out what Joe Kennedy's physical problem was without being told by anyone. Sylvia was allowed to use her massage magic to find the answer - but nothing else.

Gloria Swanson and Joe Kennedy

Thankfully, Madame Sylvia prevailed. Joe Kennedy had flat feet.

Gloria Swanson and Joe Kennedy's Love Nest

Once Sylvia passed the test, Joe Kennedy bragged about her massages. Other executives at Pathe wanted to use her services. The executives used so much of Sylvia's time that Helen Twelvetrees, Carole Lombard, Ilka Chase, and even Gloria Swanson had to wait til late in the evening before they could get a massage!

Gloria Swanson

Up next: Ann Harding enters "The Torture Chamber"

Monday, November 23, 2009

Did Madame Sylvia give Norma Shearer paralysis?

Just like to give everyone a quick reminder about my recent posts, since there seems to be some confusion. Per the vote, I'm doing a series of posts based on the observations of masseuse to the stars, Madame Sylvia, from her 1931 book Hollywood Undressed: Observations of Sylvia Ullback as noted by her Secretary. The stories involve her interactions with her famous clients and things she may have overheard and ventures she was a part of. Sorry if there is some confusion. Many of the aspects of the book can not be verified (except for things like who married whom), the majority is unverifiable because it is gossip and I haven't been able to get a hold of other sources to verify Sylvia's stories. Please keep that in mind when reading, but I am enjoying the gossip and learning about new people and I hope you all are too!

Hedda Hopper steered Norma Shearer to Sylvia. Norma was getting "stringy, muscular, and jumpy from playing a lot of tennis" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 117). Madame Sylvia's prescription was to give her a two hour massage.

Well, Norma and her hubby Irving Thalberg were upset because the day after the treatment from Madame Sylvia, Norma woke up with red ruffles all over her body, and they thought that Sylvia gave poor Norma paralysis!

Well, it turned out that Norma had slept on a towel and it got her skin all wrinkly. Even fabulous stars can make mistakes. Unfortunately, it took a while to convince Norma to let Sylvia treat her again.
Next up - Madame Sylvia's contract at Pathe Studios keeps her busy not only with stars, but executives too!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Madame Sylvia meets Gloria Swanson and I don't think Mrs Patrick Campbell likes her

Laura Hope Crews suggested Madame Sylvia to Gloria Swanson. Swanson's secretary called Sylvia at 10 PM Saturday night for an emergency rub down. Our dear Sylvia went straight over to her Sunset Boulevard home. At the time Gloria lived on Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Drive at 904. Some people who also lived at this address at some point include Irving Thalberg, Carmel Myers, and Norma Talmadge. The cream-colored 2 story Italian palazzo house was apparently fantastic including sweeping lawns, iron-railed terraces, 22 rooms, 5 bathrooms, and a private elevator. The reception room was draped in peacock silk and hung tapestries. The breakfast room was cream and gold, she had a movie theater, and there was a black marble bathroom with a golden tub.

Gloria had array of servants including footmen, butlers, etc. At home she was known as La Marquise de la Falise et de la Coudraye. What a mouthful! I would stick to Gloria or Ms Swanson.

Madame Sylvia rubbed Gloria's nerves down for an astounding TWO HOURS! Gloria refused to let Sylvia go until she was massaged to sleep. Well Sylvia must have done a good job because Gloria wanted Madame Sylvia to work for her exclusively. As powerful as Gloria was, this did not happen.

Madame Sylvia observed that everyone has to be a rival of Gloria Swanson. Mrs Patrick Campbell, London actress known best for originating the role of Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion said of Gloria Swanson: "I've been wondering what it was that struck me most about that gel - and her most striking smile, and I've just hit on what it is. Really, my dears, she ought to be told to file down her teeth!"

Mrs Patrick Campbell
Up next - Where did Norma Shearer get all those red marks and is our Madame Sylvia responsible?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sound transition sparks cattiness

Hollywood Undressed was written during the transition between silent and sounds pictures, so there was naturally some practical things that needed to be done with the starts to make them sound ready. One of these was finding a voice coach to aid voices that were not ideal for sound pictures.

Actors and Actresses grabbed for Italian voice coaches. They believed they were the best. Norma Talmadge, got one from New York as did Laura Hope Crews.

Gloria Swanson did not get a vocal coach. Instead she stressed out gained a little weight.

Gloria Swanson, like many film stars, had a lisp. This definitely needed correction for the translation to sound films. Gloria asked Norma Talmadge if she could borrow her vocal coach, Laura Hope Crews. Norma agreed and so Hope Crews coached Gloria Swanson for her first talkie, Edmund Gouldings' "The Trespasser."

*Note - All photos on this page are of Norma Talmedge

Up next, Gloria Swanson, Queen of her household

Monday, November 16, 2009

Carmel Myers' Chauffer gets her in hot water with a Swanson and a Kennedy

Madame Sylvia had quite a juicy bit of gossip about silent star Carmel Myers (April 4, 1899 - November 4, 1980) in Hollywood Undressed. Carmel was quite famous in the silent era, but like many others, did not transition well to sound. Not because her voice didn't sound nice, but she just faded into minor parts. She is probably best known for her role as Iras opposite Ramon Novarro in Ben Hur (1925).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gloria Swanson is top dog

In 1929, Madame Sylvia was under contract to Pathe. She was in charge of taking care of Gloria Swanson, Ina Claire, Grace Moore, and Constance Bennett.. Under her Pathe contract, Gloria got first dibs on Sylvia's services - everyone else had to work around it. During this time, Ina Claire's old beau, Gene Markey, started seeing Gloria Swanson in order to make Ina mad. Instead of Ina Claire becoming mad at Gloria, she became mad at Sylvia and stopped seeing her.

For info on Ina Claire, check out:

On a side note, Sylvia gave a pretty disgusting overview of the Hollywood hierarchy she observed while working at Pathe in Hollywood Undressed:
"In Hollywood you can high-hat some, and you can't high-hat others. On the lot you can high-hat writers, dialogue directors, the man who takes orders for custom-made shirts, people who act in Westerns, and Spaniards" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 105).
I'm not sure if that says more about Madame Sylvia, or the times in which she lived.
Up next, Carmel Myers gets on the wrong side of Gloria Swanson.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Basil Rathbone's Masquerade leads to Ina Claire's Elopement

I'm sure you all remember our sweet Ina Claire from my last post. Well, I have a few more random bits about her today.

Another reason Ina started seeing our masseuse Madame Sylvia, was because she wanted a more boyish figure for a costume. She planned on attending a masquerade ball given by Basil Rathbone and [illegible in Hollywood Undressed] Bergere. Ina planned on wearing form-fitting pink velvet pants and a boyish blouse. I wish there were pictures!
This party led to one of the juiciest ditches ever a mere 2 Weeks after the masquerade.

Another bit Madame Sylvia talks about is when Ina Claire eloped with Jack Gilbert, becoming his third wife. Yes it is THE John Gilbert, the silent film star famously left at the altar by Greta Garbo. Ina and Jack eloped in Las Vegas (even though Ina was engaged to writer Gene Markey). What a naughty girl!
Ina couldn't even live without Madame Sylvia's skills for even a day, so our Madame Sylvia was on the scene the very next morning. Like any celebrity, Ina wanted Sylvia to bring over the news and wanted to know is the elopement made the papers. It did of course, and Jack joked that his name should appear first in the press (him being a matinee idol and all). This joke did not go over well with Ina and they got into an argument.

But don't you worry about poor Gene Markey. From what I can tell he was one of the hottest commodities in Hollywood. Seen above marrying the lovely Joan Bennett. Gene married such beauties as: Joan Bennett, Hedy Lamarr, and Myrna Loy.

For more info check out:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ina Claire and Alice White Catfight

Ina Claire (October 15, 1893 - February 24, 1985) needed to get into shape for her first sound picture. Above is an image of Ina in that film, The Awful Truth (1929). Ina had been skinny in The Golddiggers, but according to many, she was now overweight.

So, Hedda Hopper called Madame Sylvia to work her massage magic on Ina Claire. In her phone call, Hedda Hopper claimed "Ina Claire has to be taken down ten pounds in three days. Come and do it!" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 90). I can't imagine having to lose that kind of weight so quickly.

At the time, Sylvia was overwhelmed with clients including Alice White, Norma Shearer and Ruth Chatterton, and had to do morning conditioning on them all. Ina Claire, who was living at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel at the time, wanted a wake-up slapping from Sylvia at 6 AM, but Alice White already had that time reserved.

Well, Ina didn't seem to care that Alice White (pictured above and below) had the reservation, and so Ina offered to "pay Alice with something more valuable than money. Tell her I'll give her stage lessons!" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 93). Ouch!

Alice White found out about this through the press. Alice thought Sylvia had gone to the press, but it turns out Alice Glaser, wife of scenist Barney Glaser, had blabbed the story. So naturally, Alice had to reply to Ina Claire's "offer". Her reply was "You tell her that I don't need drama lessons as badly as she needs lessons in how to move around in front of the camera without showing too many of her profiles!" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 93). Will these girls ever get along?
Next up, Ina Claire has wedding and party plans.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Constance Cummings endures Sam Goldwyn's "wonderful" treatment

Constance Cummings (May 15, 1910 - November 23, 2005) was a Broadway ingenue discovered by Sam Goldwyn. Sam Goldwyn was looking for someone who would be the perfect co-star for his star Ronald Colman. Constance Cummings was hand-picked to be that co-star.

Constance, or Connie as she was known to our Madame Sylvia, was a "husky, solid lass". This did not exactly blend well with what was needed to play opposite Ronald Colman. Because of Colman's delivery and acting, he needed to play across someone who was more fragile and petite because he was delicate and would be overwhelmed by a stronger figure and personality. In fact, Madame Sylvia described Colman as having "ankles and wrists almost like a high school girl's" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 82). Ouch!

Memos were apparently sent out at the studio that said poor Connie was "not suitable" and "had bowlegs, a bass voice, curvature of the spine, cross-eyes, and harelip" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 83). None of this, however, was true. Sam Goldwyn just did not want to admit to making a mistake, so instead of finding something else for Connie, there was a studio-wide smear campaign. Poor thing!

Connie, of course, was crushed and cried to Madame Sylvia, "I got to thinking that maybe I was all wrong. I looked in the mirror and what I saw looked like a hag" (Hollywood Undressed, Page 84). I think she was quite pretty. It's disgusting what horrible things people will do to others.

Connie wanted to leave, but Madame Sylvia decided to stay. Connie did eventually get picked up by Columbia for Criminal Code.

For some more info on Constance Cummings, check out:


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