Recently, I was lucky enough to have a small solo show up on the Lower East Side in NYC presented by Dixon Place. The subject was chorus girls: women who began or were at some point in their careers a part of the chorus. 

While researching and thinking about what women I would create pieces around, I made a long, constantly added to list of women whose careers began as dancers in the chorus, a list that began with French music hall performers and ended with Ellen Burstyn who began her career in the chorus line on the Jackie Gleason show. To frame it for modern readers, being a chorus girl was the first half of the 20th century’s version of model turned actress. The job got little respect and was used to connotate not just prettiness, but often stupidity, greed and sluttiness. The joke of a hot, illiterate baby vamp, covered in furs, spouting vulgar Brooklynese, kept by a Wall Street millionaire being a frequent punchline.

Of course, like all unfair stereotypes, there is some truth in the mix. Then as now, pretty, pretty girls used notoriety to snag rich boyfriends and husbands. But the hidden interest for me was always the matched set of economic and sexual autonomy that being a chorus girl represented. It’s no coincidence that movies about chorus girls, a staple of early sound, often played by real former chorus girls such as Louise Brooks, Barbara Stanwyck, Mae Clarke, Joan Crawford, Ruby Keeler and Ginger Rogers were released in the dozens, but the moment the Hayes Code came into being, ruining everybody’s fun, the chorus girl mostly disappeared from the movies. She was the ultimate good time girl in the drunken libertine ’20s, and she schemed and starved and wisecracked in the Depression. But there seemed to be no cultural place for her in the scrubbed and sincere late ’30s Hollywood. She took a break and then reemerged with the birth of film noir, but instead of being the protagonist, she was most often the curse and the downfall of the man the story was about. For the shady noir dame, as played by Barbara Stanwyck (again), Rita Hayworth, Gloria Graham, Lizbeth Scott, or Jane Greer, the sexual liberation was back, but this time around she was punished for it, with death, the electric chair or scalding water to the face.

 But, back to the earlier part of the last century. The four women I chose to draw, (you can see thumbnails/details from the finished work above) Evelyn Nesbit, Olive Thomas, Princess White Deer and Louise Brooks all led interesting, though not always successful lives. Nesbit remains notorious for being embroiled in the sensational murder of Stanford White. Thomas was a Ziegfeld star and early silent movie star who died in 1920 from accidentally drinking mercury - the first major Hollywood scandal. Princess White Deer is a now mostly forgotten star who headlined at the Palace and the Follies and performed for the Czars of Russia and then retired from show biz in 1930, devoting the remaining 60 years of her life to tribal matters. Louise Brooks, serious modern dancer with Denishawn,  Ziegfeld star and movie star turned recluse and drunk, turned writer is both the exception to most chorus girl cliches and the ur-chorus girl. 

 Which brings me to my show. If I had the time, I could happily make ten more about ten more women. But, for now, there are four. I’m thinking of making a limited print run which I have to figure out. So stay tuned and check in with my Etsy and Society 6 stores and I’ll keep you apprised of all chorus girl related matters here.

During which Charlie Chaplin has a birthday.
via Society 6

During which Charlie Chaplin has a birthday.

via Society 6

TOO MUCH NUTCRACKER!

A silent comedy short by Mr. Trav S.D.

Sorry for the radio silence! I’ve been hard at work on the pieces for the upcoming Dixon Place show (and I was on vacation in Ireland for a week).

I’ve attached some photos of my progress on the Louise Brooks piece. It’s the most elaborate thing I’ve done.

The pencil sketch for the first part of my Louise Brooks triptych.

The pencil sketch for the first part of my Louise Brooks triptych.

I spent a lot of yesterday working on this. It’s going to be a large-ish piece - still not in stone and there will be definite changes and additions.

I spent a lot of yesterday working on this. It’s going to be a large-ish piece - still not in stone and there will be definite changes and additions.

More from the sketchbook. I’m just spewing out ideas for the Olive Thomas piece.

More from the sketchbook. I’m just spewing out ideas for the Olive Thomas piece.

My delightful inamorato, Trav S.D.'s second book, Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies, From Nickelodeons to YouTube is available to purchase!  I read it a while ago, before he sent it off the the printers, and it’s just great. It accomplishes something I’ve never seen done before, putting silent comedy in a far larger cultural context, all whole being super, super entertaining. 
Buy a hard copy here.
And the Kindle version via Amazon.
Here’s the blurb:
Chain of Fools traces the art of slapstick comedy from its pre-cinema origins in the ancient pantomime through its silent movie heyday in the teens and twenties, then on to talkies, television, and the internet. Author Trav S.D. mixes a wicked wit, a scholar’s curiosity, and a keen critical appreciation for laugh-makers through the ages, from classical clowns like Joseph Grimaldi to comedy kings like Mack Sennett, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton…to more recent figures, from Red Skelton, Sid Caesar and Ernie Kovacs to Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey and Steve Carell…all the way down to the teenagers on YouTube whose backyard antics bring us full circle to slapstick’s beginnings. This valentine to the great clowns contains enough insights and surprises to open the eyes of even life-long comedy fans.
And in case you haven’t read it (you should, people!), Trav S.D,’s first book, No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous can be found here.

My delightful inamorato, Trav S.D.'s second book, Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies, From Nickelodeons to YouTube is available to purchase!  I read it a while ago, before he sent it off the the printers, and it’s just great. It accomplishes something I’ve never seen done before, putting silent comedy in a far larger cultural context, all whole being super, super entertaining. 

Buy a hard copy here.

And the Kindle version via Amazon.

Here’s the blurb:

Chain of Fools traces the art of slapstick comedy from its pre-cinema origins in the ancient pantomime through its silent movie heyday in the teens and twenties, then on to talkies, television, and the internet. Author Trav S.D. mixes a wicked wit, a scholar’s curiosity, and a keen critical appreciation for laugh-makers through the ages, from classical clowns like Joseph Grimaldi to comedy kings like Mack Sennett, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton…to more recent figures, from Red Skelton, Sid Caesar and Ernie Kovacs to Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey and Steve Carell…all the way down to the teenagers on YouTube whose backyard antics bring us full circle to slapstick’s beginnings. This valentine to the great clowns contains enough insights and surprises to open the eyes of even life-long comedy fans.

And in case you haven’t read it (you should, people!), Trav S.D,’s first book, No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous can be found here.

My friend Iracel received her Chaplin pillow! (She has far better interior decorating skills than I do)

My friend Iracel received her Chaplin pillow! (She has far better interior decorating skills than I do)

I just uploaded this illustration of Charlie Chaplin meeting a (no doubt underage) extra, To Society6.

I am, once again, completely entranced by the pillow.

Monster Loves Ramon Navarro.
via Society6

Monster Loves Ramon Navarro.

via Society6

vintagemarlene:

alias the lone wolf, lobby card, 1927 (www.walterfilm.com)

vintagemarlene:

alias the lone wolf, lobby card, 1927 (www.walterfilm.com)

I just posted this on Etsy!

I just posted this on Etsy!

Some lovely mermaid footage from the 1924 Peter Pan. Just magical!

As part of the lead-in to Trav S.D.’s book “Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube” (September 2012), in 2006 he founded the Mack Sennett Centennial Project, an endeavor to recpature and explore the lost art of silent screen comedy. Here is the first of his experiments, shot by Jim R. Moore, and starring Trav S.D., Robert Pinnock and moi.