Recommendation Time

Every once in a whiletreat yourself it’s important to treat yourself. Good food, some shoe shopping or listening to records in a local store. It’s recommendation time again on Talking Classics. So let’s see what we have:

1) Do you know Caro Emerald?! She’s a Dutch singer whose second album is about to be released in the US on May 14. Mark your calendars, fellow lovers of new vintage, The Shocking Miss Emerald is a real treat.

2) For Perry Mason fans it’s a joy to hear that season 9.1 will soon be available on DVD – on June 11 to be exact. That leaves us with only one half season to complete our collections. Fingers crossed for the TV movies to follow soon.

3) Scarecrow and Mrs. King’s fourth and final season was recently leased on DVD for anyone who has fond memories of a lovely show that sadly lost its heart when its female protagonist, Kate Jackson, fell severely ill.

4) Book-wise, I finally finished reading Eve Arden’s wonderful autobiography. In Three Phases of Eve, the actress takes us on a journey through her life on stage, in movies and beyond. Filled with funny anecdotes, the book is every bit as witty and charming as the woman herself used to be on radio and screen.

5) And last but not least, a new shopping discovery of mine is Unique Vintage. For all you ladies out there who can’t get enough of classy patterns and styles, this site may be a great addition to your favorite retailers. I know it is to mine. ♥

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New Vintage TV II

Apparently, vintage-themed shows are in vogue these days and despite my aversion to so many of them, I cannot help but give each new program the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, I was put off again, this time by my guilty pleasure program Downton Abbey, ITV’s newest brainchild Mr. Selfridge and a Canadian production called Bomb Girls. The success of each show is beyond dispute, an increasing number of young viewers seems to enjoy their melodramatic quality without exception. Downton Abbey, which was just renewed for a fourth season, may still be the most commonly known show of the three, first and foremost because of an always excellent Maggie Smith and the unabated shower of awards and nominations. Designed like a soap, the show has remained faithful to its genre from the start and thus jumps the shark more frequently as the seasons rush by. Now set in the 1920s, fateful twists and unnecessary drama follow public demand. Bomb Girls uses similar tools by exploiting the dramatic background of WWII. As if war and its related cruelties wouldn’t be enough, the pilot episode already proved that modern vintage programs need sex, abundance or gore to authenticate themselves (the gruesome accident in the bomb factory still haunting me today). Mr. Selfridge and his department store empire seems tame compared to those Rosie the Riveters, but all the first installment did for me was celebrate extravagance. I really wonder what’s so appealing about these programs?!

With all our troubles in the world, maybe people are looking for consolation that 2013 is a better time to live in than the early 20th century. After all, according to those shows our attitudes and problems have barely changed – and if they did, only for the better (of course). I don’t like that kind of evaluation of the past, that mix of nostalgia for elegance in fashion and grand gestures of love. I prefer the past for what it was, with all its similarities and differences to our times. I do not like to see an interpretation of it through our modern eyes, glorified or demonized. There is nothing romantic about the turmoil of two world wars, nor have we reached the devastation of the Great Depression. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from past successes and ordeals, reducing yesteryear to a colorful setting for our modern ways and attitude, however, does no one justice. It only makes it harder for future generations to understand our roots and struggles. It waters down progress (or setbacks) and the price thereof. I know, a lot of people only see films and shows as entertainment, but by choosing a vintage setting, the writers and producers also influence the knowledge and perception of their viewers of the past. I wish, they would handle it with more care, and most importantly, as more than just a stage for beautiful wardrobe.

Della Street

Everyone who knows me is aware of this: I’m a big fan of Della Street. I have been for many years, ever since I was a kid and watched the Perry Mason TV movies until my grandma introduced me to the original show from the 1950s and 60s. That’s when I liked her even more, for her skills, her style, her elegance. She’s the epitomized girl Friday who was brought to life by Helen Trenholme, Claire Dodd, Genevieve Tobin, June Travis and Ann Dvorak in the 1930s, by Gertrude Warner, Jan Miner and Joan Alexander from the mid 40s to 50s, and ultimately by my favorite, Barbara Hale, in the classic TV show and movies.

Created by Erle Stanley Gardner in 1933, Della Street entered the scene along with her famous boss, attorney-at-law Perry Mason in The Case of the Velvet Claws. Included from the first novel on, Della was a little feistier upon introduction, but every bit as skillful and loyal as in the following eighty-one whodunits. It was made clear from the start that Della had quite an influence on Perry, that their relationship ran a little deeper than that of an employer and his confidential secretary. Always supported by their friend, private eye Paul Drake, their cases took center stage however and the couple never went beyond an ardent kiss. Proposing to her a couple of times, Perry Mason was generally turned down by his irreplaceable office pearl  who understood that he wasn’t the type to settle down, nor was she willing to spend her life without him in a large home as a housewife and mother. So she stuck it out with him through hundreds of cases in the books and movies, on radio and finally on TV.

Always a little altered in the adaptations, Della remained steadfast, pretty and faithful to her boss and got marry to him once in Warner Brother’s very free version of The Case of the Velvet Claws in 1936. In general, Della Street was quite sassy in the Perry Mason films of the 1930s and frequently involved in taking flight from the police on radio a decade later. With television being a more conservative medium in the late 1950s, Barbara Hale did not get to flirt with Raymond Burr’s Perry as much as her predecessors, but thanks to their on screen chemistry and her intuitive acting, the seething romance between Della and Perry continued in the hearts and heads of many Perry Mason fans until a kiss in 1993’s The Case of the Telltale Talk Show Host finally confirmed their relationship.

Never described as anything but beautiful in Gardner’s original books, Della Street donned platinum hair and brunette curls, as well as alluring outfits that were appropriate for the office. As the Della Street who’s left a lasting impression on her audience, Barbara Hale wore outfits that were typical of the time between 1957 and 66: figure-hugging, feminine and always covering her knees. Upon the insistence of executive producer Gail Patrick Jackson, Della did not follow every trend when the 60s introduced new hemlines every year and thus stressed the classy elegance Ms. Hale had established for her TV alias. With her limited collection of clothes, Della often changed her outfits by combining her blouse or sweater with another skirt. Her trademark look can be pinned down to waist shirt dresses (including one with her embroidered initials), pencil skirts, cardigans and blouses that embellished her neck with a bow. In the first season, Della was also constantly running around on mules which she later replaced with a classy pair of heels. As an accessory, Della often wore a pearl necklace or a charm bracelet on her left wrist while her little finger frequently showed the presence of a simple ring, matching her boss’ on his own hand. From time to time, Della was also seen wearing a necklace with a pendant showing her initials, long before Carrie Bradshaw made it fashionable for a whole new generation.

In the 1980s, Barbara Hale returned to TV with her longtime screen partner Raymond Burr and continued the tradition of presenting Della as efficient, warmhearted and dressed to the nines. Again, following contemporary but conservative fashion, Della combined over-knee skirts with stylish boots, turtleneck sweaters, blazer jackets and two layers of pearls. Without changing her hair as much as on the original show (while avoiding the beehive), Della Street kept her cropped, practical curls which added credibility to the on-screen depiction of Perry Mason’s tireless associate.

Today, Della’s look can be re-examined on DVD and copied thanks to the many vintage stores and new designs that are inspired by more graceful times. With a circle skirt and scarf, a classy faux vintage suit or classy heels, it’s easy to feel as sophisticated and charming as Della Street. Add a full head of curls, matching intimates and a petticoat to your outfit and you’ll perfect the sentiment. From where I’m standing it is worth the effort, paying tribute to a character many real life secretaries still love to look at for inspiration.