Bil Browning

Hollywood Bohemians

Filed By Bil Browning | November 26, 2008 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Contests, Site News
Tags: Brett Abrams, Hollywood Bohemians

I've got a great contest for everyone today. Trust me - you'll want this one! Brett Abrams' Hollywood Bohemians: Transgressive Sexuality and the Selling of the Movieland Dream is a fabulous resource for the drama queen in all of us. List price is $39.95, but you can win an autographed copy from Bilerico Project!

To win, just leave a comment. I'll pick one winner at random Thursday, November 27 at midnight EST. Please don't enter more than once and make sure to use a valid e-mail address so I can contact you if you win!

Bohemians-front-cover.jpgBetween 1917 and 1941, Hollywood studios, gossip columnists and novelists featured an unprecedented number of homosexuals, cross-dressers, and adulterers in their depictions of the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle.

Actress Greta Garbo defined herself as the ultimate serial bachelorette. Screenwriter Mercedes De Acosta engaged in numerous lesbian relationships with the Hollywood elite. And countless homosexual designers brazenly picked up men in the hottest Hollywood nightclubs. Hollywood's image grew as a place of sexual abandon.

This book demonstrates how studios and the media used images of these sexually adventurous characters to promote the industry and appeal to the prurient interests of their audiences. Illustrations, notes, bibliography and index.

I'll have a Q&A with Brett later this morning and he'll be guest posting this afternoon; we're a stop on his virtual book tour! Brett isn't going to do a post-and-run, he'll be around to respond to comments on his guest post or the Q&A. Talk to him. And enter to win his book!

Other stops on the tour and an excerpt from the book after the jump.

The Hollywood Bohemians virtual book tour:

11/24 - Pop Syndicate
11/25 - Bookzillion
11/26 - Bilerico Project
11/28 - GoodReads
12/1 - You Tube
12/12 - Writers in the Sky



Hollywood Nightlife

Female Impersonators and Cross-Dressing Females

La Boheme Cafe owner Karyl Norman delighted patrons by dressing up in yards and yards of lace and feathers whenever he performed his incredible female impersonations. His impersonation of Joan Crawford doing a scene as Sadie Thompson brought down the house nightly, occasionally with Crawford enjoying the laughs.1

Hollywood publicity frequently showed celebrities inside the fancy and fantastic environments of nightclubs and restaurants. The stars ate and drank lavishly, fought and danced wildly, and dated and romanced extravagantly. However, some Hollywood nightlife images also depicted celebrities hanging out with exotic and decadent figures or engaging in exotic and decadent behavior themselves.

Hollywood bohemian imagery, such as Norman's impersonation of Crawford, played a significant role in forming the mystique of Hollywood's nightlife. The image informed readers about Crawford's nighttime activities and her interaction with others. These two pieces of personal information offered readers the chance to believe that they knew the star more intimately. Presenting a female impersonator provided readers with a glimpse of something they rarely saw and the thrill of experiencing behavior and persons the culture labeled taboo.

The association with the unusual and taboo enabled Hollywood nightlife to stand apart from depictions of the nightlife in other cities. It enhanced the usual movie industry publicity that made Hollywood nightlife seem fun and adventurous by linking the nightlife to decadence, making it appear wild. Hollywood was not the only place in the United States whose restaurants and nightclubs received coverage in the newspapers and magazines, nor was it even the first city to receive such coverage.

The coverage of nightclubs was a relatively recent phenomenon in the early twentieth century. It centered on clubs and restaurants in New York City. Few public entertainment places in the middle to late nineteenth-century United States received significant coverage in the press. Saloons limited their clientele to males and rarely became the subject of newspaper reporting except when a disturbance appeared in police reports. Brothels, dance halls, and other nightlife locations existed within city vice and tourist districts and had reputations as such debased places that they rarely appeared in the mass media.

Many of the media readers, including members of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, viewed places of public nightlife as disreputable and worked to close them down. In addition, these nightlife locations did not attract the people whose activities newspaper readers wanted to follow. Most middle- and upper-class men and women spent their leisure time in private homes and locations where admission came through membership in either a formal or informal social circle. The dominant social life for most people functioned around the private party.2

By the end of the nineteenth century, a new nightlife emerged as locations moved to more respectable areas within United States cities. Commercial locations increasingly emerged to replace the family, neighborhood, and private clubs as places to meet people and receive a variety of stimulation. Restaurants in hotels opened in more respectable neighborhoods and attracted both men and women from the upper classes. With the movement to different neighborhoods and the drawing of upscale crowds, leisure locations attracted more print media coverage.

The sensationalist newspapers of the major cities discovered increased readership interest in the activities of the upper classes. They began expanding the coverage of their parties and their dining out in restaurants in the society columns. General interest magazines also depicted the activities of the wealthy in these urban locations. During the first decades of the twentieth century, dailies in the largest U.S. markets regularly ran weekday columns and Sunday sections that chronicled "Society's" affairs. Many newspapers began running columns containing notes on the lives of those in the theatrical world that included their activities in restaurants and nightclubs.3

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Reformed Ascetic | November 26, 2008 9:23 AM

I've got my fingers crossed for this one.

Sounds like a really interesting read! Count me in!

Claire Jennifer | November 26, 2008 10:29 AM

Hey Bil,

I think that is a picture of my dad on the cover.


Hi Claire:

I wonder if your dad was Alla Nazimova. That's the actress from her movie Salome (1923). If you haven't seen that movie you have got to see if you can get your hands on it. It is a camp classic!
There's an excellent biography of her as well by Gavin Lambert.

Ooh, looks interesting

Looks like an amazing book!

Melanie Davis | November 26, 2008 1:50 PM

I'll take a ticket, please.

neat-o. count me in.

I've been researching GLBT Hollywood for a novel/screenplay that, to this day, remains unfinished and I'd love to have this book whether I get picked for this contest or not.

Good luck everyone with winning my book.

I wonder if your dad was Alla Nazimova. That's the actress from her movie Salome (1923). If you haven't seen that movie you have got to see if you can get your hands on it. It is a camp classic!

I would like to hear more about your project. I'd be more than happy to share information that I have accumulated when working on Hollywood Bohemians with you.

This book sounds interesting, particularly with respect to the increasing (and increasingly futile) efforts of the Catholic Church and various Protestant "reform" organizations to censor mass media, shut down or control city social venues patronized largely by "white" (non-immigrant) Americans, quarantine black and immigrant entertainment venues as places no respectable "white" American would visit (ha! we all know how well that worked - whites seeking adventure in Harlem, from the Harlem Renaissance intelligentia or the dance halls). The book might be of interest to readers of urban history of the Reform Era (1900 onward, the backlash against immigration) and of gay urban history of this period (eg G. Chauncey, Gay New York).

This sounds like a title that could be recommended to large public and academic libraries, so non-winners, take heart and suggest it to your friendly librarian.

Hi Nancy:

I appreciate your insightful commentary.

I found while researching the book that the image the studios and gossip columns created for Hollywood fueled the religious opponents perception of the movie colony. But many of the images that they created, unlike the Fatty Arbuckle story that they did not control, carefully avoided breaking the law. That trial led to calls for the relocation of the movie industry to a less sinful place among other things.

The nightlife chapter discusses the tourism of less respectable areas of the cities. It was most interesting to me that the images showed that the nightclub performers in Hollywood had friendships with the stars who went to see their shows, disrupting the typical "slumming" relationship of tourist witnessing the performing "other" than going back to their "normal" life.

I'd tie my cock in a knot for this one!

Don't do it. I can always sign another copy!

I am such a book fiend I have to put in for this one. (I read at least half a dozen a month. The librarians not only know me by name, they trust me with the copier keys ...)

"La Boheme Cafe owner Karyl Norman delighted patrons by dressing up in yards and yards of lace and feathers whenever he performed his incredible female impersonations."

Karyl Norman - the "Creole Fashion Plate" was well known enough to be used as an advertisng icon for sheet music. You can still find copies of famous songs of the day with a glamerous Karyl on the cover & "As sung by Karyl Norman" being the selling point. They look very nice framed. And not vey expensive at all. Karyl was also one who didn't say that their trans live existed solely for the stage.

Some other fun facts - Hollywood masculine icons Jimmy Cagney & Wallace Berry started their careers as female impersonators.

cool. I used a sheet music image of Norman and of Julian Eltinge in the book. The Lilly Library at Indiana University has the sheet music.

My partner is a library assistant and I will be recommending that she get this book in to her little branch. It seems quite fascinating.

Hi Sher:

That's great. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

I'd love to win this book. I adore old Hollywood.