Home Books Rev 6 Hollywood Blvd. In Wartime of the 1940s

Rev 6 Hollywood Blvd. In Wartime of the 1940s

Vogue Theatre, Hollywood Boulevard, 1935.
Vogue Theatre, Hollywood Boulevard, 1935.

 … by Betty Kreisel Shubert 

Fashion Flash!!…I HAVE JUST WON MY 5TH AWARD FOR BEST BOOK! – This time in the category of History from the 2016 Hollywood Book Festival. A big party for winners was held at the legendary Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, site of the first Academy awards… This is the unabridged version of my acceptance speech. 

          I sold my first dress design to a manufacturer at age 13: The year was 1938…now you know that I am 91… I had two, Hit Hollywood shows to my credit while still 18. That is when Variety wrote that I was the youngest costume designer in show business… I may now be the Oldest!! 

          My credits include designing clothes & costumes for stage, screen, television Specials, Ready-to-Wear, Las Vegas musicals, Disney Imagineering & Disneyland…Plus , the uniform programs for major cruise lines, race tracks, hotels, restaurants & casinos around the world. 

          Here is how a chance encounter inspired my award winning book and changed my life:  One day, I found myself walking to our clubhouse with a woman I did not know . She was on her way to a genealogy club meeting carrying old family photos that she could not date. “ Show them to me” I said, “ I can tell by the clothes when the pictures were taken”. This simple sentence changed my career focus from designer to Author-Illustrator, Columnist for Ancestry Magazine and owner of Flashback Publishing.

           I was invited to the next genealogy club meeting where I arrived with sketches to illustrate my talking points. There was so much interest in the subject that for months afterward, people came to me to time-date their old photos … I knew I had a book here! … but, as I wrote, all by itself,  my book  evolved into a Personal Memoir of changing fashions in the 20th to 21st centuries. 

          That is how “OUT-OF-STYLE: A Modern Perspective of HOW, WHY & WHEN Vintage Fashions Evolved,” was born. 

          OUT-OF-STYLE has over 700 of my own sequential illustrations which   reveal the style clues  of each decade  while simultaneously  informing  genealogists, costume designers, theater companies, social historians, vintage collectors , Fashionistas  and creative authors who need to visualize their characters  in time-appropriate attire. 

          These are not DESIGNS, they are COMPOSITES of the unique style clues that place men, women & children in their correct time in history,  plus countless gems of social history that illuminate each decade. 

          Because of my long career as a Hollywood costume designer , I was especially gratified to win the 2016 Hollywood Book Festival Award in History… and  because my favorite chapter in  OUT-OF-STYLE  is titled , “ Fashions Of The Forties & Hollywood Blvd”,  it is no surprise that my favorite costume assignment was as designer  for Ken Murray’s Blackouts , which played  at The El Capitan Theatre, located at the famous corner of Hollywood & Vine during its record-breaking , almost  seven year run from  1942-1949. 

          The original El Capitan Theatre had opened in 1926 when Hollywood Blvd was a quiet residential & agricultural area… But an enterprising real estate developer, named Charles Toberman ,  envisioned it as a booming theatre district… He developed 30 buildings including the still beautiful, Roosevelt Hotel. 

          Along with Sid Grauman , he also built the Egyptian, The Chinese and the El Capitan theatres . In 1941, The original El Capitan was converted to a movie theatre and, the name, “El Capitan “,  was transferred to a different theatre at the famous corner of  Hollywood & Vine, where , in 1942, “Ken Murray’s Blackouts” opened  to entertain  the hordes of tourists & service men seeking  the glamour of the Hollywood that existed only on the pages of movie magazines. This theatre too, was owned by Sid Grauman, a frequent backstage visitor and a very nice man, whom I was privileged to know . 

          Of current interest , The El Capitan Theatre is now back in its original location  near  Grauman’s  Chinese Theatre , restored to its vintage glory by the Disney Co. which now uses it for Disney Productions. 

          Ken Murray had been a star MC-Comedian  in vaudeville, radio & Film…But vaudeville had died in 1938……Ken believed  that WW2  audiences  needed a modernized version  of vaudeville to entertain them:  He hired  beautiful show girls to wear sexy costumes  and  starred  the original Dumb Blonde , Marie Wilson, to use as  the object of jokes about her remarkable 38”-22”- 38” anatomy  as tastefully revealed in her picturesque  costumes , while he flicked an unlit cigar after every joke. Marie’s appeal was that she wasn’t really “dumb”, she was sweetly naïve and innocently, a knockout! 

          Murray’s backstage dressing room was a hangout for his Hollywood buddies, like Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Edgar Bergen,  & others, who would often unexpectedly  walk onstage to the surprised delight of audiences…  All this, and the constant changing of acts & costumes kept the Blackouts a “Must See”  for locals & tourists alike, eventually playing to almost five million people.  

          During WW2, Southern California was surrounded by military bases & air fields for the army, navy and Marines. Off duty servicemen converged upon  Hollywood Blvd. looking for excitement, entertainment and GIRLS!…  I was at an age where I attracted their attention. In those days we were not afraid of strangers : Government  posters urged civilians to offer rides & hospitality to service men. 

          As designer for the Blackouts, I was often at the theatre to gain approval for new sketches, to get assignments for new acts or to deliver costumes.  Often I would bring servicemen backstage to watch the show while I took care of business…Sometimes I would bring them home  with me, where, even after midnight , my mother would happily get up to  make waffles and if they had no place to stay, would make them comfortable on our living room sofa : It was our contribution to the war effort… and the reason my favorite chapter in OUT-OF-STYLE  is , “Fashions of the Forties And Hollywood Blvd”.