… 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”.