Googling Bygone Beaneries, Tough Guys and Rich Gals

We love old movies on their own merits, but we watch them in a way that’s very different from the way we watch modern films. For us (and we’re confident we’re not alone in this), old movies are like time travel. We listen closely to the dialogue for slang we might not have heard before, we examine all the actors from head to toe to take in their vintage clothing, we watch for period billboards and advertisements to discover long-forgotten products and businesses, and when we do uncover something new, we quickly turn to our good friend Ms. Google to see what knowledge she has to share.

Recently, we were watching Undertow, a film noir from 1949. It stars Scott Brady (he was Lawrence Tierney‘s brother, you know) and an actress we weren’t sure we recognized named Peggy Dow.

We looked up Dow on and learned that, after just a handful of pictures, she gave up Hollywood to marry a guy named Walter Helmerich, who was just getting started in the family business, which just happened to be oil drilling. The Helmeriches resided in Tulsa, Oklahoma (our native state), raised five sons and must have done pretty well for themselves, because the theatre department at the University of Oklahoma is now named the Peggy Dow Helmerich School of Drama (we figure they must have kicked in with a pretty sizable donation to earn that honor).

We graduated from that very school (though it hadn’t yet been named after Ms. Helmerich at the time) with a BFA in Theatre, so we feel a certain connection to her now. If we hadn’t watched Undertow and been inspired to do a little digging, we’d have never known.

By the way, as of this writing, Ms. Helmerich is still with us. And not only is OU’s drama school named after her, so is the auditorium at Northwestern’s Annie May Swift Hall (her alma mater). And since 1985, the Tulsa Library Trust has annually presented the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award to a deserving writer.

Now, back to the movie: At one point in the picture, Brady returns to his hometown of Chicago and there are some nice shots of South Wabash Avenue as he tries to ditch a cop who’s tailing him. How do we know it’s Wabash Avenue? Well, a restaurant called Lander’s caught our eye as Brady strolled past it (In Chicago, It’s Lander’s was the eatery’s slogan).

It had an appealing vintage look to it, glass bricks and all, so we turned again to Ms. Google with fingers crossed to see if it had somehow managed to survive to the present day.Read More »

An Impressive Display of Vintage Baggage

The Game Show Network is one of our go-to television channels when we just want something on in the background. We’ll watch Match Game, Family Feud, Deal or No Deal, you name it. We do wish GSN would show more classic game shows of the 1950s and ’60s, as they used to, but still the network makes it easy to pass a half-hour or two in pleasant enough fashion.

Now, here’s the guilty pleasure part: We occasionally even watch Baggage, the dating show hosted by (cringe) Jerry Springer. On this show, a trio of hopefuls vying to be selected for a date reveal their quirks and peccadilloes, and at the end of the show, the person who has chosen one of the three for a date reveals his or her own baggage, and is either accepted or rejected by the person they’ve chosen.

Like we said, a guilty pleasure. If ever you want to feel that you’re perfectly sane and in fact a great catch, this is the (freak) show for you.

We’ve idly wondered in the past whether, if ever we were a contestant on a game show, we would go full vintage with our attire (the answer is probably yes, as we own little else but vintage clothing), but we’d never before seen a contestant sporting a vintage look—until last night.

It was Nerd Night on Baggage, and a lovely young woman with an avowed appreciation for brainiacs with pop culture obsessions had three ComicCon regulars to choose between. We were surprised one member of that trio was dressed in vintage attire (we don’t know if his garb was original or repro, but by Baggage standards, he looked pretty sharp). Generally, the contestants on the show sport untucked shirts (even under a blazer or sweater—what is it with the untucking in Southern California?) and a very carefully tended “two day’s growth” of beard, a grooming trend we are eager to see ride off into sunset.

And what do you know, the contestant clad in vintage garb was selected by the young woman, only to reject her at show’s end when she revealed her own baggage: She refuses to drive a car and expects her boyfriend to do the same (it’s a green thing).

Call it Revenge of the Vintage Nerds.

Life Without Lapels

We love us some vintage clothing; easily 80% of the clothes we wear on a daily basis are older than we are (we made our debut in 1958, in case you’re wondering).

So whenever we watch old movies (which, as longtime readers know, we do often), we spend as much time and energy focusing on the garments the actors are sporting as on the plot, performances and photography.

We especially like it when we encounter a garment, an accessory, a look unlike any we’ve seen before, and we came across an example of just that recently when we watched the Cold War noir, The Woman On Pier 13 (1949), starring Robert Ryan, Laraine Day, and John Agar.

William Talman, perhaps best remembered as Hamilton Burger, the DA Raymond Burr mopped the floor with week after week on “Perry Mason,” also appears in a supporting role as a bad guy (it was his motion picture debut). And in one scene that finds him squiring Day around from one seedy nightspot to the next, he wears a plaid jacket like none we’d ever seen.

And while we can’t honestly say we liked the look, it was at least interesting.

We are familiar, as perhaps you are, too, with several varieties of lapels on men’s sports, suit and formal jackets—notch, peak, shawl—but outside of the Nehru jackets that enjoyed their brief moment in the sun in the 1960s, we’d never before seen a man, on the silver screen or on the street, sporting a plaid sportscoat that had no lapels at all.

We turned to Marc Chevalier, easily the most knowledgeable person we’re acquainted with when it comes to vintage menswear. Here’s what he had to offer:

“Jackets like this one were briefly popular in the early to mid-1940s. The style originated in California, and was probably first designed by Clinton Stoner. Frank Sinatra was the most famous wearer of this type of jacket, back in the early ’40s.

“I seem to recall that it was called a “cardigan sportcoat” or some such thing.”

There you have it. A Google search yielded no mention of the term “cardigan jacket,” but Marc’s word is certainly good enough for us. However, we also couldn’t find any info about Clinton Stoner, and our curiosity got the better of us. Thankfully, Marc, bless his heart, had the full scoop (we knew he would):

A label from a Clinton Stoner garment“Clinton Stoner was a freelance men’s suit and sportswear designer whose merchant clients included Macintosh Studio Clothes and Saks Fifth Avenue. In the late 1940s, he opened his own custom sportswear shop—named “Clinton Stoner”—on the east end of the Sunset Strip. Stoner’s shop was a favorite of gangster Mickey Cohen, actor Robert Mitchum, etc. Stoner’s daughter, Beverly, achieved some notoriety of her own as a much-married, much abused nightclub singer.”

You won’t see us adopting Stoner’s (and Sinatra’s) lapel-free style anytime soon, but we are intrigued by the look.

Pitch Perfect: Apparel

Film archivist Rick Prelinger once said, in a 2002 SF Weekly profile:

“I’m fascinated with the look of the past. I have an urgent need to form images of what a place looked like in the ’40s or ’50s. What did it smell like? What were people wearing? What [was] people’s body language? Was it noisy or quiet? Was the air smoky?”

To which we can only offer a hearty amen. We are constantly on the lookout for books, movies, and songs that give us a new angle on understanding life as it was once lived.

We recently bought a book from 1949 called American Slogans, and in this case, it turned out you can tell a book by its cover, because that’s just what this tome contains: a collection of thousands of slogans from companies in every area of commercial endeavor. No commentary, no analysis (other than a brief foreword) — just 318 pages of commercial slogans of the day (with up to 55 slogans per page).

Today, we’re sharing with the Cladrite Radio Clan a list of slogans that were used by clothing manufacturers back in the day:

Wembley Ties adAlways good (Aetna Garment Co.).
Always ready, always dry (Alligator raincoats).
America’s finest fitting outercoats (Barron-Anderson Co.). Boston.
America’s first name in formal wear (Rudofker’s Sons).
America’s foremost fashion creator (Milgrim). New York.
America’s only known-priced clothes (Styleplus). Henry Sonneborn & Co.
America’s smartest buy (TruVal Shirts).
An investment in good appearance (Kuppenheimer clothes).
Anti-freeze underwear for men and boys, The (Hanes).
Aristocrat of shirtings, The (Sea Island Mills). New York.
Aristocrat of summer suits (Priestley’s Nor-East).
As western as the setting sun (Frontex shirts).

Balanced tailoring (Timely Clothes, Inc.) Rochester, N.Y.
Balanced tailoring makes Timely Clothes look better — longer.
Bath Towel you can wear (Toga Towel Co.). New York.
Bear for wear, A (Daniel Wagner & Sons, Inc.). Louisville, Ky.
Because, it’s sure to rain (Alligator raincoat).
Belcraft Shirts, your bosom friend (Belcraft Shirt Co.). New York.
Berkley Ties the world (Berkley Knitting Co.). Philadelphia.
Be Scotch, get your money’s worth (Sportswear). Doniger & Co., New York.
Best buy, wet or dry (Plymouth weatherproofs).
Best by TEST from coast to coast (Test overalls, work pants).
Best for fifty years (F.C. Taylor Fur Co.). St. Louis, Mo.
Bigger than weather (Patrick-Duluth Woolen Mills).
Big name in clothes, The (Styleplus Clothes). Henry Sonneborn Co.
Boy’s suit built for wear, The (J.J. Preis & Co.). New York.
Brilliant as the sun (Lustray Shirts). Lustberg-Nast Co., New York.
Buy overalls from the inside out (Crown & Headlight).
By this sign you shall know them (Currick, Leiken & Bandler).

Read More »