Firstly, to warn people, you’ll get 2 blogs this weekend, just that it will be one tonight, and one tomorrow. Firstly because I’m running a bit late to do 2, and secondly, I havent really got an obvious subject for the other blog at this moment. Well, not on the blog where most readers think I’m a natural woman, anyway… So why do this tonight? Well, I’ve got time to do one, and its also a special date.
Yes, someone a ‘little bit naughty’ was born on this date, 126 years ago. How she lastly to 87, given her lifestyle, I have no idea, but she did. Yes, Mary Jane (better known as Mae) West is the lady I’m talking about. Its amazing only to think that by the time she became the ‘saucy minx’ of pre code movies, she was already fast approaching 40! By which point, a few years earlier she had served a short prison sentence (only 10 days) for creating a show so naughty that she upset the authorities. I suspect it would probably be seen as fine now, but back in 1927, well… OK, fine, she set out to upset them, but anyway…
Its fair to say I wasnt upset to be told I looked a lot like a classic era movie star after the first photo shoot I did with a very talented guy in Leeds, the thing that surprised me was that it was Jean Harlow. Well, given I was in my fifties, she died at 26, so… but fine I could see the resemblance to her mother, who would have been closer to my age at the time. But yes, if you’d showed me a set of pictures of blonde, movie stars from the early 30’s, and asked me who I looked most like, I would have said Mae West. So yes, how close was I to being named Mary/Mae Stephanie West, who can say?
I think its fair to say that apart from the sex thing, my attitude to life is probably closer to Mae, than Jean, though the latter was a little minx when she wanted to be, I must say. Oh, a picture of the lady, well? And for comparison?
My next acting part, Mae looking back on her ‘quiet’ life, hmm? Oh goodness, that would be naughty, but nice! Somehow I dont see me being as sharp as she was at 87, even assuming they can rebuild me enough to get that far! One thing is for sure, somewhere, today, she will be celebrating her birthday in style, maybe?
OK, video time. I’m not sure if beyond Steve Harley, any of this band were in the original Cockney Rebel, but its a live version, which they definitely werent back then! And its almost Mae’s most famous line, lets face it
Or also known as my comments on a film from 3 years ago (yes, so recent!) with appeal to me, La La Land.
Back in 2015, I had the stunning experience of watching a movie, on a big screen, on the top of a theatre in Hollywood, set nearby, the famous Sunset Boulevard, starring Gloria Swanson. Watching that on an evening in October, with temperatures about 100 in the evening, was a surreal experience. My only visit to Los Angeles since then, I saw they were doing the same thing the week I was there, showing La La Land. Even though I looked a fair while before my visit, to see what options there were to repeat the experience, it was a total sell out!
Fortunately, yesterday morning, on a betting forum I visit, someone said that they were showing this movie on BBC 2 last night, so rather than just watching round 3 of the golf, I went over to the movie, to give it a try.
I’ll be quite honest, my main reason for wanting to watch it wasnt for the movie plot, it was for the location shots. And yes, there were any number of locations that I recognised from my trips to town. There was a musical number clearly filmed at the viewpoint above Hollywood that I went to on my first trip, in April 2015, though that was shot at night, and I saw it by day. My other obvious favourite was the shot of the murals at the top of Argyle Avenue, focusing on the Louise Brooks one, which I have walked past, or ridden past on a bus so many times before. And yes, if I stay up that way again on my intended visit to the city again next year, will do the same again. If not, I will probably just go up there once, anyway, as there is a fantastic Thai takeaway/restaurant nearby that I need to go to, just to see if one amazing old lady is still there, and still recognises me, which she did last time, after 3 years!
OK, the movie. Some of the dance numbers seemed a bit forced, but from the point of view of whether it fits in with the life of budding young actresses/musicians in La La Land, I suspect its probably pretty close. I wonder how she felt when Clara Johnson arrived in town in 1925, with ambitions to make it big herself? She never did of course, but seems to have had a pretty decent career dancing when the talking movies came in at least. Fine, I liked the way it all ended, I must admit. So overall, I enjoyed it, though probably more for the locations, than the story-line.
OK, video time. I was tempted to go with some Jazz, given thats what he played in the movies, but I havent a clue whats good, or bad. But equally, he was in an 80’s cover band, and this is a cover of one of those songs they played in the movie
I thought I would need to blog on some depressing news relating to an area of Huddersfield, but thankfully I’ve been saved by events, but I’m not going to mention what that was, in case I need some inspiration for Sunday’s posting.
Officially, for most of her known dancing career in the movies, there is one choreographer, who it seems Clara Johnson danced in most of his routines. She certainly did dance for others (she seems to have danced for most studios, despite being a Goldwyn Girl for at least part of her career), but its rare to find a Busby Berkeley movie where she isnt in the chorus line. In fact I’m not concerned there are any she missed, but as I havent seen everyone of them, dont quote me on that, she might have missed one, lol.
Oh, why am I posting this today, you ask? Well, on this day, in 1895, the (probably) ultimate choreographer was born. He did do numerous Broadway productions in the 1920’s, but when sound, and musicals struck gold in Hollywood, he went to work there, and of course, because we still have film record of it, its what he’s remembered for.
The man was a genius in a choreograph sense, but clearly no angel. Married 6 times, had issues with alcohol, but somehow survived to 80, before dying of natural causes. He always said he only ever wanted to touch his previous routines, and in truth, he did a pretty good job of it. What I dont know, is what he was like to work for? I suspect he worked the girls hard, but was he fair with it, or did ambition ever just win out?
Just saying that Clara was happy to dance for him for about 7 years isnt really a big clue. She was never more than chorus line material, he was master of the dance routines, so it might just be she had to survive working with him, to pay for the rent, and other things, who knows? Whether he ever knew her as more than ‘one of the dance team’, again who knows?
But yes, when you think of 1930’s choreographed dance routines, in the Hollywood musicals, there is one name that probably comes to mind before all others, Busby Berkeley.
So therefore, ironically, for the video tonight, you get none of the music that the young ladies danced to, just their amazing routines. But yes, got to go with this, as it shows the full gamut of the dance routines he created. And yes, Clara Johnson appears in this mix numerous times!
The next few days might be a let down for readers, but a bonus for me. Why, you ask? Because apart from Sunday, if you’re lucky, one blog will cover both versions! Tonight, because of the event, and next week, because of the holiday. But for now…
113 years ago today, in a small part of Pottawatomie county, Oklahoma Territory (as it was then, only became a state in 1907), a baby girl was born, to, I assume, a Mr and Mrs Johnson. They seemingly named her Clara Elaine, and the rest, in terms of Hollywood Chorus girl duties, and the like, are history.
Maybe one day, I’ll do more of a dig on Ancestry.com, and discover what her parents names were, and if there were any more brothers and sisters, as well as her. The only tentative suggestion (apart from the lack of birth control back then) that there was more than 1 child, was one of her actual film credits, when there was also a Peter Johnson listed in the cast. Of course, that might simply be a name coincidence, though her 1930 Los Angeles census record did mention 1 brother, so I am inclined to suspect it was probably him.
All I know of the early history is that she moved to LA from Texas in 1925, but when the move there, from Oklahoma, no idea. I need a long enough period of time to really work on Ancestry.com to dig into that sort of matter, and also I need the funds to buy a subscription for a few months at least, that I can get to really use to dig for info. So probably wont happen until I’ve finished working, whenever that is, but then… Even then, I suspect I’m only going to have the 1910, and 1920 census details, so unlikely to find exactly when the Texas moved happened is still going to be vague.
The other thing that needs a major digging through, is a list of marriages in the LA area in the late 30’s (most likely, as her work career seems to stop around 37/38), or perhaps the beginning of the 40’s, because for now, thats where my trail goes cold, with the lack of her married name. Given that her daughter she mentioned would now be in her 70’s, if still alive, it might be fascinating to follow the family tree from there. Probably grand children, and great grand children by now! I wonder if any know, or wonder what Grandma/Great Grandma did?
As I say, if I survive to retirement, and I’m mobile enough to still do it, I suspect it might be my post retirement challenge to try and find out more. I guess that nowadays, I could do a lot from the comfort of a computer at home, anyway?
I must admit, one thing I’d love to do, just once, especially at my age, is do the whole chorus girl thing. My dancing wouldnt be great, I’d probably look less than graceful in one of those flimsy outfits, but my attitude is, just once, I dont care, I want to do the whole Clara Johnson thing! I have 2 lovely friends who are trying to work on making that happen, so who knows, but I hope so?
Anyway, given this was the first year I actually have known her birthday, before the big day, I wasnt going to miss this chance. Its funny to think though, she had all the glamour of working in Hollywood, without any of the fame!
So, happy heavenly birthday, Clara Elaine Johnson, and hopefully, maybe one day, we can get to actually meet, though not in this world.
OK, video time. I have seen her dancing in numerous musicals of the late 20’s, and through the 30’s, including many of the famous ones. For all that, back then, unless they went on to make it, chorus dancers didnt normally get credits. One that Clara did, was a film named Strike Me Pink, though seemingly she was working under her middle name at the time, probably because Clara was a little ‘old fashioned’ name by 1936? Its also the best sighting of her, because she fills the screen between 4:13, and 4:17 in this clip
Alright, for those of my readers who havent a clue what I mean by that, lets do a brief history of movies. Back before the end of the 1920’s, all movies were silent, in a voice sense at least. Then, the much hyped at the time, Jazz Singer came along, and the movie world slowly transformed into a world of sound, and not silence. The early movies were quite wild for their time, though by modern standards, most would seem pretty tame,, but drinking, smoking, and costumes that barely covered anything were quite often the norm back then. One movie, the chorus girl outfit for some consisted of a long blonde wig, and that was it! Oh, and they were chained up at the time too! This is what was known as the pre code era. Then in 1934, though not totally acted on for another year or so, there was a clampdown on this wild stuff, called the Hays Code, which spoilt most of the fun! It actually took until the mid 60’s before the code started to loosen again, far too long.
Until yesterday, we had one remaining lady from that era in our lives, Mary Carlisle. Sadly, yesterday, at the amazing age of 104, she finally passed away. There is an interview with her on You Tube, done when she was 100, where she’s doing dance kicks, albeit supported by her chair. And yes, in terms of adult actors of the Pre Code era, she was the last! There are a couple still alive who are slightly older than her, but neither appeared in their first movie until well after the Pre Code era was over.
Every year from 1922 to 1934, there were a new set of ‘baby stars’ introduced, and in 1932, Mary was one of them, at the grand age of 18! She had in fact worked in the movies for a couple of years by then, but that was her breakout moment. Oh, of the others that year, some dancer type named Ginger Rodgers! Oh, and Gloria Stuart, the old lady at the end of Titanic! Some made it, some didnt, some had long lives, others didnt, but anyway… All gone now!
Mary was never a massive star, but she had a decent career that lasted until 1943, all the same. For a few years now, she’d been looked upon as the last link back to that wild movie era, but now even she’s gone. RIP, Mary, and thanks for the memories.
Oh, and lastly on the subject, 113 years ago today, in Montana, Myrna Loy was born! In the same year, 1 month, and 4 days after that, in Oklahoma, a certain Clara Johnson was born! Still, she’ll get her day, I’m sure, given this is the first year I’ve known her birthday, lol.
So, video time. A suitable title to sum up the pre code era? This, maybe? Warning, the song is dreadful, but just seemed apt!
Fine, for those privileged to see both blogs tonight, you’ve got one serious one, and a silly one. Of course, in either case, if you only know of one, or the other, well, its pot luck, in that case! In case you needed tipping off, this is the serious one.
Today I got to find out where I’d be changing on Saturday, for my ‘performance’ as an Edwardian Lady in Blackpool, in the chorus girl changing room at the pier! Yes, who could I possibly know who would have changed regularly in such a place? Hmm, Clara Johnson, just maybe? But no, having either always worked in school plays, am dram, and the (very rare) theater, I’ve never had the delight of being a chorus girl. Played a number of girl parts, long before transitioning, but in this life, a chorus girl, oh I wish!
So, unsurprisingly yes, I’m looking forward to this moment more than I probably should, even though my outfit will be far less revealing than anything thats normally worn on the chorus line at Blackpool, or in all likelihood, anything Clara got to wear, in that sense! I mean, some of her outfits were relatively normal, but revealing, though others were crazy, and revealing! One of them shortly, honest… I do suspect that if ‘someone’ gets her chance, in November, I’ll probably get to wear something that would make Clara giggle, blush, or both! Yes, I probably will, even at my age, just because it would be fun, however silly it might look. So fine, A, if you can find something in my size, bring it on!
I think its fair to say that I’m going to walk out of that dressing room in an outfit that a chorus girl would be unlikely to wear, given the era its from. I suspect that even if they’d made a musical based in the Edwardian era, that the outfits that the girls wore would be more revealing than mine, lol. But equally, wouldnt it be funny if I walked out of that changing room, went through a time warp, and out walked a young dancer, wearing not a lot, onto a Hollywood studio dance stage? As long as I had Clara’s dance skills too, at least!
“Yes, Mr Berkeley, I’m ready for my dance routine.”
Sorry, Miss Swanson, couldnt resist pinching that idea! Yes, other than maybe A, I suspect this is as close as I will ever get to chorus girl life!
Right, video time. Among the numerous movies that Clara danced in, was one called Footlight Parade. Why I’ve picked this one is simple, earlier today, someone posted a picture of 13 chorines from that movie, pictured in a row, and asked if anyone knew any of them. Yes, you guessed it, one of them was Clara! So… And also, yes, she is seen in one of those cute, crazy cat outfits in this number. So…Yes, Ruby Keeler, and Dick Powell star, but there among the cat girls…
As regular readers of my blog(s) know, they tend to vary from the very serious, to the wildly wishful, with a large lump of silliness thrown in for good measure. This definitely falls into last group, though some might say there is an element of the second one in here too.
So fine, lets go back 90 years, to about 1930 (though the earliest date I have strict confirmation of Miss Johnson as being a Goldwyn girl is 1932, but suspicions of 1931), but… And meet my past life self, and…
Ooh, hi, well the regular author here has asked me to take over tonight, just for one night, and write this. Mr Mayer tells me that this weird thing I’m typing this on is called a laptop, and when this time travel portal thing (whatever that may be?) works for the internet, well, if I’m a good girl, I might get one of my own. Mind, I know he’s said the same to those more important folk like Loy, Powell, Harlow, Gable and a few others, so I’m going to be way down the list, giggle!
But apparently I’m now at the top of the queue for something called a cell (or mobile) phone. I’ve been told not to ask how they work back here, but they do. Yeah, I know, Jean, sorry, Miss Harlow, has shown me hers, and…they’re so much the cats whiskers! What, you dont believe sweet little Clara, oh? Fine!
Anyway, I’ve now got sufficient standing that I’ve been given one too! I’m told its a pretty basic model, but thats fine by me, in truth. Just means that if they need me for an extra scene, or to tell Mr Berkeley that one of his dance routines is just too crazy (Most are crazy, but doable. Some though…rolls eyes…), I’m able to do so. Equally, if the trolley bus is running late, just call in, and they know! 🙂 Oh, and if I want to ring Marion Davies, and tell her I’ll be late for one of her nice parties (Yes, she’s got one too), I can do that now!
So fine, I’m told to say that if you have a good reason for needing to know said modern person’s phone number, feel free to ask. Either when you see her, or by something called email, or just in comments with a contact email address on here, whatever suits you best.
Right, done? Fine, just going to ring Ginger, sorry, Miss Rogers, and arrange to go out dancing tonight, sounds like fun! I’m told normal service will be resumed in the next blog, so bye for now, darlings!
Love and best wishes,
Clara Johnson (Miss)
Oh, what, a video, whatever that may be? Fine, what I’m told too many people see these phones as?
I’ll be honest, when I think of the echelon of places to act, my first thoughts turn to Hollywood. No idea why, because I’ve never made a proper movie of any kind, and in terms of theater royalty, Broadway, or Leicester Square should rank higher for me? Not that I have ever got even vaguely close to acting at any of those places either, to be honest.
Me, look at small theaters, village, or school halls would have been places where I was far more likely to perform, lets face it. Then tonight, I was watching something on TV, where the actors involved said that in fact, the acting capital of the world, for them, was Stratford Upon Avon.
I suppose if you’re a classical actor of some note (they are), then I can see the logic of that, given the whole Shakespeare thing, and all. As far as I can remember, I’ve only acted in one piece by Shakespeare (that Scottish play), and amusingly, and probably aptly, with foresight, I played a witch! Let me add, it was being done by a boys Grammar school, so apart from a few main parts, for which we borrowed girls from their grammar school across the road, we were expected to play all the parts. So, with hindsight, probably my first main female role!
Now, if I told you that the first movie capital of the world wasnt Hollywood, wasnt even on the West Coast, would you believe me? Yes, the movie industry was created in, and around the New York/New Jersey area in fact! But the winters made filming tricky, and when they heard about the all year round warmth in California, then history was created! It was really late into the 1920’s before Hollywood began to dominate the scene.
So where, readers, would you say was the acting capital of the world? I still say my vote goes for Hollywood, but thats probably that 30’s chorus girl/movie actress buried within me. No, I dont really expect anyone to answer here (rare that anyone does), but just think about it, for me, OK?
OK, video time. So my vote goes for Hollywood anyway, and besides which, I couldnt think of an apt song that links to Stratford in any way. I did think of using Shakespeare’s Sister, but seriously…? Anyway, fine, this seems apt, as its what the modern day chorus girl would probably be doing nowadays, shows on cruise ships, and the like.
Now, normally when you do a review of the year, and you’re splitting it in two, you’d do two spells of 6 months, right? But when I looked back on my year, it took me about 30 seconds (if that long) to work out that apart from one event in May, not much happened for the first 8 months, then a hell of a lot happened in the last 4! So to avoid a 500 word blog tonight, and a 3000 word one tomorrow, I’m doing this on an 8/4 basis this year.
In truth, the highlights of the first 2 months were getting the news I’d passed probation period at work, and getting my first passport in my new name, and gender. I know, I’d lived about 7 years as a woman before then, but all the same, that was a special moment when it was made official. Oh, and around the same time, my first moments of DWP fame, in a transgender sense, with an interview from work, about life as a Transgender woman in the Department. Which of course led to something that will be mentioned in Part 2, but for now…
No, diplomacy means I’m not mentioning a certain event that happened in the US, in January, but you all know what I think of him, and his actions, so lets leave it there.
Of course, my first flight as a woman, was in May, going back to Hollywood, or more strictly, Los Angeles. Lets just say the whole apartment thing this time around wasnt the success of the previous trip, both in the sense of initially booking an apartment, and then the landlord deciding he wanted to decline the booking, because he hadnt put in his price rise for the New Year. Fine, I thought, until he told me it was done, and suddenly the price had risen by over 20%, nearly 25% in fact! So I started again, thought I’d found somewhere decent as a replacement, but it didnt live up to all its claims. Dont get me wrong, it was nice enough, just didnt have all the facilities it claimed it had.
The funniest moment was a delightful Thai takeaway I had found 18 months earlier, and the lady still remembered me the moment I walked in, despite that. Its sad to think that by the next time I visit, she will almost certainly be gone, as it will be a few years before I get there again (unless I get a role offer), and I doubt she was that young this year, so…but she was amazing!
The other big highlights that will stick with me, would be 2 Louise Brooks silent films, viewed at the historic Egyptian Theater, a guided Hollywood walk given by a wonderful lady that I like to see as a friend, a ‘better than I would buy’ seat at a Dodgers game, thanks to another friend, with the added bonus of it being a game that Kershaw pitched at! Lastly, there was a wonderful Harlow display at the Hollywood Museum, which was a delight to see. Oh, and thanks to the Metro, getting to Santa Monica far easier than ever before!
In truth, I have no idea when I’ll be back, unless I get an offer, which I would have to say is pretty unlikely. But never say never… Certainly, due to something that will be mentioned shortly, walking up the hill to where Harlow rests at Forest Lawn would probably be beyond me now, but anyway…
In July, 2 things happened, one good, one bad. The good one was, that knowing that Clara Johnson’s middle initial was E, and finding a few images of a chorus line dancer/Goldwyn Girl, and putting two and two together, when you find a dancing match, named Elaine Johnson, who has a career that seems to tie in to Clara’s, well I jumped on the issue, and joy, actually found 3 pictures of her from a credited movie promotion shoot. Of course I cant be 100% sure its one and the same, but enough coincidences for me to say it is. In fact, as you’ll find out tomorrow, this isnt the end of that story! Yes, a few new pictures, wow! I’d still love to find her married name, so I’d have a chance of paying my respects if, and when I get back to LA.
The bad thing, my back, after giving me support for about 59 years, decided it had had enough, and snapped. Quite literally, though not in too severe a way, fingers crossed. Yes, osteoporosis had taken its toll on me! Painkillers, and other meds (been tweaked a couple of times) keep it bearable, but yes, its fair to say old age is beginning to catch up with me. It eventually led to me cutting back to 4 days a week at work, with which I can just about get by financially, but holidays will need to be cut back on now, for sure.
August marked 1 year in the new job, and in truth, apart from a dream acting offer, I cant see me leaving before I get to retire in just over 6 years time. Yes, I really am that old lol! The rest of the year, and a few landmarks, tomorrow!
Right, the video. One of the few modern groups I have much time for, are The Killers. I now love them even more now I know that each Christmas, they record a song, and give all royalties to charity! This is the 2013 song, which is apt given where I was in May, and even more so when you see something I post tomorrow!
Well fine, as a small part actress, in modern times (and lets face it, supposedly I was an actor back then), I’ve never actually encountered that casting couch moment. I know, what a surprise, not!
However its a well known fact that back in the ‘Golden Age’ of movie making, and before then, the casting couch wasnt only something that was hinted at, it was reality! Back then, its fair to say that more than a few actresses, either trying to get that break, or to move up in the standings got there by more than acting talent alone. Though in truth, on the whole, they were given little choice in the matter, if they wanted to make it. Yes, I wouldnt be totally surprised at some point if Clara Johnson had to go through the routine herself, to get her big chance. I mean, you only have to look at the fact that prior to 1933/34, and her promotion to Goldwyn Girl status, that she’d been around as a humble chorus girl for a while, and then suddenly…hmm? Maybe it was just hard work, who knows, but the cynic in me still wonders, all the same?
Given that the book I read it in, is factually tarnished, many times over, I’m prepared to tread carefully on this, but allegedly Jean Harlow was sought (and not for her movie skills) by high ups in many studios, both male, and indeed, female for other purposes when she first broke through seriously into the movies. True or not, she married 2 ‘senior’ staff at MGM, who werent logical marriage partners for her, but hey, it does seem she had a yearn for older men, so that could be totally wrong assumption, especially as one of them was pretty much proved to be impotent!
But yes, back then, the whole casting couch thing was part of the movie industry, in those less than enlightened times. But if anyone thought it had gone away, oh my, how wrong can you be? In truth, the only question that needs to be asked about the whole Harvey Weinstein thing, is why its taken so long to come out? The answer, my dear, of course, is power. But of course, with anything like that, once one domino falls in the pack, every other domino quickly tumbles over as well. He thought, because of his position, that he could get away with it, but now, finally, thankfully, it has caught up with him.
Is he the only one? I very much doubt it. In truth, I’d be amazed if he was. I suspect a few more will follow now, but we will have to wait and see on that. I think its safe to say that a trans woman actress, fast approaching 60 is not likely to be a casting couch target for anyone lol! Especially given my back wouldnt be up to anything adventurous anyway! But yes, hopefully, now, a number of younger actresses may manage to avoid this fate. But I suspect, there’s always someone, so…
Oh fine, the video. This might sound like its from the 1920’s, but its actually from 1961. Yes, still delightfully ancient for most, but…there were 9 members of the Temperance 7, a play on the term ‘one over the eight’ which definitely wasnt a sign of temperance lol! There was a major revival of the group about 10 years later, which lineup I have featured here in the past. Sadly, the only film I can find of the original lineup singing this, is of pretty poor quality, so lets go with this, which looks like a scene that Clara Johnson, and other chorus girls of that era would be very familiar with!