Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hollywood Bohemians: Transgressive Sexuality and the Selling of the Hollywood Dream By Brett L. Abrams

Chapter One

Hollywood Nightlife

Female Impersonators andCross-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.

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.

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.

Hollywood Bohemians:

Transgressive Sexuality and the Selling of the Hollywood Dream

By Brett L. Abrams

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