America has long had a love affair with the automobile. Cars are the ultimate expression of form, function, fashion—and speed.
But most of all the car represents freedom.
Try and remember when you were a teenager yearning for your driver’s license so you could hop into daddy’s car and go, go, go. It didn’t matter where, you just wanted to burn rubber and escape into the far horizon.
The brilliant, exhilirating and touching American Grafitti, 1973, is the ultimate expression of American car culture. Almost every single scene takes place in a car.
Los Angeles was the first America city built to accomodate the automobile. And the movie stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, most born dirt-poor, expressed delight in their sudden prosperity and fame by purchasing and posing with their dream machines.
Above, Brigitte Bardot color coordinates her pants and signature ballet flats with a sexy sports car. Très chic.
Silent film comedienne Mabel Normand shows off her custom built Mercer Runabout 22-72, equipped with fold-a-way makeup kit and vanity table. The car was a gift from Mabel's boyfriend, producer Mack Sennett, 1920. The night before their wedding Mabel discovered Mack in bed with actress Mae Busch. The wedding was cancelled. Mabel boozed, became addicted to cocaine and was involved in several high-profile Hollywood scandals. Her brilliant career tanked and she died at the age of 37.
For a brief period during the silent era, Esther Ralston, known as The American Venus, was raking in thousands of dollars a week. She splurged on a limited edition Lincoln Town Car, 1927. Esther did not know how to drive so naturally she hired a full time chauffer. Soon enough Esther's career stalled. She lost all her money, sold her car, her mansion, and all her possessions.
Rudolph Valentino loved cars and spent hours tinkering with engines. He owned several very expensive custom built vehicles. Rudy proudly displays his Isotta-Franschini limousine, built to his exacting specifications, 1923. I'm reading Evelyn Zumaya's new, groundbreaking biography, “Affairs Valentino.” Along with details of Rudy's love of the automobile—and his horrendous driving—I'm gaining a whole new perspective on this remarkable figure of motion picture history. I'll write a full review as soon as I finish the book.
Clark Gable was a no frills kind of guy. He liked to hunt, fish and play poker with his buddies. He was also notoriously cheap. Hence his choice of an unpretentious Detroit built station wagon—chime in if you can ID the car—is fully in character and kind of reassuring.
H/T to reader Bill Brandt for identifying Valentino’s automobile.
Karen and I wish all our friends a restful and inspiring Shabbat.