Theda Bara, (1885 – 1955) born Theodosia Goodman, was a nice Jewish girl from Cincinnati who transformed herself into cinema’s first femme fatale, the man-destroying vamp. Tragically, most of her legendary films were destroyed in a fire.
There was a time when wearing a hat was de rigueur. Fine millinery was considered a sign of good taste, good breeding, and good fashion.
Hollywood actresses were rarely seen in public without hat, gloves and a designer outfit. Those were the days when Hollywood insisted on projecting style and glamour. Of course, with the destruction of the studio system by the federal government and the advent of television, stars abandoned style and rapidly devolved into vulgar celebrity.
Here’s a reminder of classic Hollywood glamour featuring stars in their hats.
Agnes Ayres, (1898 – 1940) born Agnes Eyre Henkel, starred opposite Rudolph Valentino in two films that, for a while, defined male Hollywood hunkiness, The Sheik, and (naturally) Son of the Sheik.
Dolores Costello, (1903 – 1979) was one of the most beautiful women ever to appear in the movies. Her career spanned the silent and sound era. Sadly, her skin was ravaged by the harsh make-up used in silent films. She retired early from the screen, and managed an avocado farm. She is Drew Barrymore’s grandmother.
Gloria Swanson, (1899 – 1983) is best known for playing the insane silent star Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard.” But Swanson was quite sane, if utterly self-centered, and in the 1920s, the most popular and glamorous star in the world. Her best silent film is “Sadie Thompson” (’29).
Lili Damita, born Liliane Marie-Madeleine Carré (1904 – 1994) was a French actress who was brought to Hollywood by Sam Goldwyn. A competent actress, her career never caught fire though she worked with some of Hollywood’s finest leading men including Gary Cooper, Laurence Olivier, Cary Grant, and Maurice Chevalier. She married Erroll Flynn when he was a relative unknown. Their marriage was, to say the least, tempestuous if not violent. Their son, Sean Flynn (b. 1941) became a professional photographer. Under assignment for Time in Vietnam in 1970, Flynn and fellow journalist Dana Stone, disappeared. Damita spent enormous sums of money trying to determine her son’s fate. But Sean’s body was never found. He is presumed dead.
Ann Harding, b. Dorothy Walton Gatley, (1902 – 1981) was the daughter of a career army officer who thoroughly disapproved of his daughter’s career. Trained in the theater, Harding came to Hollywood in 1929 and was hailed for finely etched performances and her crystal clear diction. Unfortunately, Harding was thrown into a series of mediocre movies where she played the innocent, long-suffering wife. This photo is just plain weird because Harding’s physical signature was her waist-length (and natural) white blond hair, a silken waterfall.
Ann Harding without hat.
In a tricorn style hat, Joan Bennet (1910-1990) looks dangerously elegant in classic femme fatale style. Besides starring in several noir classics, The Woman in the Window (1944), Scarlet Street (1945), Hollow Triumph (1948) and our favorite, The Reckless Moment (1949), Joan Bennett delivered—in real life, mind you—one of the most famous and scathing lines of dialogue in Hollywood history.
In 1951, Bennet’s marriage to producer Walter Wanger was on the rocks. Wanger’s distinguished career was in decline and he was drowning in debt. Bennett and Wanger were in danger of losing their lovely Holmby Hills home. The financial burden of their family fell entirely on Joan’s slim shoulders. Unhappy, worried about her movie career as TV colonized movie audiences, Joan was approaching that age where female stars are forced into character roles. Under these trying circumstances Joan drifted into an affair with her agent Jennings Lang. Suspicious, Wanger followed his wife and her agent to a motel parking lot where, in a fit of jealousy, Wanger shot Lang in the crotch—twice.
Joan said: “Oh for Chrissake’s Walter, he’s only an agent!”
Lang survived. Wanger served time. But Joan’s marriage fell apart and her career never quite recovered from the scandal.