Category Archives: gay

When The US Government Told Us What to Wear

During World War 2, in an effort to save precious materials needed for the war, The War Production Board (WPB) was in charge of rationing civilian goods. The first to be rationed was sugar and gasoline. Gradually other items were added like rubber, coffee and meat (somehow poultry didn’t count as meat so it wasn’t rationed). You couldn’t buy a refrigerator or a Bendix washer during the war, but these companies regularly advertised in the popular magazines, reminding customers of all they were giving to the war effort.
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The WPB came out with Limitation Order L-85, which dictated how much cloth could be used to make clothing. Although clothing wasn’t rationed in the US (except shoes*) as it was in Great Britain the WPB made regulations on how much cloth could be used to make any one outfit. The sleeves of dresses now had to be 3/4 length, dresses with no collars were favored. Double breasted suits for both men and women became single breasted. There were no more women’s pleated skirts. (Stanton, 2009a) The WPB’s slogan was,”Control without regimentation,” meaning they didn’t want to tell designers how to initiate their regulations, but they did expect them to be followed. After all, this was being done “for the boys.” Everyone was behind it. Muriel Johnstone, a dress designer, advertising her new regulation dresses used the slogan: “Conserving material for victory.” (OldMagazineArticles.com)

In the interest of following the mandate to use less material—or so they claimed—designers started raising women’s skirts from the mid-calf to just below the knee. The amount of clothes women wore during this time became less and less, especially in Hollywood. Watch the films made during the war. First, you’ll see a lot of those collarless dresses along with the shorter lengths. Also, you’ll note how scanty many of the women are dressed, lots of bare legs, bare arms, cleavage. Compare these outfits with the clothing worn in films made before the war and after. It was “all for the boys.” (Stanton, 2009b)

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*Each individual was allowed 3 pairs of shoe a year, which doesn’t sound terribly harsh to me. Stage Door volunteers were permitted and extra pair of shoes because their shoes wore out quickly from all that dancing.

Stanton, S.L.(2009a) Limitation Order L-85: General restrictions. The United States in War and Peace (PDF)

Stanton, S.L.(2009b) Limitation Order L-85: Fashion and Morale, The United States in War and Peace

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Filed under 1940's history, 1940s Fashion, clothing 1940s, gay, Juliana the Novel, Lesbian, Uncategorized, World War II

Brunch in New York in 1943

The Fifth Avenue Hotel, 24 Fifth Avenue 9th Street Antique Postcard

The Fifth Avenue Hotel at 9th Street, Sidewalk Cafe, 1935


Last night I was with my writing group, The Oracles, some of the most amazingly talented writers I have ever known.  I am so thrilled to be included in their number.  I’m always grateful for the helpful feedback they give me. They’re all playwrights. I am too, only now I’m finishing up a novel. The novel has so much dialogue in it that they graciously let me cast it with fabulous actors so that it can be read at the group for feedback. Last night we finished reading one of my chapters from JULIANA and someone in the group asked if they had “brunch” in New York City in 1943. An excellent question and one I had not considered. (They often send me back to the drawing board to check my facts.) This set me on a course of late night researching until I came up with the answer to that question.

Here is the answer:

There actually was a guy who started the whole thing.  In England in 1895, Guy Beringer thought there should be an alternative to the “postchurch ordeal of heavy meats and savory pies” (Grimes, 1998).  He thought there should be a meal served at noon that consisted of tea or coffee, and marmalade.  He considered this later, lighter meal would make it easier for the Saturday late night “carousers.”  Well, the idea took off.

Brunch didn’t come to the U.S. until after World War I,  but they definitely had it in 1943.  In the forties, the Fifth Avenue Hotel and Ninth Street had what they called the “Sunday Strollers’ Brunch.”  They served sauerkraut juice, clam cocktails, chicken liver omelets in Madeira and calf’s liver with hash browns (Grimes, 1998).

Finding out about the Fifth Avenue Hotel brunch caused me to change the location of my characters’ brunch from the general “nice little cafe around the corner” to the more specific Fifth Avenue Hotel.  This change had significance for me since I lived with two roommates in a one bedroom apartment in the Fifth Avenue Hotel when I first came to the city.

Thank you, Oracles!

References: Grimes, W. (July, 08, 1998). At brunch, the more bizarre the better. New York Times.

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Do You Know Who Patsy Kelly Was?

Patsy Kelly Ruth Gordon Rosemary Baby

Patsy Kelly and Ruth Gordon in Rosemary’s Baby

For a long time most Hollywood actors (and people for that matter) were not out.  To openly proclaim oneself to be a gay man or a Lesbian was to commit professional suicide and it could also put your life in jeopardy.  However, there was one…

During the thirties and forties Patsy Kelly was a successful comedienne in Hollywood movies; she played goofy maids and salty side kicks.   She also was one of the very rare almost out Lesbians of her time.

Doing the research for my novel required a lot of reading about “gay” Hollywood.  That’s how I stumbled upon Patsy Kelly.  In the thirties and forties she didn’t actually announce that she was a Lesbian, but she didn’t hide it, either.  She went from being the critics darling between 1933 and 1943 to pretty much forgotten from 1943 to 1960 when she made no movies. Syndicated columnist, Lee Graham summed it up by saying that she went out with “mannish women, wore slacks in public, cursed and swore and told off-color jokes at lesbic bars (I love this word ‘lesbic’) and clubs.”  She was considered a scandal waiting to happen so the jobs pretty much dried up. (McClennan, 2000).

Tallulah Bankhead came to her rescue in the fifties by hiring her for small parts in  plays she was doing.  Later Patsy became “Tallu’s”  paid personal companion, which sometimes required  her to “provide services” for her generous employer and friend.  After 1960 Patsy started to get hired for secondary roles.  The most famous of her later films was Rosemary’s Baby in which she played a witch and friend to the weird neighbor across the hall played by Ruth Gordon.  (Ruth Gordon is loved for her role as Maude in Harold and Maude and she is  one of my absolute favorites. I actually met her backstage on the day they were closing her Broadway show, Dreyfus.  A memorable moment for a wide-eyed kid who’d just arrived in the City)

Patsy was the only actress out of ten who admitted to Boze Hadleigh in 1979, without angst, that she was a “dyke.” (Hadleigh, 1994)

References: Hadleigh, B., (1994).  Hollywood Lesbians. New York: Barricade Books, Inc.

McClennan, D. (2000). The Girls. New York:  St. Martin’s Press.

From the 1938 movie “There Goes My Heart”: Patsy Kelly sings the praises of a device called “Vibrato”–“for that morning-after feeling.” Was it intended innocently, or were the filmmakers trying to slip something past the censors? You be the judge…

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