President’s Greeting: Jan/Feb 2015

Ernst van Leyden, Portrait of Lion and Marta Feuchtwanger, 1946, oil painting. Courtesy of Feuchtwanger Memorial Library, Special Collections, University of Southern California Libraries. On view now in our exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950.

Ernst van Leyden, Portrait of Lion and Marta Feuchtwanger, 1946, oil painting. Courtesy of Feuchtwanger Memorial Library, Special Collections,
University of Southern California Libraries.
On view now in our exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950.

 

I had the privilege of knowing Marta Feuchtwanger, pictured above with her beloved husband, Lion Feuchtwanger (1884–1958), the famed German Jewish writer. She and I were friends for two decades in her later years (we met in 1964; she died in 1987). From her I learned of Lion’s celebrated novels and plays, his outspoken opposition to the Nazi regime, his rescue from Nazi-occupied France, and his new life with her in Los Angeles. Their magnificent home in Pacific Palisades is now known as Villa Aurora, and stands as a memorial to the exiles and émigrés who found refuge from Nazi persecution in the United States.

Marta told me how Lion spoke out against Adolf Hitler as early as the 1920s. Continue reading

Light & Noir: A “True Hollywood Story”

These ten Declaration of Intent documents are on view in <i>Light & Noir</i>

These ten Declaration of Intent documents are on view in Light & Noir.

For the European exiles and émigrés featured in our exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950, Hollywood was much more than the glamorous place of fame and fortune we often think of now. During those years, in juxtaposition to the turmoil brewing in Nazi Europe, Hollywood was a place where these émigrés could take refuge and start their lives anew.

This clip from the PBS documentary Cinema’s Exiles gives some context about what émigrés were fleeing from. You can watch the full film on the big screen here at the Skirball on March 1.

But, as is still the case, immigrating to the United States was no simple task. In addition to the geographical distance they had to overcome, émigrés also had to comply with the United States’ strict immigration laws. Many of them came on visitor visas that would expire after a certain amount of time. If they wanted to legally extend their stay—and, unsurprisingly, many of them did—they needed to file a Declaration of Intention. Not unlike what is today called a “green card,” the Declaration granted permanent residency in the U.S. And while it wouldn’t automatically grant these émigrés citizenship, it was the first step they had to take if they wanted to acquire it.

On loan from the National Archives at Riverside, the original Declaration of Intention forms currently on display in Light & Noir reveal some lesser-known facts about people we know well by different names. For instance, actress Marlene Dietrich (Shanghai Express, A Foreign Affair) and director Henry Koster (It Started with Eve, Harvey) were actually born as Maria Magdalene Sieber and Hermann Julius Kosterlitz. Marlene_Dietrich_Declaration_of_Intention

Not every category could be answered as matter-of-factly as one’s name… Continue reading

When Bauhaus Meets Judaica: A Unique Hanukkah Lamp

Hanukkah lamp, Ludwig Y. Wolpert, ca. 1960. From the Skirball collection.

Hanukkah lamp, Ludwig Y. Wolpert, ca. 1960. From the Skirball collection.

Hanukkah lamps come in all styles and materials. Here at the Skirball, the permanent collection of lamps is as varied as the artists who crafted them, each piece a reflection of the generation and the community for which it was fashioned. For example, lamps from countries surrounding the Mediterranean were demonstrably influenced by Sephardic traditions and style. Others reveal inspiration from modernist innovations popular in early-twentieth-century Europe.

The lamp pictured above, currently on display in the Skirball’s core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, was designed by German sculptor Ludwig Yehuda Wolpert, the son of an Orthodox rabbi. Born in Hildesheim, Germany, Wolpert began his artistic studies at the School for Arts and Crafts in Franfkfurt. He then worked as a sculptor, specializing in metalwork. Artistically, Wolpert was inspired by the Bauhaus slogan “form follows function,” and also by Leo Horovitz, a silversmith and designer of Judaica. Under Horovitz’s guidance, Wolpert became involved in creating modern Jewish ceremonial art. One of his signature practices was to incorporate an abstract of a Hebrew letter in his pieces. The design of this lamp recalls the Hebrew letter shin.  Continue reading

Pasatono Orquesta Revives a Tradition, With a Twist

Come hear Pasatono Orquesta fill our Ahmanson Hall with Mexican folk tunes sure to get your whole family on their feet.

Come hear Pasatono Orquesta fill our Ahmanson Hall with Mexican folk tunes sure to get your whole family on their feet.

The Skirball’s annual Hanukkah Family Festival approaches, and this year the festivities take inspiration from Latin American culture. Along with Mexican tin art painting, mariachi and Capoeira performances, and Latin American–influenced Hanukkah treats, don’t miss out on seeing Oaxaca’s Pasatono Orquesta.

Pasatono Orquesta has made a name for itself over the last fifteen years by reinterpreting traditional Mexican folk music. The group’s latest album, Maroma, pays tribute to the traveling circuses that were once popular throughout rural Mexico. These maroma, as they were called, consisted of a single clown tasked with juggling, telling jokes, reciting poetry, and performing acrobatics, drawing inspiration from a mixture of pre-Hispanic indigenous traditions, European street performances, and modern circus elements. Continue reading

Top 10 Items in the Femme Fatale’s Arsenal

Group1With the exhibitions Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 and The Noir Effect in full swing, noir is in the air here at the Skirball. Inspired by the seductive femme fatales of film noir, I’ve selected ten alluring items from our Light & Noir Holiday Pop-Up Shop that are perfect for the mysterious woman on your gift list. There’s no need to go on a manhunt for a creative Hanukkah present or saucy stocking-stuffer this year. Skip the bedlam at the mall and slip into the boudoir at the pop-up shop for some of these sassy and clever gifts.

  1. The Perfect Red Lipstick
    As the chaotic holidays approach, I heed this advice from Elizabeth Taylor: “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.” Red lipstick (and perhaps a little gin!) really is the perfect pick-me-up. During WWII, cosmetics entrepreneur Elizabeth Arden encouraged women to wear red lips as a symbol of victory. (The beauty company even released a line of cosmetics for the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, which included the shade “Victory Red” to coordinate with their uniforms.) Personally, I look to locally-based Bésame Cosmetics for long-lasting, classically glamorous shades of red. One of my personal favorites is Red Velvet. Every Bésame product is re-created from popular vintage formulas and lovingly packaged in a retro style. Learn for yourself how to apply that perfect femme fatale look on Sunday, December 7, when Bésame Cosmetics founder Gabriela Hernandez gives a makeup talk and demo in conjunction with the exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950.
  2. An Alluring Perfume
    Perfumer Margot Elena created this irresistible “Femme Fatale” collection of fragrances, part of her TokyoMilk/DARK line. Each fragrance is stunningly packaged in matte-black bottles featuring charming lithograph illustrations for each scent. My favorite is “Everything & Nothing” No. 10, with its light hint of citrus. I’m also a fan of the coordinating hand creams.
  3. Compact Mirror
    A slim, stylish compact mirror is a must for every glamour girl to ensure her makeup is always in place. I myself designed the pattern featured on this cute compact from LucyLu as a nod to the iconic film noir motif of striped shadows. The compact is accompanied by a protective silver leatherette pouch with a magnetic closure, which helps keep the outside of the mirror shiny and scratch-free. Continue reading

BODYTRAFFIC Moves for Schools

Classically trained dancers. Klezmer, Ladino, and jazz music. A man lip-syncing to an Ella Fitzgerald song. High school students from all over Los Angeles. This amazing mix came together on Wednesday, October 29, during a performance at the Skirball by local dance company BODYTRAFFIC.

BODYTRAFFIC was founded in Los Angeles in 2007 by Lillian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett. It was recently named the “Best up-and-coming dance company” by LA Weekly, the company of the future by The Joyce Theater Foundation, one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch in 2013,” and “Best of Culture” by the Los Angeles Times.

This performance was typical of our school performance series in which we offer music, theater, dance performances, and film screenings that bring diverse groups of students together to explore culture, history, and identity with world-class performing artists.

In order to whet their appetite for the performance, we asked students to respond to some questions about dance. These questions got them thinking about dance as a mode of expression and how it factors into their own lives. Here is a sampling of the students’ responses:

BodyTraffic_skirblog_1

What does dance mean to you? When was the last time you danced? What types of dance do you know?
Dance is a way to express yourself In the morning Tango
Freedom Last week Cha-cha
Feelings When I was little Ballroom
Art At homecoming Dougie
Everything I twerk when I can Cumbia
Emotion Ballet
Be Yourself Shuffling
Gangnam Style

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The first piece, an excerpt from and at midnight, the green bride floated through the village square… choreographed by Barak Marshall, explored gender roles and the push-and-pull dynamics of romantic relationships.

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In the second piece, dancers wowed the audience with a mash-up of disparate dance styles—breakdancing, ballet, and contemporary—in a selection from their newest work: once more before you go by choreographer Victor Quijada.

BodyTraffic_skirblog_3

The final dance included selections from a suite of dances called o2Joy, an exuberant homage to American jazz standards, by choreographer Richard Siegal. In it, the dancers spun, swayed in pairs, and proved that it is possible to fly in our Ahmanson ballroom! Continue reading

Dressed to Kill: Film Noir Fashion

This Mildred Pierce suit worn by Joan Crawford is on display in the exhibition Light & Noir, on view through March 1. With the mirrors behind it, you can appreciate the costume design fully. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Corporate Archive.

This Mildred Pierce suit worn by Joan Crawford is on display in the exhibition Light & Noir, on view through March 1. With the mirrors behind it, you can appreciate the costume design fully. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Corporate Archive. 

Taking a historical and aesthetic approach to film noir fashion, educator Kimberly Truhler has connected the dots between the realities of American life in the 1930s and 1940s (a harsh economic climate, social and cultural trends, wartime struggles) and the amazing resourcefulness and creativity of cinematic costume designers. Her informative and visually appealing website GlamAmor demonstrates how these classic trends have endured and continue to influence today’s fashion. In conjunction with the exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950, Truhler appears at the Skirball on December 7 to give a lecture on “The History of Fashion in Film Noir.” Below, we ask the style maven about the origins of her passion for film fashion history and for a sneak peek at some of the films and designers she’ll be discussing.

What was the first film noir you watched, and what did you think of it at the time?

My father has been a police officer all of my life, and he loved to watch film noir when he came home from work. As a result, I saw movies like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and The Thin Man when I was just a child, and I absolutely adored them. I was drawn to the mood and mystery of these films first, and then started to really appreciate their overall style. Film noir was my introduction to classic cinema and it began a lifelong passion for it. I suspect it’s that way for many other people as well. Continue reading

The Cameraman Always Shoots Twice: Enter to Win

Old-school signage (and hey, look, a pay phone!) can add a retro feel to your photos. Submit yours to the Skirball’s “Shoot Your L.A. Noirscape” photo contest today!

Old-school signage (and hey, look, a pay phone!) can add a retro feel to your photos. Submit yours to the Skirball’s “Shoot Your L.A. Noirscape” photo contest today!

I knew I was in trouble the minute this contest walked through my door. Suddenly my random, obsessive photography of my surroundings acquired a sinister focus. I saw shady characters everywhere—thick-necked loan sharks chomping cigars, aspiring starlets with murder in their eyes, barflies in disheveled suits with a story to sell, stage-door Johnnys, short-order cooks, ex-boxers with prison tattoos, nosy landladies, guys with five o’clock shadows who spent all day studying the daily racing form—the city was chock full of ‘em, and I got them all in front of my camera, one way or another. I prowled the city at night, getting lost in a twisted warren of steam-shrouded back alleys, on the hunt for fresh material. Two filters fought tooth and nail for dominance in my photo stream—Tonal, Noir, Tonal, Noir, Ansel? No, Noir! I was spiraling out of control, shooting everything at Dutch angles, falling headlong into the crazy, disorienting shadows I once composed artfully from a safe distance. I was a goner, a stiff, a patsy, and then at the very last second I was pulled back from the brink. By a dame, no less.

“You’re not eligible for this contest. See right here in the contest rules? It’s not open to relatives of staff.” Continue reading

Songs of Freedom: In Honor of Veterans Day

National Jewish Welfare Board, Selected Jewish Songs for Members of the Armed Forces, 1943. Gift of Herman and Polly Alevy, Skirball Museum, Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA. 71.102.

National Jewish Welfare Board, Selected Jewish Songs for Members of the Armed Forces, 1943. Gift of Herman and Polly Alevy, Skirball Museum, Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA. 71.102.

On Veterans Day, as we honor the men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, I was inspired to look into our Museum collection for artifacts that reveal interesting stories of the wartime experiences of soldiers. Of the many items from which to choose, this small songbook struck me as a fascinating example of how World War II American Jewish soldiers doubly identified with the struggle to defeat Nazi Germany. United behind a common cause, soldiers and the American people at large shared a deep sense of patriotism. For Jewish servicemen and women, defeating Germany and the Axis powers was more urgent still: the survival of European Jewry was at stake, as well as the defeat of hatred, discrimination, and ethnic persecution.

Two symbols on the cover reveal who published the songbook and hint at its purpose. “JWB” stands for the National Jewish Welfare Board, formed at the start of World War I to support Jewish soldiers in the U.S. military. The JWB supplied ritual objects and miniature prayer books, as well as food packages complete with gefilte fish and honey cake.

National Jewish Welfare Board, Military Passover Seder Menu, 1945. Gift of Isidore and Shirley Erenberg, Skirball Museum, Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA. 71.23.

National Jewish Welfare Board, Military Passover Seder Menu, 1945. Gift of Isidore and Shirley Erenberg, Skirball Museum, Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA. 71.23.

In 1941, the JWB joined with five other service organizations—including the YMCA and the Salvation Army—to strengthen the morale of the Armed Forces. This consortium quickly became known as the United Service Organizations, or USO—the other symbol on the cover. The songbook, we can gather, was meant to bolster both the spiritual and emotional well-being of the troops.

Selected Jewish Songs for Members of the Armed Forces includes hymns and songs in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish “suitable for Sabbath and festival days and other social and cultural group meetings.” The book mixes patriotic songs (“God Bless America”), liturgical music (“Sh’ma Yisrael”), and even old-time spirituals (“Go Down, Moses”). The songs reflect the democracy of national, cultural, and religious identities of the soldiers who sang them. Most important in the dark years of World War II, they represented—and served—the cause of freedom.

 

Two of my grandparents— Gloria Forster Clancey and Harry "Pat" Clancey—served in the Marine Corps during WWII.

Two of my grandparents— Gloria Forster Clancey and Harry “Pat” Clancey—served in the Marine Corps during WWII.

 

How We Made the Light & Noir Holiday Pop-Up Shop… Pop!

The Skirball is delighted to present this holiday pop-up shop, now open through January 4, inspired by the new exhibition Light & Noir. On opening night, these eager first shoppers discovered the array of merchandise, from wearables to home décor, books and kid-friendly novelties. Photo by Steve Cohn.

The Skirball is delighted to present this holiday pop-up shop, now open through January 4, inspired by the new exhibition Light & Noir. On opening night, these eager first shoppers discovered the array of merchandise, from wearables to home décor, books to kid-friendly novelties. Photo by Steve Cohn.

In January, when I began reading about our upcoming exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950, I was instantly inspired. Due to my personal interest in fashion and design, I was very aware of the influence film noir has had in these areas. I was eager to explore the possibility of a holiday pop-up shop to complement the exhibition. It was the beginning of an exciting journey.

We had many questions. Where would I find vintage items from the period? How much vintage vs. reproduction should make up the product mix? With a very limited budget, how would we create an evocative environment? Many existing relationships needed to be engaged, and new ones pursued and cultivated.

GlamAmor Shares Noir Essentials—Early during the research stage, I came across a six-part webinar series on The Style Essentials: History of Fashion in Film, by Kimberly Truhler, Woodbury College professor, author, film and costume design expert, and creator of GlamAmor. Each webinar covers one decade, and I signed up for the session on the 1940s. After viewing Kimberly’s informative and enjoyable presentation, I contacted her and was pleased to learn that she is passionate about film noir! Even better, she was willing to give us informed suggestions for our project.

Come hear GlamAmor founder Kimberly Truhler—pictured above left in a fabulous green vintage coat (above left) on opening night with me—give a talk on the history of fashion in film noir (including the classic Mildred Pierce, pictured above right)—Sunday, December 7, at 1:00 p.m. A valued consultant to us on the pop-up shop, Kimberly has studied film and costume design history for more than twenty years. Photo on left by Steve Cohn. Film still on right from Mildred Pierce © Warner Bros.; courtesy of Warner Bros./Photofest.

Come hear GlamAmor founder Kimberly Truhler—pictured above left in a fabulous green vintage coat (above left) on opening night with me—give a talk on the history of fashion in film noir (including the classic Mildred Pierce, pictured above right)—Sunday, December 7, at 1:00 p.m. A valued consultant to us on the pop-up shop, Kimberly has studied film and costume design history for more than twenty years. Photo on left by Steve Cohn. Film still on right from Mildred Pierce © Warner Bros.; courtesy of Warner Bros./Photofest.

Continue reading