Home Books Rev 6 Hollywood Blvd. In Wartime of the 1940s

Rev 6 Hollywood Blvd. In Wartime of the 1940s

Vogue Theatre, Hollywood Boulevard, 1935.
Vogue Theatre, Hollywood Boulevard, 1935.

 … by Betty Kreisel Shubert 

Fashion Flash!!…I HAVE JUST WON MY 5TH AWARD FOR BEST BOOK! – This time in the category of History from the 2016 Hollywood Book Festival. A big party for winners was held at the legendary Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, site of the first Academy awards… This is the unabridged version of my acceptance speech. 

          I sold my first dress design to a manufacturer at age 13: The year was 1938…now you know that I am 91… I had two, Hit Hollywood shows to my credit while still 18. That is when Variety wrote that I was the youngest costume designer in show business… I may now be the Oldest!! 

          My credits include designing clothes & costumes for stage, screen, television Specials, Ready-to-Wear, Las Vegas musicals, Disney Imagineering & Disneyland…Plus , the uniform programs for major cruise lines, race tracks, hotels, restaurants & casinos around the world. 

          Here is how a chance encounter inspired my award winning book and changed my life:  One day, I found myself walking to our clubhouse with a woman I did not know . She was on her way to a genealogy club meeting carrying old family photos that she could not date. “ Show them to me” I said, “ I can tell by the clothes when the pictures were taken”. This simple sentence changed my career focus from designer to Author-Illustrator, Columnist for Ancestry Magazine and owner of Flashback Publishing.

           I was invited to the next genealogy club meeting where I arrived with sketches to illustrate my talking points. There was so much interest in the subject that for months afterward, people came to me to time-date their old photos … I knew I had a book here! … but, as I wrote, all by itself,  my book  evolved into a Personal Memoir of changing fashions in the 20th to 21st centuries. 

          That is how “OUT-OF-STYLE: A Modern Perspective of HOW, WHY & WHEN Vintage Fashions Evolved,” was born. 

          OUT-OF-STYLE has over 700 of my own sequential illustrations which   reveal the style clues  of each decade  while simultaneously  informing  genealogists, costume designers, theater companies, social historians, vintage collectors , Fashionistas  and creative authors who need to visualize their characters  in time-appropriate attire. 

          These are not DESIGNS, they are COMPOSITES of the unique style clues that place men, women & children in their correct time in history,  plus countless gems of social history that illuminate each decade. 

          Because of my long career as a Hollywood costume designer , I was especially gratified to win the 2016 Hollywood Book Festival Award in History… and  because my favorite chapter in  OUT-OF-STYLE  is titled , “ Fashions Of The Forties & Hollywood Blvd”,  it is no surprise that my favorite costume assignment was as designer  for Ken Murray’s Blackouts , which played  at The El Capitan Theatre, located at the famous corner of Hollywood & Vine during its record-breaking , almost  seven year run from  1942-1949. 

          The original El Capitan Theatre had opened in 1926 when Hollywood Blvd was a quiet residential & agricultural area… But an enterprising real estate developer, named Charles Toberman ,  envisioned it as a booming theatre district… He developed 30 buildings including the still beautiful, Roosevelt Hotel. 

          Along with Sid Grauman , he also built the Egyptian, The Chinese and the El Capitan theatres . In 1941, The original El Capitan was converted to a movie theatre and, the name, “El Capitan “,  was transferred to a different theatre at the famous corner of  Hollywood & Vine, where , in 1942, “Ken Murray’s Blackouts” opened  to entertain  the hordes of tourists & service men seeking  the glamour of the Hollywood that existed only on the pages of movie magazines. This theatre too, was owned by Sid Grauman, a frequent backstage visitor and a very nice man, whom I was privileged to know . 

          Of current interest , The El Capitan Theatre is now back in its original location  near  Grauman’s  Chinese Theatre , restored to its vintage glory by the Disney Co. which now uses it for Disney Productions. 

          Ken Murray had been a star MC-Comedian  in vaudeville, radio & Film…But vaudeville had died in 1938……Ken believed  that WW2  audiences  needed a modernized version  of vaudeville to entertain them:  He hired  beautiful show girls to wear sexy costumes  and  starred  the original Dumb Blonde , Marie Wilson, to use as  the object of jokes about her remarkable 38”-22”- 38” anatomy  as tastefully revealed in her picturesque  costumes , while he flicked an unlit cigar after every joke. Marie’s appeal was that she wasn’t really “dumb”, she was sweetly naïve and innocently, a knockout! 

          Murray’s backstage dressing room was a hangout for his Hollywood buddies, like Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Edgar Bergen,  & others, who would often unexpectedly  walk onstage to the surprised delight of audiences…  All this, and the constant changing of acts & costumes kept the Blackouts a “Must See”  for locals & tourists alike, eventually playing to almost five million people.  

          During WW2, Southern California was surrounded by military bases & air fields for the army, navy and Marines. Off duty servicemen converged upon  Hollywood Blvd. looking for excitement, entertainment and GIRLS!…  I was at an age where I attracted their attention. In those days we were not afraid of strangers : Government  posters urged civilians to offer rides & hospitality to service men. 

          As designer for the Blackouts, I was often at the theatre to gain approval for new sketches, to get assignments for new acts or to deliver costumes.  Often I would bring servicemen backstage to watch the show while I took care of business…Sometimes I would bring them home  with me, where, even after midnight , my mother would happily get up to  make waffles and if they had no place to stay, would make them comfortable on our living room sofa : It was our contribution to the war effort… and the reason my favorite chapter in OUT-OF-STYLE  is , “Fashions of the Forties And Hollywood Blvd”.             

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Valerie Milano is the well-connected Senior Editor and TV Critic at TheHollywoodTimes.Today, a showbiz/promotions aggregate mainly for insiders. She has written for Communications Daily, Hollywood Today, Television International, and Video Age International plus freelanced for others. Valerie donates and works closely with the Human Rights Campaign (Fed Club Council Member), GLSEN, Outfest, NCLR, LAMBDA Legal and the Desert Aids Project. She is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club. Milano loves meeting people and does so in her fave getaway Palm Springs as a member of the Palm Springs Museum of Art and the Old Las Palmas area community member. Valerie was a veteran 17-year member, and one of the "chief organizers” of the prestigious and long running, TCA: Television Critics Association’s press tour. For years Valerie was a board member and one of the chief organizers of the association. TCA press tours are “a must” for hundreds of TV critics twice a year, in Beverly Hills and in Pasadena.