Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lydia Williams

Early Life:
Born in Atlanta Illinois on July 8th 1908, Lydia Williams was the daughter of Charles and Ruth Williams. Charles was a doctor and was not around very much. Ruth tried to keep control of all her children but with six of them all 2 years apart it was sometimes hard to do. Lydia was an energetic kid and had quite an attitude. She was sweet but if you made her mad she would yell and hit you. She got in trouble many times for violence. But she always loved her brothers and sisters and hardly ever fought with them. She was never very smart and got pretty bad grades. The only thing that could calm her down and that she absolutely loved was dance, it as her passion. Even if she was not the greatest at it. She worked hard though and finally got a job offer in Chicago. Lydia left her home town in 1925 and began her career as a dancer. She signed with the Chicago Opera Ballet in Chicago, Illinois. She worked there only for a few weeks before they kicked her out because of her attitude and lack of talent. She then started working at a club as a flapper dancer. The club was named “The Green Mill.” Williams worked there with one other girl, Cassidy Blake. They instantly became best friends. Williams and Blake did everything together, shop, eat, work, and they even shared an apartment.
Life at the club:
Life as a flapper was, “the bee’s knees.” Going out to clubs and parties every night was what every girl of this generation dreamed of, and Lydia and Cassidy were living that life. Lydia became involved with one of Al Capone’s Gunmen, Jack McGurn. He was also known as, “Machine Gun.” Jack was the only thing Lydia didn’t tell her best friend Cassidy about because Jack didn’t want anyone to know about there relationship. She understood why though, he was just looking out for her safety because he was in a gang and didn’t want her to get hurt. Every night was a new story. The club was booming. Everyone loved going there to dance and listen to jazz.
Everything stayed great until 1929 on February 14th. Jack had been in Florida with Al Capone for a few weeks. He got back that day. Lydia and Cassidy were working at the bar when they heard police sirens. They ran outside to see what was going on. People were running by and they asked what was happening. They said there had been a shooting in a parking garage not too far from here. Lydia always said that she knew it had something to do with Capone and McGurn. Later that night she went to visit him at his hotel but he was not there. So she just went back home and tried again the next day, but yet again he was not there. She tried for 2 weeks until he was finally home with no explanation on where he’d been. But while they were sitting there talking about everything together, the police came and kicked down his door and took him away. Lydia made up a fake alibi for McGurn so he would not have to go to jail. It worked and they set him free after only 2 days in prison. Lydia and Jack had a good relationship. She knew he was the one but he didn’t want to get married because of his gang activity so she agreed.
The roaring 20’s was no more. And the flapper life style wasn’t the same. She eventually quit her job at the Green Mill and started a dance studio. She had quite a few students and classes throughout the years. She taught all types of dancing, ballet, jazz, ballroom. She was happy she found something she loved to do. Al Capone’s wife even took a few of her classes. So did Coco Chanel, Dorothy Sebastian, Anita Page, and Louise Brooks. She became one of the biggest Dance studios in Chicago. One day she went and got the mail and there was a letter in there from The Chicago ballet school. It asked her to come be a teacher there. She simply laughed and thought if they hadn’t kicked her out when she was seventeen what her life would be like now. Since Capone went to prison, Jacks gang activity had gone down a lot and she thought that he might finally ask her to marry him now. She didn’t know it yet, but she was completely wrong.
In 1936 Lydia found out that her long time boyfriend had been cheating on her their whole relationship, with her best friend. And that the only man she had ever really loved died, she went insane. She went to the bar and found a guy to have a one night stand with. She took him back to her apartment; she could do that know since Cassidy had moved out. When the guy woke up in the middle of the night and had to go to the restroom he found Lydia in there, dead. She had committed suicide. She hung herself from the curtain rod and slit her wrists. There as Blood Every where. No one had thought she’d be this upset because no one knew about the relationship she had with Jack McGurn. She never had any kids or married.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dorthy Sebastian

Sebastian was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. In her youth she hoped to be a dancer and later a film actress. Her family frowned on both ambitions, however, so she fled to New York at the age of 15. Upon her arrival in New York City, Sebastian's southern drawl was thick enough to "cut with a knife". She followed around theatrical agents before returning at night to a $12-a-month room, after being consistently rejected.

Her first contact in Hollywood was Robert Kane, who gave her a film test at United Studios. She performed in George White's Scandals with Joan Crawford and Anita Page for a popular series of MGM romantic dramas including Our Dancing Daughters (1928) and Our Blushing Brides (1930). Sebastian also appeared in 1929's Spite Marriage, wherein she was cast opposite her then-lover Buster Keaton.

[edit] Personal life
Sebastian went into semi-retirement in the mid-1930s after marrying Hopalong Cassidy star William Boyd. They wed in Las Vegas, Nevada following a romance which began on a set at Pathe Pictures. After their divorce in 1935, Sebastian attempted a comeback, appearing in much smaller parts than years before. In 1947, Sebastian married Miami Beach businessman Harold Shapiro to whom she remained married until her death.[1]

[edit] Court appearances
In November 1938, Sebastian was found guilty of drunk driving in a Beverly Hills, California Justice Court. She blamed her crash on a reaction of garlic with three or four glasses of wine she consumed four or five hours earlier. She was dining at the home of Buster Keaton. She told the court she believed police assumed from this she had been drinking even more recently. She was given a 30-day suspended jail sentence and paid a fine of $75.

Sebastian was denied an award of $10,000 from a San Diego court in 1940. She appeared at a Red Cross benefit in San Francisco in 1937, and failed to pay her hotel bill. She contended the promoter should have met the expense. An employee of the Plaza Hotel took out the suit, charging "defrauding an innkeeper". The State Supreme Court of California reversed the decision, which awarded her the money on grounds of malicious prosecution.

[edit] Death
Sebastian died of cancer in 1957 at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California.[1] She is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Dorothy Sebastian has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6655 Hollywood Blvd.

Anita Page

Early life
Page was born in Flushing, Queens to Helen and John Pomares. She had one brother, Marino, who later worked for her as a gym instructor while her mother worked as her secretary and her father as her chauffeur.[4] Of Spanish ancestry, Page's grandfather was a consul from El Salvador.[5][6]

Page entered films with the help of friend, actress Betty Bronson. Page's picture was spotted by a man who handled Bronson's fan mail who was also interested in representing actors. With the encouragement of her mother, Page telephoned the man who arranged a meeting for her with a casting director at Paramount Studios. After screentesting for Paramount, Page also tested for MGM. After being offered a contract for both studios, Page decided on MGM.[7] Page's first film for MGM was the 1928 comedy-drama Telling the World, opposite William Haines. Her performances in her second MGM film, Our Dancing Daughters (1928) opposite Joan Crawford (with whom she appeared in three films), and The Broadway Melody (1929) opposite Bessie Love were her greatest successes of the period, and her popularity allowed her to make a smooth transition into talking pictures.

She was the leading lady to Lon Chaney, Buster Keaton, Robert Montgomery, and Clark Gable (among others) and during the early 1930s, she was one of Hollywood's busiest actresses. She was involved briefly with Gable romantically during that time. At the height of her popularity, she was receiving more fan mail than any other female star, with the exception of Greta Garbo, and received multiple marriage proposals from Benito Mussolini in the mail.[4]

When her contract expired in 1933, she surprised Hollywood by announcing her retirement at the age of 23. She made one more movie, Hitch Hike to Heaven, in 1936, and then left the screen, virtually disappearing from Hollywood circles for sixty years. In a 2004 interview with author Scott Feinberg, she claimed that her refusal to meet demands for sexual favors by MGM head of production Irving Thalberg, supported by studio chief Louis B. Mayer, is what truly ended her career. She said that Mayer colluded with the other studio bosses to ban her and other uncooperative actresses from finding work.

She married composer Nacio Herb Brown in 1934, but their marriage was dissolved a year later; it was annulled because Brown's previous divorce had not been finalized at the time of Page and Brown's marriage.[8] She married Lieutenant Hershel A. House, a Navy pilot, in 1937 and they moved to Coronado, California and lived there until his death in 1991. They had two daughters, Linda[9] (now Linda Sterne)[10] and Sandra (who predeceased her mother).

Return to spotlight
Page returned to the screen in 1996 after sixty years retirement and appeared in several low budget horror films, several of which appeared to have been uncompleted or not released. Film veteran Margaret O'Brien appeared in two of them. During this period, she moved in with her co-star and occasional director, Randal Malone at his Van Nuys home.

Page relished her status as "last star of the silents" and frequently gave interviews and appeared in documentaries about the era. Although ill health prevented her from making public appearances in her final years, her reputation for answering letters from fans never diminished.

At the time of her death in September 2008, she was among the last to have acted as an adult in silent films (Barbara Kent and Miriam Seegar are among the handful of others) to live into the 21st century. She was also the last living attendee of the very first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929.

Anita Page died in her sleep on Saturday, September 6, 2008 in Van Nuys, Los Angeles, California of natural causes. She was 98 years old. She is buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery in San Diego.

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Anita Page has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6116 Hollywood Boulevard.

Louise Brooks

Born in Cherryvale, Kansas, Louise Brooks was the daughter of Leonard Porter Brooks, a lawyer, who was usually too busy with his practice to discipline his children, and an artistic mother who determined that any "squalling brats she produced could take care of themselves".[1] Myra Rude was a talented pianist who played the latest Debussy and Ravel for her children, inspiring them with a love of books and music. None of this protected her nine-year old daughter Louise from sexual abuse at the hands of a neighborhood predator. This event had a major influence on Brooks's life and career, causing her to say in later years that she was incapable of real love, and that this man "must have had a great deal to do with forming my attitude toward sexual pleasure....For me, nice, soft, easy men were never enough -- there had to be an element of domination".[2] (When Brooks at last told her mother of the incident, many years later, her mother suggested that it must have been Louise's fault for "leading him on".[3])

Brooks began her entertainment career as a dancer, joining the Denishawn modern dance company (whose members included Martha Graham, Ruth St. Denis, and Ted Shawn) in 1922. A long-simmering personal conflict between Brooks and St. Denis boiled over one day two years later, however, and St. Denis abruptly fired Brooks from the troupe by telling her in front of the other members that "I am dismissing you from the company because you want life handed to you on a silver salver".[4] The words left a strong impression on Brooks; when she drew up an outline for a planned autobiographical novel in 1949, "The Silver Salver" was the title she gave to the tenth and final chapter.[5]

Thanks to her friend Barbara Bennett (sister of Constance and Joan), Brooks almost immediately found employment as a chorus girl in George White's Scandals, followed by an appearance as a featured dancer in the 1925 edition of the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway. As a result of her work in the Follies, she came to the attention of Paramount Pictures producer Walter Wanger, who signed her to a five-year contract with the studio in 1925.[6] (She was also noticed by visiting movie star Charlie Chaplin, who was in town for the premiere of his film The Gold Rush. The two had an affair that summer[7]).

[edit] American film career
Brooks made her screen debut in the silent The Street of Forgotten Men, in an uncredited role in 1925. Soon, however, she was playing the female lead in a number of silent light comedies and flapper films over the next few years, starring with Adolphe Menjou and W. C. Fields, among others.

Brooks in The Canary Murder Case (1929)She was noticed in Europe for her pivotal vamp role in the Howard Hawks directed silent "buddy film", A Girl in Every Port in 1928.[8]

It has been said that her best American role was in one of the early sound film dramas, Beggars of Life (1928), as an abused country girl on the run with Richard Arlen and Wallace Beery playing hoboes she meets while riding the rails. Much of this film was shot on location, and the boom microphone was invented for this film by the director William Wellman, who needed it for one of the first experimental talking scenes in the movies. By this time in her life, she was rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, and was a regular guest of William Randolph Hearst and his mistress, Marion Davies, at San Simeon, being close friends with Davies' niece, Pepi Lederer. Her distinctive bob haircut, which became eponymous, and is still recognised to this day, had helped start a trend, as many women in the Western world began to wear their hair as both she and fellow film star Colleen Moore did.[9] Soon after the film Beggars Of Life was made, Brooks, who loathed the Hollywood "scene", refused to stay on at Paramount after being denied a promised raise, and left for Europe to make films for G. W. Pabst, the great German Expressionist director.

Paramount attempted to use the coming of sound films to strongarm the actress, but she called the studio's bluff. It was not until 30 years later that this rebellious move would come to be seen as arguably the most savvy of her career, securing her immortality as a silent film legend and independent spirit. Unfortunately, while her initial snubbing of Paramount alone would not have finished her in Hollywood altogether, her refusal after returning from Germany to come back to Paramount for sound retakes of The Canary Murder Case (1929) irrevocably placed her on an unofficial blacklist. Actress Margaret Livingston was hired to dub Brooks's voice for the film,[10] and the studio claimed that Brooks' voice was unsuitable for work in sound pictures.

[edit] In Europe

Brooks in Pandora's BoxOnce in Germany she starred in the 1929 film Pandora's Box, directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst in his New Objectivity period. The film is based on two plays by Frank Wedekind (Erdgeist and Die Büchse der Pandora) and Brooks plays the central figure Lulu. This film is notorious for its frank treatment of modern sexual mores, including the first screen portrayal of a lesbian. Brooks then starred in the controversial social dramas Diary Of A Lost Girl (1929), also directed by Pabst, and Prix de Beauté (1930), the latter being filmed in France, and having a famous surprise ending. All these films were heavily censored[where?], as they were very "adult" and considered shocking in their time for their portrayals of sexuality, as well as their social satire.

[edit] Life after film
When she returned to Hollywood, in 1931, she was cast in two mainstream films: God's Gift to Women (1931) and It Pays to Advertise (1931). Her performances in these films, however, were largely ignored, and few other job offers were forthcoming due to her informal "blacklisting". Despite this, William Wellman, her director on Beggars of Life, offered her the feminine lead in his new picture, The Public Enemy starring James Cagney. But Brooks turned down the role in order to visit her then-lover George Preston Marshall (not to be confused with film director George Marshall) in New York City,[11] and the part instead went to Jean Harlow, who began her own rise to stardom largely as a result. Brooks later explained herself to Wellman by saying that she hated making pictures because she simply "hated Hollywood", and according to film historian James Card, who came to know Brooks intimately later in her life, "she just wasn't interested....She was more interested in Marshall".[12] In the opinion of Brooks's biographer Barry Paris, "turning down Public Enemy marked the real end of Louise Brooks's film career".[12] For the rest of her movie career, she was reduced to playing bit parts and roles in B pictures and short films. One of her directors at this time was a fellow Hollywood outcast, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, who was working under the pseudonym "William Goodrich"; Brooks starred in Arbuckle's Radio Pictures comedy short, Windy Riley Goes Hollywood (1931).

Brooks had retired from the screen that same year after completing one last film, the John Wayne western Overland Stage Raiders in which she played the romantic lead with a long hairstyle that rendered her all but unrecognizable from her "Lulu" days. She then briefly returned to Wichita, where she was raised. "But that turned out to be another kind of hell," she said. "The citizens of Wichita either resented me having been a success or despised me for being a failure. And I wasn't exactly enchanted with them. I must confess to a lifelong curse: My own failure as a social creature."[2] After an unsuccessful attempt at operating a dance studio, she returned East and, after brief stints as a radio actor and a gossip columnist,[13][14] worked as a salesgirl in a Saks Fifth Avenue store in New York City for a few years, then eked out a living as a courtesan with a few select wealthy men as clients.[15] Brooks had been a heavy drinker since age 14[16] and was an alcoholic for a major portion of her life and some biographers have suggested that she turned to prostitution. She remained relatively sober long enough to begin writing about film, which became her second career. During this period she began her first major writing project, an autobiographical novel called Naked on My Goat, a title taken from Goethe's Faust. After working on the novel for a number of years, she destroyed the manuscript by throwing it into an incinerator.[17]

She was a notorious spendthrift for most of her life, even filing for bankruptcy once, but was kind and generous to her friends, almost to a fault. Despite her two marriages, she never had children, referring to herself as "Barren Brooks". Her many lovers from years before had included a young William S. Paley, the founder of CBS. According to Louise Brooks: Looking For Lulu, Paley provided a small monthly stipend to Brooks for the rest of her life, and according to the documentary this stipend kept her from committing suicide at one point. She also had an on-again, off-again relationship with George Marshall throughout the 1920s and 30s (which she described as "abusive"). He was the biggest reason she was able to secure a contract with Pabst. Marshall repeatedly asked her to marry him and after finding that she had had many affairs while they were together, married film actress Corinne Griffith instead.

[edit] Rediscovery

Brooks as a fashion model.French film historians rediscovered her films in the early 1950s, proclaiming her as an actress who surpassed even Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo as a film icon (Henri Langlois: "There is no Garbo, there is no Dietrich, there is only Louise Brooks!"),[18] much to her amusement. It would lead to the still ongoing Louise Brooks film revivals, and rehabilitated her reputation in her home country. James Card, the film curator for the George Eastman House, discovered Louise living as a recluse in New York City about this time, and persuaded her to move to Rochester, New York to be near the George Eastman House film collection. With his help, she became a noted film writer in her own right. A collection of her witty and cogent writings, Lulu in Hollywood, was published in 1982. She was profiled by the film writer Kenneth Tynan in his essay, "The Girl With The Black Helmet", the title of which was an allusion to her fabulous bob, worn since childhood, a hairstyle claimed as one of the ten most influential in history by beauty magazines the world over.

She rarely gave interviews, but had special relationships with John Kobal and Kevin Brownlow, the film historians, and they were able to capture on paper some of her amazing personality. In the 1970s she was interviewed extensively, on film, for the documentaries Memories of Berlin: The Twilight of Weimar Culture (1976), produced and directed by Gary Conklin, and in the Hollywood series (1980) directed by Brownlow and David Gill. Running 50 minutes, Lulu in Berlin (1984) is another rare filmed interview, produced by Richard Leacock and Susan Woll, released the year of her death, but filmed almost a decade earlier. She had lived alone by choice for many years, and Louise Brooks died from a heart attack in 1985, after suffering from arthritis and emphysema for many years.

As is the case with many of her contemporaries, a number of Brooks' films, according to the documentary Looking for Lulu, are considered to be lost. Her key films survive, however, particularly Pandora's Box and Diary of a Young Girl which have been released to DVD in North America by the Criterion Collection and Kino Video, respectively. As of 2007, Prix de Beaute and The Show Off have also seen limited North American DVD release, as well. Her short film (and one of her only talkies), Windy Riley Goes Hollywood was included on the DVD release of Diary of a Lost Girl. Her final film, Overland Stage Raiders, was released to VHS but has yet to receive a North American DVD release.

[edit] Legacy
Brooks is considered one of the first naturalistic actors in film, her acting being subtle and nuanced compared to many other silent performers. The close-up was just coming into vogue with directors, and her almost hypnotically beautiful face was perfect for this new technique. Brooks had always been very self-directed, even difficult, and was notorious for her salty language, which she didn't hesitate to use whenever she felt like it. In addition, she had made a vow to herself never to smile on stage unless she felt compelled to, and although the majority of her publicity photos show her with a neutral expression, she had a dazzling smile. By her own admission, she was a sexually liberated woman, not afraid to experiment, even posing fully nude for "art" photography,[19] and her liaisons with many film people were legendary, although much of it is speculation.

2003 edition of The Invention of Morel with Louise Brooks on the coverLouise Brooks as an unattainable film image served as an inspiration for Adolfo Bioy Casares when he wrote his science fiction novel The Invention of Morel (1940) about a man attracted to Faustine, a woman who is only a projected 3-D image. In a 1995 interview, Casares explained that Faustine is directly based on his love for Louise Brooks who "vanished too early from the movies". (Elements of The Invention of Morel, minus the science fiction elements, served as a basis for Alain Resnais' 1961 film Last Year at Marienbad.)

Brooks also had an influence in the graphics world - she had the distinction of inspiring two separate comics: the long-running Dixie Dugan newspaper strip by John H. Striebel that started in the late 1920s and ran until 1966, which grew out of the serialized novel and later stage musical, "Show Girl", that writer J.P. McEvoy had loosely based on Louise's days as a Follies girl on Broadway; and the erotic comic books of Valentina, by the late Guido Crepax, which began publication in 1965 and continued for many years. Crepax became a friend and regular correspondent with Louise late in her life. Hugo Pratt, another comics artist, also used her as inspiration for characters, and even named them after her.

In an interview with James Lipton on "Inside the Actors Studio", Liza Minnelli related her preparation for portraying Sally Bowles in the film "Cabaret": "I went to my father, and asked him, what can you tell me about thirties glamour? Should I be emulating Marlene Dietrich or something? And he said no, I should study everything I can about Louise Brooks."

An exhibit titled "Louise Brooks and the 'New Woman' in Weimar Cinema" ran at the International Center of Photography in New York City in 2007, focusing on Brooks' iconic screen persona and celebrating the hundredth anniversary of her birth.[20]

[edit] Personal life
In the summer of 1926, Brooks married Eddie Sutherland, the director of the film she made with Fields, but by 1927 had fallen "terribly in love"[21] with George Preston Marshall, owner of a chain of laundries and future owner of the Washington Redskins football team, following a chance meeting with him that she later referred to as "the most fateful encounter of my life".[22] She divorced Sutherland, mainly due to her budding relationship with Marshall, in June 1928.[23]

In 1933 she married Chicago millionaire Deering Davis, but abruptly left him in March 1934 after only five months of marriage, "without a good-bye... and leaving only a note of her intentions" behind her.[24] According to Card, Davis was just "another elegant, well-heeled admirer", nothing more.[24] The couple officially divorced in 1938.

Brooks enjoyed fostering speculation about her sexuality, cultivating friendships with lesbian and bisexual women including Pepi Lederer and Peggy Fears, but eschewing relationships. She admitted to some lesbian dalliances, including a one-night affair with Greta Garbo.[25][26] She later described Garbo as masculine but a "charming and tender lover".[27][28] Despite all this, she considered herself neither lesbian nor bisexual:

"I had a lot of fun writing 'Marion Davies' Niece' [an article about Pepi Lederer], leaving the lesbian theme in question marks. All my life it has been fun for me.

When I am dead, I believe that film writers will fasten on the story that I am a lesbian... I have done lots to make it believable [...] All my women friends have been lesbians. But that is one point upon which I agree positively with [Christopher] Isherwood: There is no such thing as bisexuality. Ordinary people, although they may accommodate themselves for reason of whoring or marriage, are one-sexed. Out of curiosity, I had two affairs with girls - they did nothing for me."[29]

[edit] Death
On August 8, 1985, Louise Brooks was found dead of a massive heart attack. She was buried in Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester, New York.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Coco Chanel

Fashion designer. Born on August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France. With her trademark suits and little black dresses, Coco Chanel created timeless designs that are still popular today. She herself became a much revered style icon known for her simple yet sophisticated outfits paired with great accessories, such as several strands of pearls. As Chanel once said,“luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”
Her early years, however, were anything but glamorous. After her mother’s death, Chanel was put in an orphanage by her father who worked as a peddler. She was raised by nuns who taught her how to sew—a skill that would lead to her life’s work. Her nickname came from another occupation entirely. During her brief career as a singer, Chanel performed in clubs in Vichy and Moulins where she was called “Coco.” Some say that the name comes from one of the songs she used to sing, and Chanel herself said that it was a “shortened version of cocotte, the French word for ‘kept woman,” according to an article in The Atlantic.
Around the age of 20, Chanel became involved with Etienne Balsan who offered to help her start a millinery business in Paris. She soon left him for one of his even wealthier friends, Arthur “Boy” Capel. Both men were instrumental in Chanel’s first fashion venture.
Opening her first shop on Paris’s Rue Cambon in 1910, Chanel started out selling hats. She later added stores in Deauville and Biarritz and began making clothes. Her first taste of clothing success came from a dress she fashioned out of an old jersey on a chilly day. In response to the many people who asked about where she got the dress, she offered to make one for them. “My fortune is built on that old jersey that I’d put on because it was cold in Deauville,” she once told author Paul Morand.
In the 1920s, Chanel took her thriving business to new heights. She launched her first perfume, Chanel No. 5, which was the first to feature a designer’s name. Perfume “is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion. . . . that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure,” Chanel once explained.
In 1925, she introduced the now legendary Chanel suit with collarless jacket and well-fitted skirt. Her designs were revolutionary for the time—borrowing elements of men’s wear and emphasizing comfort over the constraints of then-popular fashions. She helped women say good-bye to the days of corsets and other confining garments.
Another 1920s revolutionary design was Chanel’s little black dress. She took a color once associated with mourning and showed just how chic it could be for eveningwear. In addition to fashion, Chanel was a popular figure in the Paris literary and artistic worlds. She designed costumes for the Ballets Russes and for Jean Cocteau’s play Orphée, and counted Cocteau and artist Pablo Picasso among her friends. For a time, Chanel had a relationship with composer Igor Stravinsky. Another important romance for Chanel began in the 1920s. She met the wealthy duke of Westminster aboard his yacht around 1923, and the two started a decades-long relationship. In response to his marriage proposal, she reportedly said “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster—but there is only one Chanel!”

The international economic depression of the 1930s had a negative impact on her company, but it was the outbreak of World War II that led Chanel to close her business. She fired her workers and shut down her shops. During the German occupation of France, Chanel got involved with a German military officer, Hans Gunther von Dincklage. She got special permission to stay in her apartment at the Hotel Ritz. After the war ended, Chanel was interrogated by her relationship with von Dincklage, but she was not charged as a collaborator. Some have wondered whether friend Winston Churchill worked behind the scenes on Chanel’s behalf.

While not officially charged, Chanel suffered in the court of public opinion. Some still viewed her relationship with a Nazi officer as a betrayal of her country. Chanel left Paris, spending some years in Switzerland in a sort of exile. She also lived at her country house in Roquebrune for a time.

At the age of 70, Chanel made a triumphant return to the fashion world. She first received scathing reviews from critics, but her feminine and easy-fitting designs soon won over shoppers around the world.

In 1969, Chanel’s fascinating life story became the basis for the Broadway musical Coco starring Katharine Hepburn as the legendary designer. Alan Jay Lerner wrote the book and lyrics for the show’s song while Andre Prévin composed the music. Cecil Beaton handled the set and costume design for the production. The show received seven Tony Award nominations, and Beaton won for Best Costume Design and René Auberjonois for Best Featured Actor.

Coco Chanel died on January 10, 1971, at her apartment in the Hotel Ritz. She never married, having once said “I never wanted to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.” Hundreds crowded together at the Church of the Madeleine to bid farewell to the fashion icon. In tribute, many of the mourners wore Chanel suits.