the bernards and the corrigans

Bernard McFadden was the founder of Physical Culture magazine. He changed the spelling of his name to Bernarr because he thought it sounded like the roar of a lion and Macfadden because it sounded more masculine. You can read a lot more about him at BernarrMacfadden.com where I found this paraphrased extract by Fulton Oursler

“While visiting Rome he met with Mussolini and told him the Italian army’s food bills were too high and the nutriment too low. He said he could give Italy stronger soldiers at half the price. Months later he received a telephone call from Ellis Island telling him a consignment of Italian soldiers were awaiting pickup. He put the young men on a course of physical culture, banning spaghetti, feeding them with cracked wheat and vegetables and putting them through calisthenics. He sent them back to Mussolini much improved and at 1/3 the cost. For this he received an Italian decoration which a few years later he threw away”

image found here

One of his early pupils was Raymond Berna(r)d who started training with him to correct a spinal curvature. He was such an avid student that he became a fitness instructor of the Macfadden method for Hollywood film stars of the 20s and 30s. His physique was noticed and he was first hired as a stunt double in Tarzan the Ape Man, worked his way up to become a star in his own right and changed his name to Ray “Crash” Corrigan.

image found here

Crash made many films, mostly westerns and also appeared in his ape costume in many more, mostly uncredited. In 1937 he bought a ranch which he developed into Corriganville, a location used for films and television shows. It was opened to the public in 1949.

Ray married in the early 1940s, and he and his wife, Rita, had three children. By 1954, the marriage was breaking up. Rita filed for a divorce. The contentious divorce had its amusing aspects. In June, 1954, The Los Angeles Times reported that Corrigan and three detectives had burst into Rita’s motel apartment and found her with another man, Moses Stiltz, who was the ex-foreman at the Corrigan ranch. The Times later reported an 80-m.p.h. car chase between Corrigan and Stiltz which climaxed with both men threatening to file citizen’s arrests charging assault with a deadly weapon. In court, Ray and his wife accused each other of having affairs with workers at the ranch.

Another actor with an interesting history is Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan. He starred as himself in the film, The Flying Irishman after claiming that he set out for California but ended up in Ireland due to a malfunctioning compass.

“Observers were more than a little surprised when Corrigan’s plane banked sharply to the east on takeoff and disappeared into a looming cloudbank over the Atlantic Ocean, the opposite direction of where he was supposed to be headed. They were even more surprised when reports came that, 28 hours and 13 minutes later, Corrigan had landed his little modified Curtiss-Robin monoplane at an airfield outside Dublin, Ireland, and amiably told the workers who gathered around him, “I just got in from New York. Where am I? I intended to fly to California.”

image found here

Published in: on January 20, 2010 at 7:35 am  Comments (30)  
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obsessed with alma

Circus performers have featured before at the Gimcrack but they’re an interesting subject so let’s look at another one,  Con Calleano

“The world’s greatest tightwire artist was born at Lismore, New South Wales, on 26 December 1899, the third of the ten children of an itinerant showman and boxer, Cornelius Sullivan and his wife, Vittorine, the grand-daughter of an Aboriginal. The family changed their name, and by 1918 ‘Colleano’s All-Star Circus’ was touring Queensland. Con mastered the feet-to-feet somersault on the tightwire – something previously considered impossible, because the performer cannot see his feet until after they land on the wire.

As well as starring in circuses here and overseas, Con was a stunt double for Charles Boyer in the film Flesh and Fantasy. His nephew, Bonar Colleano, followed in his uncle’s show business footsteps and became an actor performing in nearly 30 films before his sudden accidental death in 1958.

Several British stars of the silver screen have taken part in a fund-raising match for the family of American actor Bonar Colleano.

The 34 year old actor was killed in a car crash at Birkenhead, Liverpool, in August. He left a wife, actress Susan Shaw, and three-year-old son Mark.

Singer Alma Cogan kicked off the game, which also included actors like James Mason, Sid James, Stanley Baker and Alfie Bass.

Alma Cogan and friends found here

Alma Cogan was a pop star in the fifties and sixties who died from cancer at the age of 34. It’s been rumoured that she had an affair with John Lennon, that she was gay, that she had been raped when young, that she was a sexual enigma….. most of the rumours were refuted in a book written by her younger sister, Sandra Caron, who also had to contend with the attentions of a stalker.

“In the years that followed, Sandra became haunted by the obsessive behaviour of some of her sister’s more extreme fans. She was affronted when one of them, Stephen Woods, a former schoolteacher from Lancaster, who never met Alma, sent money to Bushey Cemetery to restore the star’s grave, without permission from the family.

In November 2001, when Sandra unveiled an official Heritage Foundation plaque to Alma outside their former home at Stafford Court, where they entertained The Beatles, Woods attempted to fund the cost of the memorial.

This offer, and a further one – to buy up 250 seats at the tribute luncheon that followed at Grosvenor House Hotel, at a cost of E12,500, provided he was allowed to control the event’s publicity and choose the person to unveil the plaque – was refused.

Woods, now employing the alias of Miles Furlong, took out another paid advert in The Stage. This one published Alma’s former ex-directory telephone number, the number of her passport, which he had in his possession, the registration number of her car, and the site and number of her grave.

Another Jewish Alma who attracted stalker-like attention was Alma Mahler. When her love affair with artist Oskar Kokoschka ended, he remained obsessed with her.

“He contacted dollmaker Hermine Moos to assemble a life-sized and anatomically-correct replica of his former lover, in order to fill the void in his heart. After several months of correspondence, during which he sent copious notes, paintings and sketches as to how the Alma-Puppe was to look, Moos delivered the finished Doll.

Despite Kokoschka’s initial excitement, apparently the replica left him sexually unsatisfied, so the Alma-Puppe was simply employed as a life-model, which garnered him some thirty pen-and-ink drawings.

Unfortunately, the Alma-Puppe met with a tragic fate, as one evening, at a party that Kokoschka held in his studio, he became quite drunk, and broke a bottle-of red wine over its head.

read more about Kokoschka’s specifications regarding the alma doll here


Published in: on January 18, 2010 at 7:50 am  Comments (32)  
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sweet sweat

Different countries have different public bathing rituals. In Finland it’s the sauna, in Turkey the hamam, the Japanese have their onsens and the Russians their banyas. The Russian banya is used for more than just sweating and bathing though. Women give birth there and funerals and weddings are also celebrated.

The bride-to-be’s bania was heated with birch, pine or cedar, but never aspen for it was regarded as a sorrowful tree. During the bath she was expected to use the engagement present from the groom-a fresh birch whisk and a piece of soap. Her sweat was collected by pouring milk over her body and then dough was plastered over her. Later the dough was kneaded and made into bread and cakes to be served at the wedding feast. The bride-to-be’s sweat mixed with vodka, wine, and grains were poured on the bania rocks to enhance the scent. Honey and hops were added to give the bride-to-be a rich sweet life.

image by Horst

Occasionally a poor peasant family would not have a regular bania, but so important was the wedding bania that the household baking oven would be used instead. Before all the cakes and breads had been prepared, the oven was cleaned and the bride-to-be was shoved in on a wooden platter. The door was sealed from the outside while she sweated and washed alone.

Bun in the Oven Candle found here

The Church often accused the banya of being a hotbed of sin and loose morals. But cries from the Church were usually muffled by the clergy’s own promiscuous bathing habits.

image found here

Catherine of St. Petersburg issued the following edict: ” …  in those rooms which are meant for women, no men may be allowed in except employees of the bania, artists and doctors who wish to study and improve themselves in their art.” As you can well imagine, dilettantes of the arts and medicine flourished, and coed bathing continued.

When Robert Porter visited Moscow in 1809, he found coed bathing very popular. In a letter to a friend in England he wrote:

As we approached these cleansing elevations we beheld the waters that rolled from under their foundations filled with naked persons of both sexes who waded or swam out from the bath in great numbers, without any consideration of delicacy or decency. From motives of gallantry we posted ourselves opposite the ladies, the better to observe the grace and nymph-like beauty of their groups.

lots more banya images over at englishrussia


Published in: on January 17, 2010 at 6:56 am  Comments (31)  
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pyrex and poetry for posterity

Pyrex Simpson pipe found here

I love borosilicate glass, especially the coloured kind. Most of us are familiar with Pyrex cookware but it’s also used to make laboratory equipment, pipes and dildos as well as in solar thermal technology.

According to this site, one of the inventors of Pyrex was supposedly the mother of 1940s film star Corinne Calvert but neither Wiki nor the Pyrex site seem to mention this.

image found here

newsprophecy.net also credits Corrine’s mother with inventing Pyrex. this strange site about celebrity deaths and the predictions of Nostradamus recommends newbies click on the overview and update page but I’m still mightily confused. Here’s a taste of what’s in the Madonna Prophecy section

“A different danger now threatens Madonna, Britney Spears, and Paris Hilton on the seventh anniversary of Princess Diana’s death, in August 2004. Paris Hilton, in particular, I feel may succumb to the “Sharon Tate scenario,” but neither Britney nor Madonna can be entirely ruled out.

Meantime, should New York Senator Hillary Clinton choose to run for president, I fear she will be assassinated and I believe this can also be attributed to the Diana influence this year.

The writer manages to link all the usual famous blondes together as well as brunette Anne Sexton who wrote one of my favourite poems. click the link above if you’re curious to see how he does it though my advice is to forget about it and just read “I Remember” instead……

By the first of August

the invisible beetles began

to snore and the grass was

as tough as hemp and was

no color–no more than

the sand was a color and

we had worn our bare feet

bare since the twentieth

of June and there were times

we forgot to wind up your

alarm clock and some nights

we took our gin warm and neat

from old jelly glasses while

the sun blew out of sight

like a red picture hat and

one day I tied my hair back

with a ribbon and you said

that I looked almost like

a puritan lady and what

I remember best is that

the door to your room was

the door to mine.


Published in: on January 16, 2010 at 6:06 am  Comments (35)  
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corset friday 15.1.2010

unfortunately, syncopated eyeball and I don’t live very near each other so I had to take this week’s corset friday photos myself. hopefully we can arrange another meeting soon.

Published in: on January 15, 2010 at 9:32 am  Comments (32)  
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a peek inside the mind of myra

A couple of weeks ago I revealed how the phrase “did Aristotle Onassis sponsor sex change surgery?” led me to an interesting site about transsexuals. Recently I was reading an old article about Sammy Davis Jnr and his Swedish wife May Britt and I wondered if might be something I could hang a blog post on…..

“May marries Sammy Davis, Jr., at his Hollywood home above Sunset Strip. He’s 34; she’s 26; the press gives her age as 24. The Jewish rites are performed by Rabbi William M. Kramer of Hollywood’s Temple Israel. Frank Sinatra is best man, and Mrs. George Rhodes is matron of honor. May almost misses her wedding when a severe attack of intestinal flu with a 103-degree fever beds her hours before the ceremony. After the rites she returns to bed, and Davis goes solo to a reception at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Poor May, what a lousy way to spend your first night as a bride. Googling “May Britt wedding night” didn’t reveal any more about Sammy & Co, but I did discover another Britt whose wedding was even worse

“Flabbergasted bride Britt Kallstrom’s plans for a romantic honeymoon went awry just 2 hours after her wedding when her policeman husband arrested her for drunk driving. Beautiful Britt lay all alone in a bug infested jail cell while the grim faced groom said he had no choice but to throw the girl of his dreams into the hoosegow. “I warned her she was too drunk to drive, when she got in the car and drove off I had no choice.” Britt says she “screamed and scratched and bit him but he just kept writing out the arrest report”

image (not Britt) found here

Do my readers recognise this lurid style of journalism? It’s from the Weekly World News – a publication I’d not previously had the pleasure of reading. Click the link and you could get lost for hours reading gems such as this one about unfortunate bride Elizabeth Muller’s life….

Her husband Werner eats cockroaches for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He said  “They bugged me for years, then I figured out how to get rid of them. I started gobbling up every one in sight. They’re a superb source of protein, one of nature’s best balanced snacks. I was a little squeamish about eating them so the first time I sautéed them in butter and then drowned them in chocolate syrup. They’re great in meatloaf too. All you have to do is chop them up and add them to the mixture, It’s hard to tell the difference between them and ground beef.”

image found here

Weekly World News also helps me keep with the nursing theme here at the gimcrack…..

“Sexy stripper Senta Auer was charged with manslaughter after she put on a scorching show at a local nursing home – and two bug-eyed old men died of heart attacks. Outraged investigators also filed charges against shell-shocked Hans Lehn, nursing home owner who hired her.

“I talked to some of the nurses to see if anybody would be offended and they all thought it was a great idea.”

Senta said “I’d just taken off my top and flung it into the crowd when I heard a gasp and one old man toppled over clutching his chest. a couple of seconds later another old man collapsed near the stage. I hopped down to help him but they told me to get away because I was making things worse. …..”

This image is of Senta Berga NOT Senta Auer. While looking for a photo of Senta, I found this fabulous site devoted to hairstyles. Be sure to check out Pamela Tiffin’s amazing mane.

Published in: on January 14, 2010 at 7:06 am  Comments (38)  
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maternal memories

Regular readers may recall that nursemyra was adopted as a baby and therefore has had two mothers. My now deceased New Zealand mother was raised on a farm and left her one roomed schoolhouse at the age of 14. Before she met and married my Irish father she worked as a seamstress making uniforms for soldiers fighting in WW2. She and the other girls used to write notes for the boys who would wear them, fold them over with a big red lipsticked kiss and tuck them into the breast pocket

I always liked it when she told me that story, it seemed a romantic gesture for a decidedly pragmatic woman. Tonight when I was looking for something to write about I found this site about US Army uniforms that made me think of her…

“The Army wanted the coat of its service uniform to fit easily over the chest and shoulders, and to conform to the figure at the waist. However, as swing dancing swept the Nation, the wear and tear on snug uniforms became apparent. The soldiers ripped their uniform jackets so often in jitterbugging that it became a major repair expense. Many claimed that the US Army developed an entire new uniform style in the late 1930s to accommodate swing dancing.

The new service uniform coat was approved on November 26, 1939. The back of the coat was redesigned to include 2 side pleats that extended from the shoulder seam to the waist. These pleat openings (also known as side-shoulder vents) gave the extra roominess needed to swing.

The image above is of American actor Dane Clarke and socialite Mrs. Ellis Cox. Dane was wealthy enough that his uniform was purchased privately,  including his mohair necktie. He graduated from Cornell as a lawyer, then earned a living as a boxer, construction worker and model before turning to acting.

My father was also a construction worker and amateur boxer in Ireland before emigrating to New Zealand and joining the Air Force. He kept his uniform after the war ended, it used to hang at the back of the closet. His medals lay in an old cigar box and his kit bag found a home in the same cupboard that housed the meat grinder and a disused pair of bellows.

One day when I was about 12, I borrowed my mother’s lipstick and drew a red mouth over my own, kissed and folded a piece of paper, then tucked it into the pocket of that uniform. Until tonight I hadn’t thought about that day in years. My father developed Alzheimer’s and passed away a long time ago. My mother packed up the house and moved into a nursing home where she never bothered with lipstick again.

Published in: on January 13, 2010 at 8:33 am  Comments (48)  
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fake fashions

Oh the things we do in the name of fashion

In the 18th century it was considered fashionable to wear fake eyebrows made from mouse skin! As mice were caught they were skinned and cleaned and shaped into eyebrows which the well-to-do and fashion plates of the times glued over their real brows. Unfortunately, the heat of the ballroom sometimes caused them to slip.

Rich women seeking rejuvenation for their fading beauty visited Madame Rachel of New Bond Street. She opened her salon in 1863 but was forced to close a few years later when she got in trouble with the law.

“She sold Magnetic Rock Dew Water of Sahara for removing Wrinkles, Disinfecting Powder of the choicest Arabian odours, Chinese Leaves for the cheeks and lips, Astringents and stimulants for rendering the hair Italian brown, Senses of Peace, Vinegars for the Sick Room, Souvenir de Marriage, Maiden’s Keepsake….  She professed in her advertisements to be able to do diverse incredible things

Madame Rachel came undone when she extracted £5,300 from a certain Mrs Borradaile “to make her beautiful forever”. Mrs M was left penniless after signing over everything she had to Madame Rachel and receiving very little in exchange

“On several occasions though, she gave me a cigar. I recollect her giving me one in February of this year.”

Good fake teeth were a prerequisite for any aspiring beauty in the 18th century who suffered from tooth decay but until Pierre Fauchard developed an effective method for attaching dentures many disasters were experienced at the dinner table.

One of his methods stated that artificial teeth could be held in place by tying them to the remaining solid teeth by pivots, using waxed thread or gold wire. He also invented spring loaded dentures which exerted a constant pressure in the mouth. Naturally some muscular effort was then needed to shut the mouth but at least top sets with these powerful stabilisers never fell.

An accidental malfunction of the springs could be worse than inconvenient. The Victorian lady hated to be caught without a second pair in her handbag and a booklet of instructions on how to avoid mishaps.

Then James Gardette made the first springless top set. They were hailed as a dental triumph and he became known as the discoverer of atmospheric pressure in dentistry. You can see an example below of this type of rubberised denture which I found at Black Market Antiques. I particularly like the advertising blurb that went with it.

This is a real set of used false teeth. The dentures are in very good condition, with the obvious damage to the left front tooth, which has been broken out of the plate entirely. These dentures came from an estate, where the former owner no longer need them, primarily due to their death.

These dentures would make a great addition to a dental collection….also can be used for a wide variety of other things.



Published in: on January 12, 2010 at 7:28 am  Comments (30)  
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boss of the privy member

***In trying to present their bodies to best advantage, men have often padded their shoulders and exposed their legs. In the middle Ages, they wore what can best be described as a male mini-skirt. Knee high in 1340, it rose to thigh high by 1360 and then up to the hips. Chaucer’s Parson had this to say about them

“Alas! some of them show the very boss of the privy member and pushed out parts that look like the malady of hernia in the wrapping of their hose, and the buttocks of such persons look like the hind parts of an ape”

image found here

Some men thought masculinity should be demonstrated even further and padded out their chests and seats to produce an S shape and added a codpiece. One variety was stuffed upright to suggest virility and armourers turned out a metal kind with a useful hinge at the top.

The peascod belly of the 16th century was perhaps the most absurd, consisting of a doublet shaped and stuffed to give the impression of a small pointed paunch. False calves were in demand from the late 18th century and through much of the 19th too. An account given by Captain Coignet records how he felt when bedding a young lady for the first time

“As for me, I felt mighty awkward about undressing, and particularly about how I was to hide my wretched false calves and my three pairs of stockings. What a fix I was in.  If only I could put out the candle, all would be well. However, somehow I managed to hide them under the pillow; but it damped my spirits considerably. And the problem of how to get them on next morning tortured me.”

image found here

excerpt from History of Vanity by John Woodforde


Published in: on January 11, 2010 at 7:10 am  Comments (36)  
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La Myra’s underpinnings

art by Daryl Banks

During the 1850s, fashion turned its attention to the skirt.

“They grew ever wider and wider, and the flounces and light materials they were made of meant that they needed more and more support. Layers of petticoats were no longer sufficient and were very heavy and uncomfortable. Something more structured was required.

A patent was taken out in May 1856 for a garment inflated by means of bellows and deflated to enable the wearer to sit down. The satirical magazine Punch reported:

Some idea may be formed of the labour which the present mode has rendered necessary, when we state that to fill the air-tubes of a single dress it takes the most expert lady’s maid upwards of three hours and a quarter, even with the help of a good-sized pair of bellows.

The artificial cage crinoline appeared in 1857 as a welcome and more practical alternative. It was made of spring steel hoops, increasing in diameter towards the bottom, suspended on cotton tapes. The number of hoops ranged from nine to eighteen according to the formality of the dress.

There were also many tales of accidents that could befall hapless wearers of crinolines, such as being caught in her hoops as she descended from a carriage. The most frequent accidents were caused by sparks from open fires, a situation not helped by the wearing of highly flammable fabrics such as muslin and silks. Punch advised husbands to insure their wives at Fire Insurance offices.

However, the spring steel structures were also very light so rather than imprisoning women in cages (as some of the reports and images suggest) they had a liberating effect. A lady could ascend a steep stair, lean against a table, throw herself into an armchair, pass to her stall at the opera, and occupy a further seat in a carriage, without inconveniencing others.

From 1866 the crinoline craze subsided and the bustle became a separate undergarment in its own right. The new form of bustle was known as a ‘dress-improver’ or by its French name ‘tournure’ as the word bustle was considered vulgar in polite society.

La Myra tournure found here

The New Phantom’ bustle, dating from about 1884, had a special feature. The steel wires are attached to a pivot so that they folded in on themselves on sitting down and sprang back when the wearer rose. A novelty bustle made to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations contained a less useful device. It was fitted with a musical box that played ‘God Save the Queen’ each time the wearer sat down.

Various methods were tried and tested to achieve a full and swelling bosom such as the ingenious ‘lemon cup’ bust improver of the 1890s. Each cup was packed with bleached horsehair supported by a whalebone lining. The light coiled spring helped to give the desired shapely effect.

Women’s journals of the time were replete with advertisements for pills and potions to correct flaws in the female appearance. If pills and potions failed there was always the ‘Princess Bust Developer’ which exercised the muscles of the bust by suction, restoring the capillary action and getting rid of flabby tissue.

I don’t have a Princess Bust Developer but queenwilly and the king gave nursemyra the Fabulous Mark Eden version last year. Can you tell that I’ve been diligently using it twice a day?

Published in: on January 10, 2010 at 6:23 am  Comments (33)  
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