I must “Thank You” Darling Darklings,
I had not realized that I have some serious followers, and am glad to make you happy by my return.
I do agree if one is going for furs, vintage is always best; it is the ultimate in recycling.
But I also have to give a caveat, that there will be things I’ll say that you may not agree with or find offensive, but it is only my own opinion and my personal choice based upon my living experience. Not an apology or anything like that, just a fact of my personality.
Now Darklings, how about a mystery? And just in time for the Oscars.
Last night I was up late, watching a positively juvenile but knowledgeable horror host, Svengoolie. He presents on his program mostly the horror films from the Universal vaults although it seems Universal may have purchased films from other studios as well and is part of the “package” as it were. Last night I was treated to a comedic film titled “The Invisible Woman” its more comedy than horror, but I watched it anyway---why??
VERA WEST----that is why.
When I was a little darkling I remember my parents buying their first Back and White T.V. set. I was 4 years old and fortunately they chose an R.C.A. with a good size screen which came in its own wooden cabinet. A sizable piece of furniture, I’ll never forget the excitement when it was being installed, the men on the roof carefully bolting the Antenna to the brick chimney and strapping it to make sure it did not wiggled so we could pull in a good signal. It must have set my parents back a goodly amount of money because every two weeks, on Friday my Mother marched to the bank, deposited Dad’s check (with little me in tow), she put some in savings and then we marched all over our Main Street paying our bills, the Utilities, the Druggist, the Grocer, the Gas Station (we had what was called a ‘station charge’ for repairs on Dad’s 1936 Chevy) and we marched to Franks Music Store, the only place to buy quality records, sheet music, radios, phonographs, pianos and Televisions. For a year we went to Franks to pay off the T.V.
I was entranced by the magic of those black and white images, and on Saturdays they would show various old films as filler, as I was growing up I was in love with the clothing on the female leads in the Horror films, all those smart suits, dresses and elegant gowns that were designed by Vera West.
Everyone remembers the gowns designed by Edith Head, and Adrian, but true elder Goths remember and adored the designs of Vera West, she was the head designer for Universal Pictures from 1927 right up to the early part of 1947.
She designed gowns specifically for the principal female leads; she never won an Oscar for her efforts and had a strange past as well as a mysterious death.
I am going to quote here a portion of an article that I came across about her.
“Vera West was born in New York City on June 28, 1900. She attended the
Philadelphia Institute of Design, studying dressmaking with Lucile, Lady
Duff-Gordon, a couturière with clienteles in London, Paris, and New York. Around
the turn of the century, Lucile had made history by staging a live runway show
in London. The first fashion show anywhere. A “mannequin parade,” she called it.
After graduation, Vera West designed dresses for a salon on Fifth Avenue in New
York City, where, in the words of costume historian W. Robert Lavine, “she
learned how to get along with rich, often spoiled women who demanded special
attention.” West’s stint at the salon was cut short. She committed a crime. She
had an illicit affair. She had an illegitimate child.
This is speculation. What’s known: in the mid-1920s, she became involved in some
sordid, secret scenario that would haunt her late in life. She fled to
Hollywood. In 1927, Universal Pictures named her head costume designer.
According to Dr. Deborah Landis, current president of the Costume Designers
Guild in Hollywood, Vera West “only designed the principal women’s clothes in
the horror films.” A mad scientist’s fiancee, a mummy’s long-lost love, a
zombie’s crush—these were the roles most principal women played. Virginal
victims whom monsters menaced. How did West dress damsels in distress?
For day, she favored smart suits in tweed or wool, fringed with furbelows. The
Carpathians could be cold. For evening, evening gowns in the style of
Schiaparelli and Chanel. Almost all of West’s women wound up wearing something
white at night. A negligée. Or a wedding dress.”
~~~~~~~~~~ I am going to digress here but say that she did design the dresses for almost all the Universal Monster movies, including the wedding dress in the First Boris Karloff ‘Frankenstein’ as well as the dresses for both the English speaking ‘Dracula’ with Bela Lugosi and the Spanish Language version that was filmed at the same time, she sexed up Lupita Tovar’s night gown to the point of being very risqué. ~~~~~~
“ According to some sources it appears that she became tired of designing clothing for monster movies and in early 1947, she resigned her role at Universal. She designed a
couture collection for a dress shop at the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel. She would no
longer serve monsters and their maidens. She would clothe actresses. Wives of
~~~~But things took a serious, and mysterious turn during the middle of the year, one day after her 47th birthday she was found dead in her pool…read on Darklings.~~~~
“This is the only way. I am tired of being blackmailed.” A suicide note. Vera
West wrote it. Police found her floating in the pool behind her home on June 29,
1947. Her husband, a businessman, was away. From her note: “The fortune teller
told me there was only one way to duck the blackmail I’ve paid for twenty-three
~~~~Something right out of a Val Lewton movie one would think, but there is more~~~
“Who was blackmailing her? Why was she being blackmailed? The New York Times
reported that police detectives were investigating West’s case. The Times
reported nothing more about it. She was buried in the Great Mausoleum at Forest
Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. Her blackmailer was never found. Nor
was her fortune teller. Presuming they were two different people. Who knows?”
~~~~That is how the article ends, there was more but it talked mostly about her designs in the movies, in researching more I discovered further references to the situation regarding her death, based upon the police and her husband’s statements.
The question of who was blackmailing her, why was she being blackmailed, was never answered. The New York Times reported that police detectives were investigating West’s case and then there was nothing more about it. She was buried in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. Her blackmailer was never found. Nor was her fortune teller. Presuming they were two different people. Or were they?
According to her husband, Jack C. West, he stated that at the time acknowledged no case of blackmail ever having taken place with Vera!
The question that comes up was Vera suffering from delusional paranoia? Police found her floating in the pool behind her home on June 29, 1947. Had she done what director James Whale did some nearly 10 years later, having grown weary of life's woes, did Vera West feel the same way? One is reminded of the fast paced way of life in Hollywood. It's sink or swim, and in this case two very talented individuals may made their unfortunate decisions all too clear.
But in Vera West’s case was it all that clear?
I found an brief article that talks of her death, which gives rises to more questions than answers, it is from the NY Times.
[[ June 30, 1947
San Fernando Valley
Film costumer Vera West died in her swimming pool at 5119 Bluebell Ave.
over the weekend. She suffered from marital difficulties, but the
blackmail to which she alluded in her suicide note was, according to
husband Jack C. West, a figment of her imagination. Mr. West claims he was
staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel when his wife took her unfortunate dip,
following a bad argument, and in anticipation of Mrs. West’s consultation
with a divorce attorney.
Assistant county autopsy surgeon Dr. Marvin Goodwin’s initial report was
of asphyxia, probably due to drowning, but Dr. Frederick Newbarr, his
superior, is refusing to sign a death certificate until additional tests
are performed. ]]
And then nothing----Why did Dr. Newbarr refuse to sign the death certificate and request additional tests? Why was there never another mention of Vera’s death? Why was it swept ‘under the rug’?
In another brief news clip from the L.A. Times on June 29, 1947 (must be the afternoon edition) it said that her death was being handled by Detective Sargent R.P. Kealy and the reference into blackmail was being investigated. According to that source her husband was out of town on a business trip with no reference that he was staying at the Beverly Hill’s Hotel
At the time that she left, Universal was experiencing a regime change, and Vera, being ‘old’, may have been threatened with termination. She was involved in designing costumes at Universal since 1927, and was involved with designing the women’s costumes in the James Whale pictures. Including that fluffy little one worn by a very pretty Elsa Lancaster in the opening scenes of “Bride of Frankenstein”.
Besides the films what did she and James Whale share? Whales career years later was almost over, he suffered from several small strokes, for many years people thought his drowning was an accident until after the death of his live in lover did a suicide note allegedly written by him appeared, but did Whale commit suicide? Or was it made to look that way with his last lover in collusion, remember Whales' lover replaced the live in male nurse with a female non live in nurse, so no one would be there when Whale died.
Was there something that they knew?
And who was this alleged ‘fortune teller, that is strange, because considering that Vera also designed the costumes for the Wolf Man pictures she would have come into contact with Maria Ouspenskaya who played the Gypsy Maleva.
Before Ouspenskaya worked for Universal, she was a celebrated stage actress (Moscow Art Theater, student of Stanislavski), and a highly-respected, twice-Oscar-nominated film performer for all or most of the majors. She was also one of the tremendously influential acting teachers who introduced "the method" style of acting in America, whose students included John Garfield, Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler. In my research into her and others with Universal it was reputed that she would have been very difficult to please, sharply critical and highly opinionated. That must have made things interesting between her and Lon Chaney.
She would have been a very commanding presence on the set and behind the
scenes of any of the Universal films she was involved in, attracting by her very knowledge of acting, a small circle of intimates that she would have had any respect for and this could have included such an accomplished designer like Vera West.
Maria could have learned of Vera's alleged marital troubles, about her many years earlier scandal and offered advice either as an older friend... or as a detached, cynical meddler. She may have had some interest in the occult, most actors do, and as a private joke between them, when Vera designed Maria's gypsy costumes, ‘read’ Vera's grim future with tea leaves, or Tarot cards. The idea of the "fortune teller" persona might even have been created, one has to remember for such a tiny woman Ouspenskaya had a very powerful personality which could have been hypnotic on the troubled Vera and took have a dangerous turn as Vera's mental fears progressed.
Considering that Vera was also 47 years old she may have developed a form of depression or paranoia brought upon by menopause, at that time not much was discussed about it, which accounts for many wives and older women being confined to mental institutions or committing suicide. But did she? Could she have had something on one of the studio heads at Universal that was dangerous, did James Whale also know this secret as well and kept his mouth shut especially after her death? Was her husband tired of his marriage and in fear of paying out alimony since she was no longer contracted to a major studio? Was it murder for hire?
You also have to remember that Ouspenskaya allegedly died from strokes and burns in a fire while smoking a cigarette in bed. But did she have a stroke? Not impossible to believe since she was 73 years old at the time. She was getting old, but was she planning to reveal something?
And James Whale, after his strokes was he also a danger to reveal something?
These 3 people were all connected in some way at Universal Studios? They all knew each other, what was it that they shared?
If anything it is a plot worthy of a better written Stuart Kaminsky ‘Toby Peters’ mystery. Or something by Ellroy in the “Black Dahlia” vein; and speaking of the Black Dahlia, the poor dear is buried not far from where I live and not in Los Angeles as one would think.
And that is your Dark Oscar story for this special occasion Darklings.