A Sparkling Vintage Life

Monthly Archives: December 2012

Have yourself a Sparkling Vintage Christmas!

Here’s a very sparkly look at Christmas in the 1920s, both in the U.S. and in (I think) England. I particularly enjoyed the clip of Robert Benchley carving a turkey at the direction of an off-screen Jean Harlow. Nice to know some things haven’t changed much.

Here’s another sampling of a 1920s Christmas:

I hope you’re keeping some traditions of your own this year, both old favorites and new ones.

Wishing you and your loved ones a blessed (and Sparkling Vintage) Christmas!


Down to Business: Success on the Stage, circa 1894

Unknown stage actress, early 1900s

From time to time I have acted on the stage–not professionally, but as an amateur. I enjoy it, especially performing comedy–I love to make people laugh! So I was intrigued by the following description of the theatrical life, found in a section called “Occupations for Women” in an 1894 book titled The Woman’s Book: Dealing practically with the considerations of home-life, self support, education, opportunities, and every-day problems, written by a variety of experts in various disciplines. While browsing through fascinating descriptions of  teaching, nursing, newspaper work, and other late-nineteenth-century jobs for women, I ran across this late-Victorian advice for a career on the stage:

“If a girl decides that her vocation is the stage, here is a list of the qualifications for success compiled by an expert:

A strong physique
An unimpaired digestion
A slender figure
A marked face (Ed. note: !! Sounds alarming, but I think this means a face that’s markedly attractive)
Strong features
A carrying voice
A lack of real feeling
An abundance of pretended feeling
Much magnetism
Great fascination of manner
Purity of speech
Elocution to a degree
A general knowledge of history
A good general education
An adeptness at making herself necessary
A well-defined specialty
A good memory
Good luck
A quick study

I thought it was interesting that “Talent” was listed last. That certainly explains some of the performances generated from Hollywood today!

The author goes on to say that “There are many reasons why a woman may lose mental and moral fiber in this profession. Its associations are often not of the best. Many of the girls who go upon the stage begin young, often without much education, and at a time when their character is still unformed, and they are most easily led by flattery, love of ease, and display; they are removed from family influence to be thrown into the company of men and women to whom nothing is sacred. . . . So far as morals go, a woman may, of course, remain untainted on the stage. It depends on herself. . . . No matter how refined and quiet a girl may be when she enters this feverish life, the stage will leave its marks on her. Insensibly she will contract the free and easy manners of the life. The constant association of men and women on the stage, the constant playing of emotion, the mockery of love that goes on, end by dulling even the most sensitive nature. There is probably no profession in which the woman of refinement and sensibility meets with greater disappointment than stage life. She will often find that notoriety counts for more than merit.”

Imagine that–notoriety counting for more than merit. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sparkle on!

Retro Recipe Wednesday: Tomato Soup Cake

Who doesn’t love a hot bowl of tomato soup accompanied by a grilled cheese sandwich? That’s been the perfect cold-weather lunch since forever, it seems. But tomato soup in a cake?

It does sound a little off-putting, but Tomato Soup Cake, dating from the early 1900s, is one of those simple recipes that can get you by with little more than whatever is already sitting on your pantry shelf. With no eggs or butter, it’s also pretty economical. The finished result tastes like a spice cake. It certainly doesn’t scream “tomato soup.” In fact, your friends might not even know that it’s in there, unless you tell them. Here’s a recipe from the 1930s:

Tomato Soup Cake

2 cups flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 can tomato soup
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup raisins (optional)

Sift dry ingredients 3 times. Cream shortening and sugar until fluffy. Add dry ingredients and soup alternately. Stir in nuts and raisins. Mix all by hand. Put in greased and floured loaf pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes at 350 degrees F. Best if you let stand 24 hours before cutting.

Optional Cream Cheese Icing:

3 oz. cream cheese
1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix together. Spread on cooled cake.


Charm School: Something to Talk About

Hello, Sparklers, and welcome to today’s Charm School lesson, which is #2 in a series on how to be a sparkling conversationalist.

Recently in Charm School we discussed vocal quality, or “how you say it.” Today we’re talking about the content. or “what you say.” Turning again to that paragon of charm, Margery Wilson, we read:

“Every woman should read a magazine of news such as Time or Newsweek {For today’s readers, here I would also interject World magazine and The Week, two of my personal favorite news sources, as well as, of course, the Internet.–JLL}. She should read an amusing magazine such as The New Yorker. Then if she will read the book reviews in a good national newspaper every week, she should have plenty of conversational material that is up-to-date. Scandal sheets and thrillers will never add much to her. They only kill time.  . . . In addition to these one should read a local paper every day.

“A background of the classics gives a mellow, interesting point of view. If you have not read the classics, start right in on Doctor Eliot’s five-foot bookshelf. {Note: Here she’s referring to the Harvard Classics, edited by Dr. Charles Eliot. Another option for reading the classics is the Great Books of the Western World series, still widely available at libraries and online. An interesting discussion of the two series can be found here.–JLL}.

“To take facts and make them smooth out introductions and conversational openings is the task of every hostess, such as the following introduction of old friends to a newcomer:

“‘Mrs. Brown, this is Mrs. Traveler. The Travelers used to be neighbors of ours and the only time we disagreed was about the hedge.'” Mrs. Traveler can then say, ‘We’ve had plenty of time to regret it. If we could be back here beside you, you could put the hedge on the front porch.’ Now, can these people talk? If they can’t they have no tongues. They have eight subjects to discuss: neighbors, new and old; property lines; hedges, front porches; tempers; temperaments; homesickness; and forgiveness. All this is possible because the hostess introduced a natural and almost universal subject between neighbors.'”

A few more helpful hints from Miss Wilson:

“Talk about the weather. Never be afraid to talk about the weather. It is not inane. It is an always interesting subject because it is always with us and we must consider it.

Talk about food. The only danger here is that a compliment may clumsily imply that it is unusual to have good food at this house.

Tell an amusing story. It is a good plan to remember an amusing story to tell if the opportunity presents itself. A good story goes with a crowd of any age. If you can’t remember stories, then cut one out of a paper and read it.

You may talk about yourself–a little. There are times when you may break the rule, ‘Never talk about yourself.’ If a guest has gotten into a long rigamarole about herself and really would like to stop, but doesn’t know how, it is kind to take the conversation to yourself briefly before switching to generalities.”

Getting someone to talk about themselves is a whole topic in itself, so we will save it for next time we meet up in Charm School. Until then, Happy Sparkling!

Down to Business: Newsflash! Woman Performs Miracle in Workplace!

Love these “office dresses,” but cringe at the violence that a rolling desk chair would inflict on those full skirts.

I had to smile while reading this description from 1962 of a woman employee’s effect on the workplace. Dr. Ashley Montagu wrote that female employees had a “great humanizing and civilizing influence” in “offices, factories and around conference tables.” Dr. Montagu wrote:

“When a woman worker joins an all-male office, a miracle takes place. The men start wearing their jackets at their desks, rough swearing stops, and before you know it snarling males are smiling and saying good morning to one another. Without women, men revert to the jungle.”

O dear, deluded Dr. Montagu! Sadly, this is no longer the case. In too many places “equality” means that women have earned the right to turn the air blue with foul language right alongside the men, a generous compliment is likely to get a gentleman written up by HR, and nobody is raising anybody to any kind of higher standard of civility. Hurray for progress {insert admittedly unladylike sarcasm here}.

Sparklers, take back your workplace! Clean up your language, if it needs cleaning. Introduce simple courtesies like “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry.” Dress with the dignity of your position, not the rattiest thing you can get away with. You don’t have to make a big deal of it to start subtly raising the standards of your workplace. Foment a quiet civility revolution. Set a good example and gradually others might follow. At the very least, your workday will become more tolerable and you’ll return to your Sparkling Vintage home a little less frazzled and a little less despairing of your fellow human beings.

Sunday Serenade: O Come O Come Emmanuel

One thing I miss about the “good old days” is traditional choir music. Modern church music has its place, I suppose, but in my opinion nothing beats a good old classic hymn.

Here’s a beautiful arrangement of an Advent classic.

Nice. So what’s it mean? Today marks the beginning of the season of Advent, which many Christians observe as a time of waiting and preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas. This 19th-century translation of a very old hymn expresses ancient Israel’s longing for a Savior. The first line says, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” It sounds rather sad, but actually expresses hope and the firm belief that a Savior WILL come, and he will be called Emmanuel (which means “God with us”), and he will be the Son of God. (All of these terms–Savior, Emmanuel, and Son of God–describe Jesus Christ.)

Far from being sad, this is good news! In a world dark with sin, God is sending a light. And in this song the people are saying, “Bring it on!”

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