Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Love Affair with Tales from the Jazz Age (1)

As cliche as it might be, I have an ongoing love for the '20s speakeasy aesthetic, especially as it is depicted in the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  As I have now turned in all of my work and have nothing to do besides clean my room (which I am studiously procrastinating), do life-related chores (which are stressful), and run my current study (YAY SCIENCE), I've been reading for fun for the first time since August.  Hooray!
I'm currently savoring The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Jazz Age Stories by the aforementioned Fitzgerald.  I'm working on a series of posts surrounding this topic (I'm also planning to sew a 1920s party dress this summer, so stay tuned), but one particular passage struck me today that I wanted to share.

In the story "The Camel's Back," Perry Parkhurst and his fiancee break up rather terribly and as a result he ends up getting drunk and flirting at the Townsends' "circus ball."  Costumes are under much discussion:

""Lookit!" he commanded. In his hands he held a truncated garment of pink gingham.
"Pants," he exclaimed gravely. "Lookit!"
This was a pink blouse, a red tie, and a Buster Brown collar.
"Lookit!" he repeated. "Costume for the Townsends' circus ball. I'm li'l' boy carries water for the elephants."
Perry was impressed in spite of himself.
"I'm going to be Julius Caesar," he announced after a moment of concentration.
"Thought you weren't going!" said Macy.
"Me? Sure I'm goin', Never miss a party. Good for the nerves—like celery."
"Caesar!" scoffed Baily. "Can't be Caesar! He is not about a circus.
Caesar's Shakespeare. Go as a clown."...
"Hm," said Perry. An idea struck him suddenly. "If you've got a piece of canvas I could go's a tent."
"Sorry, but we haven't anything like that. A hardware store is where you'd have to go to. We have some very nice Confederate soldiers."...
"Several of the gentlemen" she continued hopefully, "are wearing stovepipe hats and swallow-tail coats and going as ringmasters—but we're all out of tall hats. I can let you have some crape hair for a mustache."
"Want somep'n 'stinctive."
"Something—let's see. Well, we have a lion's head, and a goose, and a camel—"
"Camel?" The idea seized Perry's imagination, gripped it fiercely."

I spent a lot of time last summer researching the history of the early twentieth century circus, so on top of the fabulous highjinks that ensue during the evening for Perry and his comrades, the idea of a 1920s circus costume ball well, "seized my imagination, gripped it fiercely."  In honor of that, here is a selection of some of my favorite period circus images.

Big Cats trainer Mabel Stark, poster c.1922

High wire walkers c.1920s

performer with the Escalante Bros. Travelling Circus

Hogdini Sisters, 1920s Vaudeville act

Irene and Trixie, 1920s circus duo

circus cigarette girl

Circus Procession, by Victor Anderson

an elephant girl

Fred and Ella Bradna, c.1903 (ringmaster and horse trick rider--also married!)
Madison Garden Circus, c.1936
If there is ever a '20s-circus-themed party, I definitely want to go as a trick rider ballerina.  They are so darling!

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