Thursday, December 31, 2020

A few films about redheads (pt. 1)

It really seems that during the so-called golden age of cinema, directors had a crush on red hair.

Here are few of the several films on the subject. More to come.

The Red-Haired Alibi

The Red-Haired Alibi is an American pre-Code feature-length film produced by Tower Productions. The film was produced by Sigmund Neufeld.

Released on October 15, 1932, it was directed by Christy Cabanne. The movie was based on a novel of the same name written by Wilson Collison. It is the first feature-length film to feature child actress Shirley Temple in the credits.


A young woman seeks employment with a pleasant and charming man in Manhattan, only to learn over time that he is a gangster. After his crimes escalate to murder, police urge her to leave him in order to protect herself. She builds a new life in White Plains and marries a man who has a four year old daughter (Shirley Temple); however, one night, when she drops off her husband at Grand Central Station in New York, she is spotted by her former employer, who threatens to reveal her past unless she gives him a large sum so he can leave the country.

The next night, she meets her former employer at a restaurant, as they had arranged—only she refuses to pay him and fires a gun at him. A waiter who had overheard part of their conversation shares the information with police, who visit her at her home in White Plains. She confesses and hands over her gun, at which point the police realize that she is innocent, because the weapon that killed the gangster was a different caliber.

Here's the whole film




Those Redheads from Seattle

Those Redheads from Seattle is a 1953 American musical film, produced in 3-D and Technicolor, directed by Lewis R. Foster, starring Rhonda Fleming, Gene Barry, Teresa Brewer and Agnes Moorehead, and released by Paramount Pictures. It was the first 3-D musical.


A woman (Moorehead) takes her four unmarried daughters to Alaska during the 1898 Gold Rush to help their father, not knowing he is already dead. When the Edmonds women arrive in Skagway, they meet Johnny Kisco, owner of the Klondike Club, whose partner is the one who killed Edmonds, a newspaper publisher.

When the women find out Edmonds is dead and had no money, one becomes a dancer and singer, one becomes a nurse and the other two run the newspaper that was once belonged to their father, trying to run out the owner of the burlesque club. Pat, the singer, falls for Johnny and performs at his club. He is more interested in her sister Kathie, who takes exception to Johnny's ways and decides to wed a more respectable minister.

Johnny departs for Fairbanks to track down his partner, saving him from an avalanche and bringing him back to confess to Edmonds' murder. On the day she's to be married, Kathie, still in her wedding dress, runs to Johnny, realizing she is in love with him.

Here's the whole film.



The Man Who Loved Redheads

The Man Who Loved Redheads is a 1955 British comedy film directed by Harold French and starring Moira Shearer, John Justin and Roland Culver. The film is based on the play Who is Sylvia? (1950) by Terence Rattigan, which is reputedly a thinly veiled account of the author's philandering father. The film follows the play fairly closely, its main difference being the turning of Sylvia into a redhead.


Young peer and junior member of the Foreign Office, Mark St. Neots (John Justin), is obsessed with the memory of Sylvia (Moira Shearer), a 16-year-old redhead he met at a party as a boy, and vowed he would love forever. Now older and respectably married, Mark still retains his image of the beautiful young girl with the red hair, and spends the rest of his life searching for her, through a string of casual affairs.



The Red-Haired Cupid

The Red-Haired Cupid is a 1918 American silent western comedy film directed by Clifford Smith and starring Roy Stewart, Charles Dorian and Peggy Pearce.


Unhappy with William "Red" Saunders, the foreman of the Chanta Seechee Ranch in Oklahoma, its Eastern owners send a Boston tenderfoot named Albert Jones to manage the ranch with "Eastern business methods." Red prevents the angry cowboys from quitting, but they insist on making Jones the butt of their jokes and tricks. Upon learning that Jones's niece, Loys Andres, is planning a visit, the boys plan a rowdy reception for the woman, whom they expect will be an old maid. Loys's beauty, however, surprises them all, and Red's bunk-mate, Kyle Lambert, falls in love with her, and he soon proposes. When Jones tries to break up the romance, Red arranges for an elopement, but as the lovers reach the ford, a rustler called "Squint-Eye" Lucas fires at them, slightly wounding Kyle. Loys returns to the ranch for help, Red shoots Lucas, and Kyle is rescued, after which Loys and Kyle marry. Beaten, Jones gives the couple his blessing.




Red Hair

Red Hair is a 1928 silent film starring Clara Bow and Lane Chandler, directed by Clarence G. Badger, based on a novel by Elinor Glyn, and released by Paramount Pictures.

The film had one sequence filmed in Technicolor, and is now considered a lost film except for the color sequence at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, and a few production stills.


A free-spirited young girl has three middle-aged admirers, each of whom sees her from a completely different perspective. Unknown to her, they also happen to be the guardians of a wealthy young man to whom she is attracted.





Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Yet another red-haired St. Michael

The archangel Michael below is a detail from the Syon Cope - a cope is a type of ceremonial cloak worn in church services and processions. The Syon Cope is an example of opus anglicanum ('English work'), a Latin term for the exquisite luxury embroideries hand-made in England in the 14th century.

Red Hair in Art: Vojtěch Hynais

Vojtěch Adalbert Hynais (1854 – 1925) was a Czech painter, designer and graphics artist. He designed the curtain of the Prague National Theatre, decorated a number of buildings in Prague and Vienna, and was a founding member of the Vienna Secession. He was made an Officer of the Légion d'honneur in 1924.

Here's the curtain of the Prague National Theatre. Hynais had made the first sketches for the curtain while living in Montmartre; the winged figure is modelled on Suzanne Valadon

The Judgment of Paris (the red-haired goddess is Venus)

Magdalena (Noli me tangere)


Jeune fille de profil

Monday, December 21, 2020

Red Locks of Witch's Hair - viewed and on record

Whilst doing the research for the last two posts I also came across this little curiosity too. A letter published in a journal titled American Notes and Queries, Volume 1 (1888), from a man who claimed to have seen and handled locks of "red" hair from witches that were trialled and burned in Germany.

The text reads as follows;
"RED HAIR. (A.N. and Q., Vol.1, page29.)-I call your attention to the fact that in Soest in the "Redland" of Westphalia, where the Vehm-gericht used to sit under the old trees, still standing, there is in the townhall the records reaching for seven centuries back. I hied there for a week with Richter Rocholl, and through his influence all the records were shown and explained to me. There were lots of curious things; but among them there was this, that in the register of every witch-burning, there was a lock of the witch's hair preserved as an evidence of her guilt -this lock was uniformly red. They are retained in the Soest archives to this day - I saw the locks and handled them.
J. Hunter."
It's quite an interesting claim. I've had a few little searches to try to find some more information relating to this, but so far to no avail.

With it just being a letter there's the possibility that the writer may be exaggerating, or simply making things up. However, it does contain a fair bit of detail, and the way he mentions the name Richter Rocholl (another person I can find little information about) as if the reader would already be aware of such a person adds to this.

As a side note, when reading up on the Vehmic courts of old Germany referenced in the letter I found that the name "Redland" is said to stem from the fact that this blutbann or "blood justice" system of courts was still common in the area. Leaving the soil stained red with blood.

"[..] only in Westphalia, called “the Red Earth” because here the imperial Blutbann was still valid, were capital sentences passed and executed by the Vehmic courts in the Emperor's name alone."

Though it's also speculated that the "red earth" appellation may simply stem from the red colouring of some of the soil in the region. A somewhat duller explanation.

As for the locks of hair it would obviously be quite exciting if these still existed somewhere, though that's no doubt quite unlikely. Even assuming the claim being made is true.

Nevertheless I'll try to dig up further information going forward.

Book Review: The White Horse and the Red-haired Girl

'The White Horse and the Red-haired Girl' is an early 20th century work by Lorin Andrews Lathrop (who published fiction under the pen name Kenyon Gambier).

The story is set in the run up to Christmas 1914, in the early days of World War I, and it centres around a female heroine. A plucky, but slightly privileged English woman called Peggy, who sneaks into continental Europe using a false passport to rescue her brother, who had been wounded in action.

The book is quite short - I raced through it in a couple of evenings - and it has that movie-like feel that many American novels from the first half of the 20th century seem to have. Making it very easy and comfortable to read.

I really enjoyed the book and well recommend it. It also felt quite timely to read. I felt many parts paralleled today's world of 2020. Much of the book is set in a Belgium which is occupied by the Germans. Though the country is occupied and there's a sense of mild despair and suppression amongst the people, much of life goes on as normal. Hotels are open, people sit ordering food, Christmas is celebrated. The book gives a weird sense of what war is like - outside of the actual warfare. Normal life continues, just heavily curtailed and under a black cloud.

Obviously it would be something of an exaggeration to compare the year we've just had to a year at the outset of World War I, but nevertheless I recognised the sense portrayed in the book. That feeling of living under some type of weird martial law, where the rules have suddenly changed, and people are just getting along with it as best they can. Showing their papers when needed. Some in denial, some with a sense of brooding resentment and rebellion. Many just carrying on, not really understanding the wider political events that are buffeting their lives about.

It was all quite resonant.

Another aspect that had echoes of today were the various border and travel restrictions. As America was neutral in these early days of the war American travellers could pass into German territory with relative ease. Whereas the English Peggy has to pretend to be American to get through.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the book tends to portray the British, American and Belgian characters in a positive light, and the German characters in a negative one. When I was reading I did wonder if it was perhaps deliberate propaganda used to help ease American readers into the conflict. However, the book was first published in serial form in 1918, then as a novel in 1919, so too late to help tip the balance of public opinion (the Americans entered the war in 1917). So I'm guessing the feelings and stereotypes portrayed in the work stemmed from genuine sentiment.

As well as seeing parallels with today there were also a few things that were noticeably different. You often forget how different attitudes to sex, marriage and relationships were back then. There's a female character in the book called Yvonne who's romantically involved with a German lieutenant. When I first started reading these parts I just assumed, no doubt because of my 21st century sensibilities, that they were sexually involved. It was only as I read on that it dawned on me that they were simply "courting" - emotionally involved, dating, but not physically involved. Any sexual involvement, even just kissing strictly confined to after marriage. Even for a conquering German.

This prim and properness likewise extended to our heroine Peggy, and her love interest - Roderick Stoneman, an American airman who had crossed lines raiding a German aerodrome on behalf of the French.

Being reminded of how these ideals were once held noble and lionised - where love was elevated (at least in theory) above sex - it made me slightly lament our modern ways. We seem to have lost our awe in regard 'falling in love', and with it all the romantic and heroic acts it inspires. Everything seems to be instant and materialistic now. That sense of fate has been abandoned.

Before I get lost in my own lamentations though perhaps I should get round to mentioning the actual 'red hair' parts.

As for the superstition or saying regarding the white horse and the red-haired girl it only really crops up briefly in the book. It's more a little motif than anything else.

The protagonist Peggy does indeed have red hair, and in a sense the title is a vague reference to her. However, her colouring is described more as a "burnished ruddy" shading, as opposed to a fiery red;

'Her hair was ruddy in the bright sunshine - lots of it, noticeable, marked; not a head to slip through German lines and be forgotten'

In the book the white horse is specifically a reference to the Uffington White Horse. The ancient English landmark, where a giant horse is carved into the white chalk of a large hillside. When Peggy's love interest is asked about this 'white horse' by another character he jokingly makes a reference to the saying about red-haired women and white horses.

'Stoneman forced a laugh.

"In America," he said, "we have a saying: Where there's a white horse, there's a red-haired girl."

"Ungallant!" she said; "Peggy had the beautiful auburn hair."

Unless I'm misreading the tone I'm guessing the half-joking reply of "ungallant" tells us that calling her red-haired is viewed as something of an insult. Albeit a minor one. Hence the claim that it's a "beautiful auburn" colour instead. (Once again we see this idea of "carrot" red hair being frowned upon, but auburn being held in high esteem).

In fact, there is one other reference to red hair in the book, where a "ginger" waiter is referred to.

'but he suspected one neutral waiter, the ginger-haired
fellow who pretended to be a Swiss.'

It's not an important reference, but I guess it shows that 'ginger' tends to be used in an offhand way. It's usually simply descriptive, and rarely if ever used in a positive or poetic sense.

That aside though, and my brief despairing at the modern world aside too, the book was a very good read and I feel quite fortunate to have found it.

A freely available PDF of the work can be found here for anyone wanting to read it themselves;

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Red-Haired Girls and White Horses ..revisited

I recently listened to the following song, performed by the red-haired vaudeville comedienne Irene Franklin. Suitably titled Redhead.

(More information can be found about Irene Franklin here.)

The recording is from 1913, and what caught me was not so much the redhead theme - quaint though that is - but the lyrics.

In particular this reference to red hair and white horses.

Freckle-face, strawberry blonde head
Here's a white horse, hide your head!

Readers familiar with this blog may remember that this is a theme that has popped up before. Back in the 19th and early 20th century there was a common saying that whenever a red-haired girl appeared a white horse would appear not long after. It was essentially an old superstition, claiming that redheaded girls and white horses were conjoined in some vague mystical way. Children (along with adults too it seems) played I spy type games based around the notion, and as a consequence the idea came into common parlance. Popping up in newspaper and journal articles of the time.

Some of which I first charted in this piece;

Anyway, having dug into this topic before, that little song line caught my eye, or ear rather, and I thought I'd note it down as yet another example of a once common superstition now lost to time. Especially as the song itself is well worth sharing here for its general gingerness.

It also spurred me on to have another look to find other examples. Leading me to this curious article, which comes from a 1894 publication titled Handy-book of Literary Curiosities, by William Shepard Walsh.

It can be found on pages 957/958 of that work. I'll quote it in full.
Red-haired girls and white horses. The popular jest about the necessary contiguity of red-haired girls and white horses is by no means modern, though in its recent revival it has swept over the country as a novelty. Some of us remember that our grandfathers used jocularly to assert it to the wondering ears of youth as a well-attested fact. In all likelihood, the saying took its origin in the old English game called sometimes the "game of the road," but more often "ups and downs," which is still a favorite among children and travelling salesmen in Great Britain. One party takes the "up" side of the street or road, the other the "down," counting one for every ordinary object and five for a white horse (a piebald counting as white), until a certain number agreed upon carries off the victory; but a red-headed woman or a donkey wins the game at once.

Another explanation refers the phrase to a North-of-Ireland superstition that the sight of a red-headed girl brings ill luck to the beholder unless he retrace his steps to the starting-point; but if he meet a white horse at any stage of his backwards progress the spell is ipso facto averted. In the midland counties of England, on the other hand, it is ill luck to meet a white horse without spitting at it. In Wexford an odd cure for the whooping-cough is suggested by current superstition. The patient trudges along the road until he meets a piebald horse, and shouts out to the rider, "Halloo, man on the piebald horse! what is good for the whooping-cough?" and no matter how absurd the remedy suggested, he will certainly be cured. In Scotland, to dream of a white horse foretells the coming of a letter.

The prejudice against red hair is as wide-spread and deep-rooted as it is unaccountable. Tradition assigns reddish hair to both Absalom and Judas. Thus, Rosalind, complaining of her lover's tardiness, pettishly exclaims, "His own hair is of the dissembling color!" and is answered by Celia, "Somewhat browner than Judas's." Marston, also, in his "Insatiate Countess," says, "I ever thought by his red beard he would prove a Judas: here am I bought and sold."

But Leonardo da Vinci, it may be noted in passing, paints Judas with black hair in his fresco "The Last Judgement."

All over Europe red hair is associated with treachery and deceitfulness. In a collection of German proverbs made by Henry Bebel as early as 1512, the following occurs: "The short in stature are naturally proud, and the red-haired untrustworthy." In England, Thomas Hughes says, "I myself know persons who on that account alone never admit into their service any whose hair is thus objectionable." An old French proverb warns you, "Salute no red-haired man nor bearded woman nearer than thirty feet off, with three stones in the fist to defend thee in thy need." In Sweden the prejudice against red hair is explained on the ground that the traitor jarl Ashbörn, who betrayed King Canute to his death, was red-headed. But even the ancient Egyptians had the same prejudice. For one thing, of course, a red-haired man was likely to be a foreigner. But, in addition, red was symbolical of Typho, a spirit of evil. Any one with ruddy complexion or red hair was suspected of being connected with the evil one. Red donkeys, especially, were looked upon as naturally evil beasts, and red oxen were offered in the sacrifices.

Though red hair is almost universally held in light esteem, the prejudice against red itself does not extend much beyond Egypt. In Congo, red is a sacred colour; in China and Japan it is used at death-beds to scare off evil spirits. In many parts of Europe, also, it is considered obnoxious to evil spirits. In old Teutonic folk-lore it was held to be symbolic of victory, possibly in reminiscence of Thor's red beard. And as it was regarded, also, as representing heat, it was therefore, in a manner, heat, just as white, representing cold, was cold itself. Sick people were wrapped in red blankets, a superstition only recently revived in the red flannel underwear supposed to be useful in cases of rheumatism. Red flowers were used for disorders of the blood, as yellow for those of the liver.

Another example of the close connection between red and white is the corpse-candle, which if it burned red signified that a man was the doomed person; if white, a woman.

I quite like that last line of the first paragraph; "but a red-headed woman or a donkey wins the game at once" 😄

The notion that in Scotland dreaming of a white horse foretells the arrival of a letter is also quite nice. Though in a rather different way.

I find it interesting too that the writer notes traditions relating to Absalom having red hair. This is something I wasn't hereto aware of, though it vaguely rings a bell. So perhaps I should look further into that one.

[Note: I've just had a little search and Absalom came up back in 2014 in an article relating to William of Orange. So that's no doubt why it rings a bell. The article notes medals struck depicting William, including one portraying him as a usurper (as Absalom was in the biblical story).

"[H]e is represented under the figure of Absalom, hanging by his red hair
(in allusion to the name of Orange) to an oak-tree[.]"

In my searching out of info about red hair and white horses I also came across a work of fiction from 1918 titled 'The White Horse and the Red-haired Girl'.

..which I'll review in my next blog post.