Mr Selfridge Background: Mack Sennett

Tonight’s episode features a visit from American film producer, Mack Sennett. He would have been 34 in 1914, pretty young to be running a studio. Here’s a short biography from

Real name, Mikall Sinnott; born, January 17, 1880, in Richmond, Eastern Townships, Quebec, Canada; immigrated to United States, 1897; died November 5, 1960, in Woodland Hills, CA; son of Irish immigrants. Career: Actor, director, producer, and writer. Worked as a laborer at American Iron Works; acted in Biograph films, 1908-11; founded Keystone Studios, 1912; formed Triangle Films (with Thomas Ince and D.W. Griffith), 1915; founded Mack Sennett Comedies, 1917; directed stars such as Mary Pickford, Mabel Normand, “Fatty” Arbuckle, Chester Conklin, Slim Summervile, Minta Duffe, Charles Chaplin, Bobby Vernon, Gloria Swanson, and Harry Langdon. Awards, Honors: Academy Award, best short subjects, novelty, 1933, for Wrestling Swordfish; Academy Award nomination, best short subjects, comedy, 1933, for The Loud Mouth; Honorary Academy Award, 1937, for a lasting contribution to the comedy technique of the screen.

Reference
“Mack Sennett.” Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. Vol. 25. Detroit: Gale, 2000. Biography in Context. Web. 10 May 2014.

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Mabel Normand Films

Earlier I posted some background information on Mabel Normand who’s in the next episode of Mr Selfridge. Here are a couple of her short silent films. These two are both from 1912 so the real Selfridge folks might have seen them.

Mabel Normand

Mabel Normand hat
Tomorrow’s Mr. Selfridge will feature a visit from silent film star Mabel Normand. She eventually directed her own films and opened her own film studio. Here’s more from The Encyclopedia of World Biography:

Actress and comedienne Mabel Normand’s most important role involved her contribution to the development of film comedy. Those who came after, such as Lucille Ball, owe her a large debt.

Normand proved far ahead of her time. She was an independent, successful woman in a male-dominated industry, and she exercised a great deal of control over her own career. She also developed gags, wrote scripts, and even directed some early silent films. But this comedy star’s life was filled with tragedy. She became enmeshed in scandal, indulged far too much than was good for her fragile health, and she died young.

Normand was one of the film world’s first celebrities. She had a rebellious nature, and this non-conformity made her a “star” before that term came into common use. Like modern celebrities, her involvement in career-destroying scandals unfairly amounted to little more than guilt by association.

Born in New York City

The screen’s first true female comedy star was born as Mabel Ethelried Normand on November 11, 1892, in Staten Island in New York City, New York. She was the youngest of four children born to Claude G. Normand and Mary Drury Normand. Her parents were French Canadians, and Claude Normand struggled to make a living to support his family. He worked as a carpenter but also played piano in clubs, small theaters, and movie houses.

As a young teenager, Normand toiled as a factory garment worker. In 1909, the seventeen-year-old Normand found work as a model. Painters and illustrators were attracted to her dark curled hair that framed her round face and large, expressive eyes. At the time, such attributes epitomized the current conception of beauty. Famous artists she posed for included Charles Dana Gibson, who created the “Gibson girl look,” and James Montgomery Flagg, the man who created the famous Uncle Sam “I Want You” military recruiting posters.

Moved from Modeling to Films

Normand was friends with Alice Joyce, a fellow model whose beauty led her into film work. Normand followed her into the burgeoning industry and worked as an extra in films produced by the Kalem Film Company, an early East Coast-based movie production studio. Soon, she made the acquaintance of Frank Lanning, an actor who worked at Biograph Studios. Lanning convinced her to change studios, which proved to be good advice, as Biograph boasted the talents of D.W. Griffith, the pioneering film director who would later produce the movie industry’s first feature films, (The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance). As such, the company attracted the best of the early film industry’s talent.

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1914 Background for Mr. Selfridge

Today I was wondering a bit about how women felt about fashion in 1914. I found a column from Illustrated London News. The columnist Filomena (no last name given) writes about wedding ceremonies and fashion. In a March 1914 column, she begins by explaining that the Bishop of London was personally in favor of removing the world “obey” from the English wedding ceremony. Only the bride made a vow of obedience and the reason “obey” was inserted into the ceremony doesn’t pass mustard. The bishop didn’t bring this to a church vote because he thought it would lose. Ah, why can’t we have braver men, in women’s corners?

How did “obey get into the ceremony? When the Church of England broke from the Roman Catholic church, they needed English versions for all the ceremonies. For reasons Filomena doesn’t explain, no English clerics seemed up to the job, so two Germans were brought in. They added “obey” from the Middle Ages English brides had to vow to be “bonnaire and buxom.” Anglo Saxon word geeks of 1914 assert that this meant women had to be 1) amiable, kind and true and 2) yielding and pliable. Well, if you switch pliable and yielding for obedient, have you gained all that much?

Filomena goes on to share her thoughts on fashion. I rather like her writing style. My comments are in parentheses.

As the Spring fashions come more and more into the public view, the dislike and they cause amongst women themselves increase. Evening gowns are desirable and beautiful enough but the day frocks are so ugly and ungraceful to eyes habituated to the long elegant lines of the past few years. There are some model gowns (I suppose model gowns because few women wore dresses off the rack) made with material heavily bunched up behind, as if to reintroduce the bustle (Horrors!)Others are trimmed with three short, full frills round the waist and hips. Some again, are pulled up from behind to the front of the figure and caught together more or less clumpishly, held as often as not by a beed or other showy and tawdry ornament, from which long strands fall to below the knee (not the best sentence, Filomena, but I can imagine Mr. Thackery saying this). All kinds of inchoate drapings appear devoid of reason or grace. Anything whatsoever worn by graceful and beautiful women passes muster, and as soon as the eye is  accustomed to it seems part of the living grace and magnetic charm that is clothes. But the vast majority that is humankind are neither beautiful nor  charmingly graceful (true, despite our wishes,  I suppose)and to the average women such [indecipherable ] arbitrarily draped and puffed clothing with frills here breaking the frills here breaking the line and turned-under puffings there disturbing flow of drapery must be more of a disfigurement than an aid.

She goes on and it showed me that while I appreciate some old gowns, there’s a lot I don’t even notice.

Reference

Filomena. “Ladies’ Page.” Illustrated London News [London, England] 14 Mar. 1914: 426. Illustrated London News. Web. 4 May 2014.

Mr. Selfridge: Background

Source: ITV Studio's Mr. Selfridge

Source: ITV Studio’s Mr. Selfridge

Sharing more research from Gale’s Virtual Reference. (See if your library has this great database.)

The Department Store

The birthplace of the department store was Paris. The Bon Marché opened in 1852, soon followed by Printemps (1865) and the Samaritaine (1869). Existing shops in the United States— Stewart in New York, Wanamaker in Philadelphia and Marshall Field in Chicago—adopted the format during the 1870s. The department store brought together a series of retail methods tested out in smaller European and American shops earlier in the century, for example, the proto-department stores in industrial cities in the north of Britain (Lancaster, chapter 1). The department store proper was distinctive from previous experiments in its scale, lavishness, and resonance with the society that spawned it. The early Parisian stores were hugely influential models for subsequent stores springing up all over the world. The history of the department store has been largely located in Western Europe and North America. The arrival of the format in East Asian cities such as Shanghai and Tokyo in the early twentieth century has been associated with westernization, but the stores were often locally owned and managed, creating complex issues surrounding their identity.

The conditions for the rise of the department store lay in late-eighteenth-and early-nineteenth-century industrialization and urbanization, which led to the growth of prosperous, urban, middle-class populations and the ready availability of mass-produced consumer goods, along with an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the pleasurable rather than merely utilitarian possibilities of consuming them. Important department stores were situated in urban centers, on principal shopping streets, working in conjunction with other shops, entertainment venues, and transport networks. However, well-heeled suburbs also had department stores in their high streets. By the late nineteenth century, considered the hey-day of the department store, these shops had become emblematic of metropolitan modernity and were famously made the backdrop of Émile Zola’s novel The Ladies’ Paradise.

The major department stores of each important city— for example, Harrods, Liberty’s and Selfridges in London— quickly became urban landmarks and cultural institutions, cited in guide books as tourist attractions. During the early twentieth century, American stores took the lead as innovators, becoming increasingly influential on their European counterparts. During the interwar and early postwar periods, while alternative shopping sites were developing, fashion magazines such as Vogue show that the big department stores retained their central position within urban consumption practices in many cities.

Stock Diversity and New Selling Methods

An important innovation of department stores was their wide variety of merchandise, breaching the boundaries of previously largely trade-specific shop-keeping. Many of the early department stores actually developed from smaller existing shops, most commonly drapers. Theygrew department by department, taking over neighboring properties to house the expanding businesses, until it was necessary to provide a new building or reface the existing ones to provide coherence. Department store pioneer William Whiteley famously boasted that he sold “everything from a pin to an elephant.” The system worked on a basis of low margins and high turnover. The stores were certainly a place for the sale of mass-produced goods and have been associated with the rise of ready-to-wear clothing. However, most stores continued to provide traditional tailoring and drapery well into the twentieth century. The diversity of stock was matched by an array of amenities and entertainments, including banks, restaurants, travel agents, fashion shows and live music, and services such as free delivery and alteration of garments.

Store histories are entwined with those of their owning dynasties, who usually gave their name to their stores, for example, the Wertheims and Schockens in Germany and the Lewises in England. Stores often merged with or were taken over by other stores, for example, the evolving nature of Britain’s House of Fraser described by Moss and Turton. The business was organized in a hierarchical, rational, and paternalistic manner. Strict control of the workforce was balanced with benefits such as health-care, pensions, and social clubs. Indeed during the early days many of the employees lived in the upper stories of the building. This practice faded out following several high profile, devastating fires caused by gas lighting and poor fire-proofing of buildings. The stores required vast staffs; for example, Harrods of London had 4,000 employees in 1914. For nineteenth-and early twentieth-century social commentators and novelists, the figure of the young female shop assistant symbolized the dubious respectability, moral ambiguity, and blurring of class boundaries they found so disturbing about the department store. However, until the interwar period, the majority of employees were actually male and lower middle class. Positions were sought after, although salaries were low.

Customers and a New Kind of Shopping

From the beginning, the department store was associated with bourgeois consumers. As Miller has argued, “The department store was … a bourgeois celebration, an expression of what its culture stood for and where it had come over the past century” (Miller, p. 3). It was also initially seen as the exclusive province of women. The stores’ provision of basic amenities such as lavatories and refreshment rooms made a day trip to town newly accessible for suburban and provincial middle-class women, enabling them to take advantage of improved public transport networks. Early department store owners, such as William Whiteley of Bayswater in London, were vocal in their claims to make shopping in the city a safe and respectable activity for unchaperoned women (Rappaport). However, they also attempted to exploit feminine desires using new ideas about consumer psychology.

The distinctiveness of the department store model lay as much in the presentation of shopping as a pleasurable leisure activity as with the nature or number of goods available. Previously, shopping models had largely favored counter service and the acknowledgment of an obligation to buy once the shop was entered. In the new stores, the role of the retail staff was redefined and a different kind of shopping was encouraged, characterized by window shopping and browsing through displays of goods with fixed and ticketed prices. These practices drew on the cultures of the international exhibitions that followed London’s Great Exhibition of 1851. All this, it was believed, would encourage impulse buying.

During the early twentieth century, department stores began to cater to men with dedicated departments. In 1936 Simpson Piccadilly opened in London’s West End, claiming to be the first department store entirely for men. The lower ground floor alone was designed to house a barber’s shop, soda fountain, gun shop, shoe shop, chemists, florist, fishing shop, wine and spirit shop, luggage shop, snack bar, dog shop, sports shop, cigar and tobacconists, gift shop, saddlery shop, theater agent, and travel agent. During the opening months the aviation department even exhibited full-sized airplanes. The opening of the store coincided with new ideas about masculinity, which allowed for the adoption of shopping methods previously labeled feminine. The Lady (7 May 1936) commented on this, “It is amusing to find that the man’s shop is designed and set out with all the allure of one devoted to women’s luxuries. Shopkeepers, evidently, do not share that masculine theory that a man always knows just what he wants and so is immune from display or advertisement.”

Design, Display, and Advertising

Zola called the department stores “cathedrals of commerce” and they were certainly associated with lavish, striking, and fashionable architecture, acting as an advertisement for the goods inside. Famous and innovative architects were often employed: Victor Horta designed Innovation in Brussels (1901), Louis Sullivan designed Carson Pirie Scott in Chicago (1899–1904), and Erich Mendelsohn designed the Schocken store in Stuttgart (1926-1928). . . . But the buildings were not just fashionable shells. The latest technological advances were used to assist the retail process. Iron then steel frames created vast uninterrupted expanses of floor space and plate glass technology facilitated story-high bands of display windows flanking the shopping street. Inside, escalators and lifts were installed, helping to sustain a continuous flow of customers between the street and the upper echelons of the building. Pneumatic tube systems were provided for communication placing orders. Tiers of galleries allowed light from the roof to penetrate the shop floor, assisted by the pioneering use of first gas then electric lighting. Lighting was also used on the facade of the building— floodlighting, lit signage, and window illumination—so that the stores had a nighttime presence in the city, catching the eye of revellers.

Department stores led the way with developments in retail display, with opulent displays of goods inside the stores, in the shop windows, and sometimes spilling onto the streets. Displays were often themed in relation with events being held in the stores or national celebrations. It was the shop window in particular that became emblematic of the department store’s contribution to the urban spectacle and seduction of customers. The early department stores had a particularly sophisticated understanding of the power of advertising. To the consternation of traditional smaller-scale retailers, significant amounts were spent on newspaper and magazine advertisements, and on regular publishing of catalogs, the Bon Marché in Paris distributed 1.5 million catalogs. In 1894 (Crossick and Jaumain p. 12). This emphasis on design, display, and advertising was integral to the new kind of shopping promoted in the department store, encouraging consumption through the exploitation of visual pleasures.

 

Source Citation 

Edwards, Bronwen. “Department Store.” Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion. Ed. Valerie Steele. Vol. 1. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons,

 

Mr. Selfridge, Season 2

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In the third episode of Mr. Selfridge’s second season, Delphine Day (Polly Walker) organizes a card game with some of the influential movers and shakers she knows including Harry and Lord Loxley. It’s wonderful to see the smug Loxley lose to Harry.

People are coming to terms with the war. Agnes receives a letter from her brother George and though it’s been redacted he seems chipper. Miss Mardle takes in a Belgian refugee. She expects Florian to be a woman’s name, but it turns out that her refugee is a young man, a rather innocent and attractive Belgian. If he brings any chocolate into the house, she’ll be putty in his hands. This mix up is rather weak. Of course, Miss Mardle could arrange to have a woman live with her and someone else could take in Mr. Florian.

I’m worried about Henri who’s very mysterious this episode. His secret life remains so, to a larger extent. He’s giving lots of money to a suspicious looking man, who’s supposed to track a woman down for him. Since he’s gotten on Mr. Thackery’s bad side, Thackery follows him around town looking for dirt. Henri had best watch out. My guess is that while the problem may not be innocent it’s not as bad as it seems. Thackery expects that Henri is a German spy. Poppycock, Thackery. Poppycock.

Things are looking up for Lady Loxley as her husband’s finances are going up since he’s getting kick backs for army procurement deals. She’s been authorized to get a new wardrobe. It’s a pity that Mr. Thackery just couldn’t pick up on the newer trends. All he could show her seemed dated, though I thought the gowns were stunning, just not right for wartime.

Rose was used nicely in this episode. She saved the day as the store must employ women in the warehouse. Their garments made work nearly impossible. No one at the store really knew what to do, but Rose stepped in and figured it all out. Later when Mr. Crab organized shooting practice for store employees, Rose impressed her son Gordon with her expertise. I love seeing these new facets of hers and I’m glad to see she and Harry’s marriage is improving. Yet I do fear Daphne is up to something with Harry. She was needlessly secretive about the card game when she saw Rose.

All in all, the season’s shaping up nicely. The new characters are intriguing, though troublesome and having the mother and girls away makes the cast size more manageable for the writer. I don’t miss Miss Love at all or Harry’s philandering. While that will no doubt return, I’m glad the show isn’t all about infidelity and illicit romance.

Mr Selfridge, Season 2

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Mr. Selfridge’s second season kicked off a couple weeks ago. The first episode picks up as Selfridges’ is about to celebrate its fifth anniversary. Time’s flown by and it shows for some and not for others, which is odd. I was glad to see my favorite characters/actors, but the first episode was strange because the story pretty much wipes aside, or minimizes the problems Harry faced at the end of season 1 when his wife, fed up with his philandering and the public ridicule of a satirical play about Harry, left as did his best friend and most talented colleague, Henri LeClere. As if that weren’t enough, Harry’s reporter pal childishly turned on him, because he wasn’t available mmm.

I found it implausible that Harry wasn’t more affected by isolation. He’s a gregarious man who needs his social network to make him who he is. Without that energy, Harry’s nothing. He’d have hit rock bottom and then had to find new friends as well as new loves. He did find new women to replace his lover Eva Love, but Henri and Frank’s friendships were left void. I didn’t buy that that wouldn’t have left a big hole or that Selfridge would have tried to fill it. I also found it odd that Rose,and Frank would all reappear at the same time. Yes, it’s the anniversary, but someone would have reconnected earlier and others might never have. A weakness in Mr. Selfridge’s scripts is that they build up a problem like Harry getting into a car accident (didn’t happen in real life by the way) with an uninsured Rolls Royce, and then we never hear of the consequences. In the end his big spending and profligate living do Selfridge in. Why not show it?

Kitty selfrdge

It’s just weird that in pre-WWI era Agnes, Kitty and Vincent are still single. One of them would have married. It’s odd that we don’t really know why Henri hit the skids. If J. Walter Thompson, New York didn’t work out, why not return to Chicago’s Marshall Fields, or try Macy’s or Paris? Why would he wind up in squalor? It’s not like he’s a gambler or drinker. (Or is he?)I’m also surprised that Miss Mardle has chosen to stay on at Selfridges and work with her former  lover Mr. Grove as his new, young wife has baby after baby. Only a glutton for punishment would. Since she took a risk on Selfridge’s store, you’d think she’d have the pluck to get a new job.

Amanda Abbington

Amanda Abbington

The second episode, where Henri seems to return for good, had a better storyline. I’m glad that Miss Mardle has come into money. We’ve got some new villains this year. Poor Lady Mae is married to a wife beater, who’s destitute. He’s cut off her funds since he has no money. It’s good to see Harry defend Lady Mae and all women against this abusive blackguard.

Rose is back and has taken up with a new friend, Miss Day whom she met on the ship back to London. Rose needs a few more friends in London, but it’s just too convenient for the writers to make this one the owner of a risqué bar. Mr. Selfridge always tries to titillate in an anachronistic, implausible way.

Agnes’s character and storyline draw me in. I’m happy to see her back from Paris where she apprenticed at Galleries LaFayette. As the new head of display she’s got her hands full, particularly since the new head of fashion took an immediate dislike to her and is doing his best to sabotage her. Thank God, Harry knew that Henri would consider coming back if it were to help this damsel in distress, (whom he loved and left). Though I like Victor, I prefer to see Agnes with Henri. Most characters don’t get two fine young men to choose from. It’s an embarrassment of riches, in a way.