Now you’re cooking, just like Cugat says, with gasoline

The CD “Maracas, Marimbas & Mambos: Latin Classics At M-G-M” is one of my favorite CDs. My favorite song on the CD is Xavier Cugat and Lina Romay singing “Take it Easy” from the movie “Two Girls and A Sailor” (1944).

It might seem random that I have a CD collection of Latin favorites from MGM films, but the Spanish songs, fashions and actors were popular in Hollywood and World War II era America.

Walter Winchell Rumba and Lina Romay

Xavier Cugat in “Holiday in Mexico” (1948) performing the song “Yo Te Amo Mucho-And That’s That”

What do you think of when you hear “1940s culture”?  Big band music like Glenn Miller? Swing dancing? Romantic crooners?

Though big band and swing seem to characterize the popular perception of World War II era U.S.A., one of the biggest fads in the United States in the 40’s was Latin and Spanish culture.

Watch any old movie from the 1940s. Actresses are wearing peasant blouses and fiesta skirts and everyone in the night clubs are doing the rumba.

Along with big band artists like Harry James, Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, Xavier Cugat held his own as he directed his Latin orchestra with a violin in one hand and a Chihuahua in the other.

Xavier Cugat, nicknamed “The Rumba King,” popularized Spanish music, particularly the rumba, in the United States.

José Iturbi was another popular Spanish artist during the 1940s. The pianist was featured in several feature films, sometimes accompanied by his sister Amparo.


Donna Reed on a June 1946 cover of LIFE in peasant clothes

The Spanish and Latin influence was not just limited to night club entertainment but also rubbed off on fashion.

No, American women weren’t walking around in traditional Spanish dress, but popular 1940s summer fashions were influenced by Latin culture.

Jane Powell wore a peasant blouse, fiesta skirt and hemp and canvas shoes in “Luxury Liner” (1948). The July 17, 1944 LIFE magazine cover features a model wearing what was known as the “Peasant Clothes.” She is wearing a lose, capped sleeve blouse, a flared striped skirt and wedged hemp shoes.

Western movies also incorporated Latin fashions as many films had Mexican Vaqueros sporting ponchos and sombreros and women in traditional Mexican dresses.

Jane Russell in the 1943 film “The Outlaw” wore a peasant styled blouse which showed off her rather famous chest.  Linda Darnell also wore a similar outfit in the 1946 movie “My Darling Clementine.”

Fly Rio, Rio by the sea-o

Movies reflected the Spanish influence interest with fashions, music, location and even film title. Some films in the 1940s were:

Down Argentine Way (1940)
Week-End in Havana (1941)
Holiday In Mexico (1946)
•Thrill in Brazil (1946)

Other movies like “Gilda” (1946) or “Romance on the High Seas” (1948) are located in South America and take part in Carnival.

Movies based in small town America exhibit the interest in Latin culture. In “A Date with Judy” (1948)  Carmen Miranda teaches Wallace Beery how to rumba so he can dance with his wife, Selena Royal, for their anniversary. Even Charles Laughton was doing the rumba with Deanna Durbin in “It Started with Eve” (1941).

Spanish actors like Carmen Miranda and Lupe Velez were popular in film. American actresses like Cyd Charisse and Linda Darnell frequently played Spanish roles when they were clearly American.

MGM had very American girl and boy next door actors Esther Williams and Van Johnson singing in Portuguese to “Bonecu de Pixe” at a party in “ Easy to Wed” (1946). Williams said they were trained by Carmen Miranda and she felt ridiculous singing in Portuguese since she was butchering the language, according to her autobiography “The Million Dollar Mermaid.”

Esther and Van dancing to “Bonecu de Pixe” in Easy to Wed.


I’m not sure why there was this obsession with Latin and Spanish culture in the United States. I personally love it and wish we could bring it back. Here are a few speculations I have of why 1930s and 1940s America was so interested in the culture.

•Rudolph Valentino was the big Latin lover in the 1920s. After he died suddenly, they tried to replace him with other “Latin Lover” types like Ricardo Cortez, who was actually of Austrian decent. Maybe Valentino set off the Latin interest, especially because of his sudden death that left fans mourning.

• In several of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, large dance numbers were featured that had a Latin beat or style of dancing. Some of these dances included the “Carioca” and the “The Continental.” This might have set off the interest of rumbas and Xavier Cugat.

•Eva Peron was a glamour and fashion icon in Argentina. She even modeled her clothing and hair style after Ginger Rogers, according to Rogers’ autobiography “Ginger: My Story.” Maybe her fashion and glamour interested Americans.

•During World War II, Americans could not easily take trips to Europe. South America seemed like the next best place to go abroad. It’s funny to hear of people in the movies going to Cuba since we don’t have the best relationship with them now.

What is your opinion?

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RIP Patricia Neal

Patricia Neal in the 1960s

The first time I ever saw Patricia Neal was in the Waltons Christmas movie “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story” (1973). In the Waltons pilot, she wasn’t glamorous and was a mother of seven children and living on a farm during the depression.

Many people remember Neal as being sexy in her own way but never glamorous. Paul Newman wanted her in “Hud” and George Prepard used her in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” but many forget her early days as a studio actor.

She was groomed as a Warner Brother’s glamour girl and was dubbed the “next Garbo” by Jack L. Warner, according to Stephen Michael Shearer’s book “Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life.”

Her first role was a romantic, screw-ball comedy with Ronald Reagan, “John Loves Mary” (1949). It was a role that was more suited for Jane Wyman or Eleanor Parker and Neal looked uncomfortable in the role. Neal was a stage actress who entered the studio scene after World War II. She was too late for that type of role, because they were on their way out.

Glamorous Patricia Neal

“Her way with a gag line is painful,”said Bosley Crowther, New York Times critic from 1940 to 1967, about “John Loves Mary“.

After her role in “The Fountainhead” (1949) and several other mediocre films, Neal’s Hollywood career waned and Warner Brothers did not want to renew her contract, according to her New York Times obituary. She went back to acting in plays, but came back with a bang in “A Face in the Crowd” (1957).

Like Dennis Hopper, I like to remember Miss Neal in her glamour days at Warner Brothers, no matter how bad her films were. (I will say I didn’t mind the “Washington Story” but maybe that is because Van Johnson was in it). I suppose, I like to remember her from that time, because it is often forgotten and I simply like the 1940s and 1950s better than the 1960s.

I think it’s important to explore the early part of a great actor’s career, because it is amazing to see where they ended up.

Farewell, Patricia. You were a great actress and will be missed.

Did you know?
-Patricia Neal and writer Roald Dahl were married from 1950 to 1983.
-She suffered from a stroke in the 1960s while she was pregnant and was only 39 and had to learn how to walk again.
-She is the mother of 5 children.
-She and Gary Cooper had a torrid affair during the filming of “Fountainhead.”
-She was offered the role of Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate” but turned it down due to her stroke.
Source: IMDB and New York Times

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Actress Beauty Tips # 3: Cold Cream Cleansing

This is the third installment of our monthly classic actress beauty tips that I have read about AND tested.

Gina Lollobrigida cold creaming in 1953

This post is a bit different. The last two beauty tips I found after reading up on old actresses’ beauty secrets. This beauty tip was one I have observed being practiced by numerous actresses in films.

LIFE photographer Walter Sanders putting cold cream on Betty Grable’s famous legs in 1943

Who hasn’t seen a film that an actress is slathering her face with cold cream as she is getting ready for a night on the town,  going to bed or getting a facial in an upscale salon?  I know Jean Harlow has her face covered in cream as she is at a beauty parlor in “Red-Headed Woman” (1932) after working her way up in society by nabbing a rich man, and I’m sure that several women are getting facials with cold cream in the upscale beauty spa “The Women” (1939).

Early in my high school years, I saw these perfect actresses with the cold cream facials and thought, “Maybe that would work for me.” I tried it a few times, found that my skin would feel softer and cleaner, but never made it part of my nightly ritual.

This summer I would come home after a hot day at my internship at a newspaper feeling greasy, dirty and like my make-up was caking on my face. Previously, I read in teen magazines like “YM” that you should wash your face twice: once to get off the make-up and once to clean the skin.  (I generally just wash my face with plain soap and water-either Ivory soap or a gentle Neutrogena bar soap).

Even after washing my face twice I still was breaking out and felt dirty. I remembered the actresses cleaning their skin with cold cream and decided to do the same.

Cold Cream Cleansing:

Cold creaming up my face

1.) Find a jar of cold cream. A large jar is probably $5 or $6, but it lasts forever. I use Pond’s Cool Cucumber Classic; it’s very smooth, creamy and has a very light scent.

2.) With your skin dry, lather your face up with cold cream. I apply it pretty liberally in order to have enough to rub into my skin.

3.) Rub, pat and smooth the cold cream on your skin. If I’m washing it off immediately I sometimes close my eyes and rub it over my eyelashes to get eyeliner and mascara off.

4.) Rub the cold cream into your skin as long as you want. It’s not going to sink in like lotion. I generally rub it until it turns to a slick, greasy consistency.

5.) Wipe or wash off. If you simply wipe your face with a dry tissue or wash cloth, you will still feel greasy depending on your skin type. I have oily skin so I wash off the cold cream.

6.) After washing off the cold cream, I follow-up with a second washing to make sure all cold cream and make-up residue is gone.

7.) Your skin will be left feeling fresh, clean and soft.

To Review: After cleansing with cold cream almost every day this summer, my skin has been clearer and smoother. I was in Minneapolis, M.N. for a few days last week and came home broken out. My skin is pretty sensitive, so sometimes water in different areas in the country causes me to break out. When I came home, I lathered up with cold cream and scrubbed with Boraxo and was back to normal.

Check back September 1 for the next beauty tip!

P.S. I have to apologize for not giving an update for on a follow up test of champagne hair rinsing. I might do a mid-month beauty tip and a half for that. I haven’t had a chance to test it again, sorry guys.

Happy cold creaming!

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