Chief among those the last few days has been a fine and penetrating exegesis of the art of classic American cinema, a dissection of contrasting aesthetic practices as exemplified by two of the primal archetypes of the screen. I refer, you will I'm sure not be surprised to learn, to the evergreen Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud.
Okay, it's trashy - but it's fun trash, even clever in flashes, that actually kind of gets both its leading ladies. And it threw at me a little mystery that I've been enjoying.
In 1935, author Shaun Considine tells us, Bette Davis was in the midst of a hot and heavy romance with her fellow Warners player (and frequent co-star) George Brent. Their affair rapidly cooled, however, supposedly because Brent participated in a bit of studio publicity in which he was called on to name the 12 most beautiful women in Hollywood - and didn't include Davis. Those he did include, Considine adds, were along the lines of Marlene Dietrich, Norma Shearer, Kay Francis, Loretta Young...and Margaret Cartew.
That wasn't a name that even stirred a vague, Marion Marshall/Toby Wing-style free association of blonde hair and broad chorus-girl smiles. I turned, immediately, to the Googles - and found nothing that wasn't quoting from the Feud. I wondered for a bit if Considine had just for the heck of it made it up (rather like the invented film in the original Golden Turkeys book), but persisted. Finally, a more complicated search turned up the actual name, and even some further information about the (mildly) infamous list.
It turns out she was in fact Margaret Carthew, and you won't be shocked to learn that she was a Warners contract starlet. She was a regular in Busby Berkeley's chorus line, but Brent's mention aside, not much really happened, and for reasons unknown she was dead by 1942. That's her, up above, decked out for her place in a big number.
The full list turns up in a UPI story available online (and is the Internet a gift or what?). It includes the expected names and notes that 11 of the 12, at least, "you probably know well." I looked back at the magic dozen and realized that even that wasn't quite so, for in addition to the obscure Miss Carthew, it also included, in between Dietrich and Garbo - Patricia Ellis. Now there's a surprise - a second, unanticipated who?
Ellis, it seems, had a far more substantial career than the other unknown. She was another Warners girl, a WAMPAS baby star, and made 40-odd pictures in the '30s, most now almost comically unknown, with titles like Love Begins at Twenty, The Case of the Lucky Legs, Hold 'Em Yale, and Melody for Two. Her ending is happier than Margaret's, though - she married a businessman from Kansas City and retired, one hopes contentedly.
As compelling as Considine makes the decades-long rolling catastrophe that was the personal and professional intertwining of Davis and Crawford, for some reason it's Carthew and Ellis I keep coming back to. They worked together in Lucky Legs; I wonder if they got along...