collection is unusual in that all of the signatures are on
vintage Stetson cowboy hat - on the crown, on the brim,
and even under
the brim. The signatures, executed by fountain pens
before the days of ballpoints), virtually all date from
period. I immediately thought of it as "The
This was an
interesting era in Hollywood history. In the late
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded,
Chinese Theater started collecting foot and handprints,
Stars were all the rage and movies went from silent to
"talkies." As I researched the names on the hat, I
realize how the switch to talking pictures affected many
of the hat's
signers. Like fictional George Valentin in "The
of big-time careers crashed with the advent of sound,
hat signers - Eleanor Boardman, Norman Kerry, Pauline
Varconi, Aileen Pringle, and most famously, John Gilbert.
But the first question on my mind was "Whose hat was
came up with what we can call Theory #1.
Theory #1: The Stetson hat was worn by one very
autograph collector who spent years haunting Hollywood
Boulevard. The doorman at the Brown Derby probably
on sight. And what a great gimmick. Rather
shoving pen and paper at a movie star, ask them to sign
a ten gallon
cowboy hat. Who could resist? Judging by the
of signatures, no one.
As I made a list of every name on the hat, it slowly
dawned on me that
quite a few of the signers were contract players at
M-G-M and, to a
lesser extent, at Fox, the two studios on the West Side
Angeles. There's hardly anyone from Warner
or RKO, all located on the other side of town.
I decided to vote Theory #1 off the island, and
developed Theory #2.
Theory #2: The dedicated autograph collector hung
out at the
front gates of M-G-M and Fox, which are conveniently
connected by a
winding street called Motor Avenue. Local lore is
Avenue was built to cut down on the commute time between
studios; it only takes about 10 minutes to toodle up or
connects M-G-M and 20th-Century Fox
But then I started spotting autographs of directors
Spielberg or Hitchcock, who the hell asks a director for
autograph?) - King Vidor, W.S. Van Dyke, Roy Del Ruth,
Leonard, Thornton Friedland, Alfred E. Green, Archie
okay, it's time to tool up Theory #3.
W. S. Van Dyke
Theory #3: This hat belonged to an insider -
someone who had
frequent access to the two studios. Maybe they
were an extra
or maybe the hat belonged to a movie crew member. The
working against Theory #3 is an immutable law of
Hollywood once behind
the studio walls - don't bother the stars.
The hat is a crazy quilt of
signatures, and I kept seeing new
names. On the underbrim, I was stopped cold by the
of British playwright G. Bernard Shaw. What on
earth is the
signature of George Bernard Shaw doing on this
hat? I know
Shaw visited Hollywood in his lifetime.
1933. For just three hours.
George Bernard Shaw
I asked myself
again: Whose hat was this?
Over 90 per cent of the names on the Stetson were actors
plus the aforementioned directors as well as a gaggle of
Heavyweight Boxing Champions (more about them
then, in the midst of all this celebrated celebrity,
there were the
"John Hancocks" of four men who worked in studio make-up
departments. No set designers. No costume
designers. No sound recorders or music
Just four make-up men. Curious.
Theory #4: The hat belonged to someone in the
department at M-G-M or Fox. Make-up people would
access to stars at their most relaxed and vulnerable,
when they're just
sitting there with nothing better to do than autograph a
The four make-up artists who signed the hat were:
who led M-G-M's Make-Up Department from 1935 to 1950,
and who is best
known for his ground-breaking work on "The Wizard of
Ward Hamilton with a raft of credits for Errol Flynn
movies at Warner
Brothers; Blagoe "Bob" Stephanoff, who worked on such
classics as "Wuthering Heights" and "The Best Years of
Lives"; and Cecil Holland, a silent screen
who started the first big studio make-up department in
newly-formed M-G-M. Unfortunately, there's no
chance to ask
them if they remember signing the hat; all four men
passed on many
is Born - Testing eyebrows -- and the "Crawford
Gaynor in 1937's "A Star is Born." One of the
make-up department scenes -- ever.
So, I've got a hat filled with
autographs from the 1928-1936 time period, which was
situated (maybe) in the M-G-M and Fox make-up
Only three people who signed the hat are still alive -
Mickey Rooney and Jackie Cooper.
As I'm pondering how to
proceed in unlocking the provenance of the hat, I read
in the LA Times
that Jackie Cooper just died. Oops. Make
people still alive. And honestly, Mickey and
have had seriously wackadoodle childhoods. Rooney,
1920, had been in movies since the age of 6, racking up
over 40 screen
credits by the time he was 10. As for Temple, an
told me of being on the Fox lot in the 1930s and as he
Shirley's bungalow, he could see her outside, marching
in a circle
repeating to herself: "I am Jesus. I am
Jesus." I'm not accusing Shirley of a
son-of-god-like ego (by
all accounts, she grew up to be grounded and "normal");
that she was just repeating something an adult said in
(probably with a cigar dangling from the corner of his
mouth): "The kid is as big as Jesus!"
Like I said - wackadoodle childhoods. Temple was
one box office star from 1935-1938; Rooney was number
one from 1939 to
1941. Autographing a cowboy hat wouldn't be in
Mickey's or Shirley's top 100 memories during their kid
(I wrote to Temple and Rooney, but never got a
I did some
research on early studio
make-up departments. And
I found out… almost nothing. Hardly any movies
credits during the 20's and 30's and the bios I find of
Stephanoff and Holland are brief. There is a
Holland had a daughter, Margaret, born in 1927, who
excelled as a portrait artist. I find out,
still active with a website. Just before I left
vacation in Italy, I emailed her an inquiry in the
off-chance, Hail-Mary-pass kind of way, asking if she
to her Dad's "office" when she was a very little girl
and seeing a
beige cowboy hat covered with movie star signatures
somewhere in the
M-G-M Make-up Department. We all have odd memories
childhoods, and I hoped the hat was one of hers.
later, I'm in an internet cafe in Rome plowing through
emails when I see Ms. Sargent has replied. I open
email and read:
was delighted to receive your email
with a request for information about the
hat. You have reached
the right person for
its background. It was my father,
Cecil Holland, who got all those
signatures from the
actors who sat in his makeup chair… many of whom later
… It was his
pride and joy."
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Cecil Holland
sign the hat. He owned
the hat. Suddenly, just like
that, there's divine provenance.
How do you say "I'm doing the happy dance" in
Italian? I have
no idea, but I do know I spent the day exploring the
Colosseum with my
thoughts binging and boinging like a pinball machine
visions of Christians, gladiators, and lions and
made up for "Our Dancing Daughters."
Los Angeles has always attracted
certain men and women whose dreams and
abilities are on steroids, and to whom no 9-to-5 job can
justice. These people are larger-than-life in some
and need to exist outside the box in order to
carry bazookas of ambition and talent, while the rest of
us are armed
with water pistols. I think of them as
"characters," not in
the Damon Runyon kind of way, but as one-offs, unique in
what they add
to the world. Cecil Holland was this kind of
in 1925, photographed by Clarence Bull.
Of medium stature with
even features, thin lips and impossibly thick and wavy
hair, Cecil was
an accomplished actor, engraver, etcher, photographer,
maker, sculptor, wood carver and most importantly, a
deeply talented make-up artist. He was
admired, respected and liked by co-workers. As a
teacher to a generation of other make-up artists,
Holland was more than
well-regarded and remembered with great fondness as the
Cecil Holland was born in very comfortable circumstances
Victorian era on May 29, 1887 in Gravesend-on-Thames,
not that far
outside London, England. The location was key, as
descended from a long line of ship's captains licensed
to pilot on the
Thames River. Although he was fascinated with
sculpting as a child, Cecil was expected to continue the
tradition, and, at 15, dutifully or excitedly, or both,
on a three-masted barque, "The Harold of London,"
As 1902 predates the opening of the Panama Canal by a
dozen years, the
westward-bound ship went all the way around South
legendarily rough waters, and then up the west coast of
America. After six months of being seasick every
a new meaning to the term: "Heave, Ho"), Cecil had
enough, and bid farewell to his "destiny." He
jumped ship in
Holland made his way to Seattle, where, in 1904, he
joined the first of
several traveling theatrical road shows. While
winding through the west over the next decade, he
graduating from "member of the crowd" to speaking
Because he wasn't the leading man type, he absorbed all
he could about
make-up, having determined that versatility in one's
appearance was the
way to succeed as a character actor.
Cecil finally wound up in Los Angeles in 1913, at the
very dawn of the
motion picture business, when film production companies
up everywhere. He briefly worked as a stuntman in
for three bucks a day and sometimes found himself the
target of live
ammunition (because films were silent, directors needed
"ping" of flying dirt and nothing could do that as well
bullets). With self-preservation as motivation,
successfully promoted himself as a very castable
broadcasting his ability to transform himself - through
make-up - into
a vast variety of character types and ethnicities.
He got his
first verifiable screen acting credit in 1914 in "The
Mystery of the
He simultaneously publicized himself as a make-up
the September, 1916 issue of "Picture-Play," a trade
wrote an article called "Making Myself Miserable,"
he describes, in detail, some of his
including that of "Death" itself in "Man With an Iron
Heart" (you start
with a pound of putty to turn the face into a skull).
Holland claimed that creating facial features that
character's thoughts "is the greatest joy I have ever
Sounds like someone has found his metier.
"Making Myself Miserable"
this issue of "Picture-Play Magazine.
Talmadge on the cover.
up as Death
"Man With An Iron Heart."
A gifted make-up man
like Holland was a golden asset to any film
Actors were responsible for doing their own make-up and
many of them
were inept or wildly inconsistent from day to day.
It was not
uncommon to have to throw out a day's worth of film
because of how bad
some make-up looked on screen. If you hired
Holland to act,
you also had him to work on the other actors'
thrived on these challenges.
From 1913-1917 Cecil made at least 22 movies, most with
titles like "The White Light of Publicity," "The
of Agra" and "The Lad and the Lion." Some of the
produced by Fox and Paramount, but mostly they were made
Polyscope, where Holland was a contract stock
player. It is
very likely Holland made far more than 22 movies during
period. Unlike today, where listing the cast and
who worked on a film can take an endless 7 or 8 minutes
to scroll out,
Hollywood was very stingy with credits in those days,
and usually just
a handful of the actors appearing in a movie got screen
credit. And since a huge majority of the films
the Teens are lost, it is, a century later, an era
cloaked in some
mystery. Cecil's early years in Hollywood wear
When the U.S. entered World War 1 in 1917, Cecil
enlisted in the Army and was assigned to the 316th
C, 91st Division. After training for more than a
Holland arrived in France in August of 1918, just in
time for fierce
and ceaseless fighting in the Argonne region. The
Engineers' job partly involved repairing roads, bridges,
to speed the advance of the U.S. troops. This was
line work, and highly dangerous. Unlike dodging
bullets as a
stuntman, this was the real thing.
before the armistice in
November, Cecil, now a Sergeant,
joined a theatrical troupe of enlistees to provide
soldiers - an early version of a USO show. This
tour continued into 1919 and earned him a government
commendation. And his service in the U.S. Army
earned him US
Cecil Holland, dressed for combat, in Europe in 1918
OF 1,000 FACES
Holland returned to Hollywood by early 1920. Given
three-year absence in Hollywood is like a 50 year
else, it's a testament to Holland's talents that he was
business almost immediately, transforming
Bull Montana into a gorilla for a melodrama, "Go and Get
To help publicize that he was back in town, Cecil wrote
a series of
articles on movie make-up for "Camera" magazine, a
motion picture trade
publication, and was the solo performer in a
"Camera"-produced short called "The Mind of Man."
Holland plays all five very different-looking
characters, and at the
end of the short, shows the viewer how he did it through
the magic of
In 1921, Cecil did make-up for the Mary Pickford
"Little Lord Fauntleroy" and "The Love Light," as
well as a
Jackie Coogan starrer, "My Boy." At the time, Mary
was inarguably the most famous woman in the world and
Coogan, fresh off
Charlie Chaplin's "The Kid," was the hottest child star
Hollywood. Holland was most definitely "A-List."
Cecil also performed in a pair of Paramount pix called
Impersonation" and "A Wise Fool." Cecil promoted himself
as "The Man of
1000 Faces." I know. You think this was Lon
Chaney's monicker. And you're right. But not
Cecil gifted his pal with the title years later.
1922 brought roles in four more movies, with Holland
characters in the best known of them, the Rudolph
"Moran of the Lady Letty." This is the only Cecil
silent movie I was able to locate on DVD, and I can
report he was quite
a good actor, with an expressive face and considerable
"presence." And his dual make-up concoctions made
virtually impossible to tell it was the same actor
playing the parts -
a Mexican bandit and an old seaman who shanghais
Holland (left) and Rudolph
Valentino in yachting cap (center)
in "Moran of the Lady Letty."
1922, the 35 year old Holland eloped with Norma
years his junior. To top off the year, Cecil
two-year contract with Samuel Goldwyn Pictures as a
stock player, while
continuing freelance make-up work all over town.
The media started
paying attention to Cecil Holland. There are
this era in the "Los Angeles Times" entertainment pages
Norma [Shearer]'s Face His Doings" and "Holland to Hand
Black Eye." It's clear that if the LA Times had
speed dial in
those days, Holland's name and number would have been
next to the entry
for "story on movie make-up."
1925 was a watershed
year for Holland. He started off by transforming
Montana into an apeman - again - but this time for "The
one of the best remembered of all silent movies.
Bull Montana as an apeman in "The Lost World."
making up Bull Montana for "The Lost World."
was then signed to an acting contract by one-year old
much more significantly, Cecil was hired by M-G-M
chief Louis B. Mayer to form a permanent make-up
department, the first
to exist at a major motion picture studio.
was a factory with films rolling off the assembly line
about once a
week. Having a make-up department that produced
reliable, and even inspired make-up was an indispensable
part of the
It is likely that one of Holland's first assignments at
M-G-M was the
gargantuan epic "Ben-Hur". Over 3,000 extras for
chariot race sequence were tended to by a small army of
using Max Factor body paint (at 600 gallons, it was
order to date). And in addition to working his
famous faces and not so famous faces (M-G-M, like all
constantly making screen tests of potential contract
had considerable administrative challenges - setting up
make-up facility, hiring and training other make-up
artists, not to
mention analyzing the make-up needs of 50+ films and
shorts a year.
With those kinds of responsibilities (think of tending
to those famous
M-G-M stars - Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford,
Lillian Gish, Buster Keaton, Marion Davies, Renee
Adoree, Mae Murray,
Ramon Novarro! Norma Desmond was right; they
faces then), it's not surprising that Cecil only had
time to appear in
small roles in two films during 1925 and 1926.
There was "The
Show," a goulash about a Hungarian carnival troupe
directed by Tod
Browning and "The Blackbird," starring Holland's good
friend Lon Chaney
(one can just imagine their conversations about
A 1927 MGM advertisement featuring
some of their stars, almost-stars
and supporting players. Cecil is in the upper
With some naked ladies around the border, this was
probably created for
not the general public.
1927, Holland's wife gave birth to their daughter,
a son, Richard, who'd arrived a few years earlier, and
by then they
residing, with a live-in servant, in a hillside house
with a pool up on
Hazen Drive in the Coldwater Canyon section of Beverly
Hills. The house had a tunnel into the mountain
which led to
a secret barroom (the influence of Prohibition on
and Norma Holland at home.
Check out those spats Cecil is wearing.
house was filled with mementos picked up on
circa 1926, thanks to an
M-G-M publicity still.
The house is quintessential 1920's - filled
with velvet furniture, dark walls,
heavy curtains to keep out the California sunlight.
was also the year when Cecil
capitalize on his official M-G-M title - Director of
"self-promotion" is the lifeblood of Los Angeles.
It must be
something in the water out here. Cecil had a plan
to open a
school for aspiring make-up artists. And to make
known to those wannabes beyond the small world of
Hollywood, he wrote
the very first book on movie make-up, a slim hardcover
volume of not
than 100 pages called The
of Make-Up for Stage & Screen.
Holland wrote the
first book ever written on the art of movie make-up.
book's first pages are devoted to lengthy
swearing to Holland's prodigious talents, signed by Mary
Douglas Fairbanks, Norma Shearer and John Gilbert, among
others. To top that, there's an erudite preface
Lon Chaney that stresses Holland's quarter of a century
actor; Chaney assures the reader that Cecil knows his
The fact that Cecil is the Director of Make-Up
at M-G-M is
mentioned frequently. Holland understood the
"branding" before there was a name for it.
book is jam-packed with the "how-to" for everything from
"straightening" a nose through make-up to the skinny on
wrinkles, harelips and looking Asian (a Holland
By way of illustration, the book is peppered with
of Holland in a dozen disguises - The Fisherman, The
Pirate, The Clown, The Witch, the Chinaman, the Sheik,
startlingly, as Jesus backlit with a heavenly halo --
many of which
used in his M-G-M composite picture.
All nine of the characters in this 1925 M-G-M
composite are Cecil
the original "Man of 1,000 Faces."
Cecil Holland as You Know Who
lots of little tricks revealed, one of the most
surprising being that
replicate the look of a blind man with milky white where
should be, cover the actor's eyeball with the
translucent inner skin of
an eggshell. Holland had used this trick on an
Raymond Bloomer back in "The Love Light" in 1921, and
reputedly used it in "The Road to Mandalay" in 1926.
The Art of
Make-up ends with a list of Max Factor products
should have, including Grease Paint Tubes and Liquid
Body Make-Up in
many shades including Mikado (I'm guessing this is an
Asian). There's also a glossary of non-cosmetic
make-up artist needs to keep in his "toolbox" for
features - mortician's Plasto wax, flexible and
(used for "new skin" and "scarred skin"), guttapercha
this for temporary fillings), fish skin (a medical
product useful for
pulling the skin and making Caucasian eyes look
asked make-up artist Roy Helland (who's won an
Oscar and an
Emmy doing hair and make-up for Meryl Streep for 30
years, so he knows
a thing or two hundred about transformative make-up) if,
later, these were non-cosmetic products you could still
find today, and
he said "Yes. In a museum."
I can't find any record of Cecil's School of Make-Up
it may have been a time-management casualty of the
Talkies. The upheaval caused by going from silent
sound pictures wasn't just about which star had a
mellifluous voice; it
also greatly affected the technical aspects of
movie make-up. Silents were shot with noisy carbon
Adding microphones to a movie set necessitated a switch
tungsten lights. But, the orthochromatic film that
used since the early Teens wasn't sensitive enough to
images with the new lighting. An industry-wide
panchromatic film occurred. Panchromatic film
more light -- "end-of-the-world-with-a-bang" kind of
light, to be
precise. And more light required a new approach to
and make-up application - different make-up, less
shades and much more thinly applied.
Replacing the actors who didn't make the switch to sound
were a raft of
new M-G-M stars - Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Jean
during this transition period, Cecil made his final
appearance in a
film - a cameo, if you will - in his one and only talkie
- "Mata Hari,"
filmed in 1931. The script called for Greta Garbo
to ask a
question of a blinded WWI soldier during a hospital
visit to her lover,
Ramon Novarro. Cecil, using the old egg shell skin
played the part himself.
Goodbye, Silver Screen.
Cecil Holland's last film role is a blind soldier
who has a brief encounter with Greta Garbo in 1931's
is very affecting in the
"Mata Hari" scene, exhibiting a serene and still
demeanor and speaking
in a tenor-ish voice with a mid-Atlantic accent.
years on stage, he was very adept at accents, so there's
no way of
knowing if this was his off-screen voice, too. And
have a swan song in moving pictures, there are worse
ways to do it than
playing a scene with Greta Garbo in her prime.
Around this same time, Cecil was developing extensive
make-up for Helen
Hayes in "The Sin of Madelon Claudet," the hoariest
story of mother
love ever put on the screen (it makes "Stella Dallas"
and "Madame X"
look like episodes of "Modern Family.") Hayes has
to age over
30 years in this saga of a sweet young thing who is
abandoned by her
fiancee, gives birth out of wedlock, is thrown out by
marries an older man who turns out to be a jewel thief,
is sentenced to
10 years in prison although she's committed no crime,
and then turns to
prostitution and petty thievery to not only survive but
pay for her
estranged son's medical school studies. Are you
seeing all of
the amazing make-up opportunities here? Holland
did, and gave
Hayes a half dozen realistic looks as she inexorably
slid down the
rungs of the social ladder. Of course the film was
a huge hit
and won Hayes the Best Actress Oscar for 1931-32.
helped her win that Academy Award in the same way the
creator of the
Virginia Woolf nose helped Nicole Kidman win her Oscar
for "The Hours."
A week or so after the film's premiere, Hayes wrote
of last summer has turned out to be a triumphant
in New York. I have received great praise for
makeup. It makes me feel guilty, so I hereby
praise to you, where it belongs. I'm ever so
your patience and artistry.
and good luck.
A feature on Hollywood make-up appeared in
"Chums," a British magazine
in 1932 with two pictures on the right of Holland at
Pictures by such eminent M-G-M staff photographers as
Clarence Bull had
been taken of Cecil at work as early as his first year
studio. There are photos memorializing him
finishing out an
eyebrow for Joan Crawford in 1928's "Our Dancing
Daughters" (the silent
film that rocketed her to stardom); of drawing the
circle around the
eye of Pete the dog from the Our Gang comedies; of
creation of the grenade-caused scars on the right side
of Lewis Stone's
face in "Grand Hotel"; and of making Boris Karloff look
sinister and Asian for the 1932 "The Mask of Fu Manchu."
next door to Holland, and his co-star, Myrna Loy,
moved in just around the corner several years later --
Hollywood isn't a small town?) In all of the
photographs, Cecil expertly plays the part of the
focused and serious
make-up artist, allowing the "star" to be the true
center of attention.
Cecil Holland working his magic on the eyes of
for 1928's "Our Dancing Daughters."
Drawing the circle around the eye of Pete the dog
for the "Our Gang"
Applying final touches to the war wounds on the
face of Lewis Stone for
under the watchful eye of director Edmund Goulding.
remembered best for playing Judge Hardy in the Andy
of films, also uttered one of the best-remembered
closing lines in a
"Grand Hotel. People come. People go.
Nothing ever happens."
Stone was a contract player at M-G-M from its
inception in 1924 until
his death in 1953 -- the longest-known uninterrupted
association of an
actor and a
Karloff Asian (and sinister) for "The Mask of Fu
from 1932 is a
picture of Holland using a magnifying loupe to check
just-finished maquillage of Jean Harlow at her most
she sits in a barber's chair dressed in a polka dot
Spring-o-later-style pumps. I love this
It's set in what is clearly Cecil's "office." On
the wall is
a picture of him with wife Norma and their son, a copy
1925 composite pic and a bevy of framed portraits of
him in character
make-up. Center stage is the
photograph of Holland as Jesus, which is flanked by
smaller pictures of
Cecil's parents (I wouldn't touch the symbolism of
that with a 10 foot
long tube of lipstick). But, all of the
his former career don't seem like a desperate
attempt at hanging on to the glory days. They
substitutes for Holland saying to those who sat in his
chair: "Hey. Relax. I'm just like
you. I understand what it's like to be an
So, sit back and don't worry; I'll make you look
Jean Harlow under the Master's gaze.
one of the most stunning discoveries while deciphering
the names on the
hat was that of George Bernard Shaw. In 1933,
playwright and Nobel laureate Shaw visited the United
States for the
only time in his life. Accompanied by his wife,
Shaw was on a year long cruise around the world and got
off his ship,
The Empress of Britain, in San Francisco and went down
the coast to
spend a night at William Randolph Hearst's fabled
Simeon. On the morning of March 28, Hearst
instructed his pilot to fly the Shaws down to the Santa
in Hearst's private plane. The pilot was bedeviled
low coastal fog, and knowing that he'd never find the
airport, made an
emergency landing on the sands of Malibu beach.
the Shaws hitchhiked a ride from a passing UCLA student
them off at the airport, where they were met by Louis B.
Mayer and a
phalanx of his underlings.
George Bernard Shaw with Marion Davies, Louis B.
Mayer and Clark Gable.
Why is nobody having a good time at this lunch?
Once at M-G-M in
nearby Culver City, the Shaws were given an exuberant
tour of the lot
by Cecil Holland. Louis B. Mayer chose Holland
Shaw, he was a Brit, and he assumed the regional
connection would make
for a smooth hour. The hour must have been just
Shaw did sign "the Hollywood Hat." But the rest of
hour visit seems to have gone south. Shaw insulted
those he encountered -- reporters, actors and, judging
by the dour
expressions in the picture above, most, if not all, of
his companions at lunch. The luncheon was hosted by
Marion Davies in her 16 room
"bungalow" dressing room. The guest list included Mayer,
Clark Gable and John Barrymore, to whom Shaw refused an
autograph. Shaw was definitely Mr. Nastypants that
heading back to his ship. For the next week, the
newspapers' chatter and gossip columns were filled with
and the provincial equivalent of "who does he think he
Shaw certainly knew how to make an impression.
After a decade at M-G-M, Holland was ready for a
was almost 50 (do I hear the phrase "mid-life crisis" in
and almost certainly tired of all of the administrative
came with being the head of the Make-Up
loved doing make-up and teaching make-up, not filling
out forms about
make-up. M-G-M's success was also Holland's
success. He stood at the absolute pinnacle of his
and decided to cash in while giving himself new
Cecil did what almost no one in the film business did in
1935; he gave
up a sure-thing contract in the middle of The Great
Depression and went
on to free-lance with a series of short-term, and no
In 1935, Holland first went to newly-formed 20th Century
studio in town, and unpacked his make-up box.
Among the stars
he worked on was Shirley Temple, then the biggest draw
movies. And, while there, he got lots more
signatures on "The
Hollywood Hat" from folks who sat in his chair - among
Rogers, Sonja Henie, and Cesar Romero.
This appears to be where the hat was finally "filled
tell because many of the signatures he only could have
gotten at 20th
are small and appear in those leftover areas of the hat
signatures. The penultimate addition to the hat --
years later -- is actor George
Montgomery, who signed the hat twice, including once
where the hatband
used to be. Born George Montgomery Letz, he didn't
"George Montgomery" until 1940, when he was put under
contract by Fox.
Both Montgomery and Holland shared painting and
hobbies, and I suspect they bonded over these mutual
for Holland to pull the hat out of the closet and have
George sign it.
When M-G-M started "The Good Earth" in 1936, Jack Dawn,
now the head of
M-G-M's Make-Up Department, hired back Cecil for his
transform decidedly Caucasian Luise Rainer into Asian
O-lan, the female
lead character. Dawn worked on the male lead, Paul
Why not cast Asians and save a lot of
Well, with a $2 million dollar budget (six or seven
times the typical
M-G-M budget at this time), the film's producer, Irving
insisted on box office names. And there simply
were no Asian
box office names in 1936.
Transforming Luise Rainer into the Chinese farmer's
"The Good Earth" in 1936.
Production took up
much of 1936, and Holland and Rainer had one colossal
disagreement. Luise wanted her fingernails
manicured. Cecil not only wanted them unpolished,
to put dirt underneath the nails. After all, she
farmer's wife, not a shopgirl in a Peking
emporium. Cecil won
this battle in the name of authenticity, and Rainer won
consecutive Oscar for Best Actress.
In March, 1937, Holland interrupted his free-lancing and
agreed to head
up the Make-Up Department at the Hal Roach Studios. It
was at this
exact point in time that Roach switched the studio's
comedy shorts to A-List features, such as "Topper" with
Cary Grant and
Constance Bennett. It was also in 1937 that a
quest of Holland's finally ended. In the late
Holland, along with other noted make-up artists and hair
formed the "Hollywood Motion Picture Make-Up Artists
Association" as a
first attempt to unionize their profession and affiliate
labor. It took them five years to find a home, and
first with the painters' union; the logic being that
workers used brushes. Finally, in 1937, IATSE,
controlled most of the unions in Hollywood, relented and
gave a charter
to the make-up artists and hair stylists; Local 706 was
Cecil didn't stay at Roach very long; in the summer of
1938, he was
called again by Dawn at M-G-M with a irresistible offer
to work on the
much anticipated "The Wizard of Oz" (talk about
character make-up) and
he finished out the 1930's on the Yellow
Brick Road. "The Wizard of Oz" was such a huge make-up
operation that the prep area filled an entire
The 1940's was a period of active free-lancing for
Holland with stints
at 20th and Warner Brothers, among others. For
most of the
are no credits for Holland that I can find (and Local
706 no longer has
work records from this period). The practice
during the 40's
was to give the head of the Make-Up Department the
screen credit, if
the credit was mentioned at all. An individual who
the Department, whether under contract or as a
invisible. Holland started a sideline business
portraits, and one of his commissions was painting the
pet of Betty
Grable and bandleader Harry James. I'm not sure if
happened because of knowing Grable at 20th or from Betty
being Cecil's nearby neighbors.
Cecil appears to have finished out his career mostly
working at Republic
Pictures. Holland got screen credit for the
make-up on 1949's
"The Fighting Kentuckian" starring John Wayne, and then
1950, a "tense" drama with Fred MacMurray and Claire
1951 saw Cecil's last notable (though uncredited)
achievement in movie
make-up. This came about via Lee Greenway, one of
interns when both were at 20th in the 1930s.
Greenway is most
famous for creating the alien monster make-up worn by
James Arness in
"The Thing From Another World," produced by Howard Hawks
Greenway didn't have the hours each day to apply
make-up, so he hired "Teach" for the task.
Holland and Arness became close during the weeks of
James Arness was the last person to sign "The
reached what may have been mandatory retirement age in
make-up work for good and turned his attention to his
In 1965, at the age of 78, Cecil suffered a paralytic
After extensive therapy, he still had trouble with
Apparently, when the
ability to express the right words failed him, Cecil
reverted back 50
years, and, as in his silent movies, he would act out
what he wanted to
say. In 1973, he was beset by another stroke,
pneumonia. This proved to be too much for him, and
Holland died in Sherman Oaks on June 29, just one month
after his 86th
Cecil left a 40 year legacy of dozens of films in which
he acted and
hundreds of films for which he created the
importantly, for four decades, he had generously and
eagerly shared his
vast knowledge with other make-up artists, training
individuals in the complex and fine art of creating
and beauty (come to think of it, sometimes beauty IS a
And Cecil left behind "The Hollywood Hat."
WINDOW INTO HOLLYWOOD
For me, the hat is a series of windows
into Hollywood and all those who
signed it when the movies first talked. But it was
than that for Holland. His daughter, Meg, says it
"pride and joy." That's a good start. By the
Cecil got to M-G-M, he'd been to the fair and he'd been
block (hell, he'd been around Cape Horn in stormy
a certainty that he recognized that being the Director
of Make-Up at
the biggest, richest, most glamourous and successful
Hollywood was "It." These were the best years of
professional life, and he loved most every minute of
better way to memorialize the daily joy than to get
everyone meaningful to sit in his make-up chair, and to
have all the
signatures in one place - on the hat? It's not
than a high school yearbook where your best friends pick
up a pen and
leave a little piece of themselves for you to remember
Studios are just like small towns -- with couples who
are married, like
Charles Boyer and actress Pat Paterson ...
Charles Boyer and wife Pat Paterson
on board the
French luxury liner Normandie in the
late 1930's. After 44 years of marriage,
Boyer, unable to face life without her,
committed suicide two days later.
George Burns and Gracie Allen ...
When George Burns and Gracie Allen started
vaudeville act in the early 1920's,
George played the illogical character and Gracie
was the "straight
man." Her signature
may have faded on the hat, but thank goodness
the memory of her
whimsical comedy hasn't.
and couples the public thought should
be married, like William Powell
and Myrna Loy ...
William Powell and Myrna Loy made a whopping 14
During the time they made these movies, they
were married to others a
total of 5 times,
but never to each other. Asta, played by a
terrier named Skippy,
was their co-star in the popular "The Thin Man"
Skippy didn't make
a paw print on the hat.
and Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.
If Nelson Eddy had his way, he and
MacDonald would have been married in real life.
During much of the time they were teamed on 8
musicals, the two had an
off-again romance, with Eddy pressuring
MacDonald to marry him and give
up her career.
There are two great publicity
photographs M-G-M took of Holland in 1932. One is
Gable on the staircase in the back of the dressing room
Gable has the hat with his hand holding a pen at
precisely the place on
the hat where he signed it. M-G-M's caption says
signatures on the hat which is typical Hollywood
hyperbole; there were
probably no more than 250 at the time. Gable is
but Holland is looking at the hat.
other photograph is of Cecil
alone, wearing the hat, with a vast expanse of the
underbrim still to
be filled in. The camera catches him with a
is clearly proud to be wearing this hat. (And, on
sartorial note, he's wearing a collar pin, a tie tac and
Provenance doesn't get any better than this.
Cecil Holland sporting his "pride
& joy," October 1932.
Once "complete," the
hat was stored in Cecil's foyer
closet on Hazen Drive. His family says that
often take it out of the closet and show it off to
Although it wasn't yet a dazzling historical pop culture
sure it sparkled plenty when the names were still
By the way, Holland wasn't the only make-up artist to
have an unusual
way of collecting autographs. Clay Campbell, who
years as a make-up artist, most of those years heading
Pictures' Make-Up Department, had over two thousand of
the actresses he
beautified put their fresh lip imprints on pieces of
paper and then
Sheldon O'Connell's book about Clay Campbell's collection
of 2,000 lip
George Westmore, the patriarch of multi-generations of
(his sons, at one time or another, ran practically every
make-up department) also collected about 100 autographs
in a small
leather-bound album. It was available in the
Debbie Reynolds auction, and, even in terrible condition
damage, loose pages, etc. - it sold for more than
interesting piece of trivia is that when M-G-M sent
Cecil Holland to
England on studio business for a few months in 1929,
was his temporary replacement as the Director of Make-Up
And the hat wasn't Cecil's only experience with
During World War I, he'd been contacted by a British
organization, requesting signed movie star pictures to
cheer up wounded
veterans. He assembled over 100 of them and
shipped them off
to England. And, a few years ago, a hardbound copy
Wizard of Oz" came up for auction in England. It
signed by all the principal cast members of the 1939
movie, and the
auction catalog noted that the book had been a gift to
great-grandfather, a friend of Cecil Holland, who had
the book signed
during production of the film. The book sold for
equivalent of $10,000.
Cecil had the cast sign this copy of "The
of Oz" as a
gift for a friend,
which, 70 years later, sold at auction for $10,000.
OF THE HAT
The "demographics" of the hat tell us a lot about
too. 80% of the signers are men and only 20% of
are woman. It's not that Cecil couldn't do beauty
(Gloria Swanson, Jeanette MacDonald, Joan Crawford - and
playing stay-at-home Moms in housecoats and curlers),
on actors more rewarding. Walter Huston once
photo to Cecil which called him "God's gift to character
actors." Such were Holland's talents at painting
a face that I think that's where he spent most of his
The hat is filled with the names of dozens and dozens of
actors. The names might not be familiar, but the
see their picture, the response is "Oh, that guy.
him in a hundred movies."
It's also interesting
to realize who, among the M-G-M stars Cecil worked on,
didn't sign the
hat. For one, there's Greta Garbo, which isn't a
shock. Garbo famously signed almost nothing but
contracts. In the 1995 book "Garbo" by Barry
relates Greta's response to the thousands of fan letters
every week at M-G-M, and which were burned,
"Who are all these people who write? I don't know
them. They don't know me. What have we to
each other about? Why do they want my
not their relative." A hilarious response.
astute. And very practical.
Barrymore as Rasputin in "Rasputin and the Empress."
Make-up by Cecil Holland. Barrymore did the
and gave it to Holland at the end of the shoot. For
Lionel Barrymore never signed the hat.
Eight years is a long
time to collect autographs and Cecil mistakenly had some
sign the hat
twice, including character actors Walter Huston, Lee
Nagel, C. Aubrey Smith, and Roland Young, as well
platinum bombshell herself, Jean Harlow. The
signatures may be the rarest on the hat. She was
around her fans and rarely signed in-person
it is well-known in the autograph community that
virtually all of the
signed photographs of Harlow now floating around were
by her mother, Mama Jean.
Walter Huston 1
Walter Huston 2
C. Aubrey Smith 1
C. Aubrey Smith 2
Jean Harlow 1
Jean Harlow 2
The "demographics" of fame
as represented by the names who signed the
hat are fascinating. "Lasting fame" is measured in
ways in Hollywood. Foremost is earning an Oscar
or, better yet, the statuette itself. Every Oscar
knows that the lead sentence in his or her obituary will
"Tonight, Oscar winner ________________ died in
___________________ (choose one: Cedars
Sinai Hospital/St. John's Hospital/at home) after a
___________________(choose one: long battle/short
_________________ (choose one: cancer/substance
The Academy Award is simply the universal emblem of
achievement in the
film business. Nothing else comes close.
Among the signers of the hat, there are 60 individuals
nominated for an Oscar 134 times. And there are 31
(reaping a total of 41 Academy Awards), including the
Bernard Shaw (screenplay for "Pygmalion," 1938).
publicly pooh-poohed the award, but kept his Oscar
displayed on his mantel for the remainder of his life.
Even more exclusive than the Oscars is the forecourt of
Chinese Theatre, filled with the hand and foot prints of
immortals. A couple of thousand Oscars have been
but there are only about 250 stars represented at
you an exact number, but do you count or not count R2D2,
C3PO and Roy
Rogers' horse Trigger?) There are a variety of
how the footprints ceremonies began, but most agree
Norma Talmadge was
the first to get cement on her hands and shoes in
1927. Since then, there have only been an average
stars added each year. Like I said, exclusive.
hat signers at one of Marion Davies' many costume
Swanson, Marion Davies, Constance Bennett and Jean
three dressed in "Heidi" gear also have their foot and
at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
Powell and Joan Blondell jointly leave their hand and
foot prints at
Chinese theater in February, 1937. The man
assisting them is
Jean Klossner, who created the
extra-durable concrete used in the forecourt and who
from 1927-1957. He was known as "Mr. Footprints."
Cantor was an enormously popular film star in the early
1930's and is
putting his Best Foot Forward at Grauman's in 1932.
Benny's cement block at Grauman's Chinese Theater.
He wrote so much verbiage there was no room for hand
those 250 stars, how many of them
autographed "The Hollywood Hat"?
39. Or almost one out of every six.
1932, Quigley Publications, a reputable motion
trade publisher, annually polls theater owners for a
list of which ten
stars' movies brought in the most customers.
It's not the
most scientific way to judge box office success, but
the list is always
generally credible and it's endured for over 80
on the list is also often mentioned in a star's
to 1939, thirty-three stars appeared on the Top Ten
Box Office Stars
list (clearly lots of repeats from year to
year). Of those, twenty-one autographed "The
a mainstay of the Top Ten Box Office Stars List in its
An amazing number
of hat signers
appeared in Crawford movies, including her first two
shown here with Joan in
Fancy Dress Ball
On the left, husband #1, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
On the right, husband #2,
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Then there's the Hollywood Walk of
Fame, represented by all those
glittery pink stars lining Hollywood
Hollywood (the neighborhood) started to decline in
the early 1950's,
E. M. Stuart, a civic booster, came up with the idea
of installing the
sidewalk stars as a way to goose tourism. Four
were formed to create lists of those worthy of a
star in any of four
areas - films, television, radio and records/music.
could be awarded more than one star if they had
excelled in more than one medium.
1550 stars were initially awarded. The list
not without controversy. Charlie Chaplin's son
sued the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for $400,000
for the omission of
his father's name. Apparently, to some, in the
tail end of
the McCarthy era, Chaplin's leftish worldview was
more meaningful than
the fact that Charlie Chaplin, the actor, had done
more to popularize
movies than anyone else in history (ps: he finally
got a star in 1972).
1961, the original stars had been
installed, and starting in 1968,
other stars were added to the Walk. About two
dozen, more or
less, have been added each year, until the total is
now close to 2500
stars. In 1984, a 5th category was added -
Appearances. It's also evolved into an honor
with a price
tag; the chosen star (or an entity acting on the
star's behalf) needs
to fork up some serious dough (currently about
$30,000) to underwrite
the cost of the installation, ceremony and future
maintenance. It's not unlike buying a plot in
cemetery. Both offer eternal remembrance, if
three very different leading men --
Leslie Howard, Gary Cooper, and Charles Farrell
all have sidewalk stars.
how did the hat signers do with the
Hollywood Walk of
Fame? 154 of them
(that's about 40% of those who signed
are represented on the Hollywood Walk
Fame with 198 stars. That's a lot of sidewalk
Stars -- and Sidewalk Stars --
Stan Laurel, Buster Keaton, Oliver Hardy and
all at M-G-M in the early 1930's.
might be tempting to put the Golden
Globes on this list as a
measurement of lasting fame, but the Globes only
started in 1943, a
decade after the era of "The Hollywood Hat."
But, there was
something in the 20's and 30's as artificial and
manufactured as the
Golden Globes. It was called WAMPAS Baby
stands for Western Association of Motion Picture
trade group of film publicists and
advertisers. Starting in
1922, the group would annually identify 13 young
actresses who were on
the cusp of stardom. They didn't call them
they nicknamed them "Baby Stars." Given that
created this thing, there was a huge amount of media
attention given to
the announcements - newspaper articles, newsreel
appearances - and being a WAMPAS Baby Star turned
out to be a big deal
at that time.
Stars of 1926.
From left to right: Dolores Costello,
Marceline Day, Edna Marion, Mary Bryan,
Fay Wray, Janet Gaynor, Sally
Long, Joyce Compton, Dolores Del Rio,
Sally O'Neil, and last, but certainly not least,
group had a
pretty good track record of predicting stardom.
picks were Clara Bow, Bessie Love, Colleen Moore,
Dolores Del Rio, Jean
Arthur, Loretta Young and Ginger Rogers. Twelve
of the ladies
who autographed "The Hollywood Hat" were WAMPAS Baby
Stars including 5
from 1926 alone - Mary Astor, Marceline Day, Janet
Gaynor, Fay Wray and
the biggest Baby Star of all, Joan Crawford. The
after the 1934 announcements due to studio pressure;
the moguls didn't
want anybody else telling them who should be a
crust of those publicists.
turns glamour girl and 1928 WAMPAS Baby Star Gwen Lee
version of Pippi Longstocking.
It's always the silly season in Hollywood --
even for WAMPAS Baby Stars like Joan Marsh,
shown here adorned with necklaces, a bracelet,
and a ring hand-painted
onto her skin by Cecil.
of the hat is how it conjures up the pop culture
zeitgeist of the
time. It wasn't just actors who signed the
M-G-M and other studios were constantly doing "stunt
casting" - taking
someone in the public eye and putting them in the
great example is 1933's "The Prizefighter and the
their appearances in this film, four future, present
and past World
Heavyweight Boxing Champions - Max Baer, Primo
Carnera, Jack Dempsey
and Jess Willard - sat in Cecil's chair and signed the
hat for him.
Max Baer is the Prizefighter. Myrna Loy
is the Lady.
Max Baer, Jack Dempsey and Primo Carnera in
the ring in "The Prizefighter and the Lady."
The film, a romantic
drama, stars Myrna Loy opposite Max Baer as a boxer
who fights Primo
Carnera (playing himself) in a quest to be the next
Champion. This clairvoyant casting mirrored
Carnera's professional status in the world of
after this movie was made, Baer actually defeated
Primo Carnera for the Heavyweight title.
Myrna Loy once
remarked that Baer carefully studied Carnera's
boxing technique during
filming and used what he learned to best Carnera.
fifth boxing champ
to autograph Cecil's Stetson was James J. Corbett,
popularly known as
Gentleman Jim and known to be the "father of modern
Corbett won his title in 1892, knocking out famed
boxer John L.
Sullivan. Errol Flynn starred as Corbett in
the 1942 Warner
Brothers biopic - "Gentleman Jim."
Corbett in 1897.
also got the autographs of those
famous folks of the time who must have just been
passing thru the M-G-M
Make-Up Department. "Red" Grange, the most
football player of perhaps all time, signed.
Charles Dana Gibson,
the creator of "The Gibson Girl" and for whom
the Gibson Martini may
well have been named, signed too.
As did Rex Beach, an adventure novelist once as
famous as Clive Cussler
or Robert Ludlum.
well as Roscoe Turner, a pilot and champion air
racer who wound up
on the cover of Time
in 1934. What an appropriately aerodynamic
guess or do you give up?
all nominated for a Best Actor or Best
Actress Oscar in the
first decade of the Academy Awards.
wasn't quite the hoopla and ballyhoo about
the Oscars back then as
there is now, but in their time, they were
all household names and
another list of hat signers? This one
easier for some of you.
acting Oscars in the first 10 years of the
(Although in the case of Brady, it wasn't an
Oscar statuette, it was a
plaque. This distinguished a
supporting award from a lead
award. Sheez. Hollywood.)
A plaque, not a statuette.
fame can evaporate faster than water
in the Mojave. In fact, it almost always
Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" shone a klieg light on how
film pioneer Georges Melies was less than 20 years
hundreds of ground-breaking films. And,
normal, although there are rare exceptions.
The eternal fame
of a Gable or a Crawford can be traced to the fact
that people still
avidly watch their films because their
personas - against all
odds - still resonate with movie watchers. The
fame of a
Chaplin or a Pickford is more interesting.
People know of
them as historical characters, just like George
Washington or Abraham
Lincoln, not necessarily because they sit down and
enjoy the pictures
most of those
who autographed "The Hollywood Hat," fame had an
date. When the movies went from silent to
talkies, lots of
big-time careers did crash. Sometimes, it was
because of their thick foreign or regional accents
and sometimes it was
their style of acting, perfectly appropriate for the
seemed overwrought, florid, and, to be blunt, too
talkies. Dialogue totally undercut their mojo.
have to be something as catastrophic as a technical
revolution to send a career off the
time in most stars' careers when the public is tired
of them, when what
they have to offer no longer matches up to current
manias, tastes and
styles. When that happens, some, like Garbo or
retire and never look back. For all the
others, it must have
been quite painful when we, the public, muscled them
aside and just
moved on. Darwinism works in pop culture the
same way it
Hollywood Hat" sprang to life in an era when all of
this drama was
first transpiring. I've lived in Los Angeles for
years now, and when I
drive around town, I see the studios, large and
small, that are still
standing and I see the 1920's Spanish-style mansions
on the windy roads
of the hills and canyons, and often think:
what was it like
back then, when all this was fresh and new and
happening for the first
time? Why can't Woody Allen do "Midnight in
send a chauffeured Duesenberg to take me back 85 or
reading about all of the rollercoaster lives of the
people who signed the hat and how they, like Cecil
serendipitously came to participate in the creation
of an entire
industry and art form, it certainly seems like it
was more exciting
And if I
could meet Cecil Holland, the first thing I'd say to
"thanks for creating the hat, Cecil. It's been
education." And, then I'd let him do the rest
of the talking.