During her war relief days in Manhattan, Silky made coffee for British soldiers and washed dishes at the HSO Hall. She also frequented fundraisers and morale dances with famous entertainers and society folk throughout WWII.
Besides being English and an American citizen–thereby making her naturally against Hitler’s agenda–she was also recovering from the loss of Douglas Fairbanks, her second husband. Devastated by his untimely death, she sought refuge in distraction, focusing her efforts on supporting the troops.
In this week’s post, she is seen dancing with a distinguished, uncostumed Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin, along with Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith, formed United Artists in the 1920s. Charlie and Doug were quite close friends as well as filmmaking contemporaries and I imagine Charlie kept an eye out for Doug’s widow after his death.
They are shown here dancing at one of many celebrity-studded functions of the day, this one at the HSO Hall in Beverly Hills. Impeccably dressed, coiffed and manicured as usual, I am as always, taken with Sylvia’s perfect appearance.
After Douglas Fairbanks’ death in December of 1939, Sylvia was entitled to a monthly allowance until his will was settled. Apparently the family disagreed with the $3000 she claimed and Jayar (Douglas Fairbanks, Junior) petitioned against his father’s widow.
This post’s photograph was taken in 1941 when Sylvia protested Jayar’s interference with her allowance. Widowed once, divorced three times and separated once, Silky was no stranger to courtrooms and legal battles.
Here she looks as cool as a cucumber and stylish as ever in her dark tailored dress with “sweetheart pins,” her dramatic hat and pumps. Notice the fur coat slung over the arm of the chair. She looks ready to do battle using the most powerful weapons a woman had in her day.
Sylvia inherited a million dollars from Doug’s estate, which would translate into considerably more in this day and age. But what price would be enough to lose the love of your life?
1940s los angeles, army emergency relief fund, hollywood theater, irving berlin, jack warner, lady sylvia ashley, mrs. cornelius vanderbilt, this is the army, war relief, warner brothers, wartime, world war II
Like many of the socialites of her day, Sylvia was involved in charity work. This post’s photo shows her with Colonel Jack Warner, executive producer of Warner Brothers studio, and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt.
Silky and Mrs. Vanderbilt were part of the Thomas J. Watson committee that provided wartime funds from the motion picture industry. It was just one of several committees Silky participated in during World War II. I imagine, as a widow, she needed to keep herself busy.
The three fundraisers were discussing ticket sales of Irving Berlin’s “This Is The Army” which opened July 28th, 1943 at the Hollywood Theater. All proceeds from the film went to the Army Emergency Relief fund.
1930s berlin, 1930s london, 1936 olympics, 2012 olympics, 2012 summer games, adolf hitler, douglas fairbanks, jesse owens, lady sylvia ashley, london olympics, london summer games, max schmelling, scotty dog
The summer games in London are winding down and I’m feeling sad. First, that all the physical excellence has ended for another four years and that the glorious pomp and circumstance is coming to a close. The level of greatness is astounding and addictive. I get weepy when someone crosses the finish line and goose bumpy when someone executes a perfect movement. But also I miss London. Watching the aerial shots of the city makes me homesick, even though it’s not my home.
Eleven years ago when I began the quest to discover Silky, my first big adventure began with her hometown. Now that I’ve completed the research and finished writing the book, that particular journey has ended. Another experience now begins—that of finding an agent and a publisher and getting Silky out into the world, but I miss the grand venture of discovery. And London reminds me of that.
Sylvia attended the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin with Douglas Fairbanks. She watched Jesse Owens prove Hitler’s Aryan supremacy notion wrong, then rode home on the Hindenberg with boxing giant Max Schmelling.
Today’s photo shows she and Doug right around the time they went to Berlin. Sylvia is clutching their little Scottish terrier Bobby with gloved hands, a huge spray of orchids pinned to her coat. I believe the case Doug is holding to be Sylvia’s jewels as it appears close at hand in every photograph I have of them traveling. It makes me wonder if my pearls were in that case.
1920s london, bbc series, douglas fairbanks, e.r.a., emancipation, equal rights amendment, house of eliott, lord anthony ashley cooper, lord ashley, suffragette movement, suffragettes, women's liberation
A very dear friend kidnapped me today and took me to lunch and the beach. It felt very decadent and a little bit naughty. I haven’t allowed myself that luxury much lately. Instead I’ve been keeping at agent queries and job hunting–not the most fun way to spend a summer.
At my mum’s suggestion, I’ve also started watching an old BBC series called “The House of Eliott” that begins in 1920, just after the end of World War I. She thought I would enjoy seeing Sylvia’s era come to life. And I have—the costumes are swoon-worthy! It follows two sisters whose father dies and leaves them to fend for themselves, having spent most of their inheritance and not prepared them with any sort of education. They have a knack for clothing design so strike out to make a name and a living.
The thing that caught me by surprise is how women were treated before emancipation. I knew it intellectually and from history lessons, but to see how few rights women had has been shocking. It’s appalling just how much their success and very existence depended on the men in their lives. It wasn’t simply about the vote–which was important in its own right—but women were literally second-class citizens.
We were treated like children until we demanded more in the 1960s. My mum raised me to be independent, self-sufficient and to never allow a man to disrespect or control me and for that I am truly grateful. But to see just how bad it was, has been a revelation. How did Silky manage the oppression?
It also makes much more sense to me why Sylvia worked so diligently to marry “the right sort.” In her day, from within a good solid marriage to a decent and loving man, she could maintain a kind of independence that other, less fortunate women only dreamed of.
Besides, I totally get the draw of the leisure class lifestyle. Just this short window into having the free time to pop off to the beach in the middle of the day, has shown me how idyllic and freeing that sort of life would be.
Today’s post is a shot of Silky from the late 1920s or early 1930s. By this point she was estranged from Lord Ashley, but still enjoying his financial support. She was experiencing her very own kind of emancipation…and then she met Douglas Fairbanks.