Love a mystery…

If you read the previous posts, it will become clear that I love a good mystery… When it comes to old photos that is!

And it’s a good thing, because with vintage photos, all too often no one at the time thought it was important to write down when it was taken, who is in it, where it was taken, etc. And it’s not limited to photos of famous people – we all do it with our family photos as well. We assume we’ll remember, or we assume we can just ask Grandma where a certain photo was taken. But what happens when the great-great-grandchildren are trying to figure it out, years later?

So it’s a good thing I love a mystery! And I have a new one!

I found a Russian site with all these old photos from the Ziegfeld Follies, mostly nearly-naked girls, but some other stuff as well – and almost all shot by Alfred Cheney Johnston. There were a ton of really cool images, and from all different years, and Ruth Etting was not mentioned in any of the text, so I was scrolling along, enjoying it, but not expecting to find anything. And then I saw the dress!


Click on the photo to enlarge.

Yes, I actually recognized a dress. It’s a dress Ruth Etting wore in some other photos by Alfred Cheney Johnston, used to publicize Whoopee in 1928. And it’s a very distinctive dress – bias cut silk, with netting, and pearls and paillettes, and tassels. Beautiful roaring twenties style! But in this photo? It’s so tiny? I’m not sure how I caught it, but my brain must have recognized the silhouette, as I scrolled quickly through, and I had to actually stop and scroll back up. And I was right. It is indeed Ruth Etting!

So where is the mystery? Well is it really a cast photo from Whoopee? Could it be from another show? Just because I have it in my notes, that the other photos of Ruth Etting in that dress, were taken by Alfred Cheney Johnston to promote Whoopee, doesn’t necessarily mean that she wore the dress in that show. What if this cast photo is actually from the Ziegfeld Follies of 1927, and the other photos of her were taken at this same time, and then used to promote Whoopee a year later? Anything is possible!

But what about the set design? Or the other cast members? Are there clues there?

The guy in the middle does look like Eddie Cantor – the posture and the eyebrows in particular. So it very well could be from Whoopee – or it could be from the Follies of 1927 – since he and Ruth starred in both shows. Whoopee had two female ingenues – which could be the two women on either side of the guy in the middle. Ruth was barely involved in the plot at all – she played an actress named Leslie Daw – but her main purpose was to sing a couple of pretty songs – so her position in what I assume is the line up for the curtain call, would make sense.

I think we can safely rule out the Follies of 1931, since the guy in the middle doesn’t look like either of the guys who starred that year – Jack Pearl and Harry Richmand – and none of the women in the front look like the other female star – Helen Morgan. And if it was the Follies of 1931, Ruth would be front and center, not off to the side.

So if I had to guess, I would guess that it’s a photo of the cast of Whoopee. But you just never know…

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6 Responses to Love a mystery…

  1. Ed Lappin says:

    Thanks so much for what you provide on your terrific website! I really enjoy seeing all the great photo’s and reading the interesting historical information. Being an old car enthusiast,restorer,and having my own machine shop to primarily support my restorations,I am really appreciative of your site. Keep up the good work and I look forward to continued good viewing and reading. Ed

  2. Dave says:

    This is a photo from the Ziegfeld Follies, I don’t know which edition of the Follies. In fact when I click on it to enlarge it the words “Follies Cast” pop up. It might be the 1931 Follies, as the set has the same bird design as the program for that year’s Follies. You can also tell it’s the Follies by all the Ziegfeld showgirls in the back.

  3. Dave says:

    Whoopee takes place in the US Southwest (I saw the movie!) and wouldn’t have this kind of set. Hope this helps. :)

  4. Thanks for the compliments Ed!

    And Dave, you may be right! I named the image file “Ziegfeld Cast” because I knew it had to be a show by Flo Ziegfeld, I just wasn’t sure which one!

  5. Marc Bordelon says:

    I believe that the gentleman in the light-toned suit next to Ruth Etting
    is Flo Ziegfield! What do you think?

  6. Maybe Marc? He’s the only male not in a black tuxedo, which would seem to indicate the light colored suit had something to do with the plot – or that he wasn’t in the show at all – and if that’s the case, then he very well might be the producer of the show. Just another mystery…

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