Once upon a time there was a busy, yet highly compassionate and generous bachelor. He became known the world over, but lacked something in his life: a wife. Mrs. Claus often takes a back seat to her more famous husband, Santa, but it’s time her history was told.
Mrs Claus: subject of literature, film and art…but who was she? (Figurine Photo Courtesy Enesco)
Santa began as Saint Nicholas – a bishop from Myra (modern-day Turkey), who was known as an eccentric and generous man. His story gradually turned into the Dutch “Sinterklaas”… and came to America with Dutch immigrants, only to become “Santa Claus” in the late 1700s. He acquired assorted trappings of the modern Santa; his reindeer, his distinctive laugh… but no mention of a wife, not until 1849, when author James Rees hinted at her existence in one of his morality stories.
The first reference to Mrs. Claus in print. “A Christmas Legend” by James Rees (1849)
The world didn’t know much about this mystery woman who captured the heart of Santa, but Harper’s Magazine speculated and featured her in a dozen red petticoats in 1862. ( Maybe she got her fashion cues from Queen Victoria’s Balmoral petticoat. A little history about that particular garment here, at the Dreamstress.) Fifteen years after later, the world got another peek into her life in the book, “Lill’s Travels in Santa Claus Land” by Ella Farman which you can read on the Gutenberg Project.
Illustration from Lills Travels in Santa Claus Land 1878 (Courtesy Gutenburg.org)
People needed to know more! What made her tick? What was this magical woman like? What was her role in Santa’s organization? Author Katherine Lee Bates answered some of those questions in 1889′s “Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride”.
Author Katherine Lee Bates offered more of a character description than had been shared before
The saucy Mrs. Claus from Bates story
From then until the early 1960s, Mrs. Claus was a known but supporting player in Santa’s life and work (typical!). Once her story made it into Family Circle magazine, her popularity soared! Each year another chapter was added to her biography through books, movies and television shows.
She swung through the 60′s…
Mrs Claus (we hope) appearing on a greeting card
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, 1964
And became an icon in the 70′s…
We learned more of Mrs. Claus’ backstory in 1970′s Santa Claus is Coming to Town
She shows her wits and gumption in 1974′s A Year Without Santa Claus
Through the 1980s…
Judy Cornwell in Santa Claus: The Movie
The woman who CAN do it all: Mrs. Claus from Arthur Christmas, 2011
Mrs. Claus isn’t a one dimensional support player in Santa’s life- when the spotlight shines on her it’s easy to see depth, wisdom, wit, beauty, endurance and some really amazing cookie recipes. We are honored to shine that light in this podcast.
Joan of Arc, Jeannette, Jean, The Maid, La Pucelle, Hero, Heretic, Visionary, Lunatic…that’s a lot of names and titles for a teenage girl who is remembered for events from only a short period of her life. For most of it she was an ordinary girl in an ordinary small town, until she allowed extraordinary visions and voices to lead her into history.
Joan of Arc, Sir John Everett Millais
During the podcast we needed to place Joan into history in a bit more detail than normal. That means a little primer on the Hundred Years’ War- a series of battles and skirmishes between England and France over land for about 116 years. Are there podcasts that spend a great deal of time on this important game of Mine! No, Mine!- yes. Is this one of them? No, we just called a war a “game” for goodness sakes, but you will get a very succinct overview that will explain where and why Joan of Arc’s life played out like it did.
Henry V…well, Tom Hiddleston as Henry V- close enough to the real thing, right?
Joan’s birthplace. This ACTUAL house!
Joan, called Jeanette by her family, was one of five children born to Jacques D’Arc and Isabelle Romee (we explain the last name issue in the podcast) in Domrémy, France in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War. Her childhood was ordinary for the times: she learned to things that would need to live like sewing, housework, and flock tending. The only schooling she had was through church; she had childhood friends…Joan’s life was good and very ordinary. Oh sure, the family had to flee when English or their allies, the Burgundians, raided their village, but that was life during the war.
Joan’s own life began to drift from the expected path when she was about 12 and began to hear voices and see visions of the Archangel Michael, and Saints Margaret and Catherine. She began to spend more time in church but still maintained a very typical existence. She began to believe that God was telling her to save France from English rule. She knew that she was a most unlikely savior of her country but when God calls, you don’t hang up.
Howard Pyle (circa 1919) Probably like this…
…probably not like this. (George Burns, 1977′s Oh, God!)
The voices and visions continued and became another part of her life- Mom, Dad, Angelic Visions. When she was 17, Joan defied her parents, took a vow of chastity and bucked convention to go where maiden girls never tread and she did things women didn’t do- ever. She bravely faced rejection and overcame obstacles in her path to do what those voices asked of her. What did they ask? First that she help the Dauphin, Charles, be crowned King of France. No biggie, right? He’s the heir apparent, right? Not according to the English who believed their King, an infant Henry VI, was rightful ruler of all of France and the English held all of the land surrounding the city of Orleans, a city that was pivotal in the war, and they were working on claiming that as their own, too.
How Orleans looked at the time of the seige
Joan donned male clothing and went into battle with the French Army. Well, she didn’t actually fight (girlfriend was a pacifist) but she carried her banner high and rode with them encouraging the troops and helping the men clean up their act. How did grizzled and seemingly defeated soldiers take to being told what to do by a girl? Awesomely! Listen to the episode for all the details, but with Joan’s help the French regained control of Orleans.
Arrow remover of the type probably used on Joan. Owie!
But that wasn’t enough- Joan had to get Charles to Reims, the city where Kings of France were crowned. The stumbling block there? Reims was deep into English territory but Joan went with the caravan and three months after the siege at Orleans they entered Reims where the inhabitants pledged loyalty to Charles and France.
Statue of Joan of Arc that at the cathedral at Reims
By this time word of La Pucelle (the virgin-vow of chastity, remember?) had spread. The French looked at her with admiration but the English and their allies? Not so much. At their first opportunity they captured her and locked her away. Charles VII should come to her rescue, right? She was instrumental in getting that crown on his head, right? Wrong. Charles washed his hands of all things Joan. Money was exchanged but it wasn’t to free her, it was to bring her to trial, convict her of heresy and sentence her to death.
In increasingly harsh conditions and over the course of just a few months she was questioned about everything in her life. Many charges were at first brought up, but the one that she was finally convicted of was heresy, going against the church by wearing men’s clothing. Yeah, that’s it. On May 3o, 1431 at the age of about 19 she was burned at the stake for wearing men’s clothing.
Tower of her imprisonment in Rouen, France.
Alright, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but you know…listen to the podcast for details.
Joan’s story wasn’t done when her life ended. 25 years later, her conviction was overturned. 500 years after that, in 1920, the Catholic church recognized her as a saint and Joan of Arc became the patron saint of soldiers and France. Because of the testimony she gave, the trial she endured, and by the accounts of her life by eyewitnesses during the inquiry portion of her conviction being overturned the details of the life of this ordinary girl who achieved extraordinary things are still available for us today.
Time Travel With The History Chicks
For the quickest, most basic and fairly entertaining overview of the Middle Ages, give a look to The Middle Ages in 3 1/2 Minutes.
You know that old story of the “overnight success?” A band you’ve never heard of bursts onto the scene and takes the world by storm. Often you find that they have twenty years of hard work and paying their dues before finally achieving their goal. The same is true of Hattie McDaniel.
Born to former slaves, and growing up in the abject poverty that followed America’s black population in the Jim Crow years, Hattie McDaniel was determined that a life of servitude and struggle was not to be her fate.
A young Hattie during the Denver days.
Her very first paid work was as a street performer at a carnival; from there she moved to stage plays, vaudeville, her own theater company, always reaching for the next challenge.
She was the first black woman to sing with an orchestra on the new medium of radio. She had a second career as a famed blues singer in the artistic hubs of Kansas City and Chicago. And a third as a songwriter. And a fourth as a recording artist. She was known as a saucy and clever comedian; famous in performer circles for her fire and her wit.
All through her artistic struggle, she was compelled to work as a domestic servant to keep food on the table and a roof over her head. How odd to be called a “red hot mama” and “an inspiration” by night and to put on a maid’s uniform and be anonymous by day.
She landed a plum job with Mr. Ziegfield and thought her troubles were over – until she was laid off and abandoned in a strange city. Hattie became a restroom attendant in a white nightclub, and lived the sitcom dream when the band was left without a singer. Hattie emerged from the powder room and blew everyone away. Little did they know they had a superstar in their midst!
The Milwaukee Sentinel, October of 1934
It was time to take the plunge and move to Hollywood, where she registered with both a service laundry company (because she’s a practical person) AND Central Casting (because a girl’s got to have a dream!) She fit a desirable “type”, and soon was pulling in $7.50 a day as an extra in hundreds of movies.
Her brother Sam was a performer on “the Optimistic Donuts” radio variety show and got his sister an audition, and soon she was a regular known as “Hi-Hat-Hattie” – what’s more, the station soon gave her her OWN radio show, “Hi-Hat-Hattie And Her Boys” in which her saucy comedy took center stage.
Roles as an extra turned to speaking roles and soon to plum jobs earning $250 or more a week. She spent much of her money supporting black-owned businesses, assisting the less fortunate, and helping her family and friends to succeed. Her big break in Hollywood was as a back-talking maid in “Blonde Venus” with Marlene Dietrich (1932). And soon she was in high demand.
Hattie played this maid so saucily “that she’d have been fired the first day in real life.”
However, controversy surrounded Hattie McDaniel even from this early time; African Americans (particularly as represented by the NAACP) were tired of the old minstrel-show sterotypes perpetuated by the studios, and were criticizing the black performers who took these roles. (Though there were no better ones on offer, and the targets may have better been painted on the studios themselves.)
When Gone With the Wind began filming, Hattie McDaniel won the coveted role of Mammy due in no small part to her friendship with Clark Gable, who had already been cast as Rhett.
Hattie McDaniel, and the other black cast members, were not allowed to attend the premiere in Atlanta, nor were their photos to appear alongside those of the white members of the cast, so it was a victory of sorts that Hattie McDaniel made history later that year when she received the very first Academy Award ever given to a person of color. Even so, her table was a separate one in the back of the room.
White audiences adored Hattie’s portrayal of Mammy, but it enraged many in the black population.
Protesters outside of a showing of “Gone With The Wind.” Many black citizens resented the movie’s portrayals of old minstrel stereotypes.
She received letters calling her a “disgrace” from black servicemen engaged in WW2; rather than lashing out, she responded by heading the Hollywood Victory Committee, in charge of USO shows and morale building. McDaniel created a philanthropic society named les Femmes D’Aujourd’hui (The Women of Today), and joined Sigma Gamma Rho, a black sorority dedicated both to philanthropy and the advancement of equality.
Hattie McDaniel with cast members from her Hollywood Victory Committee shows
After some white neighbors tried to remove her (and other black performers) from their neighborhood, McDaniel was instrumental in a groundbreaking and nationwide legal case to prevent “restrictive covenants”; agreements in residential developments that would prevent persons of color from buying into certain neighborhoods. They were ruled illegal under the 14th Amendment.
McDaniel’s 17-room house on Harvard Boulevard.
Though her movie career faltered after her appearance in Gone With The Wind, Hattie McDaniel found yet another career (is this #6?) as the beloved star of the radio sitcom “Beulah”. Ten million people tuned in for every episode! Harsh criticism of this role from the NAACP brought the simple rejoinder “I’d rather make $700/week playing a maid than $7 being one!” She believed that she represented a part of her former life with this role, a job that so many women of color were performing all over the country.
“Beulah” had an audience of 10 million listeners.
Health issues laid her low for the last year of her life; a heart attack followed by a diagnosis of advanced breast cancer led to her death on October 26, 1952.
Five thousand mourners attended her funeral. Refused burial in the “white” cemetery that was her first choice, she was laid to rest instead in the Rosedale Cemetery “Where the young of our race will be inspired by her for whom she did so much.”
Her final wish was honored, years later, with this memorial stone in what is now called the “Hollywood Forever” Cemetery.
A notable and touching homage to McDaniel’s legacy came in 2010; when accepting her Academy Award for her role in “Precious”, actress “Mo’nique dressed in a blue gown and gardenias, (the outfit that McDaniel had worn to her own ceremony in 1939,) and said “I’d like to thank Hattie McDaniel for enduring all that she had to, so that I would not have to.”
Actress Mo’Nique receiving her Oscar in 2010
Hattie McDaniel was brave. She believed in the power of helping others, she persevered against great odds, immense setbacks, and criticism from all sides. She believed in herself, and she believed in a better future for all.
If that’s not a role model, we don’t know what is.
Music provided courtesy of musicalley.com
Closing song : “Take the High Road” by Sharon Robinson
Once a season we obsess over a subject for our Fictional Episode and this time we let ourselves be carried away with Gone With The Wind. The epic book and movie is only part of the story of a free-spirited, rebellious, creative and unconventional Southern woman and the novel that she wrote of Southern life during the American Civil War and Reconstruction periods.
A talk about Gone With The Wind would be hollow without spending a great deal of time looking at the life of the creator of this classic, Margaret Mitchell. You can listen to the podcast episode for all the juicy bits- but here is the nickel version:
Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell was born November 9, 1900 in Atlanta, Georgia. Except for a brief stint at Smith College in Massachusetts, Atlanta was her lifelong home.
Margaret Mitchell with a fabulous hat…and a cat. (courtesy Media Services News)
The only daughter of Eugene, a lawyer, and May Belle, a suffragist, Margaret’s childhood was filled with days running with the boys, riding horses, reading and writing stories. Much of her time was spent at the knees of her extended family who talked (and talked) tales of life during the War Between the States. She was, as the proper ladies say, a “very spirited child” who grew to become a very spirited woman. Her mother died during the Spanish Flu epidemic and her first fiance was killed in World War I shortly before Margaret was presented to society.
In true heroine and debutante fashion she partied through her pain and plowed through her social season in a big and bold manner. She wore a revealing dress for her formal portraits and performed a blackball-from-the-Junior League-worthy scandalous dance at a talent show; she was the darling of the society page and the sweetheart of many a beau.
Daring dress? Ah, how times have changed.
Here is a version of the Apache Dance (with Ray Boldger who was starring across town as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz during the filming of GWTW -love it when our subject’s stories converge). Warning before you hit play: It is quite a violent dance.
But every Party Girl needs to hang up her dance card at some point, and Peggy chose from her field of suitors Red Upshaw…for reasons that we just can’t quite wrap our heads around. He was dashing but had no job, no prospects and was physically abusive to her. The silver lining of this marriage is that Peggy went to work as a journalist so that the couple could have some income. Journalism she loved, Red she did not and the marriage ended in divorce within a couple of years. She turned right around and married the Best Man from her first wedding, John Marsh (and they did live happily ever after).
“The dump” where Margaret and John lived and she wrote Gone with the Wind.
While recuperating from an injury, Peggy quickly wrote a rough draft of a novel: the story of Pansy O’Hara, a strong and determined survivor of the Civil War. She puttered around with the manuscript for many years, keeping it in envelopes stuffed around her apartment and talking very little about it to her friends who would tease her about writing the Great American Novel.
Our friends know us so well, don’t they?
One day an editor from Macmillan Publishing came to Atlanta on a scouting mission. Fueled by derogatory comments flipped by a snotty writer, Peggy gave the editor her sloppy manuscript. It was a hot mess, but it was a brilliant hot mess! The romance between a morally questionable but properly raised heroine (whose name was changed to Scarlett) and a dashing Rhett Butler that skimmed over the true grit as well as the reasons for the the Civil War was an instant hit!
Very soon Hollywood came calling. Within three years of the novel’s publication Gone with the Wind was the winner of a Pulitzer Prize and a movie that is still capturing our attention 75 years later. While she couldn’t avoid the fame that the novel generated, Margaret Mitchell did everything in her power to distance herself from the movie making. It was probably best, the production – led by David O. Selznick- was as wild as Scarlett and Rhett’s buggy ride through a burning Atlanta. (Oh, the tales we tell! You really should be listening to the podcast.)
Vivien Leigh and Olivia DeHavilland pranking on the set. Yes, reading that novel is hard work and laborious just just to lift it!
At the movie’s premier (in Atlanta, natch) Margaret let the spotlight shine on her momentarily, and very soon the United States entered World War II. Margaret had the time and means to volunteer and lend her name to philanthropic endeavors including the funding of several black students of Morehouse College through medical school.
The Atlanta premier drew QUITE a crowd! (Courtesy Margaret Mitchell House)
On August 11, 1949 as she and John were going to a movie on her beloved Peachtree Street, Margaret was struck by a drunk driver. She never regained consciousness and died five days later at the age of 48.
Courtesy Atlanta History Center Tumblr
She never wrote a second novel, but that first one was all she needed. Many have attempted to imitate, but without Margaret Mitchell the world never really will know if Scarlett managed to recapture the heart of Rhett and live happily ever after in Tara.
TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS
Fiddle dee dee, you want to learn more about the book, movie and life of Margaret Mitchell? Why, we have a few places for you to start:
Want something a little more, oh, colorful? How about learning the history of Technicolor? Widescreenmuseum.com (LOTS of other information on this site for movie buffs. You guys might want to plan a long trip down a rabbit hole.)
Agatha Christie once said that she wanted to be remembered as, “a good writer of detective and thriller stories.” We say she needs to be remembered for a whole lot more: daughter, wife, mother, pharmacist, playwright and adventurer only begin the list.Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on September 15, 1890 in Torquay, England. She was the third (with a huge age gap) child of Frederick and Clarissa (Clara) Miller. We cover all the details of her family in the podcast, but let’s suffice it to say that her childhood was by all accounts idyllic and her family and home were full of kooky, smart, interesting characters worthy of a book series on their own.
Agatha and her father at Ashfield
She was indulged by her parents, older brother and sister as well as the small staff of their charming upper- middle class home. Agatha didn’t attend formal school until she was a teenager but was educated at home. Bright and imaginative, she broke her mother’s “rule” that children shouldn’t learn to read until 8, but taught herself at 5. Oh yeah… she was a tree-climbing, imagination game playing, rule breaking, dog loving kid who had everyone in her life wrapped around her finger.
That is, until her father died when she was 11. With her brother and sister grown and living lives of their own, Agatha and her mother set off to redefine their family. Papa wasn’t the greatest money manager and financial troubles worsened after he died. But Clara, through smart choices, was able to keep the beloved family home, as well as provide a finishing school education in Paris and a coming out season in Egypt for Agatha. Agatha toyed with the ideas of “careers” as a professional singer or concert pianist. A bad review of her voice crushed her first dream, and stage fright her second. Once they were back home in Torquay, World War I broke out and it was all hands on deck with the war effort. Agatha, in her early 20s, did her part and worked in the local hospital. First in nursing duties and then in the pharmacy. She learned chemistry and biology and the education that would help her most in life: how poisons and medicines worked in the body. And in her free time what did she do? Write. Her sister challenged her to write a detective story by saying Agatha couldn’t so during the war Agatha completed a novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles, and sent it off to publishers. She soon met a dashing and charming young aviator, Archie Christie who would- despite concerns and lack of time together- become her husband. Life with Archie distracted her- setting up a home and having a baby will do that- but one day she got word that her novel, starring a detective who was to follow her around for most of her career- Hercule Poirot- was to be published.
Agatha’s first novel, published in 1920, four years after it was written. (Remember that, aspiring novelists!)
Agatha was contractually obligated to write five more books, and Archie seemed to like that she was bringing in some money- so she did. Although he wasn’t what we would consider creatively encouraging, the income supported his golf and living-the-good-life habits. Agatha quickly learned the book business, got an agent and renegotiated a new contract with a better publisher. She was gaining success as a writer (although it took quite awhile for her to accept that she really was one).
Agatha traveled with Archie for his job and learned to surf!
The family moved into a larger home and named it Styles after her first book. The Christie family seemed to have it all- but Archie was getting a bit more than his fair share: he had fallen in love with another woman. This news, along with Agatha’s mother’s death, sent the couple down a slippery slope and led up to what was possibly the greatest mystery in Agatha’s own life (aside from why Archie was such a jerk)- her eleven day disappearance in 1926.
Agatha goes missing one day! Her car is found full of her belongings but she is gone! Her face is splashed all over the press.
Who best to stage her own disappearance than a mystery writer? Or was it amnesia from a car accident? What of the maaaany clues that were left behind and ignored? Was this all a publicity stunt?
(But some of us know exactly what happened to her, right? Right? Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey…)
Riiiight, wink wink…amnesia. Sure.
In a plot twist worthy of a Christie novel, Agatha’s divorce changed her life for the better. With Rosalind away at school, Agatha booked passage on The Orient Express and got her groove back. A series of introductions and adventures led her into the life of 14 years younger archaeologist, Max Mallowan. A very delightful romance ensued, and they were married within two years.
Agatha and Max
The Mallowans would spend months on archaeological digs where she wasn’t The Queen of Crime…more like the Queen of Grime. She helped to clean and log artifacts and wrote when she could. Whatever it was- the love, support, adventure, locations- she began a pace of 2-3 novels a year for the next ten years including psychological romance novels under the pen name Mary Westmacott. World War II slowed her a bit, as Max joined the Air force and Agatha again went to work in a pharmacy. Tax and pay issues began to plague her which were complicated by the war. Her method for solving financial problems was simple: write more books (okay, that may be the oversimplified version, we do go into detail on all of this during the podcast). She was amassing a very large library of her books and eventually Queen Elizabeth took notice and awarded her the order of Dame Commander.
That is a lot of books
Plays, movies, television shows…Agatha’s work was everywhere and she kept up the pace as long as she could.
Agatha and Max near their home, Greenway. She had a really great life. (Courtesy National Trust)
Agatha at the Acropolis 1958. She looks so happy. (courtesy National Media Museum)
On January 12, 1976 at the age of 85, Dame Agatha Christie Mallowan died of natural causes at her home. Agatha is buried at St. Mary’s church, Cholsey, UK.
Detail on London Sculpture: left to right, Hercule Poirot, the Orient Express, the pyramids, a mousetrap, a country house, typewriter, and Miss Jane Marple. (Courtesy Guidedwalksinlondon and this link has more to share on Agatha!)
TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS If you want to immerse yourself into the Christie subculture, you must go here first: AgathaChristie.com. Maintained in part by her archive trust, you can read more about her life and work, see a bunch of pics and *sings* there is an active message board! Really a great site for new and established Christie fans. The British Museum has an pretty cool online tour of pieces from Agatha and Max’s archaeological work, spotlighting one of the larger parts of her life when she kept out of the public eye. Agatha Christie and Archaeology . Headed to Torquay, the “English Riviera”? A gallery is devoted to Agatha at the Torquay Museum, including Poirot’s study (donated from a movie set).
This very room in Greenway seems to be refurbished exactly as she had it. Go, report back and tell us if it is!
Agatha and Max’s stunning home, Greenway, is now open to the public. Go! Take pictures! Better yet, take us! Books! We narrowed our favorites about Agatha down to three books each. Beckett’s choices: And Susan’s favorites: The BBC movie is available on DVD, we got a copy from the library (Freesies!)
1079 movie explanation of what happened during Agatha’s disappearance. Horrible. Watch old episodes of Murder She Wrote, instead.
Beckett geeked out about the Agatha themed geocaches, join in the hunt at Geocaching.com While we can’t go hunting the ones in the UK and New Zealand -if you can dooo iiit!
As always, music comes courtesy of Music Alley. Visit them at musicalley.com