The All-American Couple: Dolores Del Rio and Al Jolson
|Why It's Interesting|
This still from Wonder Bar (1934) encapsulates in several ways the wonderful fictions and paradoxes of Hollywood. Such an elegant couple, radiating class, but in fact playing actors within a play. Moreover, the Mexican Del Rio and the Jewish Jolson were both ethnic outsiders to the world represented by such elegant dress. Del Rio was a Mexican aristocrat, but that carried little if any weight in white America. However, stardom, whether in entertainment or sports, has typically opened doors otherwise shut to those of “disfavored” ethnicities and backgrounds.
The hidden paradox of this image is what occurs in this film, a huge hit in its day. It contains one of the most sensationally racist [and long and painful to watch] sequences, “Going to Heaven on a Mule.” The resulting mixture of fake elegance and genuine crudity has long been all-too-common in Hollywood film.
This website seeks to encourage researchers and collectors to discover and study obscure ephemera that document American culture and life. Worldcat reveals that most of the items that I post cannot be found in more than a few research libraries–often none at all. Alternately, research libraries do not bother to catalog ephemeral publications like these. I believe, however, that because these were distributed free, or at nominal cost, to consumers, they were the publications most likely to make their way into homes and be read by large numbers of Americans.
I acquire pre-1960 examples of the kinds of publications that prove so useful when scholars study 19th-Century America. The limited competition that I encounter for them suggests that libraries, which could easily outbid me, have little interest in post-Civil War and 20th-century ephemeral publications in general.
I try to anticipate what materials future historians will find useful. Being an historian first and a collector second, I organized this website to encourage others to do this too—even if this means new competition for me. I am aware that I could be wrong in prizing particular ephemera or even whole classes of ephemera. I may even be wrong to encourage scholars to study obscure ephemeral publications; these may be obscure for good reason.
Ephemerastudies.org will permit me to share with others the information and imagery that I am acquiring, and to benefit from the knowledge, intelligence and experience of other scholars and collectors. Please contact me with your impressions of the site.