I was surprised, watching an old Ernst Lubitsch movie called Trouble in Paradise the other day, to learn that one of the lead characters, played by Kay Francis, is a sort of Estee Lauder figure, name of Colet, who runs a perfume company. I'd never heard the film mentioned before on a perfume blog - but then, fragrance doesn't play any great part in the story, even if it figures more than in most movies.
Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall play master thieves who conspire to rob Francis of of her fortune. There are some good scenes involving the Colet board of directors, and early on a radio announcer delivers an on-air advertisement for the brand, singing:
Colet, Colet, Colet and Company
are makers - of the best perfumes!
If you and your
beloved can't agree -
permit us to suggest a few.
Cleopatra was a lovely tantalizer!
But she did it with her little atomizer!
We'll make you smell like a rose.
Every nose in Paris knows
Colet and Company!
The corporation's slogan? "Remember, it doesn't matter what you say. It doesn't matter how you look. It's how you smell!"
Miriam Hopkins doesn't get much love these days, but she's fantastic in Trouble in Paradise. And she acts like someone drunk on perfume. Kay Francis is even less well known now, but she makes an equally fantastic perfume mogul. The film was made in 1932, several decades before the release of Youth Dew, so it seems unlikely Lauder was a model for the character. Though the company is French, Francis is thoroughly American, the way Hollywood liked its Europeans. I first thought of Lauder but Lauder makes no sense. More likely the source of the Colet character was Coco Chanel, whose No.5 came out in the '20s. And Francis certainly resembles Coco, with her short hair and dark features. The film pokes fun at her lifestyle: she's first seen buying, on a whim, a jeweled bag which costs 125,000 francs. The bag is stolen - by Hopkins and Marshall, so that they can return it and steal even more.
Perfume has turned up in a lot of books lately too. I've been reading old detective novels - mostly Ross Macdonald and Raymond Chandler. Chandler mentions perfume all the time. In one of his lesser known novels, The Little Sister, there must be half a dozen mentions. Philip Marlowe often comments on the perfume a woman is wearing. It's often part of her spell. Every once in a while, he comments on a man's fragrance as well, but on men fragrance takes on foul associations. Women wear just enough, it seems. If you can smell a man's, he must be wearing too much.
You can watch Trouble in Paradise on youtube. Another good Hopkins/Lubitsch film, Design for Living, is also there.