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Monday, November 2, 2015

Part XV -- Celebrity Wedding 1939

The Bea Blog consists of diaries and letters written by my grandmother Bea Cohen Rubin (1899-1985) and other members of her family. For more information about Bea and how this blog came about, see Part I -- Intro and 1913 under Blog Archive.

My mother Ande and my aunt Jean c. 1933

In the summer of 1939, my aunt Jean Rubin (almost 16) goes by train on a tour of Western states with a group of other New York girls and a chaperone. They visit Colorado, California and Idaho.

While staying at the Del Monte hotel in California, Jean and her companions find themselves in the midst of the wedding of movie stars Joan Fontaine and Brian Aherne. Among the wedding guests is Joan Fontaine's older sister, Olivia de Havilland.

Following is an excerpt from one of Jean’s letters home:

Written on board the Southern Pacific, August 1939

Dear Mum –

The only time I get to write to you is in between stops – Del Monte was too wonderful – we were kept very busy and our company was really fun.

To please Ande I will tell you about yesterday’s wedding first – Saturday morning Ellie pointed out a woman on the porch and said that it was Irene Dunne. I wouldn’t believe her but as she walked to her car I did … Then Saturday night while we were waiting to go to dinner some ordinary looking people came thru the swing door and I said to Ellie – who are you going to tell me that is – she looked and said Olivia de Havilland and started for a pen and paper [for an autograph]. I really was so sure that it wasn’t she but sure enough it was . . . then we saw Joan Fontaine come in. They both acted natural etc. and are very nice. Then when we went dancing in the Bali Room there they were again – it was a party – Olivia had a red and white dress with sea-shell jewelry and Joan had on an ivory brocade – she danced quite a bit but only once with Brian. When they did dance together we maneuvered so that he bumped into me! Thrill –

 Before the wedding (

Then yesterday [we] went to church at 11:00 in the chapel where they were to be married – we are quite friendly with the Reverend who married them. After church we waited outside and made friends with the policeman so that we were allowed inside the gate!

Leaving the church (

Ellie had her camera and snapped Brian coming in and also the rest of the bridal party – Olivia wore chartreuse long-sleeved net – very simple – and a small chartreuse velvet hat – she carried orange-red begonias – Joan was in white.

Brian and Joan (

Olivia and Joan (

After the ceremony they had a reception at Del Monte which we didn’t see and so went to our al fresco lunch . . . but [later] we found ourselves in the midst of the wedding party waiting to see them off. We were provided with rice and patience and waited – Olivia was standing directly opposite me about 2 ft. away. She was just darling . . . Then out came Joan after a 'phone call to the Ahernes in England – she wore a green suit and sables – I hit her with my rice – she and Brian (in a plaid cap) drove themselves away in a little Packard convertible – after fondly kissing Mirna [Myrna Loy?] and Livvie. . . .

Best Love,

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Part XIV -- College Edition

Letter from Wellesley 1945

The Bea Blog consists of diaries and letters written by my grandmother Bea Cohen Rubin (1899-1985) and other members of her family. For more information about Bea and how this blog came about, see Part I -- Intro and 1913 under Blog Archive.

My mother Ande Rubin (right) and her best friend Bernice Richman in their senior year at Horace Mann High School for Girls, 1943

My mother Ande Rubin (Bea’s daughter) attended Wellesley for her freshman and sophomore years, from 1943 to 1945. She transferred to Barnard in 1945 and graduated in 1947. She was very unhappy at Wellesley and she wrote a number of angry -- yet also funny -- rants citing Wellesley’s flaws. (It probably didn’t help that Ande's best friend from high school was at another college, and Ande's sister Jean, a junior at Wellesley when Ande arrived, loved Wellesley and was successful there both academically and socially.)

Soon after her 19th birthday in March 1945, Ande writes to her mother Bea:

Today, I practically died – quite literally. In Badminton class, we have to jump rope for about 10 minutes continuously – I feel absolutely ill afterwards. I get completely winded and my heart just goes a mile a minute. I see no reason to force myself to do this outrageous stuff when it has such an appalling effect on me and can do me nothing but harm. I am sure it will take 3 years off my life (that’s no fooling).

She illustrates her point with a cartoon:

Among Ande’s other complaints are what she sees as lack of intellectual rigor among her classmates and the failings of her English professors:

Mr. Houghton, though I don’t dislike him, makes me so mad. He told me yesterday that “the course was failing me” and that although I did very well on my tests, that he was sure I didn’t think in general or have intellectual interest. WELL! I told him right there and then that one of my objections to Wellesley was that I felt so many of the girls have acquired information, yes, but that they didn’t actually think and that by God, I did! No one can tell me I don’t think because what gets me so is that most of the people around here don’t think one tenth as much as I do. Then he tells me he has been speaking to Mr. Kirby-Miller who has told him how difficult I was last year. When I think of what KM did to my English and his complete lack of appreciation for anything that was even slightly imaginative or subtle, it makes me sick but what could I say to Mr. Houghton? Then he holds [Classmate X] up to me as an example – how she always talks in class, thinks, etc. so I said, “Mr. Houghton, one has to take into consideration difference in personalities” because I am seriously not disposed towards talking in class and that’s no barometer of intelligence or lack of it  (and I “think” every bit as much as [Classmate X] and possibly a little more and I’d take ten of me to her any day, even if that does sound awful). There is a certain kind of personality that is appreciated by Wellesley – a sort of eager, exuberant, enthusiastic, superficial, naïve kind that I am NOT and since Wellesley can’t change me and I can’t change Wellesley, it’s all pretty frustrating.

“Mr. Kirby-Miller” and “Mr. Houghton” were English professors Charles Kerby-Miller and Walter Houghton.

Ed. Note: When I was applying to colleges in 1978, my grandmother Bea told me several times that Ande was so happy to transfer from Wellesley to Barnard,  that “Barnard could do no wrong.”

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Part XIII -- Letter from Paris 1953

The Bea Blog consists primarily of excerpts from the diaries my grandmother Bea Cohen (1899-1985) kept for 38 years, starting in 1913. For more background, see Part I -- Intro and 1913 (under Blog Archive).

Letter from Paris 1953

My parents, Ande and Byron, on their wedding day, en route to Paris, October 1958

Bea’s youngest daughter, my mother Ande Rubin, was happiest when she was traveling in France and Italy. She traveled regularly to Europe: from the age of five (1931), throughout her childhood and young adulthood, with my father on their honeymoon (1958), and for a couple of years until I was born (1961).

I’ve been reading letters Ande wrote home from Europe during the 1950s, when she traveled alone by ship on several occasions. What stands out for me in particular is her confidence traveling on her own, her ability to make friends, and her ebullience and sense of humor. She comes across as smart, fashionable, elegant and charming – accustomed to comfort, but open to adventure (relatively speaking, that is).

Though Ande only hints at unhappiness in this letter, she was emotionally and physically fragile from a young age. After college, she grew increasingly dependent on prescription pain killers, sleeping pills and tranquilizers. Overmedicated, she died in her sleep in 1967.

 Ande’s letter from Paris, on Ile de France letterhead, August 1953

In August 1953, Ande travels to France on the Ile de France and finds herself in the midst of a general strike. In Paris she stays at the Hotel Continental.  Typical of her letters from France, this one is peppered with French phrases and brimming with enthusiasm. She addresses the letter to her older sister, Jean, but asks Jean to share it with their parents, Bea and Milton.

                   August 13-14
                   I can’t imagine what the NY papers are making out of this situation and I have visions of Daddy calling Eisenhower on the hour, but in spite of the tie-up of everything, Paris est encore Paris et je l’adore!
                   Pas de trains, mails, gas, electricity (they have auxiliary systems however so no candles so far) etc. C’est vraiment formidable! Anyway as to me:
                   Shortly before we disembarked at Le Havre we were told that the boat trains weren’t running so we would go by bus to Paris avec un petit paquet de lunch et une boteille de vin pour chacun. WELL, Le Havre was a MADHOUSE! Fortunately I got a porter who took pity on me and decided in ringing tones that “La petite fille n’est pas solide” so gave me a hand with les bagages. I sat next to a man in the bus – Jewish textile man from New York – married twice, 3 children, with a carton of Milium, Orlon, Nylon, etc. which he plans to take orders for all thru Europe. I wish you could have seen him struggling with this 300 lb carton, FANTASTIC. Anyway, we finally took off and rugged as the ride was, the Normandy countryside is so unbelievably beautiful that it was completely worth la difficulté. We finally got dropped off at La Gare des Invalides – I went off to the Hotel while my textile friend stayed at the station to try to make arrangements to get out of Paris avec carton somehow by the next AM [. . .] In the meantime I was to make a reservation for him [at the Continental], since all the evening flights out of Paris had been cancelled (Air France had walked out of the control towers). Well, don’t you think the management decided to give him the room next to mine avec un connecting door and when he finally arrived told him they had “fixed everything”! So then I knew I was in Paris. […]

                   Had lunch yesterday with the textile man (who still hadn’t been able to get out via plane, train or bus) at The Rond Point […] Finally, the textile man got himself to Zurich – Thank GOD (for me, as well as for him and the future of Milium).
Like the rest of her family, Ande is very alert to (and not shy about commenting on) social status and background – particularly who is Jewish and who is not – and, because her father Milton was in the textile business, she shares details of fabrics (e.g. Milium, Orlon, Nylon) and, later in the letter, the fashion houses she hopes to visit (e.g. Fath, Dior, Lanvin, Carven).
                   Last night had dinner with some girls from the boat at La Reine Pedaque (Chateaubriant avec Bernaise, Vin Rosay, etc.) and went to the folies. Not BAD. The girls are Navy wives who are planning to meet their husbands – jet fliers – in Cannes. We met a Naval Commander at the folies who gave us a big speech about getting out of Paris as soon as possible, etc. etc but I feel quite sure he was a typical Naval alarmist and anyway there’s no way to get out. The trains aren’t running, the busses are completely jammed, half the planes aren’t flying and those that are, are so overloaded I’d rather put my life in the hands of a striking Frenchman on the ground. […]

                                                          Am not in the least lonely and wish I felt this way chez New York. […]

                                                          I went over to the St. James et D’Albany ce matin because I thought I would have a chat with the vendeuse there and see if I couldn’t get into some of the collections. Fath and Dior are open only for buyers now, but she gave me cards for Lanvin and Carven so that should be pleasant.
                                                          Paris seems extremely uncrowded and I suppose even the people scheduled to come are staying away until all this gets settled. […] Ce soir j’ai mangée avec mes amies du bateau à un très bon restaurant sur la rive gauche.

                                                          I’m going to take a chance on mailing this. Maybe you will get it by next January!
                                                          Love, Moi

Lanvin dress 1953 (

Carven dress 1953 (

Monday, December 29, 2014

Part XII -- Marion and Ken Go to Europe

The Bea Blog consists primarily of excerpts from the diaries my grandmother Bea Cohen (1899-1985) kept for 38 years, starting in 1913. For more background, see Part I -- Intro and 1913 (under Blog Archive).

Bea and Elizabeth 1977

Ed. Note In her later diaries (1951-1980), Bea describes her legal battle with my grandfather Milton over the terms of their separation (they never divorced). She also writes at length about her struggle with anxiety and depression and her strained relationship with her daughters (my mother Ande and my aunt Jean). Of course she also writes about other topics, including me, after I was born in 1961.  I was Bea’s only grandchild and my relationship with her was a happy one. But much of the later diaries is pretty grim. So, while I may post some more excerpts from Bea’s diaries, I plan to draw mainly on other family documents for items of broader historical and cultural interest.

Marion and Ken Go to Europe


In this installment – based on the 1926 travel diary of Bea’s sister Marion – Bea’s siblings, Marion (24) and Ken (17), take a three-month automobile trip through Europe – driving over 5000 miles to and from more than 50 towns and cities in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy and England. They sail from New York, along with their Chrysler roadster, on the SS Belgenland and return on the SS Veendam. (Unfortunately I have no photos from this trip but I have reproduced two pages from Marion’s diary and whatever pertinent illustrations I could find on Google.)

Marion’s record of mileage


Marion and Ken set sail for Europe on the SS Belgenland on May 29, 1926. (This was Marion's second trip to Europe and Ken's first.)

The Belgenland was built in 1914 and originally served as a freighter and World War I troopship for the White Star Line under the name SS Belgic. She was given to the Red Star Line for reconstruction and on April 4, 1923 made her maiden voyage as the Belgenland from Antwerp-Southhampton-New York (,

A cutaway brochure showing a cross-section of the SS Belgenland, c. 1925 (


June 7

Marion and Ken arrive in Antwerp
Antwerp at last after a rather disagreeable crossing! […] Quite a thrill to see the car come out of the ship’s hold. Not a bump or a scratch on it. A Belgian exclaimed “Tres chic” when he saw the car.

1926 ad for Chrysler 70 Roadster (

En route to Brussels
It’s very simple driving and the sky’s the limit for speed. No regulations at all.

We had a bottle of crème de cacao and feel quite gay and hysterical.

NB The US was in the midst of Prohibition.

Marion and Ken spend most of their time shopping and dining out

Ken is much occupied trying all kinds of liquor and a new Dunhill pipe.

Dinner at La Tour d’Argent was perfect but cost us about $4.00 a piece. The food was marvelous and we had Duck No. 78732 (since 1890).

Four dollars in 1926 is approximately $52 today. (

An example of the duck number card given to diners at La Tour d’Argent (


It’s a strange place and I waited to see a cripple get cured but nothing happened.

Lourdes is a small town in the Pyrenees where Bernadette Soubirous claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary in 1858 (

 Dutch poster for "Le Miracle de Lourdes," a French movie released in 1926 (

Finally I’ve come to a place I really like. Geneva is spotlessly clean and a beautiful city and such an air of prosperity [. . .] We had our first taste of mountain climbing. What a thrill to be among the clouds.


Marion finds a bit of romance -- not uncommon for young Americans travelling abroad, but fascinating to me as Marion never married and I had no sense of her romantic life.

An early morning visit to Pickfords [travel agency] to purchase railway tickets to Venice brought a little more romance my way. A handsome romantic-looking chap in charge of their office and as courteous and gracious and romantic as could be. He promised me a letter in Venice so I wait to see.

My letter came at 10 this morning and I was excited – almost a love letter. What a souvenir to take home.

Pickfords poster c. 1930s (,_pickfords_travel_service/PT0392/)

Marion and Ken spot some celebrities

Sat at Florian’s all evening [. . .] we watched everyone pass and saw Jules Bache and Noel Coward.

Jules Semon Bache (1861–1944) was a German-born Jewish American banker, art collector and philanthropist. He founded the brokerage house J.S. Bache & Co in 1892 and his name survives in the current corporate name Prudential Bache.(

Jules Bache

Noel Coward (1899–1973), English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer (
Back in Lugano, Marion goes out with her Pickfords agent
Giovanni De Michaeli – that’s all there is to write about today! […] We walked and I heard the “nice things” that were promised me should we ever meet alone. I think it is well we leave Lugano tomorrow as I am sure I could easily succumb and actually fall in love! Is it possible he was sincere in all he said? I sometimes wonder! […] How different life seems when there is someone who cares!

But, en route to Paris, she knows the romance is not to be
He phoned me tonight from Lugano even before he had gotten my letter. It’s hard to think I shan’t speak with him again.

Back to Paris and so happy to be here! […] Ken and I saw the Sultan of Morocco this morning at Fountainebleau.

The Sultan at Fountainebleau (


To Normandy and Brittany – accumulating their eleventh flat tire since their trip began
I changed the tire myself while Ken held the car up.

And finally to England
“Merrie England” at last. I knew I’d love it and I do.

Had a late tea and went to see Cochran’s Revue with Will Rogers which we enjoyed very much.

American humorist Will Rogers performed in Cochran's Revue for four weeks during the summer of 1926. He is said to have ripped up his Revue paycheck, claiming that he was grateful for the publicity the show had brought him and happy to aid the success of his friend, producer Charles Cochran (Betty Rogers, Will Rogers, p. 195-196;

Will Rogers (

I’m dieting in a final effort to lose a little weight before I get home. Lunch of lemonade and two cigarettes and dinner of tea and toast and fruit.

They send their car ahead on the SS Majestic

Returning home on the SS Veendam

September 9

Now after a day’s inspection of the people I’m sorry to say it looks as though we’re out of luck again. No Jewish people our age at all! Those that are here are much older and I feel out of it. Damn it! Seven more days of this.

The SS Veendam made her maiden voyage on 18 April 1923 with a sailing from Rotterdam via Boulogne and Plymouth to New York.  (

SS Veendam