Nov 23 2011: Stars of Stage and Screen: Park Drive Cigarette Card Collection (c.1930s)

I picked up what looked like a school exercise book (the name Nora Simons written on the front) at the weekend, and found inside not the usual lined pages, but a near-complete set of Park Drive Cigarette cards showing the ‘Stars of Stage and Screen’ of what I assume must be the later 1930s: many familiar Hollywood faces and names, like Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Myrna Loy, Mae West and Katharine Hepburn, alongside their British equivalents, Jessie Matthews and Madeleine Carroll, and such musical stars as Bing Crosby, Maurice Chevalier and Gracie Fields. Scattered among them are actors whose names are known from later eras, or largely forgotten: I’ve no idea what Raquel Torres, Cicely Courtneidge, Mary Clare or Ralph Lynn did, but I’m intrigued enough to want to find out. All together, though, despite the mysterious absence of Marie Dressler (presumably, her card fell out of the album some time ago, as there was no sign of her in the box from which the collection came, but she is written carefully into the index on one flyleaf so I assume she was here once) they are nothing less than a snapshot of an earlier era’s popular culture and a strangely touching monument to the transient nature of cultural reputation: once sufficiently recognisable to add glamour to packs of cigarettes, it’s hard to know why some of these faces remain iconic and others are not much better remembered than those of strangers glimpsed in the crowds on an escalator.


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