By now, I’m sure Threaded readers know that I derive great satisfaction – or some might say, nerd out – uncovering the social and historical context of clothing. One of my projects, Worn Stories, does that in an even more personal way; it’s a collection of stories I edit from interesting individuals based on a piece of clothing or an accessory with a very specific memory connected to it. I recently posted a story on Worn Stories about a sprightly centenarian, Sadie Mintz, that I thought Threaded readers would enjoy so I’ve re-posted it here in its entirety.
I used to rent to the movie studios. I had a small shop that was in between two buildings, on Hollywood Blvd. It was called “The Hollywood Jewel Box.” It was really only wide enough for one person to walk into, and I stood behind a little counter at the far end. The jewelry was displayed on shelves that had been made by digging into the red brick of the buildings on either side, and I used to be so afraid that someone would see all the red dust we hosed out of the store when we made the shelves. Mary Pickford was my landlady. I would make some money at the store, in addition to what my husband Sidney earned as a wardrobe man. We would also rent our jewelry to the movie studios – back then, the studios did not have as much of their own costumes and things. We had two sons, both of whom we put through college and medical school by renting jewelry.
In one of the two bedrooms in my modest house in Hollywood, California, I had tray after tray of shallow shelves built into the wall. All the drawers were behind sliding wooden doors, so it just looked like the room had a big closet. Every tray was lined with satin or velvet, and it was full of fake jewelry! Everything you could imagine: a drawer for just emerald jewelry, one for ruby, one for multicolored stones, drawers for just earrings, ones for bangles and ones for necklaces. It was like a candy shop with every kind of color, shape and size. There was even a drawer for Indian and “native” jewelry (which my husband Sid fashioned from bones saved from our Sunday night chicken dinners).
On one occasion in the 1950s, I rented several pairs of the same rhinestone earrings. Evidently they were worn by Marilyn Monroe and several other cast members in “Some Like It Hot.” My husband and I made the earrings. We were supposed to make them with a lot of rhinestones, very noticeable. These earrings were the very same that Marilyn Monroe had on in the famous LIFE magazine photograph of her, which I always kept framed on the wall.
Years later, I sold my inventory back to the studios. I kept some things for the grandkids – I had three granddaughters, and they used to love to come play in the drawers. But I did keep those rhinestone earrings. I tried to have them sold by Christie’s or Butterfields – I don’t remember which auction house. They agreed it was the same design, but I had no proof that these were the very same earrings worn by the stars, so they could not “authenticate” them. I wonder what more information they needed since I was already in my mid-nineties and remembered everything! My eldest granddaughter even got me a clip of the video showing the earrings. These were indeed the same earrings. I ended up having them sold at auction by the Screen Actors Guild, which was more lax on the authenticity rules.
Even though I don’t own them anymore, I can still see them on my picture of Marilyn Monroe, and they remind me of the Golden Age of Hollywood, when we rented accessories and jewelry to all the stars, from Mae West (she gave me a beautiful crystal and silver decanter as a gift) to Marilyn Monroe towards the last few years of my rental business. At that time, Hollywood really was magical. The movie stars were all so glamorous, much more so than today. They sparkled like princesses, and they were so elegant. In those days, ladies had etiquette and dressed in lovely hats and, of course, jewelry. When I see that picture, I remember the Hollywood Jewel Box, and what a treasure trove it was during that Golden Age of Hollywood.
Sadie Mintz is the 105-year-old entrepreneur behind the Hollywood Jewel Box who made the earrings Marilyn Monroe wore on a 1959 LIFE Magazine cover.
(Originally published on Worn Stories.)