Sophisticated Lady: Lilyan Tashman and Sapphic Chic

Our blog post on the actress Lilyan Tashman is part of the June 27, 2011, Queer Film Blogathon, sponsored by the Garbo Laughs classic-movie blog as part of Gay Pride Month. The Blogathon is presenting a number of posts that are examining an array of gay, lesbian, transsexual, and transgender presences in classic film. For more information, and to see a list of participating bloggers, please click here to visit the Garbo Laughs blog.

Many readers of our own post are probably wondering, “Who is Lilyan Tashman?” and “why are we reading about her?” Our own response, however, is “Wait until you see her in a film.” We ourselves had never seen (or had even heard of) Lilyan Tashman until we were lucky enough to watch a revival of what is probably now her most famous film, Girls About Town (1931), which had, indeed, left us wondering—who is she? Who is this chic, sophisticated, attractive, and funny scene-stealer? And why isn’t she better known?

If any actress could be said to embody, and to be confined to, a cinematic era, that was Lilyan Tashman of pre-Code Hollywood. Like her more famous contemporaries—Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Kay Francis, Tallulah Bankhead, Dolores Del Rio—Tashman made a number of smart, savvy, sophisticated, and racy movies that poured out of Hollywood in the years between the coming of sound and the Production Code crackdown of July 1934. She’s as much a part of that milieu as, say, Warren William’s suave conmen or Norma Shearer’s glamorous divorcées. But also, like the aforementioned actresses, Tashman personified what was then Hollywood’s era of Lesbian Chic—a time, writes Diana McLellan in The Girls, her history of sapphic Hollywood, of a “sudden astonishing public acceptance of lesbianism as a topic.” Hollywood of the early 1930s saw the German film Madchen in Uniform open to acceptance and acclaim; presented an androgynous Dietrich lounging in trousers in Blonde Venus and kissing a woman on the lips in Morocco; displayed Garbo in pants and high-topped boots as Queen Christina; and had Tallulah—well, being Tallulah, in all her grandly dissolute glory. The early thirties, notes William J. Mann in Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, was a time of “increasing recognition of lesbian life in Hollywood…[which] was due to a fascinating gallery of high-profile women who pushed limits and defied definitions.” And perhaps no one set the trends and pushed the limits better than Tashman herself. Mann describes her as a “quintessential star” of Hollywood’s pre-Code era, “set[ting] the style, the vogue, the trends” for audiences. “She was dubbed,” he writes, “the best dressed, the most beautiful, the jewel in the crown. She was also the biggest dyke Tinseltown had ever seen.”

Committed Couple: Lowe and Tashman

In noting Tashman’s sapphic glamour, however, we have to caution that, in viewing her films today, we view them in hindsight—in knowledge of the reality of her private life. Bringing that knowledge to bear when watching her movies now might inflect their perception in a way that would not have been available to their original audiences. During her Hollywood heyday (from the mid-1920s to 1934), Tashman was married to—in what, by all reports, was a happy and committed relationship—the homosexual actor Edmund Lowe, at the time well known, but who, like Lilyan, is today known mainly to cult fans (his best-known roles are as Sergeant Quirt to Victor McLaglen’s Captain Flagg in the 1926 version of What Price Glory?, and in the title role of the 1932 fantasy film, Chandu the Magician, in which he’s upstaged by his co-star, Bela Lugosi). Undoubtedly the marriage was, in part, a means for the couple to disguise their sexual proclivities—“they became each other’s ‘beard,’ so to speak,” says Hans Wollstein—and as a way to gain acceptance in what was still a socially conservative culture. As Mann notes, marriage “provided a veneer of social respectability,” as well as “offer[ing] a far better chance for establishment in the social arena”; he further notes that, at the time, “gays didn’t necessarily view this protocol as oppressive; it was simply the way things were arranged.” And the marriage did provide an effective cover. The Tashman-Lowe marriage, says McLellan, “was, to the amusement of their friends, much touted as ‘the ideal marriage’ in fan magazines.”

Fashion Icon: Tashman in modeling pose

But this very interpretation of the pair’s union, as one of idealized harmony, may have contributed to Lilyan’s standing as, per McLellan, “Hollywood’s most popular hostess.” The Lowes were considered one of the most stylish couples in Hollywood. Their parties were famous for their sophistication and glamour; “they were the host,” says Mann, “of screenland’s most fabulous soirees.” And Lilyan’s fame as a hostess further contributed to what Wollstein calls her “enormous influence over women in the late 1920s and early 1930s.” She was famous, writes Eve Golden, for her “chic style,” and was featured regularly on Best-Dressed lists. Lilyan would often dispense clothing and grooming advice in articles in fan magazines, a medium that catered particularly to women. An example we found was an Australian magazine, Fashion and Society, from 1932, in which appeared installments of Lilyan’s autobiography. Along with ads for beauty products, clothing, and accessories, were also articles on Beauty, Fashion (“Black with White for Late Afternoon”; “Fur and Embroidery for the Tea Hour”), Home, and Travel (“A Society Woman’s Trek Across Africa”). That Lilyan’s autobiographical musings were appearing in a fashion journal published halfway round the world indicates the extent of her influence. As the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films notes, Tashman may now be remembered more “as a fashion icon than as a talented actor.”

Killer outfit: Tashman in Scarlet Dawn

However, Lilyan’s talent was real. Although never an ‘A’-list star, says Golden, “her supporting performances are sharp, clever and have aged little over the decades.” But Lil’s performances are more than merely clever. She’s often the most watchable person in the movie. As Hans Wollstein remarks, in many of her films she ends up upstaging the name star. (She even manages to give glossy Norman Shearer a run for the camera in Norma’s starring vehicle, and one of Lilyan’s last films, Riptide). Tall, slim, blonde, with, says Golden, “sly, cat-like features,” Lilyan exuded a raucous energy in her performances, drawing the viewer’s eye inevitably to her. Quite simply, she moves. Unlike Dietrich’s slinkings or Garbo’s dramatic posings, Tashman struts—her body as straight, yet as willowy, as a sapling, her face expressively mugging, her arms, shoulders, and hips cutting a swath across space. You can sense how effective she must have been in her silent films: in a non-speaking scene in Girls About Town, she stands outside a storefront window, gesturing, pointing, smiling—you know exactly what’s going on; it’s as if the scene was subtitled. Even standing still, Lilyan commands space (her youthful training as a model tells here): poised confidently, weight relaxed on one hip, an arm held akimbo, a hand placed provocatively on her breast—Lilyan’s camera presence is superb. She’s aware of her effect without ever being self-conscious about it.

Tashman fashion montage

But Lilyan’s most memorable attribute was her voice. Ah, that voice. A husky contralto, resonating deep within her chest, with a martini-and-cracked-ice timbre—it’s unforgettable. To listen to it, you might think that its possessor had the thoracic capacity of a Pavarotti. The charm of Lilyan’s voice is that, although deep, it doesn’t sound ‘mannish,’ nor is it flat and toneless. It’s light and playful, skittering easily up and down the vocal scale, yet instinctively giving weight to the right word, the right phrase, to the greatest effect. Tashman’s voice is essentially a comic instrument; it has that ability—a speciality of the gay, ‘camp’ persona—of finding irony and innuendo in the most innocuous utterance. In an early GAT scene, an elderly suitor, seeing Lilyan to the door of her apartment building (and hoping to be asked in), asks if she lives there: “Well, I only live in some of it,” Lilyan replies. Her emphasis takes a mildly amusing line and dips it in acid (you know just what she thinks of her companion). We admit, our own falling-in-love with Lilyan began with her voice. It has an addictive quality. To mix our images, listening to Tashman’s voice is like gazing at Garbo’s profile; you can’t get enough of it.

Showgirl in Hollywood: Roscoe Karns and Tashman in New York Nights

Perhaps it was because of Lilyan’s arch, campy presence that her film roles confined her to a certain character type: she was usually the vamp, the chorus girl, the other woman, and (most frequently) the gold digger. She’d been playing such types since her first years in show business, beginning in vaudeville before the First World War (although she listed her birth date as 1899, other sources claim it’s more likely 1895 or ’96), then graduating to one of the chorus beauties in the Ziegfeld Follies, where she frolicked with fellow showgirls Peggy Hopkins Joyce and Marion Davies, and where, says the Dictionary, she wore “the most outlandish outfits with style and grace.” Her breakthrough role came in 1921, in a ‘book’ show appropriately titled The Gold Diggers, in which she appeared with Ina Claire (an urbane, stylish actress whom Lilyan somewhat resembled in performing style). By now, audiences were copying the Tashman ‘look’ in hair and clothes; and it was also at this time that the movies began to take notice. It wasn’t until 1925, however, when she married Lowe, that Lilyan decided to relocate to the West Coast for a full-time film career. As Wollstein notes, Lilyan’s roles were mainly supporting, with her starring parts limited to low-budget programmers, but she was always her “naughty and glamorous self.” “Sound,” says Wollstein, “definitely brought new life” to Lilyan’s career, when “not only could audiences salivate over her amazing wardrobe, now they were also able to enjoy her caustic remarks.”

Unfortunately, many of Lilyan’s caustic remarks are not heard by today’s classic-film viewers, since many of her films are just not available, on television, in revival cinemas, or on DVD. By dint of hard looking, we’ve managed to view (and hear) several of Lilyan’s sound films. As well as GAT, we’ve been able to see Bulldog Drummond, New York Nights, One Heavenly Night, Millie, Riptide, and Scarlet Dawn. Although the films range over several styles and genres—comedy, mystery, gangster film, musical, ‘woman’s’ film, and historical drama—Lilyan’s film persona demonstrated a specific consistency: she’s always the smartest cookie in the room. As Golden notes, “[e]ven if the film itself bombed, [Lilyan] stood out.” Sometimes, the only reason to watch one of her films is to watch her.

“I belong to everybody”: Fritzi (Tashman) and headdress

That could supremely apply to One Heavenly Night (1930), a dire little musical nominally starring the dull John Boles and the colorless nonentity Evelyn Laye, a British import who left no mark on American cinema. Lilyan appears only in the first and last ten minutes (so you’ve been warned), and she sparkles. She plays Fritzi, a nightclub performer who’s the toast of Budapest, and who has a penchant for starting riots (amongst male admirers) whenever she appears. Lilyan bursts onto the screen, singing, strutting, camping, decked out almost entirely in feathers, including a two-foot high headdress that looks as if it may have been modeled on one of her Follies costumes. The rambunctious Fritzi definitely belongs to the pre-Code universe, boasting a pansexual attitude to life that would never have been permitted by the Breen watchdogs. “I belong to everybody,” she belts out, and “every woman and man belongs to me!” Whatever viewer appetites are whetted by Fritzi’s own are, alas, quickly extinguished when Fritzi is arrested (for starting one riot too many) and banished to the boondocks to keep out of trouble. Rather than suffer provincial doldrums, Fritzi begs Lili (Laye), a mousy waitress at the cafe where she sings, to take her place, which leaves viewers to suffer instead. Lavished with Fritzi’s cars, jewels, and clothes, Lili heads to the suburbs and the film heads into torpor. Not until near the end, when Fritzi finally re-enters the story, does the film resume any interest.

Blondie of the Follies: a young Tashman in Follies costume

Although Lili is the film’s main character, and the one who ends up with the man, her outright admiration of the bohemian Fritzi (leading her to assume the other’s identity) is what drives the plot: “I’m tired, tired of a world that can’t be gay and marvelous like Fritzi,” she exclaims. Certainly a sapphic implication could be read here. If a lesbian aura can be discerned in Tashman’s performances, it’s best seen in her relations to the other women in her films. Lilyan’s restricted repertoire of roles—chorus girls and gold diggers—are character types who almost always relate, in films, primarily to other women, as rivals or allies (men might be the goal, but women are the players). In New York Nights (1929), for instance, Lil’s showgirl is best pal to colleague Norma Talmadge; the two even run a nightclub together. Such characters tend to work in feminine teams; in probably the most famous example, Gold Diggers of 1933, a female trio, when not hustling for roles, is hustling stagedoor-johnnies. That Lilyan was primarily cast as chorine or vamp reflects the Hollywood studios’ convenient typecasting of performers, but it may also reflect a perception of Lilyan’s strengths—she worked well with, or against, other women. Even with the lifeless Laye, Lilyan finds something in their scenes together. She engages Laye directly, frequently touching and gazing at her. However, as Golden notes, Lilyan’s “forte was stealing films from their nominal stars”; her lively interactions with female co-stars, particularly the dull ones, also allow her to dominate a scene, or even an entire film.

If lesbianism may only be implied in OHN, it’s right out in the open in Millie (1931). The DVD box’s blurb notes the “thinly veiled portrayal of lesbian lovers,” and it’s a very thin veil indeed. The film stars Helen Twelvetrees, a popular actress of the early 1930s, who’s supported by Tashman and Joan Blondell, and any ambiguity about the latter two’s relationship is swept away in their first scene. Millie (Twelvetrees) is talking on the phone to her friend Angie (Blondell), who’s calling in hopes of financial assistance. The camera cuts abruptly to Angie and Helen (Tashman) sitting up together in bed, clad only in their lingerie (Helen’s is black lace). What makes the scene startling as well as funny is that the two ladies are not alone. Hovering at the end of their bed, breathing fire, is their dragon-like landlady (that grand old battleaxe, Nora Cecil), waiting for the rent (hence Angie’s panicked call). Blondell and Tashman (and Cecil) carry off the scene with aplomb, Blondell assuming a dizty, wide-eyed innocence, while Tashman calmly smokes and reads a newspaper, shooting lines sotto voce to her companion to repeat on the phone (“Say you’re a sales girl at Macy’s”). The scene ends with a great bit of Thirties slang, as Helen glares at the landlady and snarls, “You’ll get your money—now will ya fade!”

Joined at the hip: Blondell and Tashman

As far as Millie is concerned, thank heavens for Joan and Lil. Their scenes—usually entering and exiting together, as if joined at the hip—are the film’s most amusing and energetic moments. The two play off each other’s contrasts, bickering like a married couple: Blondell as the dumb blonde, Tashman as the wiseacre. Unfortunately, at the film’s center is a big, soggy spot of gray dampness that’s Helen Twelvetrees. Plump, dough-faced, and artificial in manner, Twelvetrees has an annoyingly cooing vocal style, which gives the alarming impression that she’s about to break into baby talk. Yet Millie is an interesting pre-Code artifact in its look at a woman’s decision to live her life independently, both sexually and financially—“I pay my own way,” is Millie’s frequent mantra. Divorcing her unfaithful husband, Millie takes a job and lives with a young reporter whom she won’t marry—marriage, she tells him, is a “terrible position” to be in—until he also proves unfaithful. She then supports herself as an “escort” for wealthy men, sending her clients home to spend Christmas with their wives. Her one lasting relationship is with Helen and Angie, who provide Millie with sympathy and succour, until they disappear from the film’s last quarter, which has Millie on trial for plugging the elderly rake who tried to seduce her teenage daughter. (Similarly, in New York Nights Lil’s chorus girl comforts wronged wife Talmadge, until she, too, vanishes midway through the plot.) “Men are all tramps,” Millie declares; the film’s subtext implies that a woman’s best friends are other women. Indeed, the film ends with Millie returning to live with her daughter and (ex) mother-in-law, who had always seemed fonder of Millie than had her own husband.

“I want to show you my itinerary”: Joan Blondell (the blonde on screen right) and Lilyan Tashman (the blonde on screen left) bookend a prospective sugar daddy in Millie. Note Lil’s facial expressions as Joan discusses marriage and security (starting at the 1:55 mark). The plump lady twisting her pearls is Helen Twelvetrees.

Chic Villainy: Joan Bennett, Montagu Love, and Tashman in Bulldog Drummond

Lilyan wasn’t always a girl’s best friend in her films. In both Scarlet Dawn (1932) and Bulldog Drummond (1929), she’s definitely a bad ‘un—either scheming to get the man away from the heroine in the first film, or plotting to do away with both the hero and the female lead in the second. In SD, Lil’s delightful as a wily Russian courtesan who survives the Bolshevik revolution by luring ex-Baron Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. away from devoted serving wench Nancy Carroll. Lil doesn’t have much to do save slink around looking gorgeous in a killer wardrobe, but she does make you wonder why Doug bothers to return to the drippy Carroll at the end. In BD she’s really a villainess, part of a kidnapping/extortion gang that tangles with the title character, played by an impossibly handsome Ronald Colman. Seen today, BD is talky and arch (it lacks the loose, throw-away humor of the late-thirties Drummond series with John Howard and E.E. Clive), filled with such stagy effects as shadows cast on walls depicting nasty doings. We confess, this wasn’t one of our favorite Lil performances. Her line readings are too emphatic, too slow and deliberate: “We’ll See Who Laughs Last, Bull-Dog-Drum-mond!” This kind of histrionic hugger-mugger doesn’t suit her; she seems far too jolly and relaxed to be mixing in thriller work (though maybe she’s trying to send up the genre). Her best scenes are when she’s flirting with Drummond or his friend Algy (the horse-faced Claude Allister, who’s straight out of P.G. Wodehouse), changing her declamatory style to her usual one of delicious innuendo.

However, everything comes together for Lilyan in Girls About Town. Of all of Lilyan’s films we’ve managed to see, this is her most ‘gay,’ in both senses of the word. GAT was pre-Code with a vengeance; according to the AFI Catalog, the Hays office objected to the “undue exposure” of both Tashman and her co-star, Kay Francis (each undresses before the camera at some point), as well as protesting a scene between Francis and Joel McCrea, in which Francis “intimates that marriage is unnecessary because she is willing to be his mistress.” The film is also gayly credentialed: Not only are several of its actors gay (Tashman, Francis, Anderson Lawler), it’s adapted from a story by the lesbian writer Zoe Akins; according to McLellan, Akins based the two main characters on Lilyan herself and Tallulah Bankhead (who had been one of Tashman’s lovers). Mann quotes a contemporary review describing GAT as “very gay—very gay,” and notes that its gay director, George Cukor, “had a sly impulse to tweak the prevailing culture.” Certainly audiences, Mann adds, could pick up a “whiff of subversion” in the film’s antic goings-on.

Party Girl: Tashman vamps George Barbier

The plot follows the adventures of two New York “party girls,” Marie (Tashman) and Wanda (Francis), who vamp well-to-do out-of-town businessmen, setting them up for their ’employer,’ Jerry (Alan Dinehart) and his business deals. Along the way, Wanda falls in love with hunky Jim Baker (Joel McCrea), while Marie gold-digs rich and pudgy Benjy Thomas (Eugene Pallette) for a fortune’s worth of jewelry. Yet the film’s focus remains on the bond between Wanda and Marie, who both work and live together: Marie displays Wanda’s framed photo prominently in her bedroom, into which Wanda enters to snuggle in bed with Marie. The two have an easy intimacy with each other’s bodies; Wanda at one point shows Marie the “bruises” she’s received after a night’s work. As with Blondell in Millie, Lil plays well against Francis, her diamond-hard sheen contrasting beautifully with Francis’ soft languor. The contrast extends to their characters: Wanda has become bored with “the life” and wants to get serious; whereas Marie likes the play and control of seduction (“Lovely work if you can get it to do,” she insinuates at one point). Her job is a game; watch the scene in which she reads Pallete’s palm, remarking with feigned astonishment, “Look at that mound of Venus!” (Tashman milks the line for all the innuendo she can get). Perhaps the most revealing moment of their relationship is when Wanda announces that she wants to change her ways: “Are you going straight on me?” Marie asks, a roguish gleam in her eye. Her question sets up the action in the film, between Wanda moving into heterosexual marriage, and Marie choosing to continue ‘working’—“but from now on,” she cheerily announces, “I work alone!”

Snuggled Together: Louise Beavers, Tashman, Kay Francis

As with Millie, GAT is really about how women, not just Wanda and Marie, relate to each other. During the film’s opening credits, to a jaunty jazz theme, we see a city skyline, across which swirls a glamorously dressed crowd of young women—moving “about town,” against an endless city nightscape. The first scene opens on two women, their backs to the camera—backs long, lithe, bare, as revealed by their costumes. Were there ever more beautiful or flattering fashions for women than those of the early 1930s? The ladies are exiting a powder room, a woman’s environment if there ever was one (recall the powder-room ending of 1939’s The Women, also a Cukor film). Here we watch women engaged in intimate activities: applying make-up, brushing hair, adjusting shoe or garter straps. If ‘men’s films’ take place in the great outdoors, ‘women’s films,’ as Cukor’s camera shows, move inside private spaces. When Marie is later confronted by Thomas’ frumpy wife, who wants him back, she takes the disconsolate woman into her bedroom for a cozy chat. Near the end, Wanda and Marie stage an ‘auction’ of their own clothing for the ‘girls,’ to raise money to pay off a debt. Cukor expertly sets up the interaction between Marie, Wanda, and their female cohorts, as the pair manipulate the other women into bidding more (says Marie to one well-accoutered bidder, “If I had your money, I’d go straight.”). Clearly it’s a woman’s world, dominated by women’s concerns, desires (note the close-up on Francis’ soul’s-awakening expression when she first spots McCrea), and humor.

And clearly GAT is Lilyan’s film. McLellan notes that the role of Marie “finally raised Lilyan from second banana to star.” She has the film’s first and last lines, as well as all the best ones; and her character ‘stage-manages’ the major setpieces, including the auction, the birthday party (complete with Prohibition booze), and the shopping expedition meant to manipulate Thomas into spending money. The film slows down when Lil’s not onscreen (the scenes between Francis and Lawler could use a shot of Lilyan’s energy); when she’s on, the camera centers on her. Lilyan’s sensibility dominates the film: witty, cool, ironic, with a sense of drop-dead sophistication. The film is Lilyan’s triumph; she sets here the ultimate standard for, and statement of, lesbian chic.

Gay Nights:  Here’s part of the opening segment from Girls About Town. It’s all in a night’s work for the girls, as Lil and Kay are all business beneath the champagne and bubbles (and Prohibition was still in effect).

It was, sadly, a triumph short-lived. In 1932 Lilyan was hospitalized for what was said to be an appendectomy, and, says Golden, she “was never really well again from that point on.” Her film work decreased; she made only three films in 1932 (down from eight in 1931). In her next-to-last film release, 1934’s Riptide, Golden writes that her part had to be shortened because she was so ill. In March 1934 she was again operated on, for an abdominal tumor, but it was too late. She died in the hospital, age 37, with Lowe at her side. Such was Lil’s popularity that, according to newspaper reports, 10,000 fans mobbed her funeral, most of them “hysterical women.” The timing of her death has an odd symbolism; four months later, under pressure by the Legion of Decency and the threat of economic boycott, studios caved in to Production Code strictures. The gay, glittering, and stylish cinematic beau monde so well represented by Lilyan was gone. Onscreen virtue was now mandated. (An instructive example is the career of Norma Shearer: from playing a worldly, sexually experienced socialite in Riptide, she did a 180 and next played a virginal Victorian, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in The Barretts of Wimpole Street.)

How Lilyan, had she lived, would have survived in the post-Code era is difficult to assess. Mann speculates that she “would have had difficulty adapting to Hollywood’s new political climate.” Perhaps her career might have gone the route of Mae West’s, who had censors breathing down her decolletage, and whose films lost much of their naughty sense of fun after 1934. Or perhaps, as Golden suggests, she “might have aged into a superb character actress,” maybe in the mode of lesbian actresses Agnes Moorehead and Judith Anderson. We can only dream. But at least Lil has left us a cinematic legacy of sophisticated ladies, to enjoy and to relish. Let’s hope that more of her films will soon be released onto recorded and electronic media, for future audiences to do the same.

 Lilyan Tashman’s films mentioned in this post available for viewing:

Bulldog Drummond, 1929, Samuel Goldwyn Company – VHS, HBO Home Video

Girls About Town, 1931, Paramount – on YouTube (Internet) (uploaded in several sections) -UPDATE: per YouTube, this film is no longer available for viewing because of copyright infringements

Millie, 1931, Charles R. Rogers Productions – watch the full movie on YouTube hereDVD, Alpha Video

New York Nights, 1929, Joseph M. Schenck Productions – on YouTube (Internet) (uploaded in several sections) -UPDATE: per YouTube, this film is no longer available for viewing because of copyright infringements

One Heavenly Night, 1931, Samuel Goldwyn Company – on Hulu (Internet) (you can watch it for free, but you have to sign up as a subscriber)

Riptide, 1934, MGM – DVD, Warner Bros. Archive

Scarlet Dawn, 1932, Warner Bros. – VHS, MGM; YouTube 

>>As part of its July-August 2011 “Essential Pre-Code” film festival, the NYC Film Forum will be presenting Girls About Town on Tuesday, August 9, 2011.  Please click here for more information, or visit


Golden, Eve, Golden Images: 41 Essays on Silent Film Stars, Jefferson, NC, and London: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 2001

Lowe, Denise, Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films, 1895-1930, Haworth Press, Inc., 2005

Mann, William J., Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969, New York: Viking Penguin, 2001

McLellan, Diana, The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000

Tashman, Lilyan: “Frolics and Follies: First installment of the glamorous autobiography of an American chorus girls who found success on Broadway and in Hollywood,” Fashion and Society, January 1932, Vol. 3, No. 3

Wollstein, Hans J., Vixens, Floozies and Molls: 28 Actresses of Late 1920s and 1930s Hollywood, Jefferson, NC, and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1999

BONUS CLIP: “Wait’ll you see what I picked!”: Lilyan Tashman and Kay Francis vamp Eugene Pallette and Joel McCrea aboard Alan Dinehart’s yacht in Girls About Town. Note the casual intimacy  between Lilyan and Kay in their scenes together; also note how Lil plays seductively with Pallette in the scene where she discusses their astrological differences. “Here’s to good clean fun…” 

Leave a comment


  1. Gorgeous, well-researched profile of an actress I’ve always wanted to know more about. It’s quite sad that she didn’t have more time on earth to make her mark, and that her films remain so hard to find today. Thanks especially for the YouTube links — I’ll definitely make use of them! I really appreciate this wonderful contribution to the blogathon.

    • What’s so remarkable about Lilyan is how fresh and modern she appears on screen — her performing style hasn’t aged at all. We really think she would appeal to today’s audiences, particularly in a film like “Girls About Town,” which is still funny to watch (and its fashions are beautiful). She was a one-of-a-kind talent. Thanks so much for your lovely comment and for hosting this wonderful Blogathon!

  2. WOW! This was an utterly fascinating read–thank you so much for the very obvious amount of time and careful research that went into this write-up! I had never heard of Lilyan or any of the films that you mention, but I’m putting both Millie and Girls About Town in particular on my priority list now. Lowe also sounds like an interesting guy too–will have to look into his work as well… thank you again!


    • Glad you’re going to see some of Lilyan’s films! She’s a complete delight, and well worth the time. And “Girls About Town” is great fun. If you want to see more of Edmund Lowe, 2 of his films, “Chandu the Magician” and “Dinner at Eight,” are on DVD. “Chandu” is an enjoyable, old-fashioned fantasy film (and if you like Bela Lugosi, it’s a must-see). Thanks for your comment!

  3. Rick29

     /  July 10, 2011

    Thanks for educating me on an actress I knew very little about (having only seen her in BULLDOG DRUMMOND). As always, your profile boasts meticulous research (with references, no less) and thought-provoking content.

    • Thanks so much for your comment! We really enjoyed researching Lilyan and her career, as you can probably tell. We hope you get a chance to see more of Lilyan’s films; she’s always a lot of fun to watch–a great comic talent.

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