Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part Eight by Greg Dziawer

Paula shows off some Victor Most-designed duds in The Violent Years (1956)

"I felt myself a victim rather than a victor in the realm of pictures."
-Gloria Swanson
I.

Victor's onscreen credit in The Violent Years.
A few weeks ago, I popped in the new Blu-ray release of the Ed Wood-scripted crime thriller The Violent Years (1956, dir. William Morgan) from the American Genre Film Archive and Something Weird Video for the first time. We'll review that disc here in the near future, but first, indulge me a tangent.

The surprisingly profitable film, written when Eddie was at the peak of his creative powers, concerns the descent of flippant, spoiled Paula Parkins (Playboy Playmate Jean Moor(e)head) and three of her female classmates (Theresa Hancock, Joanne Cangi, and Gloria Farr) into juvenile delinquency. It's meant as a stern cautionary tale for those in the audience, since the wrongdoers come from a "respectable" suburban upbringing. And yet, The Violent Years lends its wayward, amoral characters a definite sense of glamour and excitement.

Watching the ill-fated "teenage" girl gang in their clingy sweaters, calf-length skirts, and shiny leather jackets, exploding from the screen in pristine HD, my 14-year-old daughter Elyse remarked, "Wow! They're all sooo pretty!"

Indeed they are. And they possess some really tremendous outfits. That thought led me to wonder about the film's intriguing wardrobe credit: Victor Most of California. Who was this man who'd supplied these fabulous clothes? What was his story? I decided to find out. Again, census records and old newspapers tell much of the tale.

II.

Details from the 1940 census.
Before he was Victor Most, he was Victor Mostowy, born in New York City on August 17, 1918, to Morris and Fannie Mostowy, two immigrants who'd only gotten here from Russia earlier that decade. Victor's sister Millie was three and a half years older. When Morris filled out his draft registration card in 1917, he listed a Cleveland address and his employ as bricklayer. By 1920, the family, still carrying the name Mostowy, was recorded living on East 110th Street in Manhattan in the US Federal Census. 

Flash forward two decades: Victor, now 21, is still living with his father Morris, but they've relocated to San Jose, CA. The family surname is recorded as Most in the 1940 Census. By this time, Morris is on his second wife: Aida, also of Russian descent. In the process, Victor has picked up a couple of siblings: a 17-year-old stepbrother named Leonard and a baby half-sister named Zondra, only a year old.

So over the course of 20 years, a New Yorker named Victor Mostowy became a Californian named Victor Most. What could be more American than moving 3,000 miles to the west with a de-ethnicized surname? That's American history in a nutshell.

III.

A Most garment from the '60s.
Victor Most's eventual entrée into the fashion world came during a prosperous and exciting time for that industry. 

As noted in the mammoth, four-volume work Clothing and Fashion: American Fashion from Head to Toe (2015; coauthored by José F Blanco, Patricia Kay Hunt-Hurst, Heather Vaughan Lee, and Mary Doering): "Greater prosperity after the Great Depression meant that consumers could spend more on clothing, entertainment, and recreation. The increase in consumption also allowed department stores to prosper." The authors note that many of these new shoppers were women. Teens, too, were now employed and had money to spend on clothes.

And Victor was living in one of America's fashion hubs. "Southern California was considered the Riviera of the United States," the authors further declare, "and designers and manufacturers sprouted up in California during the early 1940s." These designers created what was dubbed the "California Look," a style that found favor with the movie industry because it "exuded youth, celebrity and leisure and pioneered a movement toward more casual fashions."

By 1944, Victor was living on Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles and working as a salesman. He married in 1951, and by 1953 he was living in Hollywood. His address then was 919 Screenland Drive in Burbank, a block or so off Magnolia, in a four-room/four-bath house newly built in 1951. At just over 2,000 feet of living space, the modest digs occupy pricey terrain today, the house valued at three-quarters of a million bucks. 

The following year, Victor moved to 1927 N. Bronson St (now a retail storefront) in Los Angeles, just a few blocks from Hollywood Blvd. He registered to vote as a Democrat. Within a few years, he had landed the only film credit of his that I can locate: dressing Paula Parkins, et al. in The Violent Years.

IV. 

A Long Beach newspaper ad from 1963.
Though his film resume is scant, Victor Most would remain, right through the 1960s, an everyday name brand in casual mainstream retail fashion, his affordable "California Look" obtaining on the shelves and racks at strip mall storefronts and in suburban malls.

While garments carrying his label still turn up (very sporadically) across the vintage fashion market niche, Victor Most's lasting legacy will certainly be those costumes in The Violent Years, defining of their era and burned into the brains of those privileged to have seen it.

He passed on November 24, 1984, in Woodland Hills, CA, a short drive west of the Hollywood sign. Like Ed Wood, he had toiled mightily in its long shadow.

We'll probably never know, but could Ed have ever worn a piece by Victor Most?

Note: Additional images for this week's article have been posted to the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr. You can check out some of Victor Most's costumes for The Violent Years right here. And you can peruse some ads and labels from Victor's fashion career right here. Enjoy.

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