Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hearing is Believing

by Connie Cortright

Last week my husband and I went to see a movie that came out last year called "Florence Foster Jenkins" about the career of a singer in the 1920s-1940s. This woman's story is very unique in that her claim to fame was her lack of talent.

Florence Jenkins longed to be a performer from the age of seven when she would play piano to entertain people under the name of "Little Miss Foster". In 1885, she married Frank Jenkins, who gave her syphilis after their wedding. She struggled with this disease for the rest of her life. At that time, the known "cure" for syphilis was arsenic (which might have affected her singing voice). She never recovered fully from this dreadful disease.

In 1909 she married St. Clair Bayfield who became her manager for her singing career. With the help of her father's trust, she used her wealth to become a benefactress for the arts in New York City, in particular musical performances at the Verdi Club.

In 1912, she started private vocal lessons to improve her singing skills. Because of her wealth, the people around her praised her singing ability just to keep her happy. She loved operatic music and, in private musical recitals, would insist on performing technically challenging music that was beyond her ability. By 1917, she performed on stage at the Verdi Club to an audience that had been hand-picked by "Lady Florence" herself.

Before long, Lady Florence became known for her terrible singing ability. "She is described as having great difficulty with such basic vocal skills as pitch, rhythm, and sustaining notes and phrases." Her accompanist Cosme McMoon had to adjust his tempo and rhythms just to accommodate her mistakes.  Her bad singing combined with her flamboyant costumes brought the audience back to see her again and again.

Her friends and hand-picked audience would cheer and applaud to disguise the laughter so as to have her continue to sing the pieces. "Jenkins was exquisitely bad, so bad that it added up to quite a good evening of theater." Cole Porter was one of her attendees during the 30s and 40s. "They say Cole Porter had to bang his cane into his foot in order not to laugh out loud when she sang. She was that bad." But Mr. Porter never missed a recital. Click on the link to hear for yourself: You Tube - Florence Foster Jenkins (she made recordings of her voice and sold record albums)

Her manager husband and McMoon encouraged her singing and avoided telling her the truth about her ability so as not to hurt her feelings. The public heard about this singing "diva" and demanded a concert open to the general public. On October 25, 1944, Jenkins finally sang at Carnegie Hall for general-public admission. The concert was sold out with 2000 people waiting at the door. However, now that the public finally heard her bad singing, the newspapers gave truthful reviews that panned her performance and in one case calling it "one of the weirdest mass jokes New York has ever seen." Five days after hearing the uncensored truth about her voice, Jenkins suffered a heart attack and died within a month.

No one was quite sure if she knew the truth about her audiences or not. She once told her friend, "People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing."

This story is portrayed in a very amusing and interesting way by Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant in the movie "Florence Foster Jenkins". I highly recommend seeing it just to hear Streep's portrayal of Lady Florence's terrible voice. She did a great job of singing off-key.

Information taken from Wikipedia: Florence Foster Jenkins

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Something to Sneeze At

by Connie Cortright

The story of Kleenex facial tissue is similar to the paper toweling article from last week: both of them started out with an "oops".  Kimberly-Clark, the company that invented Kleenex, and Scott Paper Company, which we heard last week invented paper toweling, both demonstrated the greatness of capitalism. When the companies were handed a disappointment, instead of getting a bailout, they used their ingenuity to retool a failed product idea into a profitable replacement.

In the early 1920's Kimberly-Clark manufactured a paper product that did not sell on the market at the time. As a result they had a stock pile of crepe wadding that was not usable. They had to find another way to utilize the already produced materials in a different format. They changed the ingredients of the blends and used different paper pulps to come up with a softer crepe. Kleenex facial tissue was invented.


Next they had to find a way to market the product. They decided to market the tissues to women for wiping off cold cream used in removing makeup. In 1925 they drew up advertisements for magazines, such as Ladies Home Journal, with this idea. The ladies went for it in droves.

That's because earlier in the decade, women's cosmetics and women's monthly magazines were blossoming into booming businesses. The arrival of modern electrical appliances, such as vacuum cleaners and electric washing machines, made housekeeping less time consuming. Women used the free time to read women's magazines which featured advertising urging them to invest in cosmetics to stay young-looking for their husbands. Thus, the increased sales for cosmetics.

Kimberly-Clark was aware of this interest in cosmetics and piggy-backed on it with the idea for a disposable cleaning wipe. They took the opportunity placed before them and marketed a product to fill the niche. Prior to this, cloth towels were used for cleaning off make-up, so the disposable cleaning tissue - dubbed "Kleenex" - was a welcome innovation to women.

Meanwhile, a Kimberly-Clark researcher "sniffed out"another use for this product. During the hay-fever "sneezin'-season", he discovered how very convenient Kleenex was in dealing with his allergy symptoms. Kleenex partnered well with his nose while sneezing and in dealing with the, um, "after effects". Back then, everyone routinely carried cloth handkerchiefs and hankies in their pockets or purses for that purpose. But can you imagine how many handkerchiefs would be needed per day during high hay-fever days?

Kimberly-Clark's marketing department thought the researcher's idea was brilliant. Instead of being just a "women's product", Kleenex belonged in the pockets of every man, woman, and especially children as a more hygienic and convenient way to handle colds and hay fever. Introduced this way in 1930, sales of Kleenex doubled in the first year. Today, of course, the brand name has become a household word and using cloth handkerchiefs instead of Kleenex is considered gross, especially by younger people.

For myself, I can't imagine life today without facial tissues or paper toweling. We can be thankful for both of these companies who created useful products from "oops'.  You might say, it's nothing to sneeze at!

Information taken from The Kleenex Brand Story.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

We're On a Roll

by Connie Cortright

How many times in a day do we use common paper products without thinking about them- toilet paper, paper towels, kleenex, etc. Who invented these products? When did they come on the market? The stories can be interesting even though the items are very ho-hum.

How about paper toweling? This story goes back into the late 1800s with the Scott Paper Company, founded in Philadelphia. Two brothers, E. Irvin and Clarence Scott, began to mass produce a new product for consumers - toilet paper. By the 1890s they were marketing toilet paper as a more hygienic way to deal with a universal issue.

In 1907 the head of the company Arthur Scott had a huge problem on his hands. His suppliers sent him a whole train car full of rolled paper manufactured incorrectly for toilet tissue. The paper was made too thick to be used for its intended use. Mr. Scott had a choice, either find a new way to use the thicker paper or waste all the money used to purchase the car load of unusable paper.

He heard of a teacher who was concerned about her children having so many colds in her classroom. She gave each student a soft piece of paper to use to wipe their hands instead of the common cloth roller towel by the sink. When each child used his/her own towel, the amount of illness in the room went down dramatically-an idea that is certainly known to all of us today, don't share germs.

Mr. Scott combined her idea with his car load of unusable paper and made a new product. He divided the thicker paper into smaller towel-size squares and called them Sani-Towels. He marketed them for use in public washrooms in schools, restaurants, and railroad stations.

 What does that have to do with this website since we talk about the 20s and 30s? By the 1920s these individual square disposable paper towels were common place in public restrooms, but they weren't available to the general public yet. They were only for commercial use sold by wholesale companies.

Courtesy of Wikicommons
In 1931, the Scott Company introduced these paper towels for use in the kitchen. They were manufactured on long rolls with perforations between the sheets. Thus a new product was now found on grocery shelves. Since then they haven't changed much except for absorbency and size of the sheets.

I've very glad that Mr. Scott found himself faced with a car load of the wrong type of paper. I couldn't imagine living in my kitchen without having paper towels inches away when I cause disasters on my kitchen counters. Just ask my husband!

 Information taken from Paper Towel History - Invention of Paper Towels