with Alicia Mayer

Instead of Tinder, how about a time machine that takes you back to W.S. Van Dyke’s ‘Women Without Men Party’ in the summer of 1935?

I realized I hadn’t posted a Mitzi photo for a while so I had a quick look through the digital archive and found this fantastic pic titled ‘Women Without Men Party, W.S. Van Dyke, July 1, 1935’.

Women without Men party WS Van Dyke party July 1 1935 ballerina Alice Nikitina Brian Aherne watermark

Russian ballerina Alice Nikitina, my grandmother Mitzi Cummings, and British actor Brian Aherne at one of W.S. Van Dyke’s famous Hollywood parties. July 1, 1935.

Of course, W.S. Van Dyke is the beloved M-G-M director, who was known for his fabulous parties. I’ve posted another one of his party pics on my Facebook page and the gowns, the jewels, the fun they’re having – you can hear the shrieks of laughter, the champagne bubbles, and the band playing through the photo!

Ballerina Alice Nikitina

Russian ballerina Alice Nikitina in Zephire et Flore. Circa 1920s.

On either side of Mitzi is Alice Nikitina, the Russian ballerina, teacher, and opera singer, and Brian Aherne, the very handsome British actor. Quite frankly, the way he’s looking at Alice, three’s a crowd! But I guess that was the point of a Women Without Men party. So, did they ‘hook up’ in the modern parlance? I guess we’ll never know.

One detail about this photo I thought was very odd is Aherne’s teeny tiny watch for such a big manly guy. It almost looks like a ladies watch with its dainty cord straps and small face but maybe it was the latest?

And interestingly, in comparison to Mitzi’s summery dress, Alice Nikitina is far more formally clothed (though sans stockings), but perhaps exactly as you would expect an exotic ballerina would be. Mitzi, however, is completely at home here; this is her town and she had been to plenty of these parties. She was also close to W.S. Van Dyke, who I note actually divorced his wife Zina that same year, and would marry Ruth Mannix, the niece of M-G-M VP Eddie Mannix, also in 1935. Busy year!

Regarding Brian Aherne’s outfit, for men of that era and certainly for any evening event, I think that’s as casual as it got. Although, I do see a man in the background in what looks like a white linen suit. I wonder who that was…

And who knew there were paper plates in 1935?! Like today, it was just as awkward to sit on a flimsy canvas seat and eat off a paper plate and carry on a conversation. Although both women manage to do so and still look glamorous. Naturally, there was also the very unappealing habit of smoking while people were eating…

Mitzi and Sol honeymoon BIG

Mitzi and Sol on their honeymoon.

If they were ever more than dinner pals on that night, certainly none of those three ending up being a permanent thing. About six years after this photo, Mitzi would go on to marry a young artist from Denver, Sol Baer Fielding, and have two children, my aunt and my mother. My grandfather would pretty much join the family business and become a film producer, although I think his heart always belonged to his art.

Brian Aherne would go on to marry the beautiful Joan Fontaine in 1939. They would stay married for six years and after their divorce she would have three more husbands. I don’t know if Alice Nikitina married, but she died in Monte Carlo in 1978, just a few months after her 78th birthday. Brian Aherne passed away in 1986 in Florida.

What I love about this photo is it captures all three of them at a wonderful moment in time when they are young and having fun – on the 1st of July, 1935…

Copyright 2017 Alicia Mayer. All rights reserved.
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