Friday, June 8, 2012
The Sassy Jazz Age
Those who were young in the 1960s tend to think that theirs was the first era of social and sexual revolution. But the 1920s was a time of radical change when Western civilization truly entered the modern age. The burgeoning middle class embraced consumerism, and soon there was a Model-T Ford – available for as little as $290 - or other automobile in nearly every yard. People enjoyed new innovations such as radio, Kleenex, rayon, electric shavers, Popsicles, air conditioning, and Jantzen swimsuits – “The Suit that Changed Bathing to Swimming”.
Liberated from confining corsets and floor-sweeping gowns, women stepped out of parlours as well as domestic service to pursue careers, or at least jobs that afforded them independence. Unchaperoned, they smoked, drank illegal booze, wore daring makeup, bobbed their hair, danced the Charleston with wild abandon in nightclubs, necked with boyfriends in the back seat of automobiles, and sometimes believed in “free love”. Poet Dorothy Livesay spent a summer at the Muskoka Chautauqua where she went blueberry picking in the nude with friends. There were topless shows on Broadway, and Hollywood movies became so steamy that moral censorship guidelines were instituted through the “Motion Picture Production Code” in 1934. Banned on screen were such things as “excessive or lustful kissing” and profanities, including “God”, “Christ”, “hell, and “damn”.
But Paris was much more liberal. Homosexuality wasn’t a crime there, and sexual predilections of all kinds enjoyed unprecedented freedoms. With the franc devalued to mere cents compared to the dollar, it was little wonder that so many North Americans – then under Prohibition - moved to the “City of Light”. Among the 30,000 plus ex-pat Americans were artists and authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. It was an exciting time to be young and mingling with the artistic and intellectual avant-garde, whose names still resonate as the voices of their generation.
It was great fun to portray this sassy era - which is remembered as both “The Jazz Age” and “The Roaring 20s” - in my latest novel, Under the Moon.