WAR PAINT

ARKANSAS

BY

RICHARD MASON

War Paint

You know, I really like the peace and quiet of South Arkansas and living in El Dorado where I’m 5 minutes away from everywhere I want to be. But after a while, peace and quiet can get to you. That’s when Vertis and I get the urge to fly the coop, and we head for the place where peace and quiet is the furthest thing from your mind. Of course, for us, that’s New York City.
Well, when we started making our plans, Vertis announced she wanted to see the musical War Paint. Yeah, that sounded okay to me. I figured it would be something like the life of Geronimo set to music and dance. I didn’t even get those thoughts out of my mouth when my dear, sweet wife set me straight. Geronimo nor any other Indians weren’t in the picture. You see, Broadway types have this strange way of naming plays, and if you think they would name a play, “A Musical about Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden” which it is, then you probably couldn’t find Broadway from Times Square. So, a musical play about two cosmetic queens was named War Paint.—get it? Two women who started two major cosmetic companies had a heated competition, which was set to song and dance. Wow, I couldn’t wait to snap up those ticket. Okay, that’s my understatement of the year, but after a little negotiating, we bought the tickets. Actually, I settled for two Gladiator type movies to be named at a later date. Well, a few days later we found ourselves in line with a sea of ladies, and that is another understatement. I would venture a guess that ladies outnumbered men by at least 30 to 1. But, you know, a guy surrounded by several thousand women is sure not all bad, and I won’t say any more about that or the very tiny skirts or short shorts that seemed to be everywhere, since Vertis will read this. But I’ll admit I had an almost frozen smile as we waited in line. We took our seats in front of a curtain that covered the entire stage opening, and if you still weren’t sure what the play was about, the picture of gorgeous blonde with four foot high bright red lips sure gave you a hint about the show.
And, just to put us guys in our place, the before the play started lady announcer, after telling everyone to silence their cell phones, said, “Welcome, ladies …and your escorts.” Yeah, that got a good laugh from everyone but us few guys, and then the play started. Well, it seems back in the 20s and 30s only “Ladies of the night” and actors wore what you or I would call makeup. Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden started their own corporations, and they were determined to change how ladies wore makeup. Did they succeed? Just check out any non-cult female over the age of 10. But that’s just part of the story. After a few years these two women became the heads of two major corporations at a time when the corporate executives were virtually all male, and it was tough sledding. Only a few decades had passed since women received the right to vote, and the male only corporate culture was full of discrimination against women. Even during the Second World War, when the two women asked “What can we do to help the War effort? They were told, “Women can’t do anything in a war.” One of the women’s reply brought a roar from the ladies in the audience, “What about Joan of Arc?”
And then another mummer of disapproval swept through the audience, when both women, separately, tried to buy an apartment in an exclusive section of New York. “We’re sorry, but a woman in business is not the type of tenant we desire.” Yes, some of the growls from the audience were more than mummers. Helena Rubinstein, who at that time was one of the richest women in the world, was so infuriated she bought the entire apartment complex.
The stars, Patti Lupone as Helena Rubinstein and Christina Emersole as Elizabeth Arden were excellent. Both of these Broadway seasoned stars can really belt it out, and when Patti Lupone nailed some of those notes at the top of her range, the audience burst into cheers.
Well, as the two senior ladies, in the last years of their careers were finally together to receive a presentation, a young lady came out to lead them to the podium. She said, “If you’ll just follow me.” Those words were barely out of the young ladies mouth, when Elizabeth Arden belted out, “Young lady, we don’t follow! We lead!”
The ladies in the audience were just waiting for that line, and they leaped to their feet with a roar.
As we left the theater, I noticed several women wiping their eyes and shaking their heads. It wasn’t a sad play, but it did tell the story of two tough-as-nails women, and how they succeeded in spite of discrimination. Yes, the play was a lot more than convincing women to use face cream and lipstick, and…. I did like the play.

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