Like Judy Garland in Wizard of Oz I followed not the yellow brick road but the internet trail unhesitatingly and ended in Transylvania with lots of Hollywood studio extras in Rumanian costume and a light going on in Dracula’s castle. Now I should explain I have carefully avoided all the currently popular vampire movies. I have no idea who those young beautiful people are who star in them and have the young women swooning when I encounter their photographs in fashion magazines. But there I was propped up on pillows under two down comforters with Rennie snuggled next to me on a very cold morning in Santa Barbara, too comfortable to get out of bed to turn on the heater, watching a 1936 film in English with Rumanian translation coming through at the same time on my iPhone.
What truly fascinates me is how we get on these trails we follow that begin with the words GOOGLE! What led me to Dracula? In the case of Dracula it was an invitation from award winning social planner Merryl Brown to be an honorary committee member of the upcoming Royal Ball being put on by the Pacific Pride Foundation. I accepted of course. The costumes will be fabulous. I wouldn’t miss it. Plus I will help any group that works to cure the world of AIDS that has taken so many talented friends of mine starting with the great Rudolph Nureyev, as well as millions of other men and women around the world.
Now what’s that title of mine about a Vanderbilt wife? AIDS reminded me of the loss of a dear friend, the late Esme Hammond. Esme was the wife of John Hammond, the great grandson of William Henry Vanderbilt. Esme was life and laughter and then in a few quick days in 1986 she was gone. Doctors could not figure out what was wrong at the end. She had undergone cancer surgery recently but this appeared unrelated. Then a doctor in Philadelphia was consulted about her case and wondered if it could possibly be a new disease he was researching. It was. They traced the source of Esme’s AIDS to blood transfusions following her surgery. Lovely laughing kind Esme in her Charles James and Mainbocher wardrobe was gone from a transfusion of tainted blood. The New York Times announced the cause of death as pneumonia in her obit, but at the funeral her daughter by her first husband Robert W. Sarnoff, chairman of NBC & RCA, stood up and bravely let the world know the real cause. This alone made “straight” America sit up and acknowledge that the threat was theirs as well as the gay community’s. When at the end of 1986 a major magazine early after the horrendous disease first appeared in the United States had a cover of the 50 most famous/talented people to die that year of this new disease Esme O’Brien Hammond was the only woman on that cover.
So how did Esme take me to Transylvania? Lying in bed thinking about her and the last time we were together having tea in the Palace Hotel’s ornate dining room Esme told me of her pre-debutante days when she attended dancing classes in that room. After lunch she sent her driver on and took me on a walking tour of her youth pointing out places that had been important in her life. Then I couldn’t remember what year we lost Esme so I went to Google. Her obit came up, and lots about John Hammond who left Yale to settle in Harlem and go on to discover the greats of American Jazz — Aretha Franklin, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, a long long list. But a long blog about John’s great musical career is on the books for future By The Way.
And along with all these Hammond sites appeared sites on Lady Esme Hammond played by Hedda Hopper in Dracula’s Daughter. I had forgotten feared Hollywood gossip columnist Hopper had originally been an actress. Worth a look out of curiosity. Remember I’m ambling down the internet yellow brick trail. The beginning of this 1936 film was difficult because the vocal Rumanian translation (I’m assuming it is Rumanian — if any of you recognize it as another language please tell me) overrode the English. But enough English got through that it was possible to follow. And it was fun seeing Otto Kruger as a fairly young stuffy English doctor in London. I grew up with him playing Nazi generals in shiny boots carrying a riding crop.
Before I knew it I was snuggling deeper under my quilts watching the entire film on my iPhone. The London living rooms shown were lovely white Syrie Maugham-inspired rooms with lots of Art Deco which I love. One of the young actresses wore a typical 1930’s Hollywood white bias cut evening gown with a gigantic white fox cape and the obligatory orchid corsage and diamond bracelets. And another attraction was the leading lady who was named Gloria Holden, the same name of a very close contemporary friend of mine who to my knowledge has never been near Transylvania or a movie set. Of course the trail ultimately led from London to Transylvania and the climax in the cobweb strewn castle of the deceased dreaded Count Dracula with Otto Kruger arriving in an ancient horse-drawn carriage to rescue the……………………..
Well here watch it for yourselves. After a few minutes you will find you too can understand enough of the English to follow. But then the over-acting of some of the characters tells their whole story. Note also the wonderful Marlene Dietrich style lighting they have used. It’s actually a most amusing hour plus!
[Editor's note: Unfortunately, the video has been blocked for copyright infringement. Here is a trailer for the movie.]
Kathleen Fetner, Technical Advisor and Friend