Anna Belle Knowle’s Baby Vanities

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photo came to me via Molly Sims (IG @missmollystlantiques), who in some ways is my square one for my pandemic purchasing on Instagram. Her Halloween items are generally what tempt me, but she also has interesting photos. She is responsible for the Krak-R-Jak Biscuits tin box which sits on my desk and which I recently wrote about as part of my home office gear up and can be read here. (I have a number of great items recently purchased from her, several are Halloween related, which I will be sharing in the coming weeks. As it happens I just got a DM from her about an upcoming sale this afternoon so stay tuned.)

As luck would have it when I sat down this morning and started searching I hit on a group of what must have been promotional photos for sale as a group on Biblio.com. (The lot can be purchased as posted here.) Most fortunate for me, they had a brief description. The seller is in Vancouver, Washington which makes sense as these appear to be for an early 20th century performing arts school in Portland. However, my Miss Molly hails from the Midwest so this copy found its way far afield.

From the Biblio-com sale mentioned below. Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

According to the scant information provided it was a Depression era kiddie performing arts school called the Hollywood College of Music, Dancing and Fine Arts. Their information claims that students started at age 6 and reached into the teens and was, as shown, for both boys and girls. Annabelle Gertrude Knowles was the Director of the school. The photo was taken by Joseph Baker of the Baker Studio in Sandy, Oregon. While usually all of this would be enough to turn up further information, the trail went dead with these leads, perhaps because all are of the words and names are too common to conjure this rarefied tidbit of information sought. I assume that some nominal information must have been available with the clutch of photos the seller on Biblio.com has in hand. None of the named performers turn up anything I can find searching either. I did find a single obit which mentions that Betty Ross Abbott was a student at the school, although she went onto a career in real estate.

This version NOT in Pams-Pictorama.com collection.
Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

My photo, which has Annabelle Knowles Baby Vanities stamped on the front, is in better condition than the version offered in this package – as below, theirs has some paint used to improve the reproduction whereas mine is clean. Mine shows evidence of having been pasted into an album, but otherwise is in excellent shape. The five costumed little girls appear to range in age, roughly, from about eight to about early teens. The girl in the middle appears to be the oldest of them and, although she isn’t looking directly at the camera, distracts somewhat from our young man at center stage. I especially love their sort of shiny, celluloid headgear, a nod toward top hats I guess? Each has a sparkly topped cane and clever ruffles around their wrists and necks, bows on their shows.

Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Part of me is surprised that the girls are so gussied up in their costumes while the boy is at center in what appears to be a straight ahead suit and fedora. The room in question is very simple with a painting, the image which is unreadable, a drape covered window and a fern in a standing planter. The wood plank floor looks dance ready though and he seems to be perched on a stool rather than a chair. (A slideshow of the additional horizontal photos from the Biblio.com sale is below.)

The other photos offered in the package, which I am only able to supply with image grabs off my phone so apologies for the quality, are sort of wonderful and I love the why their name is applied onto the photo – Barbara Jane Wicks of the Anna Belle Knowle’s “Baby Vanities” in a neat type.

Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The story brings to mind a somewhat obscure film Kim and I remember called What’s the Matter with Helen from 1971 which is a sort of Baby Jane knock off. It stars Shelley Winters, Debbie Reynolds and Dennis Weaver in a story about two middle-aged women who move to Hollywood (California) after their sons have been convicted of a notorious murder and open a dance school for children eager to tap their way to stardom according to the IMDB database. One wonders if the Anna Belle Knowle’s Baby Vanities and studio in Hollywood, Oregon could have been in living memory and inspired the writer, Henry Farrell, born in 1920 it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

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