The funeral became a frenzied circus of screaming fans destroying decorations and property as they pushed their way towards the casket of the Hollywood icon of fashion while horrifying the large assemblage of some of the most famous stars of the day.
The most stylish Lilyan Tashman was born Oct. 13, 1899, in Brooklyn, N.Y., the youngest of 10 children. Her father, Maurice, was a manufacturer of children's clothing. During high school, Tashman worked as a fashion model and posed for artists. After she postured for the famous painter Raphael Kirchner, he remarked that Tashman had 'the most beautiful legs in the world.'
Tashman decided she wanted a career on the stage and applied at every theatrical agency in New York. In 1914, the 15-year-old beauty wed vaudeville performer Al Lee, stage partner to future star Eddie Cantor. After appearing in various productions, the blonde, blue-eyed, five-foot-seven beauty quit high school when she won a role in the 1916 edition of the Ziegfeld Follies revue, and went on to appear in the 1917 and 1918 versions of the show. Later, Tashman won a role on Broadway in The Gold Diggers, which ran for two years. There, she was spotted by movie producers and in 1921 appeared as Pleasure in Experience, the first of her 66 films. That same year, she divorced Lee and continued to appear in Broadway shows and East Coast films.
Tashman soon met and fell in love with actor Edmund Lowe and followed him to Hollywood, where they married Sept. 1, 1925. There, her career flourished. They became an extremely popular and socially active couple who threw an endless parade of exciting, fun, and beautiful parties at Lilowe, their chic, red-and-white ultra-modern mansion in Beverly Hills, and also held lavish beach parties at their Malibu retreat. Tashman, already known on Broadway as a clotheshorse, ultimately became known around the world for her fashion sense, reaching millions of her fans through magazine stories and photo layouts. Tashman, however, stated that 'it's more boring for a woman to talk about clothes than a man to talk of his golf score.' Revered and feared columnist Hedda Hopper wrote, 'I think Lilyan Tashman is one of the most amusing people I know, but I believe she dresses in too flamboyant a manner. Where some women wear one or two diamond clasps, she wears four! Movie star Tashman retorted, 'If I happen to wear real diamonds instead of paste, who's to object?'
It was reported that Tashman's hobbies, other than shopping at the most fashionable Los Angeles stores, included painting and interior decorating. People from all over the world sent her miniature hands, many made of porcelain, to add to her personal collection. However, the classy Tashman was not below beating the hell out of actress June Marlowe when she caught her in her husband's dressing room in 1931, though assault charges were later dropped.
Unlike many silent film stars, stage-trained Tashman had no trouble when sound hit Hollywood. After acting in 21 silent films, she successfully appeared in some of the very first talking pictures. Tashman's films include Craig's Wife ( 1928 ) , Puttin' On The Ritz ( 1930 ) , Murder By The Clock ( 1931 ) , Those We Love ( 1932 ) and Riptide ( 1934 ) . Tashman was also known for her on-screen lascivity, and the new Hayes Motion Picture Production Code for Decency, though established in 1930, was gaining momentum. Her final film, Frankie and Johnny ( 1936 ) , wasn't released until almost two years after her death because of censorship problems with the script.
In 1932, Tashman fell ill with what later proved to be an abdominal tumor. Yet she continued to make films. The social arbiter known as the best-dressed woman in Hollywood died March 21, 1934. Many of the film kingdom's biggest stars attended her funeral at the Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn, among them Sophie Tucker, Fanny Brice, Jack Benny and Mary Pickford. Also attending was an enormous crowd of 10,000 hysterical people, mostly women. Pushing past police guards in a rioting frenzy to view the casket, the turbulent mob destroyed wreaths and flowers as they attempted to steal them as souvenirs while knocking over gravestones in their way, including that of Tashman's sister, Annie. Several women almost fell into the open grave when they fought over a shower of yellow roses which had been lovingly tossed over Tashman's coffin. There were scores of injuries. Entertainment star Eddie Cantor, who gave the eulogy, was physically jarred by the women and later remarked that it was 'the most disgraceful thing I've ever seen.'
The very day of Tashman's funeral, her film Wine Women and Song opened on Broadway; the production co-starred her close friend Lew Cody. Two months later, Cody also died, and within a month their mutual good friend—beautiful rising star Dorothy Dell—was killed in a car crash.
Tashman was laid to rest in her favorite elegant blue evening gown and emerald brooch. She left no will, and her sisters Hattie and Jennie sued Edmund in a nasty battle for $31,000 in cash and $121,750 worth of Tashman's gorgeous furs and jewels in a legal squabble that lasted for years.
Sources: Stars of the Photoplay 1930, Lilyan Tashman Page Web site, They Had Faces Then by John Springer and Jack Hamilton
Steve Starr is the author of Picture Perfect-Deco Photo Frames 1926-1946, published by Rizzoli International Publications, 1991. A photographer, writer, artist and designer, he is the owner of Steve Starr Studios, specializing in original Art Deco photo frames and artifacts and celebrating its 39th anniversary in 2006.
Starr's column, STARRLIGHT, about movie stars of the 1920's, 1930's, and 1940's, appears in various publications including Entertainment Magazine Online, the Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine, and the Windy City Times.
Visit www.SteveStarrStudios.com where you can enter The Starrlight Room and view a part of Starr's collection, read Starrlight Stories, and enjoy photographs, autographs and letters he has received from some of his favorite luminaries.
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Photo of Steve Starr at the Whitehall Hotel, Chicago, Jan. 28, 2006, taken by NBC News Director Harold 'Sandy' Whiteley. Starrlight Editor-Maryellen Langhout