Mar 9, 2015

The Elusive Leslie James, Hatter

Leslie James, California Milliner 

It's been fun hunting down Leslie James. I knew he or she? made rather wonderful hats. I've handled them occasionally over the years, and they were in a league with Caspar Davis, also of California, Sally Victor, Lilly Dache, et al. But as I searched, there was next to nothing. Perhaps it was a created name for a company. Then I found blurbs with photos and quotes, an finally the mystery became clearer when one newspaper used his full name. And even that turned out to be only partially correct!

So a little about Leslie James. He was a indeed a real person, a former film actor who was born Leslie George Masters May 25,1909 on a Utah farm, living there with his parents and siblings into the 1920s. He made the move to Hollywood in the very late 1920s. By 1930s, his father had did and he ha dtaken his other and 2 sisters to Los Angeles where they were residing together.  While at MGM, he claimed that Gilbert Adrian encouraged him to go into millinery design, which he did with success under the name Leslie James Masters, head of Leslie James, Inc. He seems to have bought out P.H. Luther Co. to start. As an Los Angeles based hat maker, he furnished head wear to stars such as Greta Garbo,Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford. In business by 1937, he was selling nationwide by 1939, when he was referred to as a “famous house” in a Sarasota, FL newspaper. At that time, his hats were priced from $5 - $15, making them on the pricey side for the time. 

James eventually sold through a variety of department stores such as Gimbel's, Marshall Field and Joseph Horne.In the 1940 census, he is listed as the manager of a millinery store, with an income of $3600 in 1939 ($61,000 in today's money) and  that was a good living for the time. His sister Mary was the shop foreman, and his brother Fielding was a blocker in the business. James received a lot of news coverage as he made appearances at eastern department stores. Although based in Beverly Hills, he estimated that much of his business was was in the East. In 1946, prices had risen to $29.50 - $39.50. In 1964, prices were up to $30 - $300. He was still advertising and making department store visits as late as 1970. Leslie James died in April 21, 1991.
 
If you want to see lots of examples of his work, just search the Google newspaper archives - examples abound there.




now available at Past Perfect Vintage 

4 comments:

Bud Toye said...

Glad to see a wonderful try at determining the elusive Leslie James. You almost got there, but not quite. Leslie James Hats was named for two people, not one. My grandfather was James J. Druce, the CEO, and Leslie was his partner, the amazing designer.

As a kid, I went to the factory often with my mom cuz she got any hat she wanted for free. Most of those hats are still in the family. The factory was on Hill Street in downtown Las Angeles. There were hundreds of employees hand making the hats, each with a finished model in front of them to copy.

My grandparents (James J. Druce and Hazel L. Druce) lived in the Outpost overlooking Hollywood on one side, and the Hollywood Bowl on the other. We got to watch the performances for free sitting on top of the hill. His next door neighbor was Eve Arden (our miss brooks), and Fred Frame on the other side (famous Indy 500 driver). They shot Rheingold Beer commercial on their spectacular panoramic view patio. Granddady’s mailbox was a huge metal hat box standing on end which received a lot of notoriety at the time. He ate lunch everyday at Mike Lyman’s, or the LA Athletic Club which was next door; always dressed to the nines with bow tie, and monogrammed shirts with gold cuff links. I have those in my safe.

Every Spring we would drive him to the train station in Glendale CA to take samples of his latest creations to the eastern buyers of all the most prestigious department stores. He always handed the porter a $50.00 dollar bill (huge in those days) before the trip, not after. He was treated royally.

Granddaddy retired and left the business to Leslie in 1954. I still have the solid gold Bulova watch presented to him by the California Millinery Society with which he served as its president. It is inscribed on the back accordingly.

He drove a beautiful green 1948 Lincoln Continental which he soon gave to my grandmother since he didn’t like leaving it all day in a downtown LA garage. Next he bought a new green 1951 Ford convertible for himself. He died in 1956 at the age of 69, and my grandmother gave me the Ford which I drove to Van Nuys High School and then USC. She bought herself a new Lincoln Capri.

I can’t remember Leslie’s last name, but I can find it in all the documents I still have at home in case anyone is interested.

My name is Frederick Druce Toye (AKA Bud)

http://www.toye.us
Contact: www.toye.us/Contact/

Bud Toye said...

Glad to see a wonderful try at determining the elusive Leslie James. You almost got there, but not quite. Leslie James Hats was named for two people, not one. My grandfather was James J. Druce, the CEO, and Leslie was his partner, the amazing designer.

As a kid, I went to the factory often with my mom cuz she got any hat she wanted for free. Most of those hats are still in the family. The factory was on Hill Street in downtown Las Angeles. There were hundreds of employees hand making the hats, each with a finished model in front of them to copy.

My grandparents (James J. Druce and Hazel L. Druce) lived in the Outpost overlooking Hollywood on one side, and the Hollywood Bowl on the other. We got to watch the performances for free sitting on top of the hill. His next door neighbor was Eve Arden (our miss brooks), and Fred Frame on the other side (famous Indy 500 driver). They shot Rheingold Beer commercial on their spectacular panoramic view patio. Granddady’s mailbox was a huge metal hat box standing on end which received a lot of notoriety at the time. He ate lunch everyday at Mike Lyman’s, or the LA Athletic Club which was next door; always dressed to the nines with bow tie, and monogrammed shirts with gold cuff links. I have those in my safe.

Every Spring we would drive him to the train station in Glendale CA to take samples of his latest creations to the eastern buyers of all the most prestigious department stores. He always handed the porter a $50.00 dollar bill (huge in those days) before the trip, not after. He was treated royally.

Granddaddy retired and left the business to Leslie in 1954. I still have the solid gold Bulova watch presented to him by the California Millinery Society with which he served as its president. It is inscribed on the back accordingly.

He drove a beautiful green 1948 Lincoln Continental which he soon gave to my grandmother since he didn’t like leaving it all day in a downtown LA garage. Next he bought a new green 1951 Ford convertible for himself. He died in 1956 at the age of 69, and my grandmother gave me the Ford which I drove to Van Nuys High School and then USC. She bought herself a new Lincoln Capri.

I can’t remember Leslie’s last name, but I can find it in all the documents I still have at home in case anyone is interested.

My name is Frederick Druce Toye (AKA Bud)

http://www.toye.us
Contact: www.toye.us/Contact/

amey said...

Where did they get their supplies from? I'm so excited because I picked up a black wide brimmed hat today at the flea market. It has a label from the Popular dept store in El Paso. It's stamped velore, and made in France. I love this article because I haven't found alot about Leslie James. My grandmother was a seamstress who went to Los Angeles for schooling. She always taught me alot about fashion and I love collecting hats.

Just Donald's Thoughts.... said...

I wonder if this is the man who lived in our apartment building on Hayvenhurst and Fountain? He was very quite but did say he had done millenary at MGM and would escort Marian Davies around town.