Unlucky Horoscopes

The cast of Thirteen Women consult with Ursula Georgi (Myrna Loy, center) over their horoscopes in this publicity photo from the 1932 melodrama.

Throughout most of the 19th century in America, astrology was considered an occult science embraced by a small but growing number of converts. It wasn’t until the mid-1920s that an interest in astrological signs and horoscopes crossed over from a cult phenomenon to more popular acceptance on a national scale. This was partially due to the success of The Bowl of Heaven (1924), an autobiography of famous astrologer Evangeline Adams and the influential periodical American Astrology, which began publishing in 1923. It was only a matter of time until Hollywood would capitalize on the movement’s popularity by using it as a plot device in Thirteen Women (1932), one of Myrna Loy’s least known and most peculiar roles.

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Kay Francis as the Notorious ‘Spot White’

Kay Francis has that come-hither look in Mandalay (1934), an often overlooked Pre-Code drama

Kay Francis has that come-hither look in Mandalay (1934), an often overlooked Pre-Code drama

Today her place in film history rates little more than a footnote in the ascendancy of Warner Bros. as a major Hollywood studio, but Kay Francis was their first major female star whom they had lured away from Paramount in 1931. During her peak years for the studio between 1932 and 1935, she specialized in melodramas, soap operas and lightweight comedies which accented her elegance and chic fashion sense but also stereotyped her in increasingly inferior films.

She was dethroned by Bette Davis as Warners’ top star in 1936 and, by 1938, she was labeled “box office poison” in an article by The Hollywood Reporter. Still, there are several essential must-see titles among the more than sixty-five movies that she made (Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise [1932], Jewel Robbery [1932], Wonder Bar [1934], for example) and Mandalay (1934) is one of her best dramatic showcases as well as an enormously entertaining, eyebrow-raising Pre-Code wonder. (It was made before the Code was officially enforced but released after the fact.)    Continue reading