May 1, 2006

Eugene Joseff, Jeweler to the Hollywood Stars - My Great-Uncle

My mother has been collecting little bee pins and other jewelry from designer Eugene Joseff for some time now. His pretty little creations represent part of a family mystery I wish we could get to the bottom of.

Eugene_joseffWhen I went through a "history of old Hollywood" phase when I was about 12 or 13 my mom pulled a fading newspaper article from a drawer in the living room and told me about Eugene Joseff, the "Jeweler to the Stars."

"This man was my mother's cousin," Mom said.

Eugene_joseff_gone_with_the_windAbout 90% of all jewelry seen in Hollywood movies from the '30's through the '50's
were his creations. Joseff designed gorgeous jeweled adornments seen in movies including A Star is Born (1936), Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz (both 1939), Casablanca (1942), Singing in the Rain (1952), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Cleopatra (1963) and My Fair Lady (1964).

developed a visually effective substitute to gold which was known as Russian
gold plating with semi-matte, copper-gold finish which minimized the
traditional problem of flare when filming real gold or other gold
substitutes under the studio lights. By 1937 was a leading supplier of
costume jewelry to Hollywood film studies and he developed

a retail line for
sale to the public. He researched and simplified specific historical styles
of jewelry that conveyed the appropriate period ambience for movies."


Eugene_joseff_design_on_grace_kellyNot long ago, Mom tracked down a big glossy book full
of photos of old Hollywood stars wearing his designs. This reignited
the conversation about Joseff, and prompted Grandma to tell us that, in
fact, Joseff was not a blood relation, but was raised by my
great-grandmother (on the family farm in Lafayette, IN, where my mother
grew up) for some time due to family circumstances that are now
unclear. We don't take this as gospel, as Grandma's memory isn't what
it used to be, and in fact, this tidbit has further muddled our
understanding of our connection to this man.

Eugene_joseff_bette_davisBiographical articles about him
indicate that he was born here in Chicago in 1905, and worked as a
graphic artist in an advertising agency from 1923-1926, studying
metalworking and developing his designs in his spare time before moving
to Los Angeles in 1927, where he learned more about his craft and began
establishing his name. Joseff died in a tragic accident when his small
private aircraft crashed in 1948, leaving behind a wife and young son.
His wife, Joan Castle Joseff, has continued to run his company ever since.

Maybe someday we'll get all of these biographical details straightened
out. In the meantime, it's an awful lot of fun to look through pictures
of classic beauties like Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, Lana
Turner, and Ava Gardner, and think that a family member might have had
a connection to all that kick ass old school Hollywood glamour.

(Update 6/20/06 - Joseff was apparently my grandma's stepbrother.)

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