Ace Of Clubs: The Matchless Pamela Barton

Born in Barnes on 4th March 1917, Pamela Barton, Pam for short, showed an astonishing golfing prowess from early childhood. At the age of 17, Barton won the French International Ladies Golf Championship and two years later, was awarded the British Ladies Amateur, which was swiftly followed by her winning the American Ladies Amateur at the Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, New Jersey where she defeated the American champion Maureen Orcutt in a record-breaking victory,  becoming the first player to hold both titles at once for almost  thirty years.

By the mid-1930s, Barton’s sporting career was going from strength to strength; she was on the British Curtis Cup team from 1934 to 1935 and in semi-finals of the 1935 British Ladies Amateur, she beat her younger sister, Mervyn Barton. Their mother Ethel, also a keen golfer, won the 1935 Mothers and Daughters Foursomes Tournament with her eldest daughter.

Barton was again selected as a member of the 1936 Curtis Cup team, and then travelled to New Jersey to compete in the American Ladies Amateur for the second time; she left victorious, and Mervyn, who had gone to support her sister, recalled that ‘Pam was thrilled, she was over the moon.’ A book authored by Barton and entitled, A Stroke a Hole, was published in 1937.

Above: Pam Barton wins the American Ladies Amateur Golf Championship (1936)

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Never Clothed: The Windmill Girls

Famous for its proud boast that, out of the forty-two London theatres open during the Second World War, it alone ‘Never Closed,’ even as bombs rained down on the city during the Blitz, the Windmill Theatre is one of the most renowned landmarks in Soho and has hosted performances by some of Britain’s best-loved entertainers. It began as the Palais de Luxe cinema in 1909, but as grander picture houses cropped up across London, it struggled to attract sufficient audiences and eventually shut its doors.

Nevertheless, the building caught the eye of Laura Henderson, an affluent and well-connected widow who saw its potential and purchased it in 1930. Following extensive renovations, the Windmill reopened in 1931. Yet like its predecessor, it failed to achieve notable success as a cinema. After employing Vivian Van Damm, a shrewd and experienced theatre manager, he decided that instead, the Windmill should show live acts, which he called ‘Revudeville.’

Inspired by the likes of the Moulin Rouge and the Ziegfeld Follies, and including female nudity as a part of the acts; Van Damm managed to attract unprecedented numbers of spectators. At that time, the Lord Chamberlain had the authority to decide what could be shown in theatres, thus, with the generally accepted understanding that ‘if it moves, it’s rude,’ but knowing that nude statues were permitted, Van Damm ensured that the girls on stage, who were commonly referred to as ‘Windmill girls,’ and with an average age of 19, remained absolutely motionless, and could not even smile, posing as tableaux vivants based upon various exotic and fantastical themes. Continue reading

Immortal Beloved: Count von Cosel And Elena

On 25th October 1931, 22 year-old Elena de Hoyos finally succumbed to the tuberculosis that had already killed several members of her family. Her remaining relatives were not alone in mourning the loss of Elena, an exceptionally beautiful and talented young woman who, before her illness, had a bright future ahead of her as a singer and entertainer. Eighteen months before her death, Elena had come to the attention of the eccentric Count Carl von Cosel. He was no genuine aristocrat, but von Cosel had arrived in Florida from Dresden in Germany in 1927, when he was 50. In America, he changed his title and name from the more humble Tanzler, after abandoning his German wife and their two children. Immediately smitten with Elena, von Cosel believed she was the striking dark-haired woman he later claimed to have been haunted by dreams and visions of.

Never short of suitors on account of her dazzling looks, in 1926 Elena married Luis Mesa, a local man who, like herself, was of Cuban origin. The marriage broke down soon after when Elena suffered a miscarriage and was then diagnosed with tuberculosis. It was during one of her hospital stays that Elena first met von Cosel, who was working as a radiologic technologist at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Key West. Befriending Elena’s parents, von Cosel promised them that he would be able to cure their daughter, even though doctors had warned them there was little hope that she would recover. As he treated her using his own outlandish methods involving x-rays and other machines, as well as tonics containing specks of gold, von Cosel professed his undying love to the dying Elena and brought her extravagant presents. Uninterested, she routinely snubbed his advances, and von Cosel failed in his quest to heal the object of his affection.

A devastated von Cosel offered to pay for Elena’s funeral and also had an elaborate mausoleum built for her at the Key West Cemetery, which he visited on a nightly basis. He also built an airship that he christened ‘The Countess Elena,’ and expressed his wish that some day, he and his dear departed one might travel to the stars in it, where they would be ‘high into the stratosphere, so that radiation from outer space could penetrate Elena’s tissues and restore life to her somnolent form.’ Continue reading

Against The Wind: The Bluster Of James Robertson Justice

A man of many considerable talents, if anyone personified the phrase ‘a life well-lived,’ it would James Robertson Justice. Despite an elaborately concocted tale about how he entered the world in a whisky distillery on the Isle of Skye, Justice was born in Lee, South London on 15th June 1907, to a geologist from Aberdeenshire and his English wife. Throughout his childhood, Justice spent little time with his father, who often worked abroad for months at a time and though Justice senior eschewed his Scottish heritage, his son embraced it as a way to feel closer to his absent parent.

After attending Marlborough College, where he was placed a disappointing 68th out of 89 in his year, Justice briefly read sciences at University College, London before deciding to follow in his father’s footsteps and study geology at Bonn University in Germany. He would later say that he had not only completed his degree at UCL, but had also been awarded a doctorate at Bonn, both of which were untrue. Returning to England, he took a job as a reporter for Reuters and became a colleague of Ian Fleming, but his journalistic career soon fell flat, in small part because he frequently insisted on arriving for work in his pyjamas and dressing gown.

Easily bored and consumed by wanderlust, Justice decided to travel to Canada where he worked as a lumberjack and a gold-miner; yet he was soon eager to return to Britain and paid for his journey home by washing dishes aboard a Dutch cargo ship. Back in London, he embarked upon a new venture as an ice-hockey player for the London Lions; it lasted for one season until he turned his attention to motor-racing. Continue reading