She called it her funk. Some days were better than others. She was determined she wouldn’t let it beat her; it wasn’t in her nature. Not now anyhow. But, golly-gosh, it was hard. She’d tried topping herself once and found it definitely not to her liking – so she threw herself back into her charity work as a substitute – something she hoped the kids in her native Hungary would one day thank her for. It gave her a purpose. If only she could prevent herself dwelling on all that she had lost she felt she could make it through to the inevitable that lay up ahead. Dwelling on it, well, it only made her feel funkier – and if she gave into the bleakness, god knows where it would lead her to again. No more Irving, no more Jenny, thinking back to the occasions she nearly died. Why, sometimes she even thought of Harry, gone now for almost two decades. Harry, she knew, only had eyes for Miss Jenny – but she liked Harry a lot too. More than liked him, if she was honest with herself. That, at one time, made her appallingly green-eyed towards her Jen. That girl in turn dangled herself before and flirted outrageously with the man, but, despite his most becoming entreaties, usually revolving around money – money he couldn’t afford – she just would not commit. She, herself, would have been his in an instant had she been given the same chance. And, as to her cursed funks, she knew exactly the day they first came to her.
In a small way I was proud of myself. It was only a tiny win, this victory of sorts, in a game they try to play with us for reasons beyond me. I rarely watch programming on the commercial networks, apart from the footy and cricket. The ads are enough to drive me bananas and mainstream American television doesn’t do much for me, with the exception of the exceptional ‘This is Us’. There are a few Aussie staples, as well, we regularly commit to our hard drives to watch at our leisure – ‘House Husbands’, ‘800 Words’ and ‘Offspring’ for instance. I’ve witnessed my lovely lady, until the advent of our own T-Box, being regularly frustrated trying to follow some of her favourites on Ten, Nine and Seven. Shows would disappear without notice, not adhere to the tele-guide times or turn out to be repeats when a newly minted episode is advertised. Others would be shunted off to the subsidiary channels and often, trying to find them there, was like searching for a needle in a haystack. No wonder viewers are turning away from free-to-air in droves to other platforms. Occasionally, though, on these networks there would be a Brit show I’d be particularly keen to watch – the venerable ‘Downton’ being a case in point. Not that they would have dared tamper with that behemoth. But, unfortunately, that was not the case with ‘Mr Selfridge’. I really was partial to this show – and sure, the first couple of seasons rated well enough, for whichever network it was on, to keep it stationary with a regular time slot. But once Series 3 and 4 came along, with ratings presumably dropping or the need to find room for some of their crass reality dross, ‘Mr Selfridge’ disappeared from sight. Then it suddenly reappeared on one of the additional channels. There it would chop and change time-slots and days willy-nilly. It completely disappeared for a while, mid-season, only to, you guessed it, reemerge much later to finish off the remaining episodes. My victory was that I managed not to miss an episode – I persevered to catch every one, free-to-air. Of course I stacked them up on the hard drive so I didn’t have to sit through endless inane ad-breaks. But I had my victory over those pesky programmers who seem to make it their business to take every bit of enjoyment out of viewing their particular network by endlessly playing their little sport with any less than signature show. I didn’t succumb to the temptation of rushing off to JB’s to buy the final series or ask for it from rellies proficient at downloading from various maybe not quite legal sites. Yes, it’s a trifling thing, but it gave me a degree of satisfaction.
During her later decades she took to researching the special connections that exist between twins for, you see, she’d been born one of a pair. She had now survived her twin sister by a long shot. It was hard to imagine that, once upon a time, she could not have contemplated existing without her look-alike. It seemed, too, that her sister was of the same opinion. During their time in the spotlight her sibling had countless marriage proposals. The excuse to reject them was, invariably, ‘I couldn’t marry that man, sis! Have him take me away from you. No! No! No!’ The bond between the two of them was special but, back then, she wasn’t so aware of her feelings; she had no inkling her almost second sense concerning her twin was not commonplace. But she also knew that, whilst they were together, they offered the world something that was unique and something that was in high demand. For a lengthy period of time they had the planet at their feet, slavering for more. They were the chosen pair, dancing their way into the hearts of thousands – and breaking many of those same hearts. Men fawned after them on two continents; their ‘champagne and caviar’ lifestyle being broadcast to the world in the print media. Now she watched the Marilyn Monroes and the Elizabeth Taylors of her present day take on that mantle and be fêted globally. Her most melodramatic of sighs, back then, would have male pulses racing – these days the same would be considered the hammiest of acting. Nowadays men wanted so much more. She knew this as she kept an eye on the popular entertainment in the newspapers and magazines she took. Sometimes what she read made her blanch. It was an effrontery to her sensibilities the wanton titillation that was going on – in her very own city too. Even at their height, they would be out of their depth in modern times. She smiles wistfully as she recalled their era on Broadway; of the gay abandon of their frolics in Paris, Cannes and Biaritz – or wherever the glamour set hung out. And then, of course, there was Irving, the love of her life. He left her far too soon. But as well, for a time and well hidden, or so she thought, her heart, too, had belonged to Harry.
‘Mr Selfridge’ told me the tale of the founder of the eponymous department store and tracked its ups and downs from its genesis in 1909, through the Edwardian years, the Great War and into the Jazz Age. American Jeremy Piven played Gordon Selfridge across the four seasons; Australian actress Frances O’Connor his wife, Rose. There were many other characters I particularly enjoyed – Miss Mardle (Amanda Abbington), a self- made woman attempting to break glass ceilings; Mr Crabb (Ron Cook), the fastidious accountant who gave his heart and soul to his boss; the extremely odious Lord Loxley (Aidan McArdle) who hated Selfridge to his core and Mr Grove (Tim Goodman-Hall), the store executive with a tortured personal life. It was a great show – a period soapie the Brits do so well.
Rózsika and her identical twin sister, Janka, were born in Hungary on October 25, 1892. With their parents, Julius and Margaret, they migrated to the USA in 1905. As children they trained to be dancers, getting their first gigs, for small change, in the beer halls of NYC; debuting on the vaudeville circuit in 1909. They were soon hits, making their first foray into films in 1915. At their peak, in the US, they were pulling in $2000 a week, unheard of for those times.
After the war the sisters moved to France, purchasing a chateau as a base for their tours of the Continent. Their popularity kept them in plenty of coin and their crowning moment was an invitation to perform at the Moulin Rouge. They received $1200 a night for that!
Looking back, looking back. She was always looking back. It didn’t help her funk, she considered. She was almost a septuagenarian, but despite the dangers going back to those times, contrarily, her old face now creased into a smile. Memories.
It was sunny in the apartment. A few tipples had made her feel nostalgic. She could look back at Diamond Jim, surely, without coming over all funky. He was their early champion. Diamond Jim Bundy – now there was a hell of a man. Business man, financier, philanthropist (and it has to be said, glutton). He loved jewels, once loved the great Lillian Russell, too, but the instance the twins battered their eyelids at him, he loved them as well. He was in his last years then, but he regaled them with tales of how he once owned the first automobile in New York City, bragged about the huge meals that made him legendary and of his adoration of Miss Russell. He showered her sister, in particular, with gifts; from diamond rings to a Rolls Royce, presented in ribbons and bows. They were mere slips of in those days, not fully adults, having just turned twenty. But they played to his vanities and, boy, did they stir him up – they knew which side of the bread to butter. He was their sugar daddy and wanted nothing in return apart from their company.
As for their act, they were fairly chaste. They didn’t flaunt themselves on stage like the outrageous Josephine B and her ilk – no siree. They left it all up to the imagination of their audience. She knew that a wink with a few come hither posturings and beckonings could work magic on the male gender. And as for her sister, well, she was a little more provocative – but nothing tasteless, that’s for sure. No doubt the green genie would arise in the female dates out in the audience. But the menfolk adored them. They were a class act – nothing too tawdry. That was the way to win affection. Keep ’em guessing
One of the many aspects of Mr Selfridge I savoured was the introduction of actual historical figures into the show. There was Serge de Bolotoff, the Russian Prince. Selfridge was not happy when his precious daughter, Rosalie, fell in love with this chancer. Even if he was an aviation pioneer, he was also a notorious scamp. It was all sure to end in scandal and tears – and more than likely some monetary loss for her Pa. Edward VII visited his department store, as did Louis Blériot – it was all great publicity. Antarctic explorer Shackleton had a cameo and Anna Pavlova graced the first series with her presence, taking refreshments in the store’s tea room. Rose was her hostess who, by this stage, knew of the secret premises hubby kept in the city for his dalliances. For Selfridge these icons of his age, coming to his premises, was a masterstroke. Having the famous ballerina sip tea there, for instance, why, the papers were full of it for days. Later, in the same season, came Arthur Conan Doyle, at this stage of his life deeply into seances and talking with the dead. Mack Sennett visited the retailers, as well, in Season 2. In the episodes of the fourth and final offerings we find the great shopping magnate ageing and in danger of losing control of his empire, due to his extravagant ways. Rose was long gone and he was again being seduced by other temptresses.
In the Big Apple she often wondered, usually during her battles to prevent herself being submerged in the funk, if her life may have been easier if she had not been so keen to throw money around on the gambling tables of Europe. Sometimes it was from her own funds, not always being somebody else’s dosh. Those casinos and gambling clubs had been so much fun – but she could now do with some of what she frittered away, with so much panache and so little thought to the future, back in that era.
An element of the retail tycoon’s lifestyle was getting out of hand towards the end too. It was Selfridge’s own penchant for gambling. The London clubs had a hold over him too and gleefully fleeced him of his money. Just like that old woman sitting in a NYC apartment, decades into the future, he would be also adversely affected by the Wall Street Crash; it ending the good times for both. For Selfridge a new era was dawning, the shop’s colossal profits were in the past and now it was so wildly irresponsible of him to toss away his hard earned on the roll of a dice or fall of a card. He lived to a ripe old age – but he also died in penury.
Rózsika recalled that Diamond Jim, as well as showing them a fabulous time, frequently took them to the track, encouraging her and her twin to bet on the ponies. Of course he picked the horses and they were invariably, as well as mysteriously, first past the post. On their tours for Zeigfield and whilst on the continent, their various beaux would always provide the wherewithal to have a flutter. The great casinos of Biarritz and the Riviera became their domain. She recalled a frequent companion, back then, by the name of David. He liked a good time and had a habit of bobbing up wherever they were. They became fond of him for a while. She knew there was much speculation in their circle as to whether it was all just coincidental – or was he, in fact, bedding one or the other, or both. For her part, she knew his minders never allowed him too much leeway for things to get ‘serious’, but she couldn’t vouch for her sister. She had her suspicions but kept stum. She was most taken back when, fifteen years down the track, his retinue failed to keep him away from a certain Mrs Wallis Simpson.
There were others – of course there were others. King Alfonso of Spain was always hanging around as if he didn’t have a country to rule. She remembers such gay fun with the Aga Khan and Prince Esterhazy of Hungary. She recalled the night when Janka took all comers for around half a mil – in today’s money, mind you, at chermin de fer. That was the best night, but they splurged and it was soon gone. She had a couple of great evenings at the tables too, surrounded by all the glitterati – a pretty vacuous lot, she now realises, in hindsight. They were so keen to help her spend her winnings too. Well, a girl had to be popular. But her sister had the bug worse than she did and once Harry came on the scene, the rot really started to set in.
When the two look alike sisters swept into Season 4 of ‘Mr S’ I thought that these good times gals were entirely fictional. I’d never heard of them, this pair of almost identical twins – Jenny and Rosie. But, as is usual these days with such matters, I was on-line and came across an old sepia image of a pair of showgirls and thought nothing of it until I espied the appellation underneath – ‘The Dolly Sisters’. As it turned out, from my later reading of other info in the ether on the sisters, the series followed historical fact pretty closely. Harry Selfridge – yes, everyone called him Harry – was smitten. They were marvellous creatures, these girls. They were the epitome of Roaring Twenties flappers – and so willful, so glossy. They were flirtatious; always teasing of what could, just might, happen if he wooed hard enough – but he was never able to quite grasp the nettle and push the point for fear of losing them. Or losing Jenny. She was the one. She was the one he had his eye on. She was the one, he figured, most likely to fall to his charms; his persistence; his money. But deep down he knew he was just another old man throwing away his ever decreasing resources on them, providing the means to keep the girls in the lifestyle they didn’t want to let go of. And nor did he. But at 69, though, Harry was well past it. He soon discovered he was in no physical condition to keep up. But the poor guy was in love and Jenny, the habitual gambler of other people’s wealth, had to be satisfied.
Selfridge’s owner could often be found sitting behind Jenny (in the tele series played by Zoe Richards – Emma Hamilton was Rosie), peeling off notes in large amounts each time she ran out. He bankrolled her for a decade or more, covered her in expensive jewelry and she had carte blanche in the London store. Some have even speculated it was Jenny Dolly, more than anyone else, who ruined it all for him. But despite all his largesse; despite all his entreaties; she refused to wed him.
From the tele-series Mr Selfridge’ – the Dolly Sisters
Back then, though, Jenny’s survivor, sitting in a ray of sunshine as the dust motes rose in her NYC apartment, reflected she would have had Harry in a heartbeat. Maybe she could have influenced the ultimate outcome. After all, she was capable of restraining her own extravagance – or that’s how she remembered it. But then there was Irving. He became the real love of her life. How she misses him so terribly now. Just when she thought the zing was disappearing, along he came and reinstated all her old zest for life in the fast lane. Admittedly, she’d been to the altar twice before – but those marriages hardly appeared on her radar anymore. Those men were mere triflings compared to Irving. She was initially drawn to him because, like Harry, he was a retail baron, owning a department store in Chicago. It was he who took her away from Jenny to his home in Illinois. Eventually she found her quieter life, a little way out of the Windy City, suited her.
She’d had her near death experience in ’28, spending a great deal of time in hospital until recovery. At one stage they were packing ice around her to keep her going, so high was her fever. Appendicitis it was – a terrible, terrible time for her. She knew she’d never return to the stage after that. And around that time she also received word that her sister’s behaviour was becoming more and more erratic. Jenny had adopted two homeless orphans from Budapest, but really her sister was in no condition to adequately look after them. Rosie guessed their sole purpose was to keep her company – that she was incredibly lonely. The ’29 crash hit her twin hard, then, on top of it all, she got herself into trouble with the French authorities over some jewelry. Rosie felt great remorse over her own actions, or lack of them, on behalf of her sister. She was so smitten with Irving, so comfortable in her own existence and still not entirely well, so she didn’t speed to the rescue. She was too blinkered to see how Jenny was struggling. Then the silly girl became mixed up with that gangster fellow. He was seven years younger and saw Jen as a ticket to something or other. Her unsettled sister should have known better. The ravages of time were catching up with Jen, with some assistance. Her face, her once beautiful face! It was that that took Jenny to the brink more than any other factor Rosie, looking back, assumed. The losing of her looks. It was enough that she was getting old – but it must have been so tough to do so with a shredded face from that shocking accident. That idiot man was driving too fast. Rosie shook with sobs over her guilt – but decided she had better set to and pull herself together or the funk would settle back in and she’d be down in the abyss for days. She shouldn’t think of her sister’s final days, but as the light dimmed in her abode, it was difficult not to. It was that invitation, or lack of it, that was the final nail in the coffin for Jenny. That long ago holiday weekend, with war looming, back in ’41, Jenny should have been with her and Irving. She could picture her sister waiting and waiting to be invited across to them in the Mid-west, but she waited in vain. Rosie never sent it. But then they had other matters on their mind. Irving’s business was starting to appear if it would go the same way as Harry’s, so just looking at that face would be so hard to take at a time when Rosie needed to be carefree and loving for her man. Oh dear! Oh dear! When it was obvious Rosie had now disowned her dear Jenny took the sash from her dressing gown and hung herself in her own living room. Her poor Janka. Her poor, poor Jenny……
Rosie always attributed her attacks of the funk to her sister’s unimaginable demise on that day as another great conflict loomed. Irving died in 1943 of a heart attack – he was only 53. They were together for only eleven years. After that Rosie sank from public view. She devoted her remaining years to her charitable work, mainly to do with the children of her native land. She too, when she was at her wit’s end due to the funk, attempted suicide, but she lived on till 1970 when she passed, aged 77. Of course the television series in which, for a while, she was a character, was still decades ahead. But she did live to see the Dolly Sisters come to the big screen in an eponymous 1945 movie. The soldiers’ sweetheart, Betty Grable played her sister, June Haver was Rosie. It played out as a musical comedy and was quite forgettable.
The old lady collected up her memories on this day as the sun was about to set on her own existence. Razzle dazzle, she ruminated, can only count for so much. Now she was at last aligned with her sister’s dark thoughts as she battled away against the funk in her own living quarters. She’d beaten them off each time though. They didn’t completely overwhelm her. But the thoughts of Harry, of Irving and the good she would still do will keep her going for a little while yet. Good thoughts and doing good. If it were only so simple. Jenny often said, ‘Pinch me, I’m dreaming.’ during those good times when they were the toast of New York, London and Paris. Maybe that was all it was – just a dream.
Rosie and Irving
YouTube trailer for ‘Mr Selfridge = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHt3Xi2rkfE