“THAT WAS LAURA, BUT SHE’S ONLY A DREAM…”: FINDING THE WOMAN BEHIND THE PORTRAIT

By Despina Veneti

VERA’S LAURA: THE “NEW” WOMAN

She may be have been immortalized as Preminger’s most alluring female character, but before that Laura was Vera Caspary’s literary heroine – her favorite one, and the one closest to her heart. The Chicago-born author of Laura was a dynamic, strong-willed woman, ahead of her time: coming to adulthood just as WW I was ending, she made up her mind to seek a job in a male-dominated business world, dreaming of a writing position. Starting out as a stenographer, and accepting being paid significantly less than her male colleagues, she eventually got a break at an advertising agency; soon she moved up to a copywriter position, where she had the chance to display her writing skills and imagination. However, Caspary left what had become a highly paid job, to pursue her dream of becoming a “real writer”.

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Vera Caspary

She wrote for papers and magazines with great success, published a few books, and after a while several of her stories became “Hollywood material” – but her dream novel still eluded her. In the summer of 1941 the idea of a “murder mystery” with well-developed characters and multiple point of view narration crystallized into Laura. The eponymous heroine clearly bears a strong resemblance to her literary mother: an aspiring, ambitious young woman, eager to succeed in the advertising world, and determined to live her life on her own terms. Moreover, Vera’s Laura is a beautiful, obviously sexually liberated woman. She was Caspary’s vision of the “modern woman”: professionally successful, living according to her own free will, and yet retaining her femininity. Continue reading

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PORTRAYING Laura

THE HIDDEN PAINTING

Azadia Newman is a name that may ring a bell for only a handful of cinephiles.  She is the unlucky creator of a portrait that would have ensured her fame throughout the world: the original portrait of Laura Hunt, which was rejected by Preminger.

“Newman, born in Washington, DC on Jan. 16, 1902,  studied at the CGA, ASL in NYC, PAFA, and Critcher School of Painting & Commercial Art. In 1936 she settled in Los Angeles where she painted many portraits of movie stars Joan Crawford, Janet Gaynor, and others. She died there on Feb. 19, 1999.”

AZADIA CRAWFORD SEPIA

Azadia Newman next to her painting of Joan Crawford for THE LAST OF MRS. CHEYNEY (1937)

The most telling detail of that obit looks like an afterthought : “She is also was wife of theater-film director, Rouben Mamoulian.” It’s easy to guess why Preminger would decide to erase ALL traces of Mamoulian’s work on “Laura” ; that particular rejection may very well have been the most humiliating affront to the original, unlucky director (not yet married to the artist.)  Continue reading