Monday, July 23, 2012

Well, I think it is ...

Billie Holiday and Joe Guy?

I found this photograph in a "nostalgia" (junk) shop in Clinton, Oklahoma, along the old route 66. There was something familiar about it.

I spent a few mornings chasing shreds and threads of evidence.

Beer labels get redesigned quite often it seems. I was able to find a close match for the Pabst label in the lower right corner in a

1951 Magazine Advertisement.

All others that I found (and there were many) were quite different than this one. Most have the main (lower) label slanted on the bottle.

The Miller High Life labels on the other two bottles have eluded dating so far but appear to be rather early ones.

It appears the pill-box hat fashion started in the 1930’s but reached a peak about 1961 when Jacqueline Kennedy wore one.

After all that I stumbled across THIS.

And I am now convinced this is Billie Holiday. But, I will entertain any other theories. What a find.

The photograph is on sturdy 8X10 inch print paper, with nothing on the reverse except the Kodak logo, and appears to have been a non-promotion photograph. (If you do a Billie Holiday image search, 99% of them show her with her trademark white gardenia in her hair.)

The print itself is not in perfect shape. There are lots of scratches and creases. It was printed by someone who knew what it was and handled by several who did not.

To further complicate things, not all Billie Holiday photographs look like Billie Holiday. Comparing album covers and promo shots, one might think that there were several people with that name.

Here she is at her finest in 1957

We lost Billie Holiday July 17, 1959.

Inserting typical cabaret wording I think the sign on the left says:
You must be
and prove it.
Check In.

I have no idea the significance of the “Checking Out” sign. Maybe these are their humorous “Entrance” and “Exit” signs. The background may be further away than it appears here. It is out of focus. The “Checking Out” sign may be over a doorway. The area bounded by the two walls with the pictures, may be an entry/exit lobby.

There are at least ten large pictures on the wall and three smaller ones visible. None are clear enough to identify.

I am hoping that someone will recognize the place. That would go a long way toward identifying the people for certain.

If the man is Joe Guy the trumpet player, it is certainly a rare shot.

But no, it’s probably not Joe Guy. Billie Holiday had a number of boyfriends during and after divorcing Jimmy Monroe in 1947, until 1952 when she married Louis McKay. Most accounts say they were ALL abusive and exploitive. The face of the man beside her is so distorted and obscured that it could be almost any of them I suppose. I tried to pick one possibility that would fit the time frame. As with Holiday herself, various pictures of Joe Guy and Louis McKay do not always agree. And further, those examples may be misidentified. So a photographic comparison is difficult.

The guy in the photo could be a number of people, musicians, managers, boyfriends or just a guy who happened to be standing there. If a date could be established for the photograph, it would go a long way toward fixing identities and location.

The various short biographies of her life are confusing and some are downright contradictory. A couple lines in an article by Robert Fulford reviewing a 2005 biography “With Billie” by Julia Blackburn probably says it best: “There will never be an authoritative Life of Billie Holiday. The documents don't exist, and the witnesses have often lied, many of them because they were crooks. Even honest witnesses have faulty memories, inflected by narcotics; Billie herself would tell the same story several ways. “

It is quite possible that this was around the date of the Carnegie Hall concert. March 27, 1948.

I am not sure how to read the expressions. She seems pleased about seeing a camera; he doesn’t seem to have noticed it. Both are caught off guard.

The pictures on the wall could be anyone. Miles Davis or Robert Johnson, or maybe not musicians at all. I can’t tell. Maybe I will run across another copy of one of those poster size portraits and be able to match them up. I can’t tell much from this print.

David Stone Martin - Billie Holiday
Art by the famous David Stone Martin

So what we have all together is this:

A pillbox hat, popular in the mid fifties to mid sixties.

A woman with a fox fur stole just like
Billie Holiday’s fox fur stole.

A print dress of the type Holiday often wore.

Long gloves draped over the purse just like Billie Holiday wore in many other photographs.
Here she is posed with her dog in a dressing room.
Long gloves were popular around that time.

The cheek bones, the eyebrows, the out-of-line upper right canine. (Note that Billie Holiday was most often photographed from the left side so that it does not show.)

Accompanied by a fellow that might be Joe Guy.

Beer labels seem to be from the early 1950's.

What do you think?

Go on. Tell me who you think it is.

The most popular photographs most popular, Family Group,
An album of the most requested photographs in the Lost Gallery.

Area 51 and a Half Area 51 and a Half
You are probably not authorized to see these.

Don't take my picture!
Oh! You DID didn't you!
completely unaware of the photographer

This is a collection of photographs that disappear on the way home from the photo processing shop.

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Square America
Tattered and Lost Vernacular Photography
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All images are the property of Lost Gallery and the author. Permission must be granted for their use. All rights reserved.

THE KIDS Lesson one.
It is always a mystery
how a photograph of any
of these precious children
could end up lost
or abandoned.
Here are a few.
You will probably say
"Ooh..." at least once.

Dee and the Business School Dee and the Business School
The beautiful Dee. A curious story; What do you see?

Neiffel and Helvetica Typehigh

"What are they doing?"


  1. I think you're probably right. You certainly checked everything carefully. And if it isn't Billie Holliday, it's still a fantastic view of a two very goodlooking people in a place whites wouldn't see or know much about.

  2. Thanks! You are right. Even if they were not a famous pair, the photograph is quite historical. Fashions, places, times; in a world few of us today experienced.

  3. I'd readily concluded that it is not Billie Holiday. One can determine just by comparing the facial features, brow/forehead and so forth. However, this is definitely a great and rather telling picture. The guy looks so earnest, while taking his swig. I can only help to wonder, "what is exactly in on his mind".

  4. Thanks Dwane Clemons. It's fun to speculate about what was going on when the photograph was taken.

  5. And I'd forgot to mention that this guy is certainly not Joe Guy either. Evidently these two are a couple of anonymous Harlemites, enjoying the evening, or afternoon, assuming that this photo was taken at some none described bar up in Harlem.

    1. Thanks Dwayne Clemons. You are right of course. I found pictures of Joe Guy to compare. I found little resemblance to this fellow. This photograph does what a good found-photograph should. It makes one speculate and wonder.



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