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WHY HATTIE?

Just in case you are wondering, why this site was created......

HOW I CAME TO LOVE HATTIE CARNEGIE AND LUCILLE BALL


By Amy Wiggin (Creator of Hattie-Carnegie.com)


My husband Brian and I were coming back from our Honeymoon trip to Disney World back in 1999.  We were married in July but we postponed our Honeymoon till the following February.


I needed a book for the plane ride home because it passes the time, so we went to the little Lucille Ball Museum at Universal. I happened to spot Lucille Ball's autobiography. Although I enjoyed the show. I was not a Lucille Ball fan, and I knew nothing about her real life.  Brian was getting bored and annoyed that I couldn't make up my mind about a book.  I decided upon "Love, Lucy" since it was Lucille Ball's Story in her own words.


Let's just say, I loved the book and it warmed my heart.  Upon reading that book, I found out that when she was a teenager, Lucille Ball was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and was confined to a wheelchair for three or four years. When she did walk she utilized leg braces and crutches. Now I felt:  "Here is a Hollywood star I can empathize with."  Brian and I both have cerebral palsy. I could totally see myself and my husband when Lucille Ball spoke of her struggles with disability.  


In 1928, Lucille Ball collapsed in severe pain when she was modeling for famous fashion designer Hattie Carnegie.   Hattie Carnegie who became not only just an employer to Lucy but also a surrogate mother of sorts was trying to get Lucy to go see a doctor for weeks. Lucy although in severe pain she declined going to see a doctor because she was really poor and there wasn't any such thing, as Medicare and/or Medicaid.


The day Lucy collapsed on the floor, was the day that Hattie had a major fashion show going on. Joan Bennett, one of the famous actresses of the era that Lucy modeled fashions for, was in attendance that afternoon.  Lucy got to the middle of the floor, had a crashing fall and was screaming and crying in pain. Hattie, spotting Lucy on the floor, went rushing to her side, and literally picked her up off the floor. Lucy was five foot seven and Little Hattie was barely four foot nine, but she managed to help Lucy up off the floor. Hattie said:  "We are going to the doctor's NOW!!!!!! NO ARGUMENTS!!!!!!!"  She left the fashion show in someone elses hands and accompanied Lucy to the doctors. Hattie took Lucy to her own doctor on the next block, staying at Lucy's side in the cab, trying to keep her calm as she screamed the entire way.


After many hours of waiting and just as many tests, Lucille finally had a diagnosis. The doctor stated that she had rheumatoid arthritis and would probably be confined to a wheelchair for life. He suggested special injections plus other medications for Lucille, which she took daily.  It was very courageous because they were experimental. Lucille Ball also volunteered to test durable medical equipment, and in this way she was assisting the Columbia University School of Medicine.


Lucille was extremely worried about the medical bills that were adding up daily. She didn't have the funds to pay. Hattie Carnegie and Major John Zanft paid all of Lucille's medical bills for her when she got sicker and the injections took a while to work.  Lucille didn't want to take anymore charity, so when she decided her only option to go home to Jamestown, NY.  Hattie paid for her train ticket.


While Lucille was recovering in Jamestown Hattie sent her a telegram:

Dear Lucille,

Please Get Well Soon!  Don't worry about a thing.  Your job is waiting for you when you return.

Love, Hattie

Hattie kept her word to Lucy. She was given her job back with the needed modifications because she wasn't really walking when she returned to her job at Hattie Carnegie Inc. Hattie allowed Lucy to remain seated during photo sessions. If she did have to stand she was permitted to lean against furniture, podiums, walls etc. This was done so successfully one couldn't tell Lucy was sick unless they knew her personally. She wore long dresses and coats to hide the metal braces and orthopedic shoes when she had to stand up and pose for photo shoots..


The following quotes are from "Lucy in the Afternoon"


While Lucy was struggling at acting school, she worked as a model for Hattie Carnegie, one of the top fashion designers of the time.  "Hattie was a great lady, she really cared for all us girls, I used to model clothes for Joan Bennett when she came into the shop, because Hattie thought we looked alike."  Lucy stayed on as a model with Hattie Carnegie till tragedy struck.


"I was working one afternoon it was just after lunch, There was a big fashion show and Hattie's shop was packed. Everybody was there including Joan Bennett, and I made my first entrance, I got into the middle of the floor, and all of a sudden it was like two hot pokers were stuck through my feet and right up my legs. Well down I went. Right in front of everybody. I've never felt pain like that in my entire life. All these high class dames just looked at me as if I were crazy......lying on the floor screaming and writhing in pain. Hattie came over and picked me up. God, she was a great lady. Hattie let the show go on but took me in a cab to see her doctor. Hattie tried to calm me, but I screamed all the way there. The doctor told me it was rheumatoid arthritis."


 "I was devastated, I wanted to stay in New York, but I had no money, and no one to take care of me. Hattie Carnegie paid all of my medical bills and my transportation back to Jamestown."  "Even though I had residual pain, as soon as I could move again.  I headed back to the railroad station and back to New York. The first day back in New York was one of the coldest days.I had four layers of clothes and it still didn't keep out the chill, and my legs were killing me."  "Hattie was as good as her word and I was given my job back."

Hattie taught Lucy how to dress, how to stand and how to walk with grace again . Lucy never forgot Hattie's kindness.


Did she want to be a Goldwyn Girl?  Lucy couldn't give an answer right away. "I went right to my surrogate mother, Hattie Carnegie, Who told me:  "Lucille, Child, When opportunity knocks you must open the door."


Lucy got a job in "Roberta" with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. She walked down a staircase in a fashion show wearing a white satin dress and white ostrich feather cape. Lucy remembered how Hattie taught her to walk and turn. She stood out in the sequence and was offered a seven year contract.


Reference - Lucy in the Afternoon


After learning and researching all I could about this time period in the life of Lucille Ball I began collecting anything and everything remotely Lucille Ball. I often mentioned the fact the Lucy was the first disabled model and she could not walk when she was a teenager for a few years.  I happened to mention the kind hearted attitude of Hattie Carnegie towards a young Lucille Ball to a friend of mine, and she mentioned to me something that I never thought of before- that it also said something about the designer that Lucille Ball worked for, being so accepting and modifying her modeling job in the 1920's. This was many decades before the American's with Disabilities Act.  

Hattie Carnegie was the top designer of the time. People were knocking down the door to work fo the Fashion Queen Hattie Carnegie. She could have taken the easy way out, and fired Lucille and found a replacement, but instead she thought of a way to make it possible for Lucille to continue modeling.   I was very impressed by Hattie Carnegie's kindness towards Lucille Ball and the more I thought about the situation the more I wanted to find out about who Hattie Carnegie was as a person.

I began to type in Hattie Carnegie's name into the search engines, including eBay.  I totally fell in love with her clothes and jewelry, and decided I wanted to begin collecting Hattie Carnegie.   Imagine how my poor husband felt when he found out that I could get Hattie Carnegie Collectibles, as I was already collecting Lucy.  In addition to beautiful clothes and jewelry. I also began collecting magazine articles on Hattie Carnegie.

Hattie's birth name was-Henrietta Kanengeiser, she was born on March 15th 1886 in the Austrian countryside.  Hattie had a very interesting life. She was the second oldest child of seven children. Because of extreme poverty Hattie had to drop out of school at only 12  years of age to help support her family. Two years later, Hattie and her family left the only life they knew in Austria for America. When she was 16 Hattie began working at Macy's Department Store. This would be the beginning of a fabulous fashion career. It was at Macy's where she was given the nickname "Hattie".


Hattie was 16 when she met and fell in love with John Zanft. He was three years older and soon would be enlisted in the Army.   Because of her parent's Austrian-Jewish heritage, they had plans for her future and had already chosen the man they wanted her to marry.  It wasn't John.  Just about the time Hattie was going to tell her parents she loved and wanted to marry John, Hattie's father died. She was heartbroken. Since John was being shipped out she decided, out of respect for her parents, she would marry and learn to love the man they chose for her. Twenty years later Hattie and John would rekindle that romance and get married.


Hattie Carnegie had such a fascinating life, and I have come to really love her- NOT just for the Lucy connection, but for who Hattie was as a person, and a designer.  I love her designs, and I think Hattie Carnegie is one of the greatest designers who ever lived.  Hattie Carnegie's contributions sadly are very under-rated for a lady who was so beloved and celebrated in her time. Hattie considered herself a teacher above all and trained two generations of designers. Hattie Carnegie was even a receipient of The Congressional Medal of Freedom in 1952. It is the United States Military's highest civilian honor.  Hattie was presented with  many other well deserved awards as well. I really enjoy researching Hattie Carnegie. What a wonderful lady she was!!!!!

 

 

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