The West Coast saw its share of extravagance as well. Newspaper king William Randolph Hearst hosted lavish celebrations and commissioned new bedrooms at his mansion to accommodate his plethora of guests.
Marion Davies was actually an exception when it came to the Hollywood colony, though she did have an ongoing affair with Hearst. Davies frequently hosted wild and unsparing celebrations, but she was also known as the most generous woman in show business. During her life, Davies established a children’s hospital that would go on to be one of the best in Los Angeles and consistently provided money to charitable causes.
Debutante balls were quite common at this time. “Poor little rich girl” Barbara Woolworth Hutton had her coming out celebration at the Ritz in New York City to the tune of $60,000 ($1 million today). The Astors and the Rockefellers were some of the party’s more highfalutin guests, and Rudy Vallee entertained the multitudinous crowd. Hutton fell under harsh public criticism for such an opulent display, to the point that she was forced to flee to Europe to escape the press.
The social elite cavorted in other countries, too. The Agua Caliente Hotel and Casino in Mexico was another hotspot for anyone who wanted to be seen. Located in Tijuana, the hotel gained popularity among celebrities during Prohibition because gambling and alcohol were still legal in Mexico. Rita Hayworth got her start at the hotel, but the haunt’s glory days wouldn’t last. In 1935 owners closed Agua’s doors after Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas outlawed gambling.
The Hollywood elite didn’t only relish in extravagant parties in the 1930s, they also delighted in jewelry. Diamond demand was on the decline due to the failed economy and its cheaper, more modest bands and metalwork became truly competitive substitutes.
DeBeers had already established a monopoly on the diamond mines in South Africa, so it only makes sense that they would turn to advertising executives in uber-opulent New York to boost their sales. The ad agency used Hollywood starlets to advertise diamonds and within three years sales rose by fifty percent. This would create the standard of diamond giving for engagements in the modern era.
The oblivion could only last so long. Eventually, the dust would settle, America would be drawn into the Second World War and jobs would be created while wealth would be compressed. Women would tie back their hair, don pants and join the work force. The elite wouldn’t be respected for throwing parties but rather for their philanthropic interests, and the Dirty Thirties would be just a memory.