The Nita Harvey Archive : Hidden History, Experience and Objectification in the 1930s Hollywood Star System

© Nita Harvey Archive (c.1933)

© Nita Harvey Archive (c.1933)

© Nita Harvey Archive (c.1933)

New York Harbour, NY. 2023 (Performance as Nita Harvey, 2022)

Subway Station, Brooklyn, N.Y.C (2023) (Performance as Nita Harvey, 2022)

Union Station, L.A. (Performance as Nita Harvey, 2022)

Union Station, L.A. (Performance as Nita Harvey, 2022) (16mm film still)

The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, L.A. (2022)(16mm film still)

The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, L.A. (Performance as Nita Harvey, 2022)

The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, L.A. (Performance as Nita Harvey, 2022)

Paramount Pictures, Hollywood (Performance as Nita Harvey, 2022) (16mm film still)

Nita Harvey (middle) rehearsing for ‘Search for Beauty’ film, Paramount Pictures, 1933 © Nita Harvey Archive (c.1933)

Paramount Pictures, Hollywood (Performance as Nita Harvey) (2022)

© Nita Harvey Archive (c.1933) Nita Harvey second from left) Paramount Studio Lot, Hollywood, 1933

Paramount Studio Lot, Hollywood (Performance as Nita Harvey) (2022)

© Nita Harvey Archive (c.1933) Hollywood Casting Film Reel Stills

Hollywood Sign, L.A. (Performance as Nita Harvey, 2022)

Hollywood Sign, L.A. (Performance as Nita Harvey, 2022) (16mm film still)

The Walk of the Stars, Hollywood (Performance as Nita Harvey, 2022) (16mm film still)

© Nita Harvey Archive (c.1933) left Paramount Studio Lot Search for Beauty Contestant Winners (Nita back second from right). Right Search for Beauty Film Set Photo (Nita with contestants)

In this research, I commissioned fashion atelier, Theresa Parker, to pattern cut two key archival outfits (using the archival images) belonging to my great aunt Nita Harvey – the 1930s Wool Suit and the Hollywood Casting Bikini. I wore Nita’s remade outfits to embody her experience and create a series of performance photographs and 16mm films, performing as Nita in the archival sites she visited in 1933. Through this process I am facilitating new exchanges with the historical past and establishing Nita’s hidden history.

Work in Progress Short from in development 40 Minute Documentary Film by Ellen Nolan

Synopsis

This practice-based PhD draws directly from the heterogeneous archive of my British great-aunt, Nita Harvey, who was selected by Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille in a worldwide Paramount beauty contest, and signed to Paramount Studios in 1933.

Drawing directly from the archive, using feminist film and photography theory together with theories including oral history, radical empathy, trauma, archival studies and studies of early Hollywood cinema to underpin my approach, I am excavating Harvey’s hidden history and repurposing archival materials to facilitate new exchanges with the historical past.

My methodological approach as: Archivist, Familial member, Artist and Academic, combines a self-reflective positionality allowing for meaningful engagement with Harvey’s archive and the audience of my research and practice.

Entering the archive through the prism of Harvey’s story, “I didn’t make it in Hollywood. I refused to go on the casting couch,” repeated in childhood conversations with myself (1977-1987), I am arguing to embed Harvey’s oral history posthumously, as an unpublished narrative positioning Harvey’s voice to align with the body of her existing archive, establishing significant findings of marginalised women’s history and experience in 1930’s Hollywood, puncturing 1930’s Hollywood mythology by providing an alternate history compared to now. My practice is mediated through my body in genealogical dialogue with Harvey’s archive, establishing a dynamic between embodied subject and archival object. Using photography and film to capture my performances and positioning Harvey’s oral history as an overarching narrative frame, I have collaborated with atelier Theresa Parker to pattern-cut Harvey’s archival outfits, 1. The wool suit, 2. The casting bikini. Performing the archive through Harvey’s outfits, in the U.S sites that she visited in 1933, I embody her experience, inhabiting her archive, through my radically empathic exploration of her story. Using this process, I am offering a new model for archival research, practice and findings.