1925: Jewelled Nights, Marie Bjelke Petersen & Louise Lovely


jewelled nights louise lovely marie bjelke petersen

Jewelled Nights opened in 1925 as ‘the biggest picture yet produced in Australia by Australians’.  Aussie-born Hollywood star Louise Lovely played a cross-dressing girl in a story based on the novel by Marie Bjelke Petersen.

Marie Bjelke Petersen

Name sound familiar? Yes, Marie Bjelke Petersen was the aunt of loathsome Queensland premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen. But hey, we’ve all got rellies we’d rather forget. Marie was okay. She emigrated to Tassie from Denmark in 1894, aged seventeen. Four years later, she met the love of her life, Sylvia Mills and they lived together until Sylvia’s death thirty years later. Like her nephew, Marie was a person of faith. But unlike Joh, she wasn’t a corrupt, self-righteous, holier-than-thou, sanctimonious prick. She once described Sylvia as a living, breathing — and extremely affectionate — angel.

“God’s Angels often come in human form not as strangers whose lips never touch ours… but as friends, close dear friends, whom we may fondle & caress & feel they really belong to us.”

Marie published nine novels with sales of over 250,000 copies, an amazing achievement for an Aussie author in the early 20th century. Her novel Jewelled Nights told of a young woman who ditches a bloke she doesn’t love at the altar.

“Do you take this man to…”

“Nah!”

She cuts her hair and heads into the Tasmanian wilderness disguised as a young man. Marie wrote the book in 1923, and she was a commercially successful author. So, of course, our cross-dressed heroine eventually meets a handsome man who springs she’s really a sheila, saves her from a villain, marries her… and they all live happily ever after. 💖🤪

However, the book does broach subjects usually avoided at the time — homosexuality and rape.

Louise Lovely

Louise Lovely was Australia’s first Hollywood star. She moved to the US in 1914 with her husband, gay actor Wilton Welch. As one of the most popular early female film stars, she appeared in over fifty American films. Meanwhile, Wilton Welch moved successfully into film production. The successful couple returned to Australia in 1924.

When Marie Bjelke Petersen approached Louise Lovely about Jewelled Nights, the actress proved enthusiastic. She particularly liked the cross-dressing aspect and proved amenable to toying with gender norms during the making of the film. Although Wilton and Louise’s marriage was basically over when they returned to Australia, the pair worked together on Jewelled Nights. No amount of expense or effort seemed too much for them. The film has not survived. However, newspaper reviews and the audience response at the time indicate it was a huge success. But not for Louise and Wilton because distributors and exhibitors fleeced them of the profits.

Louise later ran a lolly shop in a Hobart cinema. A signal box opposite the cinema featuring depictions of significant milestones in LGBTQIA+ Tasmanian history includes a commemoration of Jewelled Nights.

 

More lesbian authors:

Australian-born I. A. R. Wylie’s gender was often the source of confusion, one ad listing the author’s pronouns as he, his, she and her.

1890s literary sensation Michael Field: actually Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper… aunt and niece… and lesbian lovers! 

More famous lesbians.

famous lesbians lesbian history

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Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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