About Eugene Joseff (of Hollywood).
Eugene Joseff was at the controls of a 4-seater Beechcraft Bonanza airplane (NC3377V) when it went down shortly after takeoff from the Newhall Intermediate Field on an unusually foggy September morning in 1948. He was one week shy of his 44th birthday.
This man with no middle name didn't need one. High society knew him as "Joseff of Hollywood" — maker of more than 90 percent of the costume jewelry used in movies in the 1930s and 1940s, and founder of a wartime aerospace parts factory.
Austrian by descent, Joseff was born September 25, 1904*, in Chicago, where he worked in advertising. He came to "Hollywood" in the late 1920s and met costume designer Walter Plunkett, who became his mentor. Joseff apprenticed at a foundry and experimented with jewelry designs in the garage of his Sunset Boulevard home. He developed a matte finish that minimized glare from studio lights.
Rather than sell his pieces to the studios, he rented them, under the "Joseff of Hollywood" name. Thus he was able to amass a supply of some 3 million pieces (per his obituary) in a wide variety of styles and materials — from wood, glass, plastic and tin to platinum and antique gold and silver. He studied jewelry of relevant eras and cultures to meet any need, whether to outfit Marlene Dietrich in "Shanghai Express," Greta Garbo in "Camille" or Vivien Leigh in "Gone with the Wind," and he assembled a large reference library that he made available to costume designers.
To meet off-screen demand from celebrities and others, Joseff established a retail line, selling his creations in high-end department stores. In 1939 he hired an office manager for his growing business, one Joan Castle, a native of Alberta, Canada. They wed in 1942.
A haircut and a flight check: Eugene and Joan Castle Joseff prepare to take off in their Beechcraft, 1940s. Click to enlarge.
Meanwhile, as the U.S. military was looking for factories to convert for the war effort, it took an interest in Joseff's casting operations. He began manufacturing small aircraft and missile parts and eventually grew this side of the business into Joseff Precision Metal Products.
Joan Castle, known as "JC," and their young son Jeffrey Rene Joseff frequently accompanied Eugene in his private plane — but they didn't on September 18, 1948. The plane was filled with three of Eugene's Hollywood friends: Ernest Hix, 46, author of the "Strange As It Seems" comic strip; Wilmer Finley Pemberton, 39, a designer; and John H. Lacey, 65, of Hollywood. All perished.
Little Jeffrey was less than 1 year old. But rather than heed friends' advice and sell the company, "JC" took the helm and managed both the jewelry and aerospace divisions. She eventually passed the torch to her daughter-in-law, Tina.
Joan Castle died in 2010, son Jeffrey in 2012. As of 2019, the company is run by Tina and her son Jeffrey Jr., and his wife Kristin. The company that Eugene Joseff started still casts both jewelry and aerospace parts for customers as diverse as Priscilla Presley and Boeing.
Photos from "Jewelry of the Stars: Creations from Joseff of Hollywood" by Joanne Dubbs Ball, Shiffer Publishing Ltd., West Chester, Penn., 1991.
*Note: Company records and the book noted above give a birthdate of September 25, 1905. However, his death certificate and other official documents read September 25, 1904.