The Black Shield of Falworth

I was doing an image search of swashbuckler movie placards as one does, and came across a whole series of really beautiful movie posters for The Black Shield of Falworth starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. I was surprised that I had never heard of it before, but then again, I don’t have cable TV. It could be in regular reruns on TMC for all I know.

But it did seem like a lot of effort had gone into promoting this movie, and I thought, if the movie was half as good as the promotional artwork, then it was bound to be an amazing movie!

Look at the action! There would be jousting, man-to-man combat, castle wall scaling, some kind of evil guy with an awesome mustache and one eye. Most importantly, the story was based on the book Men of Iron by Howard Pyle, one of the preeminent writers of pirate stories back in the day. Honestly, how had I never heard of this movie before?

So reader, I watched it. And it turned out that indeed, the movie is half as good as the artwork.

The sets are beautiful. The movie is beautiful. Tony Curtis was young and handsome, and despite the unfortunate squirrel-pelt hairstyle (not just on him, but on every man in the movie), he put on a great show. He did an amazing amount of leaping around in hose, and sword fighting and horseback riding. He gets in a fight about every five minutes. But there was something weirdly missing from the plot. Oh, I know. Tension. Somehow, it just wasn’t really there.

The story was about a young peasant boy (Myles, played by Tony Curtis) and his lovely sister Meg, whose father was a knight who was falsely accused of treason and killed years earlier. At the beginning of the movie, they are living out in the country with an old guy. A bunch of other guys come by one day, and one of them tries to put the moves on Meg, but Myles beats them off with his sword. Then the first old guy gives Myles a ring and says, “Do not take it. Keep it hidden.” And Myles is like, “I’m taking it and Meg, and we are going to a castle.”

They go to a castle, and Myles instantly gets in a fight, then he has to beg forgiveness in his father’s name once it is known whose son he is, and he and is allowed to stay and train to become a knight. Another old guy befriends him, who happens to be hanging out with the king who is pretending to be drunk all the time for some reason. (I spaced out for one second, and totally missed that plot point.) Meg and Myles instantly acquire love interests. (Myles’ love interest is Lady Anne, played by his then wife Janet Leigh. I don’t know…maybe that is where the tension was missing.)

But Janet Leigh as Lady Anne was awesome! She looked great and stole the show every time she was on scene. There’s one scene where she’s trying to get time alone for her and Meg to hang out with the guys in the garden, and she has to get rid of old Dame Ellen for a while. She kept saying, “Dame Ellen” over and over, and you just got the feeling that she got a kick out of saying “Dame Ellen.”

Hey, if you’re home on a rainy Saturday afternoon and this movie comes on, I would recommend watching it. And it turns out that there is a reason why the movie poster artwork is so good. It was done by Reynold Brown, the artist who did the iconic poster for Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

Princess Doraldina at Blueprint SF!

Princess Doraldina Designs will be exhibiting for the first time, at the Blueprint Show in San Francisco, October 1st – 3rd, at Fort Mason. We’re very excited! More information can be found here.

Named after a mechanical gypsy fortune teller, Princess Doraldina Designs is a team of two artists – Stephanie Mesner and Leslie Keats – lifelong friends who combine our talents to create designs inspired by beach boardwalks and penny arcades. Our “Pirate Romance” collection is a loving tribute to the romance and melodrama of escapist literature, and have an absurd and humorous flair. We create watercolor designs and build stories echoing book cover blurbs, as if we are illustrating novels we wish we could write.

Men in Belted Sweaters

(Or MiBS for short.)

Stephanie made this discovery much to our amusement, and this is just right up Princess Doraldina’s alley. The original source are a couple of knitting pattern leaflets, published from 1968-75 by the Columbia Minerva Corporation out of Carlysle PA, which feature excellent vintage fashion and an amazing typeface.

And it is just what the title says: Men (or in this case A Man) in (a) belted sweater(s).

The most excellent aspect of this vignette are the many characters brought forth by the belted sweater each man is wearing. From the guy in the upper left who probably thinks this song is about him, to your high school french teacher (upper right), your best friend’s older brother (bottom left), your best friend’s older brother after he’d been married a few years, and your best friend’s older brother going through a mid-life crisis.

The guy in the top center is either about to open up a can of whoop-ass, or knock Little John off a log. It’s hard to say.

And the guys down at King Patterns also got in on the act with their version of Men in Belted Sweaters, though these two look more like Chaps in Belted Sweaters…

Out for a game of golf and up to no good whatsoever.

We would be remiss not to note that Men in Belted Sweaters is actually kind of a thing, or at least, a little bit of thing. Quatrina pays excellent homage to Men in Belted Sweaters on Deviantart:

And Bliss has song on Spotify, called “Men in Belted Sweaters.”

Looking for a band name? Men in Belted Sweaters. You’re welcome.

Thank you to these sources: Scenario Magazine, Fonts in Use, Minerva Mills Office Building, Go Retro, Gostsofthedoll

Hot Hope of the Stormteacher

Behold: a brand new pillow design – Hot Hope of the Stormteacher! Available now on our shop.

It takes us (what feels like) forever to design these things. First we start with a painting of a couple. If they are done by Leslie, then they have no feet:

Then we come up with a title. This one was temporarily called “Encounters”, then “Storm Dreams”, and finally it was named, “Hot Hope of the Stormteacher.” Which is brilliant.

Then Stephanie paints the title in her signature font style. Sometimes Leslie will retrace it and paint it in and fool around with the color.

Then it gets a preliminary design while we mull over the story:

Once we have it, the story will call for additional dramatic design elements. In this case, it called for a white squall of desire:

And we design the back of the pillow, placing the title and story on an ancient historical scroll, to commemorate one of the world’s greatest love stories for history and posterity:

pirate romance novel pillow design

Sin Chooses the Wrong Man

I watched a pretty bad movie a couple of weeks ago, (“Charge of The Black Lancers” starring Mel Ferrer) in which the bad guy and gal were the most compelling characters in the the movie.* That started me thinking about movie bad guys like Basil Rathbone for instance, who had the unenviable task of playing the villain against the charismatic Erroll Flynn in both “Captain Blood” and “Robin Hood”. At some point it seems like these actors get typecast and that’s the only role they ever play, but I started to wonder, did they always play the bad guy? And of course, no, they did not.

Even Vincent Price had a straight role here and there.
(From “The Private Lives of Elizabeth & Essex.”)

So in the interest of further research, I managed to stay awake through “Sin Takes a Holiday” (1930) starring Constance Bennett and Basil Rathbone. Constance Bennett plays Sylvia, a dull and depressed secretary to some sort of playboy lawyer named Gaylord Stanton, whom she is in love with. She droops over to his place one evening to work late, and has to suffer through a visit by bunch of his pals, who make her watch as they flippantly disparage the institution of marriage. Among them is the one gentleman in the room, Reggie Durant, played by Basil Rathbone who states his case while looking very debonair in a double-breasted suit.

A gaggle of women also show up, who have other ideas about marriage, including one who has been openly cheating on her husband and announces happily that her husband has filed for a divorce, so she can now marry Gaylord. But it turns out that he doesn’t want to marry her, so rather than break it off, he comes up with the excellent suggestion that he and his dowdy secretary marry (“in name only”), and the bonus for her is that she gets to travel around the world as a married woman on his money. It’s win win!

Except for poor old Reggie Durant, who encounters the newly married Sylvia on the ship on the Atlantic crossing, offers her a place to stay in Paris, and shows her a very nice time while she is abroad. They dine, they dance, they play a little chess. And despite the fact that she wears the same thousand mile stare on her face throughout the entire movie, he falls in love and asks her to divorce her fake husband to marry him.

But no, it’s not to be! The two return to New York, so that Sylvia can get a divorce, but really it’s to show her transformed self off to Gaylord, who predictably falls in love too, and stupid Sylvia chooses him, leaving poor old Reggie out in the hallway, still waiting to go to dinner. He’s the one who first recognized her charm! He treated her like the society lady that she now is, and she just shafts him. It’s definitely unromantic.

In the end, he’s philosophical about it, makes a quip, and heads back to Paris, where it should take him about 5 minutes to rebound.

So that was that. Although he was the quasi romantic lead and definite good guy throughout the movie, poor old Basil Rathbone does not get the girl in the end, but we know he’ll land on his feet.

And there is more research to be done.


A great source of entertainment

On an image search recently, I stumbled upon a new source of enormous entertainment: historic costume sewing patterns. The patterns look great and believe me, I wish I had the wherewithal to sew any one of these, but there is just something about the modernish-day model juxtaposed with the costume, that just kills me.

Here are a few of the best:

For a while, I thought that was his real hair. Now I am not so sure. The illustrated rogue looks a little bit like Barry Gibb.

This one looks like a hell of a lot of work. Look at the bric-a-brac. Look at the waistcoat. Look at the size of the kid’s head on the right. You can purchase this one here.


Both of these fellows seem to be offering up some kind of treat in their left hands. I would advise against taking it. You can get this one here.

pirate costume pattern

Someone went to town with the make-up on this one. Does that child have a five o’clock shadow? He sure has an attitude. You can get this one here.

And the Vampire Renaissance Poet…a character just crying out to star in a YA novel. This guy actually pulls it off. And he has inspired a couple of portraits:

The young man on the left is a pretty good likeness. The ladies’ man on the right was conjured from my imagination, given a rose and a pirate belt buckle. He reminds me of a shifty Tom Jones.

~ Leslie

Penelope and Captain Windstrong

textile design by Princess Doraldina Designs

Penelope’s silhouette was observed from her bedroom window by Captain Windstrong, and her visage was forever seared in his memory. His longing for her could be sensed by the beluga whales and walruses he had set off to study.

At four bells precisely each day, Penelope would summon up her memory of Captain Windstrong as he stood gazing out to sea. She would write several more stanzas of the poem that she meant to present to him upon his return. As his 5 year journey dragged on, her poem was beginning to near epic proportions.

Available in multiple products at

John Steinbeck’s Cup of Gold

Penguin Classics Edition, Illustration by Mick Wiggins

I had never been much of a John Steinbeck fan, but then I had only read a couple of his novels, force fed in high school (Of Mice and Men) and after college I read Cannery Row. The only thing I remember from that book is that at some point a man (or maybe a woman) walked into a house (or maybe a shack). I just thought of Steinbeck as a serious American writer who depicted the harsh realities of early American existence. Or something like that.

So I was really surprised to stumble across the fact that Steinbeck’s first ever novel was a historical novel about the pirate Henry Morgan, called Cup of Gold. Naturally I had to read it.

I found the first half of the novel to be pretty entertaining and humorous. I just love this introduction to Henry Morgan as a young boy:

“He lay propped on one elbow and stared past the fire into his thoughts. The long gray afternoon, piercing to this mysterious night, had called up strong yearnings in him, the seeds of which were planted months before. It was a desire for a thing which he could not name. Perhaps the same force moved him which collected the birds into exploring parties and made the animals nervously sniff-up-wind for the scent of winter.

Young Henry was conscious, this night, that he had lived on for fifteen tedious years without accomplishing any single thing of importance.” And had his mother know his feeling, she would have said,

“He is growing.”

And his father would have repeated after her,

“Yes, the boy is growing.” But neither would have understood what the other meant.

The family’s old farmhand Dafydd suddenly appears on the doorstep, returned from the West Indies in a state of post-traumatic stress, and proceeds to tell Henry and his father about where he has been. It’s a harrowing tale. He rattles on for three pages about the horrors of the things he has seen and done, and the horrors of the jungle, in a real Heart of Darkness way. Dafydd is a damaged, haunted soul and what should be a cautionary tale, has the opposite effect on Henry.

“Oh, I’m tired, Robert – so very tired,” he sighed, “but there’s one thing I want to tell you before I sleep. Maybe the telling will ease me and maybe I can speak it out and then forget it for one night. I must go back to the damned place. I can never stay away from the jungle any more, because its hot breath is on me. Here, where I was born, I shiver and freeze. A month would find me dead. This valley where I played and grew and worked has cast me out for a foul, hot thing. It cleans itself of me with the cold…”

Old Robert helped him from the room with a hand under his arm, then came and sat again by the fire. He looked at the boy who lay unmoving on the floor.

“What are you thinking about now, son? he asked very softly after a time. And Henry drew his gaze back from the land beyond the blaze.

“I’m thinking I’ll be wanting to go soon, father.”

I think that it would be hard to tell the tale of this real-life pirate who terrorized the Spanish Main, and have him be a likable sympathetic character, which Steinbeck did not do. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the second half of the book quite as much as the first, but that was probably more a result of reading another entire book in between. Overall though, I’d recommend Cup of Gold.

I love looking at the amazing variety of covers that have been designed for this book since 1929, most of which have hilariously misleading illustrations depicting scenes that never really happen in the book:

1944 Book Cover. Spoiler alert: It never really happens this way.

Bantam Books Edition

Bantam Books Edition.

Corgi Books Edition. What’s with that look on his face?

John Steinbeck's Cup of Gold

Popular Library Edition

Cup of Gold, McBride Edition

~ Leslie

Very Short Stories

In the spirit of Ernest Hemingway’s six word story, and falling somewhere between dribble and drabble, Stephanie’s very short stories are the perfect accompaniment to our brilliant artwork:

very bad art by princess doraldina

When she wore a corset and he wore nothing, they entered into a special place. Some say it was pure fantasy and others claim it was real. The truth may never be known, but many have reported a euphoric sensation when swimming in the Sea of Love.


Very short story

One look at the smoldering black eyes and very short legs of a mysterious seaman and she knew in an instant that life on land would never satisfy. He was feral and arrogant, she was impetuous and seasick, the perfect match for a life of high adventure.


Very short story, very bad art

Daggers of defiance flashed from her very normal eyes, as if to say, “Yes, I will sleep with you in the desert tonight.” She longed to be put down so as to pull off his very strange boots.


very short story and very bad art

Inside of his sun bronzed chest his heart pounded, but was it fear or the tantalizing sensation of being her captive? Where was he and why was his blindingly-white pirate shirt always open? He knew not of what she spoke, but only of her bizarrely arranged teeth.


very short story

As if possessed by the turbulent waters that carried their vessel into uncharted waters, the bodacious tresses of both man and woman guide them into wildly impossible poses.


very bad art, very short story

He came from a far away land full of brutally short and handsome men. She felt the heat of his gaze on her collarbone as the blood of her Viking ancestors raced through her veins. Soon they were awkwardly dancing into each others’ impassioned hearts.


Very bad art, very short story

There was no explaining her insatiable appetite for Madeira wine and the sight of his muscle-free calves.


very short stories

A kiss below-deck triggered a whirlpool of reckless abandon as the Golden Hind sailed into port.

very short story

She requested the pleasure of his company for cake and refreshments. However once below deck her tempestuous spirit was laid bare — for it was her birthday and she was ready to celebrate.


bad art, very short story

She felt his bare chest beating and noted the stiff soles of his boots. It was wrong, but it was good.


bad art, very short story

What began as innocent horseplay soon became the call of the wild.

I See Happiness ‘Round the Bend

“Are you tired, are you weary?
Does life feel drab and dreary?
Despair not of this my friend,
I see happiness ‘round the bend”

Stephanie and I have been reciting this little poem back and forth to each other since 1976 when Princess Doraldina delivered it to us from her fortune telling booth in Hampton Beach New Hampshire. I don’t have that particular card anymore – but I did come across 3 others taped into an old scrapbook recently. They all share the same vintage graphic charm of 1944, with hand drawn illustrations and off-center type. I love these cards, and search out opportunities to get new ones whenever I can.

Doraldina's Prophesies

So last Sunday morning at 7am, while I was at the start of the Surfer’s Path Marathon set directly in front of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, I checked to see what time the casino would open, so I could come back, take photos, and search for a mechanical gypsy fortune telling machine.

I was in Santa Cruz for the weekend to cheer on my friend Adriana, who was in from New York to run her first-ever marathon. After the marathon started and various friends and family members ran support relays during Adriana’s run, I found myself with time to kill before I had to get to the finish line, and headed to the boardwalk.

jersey wheels video game

The main casino arcade is a little more modern, with video games, shooter games, and a skee ball corner, but no fortune tellers mechanical or otherwise. Nevertheless, I loaded up a payment card with 5 bucks and set off down the boardwalk which was just starting to come alive for the day.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

I spotted a more historical-looking arcade section with an original Laffing Sal in the front window. This boded well for my search, and as I entered this liminal space, sure enough, there right at the front, set across from the pirate’s cove indoor mini golf course, was Estrella, a slightly younger and hippy version of a Princess Doraldina-style fortune teller.

Estrella's Prophecies

No longer a coin-operated machine, Estrella has been modified to accept payment by sliding your payment card and pushing a button, which I did, and received my first fortune card. This came from a perforated roll, as opposed to the original Doraldina cards, which were cut separately and would slide into a little brass tray, but I was still delighted. I took photos from every angle, and then just before moving on to her compatriot Pirate Fortune Teller nearby, figured that I would get a second fortune. For the total hell of it, I took a photo of the card as it came out of the machine.

Estrella's Fortune Teller Card

I looked at the fortune card. And there it was. “Are you tired, are you weary…?”

Thunderstruck, I stumbled out of the casino into the sunlight, where I quickly texted a photo to Steph – the only other person in the world who could possibly understand the significance of this event.

Pure coincidence? Or some kind of spiritual guidance from a mechanical gypsy fortune teller built in the 20s? Who knows? But there you have it.

And, I am happy to report that the connection between penny arcade style and pirates is alive and well at Neptune’s Kingdom. Estrella is situated directly across from the Buccaneer Bay mini-golf course, where she gazes upon this fellow all day long.

pirate skeleton

I continued through the Boardwalk taking more photos and found a number of other splendid vintage machines, including a Grandmother Fortune Teller. This was a wonderful place to be early on a sunny Sunday morning.

vintage arcade game

This child has a bizzarely long torso among other things.

Kids' boat ride at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

May these rides never go out of style.

At the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Get there early, and you’ve got the place to yourself.

Then it was time to get to the marathon’s finish line, and cheer on all the runners. If you ever want to feel good about humanity and life in general, I recommend that you go to a marathon finish line and watch people make their triumphant run toward the end. It’s really inspiring and as good as watching happy families reunite at an airport.

marathon finish line

Adriana storms the beaches of Santa Cruz

— Leslie

Can You Smell the Fried Dough?

boys of St. Michaels

Beaches in the off-season have a mystical appeal, especially the one with a medieval castle, St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. Like a fairy tale, it perches on a tidal island in Mount’s Bay, which, during high tide can only be reached by boat or over a long stone causeway. While returning to our car rental from our trek out to St. Michael’s Mount we passed a smattering of off-season day-trippers. Slack tide allowed for a long stretch of damp sand which was carved in the familiar organic patterns of tidal ridges. We veered towards the dunes and passed swing sets. Boys were hurtling themselves off the dune edges in flips to land on the sand below.

pirate romance textile design

Hundreds of Gothic novels were likely inspired by places like this, as well as the steamier pirate romance books that have informed our textile designs. The Naked Now is one part St. Michael’s Mount, one part Pirate Romance book covers and a large dollop of tongue-in-cheek.

Cornwall Coast

Driving on the wrong side of the road in lanes meant for a horse and cart was part of the brain-twisting thrill that brought us to Land’s End in Cornwall. The large tourist center on the island’s most western peninsula is a perfect example of a tacky entertainment venue plunked down on a naturally beautiful setting. If the top of mountains were easy to build on we would have arcades and amusement parks there as well. Nevertheless, it is a spectacular place with crashing waves below steep rocky cliffs in three directions. We were awestruck and spent a good 2 hours staring out towards the north, west and south. It is the kind of travel experience that moves one’s soul.

Desert Island Toile - Princess Doraldina Designs

And to commemorate the soulful experience we developed Desert Island Toile. In our typical melodramatic way, it tells the story of a storm at sea, a shipwreck and the two surviving lovers who are ecstatic to find each other on a desert island.

Before we headed off to Cornwall in search of pirate romance novel settings, we took a trip to Brighton, where a former king built a bodacious anomaly of a palace. Perhaps because of the sea-side resort environment, he took the proverbial decorative ball and ran with it. The Royal Pavilion is an early 18th Century Chinoiserie wonderland.

Brighton Boardwalk

Not far away is the quintessential boardwalk built high and far into the ocean. Like homing pigeons we zeroed in on the off-season arcades and reveled in the flimflam environment which we have come to embrace as manna for inspiration.

This is an entirely different kind of boardwalk than the one at Hampton Beach. We were humbled by the very sturdy, wrought iron railings and antique gingerbread details of the stands. This was a British version of a raised beach-side heaven. Nevertheless, acclimating came easily. We knew somewhere there were mechanical fortune tellers and spin-art stands. In a couple of months there would be the heady scent of salt air and fried dough.


— Stephanie

Welcome to Princess Doraldina Designs

A post with which Leslie tries to answer the question, “What the what?”

Steph and I were kicking around ideas for a textile design collection. Naturally, we had been leaning toward designs inspired by penny arcades (see our origin story), but we had not fully developed that idea, when, on a plane headed to Boston I gazed at the cover of the cheezy pirate romance novel that I was reading and thought, “Man, that is a bad book cover…” The only thing that would have made it worse would be if I had drawn it. I am, you see, really bad at drawing.

It’s not for lack of education; it is has been purely a lack of practice and perseverance. I am occasionally hit with the whim to improve upon my skills, buy another sketchbook with visions of paging through a collection of beautiful work someday, paint some godawful thing, and abandon it on page two. I present as evidence, “Baby gets first haircut” below.

first haircut

A few days later, at the first official working meeting of Princess Doraldina Designs, I recounted the book cover story. Stephanie immediately picked up on it, and we sat down to try and see just how bad our paintings could be. On that day, a collection was born.

Recreating gestures of some iconic romance novel book covers, we had a ball. Steph was able to capture what appears to be the gist of every romance novel cover in this one painting:

She wants it, but she doesn’t. Or does she? Oh, she does.

While I concentrated on muscles and facial hair:

pirate claw hands

Pirates are muscular and always in the wind

Stephanie realized that she has been drawing feet the same way since she was eleven:

Shoes and feet are optional

Shoes and feet are optional

While I abandoned all art school training, especially when it comes to drawing hands…and what is that, a flank?

Draw what you know, not what you see

We ended the day on a high note, with this masterpiece, painted by Stephanie. There is so much wrong with with this picture, we don’t know where to start.

A tour de force

At the end of this working session, we had definitely developed some kind of style, and realized that by painting and outlining our characters and leaving them on a plain white background, we would have most flexibility to use them for our designs.

Stay tuned.