Screen Snapshots

Screen Snapshots

Friday, 23 July 2010

Lux Radio Theater - The All-American Beauty Team 1917-1937

I’ve recently been preparing an article on the Lux Radio Theater, the long running radio anthology that ran from 1934 to 1955 hosted for much of the run by Cecil B. DeMille. Specifically I’ve been listening to a lot of the early episodes (the ones available anyway) and recently came across an interesting piece of Hollywood fluff from the opening episode of the 1937/38 season, their adaptation of A Star is Born. As was usual on the show, Cecil B.DeMille would interview all manner of Hollywood insiders and back stagers on life in the movie colony, as a way of breaking up the drama into commercial friendly segments. As a result, all manner of people are interviewed: glove makers, talent scouts, continuity experts, historical researchers and gossip columnists to name a few.

On this particular episode, DeMille interviews John LeRoy Johnston, the managing editor of Hollywood and Screen Book magazines. On a side note, these were apparently on the cheaper end of the magazine market and indulged in all manner of gossip and fabrication, and it’s quite surprising that they get a free plug on the show. Anyway, Mr Johnston decides to talk about his views on beauty and “the most beautiful women in motion pictures in twenty years (sic)”.

He decides to list his all time favourites and when asked his basis and criteria for the list he replies,

The typical American conception of beauty, by this I mean normal, charming finely chiseled features, clear expressive eyes, intelligence, poise, well…to be honest, loveliness.

DeMille asks him what is best, the “old fashioned type of yesteryear or the athletic type of today?” He answers,

I don’t think the American ideal of beauty has or will ever change. I think every man admires the lovely dainty feminine woman. If she’s truly beautiful she’ll look beautiful in crinoline or slacks.

He then goes on to name his most beautiful women of the screen from 1917 to 1937, the “All American Team”. And without further ado, and in mostly chronological order, here they are...

Alice Joyce

Corinne Griffith

Clara Kimball Young

Billie Dove

Mary Nolan

Joan Crawford

Janet Gaynor

Jeanette MacDonald

Dolores Del Rio

Norma Shearer

Madeleine Carroll

After that he names his 2nd Team as: Anne Harding, Carole Lombard, Joan Bennett, Anita Louise, Madge Bellamy, Virginia Bruce, Mary Astor, Gloria Stuart, Olivia de Havilland, Mary Brian and Marla Shelton.

Obviously the 2nd team is full of then-current actresses and is interesting in itself, (I had to look up Marla Shelton as I’d never heard of her) but the 1st team is a pretty fair survey of the previous twenty years from a guy close to the business. Perhaps the only person who perhaps shouldn’t normally be on the list is Janet Gaynor, not for a lack of beauty, but only because she was the star of the night’s play and Johnston probably felt she had to be on the list to avoid her losing face. Either that or it's an awfully lucky coincidence.

It’s also an interesting list based on the ideals of beauty at the time, notably with DeMille’s mention of the current “athletic” look. At the time, and throughout the Lux show, they seem to be taking great pains to convince the listener that the stars of the day are fit and healthy, as they constantly detail the exercise regime every star has to go through daily. It comes across as one of many efforts to legitimize movie acting, and to attempt to convince people that Hollywood is no longer "Sin City". Johnston’s description of the American ideal of feminine beauty is also vaguely amusing, as the way he mentions clear eyes and poise he could as well be judging at a dog show…

The list is also notable for who it misses out, but ultimately it’s one man’s opinion, and a brave one at that. Predictably Cecil B.DeMille wouldn’t be drawn as to his opinions of the choices, and personally I think I’ll keep most of mine to myself too...

1 comment:

  1. All such beautiful women and not the adderall addicted waifs that we are fed today.