HOLLYWOOD’S NEW IDEAL FIGURE (Feb, 1937)

So Hollywood’s new figure is apparently being tan? Besides the fact that tan is not really a “figure” do we really need five pages to explain this?

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HOLLYWOOD’S NEW IDEAL FIGURE

By Adela Rogers St. Johns

The Glamour and Charm of Lovely Screen Stars Are Heightened by a New Femininity Born of Sunbathing

THEY ask that question, “Is Hollywood developing a new ideal figure?” I say yes. A great big yes. New curves with all the glamour of the exotic boudoir, the sex appeal we used to talk about, plus the verve and honesty and beauty of strength and a figure made perfect under the suns and winds and perfumes of the deserts and the high places.

The great beauties of Hollywood today are created by the forces of nature, and they represent woman at her highest and most alluring charm. Because she has all that health and strength can give a woman. Gone are the emaciated types once thought so desirable.

Let’s see why and what this new femininity is.

They come pretty close to being fresh air and sun worshippers, these women who must keep their beauty always at its zenith, their condition always at its peak and their nerves always under control if they are to keep out in front in the battle of Hollywood. To keep their place in the sun, they have to keep out in the sun, if you know what I mean.

If you see Carole Lombard with her bags piled in her shining sports roadster and holler, “Hi, Carole, where you going?” the chances are a hundred to one she’ll say Palm Springs, which is where the sun is hottest and brightest all winter long.

There are a lot of sun spots, favorites of the movie stars. There’s La Quinta, with its little rambling bungalows and brilliant flowers right on the desert—La Quinta, where I had my last real visit with Marie Dressier before we lost her. It was her favorite spot then, and she used to say that the sun warmed more than her “old bones,” as she called them. I went down to stay a few days with her and we sat in the sun and she used to say, “There’s more God-given health and strength in a few rays of sunlight than there is in all the medicine ever conceived by man.”

Then there’s Honolulu, which is becoming more and more popular with screen stars all the time. It isn’t really so very far from California these days, with the fast ocean liners and now Pan American’s wonderful China Clippers that can fly it over night. Janet Gaynor has a house there and she spends every moment that she gets between pictures on the beach at Waikiki.

Then of course there’s Santa Barbara, a garden spot with miles of white beach, only two hours’ drive away, and Santa Monica and Malibu, which are actually suburbs of Hollywood and where many of the stars have permanent homes the year round. Norma Shearer has a stately mansion at Santa Monica and you can hear the Pacific rolling right up to the front door.

Arrowhead Hot Springs is a few hours up into the mountains, right on Big Bear Lake. It’s famed for its snow and winter sports, but just as many people go up there from Hollywood in the summer—following the sun.

BUT Palm Springs, 126 miles from Hollywood along magnificent boulevards, is the chief sun spot, the temple of the sun worshipers, the place where you can’t walk without seeing some motion picture beauty lying in the sun, getting full of health and relaxation. That’s where Ginger Rogers spent her honeymoon with Lew Ayres.

It’s the most fascinating place you can imagine—a funny, tiny little town of one street, right in the middle of the whitest, hottest desert you ever saw. Behind it, rise many colored rocks, great huge piles of them, colored rust-red, and blue, and turquoise green, with palm trees growing among them. Along the main street are hotels, built in the style of early California, with gleaming white plaster and little balconies and bright desert flowers and purple Bougainvillea trailing over the walls. You eat outdoors under brilliant umbrellas, and there are swimming pools and bicycles and tennis courts and funny cow ponies to ride out through the desert sands—and movie stars. And always the hot, bright sunshine.

Thinking back, it seems to me that Joan Crawford started the real cult of sun worshiping. At least, she gave me my first lesson. It’s quite a while ago and considerable water has gone under the bridges since, as you will see. Joan was married then to young Douglas Fairbanks and they were spending a day with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and Mary Pickford—who were still married to each other.

I’d gone in for lunch and found the four of them beside the lovely salt water pool at Fairford, which was then Doug and Mary’s Santa Monica beach house. We sat around talking in our bathing suits and then Joan said, “Come on and have a sun-bath.” As I was stretched out on the grass in my bathing suit with the sun beating down on me I said, “I’m having a sun-bath right now. What’s wrong with this?” But Joan had other ideas, so I went along.

Right on the sand and near the waves was a canvas affair about eight feet high and I imagine about fifteen feet square. Inside there were rubber mattresses, a small table covered with bottles, and that was all. We took off our bathing suits and rubbed ourselves all over with some kind of oil— it was olive oil mixed with cocoanut oil and something else that smelled very nice—and lay down on rubber mattresses.

The sun was blazing, that clear, dry, golden heat that is typical of California when the sky is blue and cloudless. It seemed to penetrate right through you. Joan’s idea of a sun-bath was to toast yourself nicely on all sides. First we lay on our stomachs and then we lay on our backs and then on each side.

Joan, who already had an exquisite ivory tan, looked like some nymph escaped from Olympus, the home of the gods and goddesses. She was sheer beauty and health and youth and her hair, in the sunshine, was like an autumn leaf.

While we toasted she explained to me about sun-bathing.

“There isn’t anything in the world that relaxes you as sun-baths do,” she said. “When you’ve been working hard on a picture, long hours under the lights, straining and at a tension all the time the picture is being made, you get so nervous and tight that you feel as though you never could relax again.”

I knew how difficult it was for the high-strung, emotional girl beside me to relax at any time. I knew that the very thing that went over on the screen, that vibrant quality of being alive, kept her strung at a high pitch most of the time.

“But the sun will always relax me,” she said. “You mustn’t stay too long. It’s your first day. I’ll probably go to sleep anyhow. You’d better put on some clothes. I’ll stay a while longer.”

As a matter of fact, she did go to sleep before I got into my bathing suit and went out for a dip in the ocean.

The great Garbo had a sun-bath in ‘ the back yard of her house when she lived in Beverly Hills. It was the same kind—a canvas room without a roof, the canvas strung on iron pipes. I made one myself this year at my home in Great Neck, Long Island. Sheets will do as well as canvas, if you’re sure no one is going to be around much.

Garbo took a sun-bath every morning, when she was working, and every day when she wasn’t. Even if she managed long walks beside the ocean, and she loves walking beside the sea better than any other form of exercise, she always got her sun-bath. But the thing: she hadn’t realized was that she had an audience—no, two audiences.

HER adorers had discovered where she lived. The front of that small house in Beverly was blank with a plain wall that gave no indication of what went on inside. But the garden in the back, though it was walled, could be seen from the road which ran above it. And every day crowds of people gathered up on the road and stared at Garbo’s canvas walls. A photographer even took pictures of it and finally airplanes started flying too low—then Garbo gave up and bought a house down near Santa Monica where she could sun-bathe in privacy and peace.

But when she played tennis at Jack Gilbert’s house on the hill, she always lay in the little sand beach beside the swimming pool for hours afterward, letting the sun pour down upon her, never speaking, sometimes going to sleep.

The first time I ever saw Arline Judge she was wearing a white bathing suit and a pair of scarlet satin slippers with very high heels. I was sitting in my front yard at Malibu when she walked by and I didn’t know who she was but I thought she had the most beautiful figure I had ever seen in my life. Later, when she became en- gaged to Wesley Ruggles, the director who just made “Valiant Is the Word for Carrie,” I saw a lot of her because Wes had a house next door to mine at Malibu. In case you don’t know, Malibu is a beach colony about eleven miles up the coast from Santa Monica. There are only about a hundred houses there and most of them belong to film folk. There is nothing between your front door and the ocean except a strip of beach. The houses are so close together that if you are neighbors you can shout good-night through the walls. Arline remained my idea of the way. a girl should be built. And when we became friends—I was her bridesmaid when she and Wes were married—I asked her how she kept that exquisite, doll-like figure. Of course she had been a dancer and that usually does it. But I found out, too, that Arline was a fine swimmer, usually got a dip before she dashed to the studio in the morning, and that she was an ardent sun-worshiper. She claims—I don’t know whether this is true or not—that plenty of sun keeps the fat off you. That it sort of burns it off. We rigged up a sun-bath down at Malibu and used to fry for half an hour every day in the sun. Or—of course bathing suits nowadays aren’t really much between you and the sun—we’d walk from one end of the beach to the other when the sun was hottest.

BOTH Joan and Constance Bennett had houses at Malibu, and Jeanette MacDonald used to spend a lot of time down there visiting Ernst Lubitsch. But Jeanette always had to be careful about the sun because she has one of those very fair, thin skins that burn easily. I remember once when we had adjoining bungalows at the Desert Inn in Palm Springs and Jeanette began her sun-baths—they have dozens of these little canvas things scattered about on the lawn which forms a court inside the rambling rectangle of bungalows—with about thirty seconds the first day, increased it to a minute the second and finally got where she could stay out for ten minutes at a time.

Of course in Palm Springs you wear so few clothes at any time—except in the evening—that you are practically sun-bathing all the time. The favorite costume for women is sneakers, shorts, and a halter. Or at best a sleeveless, low-necked sports blouse.

Ginger Rogers isn’t a real dyed-in-the-wool sun-bather. Like Miss Mac-Donald, she has to be very careful about burning. These red-heads! And when she doesn’t burn she freckles. But she spent her honeymoon playing deck tennis on the lawn with Lew Ayres. Other girls may look cute in shorts and one of those handkerchief things tied around their necks, but for my money Ginger looks cutest.

“I adore sun-baths,” she told me, “but I do have to be careful. It’s funny. I work so hard on a picture—dancing as much as I do makes it even harder work than it is for other people, and making pictures is hard enough any time—that I’m worn out. Getting out in the sun and air is the best thing there is for me. It makes me rest and relax and sleep—why, after you’ve been out in the sun most of the day, the way we are down here, playing tennis and swimming and walking, you sleep twelve hours utterly relaxed and it does you more good than anything on earth. You know, there’s such a thing as air-bathing, too. When I’m afraid to take time to get out in the sun long enough to get a little tan so I can really sun-bathe, I take air-baths instead. They’re the same as sun-baths, only you don’t let the sun shine directly on you.”

Ruth Chatterton has a perfectly beautiful little desert house at La Quinta, right on the edge of the desert, where she spends weeks when she isn’t working. Ruth isn’t exactly what you’d call an outdoor girl. There is a little bit of the orchid quality about Ruth and she looks more perfect in a shining satin tea gown in her green and white drawing-room than she does in shorts or bathing suit. But she loves the sun and follows it down to La Quinta and spends long, peaceful hours in a deck chair in her garden, restoring her soul with contemplation of the desert which she says always brings her peace, and her body with the sunlight and air.

Just after Luise Rainer came over from Vienna to make such a smash hit in “Escapade” and “The Great Ziegfeld,” she disappeared for over a week. As she had walked out of her house without even a toothbrush and with only four dollars in her pocket, both the studio and her servants were a little bit upset and worried.

It turned out that Luise, too, had been on a jaunt following the sun and in her temperamental way hadn’t waited to tell anybody where she was going. She and her Scottie simply got in her little open roadster, with the top down, and drove from San Diego to Yosemite—which is a good many hundreds of miles. They slept in the car or in auto camps, and Luise hocked a bracelet she was wearing to get money to continue her trip because she loved it so she couldn’t bear to go home. With the top down, driving all day, she got all the sun she wanted and came back so brown and healthy that even the studio didn’t have the heart to say a word to her.

MOST of the Hollywood stars who play tennis, play in shorts and halters so they can combine plenty of sun and air on their skins and some good fast exercise. Myrna Loy has her own tennis court and both she and her husband, Arthur Hornblow, play a lot. So do Fay Wray and her husband, John Monk Saunders.

The whole idea of vacations, or time between pictures, is to get plenty of sun.

Picture making, as perhaps outsiders don’t always realize, is hard physical work. It is also particularly nervous work. Acting is always a drain upon the emotions, whether you’re trying to get tears or laughter or suspense from your audience. For women it is often utterly exhausting work and leaves them nervous and drained at the end of each picture. Yet they have to start another one soon, and they have to be fresh and full of vigor and beauty, with healthy skins and clear eyes and superb figures.

If you want to know how they do it, you have only to make the sun track through the hotels and resorts and beaches of California. They may go to Agua Caliente for the races, or to Del Monte or Pebble Beach for golf, or Honolulu for surf bathing, or Arrowhead for fishing and tennis, but wherever they go, they follow the sun and wherever they go, they spend hours of every day sun- and air-bathing.

Looking them over, one decidedly concludes Hollywood has a new ideal figure.

2 comments
  1. Charlene says: December 24, 20094:30 pm

    This story is describing the change from the “flapper” look to the “healthy” look.

    In the 20s and early 30s, women were supposed to be as thin, unmuscled, and delicate and narrow (not fit, narrow) as humanly possible. They were also supposed to avoid any activity that could make them seem coarse or mannish, such as physical exercise. Large-breasted women would do anything they could to make their breasts look smaller, from starvation diets to tight corsets, because large breasts were thought of even by men as dowdy and almost cowlike. Smoking wasn’t seen as coarse or mannish, however – it was seen as trendy and daring, so many young women smoked heavily to keep their weight down.

    During the Depression, however, extreme thinness, small breasts, narrow hips, and straight hair became associated with poor diet and poverty. Hence the rise of the “healthy” silhouette – breasts and hips and curly or wavy hair. Exercise suddenly became popular as well, and women who enjoyed exercise weren’t assumed to be lesbians as had been the case in the 1920s.

    As for tanning, that came into style in the late 1920s along with heavy smoking. Both were popularized by Coco Chanel.

  2. addie says: December 27, 20096:37 pm

    Charlene–your post is great, a helpful addition to this facinating (or awful), article, in helping put the topic in perspective historically /societely.

    It is hysterical that one of the people to make sunbathing more acceptable for women was Joan Crawford. She was more masculine than most of her leading men. Do not get mad at me, the studio acknowledged the problem and had to fight with her to get her to work with people she would not out brute, like Jack Palance, who she did not want to work with because he was unknown.

    It is nice that the acceptable shape for women rounded out when people could afford food more. lol

    Now where is the article about how men should look?

    addie B)

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