Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties

I'm not going to write much about Mack Sennett.  He was born in Canada in 1880 and died, within my lifetime, in 1960.  He was early cinema's King of Comedy, the producer or director of hundreds of one and two reel shorts.  He also either ran, or was a partner, in several studios, most notably, Keystone, Triangle, with Thomas Ince and D. W. Griffith, and, of course, The Mack Sennett Studios.  There are plenty of articles on the web, as well as the better source, well written books, out there for those who want to know more.

This post is about the Mack Sennett bathing beauties.  Smart business man that he was, Sennett saw the relationship between pretty girls and ticket sales, so in 1915, he recruited his first troop of bathing beauties.  It wasn't hard to find  pretty young women, on the beaches of California,  willing to be filmed or photographed wearing a skimpy bathing suit. (In 1915, the above image was skimpy.  Things do change, after all.)  But while the bathing beauties were about box office, they weren't about stardom.  Sennett did his best to keep them as anonymous as possible.  They weren't credited, and were often replaced by someone prettier or more willing to do anything for a laugh.  Many of them would get their featured bits, or  what even could be considered an actual part, but only a few got out of  the background and into the limelight.

Juanita Hansen, 1895-1961, had the lead or a major supporting role in dozens of silent films, but a problem with alcohol and cocaine addiction ended her career in 1923.  Eventually, she got sober and had a second act as an anti drug and alcohol activist.

Claire Anderson, 1891-1964, made 73 movies, many as one of the bathing beauties, and many as credited lead.  Her last film was in 1926.

Marie Prevost, 1898-1937, was the first of the beauties to become a major star, with the lead in several films directed by  Ernst Lubitsch.   After her mother died in a car accident, and an unhappy love affair with Howard Hughes, she sank into a deep depression and, like Juanita Hansen, developed a drug and alcohol problem.  Her last film was in 1936.  She died a year latter from the long term damage caused by alcoholism, and acute malnutrition.  At her death, her estate was worth less than $300.  If Joan Crawford hadn't paid for her funeral, it would have fallen to Los Angeles county to bury her as an indigent.

Phyllis Haver, 1899-1960, married millionaire William Seeman in 1930, and retired form the screen, but not before starring as Roxie Hart in the first film version of Chicago, in 1927.  Divorced in the mid forties, Haver would die of an accidental barbiturate overdose.

Carole Lombard, 1908-1942.  The greatest of the bathing beauties, Lombard, was one of the great film comedians of the sound era.  She starred in a number of genuine film classics including, Twentieth Century, My Man Godfrey, Nothing Sacred, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and the Lubitsch classic, To Be Or Not To Be.  After America's entry into World War 2, she returned to her native Indiana on a war bond tour.  Her plane back to Los Angeles crashed, killing all on board, including her mother and agent.   Her husband, Clark Gable, joined the army not long after her funeral.

And finally, I've never understood the appeal of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon game, but....Kevin Bacon appeared with Colin Firth in Where the Truth Lies, Colin Firth costarred with Claire Bloom in The King's Speech, Claire Bloom was Charlie Chaplin's leading lady in Limelight, and Chaplin had a supporting role in Mabel's Strange Predicament, directed by and starring Mabel Normand, produced by Mack Sennett, .

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