Bathing Beauties — What Has Become of the Famous Sennett Beauties? (1932) 🇺🇸
What the Follies girls are to Broadway, the Sennett bathing beauties once were to Hollywood. A few — like Gloria Swanson — have risen to stardom. But most of them, though just as pretty and just as talented, have vanished completely. What has happened to them? Louise Fazenda, who was one of them, clears up Hollywood’s most baffling mystery!
What has become of the famous Sennett bathing girls — the beauties who gave sex appeal to the screen long before anyone heard of Clara Bow? You have seen a few of them make the difficult journey from the comedy lots to dramatic fame — like Gloria Swanson, Carole Lombard, Bebe Daniels, Marian Nixon, Louise Fazenda, Sally Eilers, Marie Prevost, Carmelita Geraghty, Vera Reynolds and Phyllis Haver. But what of the score of other Sennett beauties — just as beautiful and just as talented? Have they married wealthy husbands, after the manner of Follies girls? Are some of them still in Hollywood, still in pictures? What has become of them?
Hollywood was recently startled into asking these questions — after reading what had happened to another comedy beauty (not a Sennett girl).
In 1926, this lovely blonde — let us call her Evelyn Innes — was a star in short comedies. She had been the winner of a national beauty contest; she was young, talented, ambitious; even in Hollywood, city of gorgeous women, she caused a stir wherever she went. One day she seemed to have everything — youth, beauty, admiration, and a brilliant future. The next day, she had disappeared.
The strange case of Evelyn Innes did not seem strange to Hollywood. In this town of sky-rocket fame and overnight oblivion, even the most famous are soon forgotten. It is a city of To-day, where everyone lives feverishly in the moment. If a player is no longer seen on the Boulevard or in the Embassy, that player no longer exists. But all the same, Hollywood recalled Evelyn Innes when a brief newspaper item solved the five-year old mystery of her disappearance. Under another name, the item ran, the former film beauty was a patient in a State Hospital for the Insane. A nervous breakdown from the strain of her screen work had struck her down at the threshold of her career.
If Garbo Could Vanish —
In a town where even the great Garbo can be lost to sight for a month, only to be discovered by accident in a city three thousand miles away, living under an assumed name, is it so strange that lesser stars can vanish overnight? Is it so strange that so many beauties who, like Evelyn Innes, once were queens of the comedy lots, are now Lost Ladies of Laughter? Once their charms in bathing-suits and lingerie were known to millions of movie-goers who bought their photographs on postal cards, laughed uproariously at their pursuit by the cross-eyed comedian, gaped at their opulent undress — and promptly forgot them. The Follies beauties have become a part of Broadway history, but the Mack Sennett bathing beauties — where have they gone?
Some of today’s bright stars and featured players, who began their careers as Sennett bathing beauties, choose to forget those days. Even Mack Sennett, himself, prefers not to look back on them, they say. But Louise Fazenda is not like the rest of Hollywood. Wise, tolerant, getting a laugh out of life, Louise has kept her memories of that mad, cluttered, Sennett lot with its bare shanty stages, its red-nosed tramps, and silk-hat dudes, its trained cats and lions and its white-limbed, silken-haired beauties; she has preserved among her most precious possessions faded pictures of chases, and funny falls, and pie-throwing and other antics of her days as a Sennett bathing girl.
“Most of the girls were real beauties,” says Louise gazing at a photograph of buxom, golden-curled blonde, luscious curves under the voluminous striped bathing-suit and coquettish parasol. “Not one of us who still survive in pictures was considered the prize of the lot in those days. There was Harriett Hammond, for instance — the prettiest girl I have ever seen on the screen; and Mary Thurman, who was a great star then; and little Marvel Rea. They were girls with perfect figures and lovely legs and wonderful hair and eyes. If they had been in the Follies, they would have married millionaires.
Why Most Vanished
But being in Hollywood, a good many of them had fifty-dollar-a-week husbands already when they came to work on the lot. That’s why they were working in comedies — to add to their husbands’ salaries, and buy things for a little bungalow. Most of them didn’t have any ambition beyond this week’s pay-check. There wasn’t much use being ambitious, anyway, if you were in comedies. The distance between the Sennett lot and the Famous Players lot was only about a block geographically, but they might have been in a different world.
“Once a comedy girl, always a comedy girl — that was the unwritten law. It took years of heartbreaks and rebuffs and unbelievable struggle for the few of us who made the trip from slapstick to drama. Others tried it — and failed. Most of the Sennett Girls didn’t even try. And they could be bathing beauties only a limited number of years.
“It does seem strange, though, that so many really beautiful girls should have disappeared from sight without a trace. I run across one of them now and then, doing bits or extra work in pictures. Some of them have died; practically all of them have been divorced once or twice. A few got into newspaper headlines. Five or six are married to directors or producers.
“One of the girls who was a bathing beauty fourteen years ago changed her name and recently came back into the movies as a newcomer. She has just signed up with one of the bigger companies to do featured parts, and she looks almost as young as she says she is! She needn’t worry, I’ll keep her dark secret!
Three Married Millionaires
Gloria Swanson is the only bathing girl to marry a title, but Phyllis Haver and Marian Nixon and Ruth Taylor have married millionaires — now being Mrs. William Seeman, Mrs. Edward Hillman, Jr. and Mrs. Paul Zuckerman, respectively. Kathryn McGuire is now the wife of George Landi, an executive at Columbia. Roxana McGowan married John Stahl, the director. Sally Eilers is Mrs. Hoot Gibson, and Carole Lombard is Mrs. William Powell. Virginia Fox became the wife of Darryl Zanuck, the Warner Brothers executive and has a new baby daughter, Darrylin. Ethel Teare, one of the prettiest of the bathing girls, married a banker and has twins, and Sibye Travilla (Sybil Seely) is married to a scenario writer and her name is Furthman. Peggy Tierce’s husband was a famous automobile racer, and now manages the transportation department at Warners’. Vera Reynolds, who was the fattest little ingénue imaginable in those days, is now Mrs. Robert Ellis and still plays in pictures.
“But these were the fortunate ones. There were so many others...
She takes another picture from the pile, a girl with glorious ash-blonde hair, and young ripe curves in a foolish bathing suit of black chiffon and ostrich plumes. “Elinor Glyn chose Harriett Hammond as the girl with the most beautiful hands and feet in Hollywood. She took her over to Metro for a picture, but they said she was too tall — and they let her go. I see her sometimes around town. She’s married, I think, and still beautiful —”
The next photograph is that of a mischievous girl in a bathtub — a girl with big dark eyes and beautiful shoulders.
More Promising Than Swanson
“Claire Anderson left the Sennett lot at the same time as Gloria Swanson,” says Louise, “and people expected her to succeed, rather than Gloria. Triangle starred her in one or two pictures, then she dropped from sight. Why? There’s no answer to the riddle of Hollywood! One girl becomes an extra, another one turns into a star — it’s the luck of the game.
“Madeline Hurlock wasn’t a bathing girl, but she was a great Sennett star. She always longed to play dramatic roles, and finally a big studio sent for her — and signed her — and dropped her before the picture was finished. It was real tragedy, but Madeline’s story has a happy ending. She went to New York, married Marc Connelly the successful playwright and author of ‘Green Pastures.’
“Marie Baché,” says Louise,” — she was one of the most popular postcard stars. Her pictures sold like hot cakes in the mining towns. And this pretty child with the gorgeous legs is Mildred June. She married a dentist, and lives in Hollywood — I think she sometimes plays leads in pictures made by independents. Fontaine La Rue was the vamp of the bathing comedies. Did you ever see such eyes and teeth? She was as exotic as Pola Negri! But she was on the wrong lot for a future of high-priced vamping. Someone told me she is still around town...
“You’ve probably read about Juanita Hansen’s career in the newspapers from time to time. The last news was that she had won a fortune in a lawsuit against a hotel because she was scalded when she tried to take a cold shower bath. Virginia Nightingale was another Sennett girl who figured in the headlines at one time. She is running a beauty shop in Hollywood now, and Irene Jones — that girl with the lovely figure on the end there — has a modiste’s establishment on the Boulevard.”
Two Tragic Beauties
Mary Thurman smiles archly from the next faded picture, in sequins and prop pearls — Mary Thurman, who was slated to become a great Paramount star, when Death struck her down on her first big picture. Some say that she died from malaria contracted on location in Florida, but others, who knew of a tragic love affair, say that she died of a broken heart. Next to her in the row of bathing beauties is Dorothy Seastrom, another on whom the Shadow already rested. First National had signed her to play dramatic roles, just before she was stricken with tuberculosis, dying several months later in the Arizona desert.
“Only two bathing girls won a place in the Follies,” Louise says. “One was Alyce Maysanne, the other Peaches Arnold. Afterward Peaches married a silk importer and went to China to live. She died there last year. Ora Carew went on the legitimate stage. Where she is now, I don’t know. Isn’t this girl luscious? She looked like a damask rose! There is no star on the screen to-day lovelier than Myrtle Lynn, but she has disappeared. So have Maude Wayne, that pretty blonde in the wading boots, and Marvel Rea, the most famous bathing girl of all...”
Louise laughs at the next picture — a young and slim Fazenda in a prim high-neck bathing suit and long, black-clad legs. “They couldn’t get me to take my stockings off” she chuckles — but her eyes are wistful. Fifteen years ago, that pert and pretty younger self tossed her brown curls confidently at the future. A fortunate future, certainly, with fame and fortune and a happy marriage (to Hal Wallis, studio manager for First National) waiting in it — and yet I think that Louise Fazenda, looking at the Louise Fazenda of long ago, saw another bathing girl whom she would never find again.
Some of the typical beauties of the old Sennett Chamber — girls who have now vanished. When this picture was taken, they were the most daring creatures on the screen. And how their photos sold!
Betty Boyd below, is typical of the new Sennett beauties. She has all the finesse of a Park Avenue deb.
Besides being bathing girls, the Sennett beauties had to be harem damsels — like Anita Barnes, above.
Phyllis Haver, who wore chiffon bathing suits, is one of the three Sennettors who have wed millionaires.
Gloria Swanson is the only ex-Sennett girl who has married a title — and divorced one.
Mildred June married a Hollywood dentist and still plays in independent pictures.
Patsy O’Leary is one newer Sennett as the backless bathing suit tells you.
Catch the come-hither look of Louise Fazenda, who liked her legs covered in her Sennett days!
Source: Motion Picture Magazine, May 1932