Every time I come across this clipping from a 1940s LIFE magazine, I am simply fascinated. Mainly because these actresses had such small feet, but also because of the writer's determination to turn these 1940s starlets into an ideal for which all women should aspire.
"A common expression among young men of Hollywood is, 'don't get yourself an actress for a girl" because the girls usually scoot home by 9 o clock to ensure a vivacious look the next morning before a camera. For the same reason, most starlets drink little or none at all....Wholesome living has been forced on Hollywood because commercially it pays off."
I thought I would look at the lives of each of these women to see if they really did embrace the wholesome living that was supposedly forced upon them. Could it be that Hollywood stars used to be more health conscious and that the stars today are less stable and more reckless? Or....has Hollywood stardom always been a recipe for addictions and mental health issues.
The sultry siren Veronica Lake had a very sad decline after she left Hollywood and died of hepatitis and acute kidney injury at the young age of 50. According to her own autobiography, Lake suffered from alcoholism and deeply regretted not spending time with her children. Some claim that she suffered from schizophrenia, but some say that she was just difficult and that her behavior was a result of the alcoholism. A newspaper article from 1962 claimed that she was seen working for tips and meals at the restaurant of the Martha Washington Hotel under the name of Connie DeToth.
The very talented actress Ann Sheridan, was once a spokesperson for Chesterfield cigarettes. Sadly, she was a chain smoker herself and died of esophageal cancer at age 51.
The beautiful Rita Hayworth suffered from alcoholism and ultimately died of Alzheimer's disease at age 68.
Gene Tierney died of emphysema at age 70. According to her obituary, she struggled with stress and clinical depression. She was at one time married to her own designer, Oleg Cassini with whom she had a daugher, Daria, who was born mentally retarded. She had reportedly started smoking after a screening of her first movie to lower her voice because "I sound like an angry Minnie Mouse", and later became a heavy smoker.
Lana Turner, a long time heavy smoker, died of throat cancer at 74. Her life was riddled with problems relating to some of the men in her life. She was married 8 times to 7 different men, one of whom was accused of sexually abusing her daughter, Cheryl. She is quoted as saying; "My goal was to have one husband and seven children, but it turned out to be the other way around." One of her boyfriends, Johnny Stompanato, a well known mobster, was physically abusive. He was ultimately murdered by Turner's then 14 year old daughter during an argument. She was found justified in the homicide and didn't serve time for the killing.
There isn't much written about actress Alexis Smith, which in Hollywood, is probably a good thing! She was married to her husband for 49 years, which is also a good and rare thing in Hollywood. She died at 72 of brain cancer.
Hedy Lamarr lived, perhaps, the most unbelievable life of all. She was the first woman to be naked in a movie on the big screen (Ecstasy 1939). Her life was filled with contradictions, many of which are much stranger than fiction. If you read about her, you will find that she was remembered as a scientist, who co- invented a communication system that helped the allies defeat the Germans during WWII, a porn star, a prostitute, the most beautiful woman who ever lived, and/or a shoplifter. Which ones are the true adjectives? I have no idea - but it would make a great movie! She died of heart failure at 85.
Carole Landis' death at the very young age 29 is shrouded in mystery. Although the coroner listed her cause of death officially as a suicide, her family thinks that the cause of death was something much more sinister. Landis was in a romantic relationship with the very married Rex Harrison at the time and her family suspects that he had something to do with her death. That, of course, is just one family's opinion and has never been taken seriously by law officials.
Rosalind Russell, in comparison to her contemporaries, lived a more normal life by Hollywood standards. She met her husband, Freddie Brisson through their mutual friend, Cary Grant. The forward to her autobiography Life is a Banquet, was written by Freddie and in it, he says that Rosalind suffered a nervous breakdown at one time. Rosalind and Freddie were married for 35 years until her death from breast cancer at age 69.
Brenda Marshall was married to fellow actor William Holden. Theirs was a tumultuous union which was on again, off again for 30 years that ended in divorce. Brenda died at age 76 from throat cancer.
Alcoholism, relationship struggles, addictions, regrets, mental illness..So it seems that the entertainment industry wasn't as squeaky clean as the press made it out to be in the 1940s. It actually sounds like the women that were considered the standard for beauty at that time were a little more like..well, normal women.
So back to the chart....aren't we still judging our "womanhood" by images of women that have been airbrushed, photoshopped and enhanced? I'll end with a few more quotes from the article:
"Styles of femininity change with the times, although such basic types as the siren and the home girl are reasonably eternal.....Today there is a trend towards more purely feminine allure, because men at war want women to be attractive. They also want them to be sympathetic and companionable....to serious students of womanhood, LIFE does not presume to offer any dictum or final word. It only offers the following pictorial evidence and bids them turn the pages and pursue it thoughtfully."
I guess things haven't changed much at all.