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Capital Complex: Valuations of Femininity in 1920s

Stage Adaptations from Womens Culture

By

Bethany Wood

A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of

the requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

(Theatre and Drama)

at the

UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON

2012

Date of final oral examination: 10/15/12

This dissertation is approved by the following members of the Final Oral Committee:
Mary Trotter, Associate Professor, Theatre and Drama
Aparna Bhargava Dharwadker, Professor, Theatre and Drama
Michael Vanden Heuvel, Professor, Theatre and Drama
Julie DAcci, Professor, Gender and Womens Studies
Jonathan Gray, Professor, Communication Arts
Copyright by Bethany Wood 2012
All Rights Reserved
i

Acknowledgements

I am truly grateful for the generous personal and institutional support I have received

throughout the research and writing of this dissertation. I am deeply indebted to my advisor, Dr.

Mary Trotter, for her careful reading and insightful comments and questions, which inspired and

directed this dissertation. Her advice and queries consistently push and guide my work in

productive directions, and I am thankful for her mentorship. I would also like to express my

appreciation for my dissertation committee, Dr. Julie DAcci, Dr. Aparna Dharwadker, Dr.

Jonathan Gray, and Dr. Michael Vanden Heuvel, whose suggestions helped hone my initial

proposal and advance the complexity of my analysis. I am grateful for their insights and

inquiries.

Financial support from several institutions assisted with the research and completion of

this study, including the Mellon-Wisconsin Summer Fellowship, which enabled me to complete

the final draft of this dissertation. The Helen Krich Chinoy Dissertation Research Fellowship

from the American Society for Theatre Research as well as the Vilas Travel Grant from the

University of Wisconsin-Madison supported travel to numerous archives, including the Beinecke

Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, the Billy Rose Theatre Collection at the

New York Public Library, and Bryn Mawr College Librarys Special Collections. The librarians

and archivists at each of these institutions were extremely helpful, and I would specifically like

to thank Marianne Hansen and Eric Pumroy for their assistance with the Margaret Ayer Barnes

Papers and Arlene for her invaluable assistance in using the Billy Rose Theatre Collection.

Several individuals have been particularly generous with their time and resources in

supporting this project. I especially wish to thank Julie Goldsmith Gilbert for her scholarly work
ii

as well as her personal insights into the work and life of her great aunt, Edna Ferber. I am

similarly grateful to Richard Ziegfeld for his wonderful resource The Ziegfeld Touch, which he

wrote with Paulette Ziegfeld, as well as his generosity in discussing and sharing his research.

Jonathan Bank of the Mint Theatre Company provided invaluable assistance in locating the

script for The Age of Innocence. I am also indebted to Cari Beauchamp for her assistance in

locating materials related to Anita Loos and to Lonna Morouney for her kind provision of

materials on the Sidell Sisters. I would also like to thank Dr. Judith A. Sebesta for her advice on

my initial research on Show Boat as well as her aid in applying for funding throughout the

project.

I would also like to thank Aralene Callahan, Annie Giannini, and Megywn Sanders-

Andrews for their careful readings and constructive suggestions for my initial drafts. Janet and

Joel Ristuccia and Willow Osborn opened their homes to me during travel to New York, which

helped immensely, and numerous friends provided encouragement during the various stages of

this project. Most importantly, I am humbled by and forever grateful for the loving support of my

husband Ken Wood.


iii

This dissertation is dedicated to Julie Vogt, an amazing scholar, mentor, and friend I dearly miss.
iv

Table of Contents

Abstract vii

Introduction - Show Business: Gender Business 1

Commodification and Femininity 2

Objectives and Theory 5

Historical and Critical Context 10

Methodology 17

Chapter One - The Modern Girl in Modern Media: Womens Magazines and
Broadway Theatre Commodify Cultural Ambivalence 22

Anxiety and Ambivalence 23

Womens Magazines and Broadway Theatres 25

Sex and the Modern Girl 33

Beauty, Consumerism, and the Modern Girl 45

Actresses and Capital 62

Chapter Two - Ol (Wo)Man River?: Broadways Gendering of


Edna Ferbers Show Boat 67

Ferbers Show Boat 70

Show Boat and the Womans Home Companion 73

Show Boat and Ziegfelds Broadway 80

Adapting Race and Gender in Show Boat 84

Female Practitioners 93

Expanding the Ziegfeld Brand 97


v

Chapter Three - From Criticism to Compliment:


American Gender in The Age of Innocence 118

Edith Wharton and the Pictorial Review 121

Competing Femininities 126

Framing Whartons Serial 132

Adapting The Age of Innocence 139

Adapting Masculinity, Class, and Nationality 143

Adapting Racial Others 153

Casting, Contracts, and Capital 160

Cornells Capital 168

Whartons Modified Critique 176

Chapter Four - Ignorance is Marketable: Feminine Fatuity and the


Currency of Fun in Anita Looss Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 181

Femininity and Fatuity 186

The Beginnings of Blondes 193

Satirizing Shopping and Smartness 197

Constructing Culpability 208

Casting and Capital 216

Conclusion Continuing Issues of Capital 227


vi

List of Figures

1. Sidell Sisters Apache Dance from Show Boat 104

2. Illustration for The Age of Innocence 135

3. Katharine Cornell in The Age of Innocence 171

4. Katharine Cornell in The Age of Innocence 175

5. Anita Loos 189

6. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 210

7. Mildred Macleod 217

8. June Walker as Lorelei Lee 219


vii

Abstract

American theatre sustains itself through the commodification of live bodies and the

gender ideologies they represent, particularly through commercial displays of women. While

numerous studies in cultural theory and theatre research examine the commodification of women

in entertainment, few studies investigate precisely how practitioners in commercial theatre

calculate and compound the value of this complex asset. This study offers a productive method

for examining the entertainment valuethe presumed appeal and revenueof femininity in

mainstream entertainment. Through an analysis of 1920s stage adaptations, this dissertation

investigates the capital concerns, economic, cultural, and ideological, at play in determining,

manipulating, and maximizing the value of specific femininities in for-profit entertainment.

Using this study, I conceptualize such concerns as a complex of capital, a theoretical tool

for understanding and challenging dominant valuations of gender in for-profit entertainment. I

examine this capital complex through three case studies exploring the practical aspects of

calculating and compounding entertainment value in the constructs of femininity. Specifically, I

examine the influence of capital on the commodification of femininity in three 1920s stage

adaptations from womens magazine serials: Show Boat (1927), The Age of Innocence (1928),

and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1926). As womens magazine serials composed and adapted

during a time of shifting cultural expectations, each of these texts emerged as a strong

commentary on modern femininty. This central theme serves to highlight valuations of gender in

the transformation of each narrative from a womens magazine serial to a popular Broadway

show.
viii

In addition to analyzing issues of capital and valuations of gender in commercial theatre,

this dissertation expands current scholarship on 1920s entertainment and gender by analyzing

productions with female stars and women writers, an area in which women wielded more

influence than anywhere else in the industry. In addition, this study considers the symbiotic

relationship between commercial Broadway theatre and womens magazines during the 1920s,

an underexplored area of cultural intersection in shaping gender during this time. Placing these

media in conversation with each other expands existing theatre scholarship, which overlooks the

serial versions of these plays, thus isolating these narratives from their gendered origins.
Introduction
Show Business: Gender Business

She never saw him again.


Show Boat by Edna Ferber

He slowly takes her in his armsHe hasnt quite the courage to kiss her. She
kisses him.
Show Boat by Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Florenz Ziegfeld

When Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.s musical adaptation

of Edna Ferbers Show Boat debuted in 1927, 1 Broadway audiences witnessed a romantic finale

far removed from the concluding scene in Ferbers novel. Ferbers narrative, which debuted in

1926 as a womens magazine serial and appeared as a novel later that year, concluded with the

widowed Magnolia alone aboard her show boat, waving to her daughter Kim as Kim heads off to

start a theatre company. In contrast, Kern, Hammerstein, and Ziegfeld closed their musical

version of Ferbers tale with a scene depicting Magnolia and her husband Ravenal reuniting,

holding each other in a loving embrace as Kim looks on approvingly from off stage. 2

Aware of the financial risks involved in producing a Broadway musical, Kern,

Hammerstein, and Ziegfeld altered Ferbers ending, as well as several other aspects of her

narrative, in order to create what they viewed as a more commercial version of Show Boat. In

doing so, the adapters reformulated the femininity in Ferbers narrative to communicate a more

dependent, and, therefore, they believed, more marketable portrayal of American womanhood. 3

Rather than Ferbers representation of strong and independent femininity, the musical version of

Show Boat depicted women as emotionally and financially dependent on male counterparts.

The alteration of Show Boat for theatre audiences illustrates the effect of commercial

concerns on theatrical representations of gender in American entertainment. The for-profit


2

business model adopted by several American theatres establishes show business as a gender

business dependant on producing and marketing profitable representations of gender in order to

survive and thrive financially. 4 Accordingly, issues of capital, both cultural and economic, play a

pervasive and powerful role in shaping the gender ideologies circulated through commercial

entertainment, including magazines, fiction, film, and theatre.

Commodification and Femininity

American theatre sustains itself by producing and selling displays of live bodies and the

gender ideologies such bodies represent. Historically, this commercialization has centered on

presentations of female bodies. According to theatre historian Faye E. Dudden, the

commodification of women operates as a foundational tenet of modern American entertainment.

In her study of the beginnings of the modern theatre industry in America, Dudden traces the

commodification of the female body in entertainment, a practice neither natural nor inevitable,

to the modernization of theatre as a commercial endeavor (4). As Dudden states, The same

commercialization that took the stage to a mass audience pushed the objectification inherent in

stage representation a step further, into commodification. It converted womens bodies into a

realizable asset (8). 5 The issues of capital influencing representations of gender in entertainment

thus particularly influence displays of womens bodies.

While I agree with Dudden, I would like to expand her claim and argue that not merely

womens bodies, but also femininity itself converted into a realizable asset in this foundational

transaction. The body of the female performer becomes a realizable asset specifically through its

display as a female body, a body always already imbued with cultural understandings of

femininity. In conjunction with the female body, femininity thus operates as an asset in

entertainment, commodified and sold in a similar manner. In performance, femininity accrues


3

not only through the actress, but also through the characters she plays, creations similarly

operating within cultural constructs of gender. Thus, in production, both in theatre and film, the

femininity of actress and character function as an interrelated asset, exemplifying what the

modern entertainment industry considers marketable, profitable, and, therefore, valuable in

femininity.

In discussing femininity in this study, I refer to sociocultural understandings of specific

characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors as essential qualities of female individuals. Because

understandings of femininity form within sociocultural biases and prejudices, they imbricate

constructs of gender with stereotypes and preconceptions based in concurrent social constructs,

such as race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, etc. Constructs of femininity thus incorporate social

understandings of hierarchy as they intersect with such prejudices and biases. Accordingly,

dominant constructs of femininity often reflect prevailing prejudices and lend preeminence to

forms of femininity that reify hegemonic ideals. Hegemonic ideals thus influence the value a

form of femininity carries in society as well as in entertainment.

While social and entertainment value influence each other, they do not correlate directly.

Entertainment operates as a liminal sociocultural space, related to but also removed from the

social transactions of everyday life. Cultural value does not, therefore, directly coincide with

entertainment value. Transgressive behavior, for example, often carries value in entertainment

that it does not share with the same behavior in social interactions. Due to this disconnect in

value, gender as staged in entertainment carries the potential to challenge and expand hegemonic

valuations of femininity.
4

In spite of this potential, the femininities represented and promoted in commercial

entertainment maintain an unmistakably close relationship with social understandings and

hegemonic valuations of gender. The affinity between cultural and entertainment value in

representations of gender results from the fact that, in for-profit entertainment, the ability to

embody and/or portray a form of femininity carries capital only when legitimated by financial

profit. 6 This legitimation through financial gain creates a symbiotic relationship between

culturally sanctioned forms of femininity and those carrying capital in entertainment.

Accordingly, entertainers reflecting hegemonic gender ideals generally receive more and more-

prominent roles in commercial entertainment. Due to this positioning, such entertainers also

draw larger audiences and earn higher wages than performers challenging or existing outside

these ideals. 7 Commercial entertainment thus perpetuates a system of remuneration and

representation privileging individuals and depictions exemplifying hegemonic ideals

problematic ideals founded in prejudiced stereotypes of class, race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality,

etc. 8

In spite of these parallels, culturally legitimated forms of femininity do not necessarily

correlate to those carrying capital in entertainment. Entertainers, particularly in theatre, often

exploit the liminal quality of performance to deliberately transgress and challenge culturally

legitimate forms of femininity in order, among other things, to generate revenue. As long as such

performances create financial profit, they remain legitimate forms of gender in entertainment.

However, in spite of entertainments expansive range of legitimate gender performances,

performances venturing outside accepted boundaries or hegemonies often carry a higher risk of

financial loss. 9 Accordingly, the entertainment value of femininity rests within a delicate balance
5

of challenge and containment in for-profit ventures, a balance carefully calibrated by accruing

and adjusting the cultural capital of each performance. 10

Objectives and Theory

While numerous studies in cultural theory and theatre research examine the

commodification of women in commercial entertainment, few studies investigate precisely how

practitioners in for-profit entertainment calculate and compound the value of this complex asset.

Numerous scholars, including Dudden, analyze individual performers manipulations of

femininity and value in entertainment, but examining the direct relationship between gender

performance and monetary value in a broad sense remains an uncomfortable and difficult task.

This discomfort relates, in part, to the fact that in commercial entertainment some femininities

and, by extension, some bodies are literally more valuable than others, a fact revealed in the

continuing disparity in pay between male and female Hollywood stars as well as white actors and

actors of color. 11 In commodifying female bodies and feminine gender, commercial

entertainment brings the intersectionalities of female identity into uncomfortable proximity with

monetary value.

This study seeks to engage with this topic by offering a productive method for examining

the entertainment valuethe presumed appeal and revenueof femininity in mainstream

entertainment. In doing so, this study works to build on gender and media studies focusing on

issues of representation by parsing out the material and non-material influences of capital on

representations of identity, particularly gender, race, class, and sexuality, in for-profit venues. In

addition, this dissertation seeks to question trends in feminist and adaptation studies, which often

position revised versions as progressive versions of reiterated narratives. While feminist authors
6

and playwrights have established a strong and productive practice of queering and questioning

canonical works and traditional tropes, retellings can reify as ably as they undermine, and

commercial concerns often play a determining role in directing and dampening reinterpretations.

A method for examining entertainment value thus facilitates analysis for scholars examining

gender, media, adaptation, and representation in for-profit entertainment, including publication,

television, radio, film, and theatre.

Although ultimately economic, the factors creating entertainment value are largely

immaterial, stemming primarily from non-material forms of capital carried by both the actor and

the character. Industry professionals, including actors, writers, producers, etc., create

representations of femininity in entertainment based on their assumptions about the appeal and,

thus, revenue each representation will generate. These professionals base many of their

assumptions on assessments of non-material capital as they work to evaluate and manipulate this

capital in order to create the most profitable representations possible.

Due to the numerous and varied forms of capital affecting each performance of

femininity in commercial entertainment, it seems productive to consider the entertainment value

of femininity as value formed within a capital complexan interrelated system of material and

non-material capital informing understandings of value. 12 In entertainment, this system includes

non-material cultural capital, as detailed below, as well as material economic capital. While it is

relatively easy to trace the economic aspects of this complex in commercial entertainment, for

example the salary of one actress as compared to that of another, the non-material forms of

capital at work in this system are more difficult to track. Theatre historian Joseph Roach notes

this difficulty in relation to the accrued value or patina that contributes to the elusive yet
7

valuable quality known as it. As Roach notes, despite its [patinas] tangible materiality, its

value seems intangibly negotiable, like that of time itself (154). This intangible and negotiable

form of value depends largely on non-material capital.

Pierre Bourdieus theories of cultural capital thus prove useful for studies of intangible

value since they provide a means for considering the accumulation and influence of non-material

capital. His theories thus assist in analyzing the non-material forms of capital at play in creating

entertainment value. 13 Bourdieu posits that just as individuals accumulate and exchange financial

capital, they similarly accumulate and employ cultural capital, which, although socially valuable,

does not directly or readily convert to cash. Bourdieu divides cultural capital into three subtypes:

embodied, long-lasting dispositions of the mind and body; objectified, displays of cultural

capital in objectified form, such as paintings, musical instruments, or books in multiple

languages; and institutional, associations with institutions that increase value by acting as

guarantees (Forms 282). Both actresses and characters carry these forms of cultural capital. An

actress figure, fashionable couture, or good reviews, for example, act respectively as embodied,

objectified, and institutional cultural capital. They cannot immediately and directly convert to

cash, but, in certain conditions, including the conditions of commercial entertainment, these

aspects of her person convert to economic capital. 14

Actors participate and profit in this system by accruing embodied capital through exercise

and diets as well as education and training, activities intended to improve their marketability as

bodies employed in entertainment. For women, such activities often correlate with conforming to

cultural ideals of femininity, for example, cultivating a figure, appearance, or means of

movement or speech linked with female gender. As stated earlier, these ideals of femininity often
8

reflect hegemonic ideals of class, race, etc., which determine the degree of cultural capital

carried through the particular kind of appearance, figure, speech, movement, etc. the actress

develops. Much like an actress, female characters also carry non-material capital through their

portrayal of femininity. In addition, characters carry non-material capital through their origins in

media and genre, the reputation of their authors, critical responses and reviews, popularity, etc.

Producers work to maximize this capital by selecting well-known writers and stories, generating

hype about a particular character, and reworking characters in order to appeal to audiences. In

staging female characters, the cultural capital of the performer and the cultural capital of the

character, as well as capital from the overall project, 15 aggregate into a commercial product

promoting particular understandings of femininity.

While Bourdieus concepts facilitate a study of capital and its operation in relation to

gender and entertainment, his theories also present some potential hazards. As several feminist

scholars, including Judith Butler, Terry Lovell, and Beverley Skeggs, have noted, Bourdieus

theories tend to reify institutional power and gender binaries. In her book Excitable Speech: A

Politics of the Performative, Butler criticizes Bourdieu for ascribing absolute power to

institutionalized authority and thus ignoring the power of individual resistance. 16 In addition,

Lovells article, Thinking Feminism with and against Bourdieu, criticizes the heteronormative

nature of Bourdieus model of capital in which husbands provide economic capital for the family

while wives display this capital by transforming it into symbolic capital (20). Similarly, in her

essay contextualizing the collection Feminism After Bourdieu, Skeggs takes issue with Bourdieu

for failing to examine how embodied capital works differently in relation to gender (22). Skeggs

also accuses Bourdieu of reproducing the categories his theories endeavor to critique by relying
9

on binary gender divisions (28). Bourdieus theories thus carry the potential hazard of portraying

representations of femininity in entertainment as institutionally and essentially determined. 17

This study works to avoid such pitfalls by focusing on particular instances of individuals

interactions with the institutionalized authority of the entertainment industry, specifically, the

institutions of the womens magazine industry and Broadway theatre, both flourishing,

predominantly male-managed sources of mainstream entertainment in the 1920s. I will examine

individual negotiations of the capital complex in these markets through three case studies

analyzing the initial creation of a representation of femininity for a womens magazine and the

alteration of that representation in an adaptation for the stage. For each of these transformations,

I will consider the capital concerns of specific individuals and their particular impact on each

adjustment. In doing so, my dissertation acknowledges the power of institutional authority while

also underscoring individual agency within these institutions. Institutionalized authority remains

dominant in these particular cases, but my focus on individual actions reveals areas where

resistance remained possible if not always successful in challenging hegemonic depictions of

femininity in 1920s magazine fiction and Broadway theatre.

In addition, this study troubles Bourdieus heteronormative model by investigating

instances in which women consciously leveraged their own symbolic capital to accrue economic

capital, often taking the husbands role as well as the wifes in this system of value. This

study also troubles the gendered binary of male creator and female creation, a popular formula

carried over from the late 1800s and early1900s when, according to historian Kim Marra, male

managers realized they could make more money by promoting female, rather than male, stars

(xv). As Marra explains, The Pygmalion or, more particularly the racially marked Svengali

mode of star making became a key theme of the era [1865-1914] (xv), and, I would argue,
10

carried into understandings of theatre production in the 1920s. The trope of male creator/female

creation informed 1920s theatre practice and remains a pervasive construct in current studies of

1920s theatre. 18 This dissertation troubles this construct along with the binary of male

producer/female consumer, a binary solidified by the advertising industry during the 1920s, 19 by

demonstrating that both men and women participated in creating, commodifying, and consuming

the femininities for sale in womens magazines and Broadway theatre. 20

Historical and Critical Context

1920s America provides a particularly productive context for a study of the capital

complex in relation to femininity since the cultural shifts in womens gender performance during

this period destabilized the entertainment value previously carried in established representations.

This disruption served to foreground concerns of capital in industries, such as womens

magazines and commercial theatre, working to commodify femininity during this decade. This

proved particularly difficult during the 1920s as the sea change in understandings of femininity

began to impact entertainment value.

The New Women of the late 1800s and early 1900s instigated this change by ushering

women into the public sphere through their efforts to promote womens suffrage, birth control,

and prohibition. In the 1910s and 1920s, young women rejected the militancy associated with the

New Woman but relished the acceptance of women in the public sphere, entering the work force

and higher education in unprecedented numbers. No longer confined to their separate sphere of

home and family, modern women directly influenced social and political issues, public concerns

formerly controlled primarily by men. Female leadership seemed to flourish in the passage of the

Eighteenth Amendment in January 1920, which established Prohibition, a cause widely


11

constructed as feminine through the support of organizations such as the Womens Christian

Temperance Union and cultural perceptions of women as the moral authorities of the nation.

Later that year, women gained unprecedented political power with the ratification of the

Nineteenth Amendment, in August, which granted women the right to vote.

In addition to their increasing political and social influence, women of the 1910s and

1920s also adopted more modern attitudes about sex, shamelessly acknowledging female

desire and demanding equal standards for men and women in relation to sexual morality.

Womens fashions reflected this new frankness as hemlines receded and middle-class women

began using cosmetics, a practice formerly associated with prostitution. As historian Kathy Peiss

observes, the resulting cosmetics industry reshaped the relationship between appearance and

feminine identity by promoting the externalization of the gendered self (Making Faces 157).

According to Peiss, this trend foregrounded the notion that ones look was not only the

expression of female identity but its essence as well (italics added Making Faces 165).

Although Peiss refers specifically to the cosmetics industry, her observation articulates a broader

sea change in cultural understandings of femininity during this period.

As chapter one will address in detail, womens increasing public presence, political

influence, open sexuality, consumerism, and focus on fashion marked a distinctly modern

redefinition of femininity in America that solidified in the late 1910s and 1920s. Society split in

its opinion of the Modern Girl, 21 as she was often called, with individuals alternately praising

and lamenting her influence on American culture. Some celebrated her frank interest in sex,

shopping, and short hemlines, while others believed her makeup and immodesty indicated the

moral denigration of the nation. This ambivalent cultural response made assessments and
12

calibrations of capital difficult for editors and producers working to market femininity to modern

consumers. Editors and producers struggled to adjust their products in order to attract modish

audiences without losing their conservative markets. As I will discuss in chapter one, both

Broadway producers and womens magazine editors faced this situation in the midst of

increasingly competitive markets. Financial concerns thus steered commercial representations of

femininity in these media as never before.

The cultural and market conditions womens magazines and Broadway theatre

encountered during the 1920s thus offer a particularly productive period of study for examining

the influence of capital on femininity in entertainment. Several recent studies examine the effect

of social changes on representations of women in womens magazines, including historical

surveys by Mary Ellen Zuckerman, Kathleen Endres, Therese Lueck, as well as Jennifer

Scanlons detailed look at the Ladies Home Journal during this period. In addition, several

scholars, including Angela Latham, Susan A. Glenn, and Linda Mizejewski, have provided close

analyses of the impact of cultural shifts during the late 1910s and the 1920s on representations of

women in theatre, particularly in relation to, sex farces, the chorus girl, and, more specifically,

the iconic image of theatrical femininity, the Ziegfeld girl. Such studies provide invaluable

information and insight into cultural concerns and representations of femininity in entertainment

during this era. However, none of these studies provides a detailed analysis of the

interrelationship between womens magazines and theatre during this decade.

In addition, the numerous theatrical studies focusing on permutations of the chorus girl

during this decade underscore the need for an exploration of theatrical genres in which women

wielded more influence during the 1920s. While the Ziegfeld girl and chorus girl phenomena
13

warrant close examination, due to the collective characteristic of these icons, such studies remain

limited in what they can discuss as far as particular instances and individual agency.

Contemporary constructs of the chorus girl as a monolith produced myriad discussions of chorus

girls in groups with few critics focusing on individual circumstances or experiences.

Accordingly, studies of the ubiquitous chorus girl image offer an ironically myopic view of

women in theatre in the 1920s by omitting areas of entertainment in which women played a

substantial role in directly crafting commercial portrayals of femininity, influencing scripts,

casting, production choices, costume decisions, etc.

In order to construct a more complete picture of 1920s theatre, studies must build upon

this work by including the role of women as formative shapers and determinants of culture and

the female image in both performance and writing in order to avoid creating a false perception of

1920s commercial theatre as a medium uniformly containing and suppressing female agency

through male domination. It is thus particularly important to examine productions, such as those

adapted from stories by female authors, through which women worked to contest the sexual and

servile images promoted through numerous Broadway shows. It is equally important to consider

instances in which women assisted in creating and proliferating problematic portrayals of

femininity in commercial entertainment.

Examining commercial plays with female stars and women writers reveals an area of

commercial theatre entertainment in which women wielded more influence than anywhere else in

the industry at this time. A study of such productions is thus particularly important given that

other popular genres of this era, particularly the sex farce, musical comedies, and revues,

uniformly squelched womens influence in shows created and sustained through diminishing the

importance of the individual woman and her performance skill. In addition, at this time, almost
14

all commercial Broadway producers and directors were men, meaning that acting and

playwriting remained some of the few areas regularly open to female influence in the creation

and depiction of femininity on the commercial stage. 22 Examining adaptations of female-

centered narratives by women writers provides the opportunity to analyze womens roles in

creating commercial depictions of femininity through writing as well as production and

performance decisions in theatre during the 1920s. An analysis of such productions reveals

womens influence, through the cultural capital they exercised, in forming narratives for

commercial theatre and the impact and mitigation of that influence, through other concerns of

capital, on the final production. Accordingly, this study suggests ways in which expanding

definitions of authorship in theatre and cultural studies might contribute to more accurate

understandings of womens role in the production and shaping of meaning in entertainment.

In order to examine the complex of capital influencing representations of gender in

entertainment, this study focuses on the creation and adaptation of three narratives, Show Boat

(1926), The Age of Innocence (1920), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925). 23 These works offer

particularly productive case studies for several reasons. First, each originated as a serial in an

American womens magazine during the 1920s, a time of radically shifting standards and intense

social scrutiny of femininity in America. Their authors, Edna Ferber, Edith Wharton, and Anita

Loos, wrote from within this cultural shift, addressing personal concerns about the freedoms and

frustrations of modern American femininity in narratives crafted for America women. Their

narratives appeared in womens magazines, publications printed and sold as products of

womens culture, culture created specifically for women.

In examining these narratives as products in and of womens culture, this study draws on

the theories of cultural historian Lauren Berlant. Berlant classifies womens culture as an
15

intimate public, which she defines as a porous, affective scene of identification among

strangers that promises a certain experience of belonging and provides a complex of consolation,

confirmation, discipline, and discussion about how to live as an x (viii). American womens

culture proliferates understandings of how to live as an x where x represents an American

woman. During the 1920s, womens magazines and Broadway theatre acted as some of the many

affective scene[s] of identification centered on confirming, disciplining, and discussing how to

live as a female in American. These entertainments grew in popularity as this particular x

became an increasingly unstable variable.

While Broadway shows were created for and marketed to both male and female

audiences, womens magazines created and marketed an affective scene of identification

specifically for women (Berlant viii). Each of these narratives thus originated as a product

created for and by American women. Femininity, particularly concerns about shifting definitions

of femininity, thus played a central role in both the writing and marketing of these serials,

making an analysis of their origins particularly productive in examining the considerations and

construction of value in commercial representations of femininity. This central focus also forced

producers, playwrights, and actresses to grapple with issues of femininity and marketability

when adapting these narratives for the stage, thus providing rich material for an analysis of the

influence of capital in shaping representations of gender.

In addition to their focus on femininity, each serial provides a prime example of

representations of femininity shaped by capital concerns in a competitive commercial market. At

this time, womens magazine fiction was an especially profitable genre for writers and

magazines, generating fees well beyond those provided by general audience periodicals and

attracting numerous readers to specific publications. Womens magazines catered to specific


16

audiences by clearly defining the femininity promoted through their publication. As narratives

crafted for and sold in these publications, each story thus provides a prime example of a

successfully commodified form of femininity finely tuned to a particular area of the womens

magazine market. A study of the writing and editing processes shaping these representations of

femininity thus elucidates the capital concerns at work in the construction and marketing of

femininities in this specific genre.

In conjunction with their characteristics as womens magazine serials, Show Boat, The

Age of Innocence, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes facilitate a productive study of capital and

gender in entertainment through their use in adaptations. During the 1920s, Show Boat, The Age

of Innocence, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes each served as source material for acclaimed

Broadway stage adaptations. Adaptations form from series of changes, or exchanges, between

the original and the adaptation, a characteristic making adaptations particularly useful in studies

of value. As Skeggs states, in the moment of exchange . . . value is made visible (28).

Adaptations thus facilitate studies of value since each permutation of the work forms from

myriad moments of exchange exposing the value of multiple versions of a narrative or character,

or, specifically for this study, a representation of femininity. Because these adaptations

originated in the same culture and decade as their source material, 24 the shifting values in each

version illuminate the influence of capital in creating entertainment value rather than

demonstrating shifts in this value stemming from intercultural differences or social changes over

time. 25 While 1920s American culture did not exist as a monolith, the relatively

contemporaneous aspect of the serials and stage productions in this study facilitates a focus on

issues of capital rather than the impact of cultural and historical shifts on representations of

femininity.
17

Finally, Show Boat, The Age of Innocence, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes offer

productive texts for this study since both the literary and stage versions of their stories were

commercially successful during the 1920s. The periodicals Womans Home Companion and

Pictorial Review employed Ferber and Whartons fiction to attract and keep customers, and

Looss Gentlemen Prefer Blondes proved so popular that sales of Harpers increased steadily

throughout the run of the serial. Moreover, at a time when one hundred performances qualified a

production as a success, 26 each of the stage adaptations in this study easily exceeded this mark

on Broadway while also generating profitable touring productions. 27 As stated earlier, economic

capital legitimates representations of femininity in for-profit entertainment. The financial success

of these serials and shows thus establishes the femininities they present as exemplary models of

the entertainment industrys values in representations of femininity during the 1920s. These case

studies thus offer fecund examples of the femininities valued and, therefore, promoted through

the entertainment industry, particularly through the womens magazine and commercial theatre

industries. Through their focus on femininity, their contemporaneous development as

adaptations, and their commercial success, Show Boat, The Age of Innocence, and Gentlemen

Prefer Blondes provide ideal case studies for an examination of the capital complex and its

influence on representations of femininity in for-profit theatre.

Methodology

In order to examine the relationship between gender and capital in each case study, I

analyze the development of femininity in the serial and then trace the evolution of this femininity

through the process of stage adaptation, closely examining the capital concerns shaping each

representation. Chapter one provides the historic and political context for this study by detailing

the dramatic shifts in cultural understandings of femininity taking place during the 1920s. This
18

chapter also explores the affect of these shifts on entertainment value in both womens

magazines and Broadway productions. Specifically, I analyze shifts in understandings of female

sexuality, beauty, and consumerism as well as the issues of race, class, and power informing

these constructs. I also examine the deep-seated ambivalence that changing constructs

engendered and the impact of this ambivalence on attempts by publishers and producers to

commodify femininity. Specifically, I explore responses of the magazine industry in relation to

advertising, fiction, and marketing and the reaction of the theatre industry through sex farces,

revue shows, and star vehicles.

Throughout this analysis, I discuss the symbiotic relationship between commercial

Broadway theatre and womens magazines during the 1920s, an underexplored area of cultural

intersection in shaping gender during this time. Placing these media in conversation with each

other in these particular instances expands existing theatre scholarship, which often overlooks

the serial versions of these plays, and, in the case of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Age of

Innocence, neglects the initial 1920s dramas altogether. Such lacunae isolate these iconic

theatrical narratives from their specifically gendered origins, thus ignoring gender and the

manipulation of gender in the inter-medial facets of adaptation. Comparing serial and stage

versions of each narrative, in conjunction with the historical analysis of these particular

productions, serves to augment existing theatre scholarship on these productions as well as the

role of women in 1920s theatre.

In each of the following chapters, I investigate these issues in detail through close

historical and literary analysis of specific serials and their adaptation into successful Broadway

productions. This analysis highlights the capital concerns at play in creating representations of

women in these particular entertainment products and industries. Chapter two, for example,
19

follows the initial publication and adaptation of Edna Ferbers Show Boat, beginning with its

debut in Womans Home Companion and tracing the changes and exchanges in femininity as the

work evolved into the seminal Broadway musical. This chapter details how Companion editor

Gertrude Battles Lane enabled Ferber to construct complex portrayals of independent and

steadfast America women, known as Ferbers iron women. In Show Boat, this resulted in the

portrayal of several strong female characters representing various versions of American

womanhood. The chapter then analyzes the impact of producer Florenz Ziegfelds trademark

form of commodified femininity, as exemplified in the Ziegfeld girl, on the adaptation of

Ferbers iron women into stereotypes prevalent in musicals and revues, specifically, in the

musicals and revues produced by Ziegfeld. In this chapter, I argue that Ziegfeld asserted his

aesthetic of male-controlled femininity in order to use this aesthetic as a commercial and moral

guarantee for the marginalized femininity he also commodified in Show Boat. Due to capital

concerns, Ziegfeld employed Show Boat to expand his brand of femininity, momentarily, to

include culturally marginalized ideals of womanhood embodied by African American chorus

girls and erotic specialty dancers.

Chapter three examines the commercial viability of femininities created to critique

dominant gender constructs. I investigate the entertainment value of such representations by

comparing the femininity in Edith Whartons The Age of Innocence, as framed in its debut by the

Pictorial Review, with the femininity created in the play adaptation by Margaret Ayer Barnes

and Edward Sheldon. Whartons The Age of Innocence presents a scathing critique of American

gender constructs through its two female protagonists, the American May Welland and her

European cousin Ellen Olenska. Through these women, Whartons serial exposes the social and

personal hypocrisy produced in a culture Wharton often criticized for infantilizing women and
20

then limiting their opportunities due to their culturally-enforced inexperience. Both the Pictorial

and the playwrights recognized the capital inherent in Whartons characters, but both editors and

adapters understood that capitalizing on this entertainment value required mitigating the

narratives negative portrayal of American femininity.

In this chapter, I analyze the development and publication of the serial in conjunction

with the adaptation and performance of the stage play to reveal the superior entertainment value

attributed to complementary rather than critical representations of American femininity. In

addition, I examine the values Barnes chose to espouse through Whartons characters in order to

demonstrate the affect of the capital complex in positioning maternity, nationalism, and self-

sacrifice as valuable female qualities. This chapter also examines the capital concerns

influencing aspects of casting and marketing related to femininity through a historical analysis of

The Age of Innocence as a star vehicle for Katharine Cornell. Investigating Cornells concerns

illustrates how actresses managed their individual capital and positioned themselves as

marketable commodities while maintaining their agency in a male-dominated industry.

In chapter four, I examine the influence of the entertainment industry on Anita Looss

iconic representation of femininity in Lorelei Lee, the protagonist of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

As both the writer and adapter of this immensely popular narrative, Loos wielded tremendous

influence in decisions impacting the portrayal of femininity in both the literary and theatrical

versions of her work. Accordingly, the evolution of her satirical heroine into an alluring, rather

than alarming, stage incarnation of female vacuity reflects issues of capital stemming from media

and industry demands rather than authorial or production disputes. In this chapter, I detail the

aspects of live performance that allowed Loos to sharpen her critique. However, the tremendous

success of the serial and novel versions of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes forced Loos to work with a
21

character already imbued with significant entertainment value, and I also explore the affect of an

audience highly familiar with her heroine in frustrating Looss efforts to hone her criticism. This

chapter also explores the impact of actresses capital concerns on portrayals and publicity

through June Walkers interviews concerning the role of Lorelei and her use of the role and

publicity to increase her capital in an industry privileging women portraying characters

exemplifying bigoted ideals of race and class. The conclusion will address the continued

circulation of these narratives in American culture, through revivals as well as film adaptations,

and the implications of the capital complex for current issues in American theatre, television, and

film.

Through this study, I hope to provide a productive model for analyzing the practical

aspects of assessing and commodifying femininity in commercial entertainment. As theatre

theorist Jill Dolan observes, Since dominant cultural meanings both constitute and are

reconstituted by representation, deconstructing performance from a feminist perspective entails

uncovering the ideological determinants within which performance works (41). In for-profit

entertainment these ideological determinants bow frequently to commercial concerns, making a

method for examining these concerns crucial to deconstructing the meanings entailed in

representations created and sold by the entertainment industry. This issue is increasingly crucial

as government and independent funding declines and for-profit models continue to dominate

theatre, television, and film in the United States. It is my intention that this study will raise

productive questions in regard to relying on and engaging with for-profit systems of

entertainment.
Chapter 1
The Modern Girl in Modern Media: Womens Magazines and Broadway
Theatre Commodify Cultural Ambivalence

In 1922, college student Nelle Weathers responded to a series of articles in the womens

magazine Pictorial Review on the benefits and drawbacks of modern femininity. In her response,

Weathers balked against contemporary cultural scrutiny of her gender and generation, inquiring,

Why all this furor and argument about the modern girl? Why is she the favorite theme for

writers, lecturers, and reformers of every kind? Why pick on us? We rise to ask. Why not talk

about the modern father or the modern mother or the modern child or the modern young man?

(22). As Weathers queries indicate, during the 1920s, no social group was either half so

interesting nor half so influential as the modern girl, whose radical departure from traditional

values reputedly threatened to destroy the nations social system. Weathers comments on the

popularity of this topic, as well as the Pictorials series in which they appeared, further indicate

the entertainment value of the modern girl and the conflict she provoked.

While Americans debated the modern girls moral values, the entertainment industry

exploited her commercial appeal, capitalizing on the pervasive fascination and fear surrounding

modern femininity by producing countless magazines, newspapers, novels, films, as well as radio

and stage productions centering on the subject. However, conflicting cultural attitudes regarding

modern femininity made the marketability of such portrayals difficult to determine. This chapter

considers the affect of cultural ambivalence towards the modern girl on entertainment industries

built on commodifying femininity, specifically womens magazines and commercial Broadway

theatre, during the 1920s. I begin my discussion by considering the milieu of ambivalence

surrounding modern femininity at this time. Following this, I contextualize the womens

magazine and theatre industries of this era and explore the symbiotic relationship between these
23

enterprises in cultural discussions and depictions of femininity. I then offer a detailed analysis of

specific shifts in understandings of femininity during this era, particularly in relation to sexuality,

beauty, and consumerism. For each of these shifts, I examine the political issues, including race,

class, and power, at stake in modern redefinitions of femininity as well as the strategies womens

magazines and commercial Broadway entertainments employed in capitalizing on these shifts

through commodified representations of femininity.

Anxiety and Ambivalence

During the late 1910s and the 1920s, much of the social anxiety over gender stemmed

from perceptions of modern American femininity as a particularly radical rejection of past

traditions and the uncritical embrace of values associated with industry, mass production, and

consumerism. According to historian William Leach, such values began to characterize society

after 1890, creating a culture almost violently hostile to the past and to tradition, a future-

oriented culture of desire that confused the good life with the goods (xiii). Modern femininity

exemplified such attitudes by elevating youth, sexual appeal and desire, consumerism, and

independence while sidelining maternity, maturity, modesty, and purity, characteristics prized in

the Victorian construct of ideal femininity known as true womanhood.

Some women, such as home economics lecturer and consultant Christine Frederick, 28

celebrated such changes, expressing gratitude for the vast difference between past and present

generations. In 1929, Frederick applauded womens newfound freedoms explaining,

This change came about through a release from several cramping pressures of

tradition, which have made her [the modern American woman] much less

suppressed and less fretted with a sense of social, religious, political, sex and

mental inferiority such as women of the last generation suffered from. The present
24

generation of women are not bound much by religious controls, nor by the

controls of social position and caste, nor by the feeling of being below men in

political rights, mental ability or sex inhibition. (23)

While many, like Frederick, celebrated this shift, others interpreted the advent of the

modern girl as the death knell of American culture and morality, leading many to express a

nostalgic longing for feminine virtues of the past. Author Marion Harland, known for her

womens fiction and household manuals, voiced such sentiments in her 1920 article What Shall

We Do with These Young Girls? which appeared in the Pictorial Review. 29 Harland expresses

her own disapproval of the modern girl confessing, I love her, yet I deplore the fact that her

liberty means a selfish freedom, one that absolutely ignores the rights of others (17). Harland

then adds an assessment from a modern father who praises his daughters sophistication, but

laments, she has lost something she had as a child, something the modern girl loses by the time

she is well in her teens, the soft sweetness that young women of my day hadthe sweetness, his

voice dropping, that her mother still has (17). This fathers distress echoes Harlands as each

yearns to exchange womens modern sophistication for old-fashioned innocence and return to the

rigid gender boundaries of their generation. Frederick and Harlands conflicting interpretations

of the modern girl exemplify the social ambivalence permeating American culture in regard to

shifting ideals for modern women.

While some unequivocally embraced or rejected the construct of the modern girl, most

Americans remained ambivalent in their response. Many women simultaneously resisted modern

redefinitions of femininity while also rejecting Victorian standards, expertly navigating

conflicting cultural attitudes delineating gender performance in the 1920s. Weathers, for

example, repudiates a monolithic construct of femininity in her article on the modern girl.
25

Specifically, Weathers rejects the type of femininity associated with the iconic image of 1920s

womenthe flapper. Weathers warns, the flapper is a type of modern girl, but dont mistake

this for the type, and expresses disdain for the flapper by claiming, she is valuable [only] as

showing the rest of us how not to do things (22). Soon after this, however, Weathers defends

her bobbed hairstyle and her use of cosmetics, fashions associated with the flapper. Weathers

advocates this modern look as well as modern behaviors, including smoking cigarettes, but

rejects the promiscuity and alcohol consumption also associated with modern femininity. Some

people talk as if bobbed hair is always a sign of a bobbed moral code, she explains, but, she

argues, this is not always the case (22). 30 Weathers simultaneous performance of traditional and

modern femininity exemplifies the ambivalent attitudes and values many individuals maintained

in regard to womanhood in the 1920s. Such ambivalence made it difficult for Broadway

producers and womens magazine editors to assess the entertainment value of femininity during

a critical time for both industries.

Womens Magazines and Broadway Theatres

Not surprisingly, the demand for womens magazines increased during the 1920s as

women sought advice, discussion, and a sense of community while negotiating a sea of rapidly

shifting gender ideals. As products purporting to provide these services, womens magazines

sales increased from eighteen million journals sold in 1910 to thirty-one million in 1930

(Zuckerman , History 130). 31 The Ladies Home Journal, the first womens magazine to achieve

a readership of one million, attracted the most readers throughout this period, becoming known

as the monthly Bible of the American home (Scanlon 4). 32 Along with Womans Home

Companion, Pictorial Review, Good Housekeeping, McCalls, and Delineator, Ladies Home

Journal led the field of womens magazines in a cohort dubbed The Big Six. The Big Six
26

offered readers fiction, articles on fashion and political issues, as well as advice on domestic

concerns and child rearing. In addition to The Big Six, Vogue and Harpers Bazar 33 garnered

smaller but substantial readerships as class magazines, fashion magazines featuring photos and

articles concerning the latest trends in couture. While the Big Six occasionally carried articles on

the entertainment industry, class magazines regularly focused on the glamour of theatre and film

during this era and often carried photos of actresses along with discussions of the latest

productions. Through these various offerings, editors tailored each publication to a specific

female audience, thus commodifying a specific form of femininity in order to define their

publication in a competitive market. 34

Because readers generally remained loyal to one publication, publishers feared that the

significant rise in subscribership during this decade had saturated the market. Publishers thus

aggressively employed direct-mail campaigns, telephone marketing, reader-agents (readers paid

to sell to their acquaintances), 35 sales teams, and boy agents (young men and boys trained to sell

door-to-door or to women in public venues) in order to convince readers to switch publications

or add additional publications to their existing subscriptions. 36 Publishers also worked to keep

subscription rates and newsstand prices competitive while simultaneously improving the content

and visual appeal of their magazines.

Accordingly, as literary critic Henry Seidel Canby noted in his 1926 article The

Magazine Industry, by the mid-1920s, the popular magazine industry relied heavily on

advertising revenue. Canby points out that prior to discounted postage rates, magazines

endeavored to fund themselves through the sale of their content, and many editors viewed

advertisements as undignified (665). By the 1920s, however, advertising financed the magazine
27

industry. During what became known as the golden age of advertising, advertising budgets

soared, and, in 1925, the Thompson agency set a new world record by spending $230,000 to

place advertisements in a single publication, the Ladies Home Journal (Scanlon 172). 37 The

prevalence of ads became a defining characteristic of womens magazines in particular, which

filled their pages with full-page color advertisements as well as smaller offerings running

alongside articles and stories. The cost of publishing womens magazines rose during this period

as publishers tried to attract readers by expanding their page length and size, including color

illustrations, and providing quality fiction from famous, and often expensive, writers. 38 The cost

of such strategies forced womens magazines to rely on large contracts with advertisers, and, as I

will discuss later, this dependence influenced the representations of femininity commodified in

their pages.

Broadway theatre also flourished as an industry commodifying femininity during this

period. According to historian Ronald Harold Wainscott, between 1919 and 1929, Broadway

theater was the most prolific and profitable of the professional performing arts in American

life (2). The 1927-1928 season proved the most prolific, offering audiences 264 productions

(Wainscott 4). 39 Theatre critic Brooks Atkinson later recalled that Broadway did not have

enough theatres during this time to accommodate the number of producers vying for space

(Broadway 179). In addition to their New York runs, Broadway offerings often prolonged their

profitability by touring to cities such as Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, and Los Angeles,

bringing popular plays to urban audiences throughout the country. 40 Until the end of the 1920s,

commercial Broadway theatre thus functioned as a powerful cultural force, proliferating


28

commodified images of femininity through New York runs as well as tours and, with the help of

womens magazines, entertainment news and celebrity gossip.

Much like womens magazine publishers, Broadway entertainers faced high production

costs in a competitive market. During this decade, the average Broadway drama cost $10,000 to

produce (Atkinson, Broadway 179), and revue shows, particularly the extravagant Ziegfeld

Follies productions, cost considerably more. For example, according to Variety, producer

Florenz Ziegfeld paid $265,000 to produce the Ziegfeld Follies of 1922 (Ziegfeld, Richard and

Paulette 254). As the decade progressed, theatres also faced increasing competition from film

and radio, which offered audiences dramatic narratives and, in the case of film, spectacles similar

to those presented on Broadway. Producers thus worked to attract audiences by staging lavish

productions with famous stars.

Audience appeal thus proved a crucial concern for both Broadway producers and

womens magazine publishers in the 1920s. However, while advertising underwrote publishing

costs, Broadway shows covered expenses primarily through box office receipts. In addition, both

male and female spectators comprised Broadway audiences. These factors placed additional

pressure on theatre producers to cater to a broader range of tastes and opinions than womens

magazine editors typically considered. In addition, Broadway producers encountered capital

concerns and opportunities specific to theatre as an embodied medium. While womens

magazines discussed and depicted femininity, Broadway shows displayed it through actual

female bodies sharing real time and space with their audiences. Through this live presence, stage

productions possessed the inherent ability to tantalize in a more immediate and, therefore,

threatening manner than printed material. While this offered audiences an immediacy lacking in

print entertainment, it also prompted the need to control such performances through systems of
29

management, genre conventions, and legal restraints, such as the 1927 Wales Padlock Law,

which made theatre managers, producers, and actors liable for indecent content. 41 Producers thus

carefully considered and deliberately calibrated the representations of femininity sold in their

theatres in order to exploit new opportunities without offending public taste or inviting legal

action.

Although the Broadway theatre and womens magazines operated in differing media and

catered to somewhat dissimilar audiences, they drew upon one another for content, particularly

in representations of femininity. Broadway dramas and comedies, which catered to mixed-gender

audiences and, primarily, male critics, drew on womens magazine content for plots and

characters. Repeatedly during this period, playwrights and producers adapted fiction originating

in womens magazines for the Broadway stage. Stories such as The First Stone, The Old Maid,

and Old Man Minick, made their way from the womens magazine page to the Broadway stage

as producers searched for intriguing characters and plots to attract audiences. Womens

magazine fiction, which featured complex characters and plots, presented promising material for

the stage while also confronting adapters and producers with several challenges.

In some ways, the medium of womens magazines enabled editors to address more

controversial issues and portray more complex characters than producers could depict in

commercial theatre. The static nature of print media gave editors more control over content and

readers more control over how they engaged with this content than the live medium of theatre. In

addition, editors deliberately targeted an educated readership interested and involved in civic

issues while commercial shows, particularly musicals, revues, and comedies, often distanced

themselves from cerebral concerns. Furthermore, because they catered to a strictly female
30

audience, womens magazine editors could address concerns culturally constructed as specific to

women, including birth control, childrens health, and marriage, without potentially alienating

members of their audience. Such differences affected the adaptation of womens magazine

fiction for the stage, as adapters and producers adjusted the complex, women-centered material

of womens magazine fiction for Broadway audiences.

Womens magazines often published fiction by female writers, and the adaptation of

womens magazines fiction, as well as other fiction by women, created several opportunities for

women writers to influence representations of femininity on the commercial stage. While men

dominated the production aspect of the entertainment industry, Broadway readily accepted any

writer, regardless of gender, whose work could turn a profit. Accordingly, the industry

particularly welcomed women who had achieved success in other commercial genres, including

womens magazines, and could carry the capital of that experience and name recognition into the

new medium. Edna Ferber, for example, achieved recognition as a fiction writer, initially

through her incredibly popular Emma McChesney stories, 42 before collaborating with George S.

Kaufman on plays such as The Royal Family and Dinner at Eight; and Anita Loos became

famous as a film writer for Douglass Fairbanks, Sr. before she turned to writing stage comedy.

Due to the commercial success of their work, established women writers held sway in a largely

male-dominated industry and, subsequently, often contributed to depictions of femininity in

plays dependant on good writing. Womens magazines and Broadway shows thus often shared

writers and narratives.

In addition to sharing content and writers, theatre and womens magazines addressed

their audiences in a materially similar manner through theatre programs, which mirrored
31

womens magazines in layout and content. Programs were often published by magazine

companies and laid out in a format typical of the Big Six. Although smaller in size than womens

magazines, programs used similar paper and featured lavish cover illustrations followed by pages

of advertisements, photos of celebrities, and a closing full-page color adfeatures characteristic

of popular womens periodicals. Like womens magazines, theatre programs embedded articles

and information about the corresponding show in a barrage of advertisements. This layout

echoed the ad-saturated format of womens magazines and stood in stark contrast to general

interest magazines such as Scribners Magazine, which removed advertising from content by

relegating advertisements to a separate section. In addition, although some advertisements

addressed men, much of the content in programs targeted women, offering beauty and fashion

advice as well as advertisements for products such as cosmetics, silk stockings, and beauty

treatments. 43

Accordingly, theatre programs participated in what scholar Robin Bernstein refers to as

enscription . . . interpellation through a scriptive thing that combines narrative with materiality

to structure behavior (73). Combined with the narrative, in this case, the gendered content of the

advertisements, advice, and articles, the material aspects of theatre programs evoked the

instructional and consumerist aspects of womens magazines. As Bernstein argues, [scriptive

things] inviteindeed, create occasions forrepetitions of acts, distinctive and meaningful

motions of eyes, hands . . . These things are citational in that they arrange and propel bodies in

recognizable ways, through paths of evocative movement that have been traveled before (70).

In using a form and layout similar to womens magazines, theatre programs worked as citational

objects, propelling patrons hands and eyes in a manner evoking their previous experiences of

reading womens magazines.


32

Such citational actions worked in conjunction with the content of the theatre programs to

interpellate female audience members as students and shoppers, thus establishing the theatre as a

place of instruction in gender performance for female patrons. As Broadway incorporated

womens magazine culture into the theatre through programs and narratives, the philosophies

underlying this instruction bore a striking similarity to those informing the content in womens

magazines. Much like the ad-filled magazines, theatre programs addressed female theatre goers

as consumers by framing the theatre experience with advertisements for beauty and home

products. In addition, both theatre and womens magazines positioned the actress as an exemplar

of femininity for women to emulate. Advertisements in programs and magazines featured

actresses giving beauty advice and endorsing products that implicitly offered to aid women in

mimicking the actress appearance. June Walker, the wigged brunette starring as Lorelei in

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, for example, advertised wigs in programs for the show, while ads in

Harpers Bazar featured actress May Allison wearing glamorous furs. 44 Although

advertisements invoked the most overt correlation between actress and audience, articles, photos,

and interviews spotlighting actresses in womens magazines, publications purporting to offer

instruction in femininity, also carried this ethos. 45 Such articles often detailed actresses habits

and tastes, implying that readers might wish to adopt them. Occasionally, correlations between

women in the audience and actresses on stage extended to the characters stars represented, as

popular characters often inspired trends in fashion.

By aligning actresses with female audiences in this manner, both Broadway and womens

magazines reified modern understandings of femininity as an externalized feature primarily

maintained through purchasing. As I will discuss later, this ideology made modern femininity a

more precarious construct than Victorian understandings, which located femininity in


33

presumptions of female morality. Although womens periodicals deliberately marketed

themselves as forums for instruction in femininity, American theatre also served as a venue of

instruction in this subject, and both media profited from a precarious construct that required

frequent instruction and consumerism to maintain. For this reason, as well as the nations interest

in the modern girl, both editors and producers saw profit in creating and marketing

representations of women engaging and embodying modern gender ideals.

Sex and The Modern Girl

As competitive industries commodifying femininity in the 1920s, womens magazines

and commercial Broadway theatre faced the crucial task of creating marketable representations

of femininity in a time of dramatically shifting ideals and dynamically differing opinions

regarding gender in America. Both producers and editors worked to create marketable

representations of the modern girl while also attempting to attract conservative readers and

audience members. This task required careful calibrations in determining the entertainment value

of representations of femininity. Their continuous efforts during this era indicate the tremendous

commercial potential of the modern girl in entertainment as well as the acute understanding and

accurate assessment required to capitalize on the opportunities and anxieties she produced.

This proved particularly difficult in relation to the modern girl and sexuality, her most

marketable and controversial facet. The epicenter of change in modern femininity rested in

female sexuality, in particular, the modern girls open acknowledgement and display of her

sexual allure and appetite. Prior to 1920, social constructs equated displays of female sexuality

with baseness and corruption. Women expressing sexual longing, courting sexual attention, or

even acknowledging a basic understanding of the mechanics of sexual intercourse revealed a


34

nature morally inferior to the ideals of true womanhood. Constructs of true womanhood rested in

a gendered view of morality, which established women as the moral guardians of virtue,

including piety, domesticity, and, particularly, purity, as exemplified in virginity. Such

sentiments applied even in cases of married women with children, a socially lauded status

necessitating sexual experience but also requiring feigned ignorance of such experience in order

to maintain respectability. This value system excluded women with sexual experience from

true womanhood, classifying them, by implication, as false women deficient in their

performance of gender.

Such ideals also associated morality with whiteness and wealth, since wealthy women

could successfully distance themselves from associations with sex by maintaining separate

bedrooms and delegating child rearing to hired help. Due to discriminatory race and class

structures, non-white women had few opportunities to obtain the wealth required for this

distancing and, accordingly, for participating in true womanhood. Racist stereotypes of this

period also delineated African American women as hypersexual, further distancing black

American women from cultural constructs of an ideal femininity founded in sexual inexperience.

Based in racism, classism, and social prudery, this construct of femininity became entrenched

during the Victorian era and continued to permeate much of American society and, thus,

influence entertainment value during the early decades of the twentieth century.

The modern girl challenged Victorian ideals of true womanhood by placing female

sexuality and desire within the bounds of white, middle-class respectability. During the 1920s,

white, middle-class women flaunted their sexuality by shortening hems, bobbing their hair,

applying makeup, consuming alcohol (an illegal substance under Prohibition), and smoking

cigarettes. Such attitudes and practices were considered morally dubious during the Victorian era
35

but bore little to no condemnation in modern femininity. Before the 1900s, for example, mascara,

face powder, and rouge carried strong associations with prostitution, but, according to historian

Kathy Peiss, such perceptions shifted at the beginning of the twentieth century. As Peiss

explains, Once marking the prostitute and the aristocratic lady as symbols of rampant sexuality

and materialistic excess, cosmetics became understood as respectable and indeed necessary for

womens success and fulfillment (Making Faces 143). Cosmetics started to appear in

fashionable stores, a presence which reified their respectability and established a new industry.

Toiletry sales at Filenes department store, for example, rose from $84,000 to $552,000 between

1914 and 1926 (Leach 270). Modern women thus eschewed traditional ideals of modesty and

morality by exposing their limbs, accentuating and sexualizing their physical features, and

engaging in masculine behavior, such as drinking, smoking, and working.

Moreover, flirting began to flourish in feminine social interaction, behavior that flaunted

womens sexual knowledge and signaled female desire. In her 1927 article FeministNew

Style, Dorothy Dunbar Bromley unabashedly explained that the new type of feminist either

talks with a man because he has ideas that interest her or because she finds it amusing to flirt

with himand she finds it doubly amusing if the flirting involves the swift interplay of wits

(556). 46 Such interaction and word play rejected the ignorance Victorian women performed in

order to indicate their sexual innocence. As Weathers, in The Modern Girl Speaks for Herself,

declares, her generation has begun actively and fearlessly to throw off the robe of mock

modesty, scorning the affected innocence of Victorian femininity (22). Rather than classing

women as base or coarse, overtly sexual attitudes, behaviors, and fashions accrued capital in

1920s constructs of femininity because they were seen as characteristics of knowledgeable,

cosmopolitan, and, most importantly, modern women.


36

The new cultural capital of female sexuality, however, extended only to white women.

Bigoted understandings of race and class continued to exclude women of color, immigrant

women, and women lacking economic resources from constructs of ideal modern femininity.

Several factors bolstered race prejudice at this time, including wide-spread belief in eugenics,

anxiety regarding increased numbers of eastern and southern European immigrants, and lingering

wartime prejudices against individuals from former enemy nationsprejudice fanned by fears of

Bolshevism. 47 Approximately twenty-three million immigrants, mainly from southern and

eastern Europe, entered the United States between 1880 and 1920 (Douglas 304-5). In 1924, the

Johnson-Reed Act effectively ended mass immigration, but prejudice against recent immigrants,

particularly those differing in appearance, language, ethnicity, and religion from white,

Protestant American ideals, remained high. News reports increased these tensions by

sensationalizing immigrant violence in cases such as the 1921 Sacco and Vanzetti murder trial

and the 1920 attack on Wall Street, an attack attributed to Bolshevists. Cultural historian George

Hutchinson discusses the interconnection between cultural and racial prejudices at this time

explaining that, during the 1910s and 20s, many individuals believed that different racial types

(particularly Southern European, but African and African American as well) were suited to

different types of civilization . . . [and] only Northern Europeans were thought to have the proper

racial characteristics for assimilation to the American way of life (65). Hutchinson further

explains the tie between such beliefs and the science of eugenics, saying that many assumed a

close and even determining relationship between race and culture. Cultural differences, in other

words, could be largely attributed to genetic racial differences (65). 48

Such scientific beliefs classified the numerous immigrants and African Americans

migrating to the nations cities as a threat to national culture. This construct of race excluded
37

non-white individuals from ideal citizenship and separated women of color, including southern

and eastern European women, from constructs of ideal American femininity. The whiteness as

well as the middle-class, native-born status of the ideal modern girl acted as a form of cultural

capital guaranteeing the respectability of her unconventional behaviors and attitudes, particularly

in relation to sex, while simultaneously excluding non-white women from similar social

sanction.

By uniting female sexuality with the social respectability of whiteness and wealth, the

modern girl stood as a potentially profitable construct for industries commodifying femininity.

Her entertainment value rested in the contradiction she embodied as a sexual and socially

acceptable woman. Many commentators found this combination unsettling and feared that the

modern acceptance and performance of female sexuality in society would dismantle social

institutions and moral boundaries. Anxiety over this issue centered on issues of marriage and

divorce as divorce rates more than doubled from 1914 to 1925. Due to her association with

female sexuality, many blamed the modern girl for this phenomenon, equating the advent of

modern femininity with the end of the American home. One Chicago editor summarized this

social chaos, lamenting the current changed era in which . . . the old classification of women

into two groupsgood and bad[has been] abandoned (Without Offense).

Although unsettling, this moral ambiguity proved particularly profitable in

representations of modern femininity in commercial entertainment. As cultural historian Lewis

A. Erenberg explains, How far a good girl could go without becoming a bad girl became a

primary question that both men and women asked . . . movies and fiction [and plays] of the

1920s explored the dilemma: how much sex was too much (222). Due to the titillating
38

ambiguity inspired by modern constructs of female sexuality, good girls behaving badly, usually

within a sexual context, carried high entertainment value in 1920s mainstream entertainment, a

value such characters maintained only in so far as their actions remained within the realm of

respectability, a realm increasingly more difficult to define.

Such constraints complicated the commodification of femininity and sexuality in 1920s

womens magazines and Broadway productions. Both industries sought to capitalize on the

modern legitimization of female sexuality in the representations of femininity they created while

catering to audiences conflicted in their opinions of modern femininity, particularly in relation to

sexuality. While topics related to female sexuality, including extra-marital sex and divorce,

gained legitimacy in 1920s discourse, due to the persistence of Victorian constructs of gender,

they also retained a hint of immorality, which complicated their entertainment value.

The desire to draw both conservative and progressive readers heavily influenced

representations of women and sexuality in womens magazine fiction, stories that often appeared

later as novels and, in many cases, stage and film adaptations. Womens magazine fiction often

titillated readers with heroines contemplating transgressive behavior, usually an affair, but, often,

in the course of the narrative, discovering their innate preference for fidelity and traditional

gender norms. Such stories generally expose the characters discontent, rather than her

circumstances, as the cause of her internal and domestic strife. The heroine in Wallace Irwins

short story Ham and Eggs, for example, becomes disenchanted with her lackluster husband of

ten years and attempts to restore her youthful vigor by starting an affair. After several failed

attempts to attract a suitable suitor, the protagonist realizes she is happiest with her husband

whom, she learns during her adventures, she has failed to admire adequately. Such stories
39

allowed magazines to capitalize on representations that portrayed modern flirtations and hinted at

adultery while maintaining the conservative depiction of the heroines fidelity and concern for

domestic stability.

Mary Heaton Vorses 1924 story The First Stone, 49 follows a similar course in its

depiction of a daughter who flirts with her mothers middle-class suitor in order to hide her

mothers affair from her working-class father. The mothers affair never explicitly goes

beyond flirtation, but, once the enraged husband discovers the alliance, he throws her out. In a

twist reflecting the modern girls frustration with moral double standards, 50 the wife refuses to

leave, citing the numerous times she has forgiven him for similar indiscretions. The story ends

with the couple agreeing to remain married and continue to live together as a family.

Womens magazines thus offered stories that both conservative and progressive readers

could enjoy since they portrayed female sexuality while containing such representations in a

conservative ideology of marriage and fidelity. Magazines maintained this approach by routinely

rejecting narratives with immoral topics such as unwed mothers and illegitimate children. The

Ladies Home Journal, for example, rejected Edith Whartons story The Old Maid, which

follows an illegitimate child raised by her aunt, saying it was too vigorous, and powerful but

unpleasant (qtd. in Lee 592). 51 Various editors also refused to publish Edna Ferbers The Girls

unless she agreed rewrite the ending, which included an illegitimate child (Peculiar Treasure

264). Whartons editor Rutger B. Jewett delineated the constraints of various womens

magazines in a letter to Wharton explaining that the Delineator and Ladies Home Journal were

equally conservative and would reject fiction that deals too frankly with the sex problem while

the Womans Home Companion was not afraid of sex when handled in a serious way, especially

if some moral lesson is included (qtd. in Lee 592). 52


40

These constraints allowed writers to address issues of sex and infidelity but ensured a

conservative approach to such subjects. 53 Such conventional narratives constructed women as

incapable of carrying through with transgressive behavior and conveniently eliminated the

potential consequences of sexual transgressions, such as pregnancy, venereal disease, or divorce.

Womens magazine fiction thus portrayed both the incapable women and their inconsequential

behavior as harmless and allowed audiences to enjoy the transgressive nature of modern

femininity without fearing or considering the implications.

Broadway producers followed a similar tack with the genre of sex farces, which emerged

as one of the most successful theatre entertainments capitalizing on modern constructs of

femininity and sexuality. Sex farces attracted large audiences in the period just prior to World

War I and maintained their popularity into the early 1920s. According to Wainscott, during this

period, Americas fascination with this genre was unequalled by any other Broadway

entertainment, with the exception of musical comedy (54). Such farces centered on

contemporary anxieties regarding female sexuality as redefined in modern femininity. Play titles

such as The Naughty Wife, Getting Gerties Garter, and The Demi-Virgin attracted audiences by

inviting speculation about their heroines flirtatious and sexual behavior. By encouraging such

speculation, sex farces capitalized on anxieties issuing from modern revisions of the relationship

between female respectability and sexuality and the ensuing difficulty in determining the

difference between good and bad women.

Sex farces explored the question of how far a good girl could go without crossing into

ignominy by tantalizing audiences with outlandish scenarios requiring respectable women to

behave in seemingly immoral ways, bringing the women perilously close to the line of

immorality before avoiding sexual deviance and restoring moral conventions in the farces final
41

moments. In this manner, sex farces functioned similarly to womens magazine fiction which, as

discussed earlier, often portrayed women contemplating and experimenting with transgressive

behavior before discovering they prefer and enjoy the conservative roles they nearly abandoned.

The potential for immorality thus formed the substance of sex farces, which operated in the

realm of socially unacceptable desires but then contained these desires through ridicule and,

ultimately, the restoration of traditional order.

In her book, Posing a Threat: Flappers, Chorus Girls, and Other Brazen Performers,

cultural historian Angela Latham offers a detailed analysis of the specific implications of one of

the eras most popular sex farces, Charlton Andrews and Avery Hopwoods 1920 hit comedy

Ladies Night in a Turkish Bath. A. H. Woods produced this Broadway hit which ran for 375

performances. Ladies Night pushes moral boundaries through a convoluted plot in which the

protagonist, a respectable, middle-class husband must hide out in a Turkish bath that his wife

also visits on ladies night. The play thus contrives the protagonists covert, and the audiences

overt, observation of several scantily clad women in towels and bathing suits as well as various

instances of implied nudity. Although transgressive, all of these displays take place under the

guise of respectability since the immodestly-clad and unclad female characters believe there are

no men present. As one Chicago critic observed, every leering or knowing allusion is

accompanied by its alibi of perfect purity (qtd. in Latham 144). Ladies Night thus allowed

audiences this same alibi by staging their own voyeurism within the context of a respectable

viewing, at a cultural institution, of an innocent activity, a womens-only bath.

The 1921 box-office success Getting Gerties Garter, carried a similar veneer of

respectability, depicting a husband whose quest to recover a garter given to a past flame leads his

wife to believe he is involved in an affair. Driven to despair, the wife pursues her own illicit
42

affair as an act of revenge. The truth emerges and order is restored before her affair can take

place but not before the plot contrives to rid the wife of her clothing, forcing her to appear clad

only in a blanket for nearly two acts (Wainscott 63). The play thus titillated audiences with the

appearance of the husbands immorality and the potential for the wifes sexual transgression and

nudity, but maintained cultural mores by mitigating any chance of real transgression or exposure.

Wainscott discusses how such plays, while reveling in risqu subject matter, reinscribed

traditional values by restoring conventional morality and marriages in their inevitably happy

endings (61, 67). After dallying in immorality, the modern women in sex farces uniformly return

to conventional roles and attitudes, learning they were mistaken in the assumptions with which

they justified their transgressions. Both male and female playwrights perpetuated this genre and

profited from the (im)moral possibilities embodied by the modern woman who could remain

respectable while flirting with, but never engaging in, extra-marital sex.

Sex farces also contained the transformative potential of female sexuality by restricting

transgressive behaviors to monolithic characters meant to reassure white, middle-class audiences.

As Wainscott explains, sex farces featured economically well-off female protagonists,

fashionably dressed, socializing with equally well-off and fashionable friends (61). In

accordance with racist Broadway conventions, which mirrored those in womens magazines,

these heroines were also white and native-born. Racially and economically restricting

representations of respectable sexual behavior effectively delineated expressions of sexuality by

non-white or lower-class individuals as lurid and lewd. In addition, the centrality of female

desire in sex farce plots operated within strict social censure against homosexuality, creating

sexual yet heterosexual female protagonists. 54 Such constructs contained displays of desire and

desirability, and the possibility of acting on these longings, within the monolithic ideal of
43

American womanhood, precluding such displays, and the legitimacy implied by their presence in

mainstream entertainment, from immigrant women, homosexual women, and women of color.

Much like womens magazine fiction, sex farces thus entertained audiences with the

transgressive behaviors associated with modern femininity while maintaining moral and social

conventions that rendered these behaviors powerless.

In addition to plotlines which undermined the female characters in the play, casting

conventions further discouraged serious consideration of female sexuality in sex farces. Such

plays, Wainscott explains, usually featured a respected actor in the male lead while offering a

beautiful yet talentless actress as the female principal (66). One farce, for example, featured

former Ziegfeld girls whom critics found beautiful but described as well-drilled and tiresome

(qtd. in Wainscott 63). Such casting practices reified modern understandings of physical

appearance as the most important factor in portraying femininity. In addition, as Wainscott

explains, the practice of casting accomplished actors in the male roles [and less talented

actresses in the female roles] further undermined the integrity of the women presented in the sex

farces and underscored the patriarchal model, not only in the world of the play but also in the

production practice itself (66). Sex farces also made it difficult for these inexperienced actresses

to advance their careers since the plays offered little opportunity for women to build complex

characters or acquire the skills needed to do so. Critics criticized sex-farce actresses for this lack

of skill while simultaneously praising them for their looks, indicating their appearance wielded

more weight in judging female contributions to the genre. In sex farces, neither the female

characters nor the female performers garnered much respect.

This sexual yet comically contained femininity endured in entertainment as long as it

proved profitable. A. H. Woods, known for producing numerous sex farces, indicated the
44

tremendous entertainment and economic value the sexualized femininity commodified in sex

farces when an interviewer inquired if he planned stage plays more appropriate for the grandeur

of his new theatre. As Woods succinctly replied, Im putting on the kind of plays that pay for

such grandeur . . . Ibsen wouldnt buy a shampoo spray (qtd. in Wainscott 79). Woods

comment summarizes the difference between commercial and non-commercial portrayals of

female sexuality in the theatre during this decade. Farcical depictions made money; serious

representations did not.

As sex farces continued to push the boundaries of respectability, the genre waned in

popularity. Wainscott attributes the decline of sex farces to the fact that playwrights such as

Eugene ONeill, Susan Glaspell, and Sophie Treadwell, playwrights working with non-

commercial companies, began dealing with transgressive subject matter in a serious manner.

Companies such as the Provincetown Players, the Theatre Guild, and the Civic Repertory

Theatre eschewed commercialism in favor of experimentation and formed part of the Little

Theatre Movement, associated with the relatively small venues they utilized to avoid the high

production costs that placed economic concerns at the forefront of decisions in mainstream

theatre. Little theatres often operated through subscriber fees, volunteer labor, and donor funding

rather than producer support and box office sales. This funding structure freed non-profit

companies from the commercial concerns controlling expression in for-profit venues. The main

appeal of such companies rested on the quality of the dramatic writing, dramatic technique, and

ensemble work in their productions, which unflinchingly addressed harsh political and social

issues. While such little theatres drew loyal audiences, they rarely achieved the commercial

success of genres deliberately commodifying femininity for financial profit.


45

Wainscott also attributes the decline of the sex farce to the use of increasingly risqu

subjects and displays that began to offend public taste. Matters came to a head during the run of

Hopwoods provocatively titled play The Demi-Virgin, which included a womens game of strip

poker and a shocking scene of near-rape. 55 According to Wainscott, public protest over The

Demi-Virgin incited an increase in censorship that plagued playwrights and producers through

the rest of the decade. By straying too far outside the boundaries of respectability, sex farces,

ultimately, jeopardized the modern concept of respectable sexual women, and the public lost its

fascination with the genre. The demise of this genre demonstrates the importance of calibrating

representations of femininity with cultural standards in order to sustain revenue.

Beauty, Consumerism, and the Modern Girl

In conjunction with commodifying the respectable sexuality of the modern girl,

Broadway producers and womens magazine editors worked to commodify her beautya

precarious ideal linked with consumerism and standardization in modern constructs of

femininity. As discussed earlier, modern understandings of femininity located female gender

performance primarily in issues of appearance rather than morality. The shift from

understandings of American femininity as a code of moral virtues to a matter of external display

worked to produce a femininity fundamentally more precarious than one founded on moral

character. If women could accentuate femininity through the quick and easy application of

powder and rouge or by donning the latest fashions and accessories, then, by extension, the

possibility existed that femininity could diminish just as easily. No longer anchored in a lifetime

of behavior, modern femininity fluctuated moment to moment, often hinging on the use of just

the right product at just the right moment.


46

By rooting femininity in appearance, modern constructs of gender created a culture in

which consumer acumen, which facilitated and ensured proficient performance, became a prized

characteristic for the modern woman. Rather than innate moral knowledge, modern constructs of

femininity linked women with inherent consumer savvy, shifting womens sphere of knowledge

and expertise from the moral realm to the material realm. Such constructs thus portrayed female

intellect as a frivolous attribute focused only on the superficial.

Womens magazines and, particularly, their advertisers capitalized on the modern

precariousness and consumerism of womanhood by fostering anxiety about the fragility of

femininity. Advertisers and, thus, magazines promoted this anxiety specifically in relation to

beauty in order to create demand for products, including magazines, that promised to produce

pulchritude. As publishers and advertisers grew increasingly aware of womens purchasing

power, the precarious nature of femininity developed into a prevalent theme during this decade.

Advertisements in and for womens magazines often warned female consumers of the impending

shame engendered by the unsightly appearance that would inevitably result if readers failed to

employ the advertised product. Ads for Harpers Bazar, for example, indicated the importance of

the magazines fashion advice, which would protect readers from the humiliation of appearing in

out-of-date clothes. Cutex ads featured glamorous women socially ruined because of an

unsightly hangnail, and etiquette books warned of social censure if women did not purchase,

read, and heed their advice. 56

This sense of precariousness worked in tandem with ads, described earlier, in magazines

and theatre programs positioning actresses as beauty advisors for readers. Connecting female

readers and audience members with actresses encouraged women to think of themselves as

women on display, scrutinized by a critical audience. Womens magazines advanced this


47

association through ads such as the one in Harpers for Corticelli Fine Silk Hosiery. The ad

features an illustration of a woman dancing in front of an audience at eye level with her legs

legs presumably clad in Corticelli stockings. The text accompanying this illustration indicates

that Irene Castle wears Corticelli silk while dancing and invites the reader to picture herself in

Castles place, saying, Irene Castles experience will be your own (Corticelli). Such ads, along

with articles and advertisements featuring actresses as examples of beauty furthered the idea of

femininity as a matter of precise appearance performed for public display and critique. This spirit

of scrutiny increased the importance of proper performance and, by extension, proper

purchasing.

Advertisers touted this construct of beauty as uniquely democratic, particularly in relation

to Victorian standards based in rigid class structures that reserved ideal femininity for the rich

(Peiss, Hope 121 & 146). Theatre historian Lewis A. Erenberg endorses this concept of beauty

specifically in relation to the 1920s chorus girl, arguing that the chorus girl represented a

democratic model of beauty: cultivation, makeup, and dress all contributed to every womans

beauty (219). Indeed, due to the increasing economic opportunities for women during this

period, more women could access the material goods required to create such beauty. According

to historian Linda Mizejewski, the number of women in professional careers rose 226% from

1890 to 1920 (72). Such numbers weakened social stigmas against women with careers and,

along with increased opportunities, allowed the modern girl to enter the work force more freely

and easily than women of previous generations. As more women worked, America prospered,

and overall purchasing power grew by an average of forty percent between 1910 and 1929

(Scanlon 12). Accordingly, women gained more power in the marketplace as advertisers
48

acknowledged their growing economic capital and authority in purchasing decisions. As

Frederick stated in Selling Mrs. Consumer, her 1929 book designed to help advertisers tap this

market, Mrs. Consumer is the heart and center of the merchandising world, the great family

purchasing agent, who spends most of the money men earn (43). Frederick argued that between

their familys incomes and their own, women held much of the nations wealth and therefore

deserved a dignity previously denied them in the market place (86). Editors and advertisers

stood ready to oblige.

However, the economic and commercial dignity they offered applied only to white,

middle- and upper-class women. Women of color and immigrant women were regularly

excluded from employment opportunities and, therefore, the capital such opportunities provided.

Several white-collar industries employing women, including the telephone industry, specifically

prohibited the employment of black or Jewish women. Due to race restrictions and prejudice in

such industries, eighty percent of employed black women in 1920 worked as domestic help

(Scanlon 80-1). African American women with light skin tones sometimes circumvented this

system by supplying employers with false addresses in white neighborhoods so they could obtain

better paying jobs restricted to whites (Loos, A Girl 206-7). Racial prejudice in employment thus

reinforced similar prejudices in society by restricting the purchasing power required to perform

the democratic ideal of modern feminine beauty.

Advertisers reiterated such prejudices by largely ignoring women of color and immigrant

women in appeals to and depictions of consumers. Advertisers, particularly for products such as

cosmetics, womens and childrens clothing, and prepared foods, pursued contracts with

womens magazines because their readers constituted an ideal consumer basewhite, middle-

class women ready and able to purchase home and beauty products. Because this ideal
49

readership attracted advertisers, magazines prospered by building their readerships through a

deliberate process of inclusion and exclusion based on prejudiced understandings of beauty and

wealth.

As womens magazine historian Mary Ellen Zuckerman explains, womens magazines

constantly competed with each other to increase their number of readers during the interwar

years in order to meet advertisers demands (History 103). Advertisers did not subdivide markets

at this time and, therefore, demanded one demographicmiddle-class, heterosexual, native-born,

white women (Scanlon 197-8). Magazines thus profited from portraying as well as pursing

white, middle- and upper-class women as their ideal readers. 57

In order to maximize the profit promised by a white, middle-class audience, publishers

closely monitored their marketing efforts to assure advertisers that their publications, and the ads

therein, reached the most desirable customers. As Zuckerman explains, magazines tracked sales

through studies assessing not only how many homes their materials reached but also what kind

of homes received their appeals. Good Housekeeping sponsored a 1928 study investigating the

reading habits of women in better homes, i.e. homes with incomes between $12,000 and

$45,000 (qtd. in Zuckerman, History 130). In addition to targeting better homes, magazines

worked to avoid homes in working-class and non-white neighborhoods, which advertisers found

undesirable. Zuckerman recounts how Curtis Co., which owned the Ladies Home Journal,

provided sales representatives with maps of subscriber areas divided into red, yellow, green and

blue sections according to property value (History 132). One salesman described how such maps

were used, explaining that he was instructed to conduct circulation work in the better residential
50

areas . . .[but] He was forbidden to do work in areas colored blue (for the most part with foreign-

speaking or colored residents) (qtd. in Zuckerman, History 132). 58

Marketers avoided such areas because, in spite of evidence to the contrary, they

perceived immigrant and African American individuals as illiterate and poor. Scanlon reports

how the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency divided consumers into five categories:

wealthy, upper middle, lower middle, poor, illiterate (negroes or foreigners) (qtd. in Scanlon

221). According to Scanlon, the agency continued to associate immigrant and non-white

populations with illiteracy and lack of consumer power in spite of statistics provided by their

own studies which contradicted these assumptions (221-2). Because of such stereotypes, True

Story, a womens magazine filled with sensational and purportedly true emotional tales,

maintained a circulation of over two million during the 1920s but encountered difficulty accruing

advertising revenue because of its largely working-class audience. True Story embraced its

association with immigrant and working-class populations by referring to its readers as Judy

OGradys (Scanlon 220), and continued to fight advertisers prejudices well into the 1950s

(Zuckerman, History 118).

Activists in the New Negro movement also combated such racist assessments by

destabilizing concepts of white supremacy through performances of middle-class black

consumption deliberately displayed in order to diminish myths of essential difference between

black and white middle-class Americans (Dossett 93). However, as historian Kate Dossett points

out, many African Americans understood this strategy as problematic and refused black elites

conflation of respectable consumption and race progress (93-4). While disagreeing about

strategy, both sides acknowledged the inseparable connection between consumerism and race in

the modern America. However, each failed to recognize the gendered nature of this connection,
51

which rested in classed and racialized perceptions and portrayals of the primary consumer as the

white, middle-class, modern American woman.

By constructing women of color, working-class, and immigrant women as deficient

consumers, womens magazines and their advertisers excluded such women from the distinctly

chic ideal of modern femininity. The femininity womens magazines commodified thus

delineated non-white women as inherently unfeminine and, therefore, unattractive. This

construct worked to mitigate the perceived cultural threat of female economic power,

independence, and beauty by designating these traits the sole province of middle-class, white,

native-born women.

Womens magazines furthered such constructs by excluding African American women

from illustrations in advertisements and fiction except when portraying them as servants or

exoticized Others. 59 In addition, womens magazines removed African American women from

the consumerist construct of female beauty by uniformly prohibiting advertisements for beauty

products produced by African-American-owned companies or specifically for African American

women (Dossett 106). 60 Such policies thus hampered the efforts of African Americans

attempting to destroy racial stereotypes relating to middle-class consumerism and modern

definitions of beauty. Dossett explains how women such as ALelia Walker, Madam C. J.

Walkers daughter, 61 circumvented such restrictions by creating a reputation and celebrity

lifestyle intended to generate interest, and thus publicity, in both the mainstream and African

American presses (106-7). However, through subscriber sales and advertising contracts,

womens magazines continued to prosper from representing beauty as an exclusively white,

native born, middle- and upper-class characteristic.


52

The racially, economically, and sexually monolithic construct of American women

circulated by womens magazines reflects the increasing standardization of beauty as facilitated

by consumerism during the 1920s. As modern gender constructs externalized the performance of

femininity, consumer culture standardized this performance through mass-produced products.

Products, such as cosmetics, womens magazines, and ready-made clothing, made it possible to

coordinate gender performance in an unprecedented manner by encouraging and facilitating

uniformity. Due to growth in industry and mail-order businesses, 62 women anywhere in the

nation could acquire the same clothing, accessories, and cosmetics at roughly the same time.

Ready-made clothes became common during the 1920s as manufacturers adopted standard sizes

for the first time 63 and chain stores proliferated throughout the American landscape, making such

products available to women across the nation. The proliferation of ready-made clothing worked

to codify both womens fashions and figures as bathroom scales and dieting came into vogue as a

way to help women conform to industry and cultural standards (Douglas 135-6). 64 Drugstores

also increased at this time, due in large part to growing cosmetics sales, enabling more customers

to receive and use the same cosmetics. Leach reports that in 1900, the nation boasted 25 chain-

like drugstores, but, by 1927, the number had increased to 3,000 (274). In addition to crafting

uniform appearances, such practices also enabled women to create uniform homes by ordering

mass-produced appliances, food, and furniture. The advent of rural free delivery by the U.S. Post

Office allowed women across the nation to receive womens magazines at roughly the same time

(Scanlon 12), prompting and enabling readers removed from urban areas to remain au courant

with styles and trends by arranging their homes, fashions, and bodies to conform with accepted

styles.
53

Basing femininity in widely-available, mass-produced, consumer products in readily-

available outlets codified standards of appearance and femininity while disseminating the means

to achieve these standards, thereby homogenizing femininity as never before. Such standards

applied even to women whose class and/or race designated them as irrevocably removed from

mainstream ideals of femininity. Ads for hair-removal products, for example, promised to make

southern and eastern European women more American while others indicated that women

could cross into higher class levels if they purchased pamphlets on how to dress properly (Peiss,

Making Faces 158). Making such products widely available furthered the idea that,

theoretically, all women, regardless of class or race, could achieve some measure of success in

meeting modern, democratic standards of femininity.

The perception of modern beauty as a democratic ideal, however, created further

problems in that it constructed adherence to the white, middle-class definition of beauty as a duty

as well as an ideal. Peiss discusses this phenomenon specifically in relation to the cosmetic

industry saying,

By making the complexion, rather than bone structure or physical features, more

central to popular definitions of beauty, it [beauty culture] popularized the

democratic idea that beauty could be achieved by all women if only they used the

correct products and treatment. This led to the assertion that every woman should

be beautifulas a duty to her husband and children, in order to achieve business

success, or to find romanceand those who were not beautiful had only

themselves to blame. (Making Faces 148)

Although Peiss comments on this philosophy specifically in relation to cosmetics, such duties

also applied to womens apparel, behavior, and figures, which should also conform to standard
54

ideals of beauty. In an era of increasing divorce rates and anxiety over the state of marriage in

America, womens duty to be beautiful took on national import as marriage experts assigned

responsibility for maintaining marital bliss to the modern woman. 65 Adopting and performing

standardized ideals of appearance thus displayed a feminine as well as an American essence, and

women who for economic or racial reasons did not fit this standard, fell short as both women and

citizens.

Many women balked at this duty to conform, including Weathers, author of the 1922

article The Modern Girl Speaks For Herself, quoted at the beginning of this chapter. Weathers

addressed the difficulties young women faced in this atmosphere of uniformity complaining,

This is not a good age in which to be young. In America especially it is the age of

standardization. We girls are struggling against being standardized, and the great

difficulty is that no one can decide upon the pattern. Some think we should be as

our mothers were despite a very different environment. Some think we should be

advanced according to the already accepted meaning of the term. And amid all

of this advice and criticism and amid these differing opinions as to what we are

and what we should be, we are trying to find things out for ourselves. (106)

Susanah Keifer Robinson, writer Booth Tarkingtons wife, also decried the monolithic aspect of

modern femininity declaring in her 1928 Ladies Home Journal article entitled We Neednt Be

Robots in Our Dress, Sometimes I feel as though we were all robots, cut from the same

universal pattern, with no minds or personalities of our own (qtd. in Latham 35). Like

Weathers, Robinson found modern uniformity oppressive. In her article, Robinson encouraged

women to dress as it suited them individually and resist the standardization of fashions she found

particularly impractical (Latham 35). As Weathers and Robinson demonstrate, numerous modern
55

American women actively resisted and repudiated codified constructs of modern femininity that

threatened to streamline individual women into a standardized ideal.

Musicals and the Modern Girl

In spite of this resistance, standardized images of female beauty maintained a high

entertainment value in womens magazines and Broadway productions. While magazines

profited by commodifying uniform images of women for advertisers and readers, Broadway

producers worked to commodify the 1920s ideal of standardized femininity through an embodied

medium. Their efforts resulted in a genre of musicals and revues defined by spectacular

sexualized, standardized displays of numerous uniformly beautiful womenreferred to

collectively as chorus girls.

While the revue genre originated well before this decade, the focus of revue-style shows

shifted during the 1920s to place more of an emphasis on female display rather than the shows

comic material, making the chorus girl one of the defining icons of the decade (Glenn 48). Like

sex farces, such shows capitalized on newly permissive understandings of female respectability

and sexuality by featuring parades of provocatively dressed, alluring female beauties in shows

marketed to mainstream middle-class men and women. Respectable displays of female

sexuality formed the bulk of the content for revue shows such as the Schubert brothers Passing

Show, George Whites Scandals, John Andersons Greenwich Village Follies, and, most

famously, Ziegfelds Follies.

Purporting to glorify the American girl, the Follies emerged as the acme of lavish

theatrical displays of sexualized femininity, which codified in the Ziegfeld girl, a unique brand

epitomizing modern ideals of female sexuality, fashion, and consumerism. The Follies of 1923,

for example, featured a number with Muriel Stryker, an exotic dancer, clothed in gold material
56

and surrounded by women in costumes by French fashion designer Ert (Ziegfeld, Richard and

Paulette 257). Through the dancing, material, and fashions in this number, the women embodied

sexuality, wealth, and high fashion, a constant theme defining Ziegfelds Follies, which ran

every year from 1907 to 1927. 66 In 1915, Ziegfeld sought to increase his earnings by staging the

Ziegfeld Midnight Frolics. After Follies performances, audiences could repair to the roof top

garden above the New Amsterdam Theatre to enjoy the Frolics, which staged similar displays of

femininity in more intimate and interactive cabarets. Rather than remaining on stage, chorus girls

in the Frolics walked throughout the audience and invited audience members to interact with

their costumes by popping attached balloons or talking on telephones rigged to the womens

clothes (Ziegfeld, Richard and Paulette 65). The Frolics also employed a glass walkway, which

allowed chorus girls to perform while suspended above the audience on a transparent platform.

Ziegfeld started the Frolics in 1915, and the genre lasted until the early 1920s when Prohibition

limited his ability to sell alcohol at these performances.

During the 1920s, musical comedies and revue shows bore many similarities, and

Ziegfeld echoed the aesthetic of the Follies and Frolics in the numerous musicals he produced.

Throughout the 1920s, revue managers and musical comedy directors imitated Ziegfelds

successful formula, which, accordingly, heavily influenced representations of femininity in both

musicals and revues. Ziegfelds influence thus carried directly into theatrical and cultural

definitions of female beauty. Due to the cachet of the Ziegfeld Follies and the iconic status of the

Ziegfeld girl, Ziegfeld frequently appeared in print as an expert on female pulchritude, clearly

defining the requirements for feminine beauty. In Picking Out Pretty Girls For the Stage,

which appeared in American Magazine in 1919, 67 Ziegfeld explained that female beauty exists

exclusively in young women. An inset entitled How a Woman Begins to Show Her Age,
57

shares Ziegfelds insights on the subject of beauty and ageing women. Ziegfeld admits knowing

of a unique, thirty-six-year-old chorus girl who has maintained her job and her beauty, but

emphasizes that this is rare and that most women this age develop sagging cheeks, double-chins,

and turkey-neck, qualities disqualifying such ancient women from the ideal epitomized by the

Ziegfeld girl (34). 68 Photos of Ziegfeld girls accompany the article and feature captions

emphasizing the girls youth. Captions explain that four of the nine women are only 17 years

old, and Marilyn Miller, the current Follies star, is only 18 years oldher mother still has to

sign her contracts (35).

This final tidbit, along with Ziegfelds claim in the article that many girls bring their

mothers with them on tour, emphasizes the chorus girls youth, through their legal status as

minors, while co-opting the moral respectability of their mothers. Throughout the article,

Ziegfeld invokes the image of the manager mother in order to imbue his chorus girls, and thus

his productions, with an air of respectability by adopting the moral authority associated with

motherhood. In the context of this article, the presumption of maternal morality rests on the

assumed absence of sexual activity and appeal on the part of any woman old enough to be the

mother of a chorus girl. Ziegfelds shows thus worked within the ambivalence of 1920s culture

by capitalizing on the overt sexuality of the scantily clad, young, available, desirous, and

desirable Ziegfeld girl while simultaneously invoking the remnant of Victorian veneration for

maternal morality in order to sanction such displays. The maternal aegis Ziegfeld invoked

positioned the moral vulnerability implied by the girls youth as sweet innocence rather than

prurient prey, thus safeguarding the young girls entertainment value by rendering them morally

impeccable, and thus acceptable, for middle-class audiences.


58

In addition to their youth, Ziegfeld stipulated standards for womens figures. As

Mizejewski notes, Ziegfeld often discussed the selection of chorus girls in a manner echoing the

rhetoric and ideals endorsed by the science of eugenics (114). 69 In a 1922 article for The

Evening Journal, for example, Ziegfeld listed the specific measurements required for girls in the

Ziegfeld chorus, concluding, The head should be four times the length of the nose. When the

arms are hanging straight at the sides they should be three-fifths of the body (qtd. in Glenn

171). In another article, Ziegfeld described a facial test used to determine beauty by using a

screen with figures marked on the frame. It is held before the applicants face, he explains, so

that I can determine whether the eyebrows are level, the eyes on a level with each other, and the

same distances from the middle of the screen (qtd. in Mizejewski 114).

Invoking science and eugenics in this manner carried two important implications into

Ziegfelds, and, therefore, Broadways definition of beauty: first, that objective standards and

measurements existed for determining a womans beauty, and second, that assessments of beauty

entailed presumptions of white supremacy. Providing mathematical and scientific means for

determining beauty offered producers and, by extension, men in general the assurance that they

could objectively quantify a womans sexual appeal, thus submitting this alarming modern

phenomenon to male assessment and regulation. Due to the close relationship between beauty

and entertainment value and, thus, economic value, this understanding of female beauty as a

quantifiable quality offered a comforting construct for Broadway producers working to

commodify femininity in a competitive and risky market. Presumably, producers could use such

objective standards to accurately assess a womans beauty and, therefore, her potential to

generate financial profit. Accordingly, as Latham states, A womans beauty was viewed by the
59

entertainment industry as a commodity to which a price could be affixed, and unusually

beautiful women could earn up to one hundred dollars per week, sixty dollars more than a well-

paid chorus girl of average appearance (Latham 114).

In addition, Broadway musicals and revues proliferated understandings of female

appearance as a quantifiable quality through ticket sales, which required male and female

audience members to participate in this system of valuation by connecting ticket prices to the

standard of beauty commodified in each production. Ziegfeld celebrated this economic

relationship between money and appearance in advertisements declaring Ziegfeld Corners

Beauty Market, implying that audiences could share in the profits of Ziegfelds business savvy

by purchasing tickets to view the beauties displayed in his shows (Ziegfeld 9 Oclock).

Ziegfelds advertisement continues, If She Is Beautiful You Will Find Her Here, tautologically

indicating that, if you do not find her here, she is not beautiful (Ziegfeld 9 Oclock). Since

Ziegfelds shows excluded mature, heavy, immigrant, and non-white women, this equation

necessarily devalued such women in capitalist society by implying that they were not worth

paying to see. Accordingly, chorus girls and, by extension, women who aged or gained weight

necessarily diminished in value. Latham discusses this precarious, even ominous system of

value in relation to Allyn King, a former Ziegfeld girl who suffered a nervous breakdown

because of her increasing age and weight, and committed suicide at the age of thirty (141-2).

Broadways definition of beauty assigned entertainment and monetary value to the chorus

girls age and figure as well as her race. Although Ziegfeld repeatedly asserted the possibility of

astonishing female beauty in all the nationalities ever discovered, it went without saying that

his assessment referred only to white women (Pretty Girls 34). While African American revue

shows, such as Shuffle Along (1921) and Dixie to Broadway (1924), featured black chorus girls
60

and maintained popular runs on Broadway, critics and audiences perceived a strict segregation

between these entertainments and similar shows employing white performers. As one critic

explained, African American revues exhibited the appearance of unpremeditated violence

which distinguishes them from the calculated and beautiful effects of Mr. Ziegfeld (qtd. in

Mizejewski 127). In addition, cultural stereotypes of African American women as hypersexual

imbued theatrical displays of black chorus girls with more prurient connotations than similar

displays of white women. As Mizejewski demonstrates, Ziegfeld worked to emphasize the

whiteness of the women in his shows by offering two hundred dollars to chorus girls who

avoided tanning (100) and repeatedly claiming that the women in his chorus were native-born

Americans, an assertion Ziegfeld maintained in spite of its falseness (8). 70 As I will argue in

chapter two, Ziegfeld briefly considered expanding his definition of beauty to include African

American women later in his career. However, ultimately, the producer decided that the cultural

capital of female whiteness was more valuable to the brand of femininity commodified in his

Follies and Frolics than the potential capital of using black chorus girls in his iconic shows.

During the course of his career, Ziegfeld produced over eighty productions, mainly

revues and musicals, selling lavish displays of numerous women. 71 As several producers

attempted to mimic his success, Ziegfelds ideal of the young, white, native-born chorus girl

became an industry standard. Ziegfelds requirements indicated that chorus girls should all be

gorgeous, and that they should all be gorgeous in the same way. Directors thus deliberately

constructed homogeneity in musicals and revues by casting women of similar height, build, age,

and race, costuming them in identical dress, and directing them to move in a uniform manner.

As consumable collections of women uniform in age, shape, and hue, female choruses

embodied modern aesthetics of standardization and mass production, an aesthetic accented by


61

the sheer number of similar girls dressed and moving in a similar manner. Advertisements and

reviews repeatedly touted the number of women displayed in each performance, playing to an

aesthetic linked with mass-production and the accompanying attitude that more is more. As one

critic explained, the Follies offers girls, girls, girls; just bevies and bevies of wondrous,

beautiful [girls] (qtd. in Glenn 157). The Ziegfeld Follies of 1922, for example, featured eighty-

four chorus girls in extravagant costumes, and the Ziegfeld Follies of 1927 included one number

with eighty performers, most of them women (Ziegfeld, Richard and Paulette 252, 263).

Choreographers presented such bevies of beauties in assembly-line-like rows performing

identical movements in a mechanical manner. Such movement patterns, exemplified by the kick

line, characterized chorus numbers and capitalized on the aesthetics of the industrial age by

featuring unison, mechanized movement. Historians Susan A. Glenn and Angela J. Latham both

explore how such choreography participated in fantasies of women as regulated types rather than

independent individuals. Glenn discusses this effect particularly in the work of Ned Wayburn,

Ziegfelds key choreographer, who boasted, Ever since I have been a producer of girl shows I

have had to create the chorus girl. She is a creation as completely thought out, moved about,

wired and flounced, beribboned and set dancing as any automaton designed to please, to delight,

to excite an audience (qtd. in Glenn 179).

The idea of the chorus girl as an automaton meshed with modern aesthetics idealizing the

uniform and mechanized aspects of industry and imposed these images of control and regulation

on the modern girl. Mizejewski, Latham, and Glenn discuss the fantasy of male control over the

female body promoted in this aspect of the revues which emphasized the female body and

femininity as a consumer product artfully crafted through male discipline and discernment. As

Mizejewski observes, because of her sexual appeal and position as an object of display for mens
62

pleasure, the Ziegfeld girl, and, I would argue, the chorus girl in general, served as as a

comforting alternative to threatening female figures of the time: the New Woman, the suffragist,

the flapper, the vamp (32). In addition, as Latham notes, such images of synchronized white

women worked in conjunction with understandings of blacks as primitive to reinforce racist

stereotypes (112). In stagings of the chorus girl, such stereotypes related specifically to women,

placing standardized, regulated white women in contrast to the primitive and uncontrolled

sexuality associated with black women in bigoted constructs of race and gender.

Actresses and Capital

While this racialized construct of streamlined femininity carried tremendous capital for

Broadway producers, this capital did not directly transfer to the chorus girls themselves. The

perception and practicality of the chorus girl as a male-controlled entity undermined the chorus

girls ability to craft her own performances. Such perceptions worked in conjunction with

cultural stereotypes to portray chorus girls, and young sexual women in general, as unintelligent.

According to Erenberg, constructs of sexual women as vapid proliferated during the 1920s

because they mitigated the threat of female sexuality by portraying the sexually charged

woman as too stupid to pose a real threat (222). According to Erenberg, such understandings

worked in conjunction with concepts of the modern woman as young, allowing both men and

women to view the overtly sexual modern girl as malleable and harmless (222). These

understandings also combined with modern constructs of women as shopping rather than moral

experts, which facilitated this stereotype by locating the female field of expertise in superficial

concerns. Representations of female vacuity thus carried capital in entertainments such as class

magazines 72 and Broadway musicals and revues, which commodified sexual displays of women.
63

Perceptions of the chorus girl as vacuous, along with the practicality of her situation as

part of male-controlled chorus line, made it difficult for women in the chorus to employ the

capital they carried as performers in musicals and revues. In part, this difficulty arose from the

position of the chorus girl as part of a group of identical women since the capital she carried a

the member of the chorus diminished once she separated from the group. As one critic observed,

the members of the chorus, . . . are parts of a whole and are theatrically useless when not

surrounded by other particles (qtd. in Glenn 179). The chorus girls entertainment value thus

relied on her performance as part of a group, a currency carrying no equitable exchange should a

chorus girl attempt to develop an individual career.

Chorus girls thus relied on their producers and associates for their economic value.

Because their own names carried little currency, Ziegfeld girls often capitalized on the cachet of

the Ziegfeld name, billing themselves as former Ziegfeld girls when they attempted to pursue

individual careers. As Ziegfeld chorus girl Lucile Layton Zinman explains, in New York, chorus

girls paid in advance for this cachet by accepting lower wages in exchange for the prestige of

being a Ziegfeld girl (Ziegfeld, Richard and Paulette 257). 73 Allyn King, the star of Ladies

Night, for example, used her cachet as a Ziegfeld principal to launch her acting career. However,

such transactions also had drawbacks since they prompted audiences and critics to continue to

view and evaluate former chorus girls as perpetual chorus girls. Reviews of Ladies Night, for

example, praised King who looked just as well in this Turkish bath as she used to in Ziegfelds

Follies (Ladies Night), but also lamented the fact that her costumes in Ladies Night

exposed less flesh than Ziegfelds creations (Butler, S. 17). While Kings stint with the Follies

earned her the recognition associated with Ziegfeld and his girls, the standardization imposed by

Ziegfeld followed King into her separate stage career and limited the value of her acting ability
64

by foregrounding her physical appearance as her primary asset. This valuation often

accompanied actresses in sex farces, which frequently starred former chorus girls and similarly,

as discussed earlier, associated women with a lack of ability. Due to the narrative of male control

and the lack of complex female characters, sex farces and revues gave women little opportunity

to develop or display individual talent.

Actresses circumvented this system through character-driven dramas and comedies that,

along with sex farces and revues, also generated respectable profits by commodifying femininity

in 1920s theatre. Such productions, including The Green Hat, The Constant Wife, and Dulcy,

centered on complex female characters specifically crafted to showcase the performers acting

ability. Accordingly, actresses, such as Lynn Fontanne, Ethel Barrymore, Helen Hayes, Jane

Cowl, Katharine Cornell and others, individually carried capital which they accumulated through

their abilities and reputations as talented artists.

Although comedies and dramas starring female celebrities capitalized on presentations of

femininity, the femininity they marketed differed drastically from that offered to audiences in

Follies and farces. Unlike the chorus girl, the Broadway celebrity attracted audiences through her

ability to stand out, to offer the audience something original and unique. Additionally, while

standards of race and class persisted, definitions of beauty were less rigid for celebrities who

did not need to match the look of other women in the production. While beauty played an

important role in her appeal, unlike the chorus girl, the stars acting ability superseded the

importance of appearance. Rather than the flat characters and formulaic scripts associated with

sex farces and revues, star vehicles attracted audiences through intriguing plots involving

complex characters exhibiting dynamic emotions, all constructed to showcase the actresss
65

abilities. Because of this, star vehicles offered the most opportunity for complexity, in

characterization and cultural critique, in theatrical commodifications of femininity.

Critics and audiences valued the display of these abilities by stars in such productions,

often praising an actresss acting while paying comparatively little attention to her appearance.

Reviews of The Age of Innocence, for example frequently mention Katharine Cornells beauty

but focus mainly on her rich voice and ability to convey emotion. The acting demands of star

vehicles thus linked an actresss capital to her body as an instrument of talent and training, rather

than as an object primarily for display and desire.

In further contrast to the capital of the chorus girl, the star vehicle linked so closely with

the actress as an individual that audiences came to connect certain stars with specific roles. Such

affiliations could often last a lifetime. Theatre historian Marvin Carlson refers to such

associations as ghostings, which haunt a performers career by influencing audiences

perceptions of subsequent performances. 74 Accordingly, ghostings carry capital. This factor

made script selection particularly important for Broadway stars who employed ghostings as a

means for managing capital. Actresses sought to build their capital through challenging roles,

and the subsequent affiliation with such roles, facilitating grandiose performances. While the

ghosting of one flop would not ruin a career, an actresss next show needed to repair the damage

by providing a respectable specter.

Ethel Barrymore, for example, attempted a new challenge in Scarlet Sister Mary

appearing in the problematic role of Si May-e, which Barrymore performed in blackface while

using a Gullah dialect. As a performance of what was understood at the time as a lower race and

class fundamentally foreign to her own, Si May-e offered Barrymore the opportunity to display

her virtuosity through a radical transformation of self but also risked establishing a long-term
66

association between her future roles and black and working-class women. Barrymore attempted

to mitigate this risk by refusing to be photographed in blackface. Scarlet Sister Mary, however,

failed to impress audiences, and ran for only twenty-three performances in New York (Botto

235). The poor reception prevented Barrymore from accumulating the capital she had hoped to

accrue through the role and prompted her to revive prior performances in an attempt to remind

audiences, and thus invoke the ghosts and capital, of her previously lauded roles (Peters 332-3).

In further contrast to the chorus girl, Broadway stars like Barrymore wielded a relatively

large amount of power in entertainment, selecting scripts, finding producers, choosing directors,

and, often, taking part in casting other actors. While the success or failure of a revue depended

largely on the producer and the success of a sex farce rested on the talents of the playwright, for

star vehicles, box office success depended largely on the actress. Celebrity actresses thus bore

more responsibility for a shows success, but, when compared to the chorus girl and farce

comedienne, star actresses also carried tremendous influence in relation to their own

performances as well as the production as a whole. Accordingly, female Broadway stars operated

as some of the most influential women impacting depictions of femininity in commercial

theatrical entertainment.

The following chapters explore the interrelationship between womens magazines and

Broadway theatre as producers, playwrights, and actresses attempted to capitalize on the

commercial potential of modern femininity in 1920s theatre while catering to an ambivalent

public. While formulas for commodification existed in the genres of sex farces, musicals, and

revues, practitioners constantly worked to thrill audiences with something new. In each of the

following case studies, practitioners attempted to achieve this by adapting the complex

characters and sharp social critiques characterizing the best womens magazine fiction. Adapting
67

Show Boat, The Age of Innocence, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for the commercial stage

forced playwrights and producers to evaluate the entertainment value of the femininity presented

and re-presented in each narrative. A historic and literary analysis of the adaptation process for

these serials thus reveals myriad capital concerns affecting the entertainment value of femininity

in commercial theatre during this period. These concerns determined representations of

femininity commodified in each production and, in the case of Show Boat and Gentlemen Prefer

Blondes, the femininity that continues to circulate in American theatre through these narratives.
Chapter 2
Ol (Wo)Man River?: Broadways Gendering of Edna Ferbers Show Boat

Scholars often cite Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein IIs 1927 musical Show Boat as

the seminal American musical. 75 Accordingly, the musical has received much critical attention,

and, due to its illustrious status, has eclipsed Edna Ferbers 1926 bestselling novel in both

scholarship and popular culture. As Ferbers great niece and biographer Julie Gilbert observes,

many people think it [Show Boat] was born a musical (Ferber 65). In addition to marginalizing

Ferbers novel, recent scholarship has centered mainly on issues of race in Show Boat, due to the

spate of protests surrounding the 1993 revival. 76 Perception of the musical as an independent

work, combined with criticisms recent focus on race, has served to deflect scholarship from

additional important issues in Show Boat, including the interrelationship between gender and

race in the musical and the impact of commercial concerns in constructing this relationship,

particularly in respect to the musicals representations of femininity.

In adapting Show Boat for the stage, composer Jerome Kern, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein

II, and producer Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. worked to capitalize on the increasing entertainment value

of African American culture and performers in mainstream entertainment as well as the

continuing entertainment value of white femininity as a romantic and vulnerable construct

permeating 1920s Broadway musicals. This chapter examines the construction of femininity in

Ferbers initial publication of Show Boat in the Womans Home Companion and then traces the

changes and exchanges in femininity that Kern, Hammerstein, and Ziegfeld performed in order

to adapt the narrative into a profitable Broadway musical. Specifically, this analysis

demonstrates how Kern, Hammerstein, and Ziegfeld altered Ferbers commentary on American

womanhood and curtailed her empowering depiction of independent women to fit the
69

emotionally dependent version of womanhood ubiquitous in musicals and revues, particularly

those Ziegfeld produced. Analyzing this process reveals the powerful influence of genre

expectations and Broadway producers on forming representations of women and femininity in

for-profit entertainment.

In addition, this study examines Ziegfelds impact on the femininities commodified in

Show Boat by considering the capital Ziegfelds brand of entertainment and femininity carried

into this project and the impresarios efforts to expand this brand through representations of race

and femininity in the production. The conventional femininity Kern, Hammerstein, and Ziegfeld

created for Magnolia, Show Boats protagonist, carried cultural capital based in racist

understandings of white female sexuality and morality. The adaptors altered Ferbers narrative in

order to increase this value, which acted as a guarantee for the musicals middle-class values and

allowed the adapters to present more marginalized femininities in a respectable, and, therefore,

profitable, forum. Under the aegis of Magnolias respectable romance and sexuality, the musical

presented African American chorus girls and sensual dancers, including the Sidell Sisters and

Dorothy Denese, representing marginalized forms of female sexuality that carried less capital in

mainstream entertainment when presented on their own.

Finally, this chapter works to broaden existing scholarship on the musical version of

Show Boat by discussing Ferbers role in creating the production, a role often overlooked in

existing studies. By examining the formation and adaptation of Show Boat, this analysis

demonstrates the influence of capital in creating and sustaining the construct of strong,

independent women who, ultimately, depend on mena version of femininity continuing to

dominate American for-profit entertainment. Moreover, this study demonstrates how the capital
70

from this construct works as a guarantee that legitimizes and assists in commodifying

marginalized forms of femininity in mainstream entertainment.

Ferbers Show Boat

Edna Ferbers Show Boat portrays three generations in a matrilineal line of theatre

practitioners, Parthy, her daughter Magnolia, and her granddaughter Kim, who deftly and

deliberately manage successful careers in the evolving American entertainment industry from the

1870s through the 1920s. The story details Magnolias childhood aboard the Cotton Blossom

Floating Palace Theatre, which her father purchases in the mid-1870s. The boat travels along the

Mississippi and its tributaries, carrying Magnolias family along with a company of actors who

stage emotional melodramas on the boats proscenium stage for rural American audiences.

Parthy abhors the immorality she believes inhabits both the theatre profession and its performers,

but young Magnolia grows to love the stage and its actors, particularly the companys glamorous

leading lady Julie Dozier.

The most famous scene in the narrative occurs when Julies rebuffed admirer brings the

local sheriff aboard and accuses Julie and her husband of miscegenation. Julie, he claims, has a

black mother and has been passing as white, making her marriage to her white husband a crime.

Warned of the approaching sheriff, Julies husband slices her finger open with his knife and

sucks at the incision so that the couple can legitimately claim that they both have Negro blood

and, thus, avoid arrest (145). 77 The couple leaves the show boat in disgrace, breaking the child

Magnolias heart.
71

Years later, the boats new leading lady elopes with her lover, and Magnolia volunteers to

take her place until her father can hire a new actress. Magnolia, however, quickly becomes a

favorite with show boat audiences and remains in her role as premier actress. When

circumstances lead the company to hire riverboat gambler Gaylord Ravenal as their new leading

man, she and Ravenal fall in love. In spite of Parthys strenuous objections, the couple marries

and moves to Chicago. They soon have a daughter, Kim, who is still a child when Magnolias

father, Captain Andy, drowns in an accident during a storm, leaving Parthy to manage the show

boat. Magnolia and Ravenal encounter difficult times in Chicago as Ravenal gambles away their

money and borrows funds from a local madam. Upon discovering the source of these funds,

Magnolia returns the money to the madams gray-haired secretary with eyes like dull coals

and ivory skin that looks Like something dead (352). In the course of this transaction,

Magnolia realizes that the secretary is Julie. Julie recognizes Magnolia, flees in horror, and the

two women never see each other again.

Immediately after this encounter, Magnolia auditions at a variety theatre and obtains a job

singing African American spirituals she learned as a child from Jo, a black worker on the show

boat. Magnolia rushes to her apartment with this news only to find that Ravenal has left her.

Ravenal never returns, and, years later, Magnolia receives a telegram informing her of his death.

Heartbroken, but determined not to return to the Cotton Blossom in defeat, 78 Magnolia practices

her music and becomes famous for singing coon songs, (songs comprised of racist renderings

of African American speech), on the vaudeville circuit (362). 79 Her income supports Kims

convent education and eventual enrollment in a New York acting school. Kim soon becomes a

Broadway sensation, and she is in the middle of a backstage interview when she and Magnolia

receive a telegram saying that Parthy has died. Magnolia returns to the show boat and discovers
72

that, before her death, Parthy had become one of the most successful show boat managers on the

river, amassing half a million dollars through her companys repertoire of old-fashioned

melodramas.

Parthy, whose conservative attitudes and melodramas represent Victorian femininity,

leaves her theatre and fortune to Magnolia, whose coon singing, problematically, represents a

more sincere and less censorious femininity. Magnolia opts to give her inheritance to Kim,

whose orderly and well-regulated acting technique exemplifies the values of modern femininity,

so that Kim can use the money to start a theatre company. The narrative links the womens

femininities with their theatre practice as well as the central image of the nations rivers. The

Narrative compares Kim with the orderly, well regulated, dependable Illinois river (393), and

associates both Parthy and Magnolia with the untamed Mississippi (10). Ferbers protagonists

thus perform their femininity in conjunction with their dramaturgy, making the theatre, as well as

the waterways, a central metaphor for American womanhood in Show Boat. This metaphor

coalesces in the serials final image of Magnolia aboard the Cotton Blossom Floating Palace

Theatre waving to Kim as she drives off to found The American Theatre, a theatre eschewing

emotional melodramas and variety shows for the foreign classics of Shakespeare, Chekhov, and

Ibsen (396).

Through this matrilineal plot, Show Boat exemplifies the feminine themes of Ferbers

fiction, which frequently centers on strong female characters, usually on their own, confronting

experiences particular to women, including child rearing, mother/daughter relationships, 80 and

romantic expectations. As literature scholar Ann R. Shapiro states, Ferber was always writing

about . . . the strength of the American woman, who would persevere and survive alone even

when the man in her life deserted her (54). Shapiro explains that Ferber frequently used the
73

term iron woman to describe her heroines, who . . . work out their own destinies in the face of

enormous odds (55). 81 Ferbers Show Boat presents this iron femininity in both Parthy and

Magnolia, women associated in the serial with the indomitable Mississippi, who raise their

daughters and manage successful careers amidst difficult circumstances and personal

disappointments.

Show Boat and the Womans Home Companion

Ferbers initial depiction of iron femininity in Show Boat owes much to Womans

Home Companion editor Gertrude Battle Lane, one of the few female editors in the womens

magazine industry at this time. Founded in 1873, the Womans Home Companion established

itself as one of the earliest magazine publications for women, and, by the time the Companion

serialized Show Boat in 1926, it was also one of the largest, boasting a readership of 2 million

(Endres, Womans 447). While similar magazines held safely to conservative gender

ideologies during the 1920s, Lane led the Companion as editor-in-chief from 1911 until her

death in 1941 by openly addressing new challenges and realities that American women faced in

the first half of the twentieth century. Lane viewed her reader as the housewife of today . . .

forever seeking new ideas and understood it as her duty to this readership to reflect the sanest,

most constructive thought on vital issues of the day (qtd. in Zuckerman, Pathway 68). These

vital issues included domestic as well as political and social concerns. Lane used the Womans

Home Companion to advocate for womens suffrage, promote the election of women into public

office, support child labor laws, and advocate for jobs for women, even amidst the depressed job

market of the 1930s (Endres, Womans 448-9). In addition, Lane encouraged women to use

their own political, domestic, and economic influence to improve public health, particularly in

regard to children. 82 Under Lanes leadership, the Companion both advocated and marketed a
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civically-engaged femininity rooted in domestic and maternal issues while also interested in and

involved with political and social concerns.

Lanes direct approach to womens issues reflected Ferbers own ideology and led to

their initial meeting. In 1920, Ferber sought to serialize The Girls, a novel about three

generations of Chicago old maids, the final generation containing Lottie, a young, unwed

mother (Ferber, Treasure 264). 83 While several editors offered to publish the story, they insisted

that Ferber omit Lotties baby from the ending, thus leaving Lotties virtue, and their

conservative representation of American womanhood, intact. Ferber refused to rewrite the

ending and approached Lane instead. Ferber asked Lane if she would insist on changing the

ending, to which Lane responded, Certainly not . . . Im the editor. The baby stays (Ferber,

Treasure 265). Lanes commitment to Ferbers work extended beyond publication of The Girls

to the serialization of several stories, including Cimarron (1929), 84 Ferbers Pulitzer-Prize-

winning So Big (1923), 85 and Show Boat (1926), 86 all narratives centering on compelling

portrayals of American womanhood and reflecting the dauntless and domestic version of

femininity marketed in the Companion.

Commodifying this femininity through Ferbers work proved so profitable for the

Companion that in March 1924, Lane wrote to Ferber offering to publish practically everything

you write (Letter to Ferber 27 Mar. 1924). Lanes continuous support allowed Ferber to avoid

Prudish editors who favored and demanded conservative and vulnerable images of American

women (Ferber, Treasure 264). 87 Lanes support was especially valuable to Ferber in developing

Show Boat, a narrative dealing with infidelity, abandonment, and miscegenation in an

atmosphere of alcoholism, addiction, and poverty. Rather than censoring Ferbers work, Lane

enthused over early versions of the manuscript. Lane praised Show Boat as a tremendous
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advance over So Big and The Girls as a piece of writing, and especially lauded the

miscegenation scene (Letter to Ferber 20 Nov. 1925). Ferber later expressed her gratitude,

commenting, Miss Lanes enthusiasm for the manuscript encouraged me enormously when my

vitality was low (Treasure 303).

Through Lanes encouragement, Ferber developed Magnolia Hawks, a protagonist

exhibiting Ferbers ideal blend of Victorian and modern gender values and echoing the

femininity commodified in the Companion. Disappointed and, ultimately, deserted by her

gambling, philandering husband, Magnolia preserves the Victorian values of motherhood,

fidelity, and sentimentality while incorporating them into her modern independence, candor, and

sophistication. Magnolia faces her situation alone, providing for herself and her daughter by

using her Victorian sensibility to portray convincing emotions, thus establishing a successful

career as a singer of African American spirituals. Magnolia appears both sentimental and self-

sufficient, a successful amalgam of Victorian sensibility and modern independence. She thus

exhibits the dauntless yet domestic form of femininity marketed in the Companion, an appealing

combination for readers negotiating conflicting forms of femininity in contemporary culture.

As several scholars have noted, Ferbers depiction of Magnolias Victorian sensibility is

highly problematic. In the serial as well as the novel, Magnolias sentimentality allows her to

create a successful career by appropriating African American songs and suffering. 88 Scholars

often point to the scene in the novel wherein Magnolia auditions at a variety theatre, singing

Negro songs with a banjo . . . as Jo had taught her (360, 361). Ferber describes how,

Imitative in this, she managed, too, to get into her voice that soft and husky Negro quality

which for years she had heard on the river boats, bayous, [and] landings (361). Magnolias

performance is so convincing that the shrewd manager abruptly asks You a nigger? (361).
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Magnolia turns red and says that she is not. The scarlet receding from her face, leaving it paler

than before, Magnolia starts to leave when the manager calls her back and offers her the job

(362).

Criticism regarding race in the novel and the musical often centers on the unquestioned

appropriation and assumed authenticity of Magnolias Negro performances. However, few

critics examine this appropriation in relation to Magnolias femininity. The presumptions and

assumptions of authenticity in Magnolias performance relate directly to womens culture,

culture created specifically for women, which, according to cultural theorist Lauren Berlant,

reifies the authentic nature of sympathetic experience through a very general sense of

confidence in the critical intelligence of affect, emotion, and good intention . . . (2). This

confidence in affect, emotion, and good intention characterized the femininity reflected in

womens magazines, particularly through the campaigns for social reform that filled such

publications by the 1910s. According to Zuckerman, each of the major womens magazines

during this period promoted its own crusade against social ills, including venereal disease, infant

mortality, child labor, etc. (History 85-6). Such crusades relied on muckraking journalism and

dire descriptions of social evils in order to evoke sympathy and transform this emotion into

action. Although this style had begun to wane by the 1920s, the underlying understanding of

womens emotion and good intention as inherently valuable remained. 89

This gendered confidence in affect, emotion, and good intention (Berlant 2) forms a

central tenet of the femininity Ferber idealizes in Magnolia, who loves the music and

sympathizes with the emotions that she appropriates. 90 Ferbers serial positions the problematic

sympathy Magnolia employs in her performances as a characteristic of ideal American

femininity. Through Magnolia, Ferber equates the quality of theatre and femininity with the
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ability to embrace and absorb the unexpected, both good and bad, while preserving sincere

emotionthe same sincerity Magnolia demonstrates when singing African American music

and performing in show boat melodramas. Magnolia displays this sincerity as she listens to Jo

singing Go Down Moses, which she likes because it always made her cry a little (121), and

when she covers her stage fright during her debut show boat performance by stressing her

emotional scenes and producing real screams of mortal fear (167). Magnolia later affirms the

primacy of emotion in creating entertainment as she defends the quality of the show boat theatre

to her derisive husband. Maybe we werent very good, Magnolia admits, but the audiences

thought we were; and they cried in places where they were supposed to cry, and laughed when

they should have laughed, and believed it all, and were happy, and if that isnt the theatre then

what is it? (314-5). For Magnolia, strong emotions form the primary component and product of

good theatre.

Through Ferbers link between American theatre and femininity, this emotional quality

also stands as a primary component of ideal womanhood. Magnolia summarizes the serials

philosophy of femininity and theatre as she muses about Kims untroubled marriage, thinking,

Wasnt it [marriage] finer, more splendid, more nourishing when it was, like life itself, a

mixture of the sordid and the magnificent; of mud and stars; of earth and flowers; of love and

hate and laughter and tears and ugliness and beauty and hurt? (393). Magnolias musings serve

as a criticism of the artificiality inherent in both Victorian and modern femininity, which Parthy

and Kim represent, respectivelyParthy through her prudish censorship of the show boats

productions and Kim through her trained acting, which Magnolia finds sterile. For Magnolia, life

and theatre require a talent for authenticity and sincerity rather than prudery and polish. Rather

than mitigating lifes extremes through old-fashioned Puritanism or modern precision, Magnolia
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exemplifies Ferbers ideal of American womanhood by relishing lifes turbulence and embracing

natural chaos rather than asserting artificial control.

Ferber uses Magnolias appropriation of African American music and suffering to

demonstrate this facet of her femininity. The oft-critiqued audition scene illustrates that, unlike

the stodgy Victorian or the modern fashion plate, Magnolia eschews a pristine and artificial

existence by leaving herself vulnerable to the harsh aspects of life, even when they are not

aspects of her life. Within the narrative, her appropriation of black culture and history, and the

emotions they produce, while unquestionably problematic, illustrates her choice to embrace life

even though this means leaving herself open to suffering. This decision, as well as Magnolias

ability to persevere through suffering, represents the serials ideal form of femininitya form

celebrated as courageous and independent in Ferbers narrative and a form that carried

entertainment value in the serial and novel publications of Show Boat. 91

Through Ferbers use of theatre as a metaphor for femininity, Show Boat deals directly

with the relationship between race, gender, and entertainment value. Due to the narratives link

between American theatre and American femininity, the role of race in determining the

characters entertainment value in the narrative reflects the role of race in determining their

relationship to idealized forms of femininity. As stated earlier, Magnolias audition takes place

just after her encounter with Julie at the brothel. Whether through widowhood or divorce, Julie,

like Magnolia, is now without a husband. However, as Julies earlier expulsion from the show

boat demonstrates, she, as a mixed-race woman, has few employment options. Due to her race,

Julie holds no value in legitimate theatre and, instead, finds work as a secretary at Chicagos

most notorious brothel, an enterprise commodifying women in a more illicit manner (356).

Magnolia, however, because she is white, holds tremendous entertainment value, particularly as
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a white woman appropriating and commodifying African American culture. Magnolias white

body allows her to profit from African American culture in a bigoted industry that prevents non-

white performers from capitalizing on non-white culture. Because she is white, Magnolia can

safely embody and perform, in life and on stage, the suffering and the sordid[ness] that

ultimately destroys the mixed-race Julie (393).

Ferbers descriptions in the serial underscore the centrality of race in determining

Magnolia and Julies cultural capital and entertainment value, an aspect eventually lost in the

musical. Ferber repeatedly describes Julies skin tone as ivory in the brothel and, after the

manager questions Magnolias race, describes the Magnolias flush receding from her face,

leaving it paler than before (352, 362). Only after Magnolia verbally and physically

demonstrates her whiteness can she receive a job as a singer. Ferbers narrative purposefully

highlights the fact that Magnolias emotional sensitivity and her femininity carry value only in

conjunction with her racial whiteness.

Ferbers narrative demonstrates this keen understanding of entertainment value and race

in relation to women in American theatre as well as women in fiction serials. Julies race, which

would have limited opportunities for an actual actress in 1926, renders her worthless in the

narratives fictional field of theatre. However, Julies race and position as a tragic, mixed-race

Other carried entertainment value with Ferbers readers, a predominantly white, middle-class

audience. In the serial and novel, Ferber uses Julie to set Magnolias survival in relief to the

ignominious fate Magnolia avoids through her determination and iron qualities. Ferber employs

the cultural capital of the tragic mulatto stereotype, a capital problematically based in narratives

and histories of suffering, to increase Magnolias entertainment value as a heroic figure able to

both experience and overcome suffering. Ferbers serial thus demonstrates the entertainment
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value of both a tragic, non-white femininity as well as a heroic, white form of womanhood in

1920s fiction, a medium void of real performers and racialized bodies.

Show Boat and Ziegfelds Broadway

Such representations of femininity carried entertainment value in 1920s American fiction

as well as 1920s American theatre. However, as an embodied medium, theatre entailed more

complex concerns regarding race and gender. When Ferber published her serial in 1926, the

traditional formulas of femininity and race comprising entertainment value were undergoing a

change in live mainstream entertainment. Throughout its early history, Broadway theatre

remained an almost exclusively white enterprise. While black characters often appeared on stage,

black actors did not. Most commonly, producers used white actors wearing blackface to portray

black characters. 92 However, in the 1910s and 1920s, such practices started to erode. In 1917,

Three Plays for a Negro Theater debuted as the first Broadway production featuring an African

American cast in serious roles, 93 and, in 1921, the cast of Shuffle Along demonstrated the

commercial appeal of black Broadway musicals and revues.

Due to the tremendous commercial success of Shuffle Along, which ran for over 504

performances, African American music, dance, and skin tones carried increasing entertainment

value in Broadway musicals and revues (Hill and Hatch 245), genres, as demonstrated earlier,

centered on commodifying femininity. Producers of white revues and musicals, particularly

Ziegfeld, faced increasing competition from musicals and revues presenting African American

performers, and, more specifically, African American chorus girls. Shows such as the Darktown

Follies (1913) and Strut Miss Lizzie (1922), advertised as Glorifying the Creole Beauty,

featured African American women in displays and musical numbers mimicking Ziegfelds iconic

aesthetic (qtd. Mizejewski 128). In addition, Harlem venues such as the Cotton Club and
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Connies Inn attracted white-only audiences with displays of light-skinned chorus girls, while the

Swanee Club offered separate revues by black and white performers, including chorus girls, in

order to appeal to the clubs black and tan 94 audience (Black and White).

Much like Magnolia and her manager, white producers worked to compete with and

capitalize on such trends by featuring African American music, dance, skin tone, and,

occasionally, African Americans themselves in Broadway shows. Ziegfeld, for example,

commented and capitalized on the popularity of African American revues and chorus girls

through the 1922 Follies number entitled Its Getting Dark on Old Broadway, which described

the increasing presence of pretty choclate babies on the Great White Way (qtd. in Glenn 172).

This number employed lighting techniques to make Ziegfelds white chorus girls appear brown.

As the stage lights dimmed, the womens glow-in-the-dark costumes remained white to heighten

the contrast, maintaining the illusion that the womens skin, rather than the lighting, changed

color (Ziegfeld, Richard and Paulette 254). Ziegfeld also hired African American comedian Bert

Williams to perform with the Follies, 95 and employed Ethel Williams, one of the dancers in

Darktown Follies, to teach some of her numbers to his white cast (Glenn 172). 96

As skilled practitioners and savvy businessmen, Kern, Hammerstein, and Ziegfeld

adapted Show Boat in order to capitalize on the increasing entertainment value of African

American culture and performers in mainstream entertainment, and, specifically, the increasing

popularity of the African American chorus girl. Their efforts resulted in a reformulated

femininity in the musical, which transferred the stalwart qualities of Ferbers iron woman to

the character Joe and transformed Magnolia into a conventional and romantic heroine more

typical, and, thus, more marketable for an American musical. As a conventional, romantic

heroine, Magnolia presented white American femininity as sexually contained within a


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heteronormative, monogamous, marital relationship which countered the transgressive sexuality

Kern, Hammerstein, and Ziegfeld worked to commodify in the musicals Other womenShow

Boats African American chorus girls and specialty dancers.

As histories of the musical recount, Ferbers novel inspired composer Jerome Kern, who,

half-way through the book, attempted to obtain the rights for a stage adaptation. 97 Ferber rather

resented the idea of a musical adaptation and thought he was being fantastic, but she

eventually agreed (Ferber, Treasure 304). As they began their adaptation, Kern and

Hammerstein altered Ferbers narrative with the underlying intent of attracting an illustrious

producer, specifically, Florenz Ziegfeld. On November 17, 1926, Kern purchased the rights from

Ferber in a contract specifically suggesting Ziegfeld as producer, although Ziegfeld had not yet

agreed to back the project (Kreuger, Story 19). 98 Thus, even before he signed on as producer,

Ziegfelds aesthetic influenced the adaptation of Ferbers work, particularly in relation to the

musicals depiction femininity.

Billing himself as the glorifier of the American girl, Ziegfeld achieved fame during the

early twentieth century for his extravagant revues which ran on Broadway every year from 1907

to 1928. 99 While they contained some comic routines, Ziegfelds Follies and Frolics shows were

known primarily for their breathtaking and expensive displays of beautiful women, individually

selected by Ziegfeld himself, in elaborate, and often scanty, costumes. Ziegfelds shows featured

showgirls, who primarily modeled exquisite costumes, as well as chorus girls, uniformly

attired and arranged in intricate dance routines. Ziegfeld adopted similar techniques in the

musicals he produced, which also featured spectacular choruses of beautiful women. Ziegfeld

branded the femininity featured in his productions through the Ziegfeld girl, an icon of

American womanhood vastly different from Ferbers iron woman. Unlike the iron woman,
83

defined by her ability to persevere amidst hardship, the Ziegfeld girl had no experience with

hardship and defined American femininity through racial whiteness, youth, sexuality,

exuberance, and physical beauty. 100

Rather than an image of female competence and individual accomplishment, the Ziegfeld

girl represented a femininity that flourished under male management. As discussed in chapter

one, theatre historian Susan A. Glenn sees the fantasy of rationally controlled female bodies

exemplified in the uniform choreography standard in 1920s musicals and revues (175). For

example, Show Boat choreographer Sammy Lee received praise for such choreography in

Ziegfelds 1927 musical Rio Rita. According to the American, the musical employed 100

beautiful girls whom Lee molded into a harmonious ensemble, into an organization that at one

moment moves like a fascinating machinegraceful, mobile, exactly co-ordinated (qtd. in Ries

61). The fact that most choreographers were male 101 gendered the rigid and rational control in

such choreography as male. Moreover, behind the male choreographer, stood the male

impresario, managing and marketing masses of women in Broadway musicals and revues. These

male authorities regulated performers appearance, movements, and, even, emotions. As Ziegfeld

explained, dancers always smile because smiling is as much a part of their job as the steps

are . . . dancing is an expression of joy. So the professional dancer smiles (Picking 120).

Ziegfeld further described how a dancer becomes less desirable for a producer if she drops her

smile with her final bow, indicating that his male management extended beyond the boundaries

of his dancers stage performances (Picking 120). Such impressions of the producers

omnipresent male management worked to portray the Ziegfeld chorus girl as both highly sexual

and highly controlled. Entailed in this image is the impression that women, particularly women

who engage in public performance as a profession, require and rely on male management.
84

The Ziegfeld entertainment empire thus constructed and proliferated an image of

American femininity as emotionally and professionally dependent on male authority, and, in

particular, the American male theatre practitioner. This image stood in direct contrast to the

femininity and theatre artists Ferber portrayed in Show Boat. Accordingly, in order to attract

Ziegfeld to the project, and audiences to Ziegfelds show, Kern and Hammerstein incorporated

aspects of the Ziegfeld brand of femininity into Ferbers story, particularly in adapting her

heroine Magnolia Hawks. For the stage version, Kern and Hammerstein created a heroine more

typical for a Broadway musical and Ziegfeld production, transforming Magnolia into a love-

struck young woman primarily concerned with romance and ultimately dependent on men for her

survival.

Adapting Race and Gender in Show Boat

In one of their earliest and most consequential acts in this process, Kern and

Hammerstein shifted the metaphor of the Mississippi River, and the independence and fortitude

it evokes in the serial, from Magnolia and Parthy to the character Joe, or Jo as he is named in

Ferbers version. Kern and Hammerstein initially intended this role for Paul Robeson, a popular

African American actor and singer. As musical theatre scholar Scott McMillin demonstrates in

his analysis of the earliest known version of the Show Boat script, Kern and Hammerstein built

Show Boat around Robeson . . . [who] was supposed to be at the center of the musical (51,

52). 102 Although delays in production prevented Robeson from playing Joe in the original

musical, the focus on black masculinity, and the impact of this focus on white femininity,

remained in their adaptation.


85

At the time Kern and Hammerstein started adapting Ferbers novel, Robeson had

established his reputation as a talented and controversial actor. Robeson had starred in Eugene

ONeills The Emperor Jones (1925) 103 and All Gods Chillun Got Wings (1924) as well as Black

Boy (1926) by Jim Tully and Frank Mitchell Dazey, all shows inspiring public controversy over

depictions of African Americans in American drama (McMillin 64-5). 104 Robeson also

maintained a successful career as a singer, primarily known for his concerts featuring African

American spirituals. Kern and Hammerstein adapted Show Boat to capitalize on Robesons

reputation and skill by expanding the role of Joe and including a number in act two in which

Robeson played himself, as Joes son, and performed one of his own concerts. 105 In addition,

Kern and Hammerstein created what would become Show Boats signature song, a solo piece for

Robeson, composed in the style of an African American spiritual and entitled Ol Man River.
106

In creating this song for Robeson, the composer and lyricist significantly altered the

portrayal of femininity in the narrative by transferring the steadfast qualities Ferber attributes to

her white, female heroines to the musicals central black male characterJoe. Ol Man River

centers on the image of the Mississippi River, an image Ferber purposefully connects in the

serial to the indomitable women of the Hawks family, particularly Magnolia and Parthy. 107

Ferber established this connection in the last page of Show Boat, which she composed before

starting the first (Ferber, Treasure 278). In the serials final scene, Ferber initiated the narratives

link between American womanhood, American theatre, and the American landscape in a closing

image that set the trajectory for these themes within the serial. As Kim and her husband Ken

drive off to the city, Magnolia stands:


86

On the upper deck of the Cotton Blossom Floating Palace Theatre, silhouetted

against sunset sky and water tall, erect, indomitable. Her mouth was smiling but

her great eyes were wide and somber. They gazed, unwinking, across the sunlit

waters. One arm was raised in a gesture of farewell. Isnt she splendid, Ken!

cried Kim, through her tears. Theres something about her thats eternal and

unconquerable like the River. (398)

After composing this final picture, Ferber placed a similar image in the middle of the

novel as Magnolia leaves Parthy, now proprietor of the Cotton Blossom after the death of her

husband Captain Andy. Through her tears, Magnolia sees Parthy standing on the upper

balcony of the Cotton Blossom:

Silhouetted against sky and water, a massive and almost menacing figure in her

robes of black tall, erect, indomitable. Her face was set. The keen eyes gazed,

unblinking, across the sunlit waters. One arm was raised in a gesture of farewell.

Ruthless, unconquerable, headstrong, untamed, terrible. Shes like the River,

Magnolia thought . . . Shes the one, after all, whos like the Mississippi. (264)

These parallel scenes depict Parthy and Magnolia standing determinedly over the theatre

they preserve while bidding farewell to the future of American theatre in the form of their actress

daughters. 108 While, as discussed earlier, Parthy and Magnolia differ in their dramaturgy and

femininity, both remain linked to each other, and the Mississippi, in their steadfast determination

to persevere through lifes hardships. 109

While marketable in a womens magazine and a popular novel, Kern and Hammerstein

considered Ferbers emphasis on these aspects of American femininity less commercial in an

American musical. Accordingly, Kern and Hammerstein began their adaptation by shifting the
87

steadfast and determined qualities of Ferbers heroines to their main male singer, Paul Robeson.

Theatre critic Alexander Woollcott relates that Kern completed Ol Man River two weeks after

meeting Ferber (124), and, according to Show Boat historian Miles Kreuger, Kern then showed

the song to Robeson in order to persuade him to accept the role (Story 20). Although Woollcotts

dates are not precise, Ziegfeld announced Robeson as part of the production December 13, 1926,

less than a month after Kern signed the initial contract with Ferber. As these dates demonstrate,

Kern and Hammerstein shifted Ferbers central metaphor from a symbol of intrepid, indomitable

and white femininity to an unchanging, longsuffering, ol [black] man as one of their first steps

in creating the adaptation.

McMillin attributes Kern and Hammersteins transfer of Ferbers metaphor, as well as

their later inclusion of a black chorus in the production, to the adapters desire to address issues

of race in the musical, a desire based in social as well as economic motives. As McMillin points

out, Kern and Hammerstein were tapping a market, and their inspiration was lined with

commerce (63). Uniting the endurance and perseverance of the river with black masculinity in

Ol Man River allowed the adaptors to address themes of African American strife, themes

gaining traction in an industry that had traditionally treated black experience as an essentially

comic subject. Following the 1917 debut of Three Plays for a Negro Theater, the first production

to present African American actors on Broadway in serious dramatic roles, several non-

commercial companies, such as The Province Town Players and The Theatre Guild, began

featuring African American subjects and actors in serious dramas. Several of these productions

achieved critical and financial success, including Paul Greens Pulitzer-Prize-winning In

Abrahams Bosom (1926), ONeills The Emperor Jones (1920) and All Gods Chillun (1924),

and Dorothy and DuBose Heywards Porgy (1927). 110


88

For Show Boat, such commercial concerns resulted in expanded, although problematic,

portrayals of African Americans 111 and, in turn, a more standard and stereotypical representation

of white femininity. Through Ol Man River, Kern and Hammerstein separated the musicals

representations of femininity from the strength and endurance associated with the river, an

alteration that allowed them to conform the femininity in Ferbers narrative to a representation of

gender more in keeping with Ziegfelds brand as well as traditional representations of femininity

in Broadway musicals.

Typically during this period, Broadway musicals centered on romantic-comic plots that

loosely linked spectacular musical numbers featuring popular contemporary songs and bevies of

chorus girls. As musical theatre historian Bruce Kirle explains, at this time, musical comedies

were often star vehicles . . . in which songs and comedy routines were devised to fit the

specialties and talents of unique performers. The songs were commonly strung together by a thin,

frivolous book [plot], filled with topical references and jokes (15). Musicals thus operated

through character types and formulaic stories rather than complex characters and intricate plots.

As a genre based on commodifying femininity, the Broadway musical, and the Ziegfeld

production in particular, thus offered little beyond the young romantic ingnue and the facile

chorus girltypes far removed from Ferbers iron woman.

Kern, Hammerstein, and Ziegfeld reformulated Ferbers heroine to fit this genre by

portraying Magnolia as a woman primarily defined by romantic love rather than suffering and

endurance. Most significantly, the adapters kept Magnolias romantic interests alive by leaving

Ravenal alive in the musical and concluding the show with the couples happy reunion at the end

of act two. Reuniting the couple required that the adapters temper Ravenals character and, thus,

the hardship Magnolia suffers in the serial. 112 After they are married, Ferbers Ravenal belittles
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Magnolia for her lack of sophistication, frequents brothels, and becomes moody and mildly cruel

when Magnolia exhibits any signs of independence. 113 Kern and Hammerstein omitted these

aspects from the musical by limiting the portrayal of Ravenal and Magnolias marriage to a brief,

and relatively happy, scene together during the Chicago Worlds Fair. 114 Removing the day-to-

day hardship of Magnolia and Ravenals marriage worked to portray the couples reunion at the

close of the show as a happy outcome and establish the narrative as a tale of the triumph of

romantic love and marriage rather than female perseverance.

In his review of the production, theatre critic Stephen Rathbun noted the genre

conventions dictating this ending as well as the pleasant perspective the couples reunion

imposed on the narrative, commenting, Oscar Hammerstein, the librettist, has supplied a happy

ending not to be found in Miss Ferbers novel. The married lovers are united in middle age to

spend the rest of their lives together. The urge of a happy ending rarely goes unheeded in a

musical play (6). Kern and Hammersteins restructuring and foregrounding of the narratives

romantic theme conformed to genre concerns and also followed the pattern established in several

previous Ziegfeld productions, including Annie Dear (1924) and Betsy (1926), which centered on

courtship and marriage. 115 Just as readers of Lanes Companion expected strong portrayals of

American women, audiences at Ziegfelds musicals anticipated beautiful women in comic,

uncomplicated plots ending in happy, heteronormative unions.

In the serial, Ferber specifically rejects this romanticized conclusion, and the emotionally

dependent femininity it entails. Ferbers narrator clearly renounces any possibility of a fairy tale

ending by concluding the description of Magnolia and Ravenals wedding with the phrase: And

so they lived h--- and so they lived . . . [sic] ever after (228). Hammerstein, however, viewed

the musicals romantic conclusion as an essential element of the story and the foundation for
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Magnolias character. Hammerstein expressed these views in a letter to James Whale, the

director of Universals 1936 film version of the musical. Hammerstein disliked Ravenals

appealing appearance at the end of the film and explained to Whale that, The romantic interest

at the end of the picture is a reunion of lovers. . . Magnolia has always loved him [Ravenal]. She

cant help lovin dat man. 116 She will always love him, no matter what he looks like, or,

apparently, how he has treated her (qtd. in Axtell 208). Hammerstein argued that Ravenal should

look defeated at the end so that Magnolias heart will go out to him. She will want to mother

him, take his hand, lift him out of his rut of failure and place him by her side where she feels he

has always belonged. That is the ending as written. I can see or feel no other. (qtd. in Axtell

208).

Although Hammerstein viewed Magnolia as a woman who has worked hard and

conquered life, ultimately, she remained, in his view, a woman determined by her unending

love for dat man (qtd. in Axtell 208). 117 Music historian Katherine Axtell views

Hammersteins comments as evidence that he created the manufactured reconciliation between

Magnolia and Ravenal with conviction rather than as a simple concession to convention (208).

However, Hammersteins conviction that he could see or feel no other ending than one

reuniting Magnolia and Ravenal indicates the strength of the genre concerns that precluded him

from seeing or feeling the value of Ferbers ending, which underscored Magnolias independent

perseverance.

Hammersteins comments highlight the entertainment value carried in conservative

representations of women as inevitably and faithfully devoted to marriage and family. According

to Hammerstein, Magnolia has little agency in her affection, which she cant help, and, without

Ravenal, Magnolia, in the musical, is incomplete, missing something that has always belonged
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by her side (qtd. in Axtell 208). Based on their experiences with Broadway musicals and

Ziegfelds brand of femininity, Kern, Hammerstein, and Ziegfeld believed that this powerless

and emotionally dependent depiction carried more entertainment value than the independent and

indomitable femininity portrayed in Ferbers Magnolia and, incidentally, her Mississippi. 118

Mitigating Magnolias emotional suffering produced a reductive portrayal of Magnolias

problems and, accordingly, a less triumphant version of her perseverance. This more

conventional femininity suited the traditional musical genre as well as the typical Ziegfeld show,

making Magnolias femininity a more recognizable commodity in these markets.

In addition to creating a more conventional picture of white femininity, restoring Ravenal

also drastically altered the narratives implications about female suffering and race. Returning

Ravenal, the white protagonists husband, relegated emotional suffering in the musical to Julie,

the mixed-race Other, whose husband remains absent. As discussed earlier, in the serial, Julies

forced departure from the show boat demonstrates the material limits she faces in a racist society.

In the serial, Julies mixed-race heritage precludes her from performing, a profession Ferber

specifically links to femininity. In Ferbers work, Julies exclusion from, and Magnolias access

to, the field of entertainment thus mirrors and serves as a commentary on contemporary

definitions of ideal American femininity as exclusively white.

Kern and Hammerstein, however, altered the serials depiction of and commentary on

femininity and race in an effort to capitalize on the talents of torch singer Helen Morgan, who

played Julie in the musical. Rather than leaving Julie in a brothel, a scene extant in earlier

versions of the script, Kern and Hammerstein altered the narrative to make Julie the star singer at

the Trocadero, the variety theatre where Magnolia seeks employment. This alteration allowed the

adapters to add Bill to the score, 119 a song suited to Morgans signature style. However, Julies
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presence at the night club detracts from the social issues at play in the plot by eliminating the

racial barriers that restrict her options in the serial. Instead of social prejudice, the musical

attributes Julies romantic and employment difficulties to her alcohol addiction, a characteristic

manufactured for the stage version. This alteration capitalized on Morgans talent, fame, and,

according to Kreuger, Morgans own dissipation, which imbued her character with an authentic

sense of vulnerability. 120 The adaptors thus incorporated the entertainment value of Julies tragic

situation and enhanced this value by shifting responsibility for her adversity from society to the

individual, implying that Julie, the mixed-race foil to Magnolias whiteness, carries essential

qualities that cause her misfortune. 121 Exculpating white society in this manner proved a

profitable approach in catering to Broadway audiences, which were primarily white, and critics

uniformly failed to comment on this departure from Ferbers plot. 122

In addition to capitalizing on the tragic mulatto stereotype, Kern and Hammersteins

version of this scene furthered the musicals representation of white femininity as impotent,

elevated only through the sacrifice of racial Others rather than through self-determination and

hard work. By employing Julie at the Trocedaro, Kern and Hammerstein placed Magnolia in

competition with Julie. Unbeknownst to Magnolia, Julie is the star singer at the Trocedaro, and,

in order for Magnolia to receive a job, Julie must lose hers. Hidden from Magnolias view, Julie

overhears Magnolias audition and then quits, saying she is headed for a drinking spree, in order

to leave the position open for Magnolia. Kreuger praises this moment as an ingenious invention

of Hammersteins . . . [which] substantially improves on the situation in the book (Story 50).

However, the moment rehearses a troubling trope in constructions of race and femininity. By

invoking her alcoholism, Julie embraces the stereotype of the tragic mulatto and disappears into

her dissipation in order to facilitate Magnolias fortune. Julies abdication parallels her earlier
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ejection from the show boat, which, in the musical, opens the opportunity for Magnolia to

assume her roles as leading lady. 123 Kern and Hammerstein thus alter Ferbers foils, placing

feminine whiteness in opposition to rather than in sympathy with the racial Other. 124 In addition,

the musical thus also renders female vulnerability as an innate aspect of gender rather than the

product of social constructs. Womens determination and hard work become powerless in the

musical wherein Magnolia survives only through Julies self-sacrifice, her own luck, and her

ability, as she repeatedly sings, to make believe.

Female Practitioners

As intended, Kern and Hammersteins revised version of Ferbers narrative appealed to

Ziegfeld, who held a keen understanding of the entertainment and commercial value of

conventional femininity and the romantic plot in a musical. Ziegfeld agreed to produce Show

Boat and later reiterated the importance of romance and comedy in the production in a telegram

Kern received March 3, 1927. Ziegfeld complained to Kern saying, His [Hammersteins]

present lay-out too serious. Not enough comedy. After marriage remember your love interest is

eliminated (qtd. in Bordman 282-3). Ziegfeld demanded that Hammerstein fix the book, the

musicals script, presumably by adding more comedy in the second act in order to counter the

loss of a romantic plot until Magnolia and Ravenals reunion (qtd. in Bordman 282-3).

Fix[ing] the book to suit Ziegfeld translated into another major shift in the narratives

representation of femininity through the addition of several comic scenes depicting American

theatre as a male-managed industry. Such scenes eliminated Ferbers link between American

theatre practice and American womanhood and further minimized Magnolias independence by

placing her performance, like the Ziegfeld girls, under male control. In the novel, Magnolia
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succeeds as a singer because of her instincts as a performer and her hard work. She searches for a

variety theatre, secures an audition, purchases a banjo, and practices late into the night (359). In

the musical, however, Frank Schultz, a show-boat friend played by Sammy White, obtains the

audition for Magnolia, who is too tongue-tied to request one for herself (Kern and Hammerstein,

Libretto 82). Rather than practicing diligently, Magnolia succeeds in the musical by following

Schultz and the business-savvy manager, who teach her a fast rag version of her audition song.

Kern and Hammersteins adaptation provided a comic bit for White, a seasoned vaudeville

performer, who danced into exhaustion and fell to the floor at the end of the scene, a stunt

lightening the second act as Ziegfeld requested (Kreuger, Story 45). 125 However, their adaptation

also divorced Magnolia from the dramaturgical authority she possesses in the serial by

submitting her performance to Schultz and the producers male expertise.

Kern and Hammerstein again sacrificed Magnolias proficiency for comic effect during

the scene of her Trocadero debut. Instead of the widowed Parthy finding Magnolia abandoned in

Chicago, Kern and Hammerstein staged a chance encounter between Captain Andy, who, like

Ravenal, remains alive in the musical, and his daughter Magnolia. Having left Parthy at their

hotel, Captain Andy discovers Magnolia as he rings in the New Year at the Trocadero on the

night of her debut. Magnolia falters in her performance, causing audience members to heckle,

but ultimately triumphs when her father coaches her from the audience. 126 Echoing Ziegfelds

instructions for his Follies dancers, Andy calls to Magnolia from the audience, telling her to

Smile! (Kern and Hammerstein, Libretto 92). This alteration offered Charles Winninger, as the

inebriated Captain Andy, an opportunity to exploit his talent for physical comedy and further

lightened the second act as Ziegfeld demanded. However, the scene also detracted from

Magnolias autonomy by placing her in continued theatrical and practical dependence on her
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father. Rather than relying on her own sensibility and performing the emotions she experiences,

Magnolia heeds her fathers advice and manufactures a smile for the audience. 127

In addition to reducing Magnolias professional prowess, omitting Captain Andys death

eliminated Parthys dramaturgical development by sustaining Andys presence at the literal and

artistic helm of the Cotton Blossom. Placing Magnolias performances under male authority and

maintaining Parthy as mistress rather than manager of the Cotton Blossom shifted the metaphor

of American theatre practice from an image of female gender and autonomy to a symbol of male

authority and expertise. The musical thus submitted Ferbers link between American

womanhood and the American theatre to male management, an understanding consistent with the

Ziegfeld brand.

While it is tempting to read this male authority in the musical as a metaphor for Kern,

Hammerstein, and Ziegfelds adaptation of Ferbers own material, Ferber herself played a key

role in creating the musical. Although Ferber claimed to have little to do with the dramatization,

as the creator of the musicals source material, as well as an experienced playwright in her own

right, Ferber carried an influential voice in the production decisions for Show Boat. Due to the

novelty of creating a Broadway musical out of a serious literary work, Ferber monitored the

production process closely and attended rehearsals more frequently than usual (Gilbert,

Interview). Hammerstein, assisted by Ziegfeld and Kern, 128 directed the musical, and Ferber

consulted at various times with each of these practitioners. Ferber worked with Ziegfeld on

casting decisions, 129 and Kern and Hammerstein consulted Ferber on the script, incorporating her

suggestions into their final version. 130 Ferber also provided input on the historic accuracy of

Joseph Urbans sets as well as John Harkriders costumes (Ziegfeld, Richard and Paulette 230).
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Although consulting closely with the production team, Ferber felt the effects of her status

as an outsider, a status she attributed, in part, to her gender. In a three-page critique of one of the

preview performances, Ferber acknowledged this issue to Ziegfeld and declared her

determination to overcome it. She began her critique stating, theres a kind of Masonic

clannishness about you men folks that sort of shuts a woman outunless shes very persistent

about what she wants to say, as Im going to be (Letter to Ziegfeld). Ferber preceded to critique

Howard Marshs, who played Ravenal, acting and costumes, both of which left her unenthused,

as well as Norma Terriss, who played Magnolia, and Helen Morgans costumes (Letter to

Ziegfeld). Production photos indicate that Ziegfeld incorporated several of Ferbers suggestions

into the final designs. 131 Ferber maintained her involvement with the musical even as she worked

on The Royal Family, a play she co-wrote with George S. Kaufman that premiered the day after

Show Boats opening night. 132 Shuttling back and forth between theatres, Ferber worked on both

productions as they neared their Broadway debuts.

While Ferber played a strong advisory role in the production of Show Boat, the aesthetics

and ideologies, particularly in relation to American women and womanhood, carried the distinct

impression of the Ziegfeld touch. Indeed, Ferber later described the adaptation process saying

she felt as if Show Boat had been adopted by foster parents and was being educated to be a

glamour girl (Treasure 316). As stated earlier, Ferbers iron woman clashed with the

femininity idealized, commodified, and branded in the Ziegfeld girl. While the Ziegfeld girl was

a consistently profitable product, Ferbers iron woman remained an untried commodity in a

Broadway musical. Apart from the Ziegfeld brand, Show Boat carried little capital as a potential

Broadway musical. Show Boat did, however, carry substantial risk as a Broadway musical

dealing with serious subject matter. Although centered on a romantic plot, Show Boat also
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portrayed miscegenation, alcoholism, and the disappointment of romance, albeit mitigated in

Magnolias case, topics audiences would not expect and might not appreciate in a musical,

particularly a Ziegfeld musical.

Expanding the Ziegfeld Brand

As Kern and Hammerstein worked on the adaptation, Ziegfeld grew increasingly

concerned about the production. 133 His secretary Goldie Stanton Clough recalls that Ziegfeld

sent numerous telegrams to the adaptors and demonstrated great displeasure during rehearsals

(Kreuger, Goldie 39-40). 134 Ziegfelds concerns about the Show Boat reflect the financial risk

incurred by producing a show of this size. Show Boat featured fourteen extravagant sets by

Joseph Urban, Ziegfelds principal designer for Follies, as well as elaborate costumes by John

Harkrider, who had designed Ziegfelds 1927 Follies show as well as his musical Rio Rita

(1927). Show Boat also featured thirty principal actors supported by a chorus of ninety-six

singers and dancers. According to Ziegfeld, the show required $31,000 in weekly operating

expenses (Kreuger, Story 70).

While accepting the risks of this massive new enterprise, Ziegfeld mitigated his potential

for loss by infusing the production with the tried and true aesthetics of the Ziegfeld Follies and,

in particular, the proven profitability of the Ziegfeld brand of femininity. 135 According to

Mizejewski, the femininity Ziegfelds showgirls embodied worked as a powerful icon of race,

sexuality, class, and consumerist desires (3). Ziegfeld infused this iconic aesthetic into the

production by casting Norma Terris, a former Ziegfeld girl, as Magnolia. 136 Ziegfelds original

contract engaged Terris to appear in either Showboat [sic], Ziegfeld Follies or some other of my

productions, a flexibility indicating Terriss continuing embodiment of the Ziegfeld ideal as

well as the affinity between the musical version of Ferbers heroine and the Ziegfeld girl (qtd. in
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Ziegfeld, Richard and Paulette 230). As a former Ziegfeld chorus girl, Terris conformed to the

strict and subjective standards Ziegfeld maintained in casting women in musical shows,

including a pretty face, good figure, and the ability to dance (Ziegfeld, Picking 34).

Through her Ziegfeld-approved body and her history as a Ziegfeld chorus girl, Terris imbued

Magnolia with the Ziegfeld brand of beauty based on youth, whiteness, and carefree energy, all

regimented through male control.

Programs for Show Boat underscored the affiliation between the femininity commodified

in the musical and that featured in Ziegfelds Follies by presenting audiences with numerous

photos of current Ziegfeld girls in elegant costumes and alluring poses accompanied by copy

inviting the audience to experience more such photos in the theatres lobby. 137 Some programs

also invoked Norma Terriss history as a Ziegfeld girl, as well as the Ziegfeld girls association

with class and consumerism, through advertisements such as a General Motors interview with

Terris entitled To Be Or Not To Be, a Chorus Girl (To Be). After discussing Terriss history

as a chorus girl, as well as her plans to purchase a Cadillac through installment buying, the

interview describes Terriss Ziegfeld-approved body as she applies her make up: Her eyes, as

mentioned, are warm brown, her well-shaped mouth, small; her features are rather delicate; her

figure, slender (5). 138 The interview and the photos of chorus girls thus reminded audiences of

Terriss standing as a female approved by the Ziegfeld empire and carried this approval, and the

gender values it entailed, into her portrayal of Show Boats heroine.

In addition to his leading lady, the Ziegfeld brand of femininity permeated the musical in

several production numbers that filled the stage with what critic Robert Coleman described as a

chorus of 150 of the most beautiful girls ever glorified by Mr. Ziegfeld (qtd. in Block 20).
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While Coleman overestimated the number of women in the chorus, Show Boat did contain sixty-

four chorus women, including sixteen black female singers and twelve black female dancers.

Colemans language, which adopts Ziegfelds slogan as glorifier of the American girl,

indicates the success of Ziegfelds marketing in presenting the women in Show Boat as an

extension of the Ziegfeld brand. Ziegfelds brand of femininity also surfaced in the chorus

delineations which divided the thirty-six white chorus women into twenty-four Glorified

Beauties and twelve dancers (qtd. in Ries 68). Ziegfeld worked directly on the aesthetics of the

femininity commodified in the production and dictated hairstyles as well as hat styles 139 while

fretting over the effect the modest period clothing produced on the actresses figures. As,

Goldie Stanton Clough recalls, Ziegfeld hated to see the girls all dressed up in so much [sic]

clothes (Kreuger, Goldie 39).

To counter this effect and further the Ziegfeld aesthetic, Kern, Hammerstein, and

Ziegfeld included several opportunities for spectacular Follies-like displays of the women in

Show Boat. 140 Their opening scene for act two, for example, exemplifies the extent of Ziegfelds

impact on representations of femininity in the production. Kern and Hammerstein set this scene

at the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition, extending Magnolia and Ravenals visit to the

exposition, an event receiving half of a sentence in the novel, 141 into a spectacular scene. Urbans

lavish set depicted attractions emblematic of the Chicagos Worlds Fair, including the Ferris

Wheel, Dahomey Village, and Streets of Cairo. The scene opened as a barker invited fair patrons

to come up and feel the fist of the sixteen-year-old strongest little lady known to/The world,

and La Belle Fatima 142 followed this attraction with a hootchy kootchy dance so erotic women at

the fair scurry away while men follow Fatima into the Streets of Cairo (Kern and Hammerstein,

Libretto 64).
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According to theatre and dance scholar Frank W. D. Ries, sixteen Ziegfeld Beauties in

elaborate costumes entered at this point with their male escorts (73). Riess extensive analysis

of an annotated conductors score from the original production reveals much about the dances

Sammy Lee choreographed for the musical. According to Ries, at this moment, Each male

circle[d] his girl twice, with kicks getting higher and higher as she slowly pivot[ed] in her finery

(73). La Bell Fatima, played by Dorothy Denese, then entered and again performed her Danse

Orientale (Ries 73). An additional display of female pulchritude continued the scene as a

Congress of Beauty featuring Diplomats of loveliness from every country in the peaceful

world paraded across the stage (Kern and Hammerstein, Libretto 65).

The fairs female attendees, the barkers invitation to interact with the strong woman,

Fatimas exotic erotic dance, and the parade of lovely diplomats echoed elements of Ziegfelds

iconic displays of femininity and worked in conjunction with Terriss status as a Ziegfeld girl to

incorporate the ideology behind this icon into the musical version of Show Boat. As Mizejewski

demonstrates, Ziegfelds Follies constructed the image of the Ziegfeld American girl in

opposition to images of ethnicity, racial difference, and comedy and, I would add, overt

sexuality and physical strength (9). In the Worlds Fair scene in Show Boat, the fair goers,

particularly Magnolia and the Glorified Beauties attending the fair, gave audiences the

ensemble of young, white, female beauties they expected from a Ziegfeld chorus (qtd. in Ries

68). Magnolia, as portrayed by a Ziegfeld girl, and this white, youthful, energetic female chorus

acted in counterpoint to the Other femininities represented on the Midway Plaisance, a space set

apart from the main exposition in 1893 and used to display exotic curiosities.

As a space designated as Other and represented in a show removed from Ziegfelds

iconic Follies and Frolics, the Midway in Show Boat offered Ziegfeld, Hammerstein, and Kern a
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setting in which to commodify femininities Other than those embodied by the Ziegfeld girl. The

displays of femininity in this scene thus functioned in a manner similar to the ethnic and

blackface acts Ziegfeld employed in his Follies shows to accentuate the difference between the

class, race, and sexuality presented in these acts and the class, race, and sexuality embodied by

the chorus and show girls. 143 Fatima and the strongest little lady, for example, function in this

manner at the opening of act two in Show Boat. Fatimas Danse Orientale (Ries 73) was,

according to the libretto, a couchie-couchie (Kern and Hammerstein 66), or belly dance, a

dance associated in Western stereotypes with Middle-Eastern harem women and, thus, exotic

female sexuality. Ziegfeld had used similar associations in Follies numbers, including, Arabian

Night, 144 The Palace of Beauty, and The Treasures of the East, which centered on harem

themes (Mizejewski 8). Although such numbers employed white Ziegfeld girls, they titillated

audiences by presenting the women in foreign costumes and contexts which imbued their

respectable, white, middle-class bodies with the implication of non-white, hypersexuality

implied in stereotypes of the Middle East. Such foreign locales and themes also designated this

hypersexuality as Other, setting it in opposition to the male-controlled, middle-class, white

sexuality displayed in the Ziegfeld girl. The Worlds Fair scene staged a similar antithesis as the

white women in the chorus flee Fatimas performance, thus separating the hypersexuality of the

exotic Other from the respectable sexuality of the white women.

The strongest little lady functioned in a similar manner by setting female strength apart

as a quality separate from the middle-class white women attending the fair. Featuring female

physical strength as an attraction on the Midway Plaisance presented such strength as an exotic

curiosity, a quality Other from the women attending the fair. The musical continued this

association in a specialty adagio dance performed by the Sidell Sisters, a Wisconsin dance team
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hired for the show. Adagio dances were specifically choreographed for the purpose of

demonstrating the dancers strength. As Ries explains, adagio dancing [was] a balletic form of

partnering that combined acrobatics, lifts, dramatic poses, and intermittent lyrical passages (8).

Such dances were often performed by a male and female couple, with the male partner lifting

and supporting the female dancer. As a female team, the Sidell Sisters located this strength, in

their adagio, specifically in female bodies. Through Kern and Hammersteins alterations and

Ziegfelds staging, Show Boat minimized Magnolias strength, as exhibited in her ability to

survive suffering, reduced feminine strength to physical strength, and then constructed this

quality as Other by featuring strong women as novelty acts along the Midway Plaisance.

Lest viewers read such qualities as aspects of Ziegfelds iconic brand, the following

number on the Midway demonstrated the difference between the femininity embodied by Fatima

and the Sidell Sisters and the femininity displayed by the white chorus. Magnolia and Ravenals

song Why Do I Love You? which grew into a number including Andy, Parthy and the white

chorus, followed the Sidell Sisters adagio. Why Do I Love You? concluded with the white

chorus arranged with eight chorus girls sitting on eight chorus boys knees in a semi-circle,

eight more chorus girls standing with their boyfriends in the spaces between, and the sixteen

Ziegfeld Beauties now posed on various platforms on the set (Ries 74). This arrangement

stressed the heteronormative sexuality of the white women, who appeared either with a male

partner or alone. Unlike the same-sex partnering of the Sidell Sisters, or the hypersexual image

of Fatima pursuing every man in the audience at the fair, the women of the white chorus stood

either alone, implying availability, or with their male mate. This staging reinforced the

heterosexuality as well as the monogamy of the white women in the show. Since these women

served as a metaphorical extension of Magnolia, even serving as her bridesmaids in the wedding
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scene, their sexuality echoed and magnified Magnolias romantic attachment and fidelity to

Ravenal.

This normative portrayal of femininity and female sexuality served to contain the

transgressive sexuality implied in the Sidell Sisters adagio, Fatimas belly dance, and, most

explicitly, the Sidells Apache dance at the beginning of the New Years scene at the Trocedaro.

Reputedly, the Apache dance, pronounced apash, originated as an entertainment among violent

Parisian street gangs in Montmartre in the 1890s (Kelly 11). Apache dances portray a violent

confrontation between a woman, sometimes depicted as a prostitute, and a man, often

representing her pimp. The form romanticizes battery against the female partner who, as one

practitioner put it in 1915, did not seem to resent it (qtd. in Kelly 12). In the Sidells version,

Billie Sidell played the role of the man, and Piera Sidell 145 played the girl. Their performance

thus queered the traditional performance of the dance by placing the erotic, violent sexuality in

two female, familial bodies. 146 According to one reviewer, the Sidells version was an Apache

dance of more than average violence in which the girl who plays the man shows wonderful

strength in chucking her partner over one shoulder, while the other [dancer] has some fine

acrobatic tricks. (qtd. in Harter 12). In the genre of this dance, such acrobatic tricks often

involve flying across the floor after a punch or a kick from the male partner. The Sidells ended

their Apache as Billie, dressed as the man, threw her sister Piera over a table and strangled her

while Piera screamed (Harter 12). 147 The dance was thus erotic and violent as well as acrobatic

and, particularly through the use of drag, transgressive, a combination that delighted audiences

(see fig. 1).


104

Fig. 1 Sidell Sisters performing their Apache dance in Show Boat, Wisconsin
Historical Society, Image ID: 32721.

The Sidells dances, in conjunction with Fatimas belly dance, worked to affirm the

heterosexuality and heteronormativity of the white chorus girls and, by extension, Magnolia. As

Mizejewski demonstrates, emerging studies of sexuality and, in particular, the identification of

lesbianism as a category of desire at this time lent urgency to the heterosexuality established in

mainstream industries commodifying femininity (87). Womens magazines stopped carrying

stories of girls engaged in physical affection, and shows, such as Ziegfelds, emphasized the

heterosexual desires of the women they displayed (Mizejewski 85, 87). However, as Ziegfelds

use of Fatima and the Sidells demonstrates, transgressive female sexuality held high
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entertainment value on Broadway. As a show removed from his exclusive Follies and Frolics,

Show Boat allowed Ziegfeld to commodify this transgressive sexuality in an overt manner

palatable and marketable to middle-class audiences, yet distanced from his exalted Ziegfeld

American Girl.

In addition to capitalizing on sexually transgressive forms of femininity, Ziegfeld used

Show Boat to racially expand his brand of beauty. As discussed in chapter one, racial whiteness

formed a key component of Ziegfelds lucrative brand of femininity. However, Ziegfeld

recognized that the public taste changes in regard to beauty, just as it does in other things

(Picking 120), and, as the increasing popularity the black chorus girl demonstrated, 1920s

public taste included darker skin tones in definitions of beauty. As Mizejewski demonstrates,

Ziegfelds revue, far from being entirely white, created a more complicated space of various

hybridizations, inclusions, and exclusions (134). As described earlier, one such hybridization

occurred during the 1922 number Its Getting Dark on Old Broadway, which employed

lighting effects to darken Ziegfelds white chorus girls. Through this effect, and numbers in

foreign settings, such as jungles or harems, as well as a blackface chorus number in the 1925

Follies, 148 Ziegfeld capitalized on the growing entertainment value of the non-white female body

while maintaining the racial whiteness his brand promised.

As a show outside of this genre, Show Boat enabled Ziegfeld to glorify, or commodify,

women racially excluded from the Follies and Frolics without compromising the white

femininity sold and branded through these iconic entertainment products of the Ziegfeld

empire. 149 Ziegfeld began this commodification by advertising in January 1927 for what Variety

described as Dark Brown Negresses who were, according to Variety, more in vogue on

Broadway than the previously popular Hi Yaller Girls (Hi Yaller 3). Variety proclaimed
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that, In the new Flo Ziegfeld show, Show Boat, there will be a number of Negresses, all dark

brown, with the selecting passing over the light-skinned women (Hi Yaller 1). According to

McMillin, Will Vodery, an African American musician who arranged music for Ziegfelds

Follies, likely played a major role in casting Show Boats black chorus (64). However, the

Variety article implies that Ziegfeld himself took part in casting women for the black chorus.

Ziegfeld detailed his methodical process of selecting and passing over women in several

articles explaining his criteria for choosing actresses for his shows. On days of inspection, he

related in 1919, the girls pass through my office in long lines. As they pass I say Yes or No.

That is all. Those to whom I say Yes . . . reach my standard of beauty (How I Pick 158).

Varietys description of the selecting [and] passing over based on appearance indicates that

Ziegfeld employed a similar process in casting the African American chorus girls for Show Boat.

As the Variety ad indicates, skin tone, particularly female skin tone, was a primary

concern in casting and staging Show Boat. As musical theatre scholar Todd Decker explains,

Kern, Hammerstein, and Ziegfeld specified a shade for the African American women in Show

Boat because:

They anticipated, as any professional of the time would, that a Broadway

audience would judge the tone and intent of Show Boat in part by assessing the

relative lightness or darkness of the colored female ensemble members skin. By

casting dark brown women, the Show Boat gals would not be confused with

the high yella chorus lines filling the stages of stage and nightclub revues on

Broadway and in Harlem. Opting for darker skin tones for the black women in

Show Boat was an artistic decision, part of the larger goal of emphasizing

narrative and racial contrast over glitz and sex appeal in what was, after all,
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Ziegfelds Show Boat. 150 Given Ziegfelds reputation as a glorifier of American

girls, the Variety item describing the first colored chorus Ziegfeld had ever hired

says much for industry anticipation of Show Boat as a Ziegfeld production.

(Black/White 108)

As Decker notes, womens skin tone acted as a signpost for audiences in interpreting

1920s Broadway productions. Since Ziegfelds entertainment empire rested on his signature

brand of femininity, a brand based on racial whiteness, this was especially true for the women in

his shows, particularly the women in his signature chorus numbers. However, rather than

eschewing an affiliation with the high yella chorus lines filling the stages of stage and

nightclub revues, as Decker claims, I would argue that Ziegfeld encouraged this association, as

well as the glitz and sex appeal it evoked in Show Boats African American chorus, especially

the shows African American female dancers (Black/White 108). Although Ziegfeld originally

advertised for dark brown female performers, the eventual Show Boat cast featured what one

reviewer described as a high yeller chorus (qtd. in Ries 66), while another described the

choruses in the show as choruses white, choruses high yellow, brown and black, and all colors

strictly permanent (A New York 248).

The femininity, and, specifically, the sexuality, commodified in the black chorus dancers

related directly to their strictly permanent, or authentic, racial designation as well as their

mixture of hues. According to Mizejewski, black female singers and dancers with Caucasian

features and mixed blood carried entertainment value, in part, due to the forbidden sexuality

entailed in their sex appeal (123). The illicitness of this desire stemmed from the implication of

cultural as well as legal transgression a mixed-race body evoked in a nation which, in 1927, had
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30 states with anti-miscegenation laws and eight additional states with similar laws pending

(Pascoe 181). Show Boat underscored this appeal through the miscegenation scene, which

foregrounded Julies mixed-race ancestry and the illegality of the relationship producing this

heritage.

Contrary to Deckers claim, Ziegfeld deliberately subsumed Ferbers narrative and

racial contrast in order to evoke the glitz and sex appeal as well as the desire associated with

night clubs and revues featuring light-hued African American chorus girls (Black/White 108).

In contrast to the description offered in the Variety ad, the Pittsburgh Courier, an established

black newspaper of this era, described the shows African American female dancers as the

light-skinned dancing contingent (Critic Says), and the Couriers theatre reviewer later

specified several of the black female dancers as creole, inter-racial, and possessing beauty

typical of the Mediterranean Riviere [sic] (Snelson). 151 As the Variety article indicates, Ziegfeld

purposefully managed the hue of the women in the black chorus, and the inclusion in the chorus

of several of the light-skinned women Variety claimed would be passed over must, therefore,

have been a deliberate and strategic choice (Hi Yaller). Ziegfeld carefully cast the women in

the shows African American chorus to deliberately elicit the glamour as well as the illicit desire

and sex appeal of the mixed-race chorus girl. Ziegfelds casting choices also emphasized this

appeal by leaving the twelve African American chorus dancers without male partners, 152 thus

facilitating the sense of availability so central to the chorus girls allure in Follies and Frolics.

Ziegfeld capitalized on the entertainment value of this taboo form of sex appeal

particularly through the Worlds Fair scene at the opening of act two. While the women in the

African American chorus appeared in working-class and modest formal clothing for Act I, they
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donned more spectacular costumes for Act II, including revealing outfits reminiscent of the

Follies for the number In Dahomey. In Dahomey begins as Two [white] Girls scream and

cross up L to DR followed by Dahomey Savages from The Dahomey Village at the Chicago

Worlds Fair (Kern and Hammerstein, Libretto 69). The black savages chant lyrics such as

Dyunga hungy ung gunga and menace the white fair goers, who decide to leave in order to

avoid becoming a spearful for the Dahomey villagers (Kern and Hammerstein, Libretto 70).

After their white audience leaves, the Dahomey performers express disdain for the stereotypes

they portray in their performance and sing longingly of their real homes in New York City.

While the Dahomey sequence satirizes white stereotypes of African and African

American culture, designer John Harkriders costumes reified stereotypes about African

American female beauty and sexuality. Harkrider clothed female singers in the Dahomey Village

in draped fabric with geometric patterns, echoing designs of Kente cloth. Female dancers wore

ankle bracelets, tight shorts, and short tops, exposing their legs and midriffs. 153 Such costumes

were designed to evoke African tribal dress and, thus, set the Dahomey women apart as foreign,

even as they longed for New York. In addition, the dancers costumes served as a sharp contrast

to the high-necked, floor-length dresses of the white women at the fair and, thus, designated the

black dancers as hypersexual. The midriff-exposing costumes further associated these dancers

with Fatima, the belly dancer, who presumably donned a similarly revealing costume for her

overtly sexual and foreign performance. In addition, the number involved a very vigorous and

acrobatic dance for the twelve black female dancers, movements setting them apart from the

graceful and controlled movements of the white chorus women (Ries 74). 154 The Dahomey

costumes and movements thus created a sharp contrast to the modestly-clothed, and well-
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controlled white female bodies which, fearful of African violence, and, by implication, sexuality,

flee the scene, recapitulating their earlier flight from Fatimas sexual dance. 155

Although this scene separated African American women from depictions of white

femininity in the play, the scene functioned in a more complex manner within the broader

contexts of Show Boat and the Ziegfeld brand. As a spectacular chorus number featuring

attractive women in scanty clothes in a Ziegfeld show, In Dahomey, in conjunction with other

aspects of the musical, worked to construct the African American chorus girl as part of the

Ziegfeld brand of beauty. In addition to the Dahomey scene, the Worlds Fair included the

Congress of Beauty, a Follies-like parade displaying Diplomats of loveliness from every

country in this peaceful world (Kern and Hammerstein Libretto 65). Given the availability of

several black chorus girls who conformed, albeit not racially, to Ziegfelds standards, it is

possible that this number included women from the African American chorus. The Congress of

Beauty presented, in the words of the barker, Beautiful girls from near and far . . . From Peru/

Timbuctoo and Zanzibar/ Europe, Asia Theyll amaze ya! (Kern and Hammerstein, Libretto

65). Whether or not Ziegfeld employed women from his African American chorus to represent

diplomats from Zanzibar or other foreign locales, the barkers lyrics discursively included

black women in this parade of beauty, a signature form of display from Ziegfelds Follies and

Frolics shows.

By including African American women, discursively and, perhaps, physically, in this

signature staging, as well as in a large female chorus typical of Ziegfelds shows, Show Boat

seemed to many to have extended the Ziegfeld designation of feminine beauty to African

American women. In an article entitled Ziegfeld and Belasco Laud Our Show Girls, William
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F. McDermott, critic for the black newspaper the Chicago Defender, praised the recent

opportunities for African American performers, specifically show girls, in Show Boat as well as

David Belascos production of Lulu Belle. McDermott hailed Show Boat as a girl show in which

the majority of the beauties, the liveliest of the dancers and the most stirring of the singers are

African. Thus, McDermott continued, our blackamoor brethren are recognized with a

respectful flourish . . . by the most celebrated of the girl show impresarios (6). McDermotts

classification of Show Boat as a girl show, and his designation of the shows producer as the

most celebrated of girl show impresarios, indicate the close association audiences recognized

between the musical and Ziegfelds Frolics and Follies, particularly in their commodification of

femininity. In addition, McDermott understood that, as a Ziegfeld production, Show Boat

included the black chorus girl in Ziegfelds brand of beauty, a designation heretofore reserved

for white women. 156

Not only did McDermott read Show Boat in this manner, but reports indicate that the

musical prompted Ziegfeld himself to consider expanding the boundaries of beauty in his Follies

shows, his iconic and exclusive productions. Show Boat closed in May 1929 after 575

performances, and, according to the Chicago Defender, Ziegfeld soon began considering African

American chorus girls for his 1931 Follies show, his first edition of the Follies since 1927. 157

Reputedly, Ziegfeld, or one of his representatives, approached several dancers from the Show

Boat cast, including Bessie Allison Buchanan, 158 Billie Cain, and Teresa Gentry, 159 about

appearing in the Follies. However, by May 1931, Will Vodrey announced that the show was so

large that no spot could be found for the Race chorus (Ziegfeld Will). The Ziegfeld Follies of

1931, which opened the following July, did, however, manage to find room for the Albertina
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Rasch Dancers, a white troupe that worked frequently with Ziegfeld. Their numbers for the show

included a tom-tom dance in an elaborate jungle setting, which ended with sculptured

elephants entering the stage with women in revealing costumes perched on their trunks (Ziegfeld,

Richard and Paulette 265). Ziegfeld had opted to continue capitalizing on the entertainment value

of non-white femininity in the Follies through exotic settings rather than non-white women. 160

Although Show Boats cast and staging seemed, momentarily, to extend Ziegfelds, and,

thus, cultural, definitions of beauty and ideal femininity, the show also reified boundaries

between African American femininity and idealized forms of American womanhood based in

racism and white supremacy. As Diplomats of loveliness, for example, the non-white women

referenced in the Congress of Beauty represented foreign countries and, thus, forms of female

beauty, by definition, not American (Kern and Hammerstein, Libretto 65). The Congress of

Beauty thus separated African American women from this construct of non-white pulchritude.

In addition, Show Boat relied heavily on stereotypes constructing African American

female sexuality as Other than the attractive and moral sexuality commodified in the Ziegfeld

girl. As historian Robert C. Allen explains, Hers [the Ziegfeld girls] was the contained,

manageable, almost wholesome sexuality of the white middle-class girl next door (246). In

Show Boat, the white female chorus, in their so much clothes (Kreuger, Goldie 39),

exemplified this wholesome type of sex appeal while the African American women, as well as

the shows specialty dancers, exhibited a less contained [and] manageable form of female

sexuality through their revealing costumes, acrobatic movements, and overtly sexual dances.
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Show Boat countered the hypersexuality presented in these women, particularly the

African American chorus girls, with another stereotype of African American femininity in the

character Queenie, the Cotton Blossoms cook. While Ziegfeld hired black performers for the

shows chorus and African American singer Jules Bledsoe for the role of Joe, for Queenie,

Ziegfeld hired Italian-American Tess Gardella, who performed the role in blackface. At this

time, Gardella was famous for her vaudeville performances as Aunt Jemima, a rotund mammy

character she performed in blackface. Gardella became so closely associated with this character

that Show Boat programs listed Aunt Jemima, rather than Gardella, in the role of Queenie. This

conflation of actor and character continued offstage in the shows salary lists, which also listed

Gardella, and which Gardella subsequently signed, as Aunt Jemima (Ziegfeld, Richard and

Paulette 146).

Gardella thus infused Queenie, and the femininity she represented, with stereotypes from

Aunt Jemima. As an iteration of the mammy stereotype, Aunt Jemima represented a black

femininity devoid of sexuality, a stereotype whites originally manufactured as a comforting

counterpoint to the constructs of black female slaves as hypersexual. Both stereotypes of African

American women proliferated during slavery when the alleged hypersexuality of black women

served as a salve for the consciences of white slave owners who sexually abused slaves. To

counter this stereotype, whites also manufactured constructs of African American women as

mammies, maternal figures, void of sexual allure and desire, and gladly engaged in domestic

work performed in support of white families. Such constructs of black femininity survived after

slavery, in part, through the entertainment value they carried in live performance and as

consumer icons. The Aunt Jemima character, for example, circulated through minstrels shows
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and, in 1889, became the marketing image for a new self-rising pancake flour, linking this

specific mammy character to food preparation performed in service to white consumers.

Gardellas performance of Queenie worked on numerous levels to counter the alluring

and overtly sexual black chorus girls and specialty dancers in Show Boat. As Aunt Jemima,

Gardella imbued Queenie with a femininity specifically constructed as devoid of sex appeal. In

part, this related to Gardellas size. Historian Ann Douglas describes the 1920s as the age that

banned the full-figured woman, discovered calories, and invented the bathroom scale, and

discusses how dieting campaigns and products constructed heavy women as unattractive (135).

Broadway entertainments located sexuality and beauty in the svelte chorus girl, while

constructing full-figured women as unattractive and comic. Through Aunt Jemima, Gardella

carried these constructs into Queenie, and, as the only black female character outside of the

chorus, Queenie communicated this construct as the musicals central depiction of black

femininity.

Although Julies character was of mixed-race, she was played by a white actress, Helen

Morgan, and read as a white body. Audiences accepted Julies tragedy as the tragedy engendered

by her mixed-race origins but understood the intimate actions between Julie and her husband,

particularly his consuming of her blood, as an action performed by a white couple. This

understanding prevented the controversy engendered by a similar display of intimacy in

ONeills All Gods Chillun (1924), which portrayed a white wife kissing her black husbands

hand. 161 The absence of public protest surrounding Show Boat indicates that audiences read Julie

and her husband as white and Gardella as well as her character as black. The conflation of

Gardella and Aunt Jemima worked to prevent audiences from seeing Joe, played by African
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American actor Jules Bledsoe, and Queenie, played by Gardella in blackface, as an interracial

couple. This conflation also worked to convey Gardellas portrayal of African American

femininity as an authentic representation of race and gender. Gardellas performance thus carried

capital as a representation of race and gender just as authentic as that embodied by the black

chorus girl and, thus, effectively undermined any threat the white audiences desire for the black

chorus girl might pose to hegemonic understandings of white supremacy. In this way,

Queenie/Gardella/Aunt Jemima facilitated Ziegfelds exploitation of the capital carried by the

black chorus girls sexuality in Show Boat.

The adaptation of Show Boat highlights several issues of capital influencing

representations of femininity in musicals during the mid-1920s, including the anxiety inherent in

depictions of female independence, the increasing entertainment value of black male suffering in

mainstream theatre, the appeal of the tragic mulatto, and the illicit allure of the black chorus girl.

Show Boat demonstrates the calibrations and manipulations of capital employed in

commodifying each of these aspects and reveals the role of material and non-material capital in

shaping representations of race, independence, competence, suffering, love, and desire in stage

portrayals of femininity.

While strong, independent, and steadfast female characters carried value in the Womans

Home Companion, so much so that Lane offered Ferber an open contract for creating such

characters, Show Boats adaptation reveals that such portrayals carried little value in musicals.

As this analysis demonstrates, the fantasy of a strong woman professionally and emotionally in

need of a man carried more entertainment value and, thus, proliferated more frequently in

musicals, than images of female independence. As discussed earlier, in Show Boat the musical,
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this value derived, in part, from the increasing entertainment value of black, male suffering in

1920s theatre. The musical version of Show Boat assessed and constructed the value of

vulnerable white femininity in relief to this suffering as well as the essential misfortune of the

tragic mulatto. Non-white suffering thus carried capital on Broadway as a means of highlighting

white, female success.

The original musical production of Show Boat also indicates the complicated capital of

female sexuality in the 1920s and the complexities of commodifying this quality in mainstream

entertainment, particularly in relation to race. Show Boat offered Ziegfeld, as well as Kern,

Hammerstein, Ferber, and others (including the performers) receiving money from the show, the

opportunity to capitalize on the increasing commercial value of the sexuality displayed through

the black chorus girl. In part, this increasing value resulted from shifting understandings of

respectability and sexuality. However, racial prejudices complicated this value by constructing

non-white female sexuality and desire as unwholesome and taboo. By staging this sexuality

within the frame of white romance and fidelity, Show Boat mitigated bigoted associations of

black sexuality with lewdness by staging as well as containing black sexuality within a white,

middle-class frame under the aegis of a respected brand. The production also mitigated this

bigotry through the counter, and equally racist, mammy stereotype, which represented black

women as asexual and undesirable. Show Boat thus demonstrates the capital representations of

Aunt Jemima stereotypes and white romantic triumph carried in mainstream productions

featuring black chorus girls. 162

For each of these representations, black male suffering, Aunt Jemima, white female

dependence, the tragic mulatto, etc., the value they carried in Show Boat relates to a wider

understanding of their value in commercial entertainment. Show Boats tremendous financial


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success as a musical prompted imitation and prevented criticism in relation to these

representations. As stated in the introduction, financial profit legitimates representations in for-

profit entertainment. The economic value of these representations, as evidenced by the

productions success, thus legitimated these representations in Broadway entertainment and

continues to sustain them in American culture. 163

In the following chapter, I will investigate the role women played in constructing and

assessing representations of femininity in the 1920s American entertainment industry by tracing

the development and adaptation of Edith Whartons The Age of Innocence. This chapter will

begin by studying the reframing of Whartons narrative by the Pictorial Review in an effort to

make the femininity in the serial more marketable for an American womens magazine. The

chapter then explores the adaptation of the narrative into a stage production starring Katharine

Cornell. The substantial historic record of the adaptation process for this play reveals the

influence of women as playwrights and celebrities in this process as well as the constraints they

faced due to concerns of capital. This analysis will build on the preceding examination of Show

Boat by including an additional theatrical genre to this study of 1920s theatrethe dramatic star

vehicle. As I will demonstrate, representations of female sexuality also carried capital in

commercial dramas and were similarly calibrated through portrayals of this sexuality as a desire

subject to male control. Like the commodification of female sexuality in Show Boat, the

depiction of female sexuality in The Age of Innocence also intersected with stereotypes of non-

white sexuality but, in this instance, in relation to immigrant men. This analysis will examine the

creation and representation of femininity in relation to race and nationality in The Age of

Innocence and consider how these representations affected the impact of Edith Whartons social

critique and the career of actress Katharine Cornell.


Chapter 3
From Criticism to Compliment:
American Gender in The Age of Innocence

In his column Opening Nights, critic Walter Winchell facetiously noted that The Age of

Innocence had set a record during its first matinee at the Empire Theatre by attracting only four

male audience members. Critics, Winchell intimated, had predicted this gender disparity in the

shows appeal when they initially evaluated the work as more of a womans play anyway, due

to its focus on love and self-sacrifice in a sumptuous 1870s setting. Ironically, only six years

earlier, Edith Whartons novel, from which Margaret Ayer Barnes had adapted the play, received

the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for its presentation of the highest standard of American manners and

manhood (qtd. in Jewett 31 Mar. 1921). What Winchell viewed as a narrative inherently

uninteresting to American men, the male-comprised Pulitzer Committee deemed an exemplary

representation of American masculinity. As the contrast in their responses indicates, Whartons

social critique of American gender constructs in The Age of Innocence shifted drastically

between the original publication and the 1928 stage adaptation.

Whartons The Age of Innocence critiques American gender constructs through its

portrayal of the social and personal hypocrisy produced by a cultural system that infantilizes

women and then limits them because of the inexperience the system itself creates. The Age of

Innocence depicts this dilemma through two competing ideals of femininity, the experienced

woman, an ideal Wharton associated with European culture, and the innocent girl, an ideal

Wharton believed characterized and hobbled American society. Set in 1870s upper-class New

York, The Age of Innocence follows protagonist Newland Archer as he interacts with and

compares May Welland, his American fianc and eventual wife, and her cousin the Countess
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Ellen Olenska, who has recently arrived from Europe. Young and naive, May epitomizes

American womanhood, as valued by old New York society, while the mature and worldly-wise

Ellen symbolizes Whartons view of European femininity. Old New York finds Ellens

femininity foreign and threatening, but accepts her in deference to May and her family, who risk

disapprobation by openly welcoming Ellen into their circle.

Promised to May but attracted to Ellen, Archer compulsively compares the women, and

the femininities they embody, as he struggles between duty and desire. Wharton details Archers

deliberations as he marries May and then plans an affair with Ellen, who initially agrees but then

deserts Archer upon learning that May, who has been one of her staunchest defenders, is

pregnant. Heartbroken, Ellen returns to the rich social and cultural atmosphere of Europe,

choosing personal integrity and intellectual stimulus over a hypocritical and vacuous existence as

Archers mistress. Ultimately, Archer fails to free himself from social constraints and resigns

himself to a respectable and uneventful life with May. In the end, the narratives only satisfied

character is May, who successfully maintains her home and family through a lifelong insistence

on her ignorance of any domestic or social disturbance. After Mays death decades later, Archer

discovers that she knew of his relationship with Ellen and, Wharton implies, deliberately lied

about her pregnancy in order to force Ellen to break off her relationship with Archer. The

innocence Wharton portrays as a prized characteristic of American femininity thus ends as a

grotesque farce, artificially contrived and maintained to preserve the faade of American

morality.

The Age of Innocence portrays two intriguing female characters negotiating a love

triangle, a formula teeming with commercial potential for entertainments commodifying

femininity in 1920, particularly womens magazine fiction and Broadway drama. Both the
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Pictorial Review, where the serial debuted, and Margaret Ayer Barnes, who, with collaborator

Edward Sheldon, adapted the play, recognized the capital inherent in Whartons female

characters. However, both the Pictorial and the adapters understood that capitalizing on

Whartons characters required mitigating her negative portrayal of American femininity and

innocence. A tribute to worldly-wise European femininity might sell in literary magazines,

Whartons usual venue, but the Pictorial editors and Broadway playwrights doubted such foreign

sophistication, particularly when constructed at the expense of the moral American wife, would

carry capital with their audiences.

Concerns about the commercial appeal of Whartons critical approach to American

femininity in an American womens magazine and on the American stage prompted both the

Pictorial and Barnes to reframe and reformulate Whartons critique to offer a more positive and,

therefore, more marketable portrayal of American femininity. This chapter analyzes The Age of

Innocence as it developed into a serial and stage play in order to highlight the issues of capital

informing and (re)forming Whartons critique, specifically in relation to the value of sexual and

social experience versus ignorance in representations of American femininity.

Additionally, a historical analysis of the adaptation process for The Age of Innocence

offers an incisive look into the influence of the adaptor in formulating and adjusting

representations of gender. As collaborators separated by distanceBarnes worked primarily in

Chicago while Sheldon remained in New YorkBarnes and Sheldon communicated mainly

through letters and telegrams. Barnes, a novice playwright, relied heavily on Sheldon, a seasoned

professional with a clear understanding of what would succeed on stage. Accordingly, their

extensive communications regarding script changes, producers, casting, and contracts offer

invaluable insight into the considerations of capital at play, as well as the influence of a female
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playwright, in determining depictions of gender in 1920s Broadway theatre. Finally, this analysis

also illuminates actresses capital concerns and their impact on femininity in Broadway stage

plays. Through a historical analysis of The Age of Innocence as a star vehicle for Katharine

Cornell, this chapter investigates Cornells management of her individual capital as a Broadway

actress and the influence of her concerns on the final version of femininity commodified in The

Age of Innocence. Through this analysis, The Age of Innocence illuminates these aspects of the

capital complex and their function in shaping representations of femininity for the 1920s stage.

Edith Wharton and the Pictorial Review

From the beginning, commercial interests weighed heavily on The Age of Innocence,

which Wharton composed in order to finance renovations on the two residences she acquired in

France after World War I. Enamored with French life and culture, Wharton established

permanent residence in France in 1907 and, following the Great War, moved in to the Pavilion

Colombe near Paris and the Ste. Claire Chateau near the Mediterranean, residences she inhabited

until her death in 1937. At the time of acquisition, both properties required extensive

renovations, and Wharton, whose expensive tastes and design standards required financing, 164

approached these projects from a depressed economic state due, in part, to the war. 165 Wharton

thus responded with particular displeasure in 1919 when her publisher informed her that the

Pictorial Review wished to break their contract to serialize her latest work A Son at the Front, a

contract worth $18,000.

Previously, Wharton had published primarily in literary magazines known for the high

quality of their fiction, but, in an effort to accrue more funds, Wharton had recently entered into

an agreement with the Pictorial, one of her first contracts with a popular womens magazine.

Whartons contract with the Pictorial resulted, in part, from her anger against William Randolph
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Hearst for his publication of pro-Bosche 166 propaganda during the Great War (qtd. in Lee

452). 167 Even though Hearst publications paid the highest fees for fiction, Wharton refused to

publish in any magazine he owned. Whartons prejudice against Hearst and her need for income

effectively limited her publishing options to the Pictorial Review, a fact that her editor Rutger B.

Jewett raised whenever difficulties arose between Wharton and the Pictorials staff. As Jewett

explained to Wharton, I know of no other magazine (except Hearst periodicals) that can pay

these prices (14 Oct. 1920). Such economic issues made Wharton tenacious in maintaining her

contract with the Pictorial. In 1919, her renovation projects made her particularly intransigent in

insisting that the publication fulfill its obligation to serialize A Son at the Front.

Pictorial editor Arthur Vance 168 originally contacted Wharton as part of his continuing

campaign, begun in the early 1910s, to attract subscribers by expanding and improving the

magazines fiction offerings. To this end, Vance had published numerous prestigious fiction

writers, including Zona Gale, Joseph Conrad, and Edna Ferber. His campaign proved successful,

and, by 1920, the Pictorials circulation had increased to two million, 169 surpassing McCalls

and advancing the publication to the number two slot in womens magazine sales (Zuckerman,

History 113). 170 This success allowed the Pictorial to raise annual subscription rates from $2.00

to $3.00, 171 and the resulting revenue enabled the publication to offer writers substantial fees, a

major attraction for writers such as Wharton.

As part of this campaign, Vance contacted Jewett, Whartons editor at D. Appleton and

Company. Wharton was an established and respected writer whose literary reputation, Vance

believed, would attract the educated audience coveted by advertisers and, thus, publishers.

Wharton provided Vance with a scenario of her most recent work, A Son at the Front, which

Vance agreed to purchase. 172 However, after receiving Whartons initial drafts, Vance contacted
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Jewett during the summer of 1919 and expressed concern over the narratives subject matter.

Although Vance had approved Whartons scenario, as the chapters arrived, he became

increasingly worried that publishing a war narrative so soon after the war would offend

subscribers. 173 Jewett affirmed his assessment and suggested that Wharton substitute another

piece, entitled Old New York, to fulfill her contract with Pictorial. Frustrated with the Pictorial

but intent on keeping her fee, Wharton agreed to sell Old New York to the Pictorial, provided

they pay the same rate offered for A Son at the Front. 174 Vance agreed, and Wharton sent him a

complete draft of Old New York by March 1920. In the midst of this exchange, Wharton

informed her publisher that the title of her new piece had changed to The Age of Innocence.

Whartons negotiations with the Pictorial illustrate the capital concerns directing Vances

editorial decisions regarding fiction. As a relatively progressive womens magazine editor,

Vance promoted social reform, endorsed suffrage, polled readers on current issues, and used the

magazine as a forum for discussions about birth control. Vance related the Pictorials content

directly to social action, declaring in an editorial:

We appeal to women who want to think and to act as well as to be entertained. It

is a feminine age. Women are taking more and more part in affairs and our idea is

this: that a magazine correctly to represent women of this country must keep its

readers in close touch with questions of public interest, and guide and direct this

feminine activity in the most useful and practical channels. (qtd. in Endres,

Pictorial 275-6)

This reform mentality aligned the publication with socially-minded magazines like the Womans

Home Companion and separated the Pictorial from more conservative publications, such as the
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Ladies Home Journal, which opposed suffrage, and the Delineator, which attempted to address

suffrage without taking sides (Scanlon 112; Zuckerman, History 89-90).

While committed to political and social reform, Vance understood that his agenda relied

on the magazines ability entertain. Traditionally, womens magazines addressed political and

social issues through editorials and nonfiction articles and presented their fiction offerings as

pure entertainment. According to womens magazine historian Mary Ellen Zuckerman, While

some nontraditional stories, some high quality narratives, and some tales defying conventional

mores appeared [in the interwar years], they proved the exception to the rule: stories focusing on

love, romance, fantasy, and escape (History 180-1). While Vance often challenged his readers

regarding social issues, he hesitated to disrupt such genre expectations by addressing stark

subject matter in the magazines fiction. In the saturated womens magazine market, introducing

traumas of the Great War into the Pictorials fiction section could turn subscribers to

publications offering lighter fare. A story involving a love triangle between members of old New

Yorks upper-class elites thus seemed much more marketable to Vance who, at this point, did not

demur at the scathing social critique entailed in Whartons tale.

Although the Pictorial often carried critiques of American femininity, Whartons work

departed from the publications usual vein by unequivocally locating the blame for social ills in

American gender constructs. Traditionally, the criticisms carried in the Pictorial operated within

understandings of the general superiority of American women to women of other nations. 175 In

sharp contrast to this, Wharton specifically questioned American superiority, particularly in

relation to American femininity. Whartons continuous critique of nation as performed through

gender forms what Elizabeth Ammons calls Whartons Argument with America, her public

argument with America on the issue of freedom for women over more than three decades of her
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writing (Argument ix). As Americans simultaneously celebrated and decried new freedoms for

women in the early twentieth century, Wharton questioned their very existence. In her opinion,

unless society sanctioned new standards for women, new freedoms did not exist because social

customs precluded their practice. As Ammons explains, Typical women in her viewno matter

how privileged, nonconformist, or assertive . . . were not free to control their own lives, and that

conviction became the foundation of her argument with American optimism for more than

twenty years(Argument 3). 176

In addition to the practical obstacles restricting reputed American freedoms, Wharton

also critiqued the more pernicious restrictions perpetuated in American culture through its

preference for and production of childishly ignorant women. According to Wharton, patriarchal

American culture valued and produced women who neither desired freedom nor questioned

social restrictions because, like children, they were ignorant of its absence and blind to any

constraints. Wharton explicitly introduced this criticism in her fable The Valley of Childish

Things (1896) 177 and, as Ammons observes, continued to develop this theme in her fiction,

particularly in her novels The Fruit of the Tree (1907), The Children (1928), and The Age of

Innocence (Argument 11-2). 178 Wharton also expanded this critique in her non-fiction. Her

article Is there a new Frenchwoman? which appeared the Ladies Home Journal in April 1917,

explicitly blamed the American practice of dividing men and women into separate social spheres

for its effect on American women who, when compared with their European counterparts, were

still in the kindergarten (101). 179 Wharton reiterated this harsh criticism when she republished

the article as part of her book French Ways and their Meaning in August 1919, the year she

began completing The Age of Innocence for the Pictorial Review.


126

Given the prevalence of this theme in Whartons previous work, it is not surprising that it

echoes strongly throughout The Age of Innocence. Although the narratives 1870 setting

precluded direct references to contemporary culture, as Wharton biographer Hermione Lee

points out, The Age of Innocence targeted the America of the present, which she [Wharton] so

often complains about for its infantilism, nave optimism, and parochialism (562). 180 Wharton

saw these national qualities epitomized in American women, and, in The Age of Innocence,

unequivocally anchored her cultural critique in issues of gender.

Competing Femininities

When The Age of Innocence debuted in the Pictorial in 1920, it presented readers with

two types of femininity through Whartons characters May Welland and Ellen Olenska. For

Newland Archer, and, by extension, old New York, May represents the consummate American

woman, epitomizing American ideals and values. When contemplating his match to May, Archer

reflects how in spite of the cosmopolitan views on which he prided himself, he thanked heaven

that he was a New Yorker, and about to ally himself with one of his own kind (80). Archer thus

views May not merely as one of his own kind, but as one of his own kind who has preserved

him from the perils of uniting with someone different, someone Other. New York, in the novel,

represents the apex of American society and culture, and Archer and May are its best and most

authentic products. As one of his own kind, exemplifying New York, and thus American,

ideals, the blonde May is described by Archer as whiteness, radiance, goodness (74) and

truth (167). Mays individual virtues personify national values so perfectly that Archer

believes she resembles a type rather than a person; as if she might have been chosen to pose for

a [statue of] Civic Virtue (207).


127

These national virtues, Mays goodness, radiance, and whiteness, flourish through their

foundation in Mays chief qualityinnocence. As Ammons points out, May is, in many ways,

the eponymous heroine of the novel, positioning innocence as the essential quality of American

femininity (Cool Diana 212). This innocence encompasses Mays sexual inexperience, a

quality repeatedly underscored in the novel through comparisons between May and the virgin

goddess Diana (107, 210, 224), as well as her cultural and social inexperience. These facets of

innocence conflate in Archers mind as, early in the narrative, he observes May at the opera as

she watches the seduction scene in Faust. On stage, Faust convinces Marguerite to admit him to

her bedroom while, in the audience, Archer considers May:

The darling! thought Newland Archer . . . She doesnt even guess what its all

about. And he contemplated her absorbed young face with a thrill of

possessorship in which pride in his own masculine initiation was mingled with a

tender reverence for her abysmal purity. Well read Faust together . . . [sic] by

the Italian lakes . . . [sic] he thought, somewhat hazily confusing the scene of his

projected honey-moon with the masterpieces of literature which it would be his

manly privilege to reveal to his bride. (60)

As a product of Old New Yorks social system, Mays sexual purity intertwines with her cultural

naivety to form the maidenly innocence Archer values and desires. Archer thrills while

anticipating his masculine initiation, which entails the sexual induction of his virgin bride as

well as her social and cultural education. Archers delight in Mays abysmal purity conveys

Whartons indictment of such female purity as well as the society manufacturing it.
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Wharton repeatedly portrays Mays innocence as an artificial product meticulously

manufactured and maintained by the system of American culture and not, as Victorian ideals

would have it, a natural or innate quality. The novel unfolds through Archers musings, offering

no other characters point of view, and, from the beginning of the narrative, Archer regards the

women in his society as the product of the system (61). Initially pleased with this product,

Archer grows wary of Mays innocence, ultimately recognizing May as That terrifying product

of the social system he belonged to and believed in, the young girl who knew nothing and

expected everything (88). As the novel progresses, Archer becomes increasingly ambivalent

about feminine innocence. Considering how American society prepares young girls for marriage,

Archer feels discouraged by the thought that all this frankness and innocence [of Mays] were

only an artificial product (91). Archers musings underscore the manufactured nature of

feminine innocence, an unnatural quality created by generations of American women and culture

in order to please men who desire child-like brides and view knowledgeable women with

suspicion. Archer participates in this arrangement, experiencing the pride of posessorship (60,

119) whenever he contemplates Mays innocence, but, ultimately, Archer acknowledges the

failure of this system that renders May incapable of growth (329) and comes to resent the very

trait he requires in his bride.

Wharton criticizes American men for preferring ignorant women and simultaneously

indicts American women for catering to this preference. Archer articulates her indictment when

he faults the complicity behind this creation of factitious purity, so cunningly manufactured by

a conspiracy of mothers and aunts and grandmothers and long-dead ancestresses, because it was

supposed to be what he wanted, what he had a right to, in order that he might exercise his lordly

pleasure in smashing it like an image made of snow (91). Rather than a facet of civilized
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society, the lordly pleasure of dominating a sexually and culturally ignorant bride begins to

seem primitive and vulgar to Archer. 181 Archer compares the social customs surrounding his

engagement with May to those of Primitive Man . . . [when] the savage bride is dragged with

shrieks from her parents tent (90). His musings on the subject echo Whartons 1919 article

Harems and Ceremonies, which describes the child-like existence imposed on women

sequestered in Moroccan harems in order to satisfy the non-white, therefore read as primitive,

sexual appetites of the Sultans. 182 Archers observations expose Mays quintessentially

American characteristic of feminine innocence as vulgar ignorance, prized only in savage

societies (90).

May, through her innocence, exemplifies the ideals of old New York while old New York

functions as synecdochic symbol for American social values and mores. Wharton repeatedly

reinforces Mays Americanness by continually comparing her native wholesomeness with

Ellens foreign taint. When Ellen first appears, she is the subject of much speculation in New

York society due to her marriage to and separation from a Polish count. This foreign alliance is

an exotic aberration in old New York where established families defend against infiltration from

outsiders by marrying among themselves. Although Ellen is one of the esteemed Mingott clan,

her marriage to an Eastern European, combined with her unconventional childhood in Europe,

compromises her social position. In spite of her American heritage, Ellens upbringing, marriage,

and separation lead members of old New York to regard her as the strange foreign woman

(74), irrevocably different (304), and foreign (318).

If Mays defining American characteristic is her innocence, Ellens defining foreign

characteristic is her sexuality. Ellens sexual experience as an American expatriate married to an

Eastern European aristocrat, separated though not divorced, contrasts sharply with Mays chaste
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innocence. The novels opening scene establishes this contrast as Ellen sits next to May in their

Aunts opera box, which is situated across the theatre from Archers club box. As Archers peers,

New Yorks arbiters of social form, ogle Ellen through their opera glasses, they discuss her

husbands penchant for prostitutes, assume an affair between Ellen and her husbands secretary,

and brand Ellen as a woman of indiscriminate moralsall the result, they universally agree, of

her European origins. The men discuss May only in alluding to her presence as a public symbol

of her familys approval of Ellen. Mays heritage as a confirmed and upstanding member of old

New York shields her from the mens slanderous speculation while Ellens amorphous past

exposes her to male aspersions and attentions, the latter especially from Archer, who, like several

of the other society men, finds Ellens ontology exotic and alluring. 183

Ellen affirms her essential difference as a European and endeavors to erase this quality

and assimilate into New York society. She declares to Archer, I want to forget everything else,

to become a complete American again, like the Mingotts and Wellands and you (106) and,

when frustrated in this endeavor, exclaims, how I hate being different! (142). Ellens desire to

be a complete American stems from her view of New York as safe and pure and good. Ellen

covets the protection she sees in a society that values virtue, trusting in the goodness of New

Yorks Puritan morals which contrast with the European decadence that countenanced her

husbands philandering. Whartons ironic commentary on womanhood emerges from the fact

that it is the foreign European woman who fully understands the value of the American virtues

at stake in the story and sacrifices herself to preserve the integrity of the American home. Unlike

Mays blind American bliss, ignorant of virtues failings, Ellens European life has forced her

into a harsh awareness of virtues frailty. Whartons narrative thus favors the European form
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of femininity which develops women who value virtue because they understand the bankruptcy

of life without it, not merely because they are kept artificially ignorant of the existence of vice.

Wharton thus establishes two distinct types of femininity competing for viability in

American culture, the child-like girl and the mature woman. 184 However, May and Ellen also

exhibit complexity and resists simple stereotypes. At the end of the novel, May resists the

simplistic characterization of complete innocence and demonstrates her deliberate and resolute

role in forging her own ignorance when she prematurely informs Ellen, whom she believes to be

Archers mistress, that she is pregnant. As May intends, her announcement prompts Ellen to

abandon Archer and return to Europe. Two weeks after her conversation with Ellen, May

becomes certain that she is pregnant and informs Archer. Only after Mays death decades later

does Archer learn the calculated nature of Mays announcement to Ellen. This manipulation

reveals that May is not as innocent, in the sense of being ignorant or lacking duplicity, as Archer

supposes. Mays machinations reveal her rigid determination to maintain her existence as a

child-like woman, and, after her death, Archer reflects that she succeeded in sustaining a hard

bright blindness to the end of her life (329).

Ellen also resists stereotyping as she selflessly sacrifices her personal desires in order to

preserve the purported values of old New York. Throughout the novel, Ellen challenges the

customs of old New York, attending unfashionable parties, living in a bohemian part of town,

and offering compassion to Mrs. Beaufort when her husband becomes disgraced by financial

scandal. However, Ellen abandons her desires for love and a life in New York by electing to

relocate to Paris after she learns of Mays pregnancy. Ellens decision comes immediately after

she has arranged to meet with Archer and consummate their affair, an appointment she never

keeps, and Archer, who knows nothing of Mays condition, is bewildered by her plans to move,
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seeing them as her last feeble attempt to resist their overpowering attraction. Ellen, rather than

Archer, actively preserves Archers fidelity by leaving New York. Even as she departs, Archer

attempts to arrange a tryst in Paris, which Ellen deflects by insisting he come with May.

Ultimately, it is European Ellen, rather than the native-bred New Yorkers, who preserves and

embodies the espoused morals of old New York. While Ellen sacrifices her life in America in

order to preserve May and Archers marriage, she preserves herself as well, a key difference

from the play, by refusing to return to her husband and immersing herself in the stimulating,

rich atmosphere of Parisian life (338). Ellen thus emerges as the courageous heroine of the

novel, capable of passion, integrity, and strength as well as creating a viable life for herself in

spite of numerous disappointments. 185

Framing Whartons Serial

When Wharton agreed to substitute The Age of Innocence for A Son at the Front in her

contract with the Pictorial, an American womens magazine, her decision effectively carried her

criticism of American femininity directly to the audience she criticized. Although Wharton

frequently critiqued American society and femininity in her work, prior to The Age of Innocence,

she published primarily in literary magazines, such as The Saturday Evening Post, Scribners

Magazine, and McClures. As general interest publications known for fine literature and

marketed to both men and women, literary magazines framed Whartons critique of American

gender constructs in a very different manner than publications specifically intended for women.

For example, Scribners Magazine, which published both The Fruit of the Tree (1907) and The

Custom of the Country (1913) 186 framed Whartons work as high-quality literature 187 addressing

social issues of general interest and did not include illustrations or advertisements 188 with her

stories. Scribners readers thus encountered Whartons work in a manner visually reminiscent of
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a novel, without the distraction of illustrations and advertisements, which monopolized womens

periodicals.

Illustrations played a central role in womens magazine fiction, often dominating the

introductory pages of a serial with renderings of beautiful heroines in romantic settings and

situations. Wharton disliked such illustrations, but, as Jewett explained, Their [womens

magazine] subscribers demand these pictures and, when the editors pay a big price for a story

and announce it as a feature, custom forces them to carry out the whole scheme in the agreed

manner (25 Sept. 1919). 189 In conformity with this agreed manner, dramatic illustrations and

captions accompanied each womens magazine serial, underscoring the romantic tension with

illustrations of passionate moments and dialogue from the narrative. Captions including, Her

Eyes Fled to His Beseechingly, or I Have Never Made Love to You, He Said, and I Never

Shall, But You Are the Woman I Would Have Married If It Had Been Possible for Either of

Us, for example, accompanied illustrations for The Age of Innocence. 190

Womens magazines thus hailed their readers as women appreciative of fine literature but

primarily focused on romance and beauty. This view of womens magazine subscribers persisted

even at the progressive Pictorial where, Jewett reported: Vance personally appreciates the

literary quality of The Age of Innocence. He tells me, however, that he found it somewhat

above the head of his subscribers. (14 Oct. 1920). 191 Jewett also found Whartons work superior

in quality to the type of fiction associated with womens magazines and suggested that

McClures, a general-audience publication, offered a more natural audience for her work than

the Pictorial, which is chiefly a womans magazine (29 June 1920). 192 While Whartons literary

reputation carried capital in Vances campaign to attract readers, her literary style and social

critique did not. 193 Through its literary style and harsh criticism of American culture and women,
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The Age of Innocence presented the Pictorial editors with an intellectual social critique that

Vance feared might be too high-brow for his middle-class readers, the very readers he hoped to

attract.

In order to harmonize Whartons serial with readers expectations, the Pictorial framed

and marketed The Age of Innocence in a manner emphasizing the typical themes of womens

magazine fictionromance and the precariousness of marriage. The Pictorial highlighted

romantic themes through the lavish illustrations by W. B. King that framed the text of the serial.

By and large, Kings illustrations featured the Countess Ellen Olenska in exquisite 1870s gowns,

often in the act of submitting to the desiring gaze of a fashionable gentleman. While the lack of

illustrations in literary periodicals like Scribners allowed the readers imagination free rein,

Kings detailed illustrations in the Pictorial directed readers to focus on Ellen and her position as

a figure inspiring male desire.

Kings leading illustration for the first installment established this focus through its

depiction of Ellen in her first meeting with Archer after she arrives from Europe (see fig. 2). The

image portrays Ellen in an opera box with May, Mays mother Mrs. Welland, and their aunt Mrs.

Lovell Mingott, each elegantly dressed in cascading ruffles, trimmed in lace, and elegantly

coiffured. Only Ellen faces the viewer, framed by the other women as she looks up at Archer

who leans over her while gazing down into her eyes. Placing Ellen and Archer at the center of

this inaugural illustration and offering a full view of Ellens face alone invited readers to identify

with Ellen. In addition, King placed Archer above and between Ellen and May who are seated,

visually foreshadowing the forthcoming triangle of affection as May gazes up at Archer who

looks into Ellens eyes. The caption assists with this foreshadowing as it reiterates Ellens

recollection in the text of her childhood romance with Archer: We Did Used to Play Together,
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Didnt We? You Were a Horrid Boy, and Kissed Me Once Behind a Door, Ellen recalls. This

inaugural illustration thus set the tone for the serial by directing readers to focus on the romantic

tension between Ellen and Archer. Kings illustrations and captions underscored Ellens

beautiful, fashionable, and desirable, aspects, thus demonstrating the Pictorials regard for

Ellens sexual allure as a form of capital carrying value in entertainment womens magazine

fiction.

Fig. 2 W.B. Kings Opening Illustration for The Age of Innocence,


Pictorial Review July 1920, p. 5.
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This theme also dominated the Pictorials marketing campaign for The Age of Innocence,

which stressed Ellens seductiveness while positioning her sexuality as distinctly foreign. A June

advertisement attempted to entice readers to the upcoming serial by describing Ellens effect on

Archer. Archer, the ad explained, was fond of his wife, But until Countess Olenska returned

from Europe he never knew what real love meant (The Age June). The ad then describes

how, in the presence of this new migr, the banked fires in his heart burst into flame (The

Age June). The Pictorials marketing contrasts the passion Ellen ignites with the cool

fond[ness] May inspires, while Ellens foreign ontology, along with her foreign title and

surname, align this difference in ardor with the womens difference in nationality. The Pictorial

continued this emphasis in the September issue, which repeated this description in a teaser on the

magazines first page and, in an inset on the serials first page, summarized the plot by

contrasting Ellen, with all the allure that European experience had given her, to May, sweetly

conventional . . . [and] girlishly conservative, so obviously the kind of woman he [Archer] ought

to marry (20). Reiterating Ellens European origins positioned her sex appeal as enticingly

exotic and reassuringly foreign, simultaneously entertaining and separate. Positioning Ellens

passion as Other allowed the Pictorial to exploit the entertainment value of the sexually

experienced and desirous femininity she embodies while maintaining the dominant discourse of

American moral superiority in May, the woman Archer ought to want. In addition, this

framing reduced the characters essential differences to their ability to inspire Archers affection,

thus deflecting attention from the social issues Wharton worked to address.

The Pictorials marketing and illustrations framed The Age of Innocence within two

genres of womens magazinesromantic fiction and domestic advice. In addition to offering


137

escapist fiction, womens magazines maintained their market niche by providing readers with

advice from purported experts on everything from household appliances to marital bliss. The

Pictorials marketing for The Age of Innocence highlighted Mays character in a manner meant

to play on readers anxieties regarding marriage and impress readers with their need for the

Pictorials instruction. 194 To this end, page one of the Pictorials June 1920 issue announced

Whartons upcoming serial with a bold heading inquiring, Does Your Husband Really Love

You? The text continued this interrogation by asking readers:

Honestly now, does he? Or does he just tolerate you? Has his love ever really

been tested? You may be in young Mrs. Archers position without knowing it.

Her husband was fond of her of course . . . But until Countess Olenska returned

from Europe he never knew what real love meant. Suddenly the banked fires of

his heart burst into flame. How would you have stood the test? How would you

have combated the other woman? These absorbing questions are answered in a

thrilling masterpiece of human characterization beginning in Pictorial Review

next month entitled The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. (1)

Through these questions, the Pictorial directed readers to picture themselves not as the alluring

Olenska, but as May, the wronged wife, a wife sorely in need of the periodicals expertise. The

September issue introduced a description of The Age of Innocence with the heading How Do

You Know Your Husband Loves You? hinting, like that June ad, that the serial would answer

this burning question (1). Such copy implied that the serial would reveal the signs of

disingenuous domesticity and enable readers to detect and protect against such disturbances in

their own homes. The Pictorial thus enhanced the entertainment value contained in Mays
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situation by linking her dilemma, and, by extension, her femininity, directly to their readers. In

assigning their readers the role of May, the Pictorial thus encouraged their audience to relate to

rather than reflect on the intractably and artificially innocent form of femininity Wharton wished

to critique.

The Pictorial continued this association by promoting Whartons narrative alongside the

magazines Marriage Contest. Under the heading Tell Us What You Really Think about

Marriage, the Pictorial asked readers to write in with their opinions and observations on the

current state of marriage (Marriage). The Pictorial positioned this contest alongside copy and

illustrations advertising The Age of Innocence, thus tying concerns about marriage in America to

Mays situation and prompting readers to scrutinize their own marriages while reading about

Mays. By associating readers with May, the Pictorial established Mays ultimate success in

preserving her marriage as a synecdochic success for their readers and a beacon of hope for

American women engaged in combat[ing] the [O]ther woman (The Age June). The

Pictorials framing of Whartons serial thus privileged the femininity protecting rather than

threatening the American home as symbolized in May and Archers white, upper-class,

heteronormative, reproductive union.

By encouraging readers to revel in Ellens romance with Archer while rooting for Mays,

and, by extension, their own, success, the Pictorial simultaneously capitalized on Mays

femininity as well as Ellens. Pitting foreign immorality against American fealty reframed

Whartons criticism of American social systems as a celebration of American virtue in the face

of foreign threats, a theme in keeping with the dominant discourse of American superiority in

womens magazines. As a result, the Pictorial conveyed Whartons story as a text primarily on
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marriage and infidelity rather than gender and social systems. The Pictorials presentation of The

Age of Innocence thus reveals the higher entertainment value in womens magazine fiction of the

domestic dilemma over national critique. It also demonstrates the careful calibrations required to

capitalize on female sexuality in womens magazine fiction. Kings illustrations emphasized

Ellens attractiveness while the Pictorials marketing campaign deliberately distanced her sexual

experience and appeal from the narratives American heroine and, by extension, the magazines

American readers. The illustrations and marketing thus worked in concert to construct a sexual,

foreign femininity contained by American feminine fealty and, therefore, marketable to

American womens magazine readers.

Adapting The Age of Innocence

In the midst of its serial publication, D. Appleton and Company released The Age of

Innocence as a novel in October 1920, and, by December, film companies and stage producers

were clamoring to buy the rights for adapting Whartons work. 195 Eventually, Warner Brothers

produced a silent film version in 1924, starring Beverly Bayne as Ellen. 196 In 1924, Wharton also

considered authorizing a stage version based on a scenario for the play prepared by her friend

playwright Edward Sheldon. Wharton wrote to Sheldon, praising his scenario as admirable and

declaring, How I wish you felt like dramatizing the book yourself (qtd. in E. Barnes 149).

Apparently uninterested, Sheldon focused instead on completing the script for Lulu Belle, a play

he co-wrote with Charles MacArthur and which opened successfully on Broadway in February

1926.
140

Shortly after this theatrical success, Sheldon learned that Margaret Ayer Barnes, a

childhood friend of his, was seeking medical treatment from Dr. Russell Hibbs, Sheldons own

surgeon in New York. As teenagers, Sheldon and Barnes became friends during summer

vacations in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and remained in contact during Sheldons time as a student

at Harvard. Having lost touch through the years, Sheldon renewed their acquaintance via

telegram after learning that Barnes would be visiting Dr. Hibbs. Barnes had suffered a head-on

collision while motoring in France the previous year and had decided to consult Dr. Hibbs

regarding a surgical solution for her continuing pain. 197

Sheldon had met Dr. Hibbs when, as a young man and a promising playwright, Sheldon

developed debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. As treatment after treatment failed, Sheldon became

bedridden, paralyzed from the neck down. Eventually, Sheldon lost his eyesight and, in his later

years, his ability to speak. Throughout his illness, Sheldon exhibited tremendous courage and

refused to despair. Realizing the disease had permanently limited his abilities, Sheldon set up

residence in a New York penthouse, which he dubbed his Roof Bungalow, 198 and established

himself as a central figure in the cultural life of the city. Almost nightly, Sheldon played host to

the social and cultural elite of New York, chatting with intimate friends, including Ethel

Barrymore, John Barrymore, Thornton Wilder, Billie Burke, Helen Hayes, Corneila Otis

Skinner, and Anita Loos. 199 Unable to eat without assistance, Sheldon arranged exquisite dinners

for his guests and conversed with them while they enjoyed the repast. Sheldons strength,

warmth, talent, advice, and connections made him an invaluable friend and asset to many in the

arts community.

Before his illness, Sheldon had established his reputation with plays such as Salvation

Nell (1908) and The Nigger, a play concerning racial injustice in the South (1909). After his
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illness, Sheldon continued to write, collaborating from his penthouse with artists including Ruth

Draper, Charles MacArthur, and Sidney Howard, creating plays such as Lulu Belle (1926),

Bewitched (1924), and Dishonoured Lady (1930). Sheldon offered feedback on works such as

Our Town and provided copious, detailed advice for actors, including Helen Hayes and John

Barrymore. 200 Sheldon remained so active in the New York theatre scene that his biographer Eric

Barnes claims, there was no [Broadway] season during those years [1930 to 1946] which did

not see at least one play in which he had some part, and frequently two or three (207). Indeed,

Sheldons insightful and supportive commentary made him one of the most sought-after voices

in American theatre from the 1920s until his death in 1946. 201

Prior to her surgery, Margaret Ayer Barnes paid Sheldon a visit at his New York

apartment in March 1926. Sheldon understood Barness recovery would require several months

of hospitalization, much of this spent immobilized by a backboard. Intimately familiar with

immobility, Sheldon communicated with Barnes frequently throughout her hospital stay and sent

numerous gifts and telegrams to encourage her throughout her recovery. 202 In an additional effort

to relieve her tedium, Sheldon asked Barnes, who held an English degree from Bryn Mawr, to

write current descriptions updating him on their old acquaintances. This exercise opened

conversations on the subject of writing, and, shortly before Barnes returned to her home in

Chicago, Sheldon suggested that she attempt to write a stage adaptation of The Age of Innocence.

Before leaving New York, Barnes visited Sheldon to discuss the details and a possible

plot structure for the script (E. Barnes 153). Barnes made notes from their conversation, which

she later employed in structuring the play. 203 By early November, Barnes had completed the first

act of the play, which she anxiously forwarded to Sheldon for comment. Sheldon replied four

days later, exclaiming, Hooray! Hooray! I knew you would do it! Dear Margaret, it is beautiful.
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In every way. (Telegram to Barnes 7 Nov. 1926). 204 Sheldon cabled the following day, saying

he had read it a second time and was just as enthusiastic as the day before (8 Nov. 1926).

Sheldons enthusiasm pleased Barnes but did not prepare her for his next telegram, which

announced that his friend Edith Wharton had accepted joyfully his offer to purchase the

dramatic rights in a formal arrangement for Barness adaptation (9 Nov. 1926).

Sheldon met Wharton in 1923 when Whartons sister-in-law Mary Cadwalader Jones

introduced them during what would be Whartons last visit to America. Wharton remained

friends with Sheldon throughout her life, and the two corresponded regularly. 205 Jones, who had

befriended Sheldon before his illness, maintained a close relationship with him as well, dining

with Sheldon every Thursday evening until her death in 1935 (E. Barnes 132). This relationship

proved invaluable during the adaptation of The Age of Innocence, for, in addition to being

Whartons sister-in-law, Jones operated as Whartons researcher, proof-reader, and legal

representative in all theatrical and cinematographic matters (qtd. in Lee 590). Sheldon cabled

Wharton on November 9th, telling her he had found someone to dramatize The Age of Innocence

and promising that the dramatization would be made under my professorship and [the] finished

play submitted for your approval (9 Nov. 1926). Trusting Sheldons judgment, Wharton

accepted his offer of five-hundred dollars and the conditions that she and Barnes would share

equal royalties for the play and that all rights would revert to Wharton if the play was not

produced within two years. Their agreement, however, stipulated nothing regarding the novels

central criticism of American femininity, leaving Barnes and Sheldon free to adapt Whartons

argument, and the gender it criticized, however they wished.

With Barnes residing in Chicago and Sheldon confined to his apartment in New York,

Sheldons promised professorship amounted to a kind of correspondence course, with Barnes


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mailing in drafts and Sheldon returning them with edits, a process Barnes dubbed Sears-

Roebuck collaboration (Letter to Sheldon 3 Nov. 1926). Sheldon thus played a key role in

creating the adaptation, although he did not receive authorship credit. 206 Barnes thoroughly

enjoyed the process, exclaiming to Sheldon, I am getting a liberal education from writing this

play. And, Oh [sic], Ned, how I LOVE to try to do it! (Letter 29 Nov. 1926). Sheldon expressed

equal enthusiasm, cabling Barnes in January saying, All changes are splendid you have done

them beautifully and I am very happy (26 Jan. 1927).

While Sheldon proved a playwrights dream collaborator, Wharton became Barness

nightmare supervisor. Sheldon communicated directly with Wharton as well as discussing

matters with Mary Cadwalader Jones, but Barnes communicated with Wharton only through

Sheldon and received her instructions through Sheldon and Jones. Barnes felt Joness comments

addressed only surface snags and longed for more penetrating insights she expected from

Wharton (Letter to Sheldon 20 Aug.1927), but, despite promises of detailed scene by scene

comments, Wharton failed to provide such feedback to Sheldon and Barnes and, ultimately,

refused to read the final script (Barnes Letter to Sheldon 6 July 1927). Wharton did, however,

skim the initial draft and communicated her comments via telegram and Jones.

Adapting Masculinity, Class, and Nationality

Although Barness adaptation presented a drastic departure from Whartons portrayal and

criticisms of American femininity, Whartons chief complaints against Barnes addressed the

plays incongruous language 207 and characterization of Newland Archer. Wharton found

Barness elimination of Archers formative travels to Europe and the addition of a political and

military career for his character particularly irksome. She believed these specific alterations

would destroy [the] character of [the] play (Telegram to Sheldon, n.d.). 208 Writing to Sheldon,
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Wharton declared, It is impossible to represent Newland Archer as a man who has never been to

Europe . . . To any one of my generation in New York, this would have simply been incredible

(6 July 1927). Barnes, however, considered Whartons conventional Archer bland and suspected

that audiences would find Ellens attraction to a corresponding stage version difficult to believe.

Mrs. Whartons Archer was a snob and a bore, Barnes declared in a letter to Sheldon, and

explained that she failed to see how this Archer attracted the very brilliant and genuine and

sophisticated Ellen Olenska (13 Sept. 1927).

Barness character shifts thus originated in her understanding of femininity, particularly

the cultivated yet unpretentious femininity embodied in Ellen, and materialized in Archers

masculinity. Barnes set out to increase Archers appeal for Ellen by creating a character history

that included four years of fighting as a soldier in the American Civil War followed by a stint

with Custer battling Cheyennes in Kansas. 209 In Barness adaptation, Archers military

experience carries into an active political career as well, devoted to, as Archer puts it, fight[ing]

for the under dog [sic]! (1-23). 210 Barness Archer thus stands in sharp contrast to Whartons

protagonist who praises social change but enjoys the privileges of tradition too much to actually

act on his ideals. Barness script depicts an Archer who devotes his life to challenging Boss

Tweed and the machinery of Tammany Hall, repeatedly running for office in an effort to fight

systematic corruption. The play thus portrays a more rugged and patriotic, and, Barnes believed,

attractive Archer than Whartons aesthete gentleman who establishes his manhood through

European travels and museum tours. Indeed, Barnes viewed Archers political activities as

Ellens most convincing reason for falling in love with him (Letter to Sheldon 30 Mar. 1928).
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Barnes felt that this continuous political activity functioned as a logical prelude to the

political interest Archer forms late in life in Whartons narrative. 211 Defending her changes to

Sheldon, Barnes chafed,

I never saw any reason, except that Mrs. Wharton said so, to believe her sappy

Archer who sat on his Eastlake furniture and read his first editions of Matthew

Arnold and drifted with the social current and took the line of least resistence [sic]

and evaded the real issues of life and thought it was important whom the Van der

Luydens asked to dinner, EVER became a man of any real importance in his later

years. (Letter 13 Sept. 1927)

For her part, Wharton found the political interests of Barness Archer inconsistent with

his class standing and repeatedly expressed her objections through Jones. Jones voiced

Whartons concerns in meetings with Barnes on September 9th and 13th, 1927, which Barnes

recounted in a letter to Sheldon. Pointing out the similarities between Jones and Whartons

attitudes and those of the novels conventional characters, Barnes reported, She and Mrs.

Wharton feel absolutely with the van der Luydens that a genteel young man would not dabble in

politics! She said, actually SAID, Edith thought he would not have been so vulgar. [sic]

Meaning so vulgar as to fight Tweed. And they also think it would have been a bit common to

join up with Custer to fight Indians (9 Sept. 1927).Wharton and Jones found Archers

common and vulgar activities incompatible with his upper-class position, 212 not realizing

that Barnes had imbued her Archer with a central disregard for social prejudices and boundaries

in a deliberate attempt to make him believably attractive to Ellen.


146

In an effort designed to appeal to both Ellen and middle-class Broadway audiences,

Barnes also made her Archer less cavalier about class privilege. In the book, class issues trouble

Archer only when social constraints prevent him from being with Ellen, causing him to envy the

relative social freedom of those outside his eminent circle. The book further exposes Archers

hypocrisy as he defends Ellens disregard for class boundaries but strictly maintains them in his

own encounters, avoiding Mrs. Struthers parties because of her working-class origins and never

inviting his working-class journalist friend Ned Winsett into his own upper-class home. Barnes

eliminates this hypocrisy in the play, imbuing Archer with a class conscious concern that inspires

his social action. At the beginning of the play, Archer praises the good men . . . [sic] honest

men (1-25) he has encountered in the working-class, plans to attend a firemans ball, and boasts

of his astonishingly wide acquaintance in the Fire Department (1-28).

Barnes considered Archers working-class sympathies essential for making him attractive

to contemporary audiences. In discussing how to handle Whartons objections to her version of

Archer, Barnes wrote to Sheldon admonishing,

. . . we MUST struggle to keep him a politician and make him a hero that sees the

short comings in his, after all, extremely provincial environment. There will be a

great many more people who agree with Sherwood Anderson 213 than with Mrs.

Jones [and Mrs. Wharton] on the East 11th Street background, in any modern

audience. Our hero MUST be working with them not against them. (Letter 13

Sept. 1927)

After receiving these instructions from Barnes, Sheldon contacted Wharton, offering to reinsert

Archers European tours but arguing against eliminating his political career. Ironically, Sheldon

appealed to Whartons classist attitudes in his reasons for preserving Archers politics. To
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Wharton, Sheldon argued that the political and patriotic Archer would be theatrically more

effective and more comprehensible to [an] unsophisticated audience (Telegram 22 Sept. 1927).

Wharton conceded that there was No need to suppress Archers [sic] political career as long as

Sheldon would make him a gentleman in politics like Roosevelt 214 (Telegram to Sheldon,

n.d.).

Barnes, however, focused on making Archer into more of a hero than a gentleman,

believing that her heroine, as well as her audience, required a champion. As Barnes argued to

Sheldon, He [Archer] has to make some romantic, heroic, appeal to the audience, as he does to

Ellen (Letter 13 Sept. 1927), and Whartons Archer is not the stuff of which heros [sic] are

made! (Letter 10 Aug.1927). Accordingly, Barnes painted Archers political career with the

mythic heroism of Arthurian legend, a device elevating both Archer and the nation he served to

mythic glory while reducing Ellen to the role of supportive leading lady. In Archers first

discussion with Ellen in the play, he refers to himself as a crusader when describing his initial

attempt against Tweed (1-23). Archer lapses into a speech about Americas future, and Ellen,

Who has been listening with glowing attention, responds to his plans exclaiming, Its

adventure! Its romance! Its young America riding out in quest of the Grail! (1-25). Archer

views this holy quest as merely part of a national campaign for the future, a campaign making

the nation richer and stronger and greater all the time until it becomes the greatest nation on

earth (1-25). Barnes ennobles Archers political and national ambition to the point that his civic

potential dominates the play, even competing with his affection for Ellen. Later in the play, Ellen

tries to convince Archer to abandon his plan to run off with her by admitting, You wont be

happy! . . . Im not the great love of your life! Your great love is your career, the country! (3-19,

3-20). 215 Archers patriotism thus replaces his passion as his driving motivation, and, in Barness
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opinion, made him less of a cad for abandoning Ellen who, in Barness version, recognizes the

superior call of Archers national service (Letter to Sheldon 29 Nov. 1926). Framing Archers

political career as a noble national quest superior to his feelings for Ellen made Archer, in

Barness opinion, a much more attractive, and, hence, marketable figure than Whartons

absurd creation (Letter to Sheldon 29 Nov. 1926).

However, the heroism Barnes inserted into Archers political endeavors drastically

altered the narratives central discussion of femininity by aligning both Ellen and May with his

national concerns. As discussed earlier, in the serial, May and Ellen exemplify Whartons view

of the essential differences between American and European femininity, with May representing

American innocence and, in Whartons view, ignorance, and Ellen portraying European

experience and sophistication. Throughout the novel, May and Ellen stand in opposition to each

other as representatives of two antithetical and indigenous forms of femininity.

Barness adaptation, however, eliminated this comparison by presenting both women as

examples of American femininity. Early in the writing process, Barnes excised dialogue carrying

the American/Foreign, May/Ellen dichotomy from the novel into the play. Barnes justified her

edits to Sheldon, explaining that the discussion of national differences did not advance the

action. As a solution, she suggested MUCH less talk between Ellen and Archer about her little

house and American women versus European women in the opening of their scene (Letter to

Sheldon 21 Feb. 1927). In addition to deleting discussions of American women versus

European women, Barnes downplayed Ellens foreignness by portraying her as an essentially

American woman. Sheldon and Barnes cut dialogue, such as the following conversation, which

positioned Ellen as an example of foreign femininity. When Archer complains that no other
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woman understands his political aims, Ellen attributes her support for his career to her foreign

origins, replying,

ELLEN. Ah, Im European. Over there women are trained to be interested

absorbed in their men.

ARCHER. American women arent [sic] like that.

ELLEN. No. With all their freedom they seem to me to live in an intellectual

harem of their own making. No man enters it. And they never step out from

behind the bars to share their mens interests. Perhaps you like it that way.

You nave Americans. Theres a charm to the seraglio. 216

The dialogue indicates that Barnes not only understood Whartons argument about American and

European femininity but was familiar with the attitudes, discussed earlier, that Wharton

presented in her articles Is there a new Frenchwoman? and Harems and Ceremonies.

However, such sentiments from Ellen, contrasting her European nature to nave

Americans, disappeared as the script evolved. Barnes omitted these passages from later

versions 217 and instead introduced dialogue asserting Ellens authenticity as an American

woman. As discussed earlier, in the novel, Ellen tries to become a complete American again

(106) but is constantly conscious of her failure to assimilate. When she refers to herself as

American, it is with an ironic sound (188), and she deflects one of Archers advances by

retorting I dont speak your language (160). In the play, however, Ellen speaks this line, but

also tells Beaufort, a European, that she and Archer are both good Americans. We speak the

same language (2-8) and, she continues, they discuss politics in the vernacular (2-14).
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Barness version of Ellen thus aligns Ellen with Archer and America while eschewing the

foreignness associated with the European Beaufort.

Barnes also carried Ellens democratic social views from the novel into the play by

retaining Ellens friendly acquaintance with her working-class neighbors, a relationship

established in the novel. While these practices mark Ellen as foreign in the novel, in the play,

Archer espouses them as well, making her egalitarianism distinctly American. In the play, this

quality also sets Ellen apart from May, who discourages Archer from socializing with the

working class. Ellen maintains her exotic European allure in the play, retaining her too

European (1-6) low-cut dress, but her patriotic zeal, egalitarianism, and interest in social justice

and civic duty make her, in many ways, more American than May. The play thus presents Ellen

as a competing ideal of American femininity rather than a foreign infiltration.

While Whartons novel juxtaposes May and Ellen as products of polarized gender

systems, the play positions both women within a value system that determines their worth based

on their ability to buttress American patriarchy. As American women in the play, both May and

Ellen perform gender primarily through their ability to preserve Archers political prowess and,

thus, Americas future. Throughout the play, Ellen and May thus demonstrate their worthiness as

women through their worthiness as citizens. Ellen voices this valuation of femininity in her first

conversation with Archer, telling him he must marry a woman who will support his political

career. Employing Arthurian imagery, Ellen warns Archer, If shes the right kind [of woman],

you can fight the devil from a fortress and sanctuary. If shes the wrong kind, youll be left

shattered in the garden of the enchantress and you wont do any fighting any more (1-26). Ellen

explains that the enchantress, who resembles Whartons view of childish femininity, destroys the

crusaders potency because she is a helpless human being who clings to a man and cries like a
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frightened child, thus deflecting him from his purpose (1-27). The play thus reduces femininity

to a quality valuable or worthless in its relation to male and, by extension, national achievement.

Within this system, the play initially establishes May, who disapproves of Archers

political interests, as inferior to Ellen, who supports and admires Archers civic service. 218 In act

one, May deprecates Archers political activities and declares that if he loves her he will leave

politics for good, an ultimatum that threatens to deter Archer from his political pursuits (2-22).

However, later in the play, May shifts her opinion. In act three, May discovers that Archer is

having an affair with Ellen, another departure from the book. After discovering a piece of

Archers clothing in Ellens apartment, May claims to change her opinion about politics and

credits Ellen with leading her to realize their import. May shrewdly invokes the primacy of

politics as she attempts to convince Ellen to end her affair with Archer, who will be unable to

support a railroad bill, the most important bill of his career, if he elopes with Ellen. May argues,

without ever explicitly acknowledging the affair, that Nothing ought to count with Newland

[Archer], ought it, except his career? (3-26). Nothing, Ellen agrees (3-26). May advances her

cause in a similar vein when telling Ellen that she is pregnant. May artfully aligns her condition

with Archers career, explaining how it fulfills what he says about every country needing men

who can work hard and fight hard and have plenty of children (3-26). Mays pregnancy thus

makes Archer the ideal civil servant. By couching her argument in terms of Archers political

success, May convinces Ellen of her superior claim and persuades Ellen to abandon Archer.

The plays epilogue condones Mays actions and, given the value system of the play,

affirms her femininity by revealing Archers later success in becoming a senator and, eventually,

the Secretary of State, more than he ever accomplishes as Whartons creation. The play also

removes any indication that May deceives Ellen by announcing her pregnancy prematurely, thus
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removing the complexity Mays character exhibits in the serial and lending her innocent purity

an authenticity Wharton attenuates through Mays deliberate manipulation. In the play, May acts

with apparently pure motives when facilitating Archers national service by preserving her

marriage and preventing scandal. The play thus unites Archers political prowess with Mays

feminine concern for home and family.

Rather than standing in contrast to the patriotic and domestic femininity May ultimately

embodies, Ellen embraces the same American values May exhibits, thus eliminating the central

contrast of Whartons novel. In the play, Ellen and May differ more in their timing than their

femininity. While May initially condemns Archers political efforts, Ellen admires his ambitions

from the beginning, cheering him in his quest for the Grail and following his political

successes and defeats with interest. May adopts this attitude towards Archers career later in the

play but supports his desire for marriage and family from the beginning, a position Ellen upholds

only after learning May is pregnant. Throughout the play, Barnes indicates that, like May, Ellen

longs to have a child, a longing absent from the novel. Motivated by love of country and the

sanctity of family, quintessential American values, Ellen abandons Archer after learning he is to

be a father, thus sacrificing her individual happiness to preserve his family and his career.

Indeed, Barnes understood Archers political career as Ellens most powerful motive for her

subsequent action [ending their affair] her desire not to wreck a really important life (Letter to

Sheldon 30 Mar. 1928). Ellen thus safeguards Archers reputation and really important life by

sacrificing her, by implication, unimportant existence. Ellen demonstrates her value as an

American woman while also recognizing Mays marital and maternal femininity as more

valuable to Archer and, thus, America than her own. The play thus parallels the feminine

microcosm of May and Ellens personal sacrifices (Ellen sacrifices her affair and May accepts
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Archers infidelity), preformed in order to preserve the nuclear family, with the male macrocosm

in which Archer relinquishes Ellen and continues to pursue politics in order to protect the

nations future. Rather than revealing American hypocrisy, the play glorifies the patriotism

ultimately directing all of the characters in the play.

Adapting Racial Others

By intertwining familial and national destiny in this manner, the play addressed

contemporary anxieties about racial and national stability within the plays central concern

regarding Ellen and Archers affair. As discussed in chapter one, high levels of immigration from

Eastern Europe as well as lingering animosity towards enemy nations from the Great War fueled

racism during the inter-war years against individuals understood as racially Other from white,

Protestant Americansparticularly Eastern Europeans. Such prejudices tied to understandings of

nation in the persistent belief, supported by the science of eugenics, that only Northern

Europeans carried the racial qualities required to create and sustain American civilization

(Hutchinson 65). Emphasizing Ellens Americanness thus entailed underscoring her whiteness, a

racial quality carrying distinct cultural capital in 1920s entertainment.

Barnes and Sheldons adaptation highlights Ellens status as a white American woman by

placing her racial and national qualities in relief to the plays racial and national Others. As

discussed earlier, the serial constructs Ellen as European and May as American while the play

portrays both women as essentially American. Erasing the national difference between May and

Ellen served to remove fears of the foreign from Ellen and the femininity she represents.

Detaching foreign otherness from Ellen allowed Barnes and Sheldon to intensify negative
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stereotypes of the non-American Other for dramatic effect without compromising the capital

contained in their heroines white Americanness.

Barnes and Sheldon utilized this opportunity to create threatening and sinister depictions

of the foreign, non-white Other in Julius Beaufort, a Jewish banker and Austrian migr, and

Ellens husband, the Polish count. In creating these characters, Barnes employed racial

stereotypes and played on white anxieties about Eastern Europeans and their deficient moral

practices in order to increase the entertainment value of Ellens femininity by placing her in

contrast to and, in the case of the count, in danger of, these characters. In the novel as well as the

play, Beaufort and the count pursue sexual relationships with Ellen, and both the novel and the

play indicate that their sexual morals, along with their racial origins, exist outside the boundaries

of white New York society. 219 The play thus links the perils Ellen faces, particularly in the areas

of love and reproduction, to those confronting white hegemony in contemporary America.

Barnes initiated this alteration to Whartons narrative by making Beauforts character

Jewish in the stage version. In the stage directions, Barnes describes Beaufort as slightly

Hebraic in feature, [and] subtly foreign in appearance (1-10). This description departs from the

novel, which describes Beauforts origins as mysterious and foreign (70, 321) but does not

designate his character as Jewish. 220 The script, however, links Beauforts foreignness with a

Jewish ethnicity that the play characterizes as a racial identity, a concept common in 1920s

American culture (2-13). Repeatedly throughout the play, characters reference the racial and

national difference between Beaufort and Ellen, using Beauforts European and Jewish origins to

underscore Ellens white, American heritage. Mrs. Mingott, the matriarch of May and Ellens

family, for example, warns Beaufort to stop pursuing Ellen because Ellens not your kind . . .

shes American through and through (1-11). Ellen confirms this view when she tells Beaufort,
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We Americans are beyond you . . . You dont understand us any better than Anastasia, her

Italian maid who only speaks Italian (italics added 2-8). 221 In addition, Beauforts reference to

my race in a conversation with Ellen, indicates his own understanding of his ethnicity as a

racial designation and, moreover, a racial designation he and Ellen do not share (2-13).

Separating Ellen and Beaufort departs from the novel, which aligns them as outsiders with

foreign qualities threatening the stability of New York societyBeaufort through his unethical

financial dealings which spark a financial crisis, and Ellen through her sexuality which sparks an

attraction endangering old New Yorks premier couple. The play, however, underscores Ellens

whiteness and Americanness by distancing her from Beauforts Otherness as an Austrian Jew.

Beauforts ethnicity thus carries capital primarily as a contrast highlighting Ellens race and

nationality.

As a foil for Ellen, Beaufort gained an increasingly important role in the plot of the play.

In the novel, Beaufort functions as a minor character, interested in Ellen but also conducting an

affair with a mistress he eventually marries. In the play, however, Beaufort serves as a major

character receiving almost as much stage time as Archer. Beaufort also holds a more central role

in Ellens life in the play, emerging as the man who faced down her husband and aided her in her

escape from his control. 222 Courageous and deeply in love with Ellen, Beaufort pursues Ellen in

a more blatant and single-minded manner in the play than in the novel. Although married, as he

is in the novel, Beaufort lacks a mistress in the play and overtly attempts to persuade Ellen to

take on this role, offering to save her a second time from her husband who is on his way to New

York to reclaim her. Beaufort declares his love for Ellen in the penultimate scene of the play, a

scene critics found particularly moving, 223 but Ellen declares that, in spite of their close

friendship, she is powerless to love Beaufort. One cant control love, she explains, One cant
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tell it to come . . . [sic] or go (3-12). Ellen claims she cannot control her heart, indicating that

the racial preference of her heart for the white, American Archer rather than the foreign, Jewish

Beaufort, reflects the natural inclinations of her white, female affection. Like Magnolia in Show

Boat, Ellen cant help lovin dat man. Both women are helpless when it comes to the

heteronormative love of a white mana marketable construct of female desire in 1920s

commercial theatre.

While Beaufort represents a noble but, ultimately, incompatible foreign and racial

Otherness, Ellens husband Count Olenska presents a more extreme racist stereotype associating

Eastern Europeans with degenerate sexual appetites. In the novel, Ellen leaves her husband, a

Polish count, for unspecified reasons. Various characters hint at his serial infidelity with

prostitutes, but Ellen never names his improprieties. The play, however, capitalizes on 1920s

xenophobia by specifying the counts atrocities, which entail numerous affairs, including one

with a teenage peasant girl on his estate. Ellen mourns this particular affair because, she explains,

She . . . [sic] had the baby I wanted (2-48). In addition to this, Ellen presents documents

proving that her husband beat her, raped a little girl, and, in an atrocity later cut from the final

version, raped a ten-year-old boy. 224 Enumerating the Counts crimes in the play served to

construct Eastern European society as essentially depraved. The Counts victims have no

recourse in these cases because, as Ellen explains, the Eastern European social structure favors

the Count. When Archer asks why no one prosecuted the Count for these actions, Ellen replies

You dont know Europe, affirming Americas moral and, in the racist logic of the play, racial

superiority over this immoral, non-white continent (2-49). 225

As discussed earlier, many white Americans at this time believed that evolution and

eugenics scientifically demonstrated the intrinsically lower moral nature of non-white races,
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including Eastern Europeans. According to historian Peggy Pascoe, several ethnologists and

eugenicists in the 1920s reported on the racial differences between fair whites, or Northern

Europeans, and dark whites, or Southern Europeans (118). According to these experts, Eastern

Europeans qualified as dark whites, a category viewed as racially and morally inferior to

Northern Europeans. 226 Increased immigration from Eastern Europe during this period thus

inspired anxieties about interracial sex in America, particularly child-producing unions

between Eastern European men and white women. Such fears played out in numerous accounts,

several claiming to be based in fact, of white slaverythe forced prostitution of white women

instigated by non-white men. White slavery stories carried tremendous value in entertainment,

appearing in novels, on Broadway, and permeating the film industry in the early 1910s. 227

Barnes and Sheldon altered the narratives ending in order to capitalize on the lingering

entertainment value representations of white women sexually victimized by non-white men

carried in 1928. Accordingly, at the end of the play, Ellen sacrifices herself by returning to

Europe with the count and agreeing to reinstate herself there as his wife in order to effectively

end to her affair with Archer. Given the counts former atrocities, Ellens decision to return to

this life seems tragic and terrifying, an effect Barnes relished. Sheldon and Barnes considered

including the count in the play, but Barnes concluded that leaving him off stage made his

character more terrifying, more of a mythical monster rather than just a bad husband (Letter to

Sheldon 2 May 1927). In order to maximize the horror of his claim on Ellen, giving the sense of

the Minotaur, waiting for the maiden, Barnes cut several scenes involving the count, hoping

his physical absence from the stage would increase the horrors her audience imagined for Ellen

at their reunion (Letter to Sheldon 2 May 1927).


158

Barness desire to accentuate the counts depravity and Ellens vulnerability indicate the

entertainment value attributed to representations of white women as sexual victims of foreign,

non-white depravity. Barness ending differs dramatically from the novel, which concludes with

Ellen returning to Europe but not to her husband. In the novel, Ellen determines to leave New

York after she learns that May is pregnant and persuades Mrs. Mingott, her grandmother, to

provide for her financially so that she has no need to return to her husband. Ellen thus retains her

independence, her integrity, and her joie de vivre, while still losing Archer. 228 In the play,

however, Ellen ends in the hands of a man she describes as a monster, a demon, something . . .

[sic] something out of the pit! (2-50). Rather than a woman in control of her own sexuality,

Barnes portrays Ellen as a sexual victim, fated to succumb to men and desires outside of her

control. Barnes applied this interpretation even to Ellens affair with Archer, which, in contrast

the novel, the couple consummates in the play the night before May reveals she is pregnant.

Barnes attributed Ellens decision to sleep with Archer, a morally ambiguous act, to the count

rather than Ellens own desires. After dealing with the count, Barnes explained to Sheldon, Ellen

would be emotionally spent and Easy prey to reaction (Letter 2 May 1927). Barness

adaptation of The Age of Innocence thus reveals that depictions of sexually reactive women held

more entertainment value in 1920s drama than representations sexually autonomous women.

As discussed earlier, sexually active women held entertainment value as long as their

activity remained contained within social norms. Accordingly, Barnes contained Ellens desire

within accepted class, race, and ethnic boundaries by limiting her affection, as discussed earlier,

as well as her fertility. Barnes contained the threat Ellens sexuality presented to white

hegemony and national stability by rendering her character infertile. As Ellens comments about

the peasant girls baby indicate, Ellen longs for a child, but, the play implies, is unable to
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produce one. While tragic and painful for Ellen, her infertility increases her entertainment value

by making her sympathetic, through the personal tragedy she suffers, and by mitigating the threat

her sexual activity poses to Archers family and career. Although Ellen sleeps with Archer in the

play, she cannot produce a child and, therefore, cannot present a threat to May, who carries

Archers legitimate offspring. In the play, both May and Ellen understand the supremacy of

maternal femininity and the nuclear family in relation to personal as well as social values and the

importance of sacrificing self in order to protect this superior femininity. As May maintains, I

think, with Newland, that babies come first (3-29), and Ellen concurs definitively, Youre

right. Babies come first . . . [sic] before everything (3-30). The play thus portrays Ellens

sacrifice in returning to the Count as a noble act protecting both Archers family and white

hegemony since her departure enables May to continue to produce upstanding, white citizens but

holds no threat that the Count will produce any parallel, non-white progeny. As Ellen describes

her situation, Not all women are lucky enough to have children, May. There are other things

women can do for the man [and the country] they love (3-29). Ellens understanding of the

sacred value of the white, nuclear, American family mitigates the social threat of her sexuality,

thus aligning her sexual freedom with contemporary conservatisma calibration making her

more marketable in 1920s theatre.

Rather than a condemning contrast and damming critique of the ignorance ingrained in

American femininity, Barnes and Sheldons The Age of Innocence presented Ellen Olenska as a

representation of the 1920s American feminine idealovertly sexual yet essentially maternal

and self-censured. This ideal glorified the sexualized woman of the 1920s while containing her

sexuality within traditional ideals of family and fidelity. In creating the stage version of Ellen,

the perceived entertainment value of nationalism, maternity, sexuality, and self-sacrifice


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preempted Whartons critique of American femininity, offering American audiences a more

flattering portrayal of American culture and femininity than presented in the serial. Barnes and

Sheldon shifted Whartons criticism of American hypocrisy, in preaching a morality it fails to

practice, to a condemnation of Eastern European culture and a celebration of America as the

bastion of civilization. This alteration reduced Whartons complex and complicit female

characters to victims and served to naturalize feminine innocence rather than depicting and

critiquing this characteristic a pernicious cultural construct. The play thus presented Mays

innocence as an isolated virtue rather than a pervasive national problem and glorified Ellen as an

alluring and altruistic example of American femininity. As a tragic, sexual, and patriotic woman,

Ellen carried tremendous entertainment value, which, as Barnes and Sheldon intended, attracted

several Broadway producers and leading ladies to the project.

Casting, Contracts, and Capital

In the 1920s theatre industry, untested scripts had little chance of seeing the stage without

the backing of an able producer and a famous actress. Usually, producers and Broadway stars

purchased the rights to a script and agreed to produce the show within a specific timeframe or

release the rights for sale to another interested party. Often, actresses worked with producers to

find potentially profitable material. Barnes understood that, because she was a novice

playwright, she and her play carried little capital in such negotiations. For Barnes, Sheldons

connections proved invaluable in turning her play into a production.

On June 19th, 1927, Sheldon requested that Ethel Barrymore, his dinner guest for the

evening, read The Age Innocence to him and suggest actresses for the role of Ellen (Letter to

Barnes 20 June 1927). Sheldon reported to Barnes that Barrymore wept over several of the

scenes and suggested Ann Harding for the role, claiming she could do it well if given a good
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director (Letter 20 June 1927). It is unclear whether or not Sheldon approached Harding, but he

soon sent a copy of the script to actress Maude Adams and also contacted Winthrop Ames and

Arthur Hopkins about producing the play. Edwin H. Knopf, another potential producer,

expressed concern over the cost of the show, which would require period sets and opulent

costumes (Knopf). By August, Sheldon had attracted three leading actresses interested in playing

EllenJane Cowl, Ina Claire, and Katharine Cornell.

In her deliberations concerning these three actresses, Barnes demonstrated an insightful

understanding of the issues of capital surrounding her choice as well as the career considerations

of the actresses themselves. Referring to Cornell as a surprise package and Cowl as just as

advertised, Barnes recognized that, in selecting an actress, she was, in a sense, selecting a

consumer product, and the qualities of this product would determine the Ellen sold through her

play (Letter to Sheldon 27 Mar. 1928). Accordingly, Barnes focused on issues of capital,

including experience, talent, intelligence, reputation, and appearance in selecting her star. Cowl,

Claire, and Cornell also demonstrated a keen understanding of the value of their advertising

and packaging. Throughout negotiations, each actress worked to secure Barness script, which

they believed s would increase their capital by validating and building their reputations as skilled

performers. An actresss reputation worked as cultural capital and translated into monetary

capital through box office revenue. Accordingly, leading actresses intently searched and

negotiated for plays that would showcase their talents, demonstrate new skills, and provide

profitable production options, all factors increasing their individual cultural and economic

capital.
162

Additionally, popular shows sometimes generated long runs and national, and,

occasionally, international, tours, providing a secure source of income for the savvy and

successful star. In addition to the income from a long run, the duration of a successful vehicle

often linked the star permanently in public memory with a particular role. As theatre historian

Marvin Carlson demonstrates, such ghostings haunt a performers career, often influencing

audiences perceptions in perpetuity. 229 Ghostings thus carry capital, and, for various reasons,

Cowl, Claire, and Cornell believed that Ellen would prove a profitable specter.

Initially, Cowl and her husband, producer Adolph Klauber, expressed keen interest in

producing The Age of Innocence. 230 Negotiations hit a snag, however, when Klauber insisted on

a contract granting him the option to produce the show with another actress if Cowl found

another project. This stipulation concerned Sheldon who, in turn, discussed Cowls interest in the

script with Cornell in an attempt to provoke a competing offer (Letter to Barnes 26 Aug. 1927).

Sheldons tactic, however, failed, and Cornell phoned Sheldon to explain that, while flattered by

his offer, she was not interested. 231 After learning of Cornells rejection, Barnes urged Sheldon

to accept the offer from Cowl with the stipulation that she and Klauber would not be permitted to

stage the play with another actress as Ellen. Barnes knew this condition might delay production

for a year but reasoned that it was better to have the play performed later with a first-rate star

than to have an earlier production with a second rater (Letter to Sheldon 28 Aug. 1927). In

order to appease her A-list star, Barnes immediately set about altering the script to incorporate

changes Cowl had suggested. 232 However, Sheldon kept their options open and continued to

court Cornell as well as other leading ladies. 233 Sheldons efforts proved prudent when Cowl and

Klauber rejected the contract in December 1927, prompting Sheldon to approach actress Ina

Claire.
163

Barnes and Sheldons negotiations with Ina Claire reveal the capital concerns at the

forefront of their considerations in choosing a leading lady as well as several specific concerns of

the actresses themselves. Throughout these negotiations, both parties carefully weighed the

capital that both the actress and the character carried. While Cowl was more famous, Claire, by

this time, also possessed a substantial reputation. However, Claires notoriety rested primarily on

her past as a Follies girl and her ability as a stage comedienne. Claire danced with the Ziegfeld

Follies and Midnight Frolic in 1915 and 1916, eventually becoming a lead performer through her

ability to do impressions. Although Claire left the Follies to establish an independent career, she

remained united with the image of the chorus girl through her past as a Ziegfeld girl as well as

her defining role in Avery Hopwoods 1919 hit The Gold Diggers, a comedy about chorus-girl

life which ran for over two-hundred performances and established Claire as a Broadway star.

The Age of Innocence, as Barnes understood, appealed to Claire because the role of Ellen

presented an opportunity for her to perform tragedy, a particularly advantageous ability for a

former Follies girl working to establish herself as a serious Broadway star. Unlike comedy,

critics and audiences viewed successful performances in tragedy as proof of a performers skill

and intelligence. Barnes offered Sheldon a perceptive analysis of Claires concerns about this

issue explaining, Her [Claires] interest is entirely in her own growth as an actress. She wants to

succeed by being really worth success Ziegfield [sic] folly or no (Letter 12 Dec. 1927). Barnes

understood the disparity in value between a Follies girl and a dramatic actress and apprehended

Claires interest in her script as an attempt to overcome the stereotypes separating chorus girls

from talent and intellect. Barnes relished this opportunity because she believed that Claires

desire to improve her capital would benefit the play. The play is important to her [Claire] as her

debut in a new sort of thing, Barnes explained to Sheldon; She will want to succeed in it, and
164

she will not take success for granted. She will put thought and care into her interpretation, as

opposed to Cowl who, Barnes implied, might be tempted to rest on her laurels and approach the

play with a cavalier attitude (Letter 12 Dec. 1927). In addition, Barnes explained, if Claire

succeeded in something new, her performance would carry more value and sell more tickets than

Cowl as the sure old war horse . . . playing one more romantic role (Letter 12 Dec. 1927).

Claires novelty thus carried more capital in this case than Cowls experience.

In addition to novelty, Barnes felt that Claire held an advantage over Cowl in the area of

intellect. While comedy, particularly sex farces like The Gold Diggers, often linked comic

actresses with fatuity, Barnes believed Claires comedic work demonstrated skill and artistry.

Barnes detailed Claires advantages in this area in a lengthy letter to Sheldon declaring,

I consider her a much cleverer actress [than Cowl]. She is really, technically

speaking, an extremely intelligent comedienne. Her effects are artistically sound.

She knows, with her little blonde bean, just what she is trying to do, and she

usually hits the bulls eye. If you watch her acting, as such, critically, you are

conscious of her head behind it, every minute. (12 Dec. 1927)

Barnes believed that the intelligence Claire employed in her comedy could transfer to a dramatic

performance and create a stronger and more complex portrayal of Ellen than Cowl could

manage. This assessment stemmed from Barness high opinion of Claire as well as her low

opinion of Cowl, and Barnes ended her letter with a quip regarding Cowls renowned

performance as Juliet. Barnes related her relatives comment that the reason that Jane Cowl

made such a convincing Julie[t] is that she has the mentality of a fourteen year old child! (12

Dec. 1927). Barnes agreed.


165

As Barness letters reveal, intelligence, ability, reputation, and novelty formed the non-

material capital weighed in selecting an actress to play Ellen. While Barnes also considered

appearance in these deliberations, she considered class, rather than beauty, the actresses main

asset. Cowl and Claire, Barnes claimed, could play upper-class characters almost convincingly,

but only actresses such as Barrymore or Cornell, actresses who, Barnes stated, have an

advantage of birth and breeding, could truly convey such status (Letter to Sheldon 12 Dec.

1927). Cornells carriage thus gave her an advantage in these deliberations as did a certain

exotic quality she possessed, which Barnes believed would help convey Ellens foreign past and

explain her appeal (Letter to Sheldon 28 July 1928). In addition to brains and breeding, Barnes

also considered time. Claire planned to produce the play right away, while Cowl wanted to wait

until the following year, by which time, Barnes feared, Cowl would have lost interest and

Wharton would have found time to read and repeal the script. Barnes worked to increase her own

capital through this consideration, for, by this time, she and Sheldon had other plays in the

works, 234 and a Broadway production of The Age of Innocence would likely generate interest and

financial backing for their forthcoming projects.

For these reasons, Barnes urged the deal with Claire, whole would produce the play soon,

while also acknowledging the risks. Barnes understood that, due to her skill and reputation, Cowl

held a higher status in the Broadway hierarchy of dramatic actresses. While this did not

guarantee the best performance or substantial box office receipts, it did assure a predictable

performance and reliable revenue. As Barnes explained to Sheldon, Against all this [Claires

strong points] I weigh only the fact that Ina Clair [sic] has never done just this sort of thing

before. There is no doubt, in my mind, that Jane Cowl would be surer to weep and agonize and

carry on in the serious emotional scenes, with more certain effect . . .Ina Clair [sic] might be
166

better than she. But we DONT KNOW. We take a chance (Letter 12 Dec. 1927). For Barnes,

the fact that Claire had never done anything like The Age of Innocence before served as a

simultaneous advantage and disadvantage. Claire stood as a thrilling chance and a substantial

risk.

For her part, Claire held similar reservations about Barness script, the first offering from

an unknown playwright, and its ability to build her reputation as a capable actress. Claire

discussed the script with numerous friends and colleagues, seeking assurances of success, and,

by the beginning of March, Sheldon felt her interest beginning to wane. Sheldon expressed

frustration over Claires dithering in a letter to Barnes, declaring that Claire should make up her

own mind and stop shifting in accordance with every acquaintances opinion: She evidently has

the kind of mind that takes advice from anyone, including the elevator-boy, he complained (5

Mar. 1928). 235 Like Cowl, Claire began requesting changes to the script, but, for Barnes, Claires

requests seemed to strike at the heart of the play. On the advice of her friend actress Constance

Collier, Claire suggested that Barnes eliminate the scene in which May reveals she is pregnant

and convinces Ellen to leave Archer. Claire and Collier felt the scene a comedy scene and

undignified, [conveying the] aroma of wife catching husband with the goods, Sheldon related to

Barnes (Letter 5 Mar. 1928). Collier and Claire also found the political discussions in the play

dull and suggested that Barnes remove these as well.

While Barnes acknowledged the play required structural edits, she rejected changes to the

major themes she had inserted into Whartons narrative, mainly Archers political career, which

she viewed as his primary point of attraction and conflict for Ellen. As she explained to Claire,

To remove the politics from the text seems to me to strike a body blow at the entire plot. Not

only to change the character of Newland [Archer] but to take away from Ellen her most
167

convincing reason for falling in love with him (Letter to Sheldon 30 Mar. 1928). 236 Barnes also

defended the scene between May and Ellen, arguing that confrontation created a more dramatic

method for revealing Mays pregnancy than hearsay from a third character, as Claire and Collier

proposed. Barnes ended her letter, explaining that she regretted the fact that she could not

perform the changes Claire suggested but neglected to express regret over the fact that Claire

would not be playing Ellen.

This omission reflected Barness delight that Cowl and Cornell had both reentered

negotiations for her play, prompting Sheldon to compare Barnes to the mythical Paris selecting

which goddess would receive the golden apple. Barnes and Sheldon courted both Cowl and

Cornell, hoping to entice one into signing a contract. Sheldon wrote to Cowl saying, the thought

of you as Ellen still entrances her [Barnes] and she is delighted to hear that you still are

interested (Letter 8 Mar. 1928), 237 while Barnes hosted a meeting at her home with Cornell and

her husband, director Guthrie McClintic, to discuss the project. Barnes also worked to keep

Claire in reserve, telling Sheldon to relay that she was terribly disappointed about losing her

(Letter 30 Mar. 1928). This strategy proved successful, and both Cowl and Cornell offered to

produce The Age of Innocence. However, each actresss offer contained stipulations providing

additional production options for the play, indicating that both Cowl and Cornell negotiated with

a purposeful eye on potential revenue and opportunity. Cowl, who was writing a play for herself,

still insisted on a contract giving her producers the option to stage the play without her, and

Cornell, with McClintic and producer A. H. Woods, seemed interested only if they could also

obtain the film rights.


168

As matters came to a head with Cowl and Cornell, Barnes modernized Sheldons

mythical reference, using language to suggest her choice lay not between two goddesses but

between two consumer products:

If I had Jane Cowl and Katherine [sic] Cornell standing side by side before me

both begging for the play on the understanding that it would go on next

November, I think I might decide on Jane Cowl, for purely prudent reasons. I

think she is a surer, safer, box office bet. That she would look perfectly lovely, get

away with the romance, lumber fearfully over the comedy and not look quite East

11th Street. But I think she would bring home the bacon.

I feel that Katherine [sic] Cornell is much more of a chance. More interesting,

more exciting, infinitely more distinguished. . . . I feel quite sure that I should

prefer her Ellen to Janes. But I think an element of chance comes into it. She is a

surprise package. Jane Cowl is just as advertised. (Letter to Sheldon 27 Mar.

1928)

Barnes felt that Cowl served as a recognized brand delivering a consistent, reliable product.

However, Cowls uniform consistency negated any possibility of complexity, making Cowl an

uninspired but safe choice. Cornell, however, held the allure of surprise.

Cornells Capital

Known for her portrayals of dishonorable and passionate women, Cornell, like Claire,

considered The Age of Innocence a play that could build her professional capital. Demonstrating

a keen awareness of the capital concerns entailed in her status as a leading lady, Cornell

explained in her autobiography, The brief appeal of a commercial star who is just a commodity

for making money for managers didnt seem an exciting prospect. I wanted to re-state myself in
169

my own terms (83). Cornell hoped that producer Gilbert Miller would find her a great modern

play but, when he failed in this endeavor, she decided to proceed with The Age of Innocence

(Cornell 84). In doing so, Cornell deftly managed her capital as a commercial star by avoiding

the limited return she would receive if she remained a managers commodity in the lurid roles

then associated with her name.

At this time, Cornells fame rested on her performances as Iris in The Green Hat and

Leslie in The Letter, both plays centering on morally transgressive women. Iris, in The Green

Hat, falls for Napier Harpenden, whose father forbids their marriage because of Iriss

disreputable family. Following a series of lovers, Iris, after dramatically throwing her green hat

onto the sofa to indicate her intentions, sleeps with Harpenden the night before his wedding. Iris

then bears his child and commits suicide by driving into a tree. The Green Hat ran for twenty-

nine weeks in New York, inspired a fashion craze for green hats, and made Cornell a star. 238

Following this performance, Cornell played Leslie in The Letter by W. Somerset Maugham. The

Letter opens as Leslie fires a revolver at her lover, and unfolds as Leslie lies to escape the

consequences of this murder, which she committed out of jealousy. Following this production,

Eugene Walters Jealousy offered Cornell a similar role in the character Valerie, who remains a

rich mans mistress in order to support her husbands career as an artist. According to news

reports, Cornell suffered a breakdown that prevented her from continuing in the production, 239

but, in her autobiography, Cornell makes no mention of attempting the role and implies that she

chose not to take the lurid, sensational part (83). Whatever the case, Cornell wanted to distance

herself from precisely the type of femininity commodified in Iris, Leslie, and Valerie, which, she

believed, limited her opportunities as an actress. Rejecting a future of such lurid, sensational
170

parts (Cornell 83), Cornell told Barnes she was tired of sin and interested in The Age of

Innocence (Barnes, Letter to Cornell).

By May 18, 1928, Barness agent had drafted a contract designating Cornell as the plays

manager and star. The contract ensured the early opening Barnes had hoped for by stipulating

that Cornell would produce the play on or before December 1, 1928 (Contract). Cornell, as

with most of her projects, selected her husband as director, which gave her tremendous control

over the production.

Like Claire and Cowl, Cornell asserted this control by requesting revisions. Primarily,

she, along with McClintic, suggested eliminating the last scene, a farewell party for Ellen during

which Archer confronts Ellen, who subsequently discovers that Archer knows nothing of Mays

pregnancy. Rather than revealing Mays secret, Ellen implies that she habitually commits

adultery thus, she believes, making it easier for Archer to part with her. After Ellen leaves, May

informs Archer of her pregnancy, leading Archer to understand both Ellens motives and the

finality of his fate. Sheldon concurred with Cornell and McClintic and encouraged Barnes to cut

the scene, pointing out that eliminating this lengthy portion would allow Barnes to keep the

previous scenes relatively intact while cutting the play, which, in its current form, was too long

for production. 240

Deleting this section reduced Mays role to only two scenes, further focusing the play on

Ellen. From the beginning of the adaptation process, the creation of the play as a star vehicle

literally and metaphorically placed Ellen center stage, leaving little textual or physical space for

May, the exemplar of the American femininity Wharton critiqued. Additionally, cutting the final

scene eliminated any indication that May had announced her pregnancy to Ellen prematurely,

thus erasing the implication of Mays duplicity, and, thus, her complexity. Such edits, along with
171

subsequent marketing efforts, centered the play on Ellen and, hence, Cornell, emphasizing her

position as the main attraction of the production and the only complex female character. Cornell

solidified her preeminence in the play in a contract with the production company Charles

Frohman, Inc. on September 1928, specifically designating Cornell as the sole star in the said

play (italics added, Contract). 241 The play thus presented Ellen as the primary representation

of American femininity in The Age of Innocence, presenting nationalism, maternity, sexuality,

and self-sacrifice as Ellens and, by association, Cornells essential qualities.

Fig. 3 Cornell in The Age of Innocence, Photo by Vandamm


Studio Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public
Library for the Performing Arts.
172

As Barness earlier comments indicate, Cornells physicality, which critics often

described as exotic, worked to create a more marketable Ellen (see fig. 3). As mentioned

earlier, Barnes considered this quality an asset, telling Sheldon, She [Cornell] has a certain

exotic quality that will single her out from the rest of the cast and make her seem different and

remote and foreign (Letter 28 July 1928). Cornells stage presence and physical appearance

hinted subtly at Ellens foreignness while also working, through Cornells American origins, to

maintain Ellens American essence. Critics often discussed Cornells alien qualities in

conjunction with her American origins. Reviewing The Age of Innocence, St. John Ervine

asserted that in her [Cornell] America possesses a great actress, establishing Cornell as an

American possession before praising her dark, ivory-colored beauty that is almost Amerindian

in its quality (qtd. in Cornell 247). Similarly, Gilbert W. Gabriel praised Cornell by attributing

her success to an indefinable ability to portray passion through her mere presence. Gilbert

claimed this quality was common among Stage ladies of the Latin countries, but, he continued,

I wish more of the frank, pleasant, nice enough stage ladies of the English speaking countries

could accomplish it too. While Ervine tied Cornells exotic qualities to her attractiveness,

Gabriel linked this quality to Latin women who were, by implication, not nice, read as

moral, like English speaking women. Cornells exoticism thus tied directly to the sexuality she

conveyed. As Ervine and Gabriels comments imply, Cornells appeal, and, thus, her

marketability, lay in her ability to evoke foreign, non-white sexuality through a safely white,

American body. While exotic, Cornell was still American, and, therefore, nice.

Cornell deliberately cultivated this construct of niceness in the performance of her

personal life. Most notably, according to scholar Lesley Ferris, through her forty-year lavender

marriage with Guthrie McClintic. 242 As Ferris explains, romantic same-sex relationships,
173

particularly lesbianism, remained associated with sexual deviance at this time, and theatre

couples often entered lavender marriages in order to disguise and deflect attention from same-sex

relationships. 243 In addition to her marriage to McClintic, Cornell asserted her heterosexuality

through the excessively amorous characters who built her career, including Iris from The Green

Hat and Leslie in The Letterboth women willing to commit immoral acts in the name of

heterosexual love. However, as Ferris points out, such roles associated Cornell with a wild kind

of femininity that neatly aligned itself in the public mind with another kind of transgressive

activity: the sexual deviancy known as lesbianism (209). By 1928, Cornell was actively seeking

to distance herself from such sinners, as she described them to Barnes, and shore up her

cultural capital by playing respectable women. While Ellen, through her affair with Archer, left

much to be desired in the area of respectability, in Barness version, she ultimately acts with

patriotism and integrity, sacrificing her love to preserve Archers political career and nuclear

family. Albeit delayed, the eventual triumph of Ellens moral virtue offered a strong contrast to

Leslie in The Letter who implicates others in order to avoid the consequences for her crime.

While Barness adaptation diminished Whartons gender critique, it ideally suited Cornells

interest in accumulating the respectable capital of some moral ghosts.

Throughout the run of The Age of Innocence, Cornell continued to build her image of

niceness by performing charity work and refusing to appear in cigarette advertisements,

leading one writer to dub her The Incorruptible Actress. 244 During the run of The Age of

Innocence, Cornell also emphasized her attachment to heterosexual norms in interviews such as

one entitled, Makes Stage An Art Not Career: Home Life, Not Theatre, Is Real Interest of

Katherine [sic] Cornell. The article informs readers that Cornells real life takes place not on

Broadway, but in the home which she shares with her producer-director husband, Guthrie
174

McClintic, who directed his wifes present vehicle (Makes Stage). Such statements distanced

Cornell from the corrupt characters she played onstage and reassured audiences by implying that

her real desires rested within heteronormative constructs of the middle-class home. In addition,

discussing McClintic as her producer-director husband implied that, while wild on stage,

Cornell acted under male instruction both at work and at home. This implication was misleading

in relation to Cornells sexuality, which operated outside her husbands managerial control, as

well as her acting. Cornell, for example, deviated from her blocking when she felt Arnold Korff,

who played Beaufort, was becoming too forward while wooing her on stage (Barnes, Letter to

Sheldon 21 Dec. 1928). Cornell thus controlled her sexuality onstage and off while reputedly

under McClintics authority.

Through the reputation she cultivated during the run, as well as the role of Ellen, Cornell

created and marketed a particular form of femininity in The Age of Innocence based on nostalgic

associations with Victorian womanhood and female morality. Cornell molded her exotic

appearance, rich voice, and personal morals, at least publicly, to Ellens 1870s character,

clothing, and virtues to create a marketable image of old-fashioned femininity that attracted

audiences. As one commentator inquired, Who, having lately seen Katherine [sic] Cornell in the

stage adaptation of Mrs. Whartons novel, The Age of Innocence, can doubt the allure of

femininity? (How Feminine). In an age of overtly sexual women with shortened hair and

hemlines, Cornell and her character presented an appealing relic reminiscent of an age and

femininity many considered more moral and respectable than those of the roaring 1920s.

Cornell aligned herself with this period and its morals by acquiring the most authentic

costumes possible for Ellen. Cornell carefully managed this aspect of the performance,

stipulating in her contract that she would select Ellens costumes but designating Charles
175

Fig. 4 Cornell in The Age of Innocence, Photo by Vandamm Studio Billy


Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing
Arts.

Frohman, Inc. as the party responsible for their expense (Contract). Cornell spared no cost in

acquiring the most elegant and accurate costumes possible and hired French designer George

Barbier, known for his illustrations in Parisian fashion magazines, to create Ellens clothes. 245
176

Barbiers costumes made Ellen the quintessence of elegance in the play, earning much praise

from audiences and critics (see fig. 4) who particularly admired Ellens grey velvet ensemble,

which brought a little gasp of admiration from the audience (Katharine Cornell Shows). 246

Cornells Parisian costumes visually separated her from the other women in the cast who wore

less expensive designs by an American company. This visual difference added to Ellens

elegance and Cornells status, while the design of the play as a whole, particularly the womens

long skirts and Victorian silhouettes, emphasized the conservative quality of the plays setting

and characters. Cornells appearance in particular, central and authentic, underscored the fact

that her character followed an antiquated moral code, an association distancing her from the

implication of immorality she carried from her previous roles.

Whartons Modified Critique

Contemporary commentary suggests that, ultimately, the stage version of The Age of

Innocence presented Whartons critique of American femininity in a permutation prompting

nostalgia rather than introspection. Rather than tying Whartons work to contemporary concerns,

as the Pictorial had done in its marketing, the stage production presented a window into a time

and culture viewers felt bore little resemblance to the present. As one critic remarked, the

production felt like a Museum of the Seventies (Mulhern), while another commented that the

piece seemed a little artificial and stilted in this age of sophistication, jazz and gin (Katharine

Cornell Warmly). 247 Such sentiments indicate the distance many perceived between the play

and the present while also revealing the productions main source of entertainment value

nostalgia.

Ironically, considering Whartons original critique, this nostalgia translated for several

viewers into a longing for Victorian femininity. Rather than prompting a critique of American
177

gender constructs, the combined appeal of Cornell and her character inspired several audience

members to interpret The Age of Innocence as a lament over the loss of Victorian purity in

American femininity, particularly as exemplified in modern womens fashions. Citing the allure

of [Cornells] femininity, one commentator went so far as to advocate a return to the morality of

Victorian womanhood, which they saw exemplified in Ellen (How Feminine). In a paean to

Victorian morals, this commentator claimed that if modern women behaved as Ellen did, they

would no longer steal each others husbands, divide our childrens lives as Solomon suggested

dividing one childs body, follow our fancies untrammeled by remorse, sacrifice anybodys

welfare to our own pleasure, and feel that life must be liberty to be life (How Feminine). Such

sentiments directly opposed Whartons serial, which criticized old New York society for limiting

Ellens personal freedom, and thus indicate that this theme was expunged from the play.

The article entitled How Feminine Shall We Be? linked conservative Victorian

morality with constrictive Victorian fashions, arguing that Cornells exquisite garments were

hampering to ill-considered movement, to hurry, to sudden changes of purpose, even to rash

thought, as the disciplined tenue of behaviour in those times was restraining to self-indulgence

(How Feminine). These comments failed to address the artificiality of such moral and physical

constraints, indicating that this point too was lost in the serials translation to the stage. In his

review of The Age of Innocence, St. John Ervine expressed similar regret at the loss of 1870s

femininity and fashion in his description of Miss Cornell [as Ellen], magnificent in her grey

furs, magnificent again in a long white dress which caught the firelight and convinced me that

women gave up a deal of beauty when they shortened their skirt (qtd. in Cornell 248).

Ervines comments on female beauty as well as the title of the previous essay indicate

that the femininity Cornell embodied and commodified in The Age of Innocence owed much of
178

its appeal to contemporary reactions against the modern girl as well as a pervasive longing,

inspired by the current turmoil, for what many perceived as a simpler time in American gender

and morality. As Bellamy noted, the play gave viewers the sense that the Victorian age had

worked out completely a set of values in life so well understood, so definitely marked, that ones

course in life could be clearly charted. Right and wrong were as distinct as black from white. 248

Such cultural simplicity, especially in regard to American femininity, was particularly

marketable in 1920s America.

Although the play failed in conveying Whartons critique, it succeeded in making money,

earning over $22,000 for both Wharton and Barnes 249 and considerably more for Cornell and the

plays producers. 250 The Age of Innocence played at the Empire Theatre in New York from

December 1928 through May 1929 and then toured, beginning in September, to cities such as

Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia. 251 Through this production, Cornell

earned enough capital, both cultural and economic, to start her own production company with

McClintic in 1930, giving her more freedom in choosing scripts and directing her career. Her

first show as actress-manager was The Barretts of Wimpole Street, a tremendous success that

forever associated Cornell with the wholesome role of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, which she

performed over seven hundred times (Mosel and Macy 263).

In the value system of commercial entertainment, The Age of Innocences financial

success legitimized the plays nationalistic and nostalgic representation of American femininity

by confirming the entertainment value anticipated in Barness alterations of Whartons plot and

characters, particularly Archer and Ellen. As presented in the play, through both May and Ellen,

Whartons characters represented American femininity as a gender defined through its primary

desire to protect the nuclear family and American patriarchy. The play also commodified Ellen
179

as an icon of American femininity, representing nationalism, maternity, sexuality, and self-

sacrifice as American womens essential qualities. These versions of American femininity sold

well through Barness play and, in the case of Ellen, Cornells characterization.

Barness depiction and Cornells embodiment of Ellen as a woman sensual and sexual yet

subject to the supremacy of conservative national and patriarchal values maximized Ellens

entertainment value by emphasizing her sex appeal while portraying it as, ultimately, under male

controlthe counts, Archers, and, by extension, white, male, upper-class citizens control. The

success of Barness Ellen demonstrates the entertainment value that constructs of male-

controlled female sexuality and power carried in the 1920s, not only in musicals and revues, but

in commercial drama as well. Cornells pursuit of Ellens male-controlled character, as well as

her articulation of this construct in her public image, indicate the correlating value this construct

carried in creating and maintaining actresses capital. While actresses intelligence and ability

carried a capital in commercial dramas that these qualities did not sustain in musicals and sex

farces, this capital continued to rest on constructs of the female performer as an individual

operating under male control.

In addition, Barness The Age of Innocence underscores a disturbing iteration of the

profitable representation of female sexuality under male control in the depiction of Ellen as a

sexual victim. As the manipulations of race in the script indicate, the entertainment value of this

representation often relied on the entertainment value of racist stereotypes of non-white sexual

deviance. The assembling of these various capitals into a marketable image of white women

sexually victimized by a non-white men played on racist fears of the time, particularly of black

and Asian men preying on white women. Such racist representations carried capital throughout

American entertainment during this decade, which relied on the entertainment value of non-
180

white sexual deviance as well as the entertainment value of women as sexual victimsa

representation that continues to carry capital in commercial American entertainment.

The entertainment value of male-controlled female sexuality formed from cultural

prejudices as well as constructs of love and romance. In both Show Boat and The Age of

Innocence, adapters commodified understandings of women as powerless in the area of love, an

emotional helplessness further submitting them to male control. In the following chapter, I will

analyze Anita Looss Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which satirized this representation of romance

and male-controlled female sexuality through modern constructs of women and consumerism.

Through her satire, Loos questioned the capital of intellectual women in modern society, which

located female expertise in the field of material consumer goods. This chapter also explores how

Loos employed representations of femininity to manage her own capital as an attractive and

intelligent woman working in 1920s entertainment. Through this analysis, I hope to illuminate

additional aspects of the capital complex at work in entertainment and introduce an additional

popular genre to this studystage comedy.


Chapter 4
Ignorance is Marketable: Feminine Fatuity and the
Currency of Fun in Anita Looss Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

In January, 1926, Edith Wharton wrote to a friend, declaring, We are just reading the

great American novel (at last!), a reference to her recent discovery of Anita Looss Gentlemen

Prefer Blondes (qtd. in Loos, Cast 257). Not surprisingly, the work delighted Wharton with its

witty satire, which targeted many of the same aspects of American culture and femininity

Wharton attacked in her own writing. In particular, Looss work, like Whartons, satirized what

both authors viewed as the American male penchant for ignorant and infantile women. 252

However, unlike Whartons stately period pieces, Looss work lampooned this fetish in a modern

setting with characters exhibiting distinctly contemporary aspects of femininity, including youth,

sex appeal, materialism, and fun.

In modern constructs of gender, fun defined the form of femininity exemplified in the

decades most iconic imagethe flapper. Young, sexual, intoxicated and intoxicating, the

flapper represented a femininity focused on having a good time and looking good while having

it. Such constructs allowed women more freedom in terms of fashions and self-expression but

also worked to restrict women by portraying fun as the antithesis of intellectualism, a designation

delineating intelligent women as boring and unattractive. As Ziegfeld, the eras arbiter of female

pulchritude, declared, beauty and brains are not often found together (qtd. in Glenn 171). 253

As an attractive and intelligent woman, Loos chafed at such constraints and created

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in order to both exploit and excoriate the modern schism between

beauty and brains through the narratives central character Lorelei Leethe quintessence of

modern beauty and vacuity. In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Loos caricatured modern constructs
182

equating feminine fatuity with sexual allure through the serials eponymous gentlemen whose

preference for the pretty and vapid Lorelei repeatedly reaches the point of absurdity. Loos also

imbued her heroine with expensive tastes and a penchant for shopping in order to satirize the

contemporary alliance between beauty, brainlessness, and consumerism, values inherent in the

flappers fetish for fashion.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes centers on Lorelei Lee, a beautiful young blonde woman

consumed with her quest for material goods and a good time. Lorelei uses her sex appeal to

persuade rich men to purchase expensive gifts for her while her pervasive ignorance shields her

from the moral implications and repercussions entailed in this exchange. 254 Loos presents the

narrative of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in the form of Loreleis diary, a document rife with

misspellings and malapropisms reminding readers of the writers lack of education as well as her

social pretentions. In her diary, the vivacious and flirtatious Lorelei records the important events

of her life, which center primarily on encounters with gentlemen. The diary begins after Gus

Eisman, a wealthy Chicago businessman, has undertaken Loreleis education, a term Lorelei

interprets as the act of associating with men who buy her expensive gifts. 255 Attracted, as all men

seem to be, to Lorelei, Eisman ensconces her in a New York apartment with instructions to

improve herself through education. While Eisman is away, Lorelei discovers several other men

interested in educating her, prompting Eisman to send Lorelei to Europe with her friend

Dorothy accompanying her as her chaperone. Eisman embellishes this arrangement with a string

of pearls for Lorelei and a diamond pin for Dorothy, and the narrative progresses as Lorelei

continues to beguile men into buying her gifts while she and Dorothy travel to Europe.

While en route via steamship to London, Lorelei encounters Mr. Bartlett, a former

District Attorney and current U.S. envoy who once prosecuted Lorelei in Little Rock, Arkansas
183

for shooting her employer Mr. Jennings. While working as his secretary, Lorelei had discovered

Jennings with a girl famous all over Little Rock for not being nice (47-8). 256 The discovery

had inspired a bad case of histerics [sic], and, as Lorelei explains to her diary, when I came

out of it, it seems that I had a revolver in my hand and it seems that the revolver had shot Mr.

Jennings (48). At the behest of Major Falcon, a British spy who buys her perfume, Lorelei

decides to forgive Bartlett for his harsh treatment of her at the trial and, in the course of her

conversation with Bartlett, learns several state secrets regarding his trip to Europe. Lorelei fails

to realize the import of this information, and, finding that she is still quite upset about the

names Bartlett called her in Little Rock, decides to tell Major Falcon what she has learned (59).

After arriving in London, Lorelei performs her most famous escapade by persuading Sir

Francis Beekman, a stingy, retired, and married British officer, to buy her a diamond tiara by

implying that she will remain in London as his mistress if he does. However, after receiving the

tiara, Lorelei proceeds on her travels to Paris and then to central Europe. During her journey, she

encounters Henry Spoffard, a wealthy, Presbyterian enticed by the very vices in entertainment

and art that he notoriously censures. Lorelei overcomes Spoffards reserve, and Spoffard

proposes to her before she returns to New York. Lorelei then throws herself a three-day debut

party, which turns into a debauched orgy that literally makes headlines. In spite of this scandal,

she wins over Spoffards family by plying his mother with alcohol, a banned substance at this

time, and flirting with Spoffards father, who is so stimulated by Loreleis looks that he

abandons his wheelchair and walks for the first time in months. Lorelei finally convinces

Spoffard to honor their engagement by promising him that they will create uplifting films

together, along with Loreleis new screenwriting suitor. Spoffard, she promises, can provide

spiritual aid for the films actresses, an activity which will require detailed interviews about
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the womens lurid pasts (214). The novel concludes with Loreleis blithe observation that

everything always turns out for the best (217).

Through her overwhelming sex appeal, unapologetic materialism, and vast ignorance,

Lorelei functions as both a symbol and send up of the femininity she exemplifies. The tone and

candor Loos employs through Loreleis voice invites audiences to both relish and ridicule the

femininity codified in the dumb blonde stereotypea highly marketable construct in 1920s

entertainment. Lorelei proved particularly profitable for Harpers Bazar, where Gentlemen

Prefer Blondes debuted, which experienced a sharp increase in sales during the run of the

serial. 257 Lorelei also earned sizable returns for Looss publishers, who issued thirteen editions of

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in the first seven months of the books release. This commercial

appeal prompted Loos to adapt the narrative into the 1926 stage play, a farcical comedy that

preceded the famous 1949 musical version.

Because of the serial and novels commercial successes, Lorelei carried tremendous

capital as a highly entertaining commodity before she ever appeared on stage. The established

entertainment value of her character thus functioned as powerful part of the capital complex

influencing Looss stage adaptation. Although Loos attempted to sharpen her critique through

the play, the popularity of her serial required that she subsume her characterizations, and thus her

critique in the play, to audience expectations in order to retain their commercial appeal. This

chapter examines the origins of Loreleis capital by analyzing the development of Gentlemen

Prefer Blondes as a serial for Harpers Bazar. The chapter then explores the affect of this capital

on Looss critique of American femininity in the 1926 stage adaptation.

In addition, this analysis demonstrates the entertainment value of the specifically modern

facets of 1920s femininity embodied in Loreleiovert sex appeal, materialism, and fatuityand
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the influence of this value on representations of femininity in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Because Looss narrative exemplified and also satirized these qualities, an analysis of the serial

and stage versions of her narrative reveals the entertainment value in glorifying as well as

ridiculing such constructs in 1920s entertainment. Simultaneously elevating and excoriating the

femininity represented in Lorelei established her entertainment value in two seemingly opposite

areas of the capital complex, which increased her commercial success by catering to the

contemporary cultural ambivalence regarding modern gender.

In addition, I consider in this chapter how issues of capital in relation to beauty and

intellect affected women working in entertainment. Specifically, I explore how both Loos and

June Walker, the actress portraying Lorelei, operated as intelligent and attractive women within

1920s Broadway and Hollywood, entertainment industries that systematically denigrated female

intelligence. Looss resistance to this treatment resulted in much of the humor and, hence, the

entertainment value inherent in Loreleis character. However, Loos understood the capital in

mocking as well as mimicking Loreleis qualities, and both she and Walker embraced aspects of

Loreleis femininity, including her simplicity, sexuality, and race, to enhance their public

personas, trading on the Loreleis cultural capital to increase their own. This chapter studies how

Loos and Walker resisted but also masterfully employed the intersections of capital in the

stereotype of the dumb blonde as professional women working in 1920s entertainment.

Through this analysis, I hope to illuminate additional aspects of the capital complex affecting

representations of femininity in entertainment and the everyday performances of femininity by

women working in the entertainment industry.


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Femininity and Fatuity

As the satire in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes demonstrates, Loos, like Wharton, detested the

male preference she observed in American culture for ignorant and vacuous women. Loos

encountered what she referred to as this sex problem early in life when discussing her literary

career with a date (A Girl 70). The revelation of her occupation as an authoress altered the

mans perception of her (A Girl 70). It turned me, Loos explains, into some sort of monster; I

no longer seemed to be a girl (A Girl 70). 258 Looss success and intellect unsexed and

transformed her in the mans eyes into something unnatural and unfeminine. 259

Looss achievements had a similar affect on her relationship with actor and director John

Emerson. Loos met Emerson in the mid-1910s while working as a scenario and title writer for D.

W. Griffiths film studio, American Biograph Company. Emerson, who worked as a director at

Biograph, collaborated with Loos on numerous projects, including the stunt-filled films that

made Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. a star. 260 As Loos and Emerson worked together, Loos fell in love

with Emerson, and, as she describes, worked every other angle I knew to trap the unfortunate

man into marriage (A Girl 174). Looss strategy succeeded, and Loos and Emerson married in

June 1919. 261

Throughout their marriage, Emerson, who was fourteen years older than Loos, conducted

numerous affairs. According to Looss biographer Gary Carey, Emersons infidelities started

soon after their marriage (77-8), and, while Loos suspected, she chose to dismiss this [his

behavior] as nothing more than innocent flirtation (85). Later, when an incriminating letter

surfaced from one of Emersons lovers, Loos confronted him about his infidelities. According to

Loos, Emerson defended himself, claiming that he wasnt the marrying type . . [and] that his
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nerves were shattered by such a binding arrangement (Kiss 13-4). 262 The couple eventually

separated but never divorced, and Emerson, who was financially dependent on Loos, retained

control over Looss finances. 263

While Emersons paramours no doubt held many attractions, their most alluring

characteristic was that, unlike Loos, none of them threatened to overshadow him. One of the

most humiliating things Emerson ever experienced, Loos relates, was being addressed as Mr.

Loos, a blow to his egotism . . . that reverberated as long as he lived (A Girl 181). Loos came

to regard Emersons insecurity as very dangerous [and] pathological (A Girl 181), and

Emersons response to her success with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes solidified this assessment.

Throughout the project, Emerson advised Loos against publishing Blondes, claiming that its

humorous treatment of sex would ruin her reputation and career. 264 As the narratives popularity

and Looss notoriety increased, Emerson suffered a severe attack of laryngitis. An examination,

however, revealed no physical cause. Emersons specialist recommended consulting a

psychiatrist who confided to Loos that her success was the cause of Emersons illness. Dr.

Jelliffe, Loos recalls, proceeded to quote from H. L. Mencken that a husband may survive the

fact of a wife having more money than he, but if she earns more, it can destroy his very essence

(Kiss 64). Superior earnings connoted superior intellect and skill, characteristics, apparently,

devastating to the egos of men like Mencken and Emerson. The only available solution, Dr.

Jelliffe explained, was for Loos to abandon her career. Eventually, Loos received help from a

Viennese physician whom Emerson consulted when his malady resurfaced in 1927 as Loos

worked on the film version of Blondes. Unbeknownst to Emerson, Dr. Emil Glas conspired with

Loos to address his case by staging a fake operation. Dr. Glas scratched Emersons throat during

the surgery and presented Emerson with a vial of nodes he claimed to have removed from
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Emersons throat (Carey 120). The ruse succeeded in relieving Emersons laryngitis, and

Emerson requested the same operation the following year (Carey 130).

Such incidents illustrate the pervasive prejudice Loos encountered as a successful female

writer in a patriarchic culture constructing intellectual women as threatening and monstrous. 265

While Victorian culture cultivated female innocence and ignorance, modern society deliberately

attacked female intellect, ridiculing intellectual women as unattractive and unnatural, and

celebrating vapid women as alluring and wholesome. Mizejewski refers to this system of value

as the new currency of fun in which sexual knowledge, vivaciousness, youth, and beauty

trumped education, resoluteness, maturity, and intelligence in constructs of femininity (74).

Marriage historian Stephanie Coontz relates the cultural dissemination of this construct through

vehicles such as Cecil B. Demilles 1920 film Why Change Your Wife? which centers on a lovely

wife devoted to intellectual improvement. The wifes intellectualism renders her unattractive to

her husband, thus threatening the stability of their marriage. Acknowledging the error of her

ways, the heroine restores her marriage by donning a revealing evening dress and devoting

herself to dancing rather than literature (Coontz 205). The film thus conveys the message that

while beautiful and intelligent women might exist, they hold no allure for the opposite sex and,

thus, no value in the modern currency of fun.

This ethos permeated the entertainment industry where Loos and Emerson worked and

socialized. As sexual allure became an actresss primary asset in modern entertainment,

particularly in sex farces and revues, skill and intelligence garnered less esteem for women in

this field. As discussed in chapter one, constructing beautiful women as brainless allowed the

entertainment industry to market a benign female sexuality, titillating yet non-threatening due to

its inanity. In his analysis of revue shows during this period, theatre historian Lewis A. Erenberg
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explains that the idea that women had the only supply

of sex and beauty inspired anxiety regarding male

autonomy, which audiences mitigated through

understandings of the sexually charged woman as too

stupid to pose a real threat (222). Moreover,

Mizejewski argues that the mechanic movement, youth,

and uniformity of the chorus girl, ubiquitous in

Broadway musicals and revues during this period,

fostered a fantasy of male control over the female body,

assuaging fears inspired by the modern girl as a

political, public, and sexual presence (32). Loos noticed

similar conventions in the film industry, particularly in

her work with Fairbanks who deliberately changed

leading ladies for each picture in order to prevent female

Fig. 5 Anita Loos, Pictorial co-stars from acquiring experience and skills that might
Review June 1920 p. 17.
upstage him (A Girl 165). Limiting womens

opportunities in an industry which glorified male control and celebrated female ignorance

created a construct which operated as mitigating foil to independent and talented women such as

Loos.

In order to operate simultaneously as a skilled writer and an attractive woman working in

1920s American entertainment, Loos traded on her success while also downplaying her writing.

Loos often discussed her writings as the childish efforts of a young dilettante rather than the

literary accomplishments of a disciplined adult. The diminutive femininity Loos performed in


190

her public persona formed the basis of the femininity she later commodified in Lorelei. Through

most of her life, Loos, who measured 4 11 and weighed ninety pounds, looked much younger

than her years (see fig. 5). Loos exploited her youthful physique by portraying herself in

numerous interviews, articles, and autobiographies as young and child-like, cultivating a public

image suited to modern constructs that exalted womens youth and inexperience over maturity

and accomplishments. According to Carey, Loos usually implied that she started writing for the

movies when she was twelve or fourteen, [and] that she was still in her twenties when Blondes

was written. The truth is that she was twenty-four when she sold her first scenario and close to

forty when Blondes appeared in 1925 (4). Carey states that Loos was born in 1888 (4), but Loos

often set her birth date closer to 1894 (Waxman 17). 266

Percy Waxmans 1920 article, She Makes $100,000 A Year: The Life Story of a Most

Remarkable Girl, which appeared in the Pictorial Review, encapsulates the public image Loos

projected by repeatedly mentioning her youth, size, beauty, and effortless writing. Waxman

informs readers that from the topmost link in her braid to the tip of her tiny slipper she measures

exactly four feet eleven and weighs about ninety pounds (17). Waxman then expresses

amazement over what this diminutive human dynamo has achieved in her twenty-six years of

life, an inaccuracy the thirty-two-year-old Loos neglected to correct (17). Continuing this

diminutive theme, Loos provides several quotes belittling her writing efforts by claiming that

her main task involves simply waiting for inspiration (17). The inspiration is bound to come,

she tells Waxmans readers, and all you have to do is to be ready for it (17). Such advice rings

false from a writer who routinely started her work day at six in the morning and wrote for several

hours on a daily basis. 267 However, through Waxmans article, and several similar publications,

Loos repeatedly emphasized her youth and facile efforts in terms crafted to increase her capital
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in the eras currency of fun, which defined fun women, and therefore valuable women, against

stereotypes of dull, and therefore worthless, women invested in intellectualism and literature.

While Ferber and Wharton operated in similar value systems, such concerns weighed

more heavily on Loos who, unlike Ferber and Wharton, wrote primarily for film. Wharton and

Ferber worked in the relatively high-brow medium of literary fiction, and each had also received

the Pulitzer Prize, Wharton in 1921 and Ferber in 1925. The two fiction authors thus carried the

capital and prestige entailed in the award while, by comparison, Loos carried little weight in the

world of fine literature. 268

Loos embraced this status and deliberately separated herself from the field of fine

literature by emphasizing the low-brow perception of her work, specifically in regard to

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Loos described the work as childish and infantile, particularly

when compared to the mature and sophisticated fiction of real novelists such as Hemingway

and Faulkner (Fate 54-5). 269 After the success of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Loos embellished

her youthful and frivolous public image by linking her persona with Lorelei, who had come to

epitomize fashionable and fatuitous femininity. Loos employed Loreleis cultural capital to

increase her own by adopting Loreleis language for the title of her autobiography A Girl Like I

and continuing to underscore her youth and downplay her literary import in this and later

reminiscences. Looss rhetoric thus traded in the 1920s currency of fun by portraying her and her

writing as an extension of her feminine frame, diminutive, immature, anti-intellectual, and

therefore fun, especially when compared with the weighty and serious work of writers like

Faulkner and Hemmingway. Loos marketed herself as well as her satire in this highly profitable

literary niche. However, her insistence on her own vacuity, particularly in her writings after
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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, carried a veiled duplicity, indicating that even her childish and

effortless efforts could out earn the literary giants of her day. 270

In addition to marketing herself and her works as fun, belittling her accomplishments also

created a buffer between Loos and the professional and personal injuries inflicted by Emerson.

Under the guise of collaboration, Emerson often appropriated Looss work and income, and

minimizing the worth of her work served to undercut the extent of this insult and injury. Early in

their relationship, Emerson began attaching his name to Looss work, taking authorship credit for

collaborative efforts she created on her own (Loos, A Girl 181). Loos permitted this without

giving the matter a second thought . . . because, she explains, I never thought that anything

produced by females was, or even should be, important (A Girl 181). Because her female

writing did not qualify as important or great writing, Loos implies that giving Emerson

credit cost her little (A Girl 181), a sentiment belying the fact that Emerson secretly moved

almost $150,000 of her income into accounts solely in his name (Carey 173).

In her memoirs recounting these events, Loos seems anxious to appear neither the fool

nor the victim in her marriage and alternates between owning her success and admitting

Emersons treachery to disparaging her efforts and describing the sacrifice of her work for his

ego as an act of love. Undoubtedly, Looss relationship with Emerson affected her portrayal as

well as her perception of her writing and the value of her work. Not surprisingly, Loos sought

solace and affirmation from other men she respected, including her romantic crush, editor and

author H. L. Mencken. 271 Unfortunately for Loos, in matters of romance, Menckens preferences

echoed Emersons.
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The Beginnings of Blondes

While Loos had come to expect Emersons insecurities and proclivity for vapid women,

she balked at this preference in men she viewed as intellectual, particularly in Mencken who,

according to Loos, railed against the infantilism that had overtaken American thought (A Girl

215). Loos admired Mencken for his literary work in The Smart Set magazine, and, after

overcoming her initial intimidation, became fast friends with Menck around 1919. 272 Loos

developed a crush on Mencken who exhibited enormous charm; based on extreme masculinity

(A Girl 213), combined with an intellectual prowess Loos felt Emerson lacked. While Mencken

remained a man of honor in the most old-fashioned sense, he and Loos maintained a flirtatious

correspondence (A Girl 218). According to Loos, the main advantage to her marriage with

Emerson, who, as she describes, treated me with complete lack of consideration, tried to take

credit for my work and appropriated all my earnings, was that he also granted me full freedom

to choose my own companions (Cast 223). Loos often selected Menck as one of these

companions. As a regular member of Menckens circle in the 1920s, Loos frequented New York

and New Jersey speakeasies with Menck and his cadre, which included Sinclair Lewis,

Theodore Dreiser, and theatre critic George Jean Nathan (Carey 87).

As Loos recounts in numerous articles and autobiographies, it was Menckens behavior

on one such outing that inspired Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. While the details of her accounts

vary, each ontology includes a flirtation between Mencken and a witless blonde whom

Mencken seemed to prefer sexually to Looss brunette self (Cast 74). 273 Baffled by Menckens

preference for ignorance and pallor, Loos began to observe the prevalence of this preference in

men in general. To Looss annoyance, soon after the evening with Mencken, the same blonde

attached herself to Looss traveling party en route to Hollywood. Loos observed that the men in
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the party, including Emerson, waited attentively on the blonde while leaving Loos to fend for

herself. Loos explains that she expected such behavior from her husband, but Menckens

fascination with the woman puzzled and frustrated her (Cast 74). In A Girl Like I, Loos considers

this conundrum:

Obviously there was some radical difference between that girl and me, but what

was it? We were both in the pristine years of youth. She was not outstanding as a

beauty; we were, in fact, of about the same degree of comeliness; as to our mental

acumen, there was nothing to discuss: I was smarter. Then why did that girl so far

outdistance me in allure? Why had she attracted one of the keenest minds of our

era? Mencken liked me very much indeed, but in the matter of sex he preferred a

witless blonde. (265)

Loos continues her musings and concludes that possibly the girls strength was rooted

(like that of Samson) in her hair (265). However, the locus of her rivals success, as Loos well

knew, lay primarily in her male companions insecurities and the reassuring superiority they

experienced in the company of the blondes female ignorance. Annoyed by this palpably

unjust state of affairs, Loos brandished her pen at the problem, creating what would become a

tremendously popular and profitable satirical sketch of vapid femininity (Cast 74).

As Loos relates, she discovered the pages of her satire while unpacking from her trip to

Hollywood and forwarded the sketch to Mencken who, now several blondes later, found the

piece amusing and suggested Loos publish it in a magazine. According to Loos, Mencken

suggested she approach Harpers Bazar 274 with the piece, reasoning that, in Harpers, the story,

which satirized sex and infidelity, would be lost among the ads, [and] wouldnt offend

anybody (A Girl 267). 275 The narrative Loos submitted to Harpers included only the first
195

chapter of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and ended with Lorelei and Dorothy embarking for Europe.

Seeing potential in Looss satire, editor Henry Sell agreed to purchase the narrative and

suggested that Loos extend the story to include additional installments, beginning with Lorelei

and Dorothys trip to Europe. Loos, about to leave for Europe herself, agreed, and, after meeting

with illustrator Ralph Barton, 276 forwarded installments to Sell as she progressed on her

travels. 277

Loos thus completed the bulk of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes specifically for Harpers

Bazar. Accordingly, as scholar Sarah Churchwell observes, Its [Blondes] evolution was thus

affectedeven determinedby the magazine that printed it (136). 278 The femininity Loos both

marketed and satirized in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes bore a strong resemblance to the distinctly

modern form of femininity permeating the haute couture fashion magazine, which equated

femininity with consumerism and effectively reduced female intellect to consumer savvy.

Through her fashionable and materialistic blonde stereotype, Loos capitalized on the glamour of

the consumerism permeating Harpers while also critiquing the ignorance fostered in

representations of women primarily valuing and valued for their chic appearance.

Harpers Bazar marketed itself as a womens magazine representing the quintessence of

everything modern in modern femininity. In January 1920, Henry Sell became editor of

Harpers 279 and proceeded to establish the publication as one of the leading magazines in

womens fashion. Early in his editorship, Sell established connections with the Parisian fashion

industry, enlisting the Duchess de Gramont to introduce him to prominent designers who were

reluctant to work with Americans after World War I (Leckie 62). 280 Sell also emphasized

modishness by introducing candid photos, which created a more spontaneous and vibrant feel

than the posed studio photos that previously defined the magazine. Sells efforts proved
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successful, and, by the end of his first year as editor, Harpers had increased its number of

advertising pages by almost fifty percent (Leckie 72).

While maintaining its focus on fashion, Harpers also included fiction, a feature

differentiating the publication from Vogue, its nearest competitor. However, lest readers have

any doubt about the publications priorities, subscription ads declared, The chief purpose of

Harpers Bazar [sic] is, as you know, to give you the latest news of smart fashionsand the

smartest fashions only. The fiction in Harpers Bazar [sic] is just so much added value to interest

you (Harpers, July). Such qualifications assured readers that although Harpers carried literary

content, this content would not interfere with the publications first priorityfashion. In addition

to such disclaimers, the magazine dedicated the first third of every issue to advertisements

largely devoted to fashion, leaving little doubt that fiction occupied a subordinate position in the

Harpers hierarchy. Typically, womens magazines, such as Womans Home Companion and

Pictorial Review, opened with a table of contents followed by editors notes and then articles

interspersed with advertisements. Harpers, however, reserved the first third of the magazine for

advertising, only introducing contributors content after forty or more pages of ads selling

everything from Tiffany jewels to enrollment in private schools. Harpers also carried few

articles on social topics, discussing political and social issues primarily in relation to fashion and

trends. Maintaining and promoting this hierarchy of content in Harpers indicated that women on

the cutting edge of modern culture prioritized knowledge in a similar manner.

As a publication, Harpers marketed and perpetuated this form of femininity, which held

entertainment value for women admiring and seeking the status portrayed in its pages. Along

with Vogue, Harpers deliberately cultivated a readership among such high-income, or, at least,
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high-spending subscribers interested in luxury goods. This readership established Harpers and

Vogue as class magazines, allowing them to charge higher rates for advertising space than

other womens publications (Zuckerman, History 133, 164). 281

Satirizing Shopping and Smartness

As a satire of consumerist femininity, Looss serial both catered to and caricatured the

femininity commodified in Harpers. Loos emphasized the link between the femininity

represented in Harpers and Loreleis femininity when she subtitled her novel Gentlemen Prefer

Blondes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady. As stated in chapter one, during the

1910s and 1920s, modern constructs increasingly defined femininity through appearance,

emphasizing makeup, fashion, and youth, rather than moral purity and sexual innocence, as

markers of feminine beauty and desirability. Through the modern advent of the cosmetics

industry, pre-made clothing, and the proliferation of manuals on femininity in the form of the

burgeoning womens magazine industry, femininity during the 1920s transformed from the

natural inheritance of all females 282 to the professionalized expertise of those on the cutting edge

of new fashions and fads. In this sense, Lorelei demonstrates her expertise as a Professional

Lady in her expert performance of the streamlined and youthful look of modern femininity as

well as her regard for luxury products facilitating this performance.

As Churchwell notes, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes satirizes the specific form of

consumerism promoted in Harpers, which portrayed the purchase of luxury goods as a means of

upward mobility. Churchwell demonstrates that Harpers Bazar, through its focus on upper-class

goods and lifestyles, carried an underlying ethos suggesting middle-class consumers could buy
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their way in to upper-class society by accumulating the accoutrements of upper-class culture.

Advertisements in Harpers featured expensive items, such as authentic pearls and foreign

vacations, as well as more affordable versions of upper-class appurtenances, including imitation

pearls and reproductions of Parisian gowns (Churchwell 143). 283 Such affordable versions

allowed middle-class readers to access objects, or replicas of objects, marking the upper class.

As Churchwell explains, Harpers was actually selling itself as an instruction manual in

middlebrow social pretension, offering the fetish objects of cultural capital to arrivistes who were

waiting to arrive and advertising that cultural capital could be bought and sold (142). 284

While Churchwell explores the implications of this purchasing ethos in relation to class,

her analysis often separates issues of class and gender. 285 However, Harpers sold as a womens

magazine as well as a class magazine, specifically gendering this consumerist method of upward

mobility as a feminine approach. As Bourdieu reminds us, modes of acquiring capital are ranked

in accordance with the time and effort invested in attaining objects or developing talents of

material and/or cultural value (Distinction 2). Purchasing objects of cultural worth ranks as one

of the easiest and, therefore, lowest modes of acquiring cultural capital.

In the 1920s, the booming advertising industry associated this lower form of

accumulationpurchasing rather than earningand social climbing specifically with women

and female consumerism. 286 This gendered perception of purchasing permeated the pages of

Harpers, which addressed the typical concerns of womens magazines, such as caring for home,

children, and husbands, but suggested addressing such issues through luxury items and upper-

class activities associated with wealth and status. While magazines such as Delineator and

Womans Home Companion promoted thrift and domestic skills, Harpers encouraged readers to
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care for their children by purchasing products such as a private school education with specialized

training in music, dance, and horseback riding or creating comfort and class in their homes by

acquiring items such as a genuine Victrola and accompanying library of classical music records.

In the pages of Harpers, women themselves acted as accessories to the middle-class home,

displaying taste and beauty by accessorizing their bodies with expensive, or, at least, expensive

looking, clothes and jewels. 287 Through its emphasis on fashion and appearance, Harpers

encouraged women to purchase as well as perform as accoutrements of upper-class culture,

bettering their homes and families through their spending rather than their morality, maternity,

or domesticity.

This gendered form of consumerism linked directly with the modern constructs of

womens intellect Loos deplored. As portrayed in Harpers, womens intellect achieved its

highest form when employed in selecting merchandise. Harpers advertisers fostered this

construct of female acuity by touting the fine quality of their products, which, their ads implied,

Harpers discriminating female readers had the taste and education to appreciate.

Advertisements declared that Steinways, for example, made affordable to the middle-class

through installment plans, reflected the taste of the greatest concert pianists, and Parisian

designer Jean Patou praised the well-dressed woman of America, a.k.a. the Harpers reader,

for her fastidious discrimination in her selection of just the proper shoes (Diamond Brand 22).

According to ads for Tcla Pearls, this ability to discriminate distinguished the consumer who

recognizes the quality of genuine Tcla Pearls, the most genuine brand of imitation pearls,

from the woman who throws her money away on imitations of Tcla Pearls [and] will

eventually have to throw the pearls away too (Tcla). As the ad implies, wearing inferior pearls
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is a mortification because such low-quality accessories advertise a womans ignorance by

displaying her inability to distinguish between quality and trash (Tcla).

The opposite of such ignorance, as Harpers demonstrates, is the ability to look smart.

As Churchwell explains, the importance of smartness runs as a constant through line in

Harpers Bazar (143). 288 Smart individuals, in the Harpers sense, masterfully display the

latest fashions, visit the most fashionable vacation spots, and send their children to the most

fashionable schoolsbehaviors displaying their wealth as well as their au courant cultural

knowledge. As a womens class magazine, 289 Harpers displaced the intellectual connotations of

smartness with a consumerist understanding equating feminine intelligence with clairvoyance

in matters of haute couture. As an ad for Harpers explains, the purpose of Harpers is to give

you the best fashions firstto tell you not what is smart today but what will be smart tomorrow

(Harpers, Jan.). The ad expounds on the vital importance of this information saying, Its a

bitter blow to buy a new hat or gown and then find everybody wearing it. Harpers Bazar is

valuable to you because it tells you what is smart months before everybody has taken it up

(Harpers, Jan.). Women who do not appear smart sartorially cannot, in Harpers logic, be smart,

making the modern womans intellect, much like the modern womans gender, largely a matter

of fashionable appearance. According to Harpers, readers thus operated as ideal women through

their function as ideal consumers, interested and informed about new trends and willing to spend

on luxury goods and up-to-date looks. Looss satire thus correlated closely with Harpers content

because the object of her satire, culturally ignorant, materialistic femininity, formed the primary

product of Harpers magazine.

Loos focused her critique of ignorant femininity on the consumer-based construct

permeating Harpers by making her protagonist smart and savvy in the Harpers sense yet
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overwhelmingly ignorant in areas unrelated to shopping, thus demonstrating the bankrupt nature

of smartness in the modern feminine sense. Lorelei instinctively and expertly calculates the

economic value of every man and jewel she encounters but remains utterly ignorant in matters of

non-material capital. Loos repeatedly mocks modern constructs of female consumer savvy by

displaying Loreleis disregard for objects of tremendous cultural value but no evident monetary

worth. While in London, for example, Lorelei opts not to purchase an original Whistler portrait

of a noblewomans father, reasoning, my own father was a whistler and used to whistle all of

the time and I did not even have a picture of him (76). Lorelei displays similar disdain for the

Tower of London that is not really even as tall as the Hickox building in Little Rock Arkansas

[sic] (72). Loreleis comparisons of Whistlers painting with her fathers whistling ability and

the Tower of London with an Arkansas office building demonstrate her lack of education and

understanding in history and art and her inability to understand non-material value.

In this aspect, Lorelei represents the quintessence of modern femininity, acting as a

distillation of modern values as she elevates appearance, wealth, and novelty above character,

heritage, and history. She sees no value in the old, except in the case of diamonds which always

look new (69). The history Lorelei values relates solely to modern ideals of femininity,

prizing youth, beauty, and materialism above all. One of the few historic sights to impress

Lorelei is celebrity Fannie Ward, famous for maintaining her youthful appearance for decades.

Lorelei displays her modern understanding of history as she exudes, I mean Fanny is almost

historical, because when a girl is cute for 50 years it really begins to get historical (64). Lorelei

also stands in awe of the famous historical names and offices of Coty and Cartier and literally

turns her back on the Vendme Column in order to view the more impressive Cotys emblem

(94-5). Loreleis disregard for sites of cultural worth in favor of modern attractions of
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commercial value demonstrates her mastery of modern consumerism by revealing her veneration

for luxury goods while also displaying her disdain for tradition and need for the new. By

demonstrating Loreleis ignorance, Loos satirized the consumerist understandings of smartness

and intelligence codified in contemporary constructs of modern femininity and, specifically, in

Harpers.

At the same time, Looss satire also glorified this construct through Loreleis glamorous

lifestyle. Lorelei devotes her time to socializing and shopping, purchasing only the most

fashionable and expensive goods. In sharp contrast to the female consumer featured in womens

magazines, Lorelei acquires accoutrements for herself rather than for her home, family, or

husband and abandons the male provider once he has provided. Loos used Loreleis self-centered

purchasing to question contemporary understandings of the female consumer as a purchaser

primarily acquiring goods for others. By divorcing the role of female consumer from the role of

female care giver and homemaker, Loos presented a modern female shopper bent only on

pleasing herself, an attractive construct for many readers. While Loreleis ignorance generated

ridicule, her purchasing prompted admiration, and many advertisers capitalized on this portrayal

of female materialism by directly referencing Lorelei in ads for various products. 290

Loreleis allure and consumerism entertained Looss readers while the narratives ridicule

accentuated Loreleis entertainment value. Satirizing Lorelei and her femininity allowed readers

to enjoy her mindset and materialism without directly relating to these aspects of her character.

As an exemplar of both a low mentality and a low form of accumulating capital, Lorelei served

as an unflattering reflection of the Harpers ethos. However, her hyperbolic representation of

these aspects ensured her entertainment value with Harpers readers by referencing this ethos

while also distancing readers from the low aspects of the femininity Harpers commodified.
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As Daniel Tracy notes, laughing at Loreleis ignorance of cultural value requires and reaffirms

readers own cultural knowledge, position[ing] the savvy reader above Lorelei rather than

alongside her (131). Laughing at Loreleis assessment of the Whistler painting, for example,

requires cultural knowledge about fine art and prompts readers to mock individuals who lack

such cultural capital. Looss satire thus prompted her readers to separate themselves from 1920s

constructs conflating femininity with spending and ignorance while at the same time her serial

glamorized female consumerism. Accordingly, Looss satire, and Loreleis femininity, carried

entertainment value for women who, like Loos, both perpetuated and resented such constructs.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes lampooned women who exemplified the modern conflation of

consumerism, beauty, and fatuity as well as the gentlemen who preferred them. Loreleis

ignorance, displayed through her inability to value high culture, parallels her gentlemens

inability to value cultured women. Throughout the work, Loos employs the term gentlemen, a

reference to cultivated men of good social standing, as an all-purpose word for men of means

attracted to Lorelei. Looss broad use of the term serves to mock the gender as well as the social

status such gentlemen embody.

Much like Mencken, the gentlemen in Looss satire espouse the value of education,

culture, and intellect, but expose their hypocrisy through their unflagging interest in Lorelei, who

exhibits none of these qualities. Throughout Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Loreleis suitors

repeatedly profess an interest in her brains 291 and devote significant time and money to her

education. As Lorelei explains in the first installment, Mr. Eisman supports her in New York

because he is the gentleman who is interested in educating me, so of course he is always coming

down to New York to see how my brains have improved (12). 292 Later, Mr. Lamson, a writer

also interested in educating Lorelei, sends her a collection of works by Joseph Conrad, and Mr.
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Bartlett offers Lorelei a book of philosophy and appears to compliment Loreleis intellect as he

tries to persuade her to accompany him to Vienna (56). 293

Although numerous men attempt to educate Lorelei, Loreleis intractable ignorance

defies their efforts. Lorelei instructs her maid to read and then recount the narrative of Lord Jim

so that she can improve her mind without wasting her time by reading the book (28), and her

efforts to please Eisman by holding a literary salon end in a wild party fueled by bootlegged

liquor (18). Loos ridicules male hypocrisy as, in spite of their ineffectual tutelage, none of the

gentlemen lose interest in their mission to educate Lorelei. Through the gentlemens persistent

interest in Loreleis intellect, education acts as a double entendre masking the gentlemens

actual interest in providing Lorelei with sexual rather than cultural experience. 294 This

convoluted form of education fits perfectly with the modern ideal of feminine intellect Lorelei

embodies, smart in relation to consumer products and physical allure while incapable and

uninterested in intellectual pursuits. Loos thus exposes the hypocrisy of men like Mencken,

whose purported devotion to intellect and culture dissipates in the presence of female beauty

rendered unthreatening through female ignorance.

Loos undercuts the gentlemens interest in Loreleis education by repeatedly drawing

attention to Loreleis ignorance and lack of education. Throughout her diary, Lorelei misspells,

misuses, and misunderstands words, in effect, documenting her ignorance. Lorelei uses the word

sheik to mean chic and repeatedly refers to herself as a girl like I, in a misguided effort to

sound refined. Lorelei demonstrates both her linguistic and cultural ignorance as she tours

Europe, visiting the Eyefull Tower, Versigh, and Buda Pest (99, 124, 167). Although

Lorelei perpetually demonstrates her ignorance and lack of cultural value, the gentlemen in
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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes continue to value her. Not only do they give her costly material gifts,

but they also surrender priceless immaterial items for the promise and pleasure of being with her.

Beekman sacrifices the stability of a thirty-five year marriage in order to buy Lorelei a tiara, Mr.

Bartlett reveals state secrets in his attempt to persuade Lorelei to become his companion, and the

narrative implies that Eisman, whose mother is authrodox (17), betrays his religious beliefs in

pursuing a relationship with Lorelei. 295 Through these exchanges, Loos satirizes men who trade

things of value for culturally and intellectually worthless women. Like the woman in the Tcla

ad wearing inferior pearls, the gentlemen with Lorelei advertise their ignorance by accessorizing

their masculinity with a culturally and intellectually inferior woman.

Loreleis ignorance plays a key role in fashioning the entertainment value of her

character by precluding any condemnation, or devaluation, of her motives. Lorelei seems

innocent and ignorant of the sexual implications entailed in the gentlemens interest and gifts.

Lorelei tells Beekman, for example, that a tiara will make her fit to be his companion, and

continues saying, So then I told him that, even if his wife was in London, we could still be

friends because I could not help but admire him even if his wife was in London (86). Loreleis

language offers the possibility that she is truly unaware of the innuendo entailed in offering to

be friends and admire a man despite his marriage. Loreleis language and reference to their

continuing relationship prompts Beekman to buy her the tiara. While Beekman, and, later,

Beekmans wife, understand this as a transaction based on an offer of sex, Lorelei, ignorantly

and innocently, sees the tiara as a gift free of immoral connotation. As she explains in her diary,

Sir Francis Beekman . . . was the admirer of mine in London who seemed to admire me so

much that he asked me if he could make me a present of a diamond tiara (102). Lorelei seems to

understand the tiara as a symbol of Beekmans genuine admiration rather than a down payment
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on a promised tryst, and, after receiving the tiara, Lorelei travels to Paris feeling no sense of

obligation to remain with Beekman in London. In addition, Lorelei transfers the idea and desire

for the tiara to Beekman, rather than herself, who, inspired with admiration, requests

permission, seemingly of his own accord, to purchase the tiara for Lorelei. Loreleis insistent

innocence places Beekman in a double bind since in order to rectify the situation by obtaining

either the tiara or Lorelei, he must admit his original understanding of the bargain as a sexual

exchange, acknowledging Lorelei as a prostitute and himself as a customer. Devaluing Lorelei in

this way devalues his own morals and intentions, an impossible admission for the gentleman who

wishes to remain a gentleman.

Beekmans dilemma parallels Eismans and Bartletts and all of the gentlemen in

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes whom Lorelei leaves, seemingly ignorant of what the gentlemen

expect in return for their gifts and investments in her education. Loreleis childish ignorance

echoes the childish attire and demeanor that she dons for her admirers. Lorelei shops for hats,

with the ever-youthful Fanny Ward, in the childrens department, adorning her adult body with

accessories designed for children. Lorelei further affirms her childish status by addressing Mr.

Eisman as Daddy, a moniker modeling her child-like understanding of adoring men who buy

her presents and expect nothing in return. Loreleis childishness and ignorance thus preclude her

involvement in sexual trysts. Moreover, these qualities secure her entertainment value by

containing her sexuality within conventional social morals. Loreleis childishness thus satirizes

the 1920s idealization of youth in constructs of femininity by imbuing Lorelei with this ideal

quality of sexual allure and then using this quality to prevent sexual encounters.
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Loreleis child-like ignorance also precludes her agency and, therefore, her culpability in

her dealings with gentlemen by rendering her oblivious to the havoc her actions wreak. In an act

of childish pettiness, Lorelei gives Bartletts intel on U.S. armament to Major Falcon because

Falcon buys her perfume and a stuffed dog, in contrast to Bartlett who once called her names. In

addition to endangering national security, Lorelei mortally threatens the gentlemen who prefer

her by opening Bartlett to accusations of treason and shooting a Mr. Jennings, her former

employer, when she finds him entangled with another woman. Throughout these encounters,

Lorelei maintains her innocence, even blaming the revolver [for having] shot Mr. Jennings

(48). 296

However, Loreleis masterful manipulation of gentlemen and events indicates that her

insistent innocence and ignorance lacks verity. As Susan Hegeman points out in her article

Taking Blondes Seriously, Loreleis agency thus forms the central question of Gentlemen

Prefer Blondes. Whether or not Lorelei manipulates men and circumstances deliberately and

ruthlessly, or, as she insists, fate simply happens to happen in her favor, 297 determines exactly

how ignorant, and, therefore, innocent, she is. The answer to this dilemma determines Loreleis

culpability as well as her femininity and, thus, her entertainment value.

Depending on the interpretation, Looss work either lampoons a frivolously feminine

blonde or ridicules men through a cunning, female con artist, making Lorelei either a victim or a

vampconstructs carrying varying capital in 1920s entertainment. Ziegfeld addressed the

entertainment value of both of these constructs in 1919 when he declared, most people do not

like the vampire type of beauty but prefer the charm of youth and happiness and health.

(Picking Out 35). However, both forms remained popular in entertainment during the 1920s.
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Loos capitalized on aspects of both of these forms of beauty through the ambiguity of

Loreleis capability and culpability. In the serial, such ambiguity titillated readers with the

intersection of both the vampire and the youth in Lorelei while also raising doubts as to the

value and charm of feminine ignorance as idealized in modern constructs of young, sexual

women. Through the ambiguity surrounding Loreleis agency, Loos leaves readers to wonder

whether her characters inanity, a quintessential quality of modern femininity, acts as an asset, a

liability, or a threat to her male companions. Centering the satire in such uncertainty placed

modern gentlemen in a precarious position, doubtful as to whether their preference for female

ignorance rendered them venerable or vulnerable.

Constructing Culpability

While this ambiguity remains central to the serial and the novel, Loos removed such

doubt from the stage version, which portrays Lorelei as intelligent and intentional in her

machinations. The stage version thus presents a more pernicious portrayal of female sexuality

and ignorance by clearly constructing Loreleis feminine innocence as a deliberate facade she

actively and consciously employs to trap men. While establishing the unambiguous intellectual

capability of the protagonist, this characterization also constructs flirtatious women as

mercenary, portraying female sexuality as threatening to male autonomy and economy. The stage

adaptation thus emphasizes the danger of female ignorance but, by explicitly portraying this

ignorance as fake, ultimately serves to highlight the threat of women intelligent enough to

employ it.

While separate playwrights adapted Ferbers Show Boat and Whartons The Age of

Innocence, Loos herself adapted Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. 298 Accordingly, the character shifts

between the serial and the play reflect her vision for the character as well as her facility with the
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demands of live performance. 299 Prior to this project, Loos worked for over a decade in the film

industry, selling hundreds of scenarios 300 and establishing herself as one of D. W. Griffithss

leading writers. In addition to her screen success, Loos had also completed two Broadway plays

by this time, including The Whole Towns Talking which opened in 1923 and ran for over one

hundred performances. 301

As a seasoned screenwriter and experienced playwright, Loos adapted her critique and

depiction of femininity in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to the conventions of performance, aiming

to attract a broad audience through the comic aspects of her characters while maintaining the

sting of her criticisms against the femininity embodied by blondes and endorsed by the men

preferring them. Looss adaptation resulted in a commercially successful production, presenting

audiences with a visually and aurally comic depiction of the modern femininity epitomized in

Lorelei that undermined the innocence and ignorance society prized in the modern girl. Rather

than the ignorant and innocent blonde of the serial, Looss play portrayed a calculating and

culpable femininity, offering audiences a more alarming than alluring depiction of the modern

girl.

In adapting Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for producer Edgar Selwyn, Loos retained much

of the dialogue and many of the plot points from the novel, but she also compressed the action

and, thus, eliminated several scenes, mainly from the portion of the story set in central Europe. 302

The three-act play opens aboard an ocean liner as Lorelei and Dorothy travel to Europe.

Raymond Sovey, who later became famous for designing elaborate and elegant scenery,

designed the sets for the production in order to emphasize the importance of monetary wealth in

the luxurious decor. While opulent, the ocean liners imperial suite offers a visual representation

of Loreleis childishness through displays of various stuffed dogs, a teddy bear, and two dolls
210

Fig. 6 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public
Library for the Performing Arts.

distributed throughout the room. 303 Act two takes place in Loreleis Paris hotel room, also

decorated with stuffed dogs, and the play concludes in act three at Loreleis New York

apartment. 304 Rather than meeting Spoffard, played by Frank Morgan (famous for portraying the

wizard in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz), later in her journey, Lorelei encounters him onboard

and begins her conquest of Spoffard in act one (see fig. 6). In addition to condensing the action,

Loos replaced Loreleis spelling infelicities with mispronunciations and malaprops which

translated Loreleis ignorance into the aural medium of the theatre. In the serial, for example,
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Lorelei uses the spelling riskay for the word risqu, which, in the script, Loos changed to

risky. While these alterations are relatively minor, they facilitated the major shift Loos

performed in creating Loreleis more pernicious stage characterization.

As stated earlier, the novel shrouds Loreleis culpability in ambiguity, but, in the play,

Loos fashioned Loreleis character to emphasize the deliberate nature of her actions. Loos

describes Lorelei in the stage directions, saying, She appears to be the perfect bonehead, but

back of all that is an almost supernatural knowledge of the weaknesses of men, which knowledge

she uses to her best advantage (1-4). 305 Loreleis supernatural knowledge and its application

present a more calculating character in the play than in the serial, which, as a document written

from Loreleis point of view, never offers such a self-aware description. While more intelligent,

the Lorelei of the play is also more insidious, deliberately preying on men and directing male

desire for her own material gain rather than innocently trusting in their purported interest in her

intellectual improvement. Her phonetic pronunciation of risqu, for example, indicates her

intentional, if ineffectual, effort to study refined rhetoric.

In addition to emphasizing the deliberate nature of Loreleis plotting in her character

description, Loos altered the storys plot in ways that revealed the mindfulness behind Loreleis

machinations to the audience, as well as some of the other characters. In the serial, for example,

Lorelei encounters Spoffard, the rich, moralist bachelor, by chance while traveling through

Europe. In the play, however, Lorelei deliberately selects the ocean liner carrying her to Europe

because she knows Spoffard will be onboard (1-3). While this condenses the action to suit the

real-time medium of theatre, introducing Loreleis interest in Spoffard earlier in the play

compounds Loreleis disloyalty to Eisman since she knowingly employs his money to fund her

conquest of another man. In addition to condensing the action, Loos drew on her film experience
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with Fairbanks to increase the comedic elements of the play by adding surprise encounters and

farcical routines. Rather than arriving in Paris as planned, as he does in the novel, Eisman arrives

unexpectedly in Paris in the play, surprising Lorelei in her hotel room as she anticipates a visit

from Spoffard. Lorelei handles the situation by taking Eisman to dine at an establishment where

she knows he will contract ptomaine poisoning, thus buying her time to finish her conquest of

Spoffard. In the play, Eismans arrival creates comedy by throwing Lorelei into a panic, but this

plot shift also serves to expose the conscious calculations Lorelei performs in pursuing her goals.

Rather than manufacturing excuses or relying on fate, in the play, Lorelei plots to poison Eisman

in order to hide her relationship with Spoffard.

By constructing a more aware and intelligent Lorelei, Loos maintained her critique of

gentlemens preference for the innocent and ignorant faade Lorelei presents but shifted her

portrayal of vapid femininity to one of a calculating female con artists. In doing so, Loos created

a character more closely aligned with herself, presenting a childish and frivolous front while

remaining worldly wise and focusing unflaggingly on her work. Accordingly, this version of

femininity remained sexually appealing while becoming subversively superior, outsmarting

prestigious and prosperous men through her innocent faade and sexual allure.

Such changes provided Lorelei with more agency while also imbuing her with more

malice. The visual nature of the theatrical medium served to underscore Loreleis duplicity by

displaying her sudden shifts of affection in stark contrast to one another. Rather than hearing of

Loreleis wandering heart through the filter of her explanations and justifications to her diary, the

audience hears her cry Daddy! as she flings herself happily into Eismans arms seconds after

planning to poison him and minutes after cuddling with Spoffard (2-49). While Loreleis

rationalizations portray such shifts as the result of fate in the serial and the novel, the play offers
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no internal monologue, leaving audiences to interpret her sudden changes of heart as either

malicious or justified, but foreclosing any possibility of understanding them as unintentional or

inconsequential.

The stage version of the narrative exposes Loreleis duplicity to her theatre audience to as

well as her cadre of suitors. In the serial, Loreleis suitors remain largely ignorant of her

schemes, which are rendered particularly opaque by Loreleis own professed ignorance and

innocence. In the play, however, Loos structured events so that Eisman learns of the deliberate

nature of his food poisoning. Unbeknownst to Lorelei, Eisman also reveals her spending habits to

Spoffard, her fianc. In the novel, Lorelei controls the information about her schemes and

extravagant spending. She deliberately directs Dorothy to reveal her spending habits to Spoffard

in the serial so that he will break off their engagement, allowing Lorelei to sue him for breach of

promise. In the play, however, Lorelei loses control over her secrets and must repair the damage

Eisman causes when he reveals this information to Spoffard without her authority. As her suitors

discover her deception, Loreleis agency becomes a liability for her character who, in the play,

stands on the verge of confronting the consequences of her actions.

Although Lorelei wreaks havoc on several of her suitors in the novel, she simply departs

before complications arise, often leaving a letter saying she hopes to meet the man again

someday, a sentiment indicating her ignorance of any wrongdoing. In the play, however, Lorelei

finds consequences more difficult to escape. For example, rather than remaining in London, her

entanglement with Beekman follows her to Paris in the stage version. Instead of hunting in

Scotland in order to avoid his wife, as he does in the book, Sir Beekman follows Lorelei to Paris

when she flees with the tiara. Beekman intimates that she cannot avoid the sexual favors she

owes him for the accessory, informing her, I warn youyou cant lose Beekie . . . you may
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misplace Beekie, but youll never lose him! (2-5). Beekies manner is friendly, but his

warning is clearLorelei will pay what she owes. Beekmans warning indicates the harm

Lorelei might incur should the gentlemen she beguiles prove ungentlemanly in their revenge.

Beekmans persistent presence in Loreleis suite emphasizes the flimsy nature of the respectable

veneer holding her admirers in check. While Lorelei blithely avoids such complications in the

serial, their presence in the play underscores the risk she undertakes in manipulating the fragile

boundary between respectable and risqu in modern femininity. 306 The potential for rupture

threatens to leave Lorelei ruined and penniless should her suitors cease to invest or demand a

return. While none of these events occur, the play includes the potential for these disastrous

possibilities, which the novel ignores.

In addition to portraying the precarious nature of Loreleis position, Looss alterations

also depict the aftermath of her scheming. Consequences continue to follow Lorelei in the play

as Lady Beekman also arrives in Paris, as she does in the book, and demands that Lorelei return

the tiara. 307 Placing both Beekmans in Paris provides the opportunity for a comic confrontation

and creates an atmosphere of farce with characters entering, exiting, and hiding as they pursue

and avoid confrontation. Although comical, this device places the Beekmans marital issues and

the consequences of Loreleis machinations before Lorelei as well as the audience, and the

pathetic couple exits in physical and emotional disarray. Portraying the consequences of

Loreleis schemes lessens the levity of her betrayals and foregrounds the damage and distress

caused by her dissemblance.

By altering the play to portray the consciousness and consequences of Loreleis

scheming, Loos created a more serious satire on stage than in the serial, highlighting the dangers
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of feminine ignorance and innocence for blondes as well as the culture elevating such forms of

femininity. Underscoring the deliberate nature of Loreleis plotting rendered her flirting more

pernicious than pleasant and stood to alert audiences to the dangers of performing as well as

preferring a lack of intellect in femininity. Critic Alan Dale remarked on this shift in his review

of the play, noting, She [Lorelei] and her companion, Dorothy, were perceived luring

gentlemen to their ruin, demanding presents and behaving like little ladies of the evening more

indubitably than they did in the story [the novel]. Dales comments on the little ladies reflect

the persistence of childish femininity in the stage version while also recognizing the more

deliberate and insidious nature of the women luring men into an exchange of this diminutive

and sexualized femininity for material presents. By foregrounding Loreleis conscious

duplicity, Looss theatrical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes offered audiences a sterner cautionary tale

with a more culpable but much less relatable and enjoyable protagonist.

Looss critique benefitted from a more calculating character, but the commercial success

of her production required a sympathetic protagonist. In order to retain audience sympathy for

Lorelei, Loos added two female characters to the play, Gloria Atwell and Connie, blatantly

mercenary gold-diggers who serve as foils for Dorothy and Lorelei. In the stage directions, Loos

describes Gloria as the cold, superious [sic], supercilious type of gold digger, full of pretense

and social buncombe. She is very good looking, very chic and very smartly dressed. She speaks

in an affected manner, which expresses her idea of social distinction (1-2). In contrast to Gloria,

Lorelei is warm-hearted and unaffected. Gloria calls everyone darling, which she pronounces

dolling in an attempt to sound refined. Lorelei also attempts to speak in a cultured manner, but

her frequent malaprops and mispronunciations thwart any positive effective this might have. In
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addition, Loreleis ignorance in matters of cultural value renders her incapable of social pretense

except in regard to fashion and physical appearance. Glorias companion Connie offers another

contrast to Lorelei in the area of morals. Connie, described in the stage directions as very pretty

but also pretty common, indicates that she might be pregnant, 308 providing a sharp contrast to

Lorelei and Dorothy who insinuate but never, at least never explicitly, consummate. While

Lorelei inflicts more damage than Gloria, the contrast Gloria and Connie provide indicates that

Lorelei is more sincere, moral, and less malicious than the average gold-digger, allowing the

audience to maintain a kind of sympathy for the stage version of Lorelei in spite of her

calculating qualities.

Casting and Capital

As with The Age of Innocence, casting the shows lead actress became the most crucial

element in conveying the playwrights vision of her protagonist and her cultural critique. While

Looss script provided a solid foundation for a calculating yet kindly Lorelei, Loos and producer

Edgar Selwyn knew that casting would determine the commercial success of this new

characterization. Their decision proved particularly challenging since the popularity of

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes rested entirely on the well-established entertainment value of Lorelei,

a popular literary character audiences would expect to see faithfully reproduced on stage.

Drawing on Loreleis strong resemblance to the chorus girl stereotype, 309 Selwyn initially

went to the source in search of a genuinely blonde and vapid actress to carry the show. Selwyn

started by auditioning former Ziegfeld girls, women, by definition of the Ziegfeld brand, both

beautiful and brainless. Ironically, cultural stereotypes regarding the separation of beauty and

brains complicated the casting process since women fitting the look Selwyn required also suited
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a performance genre that limited their opportunities for acting experience. As Loos states, it

requires a very special talent to play a dumb blonde without making her tedious, but finding a

beautiful blonde with this talent proved impossible for Selwyn (Cast 145). June Walker, the

brunette who eventually played Lorelei, described Selwyns casting difficulties in an interview,

boasting, The authors and management rehearsed four or five blondes. They tried Ziegfeld

Follies Girls who looked the part. . . Time

passed; as writers say, and more blondes were

rehearsed (qtd. in Patterson 12). Eventually,

Selwyn approached Walker, but, according to

Walker, Loos and Emerson told Selwyn that

they admired the actress but couldnt picture

her in the role (Patterson 12). The couples

opinion prevailed, and Selwyn continued his

search.

As Walkers comments indicate, Loos

played an active role in selecting the cast for


Fig. 7 Mildred Macleod, authors collection,
Vandamm Studio The New York Public Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Loos personally
Library
approached Broadway impresario David

Belasco in order to request that he release Edna Hibbard from her final performance in Ladies of

the Evening so that she would be available to play Dorothy. 310 Belasco acquiesced, and, in

March 1926, the New York Times announced that Edna Hibbard would play Dorothy in the new

adaptation of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Gossip, Mar.) The Times also related that Selwyn

had yet to find an actress to play Lorelei. At this point, Selwyn and Loos both approached
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Universal Pictures Carl Laemmle in an effort to persuade him to release film star Laura La

Plante for the role, but Laemmle refused (Kingsley). Eventually, Selwyn was forced to start

rehearsals without a leading lady. Finally, on April 6th, the New York Times and the Chicago

Daily Tribune announced that Mildred Macleod would appear as Lorelei when the show opened

in Detroit (see fig. 7). Reputedly, stitchers performed last minute alterations on her costumes

while Macleod rehearsed on a train to Detroit where she joined a cast already a week into

rehearsals (Just Before). Macleod opened the show in Detroit on April 18th, 1926, but, by April

21st, Selwyn had decided to replace the blonde actress for the shows Chicago opening.

Persuaded, perhaps, by Macleods failure, Selwyn realized he would have to settle for a brunette

and convinced Loos to accept his previous choice, actress June Walker.

Walkers motives for accepting the role highlight issues of race, intellect, and gender in

creating individual actresss capital as well as the capital entailed in Lorelei as an iconic

characterization of femininity. As stated earlier, both Loos and Walker adopted aspects of

Loreleis femininity to increase their capital as attractive and intelligent women in an industry

depicting intelligence and beauty as antithetical qualities in a woman. Prior to appearing as

Lorelei, Walker earned a respectable reputation through her work at the Theatre Guild, a non-

commercial company supported by a subscriber audience, but she had yet to establish herself as a

star in a Broadway hit. Up to this point, Walkers favorite roles included Sadie Cohen in John

Howard Lawsons Processional (1925) at the Theatre Guild and several lead roles she had

played while working in Toronto with Edward Robbins Players (Patterson 62). These previous

roles included several characters Walker described as slaveys and cockneys (qtd. in Patterson

62), which linked Walker with constructs of class and race outside 1920s delineations of ideal
219

femininity. Similar to Cornell and her association with sinners, Walker felt her affiliation with

racially and economically marginalized characters hampered her efforts to attain the income and

status of a Broadway star. In order to increase her capital as a Broadway actress, Walker thus

purposefully accepted the part of Lorelei because, as she explained, I was afraid of being kept in

those parts (qtd. in Patterson 62).

Fig. 8 June Walker


as Lorelei, Billy
Rose Theatre
Division, The New
York Public Library
for the Performing
Arts.

Because Lorelei epitomized cultural ideals of class and race in femininity, the role

offered Walker an ideal opportunity to escape her association with low-class and non-white

characters. By embodying Loreleis upper-class consumption of luxury goods and untarnished


220

whiteness of the blonde ideal Walker could distance herself from the race and class stereotypes

linked to her through her earlier roles and, thus, increase her capital as an actress. 311 To this end,

Walker participated in publicity emphasizing Loreleis race and class, including advertisements

for blonde wigs; 312 publicity close-ups of her adorned with her blonde coiffeur, elegant gown,

and sting of pearls; and production photos of her in Loreleis stylish clothes and jewels (see fig.

8). Walkers New York Times interview aided her attempt to co-opt Loreleis whiteness by

framing Walkers comments with a description of the brunette actress physical transformation

into the blonde Lorelei (More or Less). The column relates how Walker employs two pale

yellow wigs as well as a box of whitening, strawberry rouge, [and] a heavy blue pencil to

transform her naturally pale ochre skin into the whiteness embodied by Lorelei (More or

Less). Walker masks her natural, faintly sepia skin under whitening, rouge, and pencil and

her brown hair under a natural blonde wig, to form the quintessence of chic, white femininity

(More or Less). The interviewer contrasts Walker and Loreleis femininity in her description

of how she watched the metamorphosis of a symphonic brunette into the synthetic blonde

whom not merely gentlemen but more specifically producers and critics prefer (More or

Less). The interviewers contrast between symphonic and synthetic indicates the

manufactured and artificial nature of this white ideal, which, as she confirms, offers actresses an

advantage in producers casting choices. This observation proved true for Walker whose

association with Lorelei helped her land lead roles in two of her following endeavors, The Love

Nest (1927), and David Belascos The Bachelor Father (1928), which ran for over two hundred

performances.

In addition to the desirability and artificiality of Walkers whiteness as an actress as well

as a character, the article also illustrates the exclusive nature of this racial construct of femininity
221

in the entertainment industry. As the author notes, Walkers transformation occurs in front of a

nut brown maid with a hand mirror, an observation underscoring Walkers race and status

(More or Less). Just as Lorelei, through her beauty and jewelry, acts as a class signifier for the

men she accompanies, so does Walkers maid, through her racial otherness, signify Walkers

status as a leading lady in a hit show. In addition to signifying Walkers status, the maid operates

as a reminder of the subordinate role non-white women held in mainstream theatre during this

period, employed to literally and figuratively assist in the production of whiteness. The inequities

of this hierarchy played out in the dressing room as well as on stage as Grace Burgess, a white

actress, donned blackface and dark stockings in order to play Lulu, Loreleis maid. 313 While the

character would have remained intact without this shading, Burgess makeup, much like the

racial identification of Walkers maid in the article, served to underscore the social and economic

standing of the white character and actress. While Burgess and Walker crossed racial boundaries

in performance, racial standards for ideal femininity limited options for non-white women in

mainstream entertainment and, as discussed earlier, white-collar employment. 314 Additionally, as

Walkers concerns about casting indicate, even superficial associations with non-whiteness

threatened to circumscribe an actress career. 315 Loreleis synthetic whiteness allowed Walker to

project an image of beauty and modernity and distance herself from the non-white and low-class

characters she embodied in previous plays.

However, Looss narrative also established Loreleis blondeness as a symbol of female

ignorance, and, in co-opting this symbol of race, Walker simultaneously acquired Loreleis link

with inanity. Due to the capital whiteness carried in mainstream entertainment, Loreleis race

acted as an asset for Walker, but Loreleis mentality was a potential liability. While managers

hired chorus girls based primarily on looks, Selwyns, as well as Barnes and Sheldons,
222

difficulties with casting demonstrate that producers valued intellect when searching for leading

ladies. While beauty was an asset, complex roles required women with acting experience and the

ability to critique and analyze a character. Loreleis brainlessness thus threatened to derail any

serious consideration Walker hoped to attain as an actress through her performance in Gentlemen

Prefer Blondes. As discussed earlier, women in entertainment, particularly during the era of star

vehicles, were closely associated, both personally and professionally, with roles they performed

on stage. Selwyn, for example, refused to audition Helen Hayes for the role of Lorelei because,

as Selwyn explained, Little Helen Hayes couldnt even suggest this character. Why shes a

virgin! (qtd. in Loos, Cast 147-8). Selwyns conflation of Hayes life experience with the

characters highlights the dilemma Walker faced in taking on a role exemplifying the nations

lowest possible mentality (Loos, A Girl 266).

While wary of the impact Loreleis mentality might have on her own capital, Walker

understood that this vacuity played a key role in creating her characters entertainment value.

Loreleis emblematic ignorance had achieved such fame in popular culture by this time that

Walker knew she must capture this aspect of Looss iconic character in order to succeed in her

performance. As Walker explained, playing Lorelei was like singing opera where the audience

knows the score and is, therefore, the more exacting (More or Less). In order to please this

demanding audience, Walker emphasized Loreleis childishness and ignorance through her

physicalization, using a high-pitched voice and vapid facial expression to create the character.

Walker explained her vocal technique to the New York Times, disclosing, I try to make my

voice empty, yet arresting; emaciated to thinness, yet languorously luxurious . . . I pitch Loreleis

tones fairly high with a slight rising inflection at the end of each sentence so as to send them over

the footlights still higher (More or Less). Reviews citing Miss Walkers childish voice
223

(Atkinson, The Play: Blondes) and implausible coo (Hammond) indicate that Walker

achieved the desired effect. In addition to her childish coo, Walker created a blank facial

expression to convey what she referred to as Loreleis dumb-bell mentality (qtd. in Patterson

12). Walkers expression impressed the New York Times interviewer, who inquired, How do

you achieve that sweet vacuity of expression? (More or Less). Walker explicated her

technique, responding, That comes from holding my eyes in a rigid stare and is partly the effect

of the wig (More or Less). Critic Frank Vreeland found this method particularly effective in

translating Loreleis characteristic mentality to the stage: Miss Walker, he explained, was the

incarnation of professionally girlish demureness. With round, starry eyes and a constant effort to

be sweetly and stuffily refined, Miss Walker managed to win favor for a role that just stopped

short of radiant imbecility. Walker thus created the imbecility audiences expected in Lorelei,

which undercut the emphasis Looss script placed on the protagonists deliberate scheming and

also threatened Walkers capital as an actress.

Walker, however, mitigated the risk posed by Loreleis imbecility by deliberately

distancing herself from Loreleis mindless mentality in her publicity for the show. While

ignorance defined Lorelei, Walker repeatedly emphasized the fact that it did not define her.

Confiding to an interviewer that Loos likes neither the book nor the play, 316 Walker implied

that both she and Loos possessed talents and intellects superior to their frivolous, fictional

character (qtd. in Patterson 12). Walker expressed her desire to display this superior intellect in a

comment to the New York Times, stating, I want to play more subtle, sophisticated comedy,

demonstrating that she, unlike Lorelei, recognized cultural hierarchy and understood the inferior

position of blunt and unsophisticated work (More or Less). Walker referred to Lorelei as a

dumb-bell and downplayed the challenge of the role, saying, It is not a difficult part to play,
224

but it did require more than a type (qtd. Patterson 12). Walkers comments about difficulty

follow her account of Selwyns frustrations in finding a capable actress. Explaining that she does

not find the role difficult thus places her in a superior position to the many actresses Selwyn

auditioned, most of whom were genuine blondes. Later in the interview, Walker emphasizes the

vast distance between her brunette self and the blonde stereotype, saying, I havent a friend who

isnt dark-haired. I dont think I ever had (Patterson 12). Walker thus implies not only that she

herself bears no resemblance to the stereotype, but also that she does not associate with women

who do.

Walkers strategy of both performing and distancing herself from Loreleis ignorance

proved successful with audiences and critics as well as her current and future producers.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes opened in Detroit in 1926 and played successfully at Chicagos

Selwyn Theatre over the summer. 317 The successful Chicago run prompted fierce competition

between New York theatre managers hoping to house the production, and ticket costs for

opening night orchestra seats soared to a record price of $11.00 (Gossip, Aug.) In spite of this

critical success, Loos and Selwyn both felt they could improve the production before the

Broadway premier. Selwyn asked Loos to fine-tune the script, and Loos suggested replacing

Walker who, according to Carey, Loos found to be too cozy and sweet (111), characteristics

which undercut her critique. Selwyn, however, refused to replace Walker so close to opening,

and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes premiered at New Yorks Times Square Theater 318 on September

28th, 1926 with Walker in the lead. While critics remained amused but unenthused by the play,

reviewers roundly applauded Walkers clever performance. 319 J. Brooks Atkinson called June

Walkers imaginative impression of Lorelei Lee, a splendid achievement of portrait acting,

[which] communicates a far more subtle character delineation, impossible to describe in


225

commonplace terms (Speaking). Alexander Woollcott declared that the choice of June

Walker [for the role] was a stroke of genius, and Percy Hammond proclaimed, Walkers

manipulation of the nave heroine was one of the most skillful bits of comedy that has been cast

this year before the Broadway illuminatti. Such uniform praise for Walkers intellectual and

skillful approach to the character indicates that she resisted the common conflation of actress and

character and, through this role, successfully transformed herself into a more marketable actress.

Ironically, the middlebrow aura of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes also worked to increase Walkers

capital as a performer by translating her talent from the small houses and intellectual plays of the

Theatre Guild to the mass appeal of a Broadway hit. Critic Helen Klumph applauded this career

move which, she believed, kept the gifted and promising Walker from becoming the pet of

the highbrows (C13). Instead of equating Walkers mentality with her characters, critics

praised her talent and ability, which they now associated with mainstream success. Walkers

associations with Lorelei and the hit play carried her into leading roles for several following

seasons, including, most famously, the role of Laurey in Lynn Riggs play Green Grow the

Lilacs (1931), which Rogers and Hammerstein later adapted into the musical Oklahoma! (1943).

While Walker carried the New York production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, three

additional Loreleis led touring companies throughout the United States. The New York Times

reported that 500 actresses auditioned to play Lorelei in these productions, which carried the play

to a nation-wide audience while the original still played in New York (What News). Loos and

Emerson assisted in generating publicity for the tour by attending the opening night of the Los

Angeles production, starring Joan Marion, 320 which opened the new Belasco Theater on

November 1st. Other companies toured to major cities, including Pittsburgh and Atlantic City.
226

Through this stage version of Lorelei, Looss critique of American femininity proliferated

throughout the country, lampooning the modern idealization of feminine ignorance and

consumerism. However, in spite of Looss characterization of the stage Lorelei as deliberately

cunning and calculating, commercial considerations, particularly as they influenced Walkers

performance, kept Lorelei delightfully entertaining, eventually inspiring musical and motion

picture versions of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In both the musical, which established Carol

Channing as a star (1949), and the movie, which created an iconic role for Marilyn Monroe

(1953), 321 Looss message was overshadowed by the charisma of her star. Even the version with

Walker, whom Loos felt was wrong for the role, ran for over six months (Loos, Cast 86),

indicating audiences remained charmed even when encountering the more manipulative version

of Looss innocent blonde. As Loos would later remark, Lorelei has been harder to kill than

Rasputin (Cast 107). Loreleis longevity reveals the continued resonance of the blonde

stereotype and the combined pleasure of relishing and ridiculing the values she represents. Just

as Loos herself capitalized on the system she criticized, so does Lorelei allow audiences to bask

in blondeness through her overt sexuality and opulent materialism while simultaneously

snickering at the ignorance conflated with these aspects of femininity. Serving as both a

stereotype and an ideal, Lorelei endures in American entertainment as the vapid, non-threatening

blonde who has more fun and, consequently, more capital than her smarter, darker counterparts.

While critics and scholars acknowledge the problematic aspects of this portrayal, it continues to

carry tremendous value in entertainment as its sustained popularity and profitability ensure the

endurance of this representation in commercial entertainment.


Conclusion:
Continuing Issues of Capital

In August 2012, the Hollywood Reporter announced that, following revelations of actress

Kristen Stewarts affair with director Rupert Sanders, Universal Pictures had decided that

Stewart would not appear in future films based on her feature Snow White and the Huntsman

(Rosenberg). According to culture reporter Alyssa Rosenberg, producers feared that Stewarts

infidelity to boyfriend and Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson would harm her credibility and,

thus, her marketability as the fairy-tale princess. The focus on Stewart and her commercial value

in this story, rather than Sanders or Pattinsons, underscores the continued centrality and

complexity of commodified femininity in American entertainment. Although Universal Pictures

later denied dropping Stewart, such speculations reveal the abiding influence of the capital

complex in creating marketable representations of femininity in entertainment. Producers

continue to assess and manage actresses and characters capitalin this case, Stewarts and

Snow Whitesin order to create the most profitable representations possible.

As stated in the introduction to this dissertation, few studies investigate precisely how

practitioners in for-profit entertainment calculate entertainment value in relation to femininity.

The proceeding analyses of Show Boat, The Age of Innocence, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

demonstrate how practitioners in for-profit entertainment worked to calculate and compound the

value of femininity in specific instances and productions. In each production, producers, writers,

and artists primarily considered non-material capital, basing their calculations on characteristics

carrying particular value in 1920s femininity, including beauty, as defined in the modern girl, as

well as ethnicity, class, race, sexuality, and heteronormativity. Practitioners assessed these
228

qualities in relation to both the actress and the character and based their valuations on

assumptions of the potential appeal these specific qualities, as uniquely exhibited and combined

in these particular actress/character combinations, would have for Broadway audiences. In their

evaluations, producers, directors, and writers considered entertainment value in relation to the

physicality of the actress as well as the femininity she and her character presentedvapid,

sexual, moral, patriotic, incompetent, American, helpless, independent, maternal, materialistic,

etc. Each of these aspects, combined in the complex asset of actress/character, carried capital in

these calculations of entertainment value.

In addition, each production worked to compound the value of this asset through various

techniques. In the case of Show Boat, Ziegfeld and his colleagues worked to supplement the

entertainment value of their Magnolias conservative femininity through more sensational

representations of womanhood in displays of physical female strength, queered sexual violence,

and black sexuality. These evocative displays worked to highlight the conventional form of

femininity that the production commodified in Magnolia while Magnolia acted as a normative

testament and moral guarantor legitimating the productions more provocative representations of

femininity. In a similar manner, May worked in Barness The Age of Innocence to contrast and

contain Ellens sexuality, allowing the production to commodify female desire by subsuming its

value under the supremacy of maternity and nationalism. Both actresses and producers also

worked to compound entertainment value by acquiring and invoking ghosts from previous

productions. For Show Boat, Norma Terriss association with Ziegfelds Follies increased

Magnolias standing as a symbol of normative, wholesome sexuality. However, as Cornell and

Walker demonstrate, utilizing the capital of an actresss ghosts could be difficult.


229

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes offers another practical example of practitioners compounding

capital through Anita Looss ability to both glorify and ridicule the femininity commodified in

her narrative. Looss satire capitalized on the ridiculous aspects of her protagonists femininity

while her depiction of Loreleis sex appeal and luxurious tastes inspired imitation and, in many

cases, admiration. Loos anticipated and promoted both reactions to Lorelei, and her work, thus,

compounded the entertainment value of the femininity commodified in her narrative by

appealing to a wide spectrum of audience members ambivalent in their opinions about modern

gender.

In addition to exploring the practical aspects of calculating and compounding

entertainment value on stage, these analyses reveal the implication of such calculations for real

women. Cornell, Loos, Walker, as well as the numerous other women in this study, worked

actively to manage their capital as entertainers and as women. Cornell worked to hide her

sexuality in order to maintain her capital as a Broadway star, while Loos endeavored to diminish

her intellectual abilities in order to stabilize her relationships. While this is not the focus of the

preceding analyses, it is worth noting the interrelated nature and real effect of sociocultural and

entertainment value.

The impact of entertainment value in shaping identity makes the enduring nature of these

valuations particularly interesting. The commercial success of Show Boat, The Age of Innocence,

and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, in these productions as well as the subsequent versions in film

and on stage, served to legitimate and proliferate each of these representations of femininity and

the characteristics they espouse. Through the film adaptations of all three narrative as well as

numerous revivals of Show Boat and the musical version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, these
230

representations of femininity, along with their 1920s understandings of race, beauty, class,

ethnicity, sexuality, etc., continue to circulate in American culture. 322

The enduring entertainment value of these narratives and characters points to the broader

issue of problematic representations of women, and their race, class, sex, ethnicity, etc., which

proliferate because of their profitability. Many of the characteristics carrying capital in the

femininity ultimately commodified in Terris/Magnolia, Cornell/Ellen, and Walker/Lorelei

maintain their entertainment value in current constructs of femininity in entertainment.

Broadway and Hollywood continue to glorify white, sexual, heterosexual, lovelorn women and,

often, construct the entertainment value of these dominant constructs in contrast to women

existing outside them.

As Jill Dolan states, dominant cultural meanings both constitute and are reconstituted by

representation (41), and, as this study demonstrates, dominant cultural meanings hold close ties

to dominant economic power, particularly, in the case of commercial entertainment and

femininity. While this system gives tremendous power to studio executives, Broadway

producers, and industry institutions in modern entertainment, it also acknowledges the power of

the audience, who, by voting with their dollars, can legitimize or marginalize representations in

commercial entertainment. In this sense, it is my hope that this study will act as a stimulus for

voter education.

As stated earlier, it is my hope that this study will provide a productive model for

analyzing the practical aspects of assessing and commodifying femininity in commercial

entertainment in addition to raising productive questions about the cultural and social cost of
231

relying on for-profit systems of entertainment. Such questions are increasingly important at a

time when individuals and institutions frequently champion the for-profit model as a solution to

waning public arts funding. In addition, the field of playwriting, which has historically served as

a point of access for womens voices in entertainment, has developed in the modern era as a

male-dominated field, limiting womens roles in creating representations of femininity in

American theatre. These current conditions create an acute need for productive methods and

models analyzing the issues of capital at work in shaping representations of femininity, as well as

other aspects of identity, presented in commercial entertainment. It is my hope that as we

develop such models and pursue this line of inquiry, we will (re)discover methods of funding and

viewing that legitimize representations of gender and identity in a manner determined by

curiosity rather than capital.


Notes

1
Scholars often cite this production of Show Boat as a turning point in establishing the American musical

genre, as it was one of the first shows to unite song and action in a cohesive narrative. The New Grove Dictionary of

Music and Musicians, for example, calls it perhaps the most successful and influential Broadway musical play ever

written (qtd. in Block 19).


2
Norma Terris played both Magnolia and Kim in the original production, so the musical ended with

Magnolia directing Ravenals attention to Kim, who was, necessarily, off stage.
3
This project stems from an initial study of the reformulation of femininity in the musical adaptation of

Show Boat, which appeared in Studies in Musical Theatre 4.3 (2010): 321-330. An expanded version of this analysis

appears in chapter two.


4
Show business also commodifies representations of sexuality, race, class, religion, ethnicity, and

numerous other aspects of identity. This study will address the commodification of many of these representations

within the frame of gender, specifically femininity.


5
Duddens claim is borne out in studies by Richard Dyer, Robert C. Allen, Linda Mizejewski, Susan A.

Glenn, and numerous other scholars examining specific commodifications of women in relation to particular genres

or individuals.
6
Such performances may also be legitimated through institutional recognition, such as an industry award,

but this legitimation is ultimately employed to attract audiences and generate revenue.
7
Clearly, not all women who exemplify prevailing gender ideals achieve leading-lady status and income.

However, it is equally apparent that all of the women who do achieve this status and salary level exemplify

hegemonic ideals of femininity, indicating the limited opportunities for women outside these ideals. While these

limitations are not definitive, the trend is undeniable.


8
The Non-Traditional Casting Project, founded in 1986, works to address these issues in film, television,

and theatre by advocating for the casting of non-white, female, and disabled actors.
9
Robert C. Allen, for example, details the marginalization of the burlesque industry which failed to adapt

to shifting cultural standards and thus developed into an entertainment of the male working class rather than the
233

respectable bourgeoisie (159). Chapter one will discuss the sex farce genre, which declined in popularity and

profitability for similar reasons.


10
This theme of liberation and containment runs through several studies of women in theatre during this

period, including those by Angela Latham, Susan A. Glenn, and Linda Mizejewski.
11
Forbes 2011list of Hollywoods ten highest-earning actors includes only one non-white actor

(Pomerantz, Actors). As Forbes writer Dorothy Pomerantz states at the beginning of her article on Hollywoods

highest-paid actresses, Hollywood is still a boys town where the men earn a lot more than the women

(Actresses). According to Pomerantz, the top three actresses in 2011 each earned an estimated $30 million, while

the top-earning male actor earned $77 million (Actors, Actresses). Pomerantzs list of the ten highest-paid

actresses contains no non-white women.


12
While these factors also influence reception, the focus of this study is their impact on production

decisions in determining which representations are presented on stage. This study will focus on reception primarily

in order to determine how production decisions anticipated, whether correctly or incorrectly, and influenced

audience reception.
13
Bourdieu also discusses the social capital existing in social connections, such as those with ones family

or ethnic group. While social capital may assist an actor in attaining a part or a playwright in finding a producer,

cultural capital plays directly into valuations of femininity on stage.


14
See Bourdieu, Forms of Capital for a discussion of the conversion of cultural and social capital into

economic capital (281).


15
While there are myriad forms of capital associated with the production as a whole, including the skills of

the lighting technicians, the reputation of the sound designer, a producers social connections, etc., this study focuses

primarily on those strongly influencing representations of femininity.


16
Butler directly addresses Bourdieus theories in her chapter Implicit Censorship and Discursive

Agency.
17
Skeggs points out that Bourdieu has come under criticism for normalizing his concepts of home and

family (21-2).
234

18
This paradigm persists, in part, because of the contemporary popularity of and current wealth of

scholarship on 1920s chorus girls, entertainers predominantly and overtly managed by male producers and

choreographers.
19
See Christine Fredericks Selling Mrs. Consumer and Rita Felskis The Gender of Modernity (61-5). As

Kate Dossett observes, the binary of producer/consumer was also racialized as hegemonic discourse relegated

respectable consumption to whites (93-4).


20
See also Jennifer Scanlons Inarticulate Longings: The Ladies Home Journal, Gender, and the Promises

of Consumer Culture, which offers a detailed study of the role women played in shaping depictions of gender in the

advertising and content of Ladies Home Journal.


21
During the 1920s, the flapper came to represent several specifically modern aspects of femininity

including alcohol consumption, short dresses, dancing, smoking, and a cosmopolitan sensibility centered in urban

areas. However, the idea of the Modern Girl, as expressed in contemporary discourse, addresses a broader range

of femininities emerging during this era. While the flapper stands as an iconic representation of 1920s American

femininity, I wish to focus more on the idea of the Modern Girl as a concept closer to the broader and actual

experience of women confronting modern femininity in the 1920s.


22
Women, such as actor and director Eva Le Gallienne, exerted tremendous influence in companies like the

Civic Repertory Theatre, but female directors remained the exception in 1920s commercial theatre.
23
These dates indicate the year of each serial publication. The stage adaptations appeared as follows: Show

Boat debuted in 1927, The Age of Innocence in 1928, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1926.
24
Although Wharton established a long-term residency in France, beginning in 1907, and rarely returned to

the United States, she continued to write in response to American culture. See Elizabeth Ammons Edith Whartons

Argument with America for an analysis of Whartons writings as a critique of American culture.
25
Adaptation studies often compare original material and adaptations created in vastly different cultures or

time periods. In such studies, intercultural and temporal differences heavily influence exchanges between the

original and the adaptation making intracultural influences, such as capital concerns, more difficult to trace.

Feminist Theatrical Revisions of Classic Works: Critical Essays, for example, provides several such studies.
235

26
Wainscott explains that over three hundred performances in this era made a production an enormous

hit while more than one hundred performances qualified as a success and anything less than thirty performances

was considered a failure (56).


27
Each narrative also inspired several film versions. Show Boat appeared as a film in 1929, 1936, and 1951.

The Age of Innocence was made into a film in 1924, 1934, and, by Martin Scorsese, in 2009. Paramount produced a

film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1927, and the musical version was later adapted into the 1953 film

starring Marilyn Monroe.


28
Frederick served as consulting editor for the Ladies Home Journal. She applied the scientific approaches

to efficiency widely used in industry at this time to housework in an effort to make this work more efficient and

provide women with more time for leisure and family. Frederick wrote several books on this topic, including The

New Housekeeping: Efficiency Studies in Home Management and Household Engineering: Scientific Management

in the Home.
29
The Pictorial Review will be discussed in more detail later in this chapter and in chapter four.
30
Historian Angela Latham describes how her grandmother negotiated shifting gender ideals during this

period by bobbing her hair but preserving her long hair in a plait which she reattached every morning when she went

to work at a conservative school (1).


31
Reduced postage rates for magazine publications contributed to the increase in readership by allowing

publishers to offer lower subscription rates. In addition, delivery of mail to rural residences expanded during this

time (Scanlon 12).


32
The Ladies Home Journal achieved one million readers in 1904 and maintained its position as the

number one womens magazine in America through a combination of subscription and newsstand sales. During the

1920s, over 50% of sales of the Journal occurred at newsstands, the highest percentage for any womens magazine

(Zuckerman, History 127). The Journal held its position as the leading womens magazines until 1932 when the

Womans Home Companion attained the preeminent slot (Zuckerman, History 106).
33
The spelling of Harpers Bazar changed in 1929 when the magazine incorporated another a into

Bazaar.
236

34
Detailed accounts of the market niche targeted by Womans Home Companion, Pictorial Review, and

Harpers Bazar appear in the following chapters of this dissertation. Ladies Home Journal focused specifically on

maintaining a middle-class audience interested in domestic advice. Good Housekeeping targeted readers particularly

interested in housekeeping excellence by promoting quality in this field through housekeeping products and stores

approved and endorsed by the Good Housekeeping Institute. McCalls and Delineator both emerged from pattern

companies. During the 1920s, both continued to sell patters while McCalls emphasized fiction offerings and the

Delineator was restyled as an upscale magazine which also boasted a Delineator Institute to compete with Good

Housekeepings (Zuckerman, History 111).


35
Tennessee Williams depicts this method in The Glass Menagerie.
36
Zuckerman discusses the origin of such techniques in the early 1900s (History 29-30), and describes how

publishers adapted these practices in the interwar years (History 125-7).


37
The Thompson agency set this record with the April issue and broke it the following October by

spending an additional $25,000 (Scanlon 172).


38
Author Edna Ferber noted the relationship between advertising and fiction in womens magazines,

saying, they [womens magazines] paid a whopping price for serials, being highly solvent, with enormous

advertising contracts (Peculiar Treasure 264).


39
New York also experienced a theatrical construction boom as twenty-six new theatres appeared between

1924 and 1929 (Douglas 60).


40
Producer David Belasco opened a new theatre in Los Angeles in 1926, which opened with a touring

production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.


41
Avery Hopwoods sex farce The Demi-Virgin, for example, landed the playwright in court after public

protests over the shows risqu scenes. The Wales Padlock Law stipulated that actors, producers, and playwrights

could be arrested if the content of a production proved indecent.


42
Ferbers Emma McChesney stories became so popular in American Magazine that The Saturday Evening

Post offered her $1,000 per story if she would publish with them (Ferber, Peculiar Treasure 173). In 1915,
237

Cosmopolitan Magazine sent Ferber a contract, leaving the price column blank so that Ferber could name her own

salary if she agreed to write McChesney stories for them (Ferber, Peculiar Treasure 174).
43
A 1928 Empire Theatre program, for example, carries a Short Short Story by Jack Woodford entitled

Contretemps Marital which, briefly, deals with contemporary anxieties about modern femininity and its affect on

the home, subjects often featured in womens magazines. The program also displays a cover illustration by French

designer and haute couture illustrator George Barbiere, followed by a full-color ad for Pompeian Beauty Powder.

Advertisements for powder compacts, childrens clothes, and multiple ads for silk stocking follow, and an ad for

Lucky Strikes, featuring a photo of film star Betty Compson, fills the back cover.
44
Department stores also sold items such as Billie Burke Curls and Billie Burke Dresses, designed to

help women imitate the actress iconic style (Carter 48).


45
In September and October 1925 Harpers Bazar published the script for The Green Hat, just as the show,

which propelled Katharine Cornell to fame, opened in New York.


46
Bromley compares this to the old-style feminist who talks to men to air her knowledge and argue

about womans right to a place in the sun (556).


47
In 1919, several commentators argued against a proposed theatre tax, claiming that the tax would

increase Bolshevism by keeping the poor from attending the theatre (Wainscott 47).
48
Lynching, miscegenation laws, Jim Crow laws, disenfranchisement, and numerous other racist practices

were established and maintained at this time to separate African Americans and African American culture from what

was understood and recognized as authentically American. Such practices were often based on the belief that

African Americans would contaminate and weaken society if allowed to become full citizens, mixing spiritually,

morally, and physically with the white mainstream population and culture.
49
The Civic Repertory Theatre produced a stage adaptation of The First Stone in 1928.
50
Women during this time criticized the double moral standard which condemned women for extra-marital

sexual activity while condoning such behavior for men. As Weathers declared in The Modern Girl Speaks for

Herself, the modern college girl. . . has unanimously resolved that one thing upon which they are agreed is that

they shall stand, when once they become full-fledged citizens, unequivocally for a single standard of morals (22).
238

51
As Whartons literary agent explained to her, Like our English cousins, we still find it difficult to face

certain facts frankly. The existence of the illegitimate child is less real if not referred to. Adultery is a word which

should never occur except in the Bible (Jewett, Letter to Wharton 9 June 1921).
52
This assessment of the Womans Home Companion was due to the leadership of the publications editor

Gertrude Battles Lane, who will be discussed in detail in chapter two.


53
Editors placed similar moral strictures on advertisers by refusing to promote products associated with

lower-class customers or immorality. In 1910, Edward Bok, who edited the Ladies Home Journal from 1889 until

1919, established an advertising policy specifically stating the magazine would permit no installment buying, no

alcohol, no patent medicines, no immodesty in text or illustration, no financial advertisements, no tobacco, [and] no

playing cards (qtd. in Scanlon 200). Although prejudice against tobacco diminished during the decade, alcohol

advertisements remained taboo in womens magazines.


54
In her analysis of Ladies Night, Latham posits that the play carried subversive homosexual undertones

and nuances, but her analysis reveals this possibility only in relation to male gay culture, indicating that even in this

subversive play, female sexuality remained censured.


55
The Demi-Virgin centers on a young woman abandoned only three hours after her marriage and the social

speculation concerning whether or not she and her husband consummated their marriage during their brief

honeymoon. Importantly, as Wainscott notes, The Demi-Virgin broke convention by concealing the protagonists

virtuous nature, her preserved virginity, until the final scene, thus failing to mitigate the threat of her transgressive

behavior in the preceding scenes.


56
Advertisements targeting men tend to avoid narratives of humiliation and embarrassment and instead

imply that the product will stand as a symbol of the purchasers good taste.
57
Literature scholar Sarah Churchwell demonstrates the success of Harpers Bazar in cultivating a

profitable audience through content and advertising portraying the magazine as a periodical of the elite while

simultaneously making the elite lifestyle available to its middle-class readers (142). By cultivating an upper-class

image and a corresponding readership, Harpers developed the ability to deliver a specifically high-class audience to
239

advertisers, which, in turn, enabled the magazine to charge high rates for advertising space (Zuckerman, History

164).
58
The emphasis in this quotation is added by Zuckerman.
59
The June 1928 Womens Home Companion, for example, featured a full-color illustration of an African

American woman, a rare occurrence in 1920s womens magazines. This illustration by Walter Biggs accompanies

Dubose Heywards serial Mambas Daughters, which would later be adapted into a Broadway play, and portrays

Mamba, a mystical African American woman in her sixties who mysteriously emerges from her dwelling along the

Charleston waterfront. Mamba faces the reader, seemingly well-dressed, but with her hands elongated into claw-like

appendages and her mouth hanging open as she gazes suspiciously over her shoulder, presumably in the act of

telling a story (Biggs). Womens magazines also carried stories by authors such as Achmed Abdullah, which

exoticized Asian individuals in stories such as The Evening Rice. Along with this racial Othering, advertisements

and content also marginalized working-class and immigrant women who occasionally appeared in fiction, but

usually in a romanticized rural setting such as in The Prairie Mother, The Prairie Child, or The House Selzjiord.

These stories are all mentioned in the March 1922 issue of Pictorial Review.
60
Scanlon makes the important point that the advertising industry employed numerous women during this

time who participated in the prejudicial practices and marketing permeating the industry (211).
61
Madam C. J. Walker, popularly known as the first African American millionaire, amassed a large fortune

by selling hair care products specifically designed for black women. Her financial success indicates the false nature

of the racist assumptions by womens magazines and their advertisers about African American womens purchasing

power.
62
The U.S. Postal Service began offering parcel post service in January 1913, which caused a substantial

increase in mail-order businesses.


63
Ann Douglas explains that prior to the Great War, women either made their own clothing or ordered it

made to measure by sending in their particular measurements. Accurate, standard-sized clothing came into vogue

after the Great War, which, with its demand for millions of standard-sized mens uniforms made to government

regulations, was a godsend to the American clothing industry; by the end of the war, full-scale mass-production
240

techniques were being applied to civilian clothing and America had taken the lead in the worlds clothing market

(Douglas 188).
64
In the late 1920s, Lucky cigarettes capitalized on the anxiety standardized sizes produced by specifically

targeting women in an ad campaign encouraging them to reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet (qtd. in Douglas

136).
65
Marriage historian Kristin Celello discusses how marriage experts during this period believed that

women needed marriage more than men and therefore held women responsible as the primary shapers and sustainers

of marriage (8).
66
Ziegfeld also staged another edition of the Follies in 1931. For a detailed discussion of the Ziegfeld

brand see Linda Mizejewskis book Ziegfeld Girl: Image and Icon in Culture and Cinema.
67
The 1926 Los Angeles Times article Curves and Dimples Return, indicates that Ziegfeld issued new

specifications for beauty each year. The article compares standards for the Ziegfeld girl of 1926 with the girl of 1925

saying, She will not be blonde. Shell not be so thin as the 1925 girl and shell have, therefore, a curve or two . . .

Shell come from more refined surroundings, and often shell be a college girl.
68
This inset highlights and reiterates Ziegfelds comments that also appear on page 125 of the interview.
69
For a detailed discussion of the relationship between Ziegfelds construct of the Ziegfeld girl and cultural

discourse regarding eugenics see Linda Mizejewskis chapter Racialized, Glorified American Girls.
70
Ziegfeld insisted, most of the pretty girls in our companies are Americans. By that I mean that not only

are they native-born, but that their parents and grandparents and remoter ancestors were also natives of this country

(Picking 121). In 1920s parlance, Ziegfelds native-born rhetoric signaled that the women in his shows were not

only white but were of Northern European heritage.


71
In 1926, Theatre Magazine referred to Ziegfeld and Lee Shubert as our two arbiters of American

theatre, indicating Ziegfelds influence on the industry (qtd. in Latham 119).


72
Class magazines, such as Vogue and Harpers, emphasized shopping as womens primary area of

expertise whereas magazines such as the Big Six appealed to other areas of interest, including household

management as well as social and political issues.


241

73
This appears to contradict Lathams assertion that Ziegfeld girls received higher wages than those in

other shows, but Zinman seems to be referring only to girls in the chorus, while Lathams evidence (114) seems to

refer to show girls, women selected to display lavish costumes, and featured performers.
74
See Carlsons chapter The Haunted Body in his book The Haunted Stage: The Theatre as Memory

Machine.
75
Show Boat scholar Miles Kreuger refers to the musical as a seminal work and defines its centrality in

musical theatre history, declaring, The history of the American Musical Theatre, quite simply, is divided into two

eras: everything before Show Boat and everything after Show Boat (Some Words 18). The New Grove Dictionary

of Music and Musicians calls Show Boat perhaps the most successful and influential Broadway musical play ever

written (qtd. in Block 19). Theatre scholar Todd Decker describes David Ewen as the most influential historian of

Show Boat, and describes how in more than ten books over the course of thirty years Ewen established the notion

that Show Boat was different from everything that preceded it and everything that surrounded it on Broadway in its

own time. His influential reading of Show Boat situated the work firmly at the head of a larger narrative of

Broadway history, installing Show Boat as the obligatory first chapter (Do You 13).
76
As Todd Decker demonstrates in his article on the historiography of Show Boat, race became a particular

focus of scholarship on this musical following the 1993 revival in Toronto, which sparked criticism and protests

regarding the musicals depiction of African Americans (Do You). M. Philip Nourbeses Showing Grit:

Showboating North of the 44th Parallel examines the responses to this production in detail.
77
Grosset & Dunlap published Show Boat as a novel in 1926 before the final installment appeared in the

Companion. Quotes from Ferbers Show Boat are taken from the 1926 novel, which adheres to the serial.
78
In the novel, Parthy warns Magnolia that her husband is a cad and predicts Magnolia will return home

penniless after he gambles away their money. Magnolia says she would rather starve (261).
79
Coon songs often contain racist lyrics, particularly in reference to black sexuality. Ferber, however,

seems to employ the term to indicate songs with black dialect but not sexual lyrics. The songs she specifies in the

serial and novel are mainly spirituals.


242

80
Block is one of the few scholars to note the centrality of mother/daughter conflict in Ferbers Show Boat

and its replacement with the romance between Magnolia and Ravenal in the musical (35-6).
81
Shapiro connects this to Ferbers understanding of her mother Julia Ferber, who supported the family

after Ferbers father became blind. In a comment made after Julias death, Ferber stated, she was definitely of the

race of iron women which seems to be facing extinction in todays America (qtd. in Shapiro 54).
82
The Companion executed a Better Babies campaign to fight infant mortality and published articles

with instructions for mothers on containing an outbreak of tuberculosis. Lane also encouraged women to demand

healthier conditions in grocery stores to prevent food contamination. In addition, the Companion ran a regular

column throughout the 1920s providing instruction and information on voting (Zuckerman, Pathway 69).
83
Ferber preferred to have her work serialized in magazines before it was published in book form so that

she could collect fees for the serial and then profit from the book. She particularly preferred womens magazines

because they paid a whopping price for serials (Treasure 264).


84
Ferber described Cimarron as a malevolent picture of what is known as American womanhood and

lamented that the film adaptation had entirely missed this point (Treasure 339).
85
So Big, which Ferber described as the story of a middle-aged woman living on a little truck farm just

outside Chicago, centers on a widowed mother and her efforts to raise her son (Treasure 276). Lane saw So Big as

Ferbers move away from light literature, such as her Emma McChesney stories, into more serious subjects.
86
Lane originally offered Ferber $35,000 for Show Boat but increased the offer to $45,000 after the success

of So Big and further offered to let Ferber name her own price for her next work (Lane, Letter to Ferber. 25 Aug.

1925).
87
Ferber mocked such prudery through Parthys character in Show Boat. When the married Magnolia

becomes pregnant, the narrator explains that Parthy simply could not utter the word pregnant or say, while you

are carrying your child, or even the simpering evasion of her type and classin the family way (234). Magnolia

laughs at this and then openly discusses the subject.


88
See M. Nourbese Philip, Raymond Knapp, and Scott McMillin.
243

89
The October 1920 issue of the Pictorial Review, for example, carried an article entitled A Square Deal

for the Nameless Child by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, which discussed the death of orphans in the United States due

to the poor conditions of the nations orphanages.


90
Berlant demonstrates how Show Boat uses sentimentality to universalize African American history

[which] comes to stand for American history itself (73). See Berlants chapter Pax Americana: The Case for Show

Boat.
91
After appearing in the Womans Home Companion, Show Boat was published as a novel and selected for

the Book of the Month Club, which sold over 25,000 copies (Kreuger 12). The book became a bestseller, and, in

1939, Ferber stated that Show Boat had sold 320,000 copies in the United States (Treasure 304).
92
According to Hill and Hatch, Broadway policy in 1925 was to have white actors play colored roles in

blackface in order to avoid mixed casts (235).


93
Three Plays did not achieve commercial success, largely because its opening coincided with the United

States entry into World War I. However, the production received high critical praise and was often referenced in

post-war discourse as evidence of the achievements of black actors in mainstream drama.


94
This phrase was used to indicate that both blacks and whites attended the Swanee Club which was

situated on 125th street, the dividing line between white and black Harlem (Black and White).
95
Williams performed with the Follies from 1907 to 1919. However, he was not with the company for

1913 and 1918 (Hill and Hatch 173). Williams performed solo pieces or acts with one or two other actors, but,

according to Hill and Hatch, It was also generally understood that women would not appear in scenes with

Williams, a rule that was occasionally relaxed in later years (172).


96
George White, who ran the Follies-esque George White Scandals, also incorporated music from black

entertainers into his shows during this time, including Birth of the Blues and Beauties Performing the Black

Bottom (Hill and Hatch 246).


97
Kern contacted theatre critic Alexander Woollcott to ask for a letter of introduction to Ferber. After

Woollcott posted the letter, he accompanied Ferber to the theatre that evening where he noticed Kern in the lobby

(Woollcott123-4). Kern also noticed Woollcott and approached him about the introduction to Ferber. Woollcott
244

mischievously replied: M-m-m, well, I think I can just arrange it if I play my cards right, and promptly introduced

Kern to the nearby Ferber (Ferber, Treasure 305).


98
Reputedly, Kern recruited Hammerstein by asking if he would like to make a musical for Ziegfeld. When

Hammerstein asked if Ziegfeld was enthusiastic, Kern replied: He doesnt know anything about it yet (Freedland

87).
99
Ziegfeld also produced a final edition in 1931, and editions following his death in 1932 continued to use

his name.
100
Ferbers iron women and Ziegfelds glorified girls both circulated within the intimate public of womens

culture, providing American women with instruction on how to live as an x (Berlant viii). Historian Linda

Mizejewski describes how the Ziegfeld enterprise published precise instructions on matters of appearance,

including rules, charts, and measurements indicating how American women could meet Ziegfelds standards (113).
101
One notable exception was Albertina Rasch, who choreographed several numbers that her troupe

performed as part of Ziegfelds Follies and musicals.


102
McMillins article examines the earliest known script for Show Boat. He demonstrates that script #7430,

housed in the Theatre Collection at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, was written before

February 9, 1927.
103
This was a revival of the 1920 production that starred Charles Gilpin.
104
McMillin argues that the adapters and producer also hired Robeson because of his strong public stance

on controversial issues regarding depictions race in entertainment, particularly the use of the word nigger, which

Joe and the black chorus would employ in Show Boat (65).
105
Joe in the musical is referred to as Jo in the novel. Kern and Hammersteins early script contains a

scene in act two where Captain Andy reveals that Joe has a son who has become a famous singer. The stage

directions instruct that Paul Robeson then appears in concert dress, alongside the accompanist Robeson performed

with in his actual concerts, and performs as if in one of his concerts (McMillin 60). Due to delays with production,

Robeson was not able to perform the role in the original musical, which instead featured Jules Bledsoe as Joe.

Robeson would come to play Joe in the London production in 1928 and in the 1936 film version.
245

106
As Raymond Knapp points out, the style of Ol Man River is based on the spirituals that became

widely popular in the late nineteenth century, after the Fisk Jubilee tours (188).
107
McMillin is one of the few writers to acknowledge this theme. However, his one-sentence explanation

misses the scope of Ferbers project. He states, Ferbers proto-feminist theme is that the women of the story are

eventually bonded to one another and to the Mississippi (which is metaphorically a woman too) (54). Breon also

acknowledges Ferbers focus in one sentence, stating that The book (which was a best-seller in 1926) is a

sentimental tale of life on the Mississippi with a slightly feminist point of view (99).
108
A similar scene occurs when Julie is forced to leave the show boat, but the language is not as closely

parallel.
109
Kim serves as a contrast to Parthy and Magnolia in her associations with the river. There was no

Mississippi in Kim, intones the narrator, Kim was like the Illinois River of Magnolias childhood days. Kims life

flowed tranquilly between gentle green-clad shores, orderly, well-regulated, dependable (393). Kim remains an

emblem of American womanhood, connected to the nation and womanhood through her association with an

American, albeit less iconic, river as well as the theatre. Kim also serves as a contrast to Parthy and Magnolia since

she plans to build her career in a real American theatre by performing foreign classics from writers such as

Shakespeare, Chekhov, Hauptmann, Molnar, and Ibsen rather than Parthy and Magnolias melodramas and

Magnolias African American music, which Ferber employs to represent a more authentically American repertoire

(395-6).
110
Mainstream productions portraying serious racial concerns proliferated on the American stage during

this time. Some, including Scarlet Sister Mary (1930), used white actors in blackface, while others, including Three

Plays for a Negro Theatre (1917), Porgy (1927), and The Emperor Jones (1920), used black actors. Some

productions, including Show Boat, used both black actors and white actors in blackface.
111
Numerous scholars, including McMillin, Robin Breon, M. Nourbese Philip, Lauren Berlant, and

Kreuger address the results of Kern and Hammersteins efforts to portray African American experience and the

continuing racial stereotypes perpetuated in American entertainment through revivals of the musical. McMillin

concludes that The Kern-Hammerstein show has a complex involvement with racism, countering it in some ways
246

and perpetuating it in others (68). Breon discusses the musicals scenes that perpetuate racial stereotypes

demeaning to black life and culture (86), and responses to these stereotypes in modern productions, particularly the

1993 revival in Toronto. Philip believes that Show Boat is an example writ large of cultural appropriation and theft

and argues that Show Boat, the book, along with its many musical and film productions, exoticize[s] and demean[s]

Blacks (44). Miles Kreuger, however, argues that Hammerstein purposely opened the musical with racist language,

the opening song originally contained the word nigger, in order to stunningly shock an audience from its

complacency, to consider (at least subconsciously) the servile conditions to which southern Negroes were subjected

(Some Words 23). Lauren Berlant argues that the drama actually gives richer, more elaborate, and nuanced

subjectivities to the African American characters it foregrounds than the novel does, but argues that this comes at

the cost of universalizing African American history and suffering (73).


112
Kern and Hammerstein also restructured Ferbers plot in order to stress the significance of this reunion

and focus the musical on the theme and triumph of romantic love. Ferbers structure centers on mother/daughter

relationships by opening with the birth of Kim and ending with Magnolia standing aboard the Cotton Blossom she

inherits from Parthy as Kim drives off in the distance. Kern and Hammerstein structured the musical around

Magnolia and Ravenals relationship and opened the musical with Magnolia and Ravenals meeting in act one, scene

one, ended act one with their wedding, and closed the show with the couples reunion and reconciliation.

113
When Magnolia tells Ravenal she is thinking of returning to the stage, Ravenal shows his displeasure by

mistreating their carriage horses, cut[ting] the chestnuts sharply with his whip (312). The narrator explains that,

Ravenal was likely to fall into one of his moody silences and to flick the hackneys with little contemptuous cuts of

the long little whip in a way that only they and Magnolia understood. On such occasions he called them nags

(275). The them in this final sentence is deliberately ambiguous, referring to both Magnolia and the horses.

Ravenal also refuses to let Magnolia work or give her any money of her own, leaving her financially dependent on

his gambling.
114
Additionally, scenes between Magnolia and her adult daughter were impossible in the original

production since Norma Terris played both roles.


247

115
Annie Dear starred Billie Burke as a heroine repulsed by her new husbands beard and rough Western

ways. Annie unknowingly encounters her husband in a more refined form and falls in love with him (Ziegfeld,

Richard and Paulette 217). Annie Dear thus follows the conventions of a sex farce by depicting the heroine in what

she believes to be an affair while containing this flirtation within the bounds of matrimony. Betsy depicted the

escapades of several brothers forced to marry off their sister Betsy before they may marry (Ziegfeld, Richard and

Paulette 218).
116
This phrase comes from one of the songs in the musical, entitled Cant Help Lovin Dat Man, in

which Julie expresses the inevitability of her love for her husband, Steve. Queenie identifies the song as a song for

colored folks, which foreshadows the revelation of Julies mixed-race heritage (Kern and Hammerstein, Libretto

24). The use of dat in Hammersteins quote reflects the language of the lyrics, which were intended to convey an

African American dialect.


117
Axtells dissertation offers a precise timeline for the alterations in the musical as well as an insightful

and thorough analysis of the musicals score.


118
Kern and Hammersteins earlier versions of the musical contained a scene in which Magnolia defiantly

sings a version of Cant Help Lovin Dat Man to Parthy as she and Ravenal prepare to leave for their wedding

(McMillin 54). This moment of Magnolia asserting her independence was later cut, which McMillin refers to as a

real loss (54).

119
Kern originally wrote this song with P.G. Wodehouse in 1918 for the show Oh Lady, Lady!, and

Hammerstein reworked this version for the musical. Miles Kreuger offers the scores of both versions for comparison

in his book Show Boat, the Story of a Classic American Musical (58-63).
120
Kreuger states that, Although only twenty-seven, Miss Morgans dissipation from brandy had already

given this former beauty queen a somewhat worn quality . . . The vulnerability suggested by both Miss Morgan in

reality and Julie onstage blended so thoroughly that in retrospect it is impossible to think of Show Boat without Julie

[or] without Helen Morgan (Story 53).


121
The adapters also emphasized this essential quality in Julies Act I song Cant Help Lovin Dat Man,

linking her undying love for a lazy, slow man to her mixed-race origins (Libretto 60). As Julie equates her need
248

for her man to the impulses governing the natural world, Queenie, the black cook, foreshadows the revelation of

Julies race explaining, ah didnt ever hear anybody but colored folks sing dat song (Kern and Hammerstein,

Libretto 24).The song thus links Julies eventual disappointment in love, caused by her natural inclination to love

an unworthy man, specifically to her connection with black culture rather than the discrimination the interracial

couple faces in a racist society.


122
Critics often criticize the musicals artificially happy ending but make no acknowledgement that it is

Kern and Hammersteins main point of departure from the source material, a departure Hammerstein later regretted

(Kreuger, Some Words17).


123
Frank draws attention to this parallel, saying, Funny how you always get yer chance, aint it? . . . Thats

how you got your first chance Remember Julie? Magnolia replies, Yes, I remember. I often wonder what ever

became of her (Kern and Hammerstein, Libretto 84).


124
This is not to say that Ferbers novel offers a more truthful depiction of race than the musical. Ferbers

depictions of characters such as Jo and Queenie are problematic reifications of racist stereotypes.
125
Earlier versions of the script have Magnolia weeping as the men change her ballad into an up-beat rag.

However, Kern and Hammerstein later altered the script so that Magnolia joins them in altering the song (McMillin

56).
126
Andys instructions to Magnolia appear in the libretto based on the 1946 production. Hammerstein

stated that this version kept the libretto and score of Show Boat substantially as they were when originally written

in 1927 (Kern and Hammerstein, Libretto 5).


127
Kern and Hammerstein further removed issues of emotion and suffering from this scene by changing

Magnolias debut song from an African American spiritual to the 1892 waltz After the Ball.
128
Although Zeke Colvan, the productions stage manager, received directorial credit, Hammerstein

actually directed the musical (Kreuger, Story 64).


129
In his biography of Helen Morgan, Gilbert Maxwell reports that Ferber advised Morgan to hire Ina

Claire as an acting coach since Morgan had no experience outside of revue performances (37). Maxwell also
249

recounts how Morgan was asked to walk barefoot in front of Ziegfeld and Ferber as part of the audition process. His

account, as well as Ferbers influence on Morgans training, indicates that Ferber assisted with casting decisions.
130
An early script for the musical with minor changes penciled in by Ferber resides in the Wisconsin

Historical Society, which houses a large collection of Ferbers papers (box 20 folder 7). Many of her changes appear

in the final libretto. The script in Ferbers papers contains the part of Hetty Chilson and does not mention Bill as

Julies song in Act II. It is therefore most likely a copy issued before rehearsals started in September 1927. The

script does not name an actor for the role of Joe, and it is therefore likely that this script dates from after August 3,

1927.
131
Ferber suggested a top hat and long coat with velvet lapels for Ravenal, both of which Marsh wears in a

photo from the Worlds Fair scene in the production (Kreuger 42). Richard and Paulette Ziegfeld also note that

Ziegfeld adopted Ferbers advice concerning Terriss hat (145). In her letter, Ferber also urges Ziegfeld to have the

African American chorus members act as if they are working on the levee at the top of act one during the Cotton

Blossom song rather than remaining still in long straight lines. Ziegfeld also incorporated this suggestion into the

final staging.
132
The Royal Family ran for over three hundred performances, making Ferber one of the most profitable

theatre writers of the year.


133
Several historians have noted Ziegfelds initial trepidation towards the project, but Kreuger notes

Ziegfelds enthusiastic response to Kern and Hammersteins early efforts and argues that historian tend to

exaggerate Ziegfelds initial hesitation (Story 25).


134
According to Clough, Ziegfeld initially disliked Ol Man River, and would mumble and swear and

swear when the song was played during rehearsals (Kreuger, Goldie 39-40). Clough also recalled that Ziegfeld

wept on opening night when the audience failed to applaud and declared to her, The shows a flop. I knew it would

be (Kreuger, Goldie 40). Reputedly, Ziegfelds opinion of the shows prospects did not change until the next day

when he saw the long line of people waiting to buy tickets (Kreuger, Goldie 41).
135
Ziegfeld so successfully established his aesthetic in the production that many critics referred to the show

as Ziegfelds Show Boat and reviewed the production as his creation (Bordman 284).
250

136
Terris entered the entertainment industry as a chorus girl in Ziegfelds Midnight Frolic of 1920 and

continued with his company in the Nine OClock Review in 1921.


137
Show Boat was the second show presented in the new Ziegfeld Theatre, (Rio Rita was the first) a

building dedicated to promoting the Ziegfeld entertainment empire.


138
Ziegfeld preferred small mouths because, according to Mizejewski, this feature signaled racial whiteness

(109). See Mizejewskis chapter Racialized, Glorified American Girls.


139
Reputedly, Hammerstein consulted Ziegfeld in rehearsal regarding a major alteration to the second act,

but, as Hammerstein described the alteration, Ziegfeld interrupted him to tell one of the women on stage to change

her hairstyle (Fordin 85). According to Fordin, Hammerstein decided not to consult Ziegfeld on further changes to

the script. Terris recalls a hat she adored but that sent Ziegfeld into fits of laughter because it accentuated the length

of her chin; the hat was abruptly removed from the show (Ziegfeld, Richard and Paulette 145-6).
140
Early versions of the Show Boat script included a parade of girls during an Ol Man River reprise in

the middle of act two (McMillin 57). Hammersteins directions for the parade instruct, As he [Joe] sings, girls pass

on behind him visions of the passing years but not treated fantastically as to costume they wear real clothes as

marks of their respective periods . . . and we will know we are down to the present when a flapper with a very short

skirt bounds across with a young collegian in very long trousers (qtd. in McMillin 57). This sequence was later cut

from the production.


141
The novel describes Magnolias life during the couples first year in Chicago: Magnolia had her first

real evening dress, cut dcollet; tasted champagne; went to the races at Washington Park race track; sat in a box at

Hooleys; was horrified at witnessing the hootchie-kootchie dance on the Midway Plaisance at the Worlds Fair

(272).
142
This character, originally played by Dorothy Denese, is a reference to Farida Mazar Spyropoulos who

used the stage name Fatima. Spyropoulos danced as part of the Streets of Cairo exhibit on the Midway Plaisance at

the Worlds Columbia Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and later became known as Little Egypt. In 1934, censors

prohibited Denese from performing her black pantheress dance, which involved her dancing while wearing black

grease paint and a loin cloth, at Chicagos Century of Progress Worlds Fair.
251

143
Mizejewski specifically discusses how the comedy of Fanny Brice and Sophie Tuckers coon shouting

functioned in this manner (131-2).


144
This number appeared in the 1917 edition of the Follies and featured Allyn King.
145
Although some sources list Pieras name as Pierre, contemporary articles refer to her as Piera.
146
As Ries, explains, the Sidells dance contained throws, swings, slides, and lifts (76). The Sidells

performed their Apache to Jacques Offenbachs Valse des Rayons from the balled Le Papillon, a song often used for

Apache dances (Ries 74).


147
The Sidell Sisters performed with Show Boat for three years and then traveled to Europe where they

eventually signed with the Folies Bergere (Harter 1).


148
This number appeared in the summer edition of the show. While Ziegfelds shows regularly contained

actors, such as Eddie Cantor and African American performer Bert Williams, who appeared in blackface, the women

in the shows rarely darkened their skin tone for performance numbers.
149
Linda Mizejewski provides a detailed discussion of the emphasis on whiteness in defining the Ziegfeld

girl as American in her chapter Racialized, Glorified American Girls. Mizejewski posits competition from the

Darktown Follies, an African American version of the Ziegfeld Follies, as the reason for Ziegfelds 1925 logo:

Florenz Ziegfeld Glorifying the American Girl, an American Revue Made in America for Americans (130).
150
While this is true, it is important to note that the Variety article advertising for Dark Brown

Negresses announced this casting preference as a trend in Broadway revues and night clubs, not just Ziegfelds

choices for Show Boat.


151
Snelsons article describes Catherine Pearce, Alma Smith, Dorothy Bellis, and Irene (Billie) Cain, all

women hired as dancers for Show Boats African American chorus.


152
The chorus for Show Boat contained sixteen white men in the chorus and thirty-six white chorus girls,

twelve of whom were designated as dancers. The black chorus contained sixteen female singers, sixteen male

singers, and twelve female dancers. Since the show did not stage any interracial pairings, the majority of the white

chorus girls and all of the black female dancers remained without male partners during the chorus numbers.
252

153
Photographs of these costumes from the original production are reprinted in Kreugers book (Story 41-

2).
154
Ironically, this primitive style of dance led critic Herman L. Dieck to conclude that the black chorus

girls possessed a natural ability that made them more competent dancers in this style than their white counterparts.

Dieck reported that They [the black chorus girls] are the natural dancers in their metier and they do not need

instruction, as would be the case with the Caucasian chorus girlonly repression (qtd. in Critic Says). While this

language rehearses stereotypes of black excess and lack of control, it stands as an interesting contrast to

contemporary images of the mechanized, white chorus girl as a performer requiring male control in order to perform

well.
155
The women and men in the white chorus flee, singing, They [the Dahomey Village performers] are

acting vicious, They might get malicious. It might make them cheerful To make me a spearful (Kern and

Hammerstein, Score 153-4).


156
See Mizejewskis chapter Racialized, Glorified American Girls.
157
After Show Boat, Ziegfeld focused on producing musical comedies because they cost less to fund than

his Follies shows (Ziegfeld, Richard and Paulette 149).


158
Bessie Allison was incorrectly listed in the Show Boat cast as Betty Allison. In 1929, she married

Charles Buchanan and later became the first black woman to hold a seat in the New York Legislature.
159
Teresa Gentrys name appears as Theresa Jentry in the Show Boat program and as Theresa Gentry

in the Defender article.


160
The show did include the tap-dancing act of Buck and Bubbles, two male African American performers.
161
In her article Tempest in Black and White: The 1924 Premier of Eugene ONeills All Gods Chillun

Got Wings, Glenda Frank recounts the public debates in the press regarding displays of affection between the white

wife (played by a white actress) and the black husband (played by a black actor) in this performance. Frank

describes the numerous letters of protest as well as the threats ONeill received from the Ku Klux Klan over this

issue.
253

162
Mizejewski demonstrates how Dixie to Broadway, a show featuring black chorus girls, similarly

employed a mammy image to counter displays of black female sexuality (126).

163
Revivals of Show Boat continue to proliferate in American theatre, including the Chicago Lyric Operas

2012 revival.
164
Whartons standards for dcor formed the body of The Decoration of Houses, an interior decorating and

design guide she published in 1898 with architect Ogden Codman.


165
During the war, Wharton remained in France where she founded the American Hostels for Refugees and

the Children of Flanders Rescue Committee. In 1918, Belgium awarded Wharton the Mdaille Reine Elisabeth for

her work with refugees. Wharton also wrote poems, articles, and letters meant to prod America into joining the war.

Although she continued writing, the economic impact of the war prevented her from acquiring the same literary fees

and advances she had earned before the conflict. In addition to her diminished literary income, property values in the

United States fell during this period and taxes increased, decreasing the revenue from her U.S. assets. While

Wharton was not in dire financial straits, she was responsible for supporting herself and her staff as well as

contributing to the support of various family members and several charities and, thus, did not welcome additional

financial strain during the renovations for Pavillion Colombe and Ste. Claire. See Hermione Lees chapter

Pavillon/Chteau.
166
Boche is a derogatory slang word or Germans and was especially popular during World War I. Prior

to Whartons dispute with Hearst, Cosmopolitan magazine, a Hearst publication, purchased Whartons novel

Summer. In 1916, a Hearst publication defended Irish revolutionary Roger Casement who was executed for working

with Germany to promote unrest in Ireland and distract British forces during the war. Wharton withdrew Summer,

agreeing instead to offer a series of articles on France, which Wharton viewed as pro-Ally war propaganda

(Wharton, Letter to Jones 19 Feb. 1919). This series was later included in French Ways and their Meaning.

Whartons boycott continued until 1934 when Cosmopolitan offered her $5,000 for Bread Upon the Waters,

$2,000 more than Appleton had offered, and assured her that Hearst had nothing to do with their editorial policy

(Lee 687).
254

167
Additionally, Hearsts publishing contracts often entailed movie interests, so writers publishing in

Hearst magazines forfeited any revenue they might receive from film adaptations.
168
The Pictorial Review originated in 1899 as a fashion magazine specializing in publishing dress patterns,

but, beginning in 1907, under the editorial leadership of Arthur Vance, former editor of the Womans Home

Companion, the magazine introduced articles advising women on domestic and social concerns and began featuring

fiction.
169
The April 1920 edition of the Pictorial featured a detailed image the $3,000,000, twelve-story building

that the tremendous increase in the circulation of the magazine has compelled us to erect (1).
170
The Ladies Home Journal maintained its position throughout this period as the number one womens

magazine.
171
The announcement of this price increase appears in the fine print on the first page of the April 1920

issue.
172
In 1912, Wharton began moving her work from the publishers at Charles Scribners Sons to Appleton, a

firm known for aggressive marketing, in hopes of increasing her earnings. By 1918, Appleton represented Wharton

in almost all of her publishing contracts. Scribners last Wharton novel was A Son at the Front published in 1923

after it was refused by Appleton (Lee 423).


173
In an effort to mitigate Vances anxiety, Wharton offered to change the title of the piece to Their Son,

arguing that the story portrayed the familys response to their sons war service rather than focusing specifically on

the war.
174
Wharton also insisted that the Pictorial uphold the contract for A Son by publishing it the following

year. Vance agreed but then balked again at the idea a year later (Lee 596). Eventually, Scribners published A Son

at the Front as a serial and a novel in 1923.


175
Culturally accepted racial prejudices permeated magazine content, bestowing an inherent superiority on

American women over women from other nations, particularly nations with populations understood as non-white. In

addition, American womens magazines uniformly portrayed American women as superior to women viewed as

racially white but belonging to foreign nations. See, for example, Irwins story Ham and Eggs.
255

176
Wharton articulates this argument in The Age of Innocence when Ellen attempts to obtain her freedom

by seeking a divorce, and Archer succinctly responds, Our legislation favours divorceour social customs do not

(144).
177
The fable describes the journey of a little girl who struggles to climb out of a valley, and, through her

experiences in the world outside the valley, grows to become a woman. Deciding to return to the valley, she meets a

man, one of her former playmates, also journeying back to the valley. The man tells her of his plans for building

bridges and draining swamps and cutting roads through the jungle (467). Upon returning to the valley, the pair

discover that none of their playmates have matured. Dismayed, the woman attempts to aid the man with his plans,

but the man explains that he is too busy and neglects his industrious ideas in order to play with a dear little girl

who claps and crows, she was too young to speak articulately, as he builds her a garden out of shells and flowers

(467).
178
The Fruit of the Tree and The Children both portray men who choose relationships with young women,

a fifteen-year-old in the case of The Children, instead of marrying the mature female characters in the books who

share their cultural views and interests.


179
The long hypocrisy, Wharton states, which Puritan England handed on to America concerning the

danger of frank and free social relations between men and women has done more than anything else to retard real

civilization in America (Frenchwoman 112-3). The quotations here are taken from a revised version of the 1917

article, which appeared in 1919 as the chapter The New Frenchwoman in Whartons book French Ways and Their

Meaning.
180
Wharton set her critique in 1870s America and focused her criticisms on Victorian values. However, she

believed such problems persisted in the modern age, and her planned sequel for The Age of Innocence, centering on

the lives of the next generation during the 1920s, revealed their grief over the same old difficulties in spite of their

modern views and attitudes (qtd. in Lee 571).


181
Wharton emphasizes the primitive nature of the American male preference for ignorant women by

evoking the image of the Moroccan harem in her descriptions of May. Archers fears about the effect of an isolated

existence on Mays future development and her potential inability to develop into a mature woman echo Whartons
256

description of the effect of harem life on the sequestered women in her book In Morocco. Such parallels aligned the

American practice of enforced feminine ignorance, as portrayed in The Age of Innocence, with images epitomizing

stereotypes of Eastern barbarism and excessive sexual appetites.


182
Harems and Ceremonies appeared in the Yale Review in 1919, the year Wharton began completing

The Age of Innocence for the Pictorial, and was also published in 1920 as part of the collection In Morocco.
183
Wharton establishes the difference between Ellens exotic affinities and Mays conventional nature

through a comparison of their taste in home dcor. As Archer visits Ellen for the first time, he confronts Ellens

swarthy foreign-looking maid who speaks no English (110). Archer then enters a room unlike any room he had

known (110) with Italian pictures like nothing that he was accustomed to look at (111) all scented by a perfume

like the scent of some far-off bazaar, a smell made up of Turkish coffee and ambergris and dried roses (112).

Enchanted by Ellens foreign taste in dcor, Archer mentally compares her home to what he expects May will do

when decorating the house her parents plan to purchase for them. Archer surmises that since She [May] submitted

cheerfully to the purple satin and yellow tuftings of the Welland drawing-room . . . He saw no reason to suppose that

she would want anything different in her own house (112).


184
Several critics have read The Age of Innocence as a retelling of The Valley of Childish Things.

Katherine Joslin discusses this trend in criticism, citing such studies as Elizabeth Ammons Edith Whartons

Argument with America, Carol Wershovens The Female Intruder in the Novels of Edith Wharton, and Judith

Fryers Felicitous Space (148).


185
As Ammons points out, Ellen shares many characteristics with Wharton: Both value original,

inquisitive conversation, Both are sexually experienced women. . .Both seek divorces. Bothunlike their

relativesprize the life of artistic and intellectual achievement above all other lives (Cool Diana 220).
186
As stated earlier, The Fruit of the Tree portrays a man who chooses to marry a young woman instead of

marrying a mature woman who shares his cultural views and interests. The Custom of the Country centers on Undine

Spragg, whose initials position her as representative of the U.S., and her series of mercenary marriages that bring her

monetary success but leave her emotionally dissatisfied.


257

187
Scribners advertisement for The Custom of the Country, for example, hailed the serial as The Great

Novel of the Year, a story of contemporary American social life [examining] The varied social strata of a great

city like New York, where money and the power it gives appear the only way to the goal of the socially ambitious

(Custom). Such praise targeted both female and male readers by appealing to literary taste as well as an

intellectual interest in American social life rather than framing the story as a romance, the predominant theme in

advertisements for womens magazine fiction.


188
Scribners carried illustrations but featured them as art work independent from the magazines fiction

offerings. Editions of Scribners also contained two paginated sections, the advertising section at the beginning of

the magazine and then the content section following the ads.
189
Jewett agreed with Wharton saying, As you know, I share your feeling about illustrations which seldom

illustrate. Our personal prejudice in this matter, however, is not of interest to the magazine editor (Letter to

Wharton 25 Sept. 1919).


190
Her Eyes Fled to His Beseechingly accompanied an illustration for of Archer glancing at May during

a party in the July 1920 issue (7), and I Have Never Made Love to You, He Said, and I Never Shall, appeared

with an illustration of Archer gazing into Ellens eyes as he holds her hand in the September 1920 issue (25).
191
Vance then requested that Wharton structure her stories so that each part [installment] leads up to a

climax or interesting situation that will leave the reader in suspense and eager to get the next issue of the magazine.

He continued saying, I do not expect Mrs. Wharton to do a dime novel or a family-story-paper break, but it can be

done in a dignified, artistic way. That is all I am asking. I hope the story Mrs [sic] Wharton writes for us will have

more than literary interest (qtd. in Jewett, Letter to Wharton 14 Oct. 1920).
192
Jewett later shifted his opinion about the quality of womens magazines. When encouraging Wharton to

sell her autobiography to the Ladies Home Journal, Jewett explained to Wharton that The relative position of these

[literary] magazines has changed radically as the years have passed. Once they stood aloof in splendid literary

isolation. That day has gone by. The best writers are now selling their work to the popular magazines. I do not mean

simply fiction. Autobiography and biography are also included in the so called popular periodicals (Letter 6 Jan.

1928).
258

193
The Pictorial touted Whartons reputation as a writer, but, unlike Scribners, continuously tied her skill

to her ability to portray romance. The June issue, for example, enticed readers with the promise that Wharton,

Recognized on both sides of the Atlantic as foremost of living novelists, would masterfully convey the upcoming

story about the course of true love [which] did not always run according to form (Age 1). Later in the June

issue, the Pictorials editors invoke Whartons previous literary successes to market the upcoming serial,

exclaiming, Our next serial is by no less a personage than Edith Wharton, well known as the author of The House

of Mirth, and Ethan Frome, etc. (Age 22). Lest readers balk at the despair infusing these tales, the Pictorial

assures readers that, This new story is about New Yorks society life forty years ago, when romance bloomed into

full flower and good, old-fashioned love was quite the rage! (Age 22).
194
Due to cultural perceptions of a national marriage crisis, the Pictorial offered an extensive discussion on

marriage, which included articles and opinions from experts, such as, Dr. Havelock Ellis, Charlotte Perkins Gilman,

and ex-Senator Helen Ring Robinson, along with reader opinion (Marriage). The Pictorial also explored modern

marriage in numerous articles running in the same issues as Whartons serial, including, Taking The Cure at

Reno (Oct. 1920), On Being Disappointed in Love (July/Aug. 1920) and What Kind of a Wife Are You? (Nov.

1920).
195
In January 1921, Elizabeth Marbury of The American Play Company offered Wharton a deal with Mr.

Shubert, indicating that Zoe Akins would dramatize a version starring Doris Keane. This deal included the film

rights as well, a sticking point for Wharton, and the play was never completed. Marbury acted as theatrical agent for

the three Shubert brothers, Sam S., Lee, and Jacob J. Sam Shubert passed away in 1905, and Marburys

correspondence regarding The Age of Innocence does not specify whether she is representing Lee or Jacob in this

particular offer. Marburys correspondence regarding this offer resides in the Edith Wharton Collection at the Yale

Collection of American Literature in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, box 31, folder 961.
196
The film starred Beverly Bayne as Ellen Olenska and Edith Roberts as May Welland.
197
The accident fractured Barness skull, spine, and three of her ribs.
198
Sheldon used stationary listing his address as Roof Bungalow, 35 E. 84th Street.
259

199
A letter from Loos (12 Feb. 1926) thanking Sheldon for his hospitality and expressing a desire to visit

again is held in the Helen Hayes Papers, *T-Mss 1990-026, series I box 1 folder 18, Billy Rose Theatre Division,

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.


200
Sheldons influence on Barrymore was so significant that Lionel Barrymore later attributed Johns

development as a dramatic actor to one man, Edward Sheldon (qtd. in E. Barnes 228).
201
In 1941, the New York Times described Sheldons apartment as Americas theatrical center, saying,

To his bedside come the theatre greats for inspiration and advice, and his informal salon is a kind of hub for the

best theatre of the country (qtd. in E. Barnes 245).


202
On March 16th, for example, Sheldon telegrammed saying that he had enjoyed seeing her and then later

that same day forwarded a short note saying simply sleep well dear Margaret (16 Mar. 1926).
203
Barnes later wrote to Sheldon saying, I felt SO ridiculously inadequate as I sat by your side in New

York, jotting down your happy thoughts (8 Nov. 1926).


204
The punctuation in this telegram was added later by hand. Quotes from all telegrams appearing in this

dissertation will use standard cases rather than appearing in all uppercase letters as originally printed.
205
The two communicated regularly, often discussing literature and their enthusiasm for fiction thrillers

(Lee 599). Jones confided to Sheldon that Edith is a lonely woman who has many friends, but none of them close to

her, so she holds to you and me (qtd. in E. Barnes 133).


206
Barnes, Wharton, and Jones insisted that Sheldon take co-author credit, but Sheldon adamantly refused,

claiming that Barnes was truly the sole author of the play.
207
The Edith Wharton Collection at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library contains two draft

copies of Barness playscript for The Age of Innocence, which appear to be copies sent to Wharton for comments

(box 1, folders 17-20). The copy in folders 18-20 is likely the script Wharton received around July 4th, 1927. This

copy contains several notes, presumably penciled in by Wharton. The notes mainly address anachronistic word

usage and eliminate contractions.


260

208
An undated draft of Whartons telegram to Sheldon states that these changes would destroy character

of play. This phrase is crossed out, and the final version claims that the changes would entirely destroy

significance of social picture (Telegram to Sheldon, n.d.).


209
This letter accompanied the first draft of Act I, which was sent to Sheldon November 3, 1926.
210
Quotes from the adaptation by Margaret Ayers Barnes are taken from the version of the script located in

box 2 folder 22 of the Margaret Ayer Barnes Papers in Special Collections at Bryn Mawr. The citations follow the

pagination system used in this manuscript with the first number indicating the act and the number following the dash

indicating the page number within that act. This version appears to be the final version of the script as it contains an

accurate cast list as well as several notes on sound cues and costumes. Bryn Mawr also holds two earlier versions of

the script, one written after May 10, 1927 (folder 23) and one dating around January 19, 1927 (folder 24). Their

collection also holds several folders (24-26) of undated loose pages of various drafts.
211
Barnes found Archers sudden political career at the end of the novel an inconsistent anomaly for a

character whom she believed showed no political interest in his early life. Hermione Lee, however, believes this is

intentional and reads The Age of Innocence as Whartons condemnation of the American preference for inaction,

particularly in relation to the Great War (Lee 576-7 ).


212
Whartons objections stemmed from class prejudices which, as several critics have noted, permeated her

work and world view. Lee discusses Whartons snobbery, racism, anti-Semitism and anti-feminism (607), all

issues imbricated with Whartons understanding of class. As Michael Nowlin points out, feminist scholarship in the

1980s and early 1990s focused on Whartons work, but the feminist case for Wharton is [currently] being refined

and shaken somewhat by questions about the nationalist, imperialist, racist, and most understandably, class

implications of her work (24).


213
This appears to be a reference to the author Sherwood Anderson who wrote mainly about small-town

America.
214
Wharton and Theodore Roosevelt were friends and distant relatives raised in the same upper-class social

circles (Lee 154-5).


261

215
In an earlier version of the script Ellens protests indicate that sacrificing Archers political career means

sacrificing future generations of Americans. She continues, declaring, Youre dedicated to all those boys and girls

of the future. Be true to them! They need you! They have no one else! And you cant help them, you cant defend

them, Newland, with a stain on your honor! (2-49 Margaret Ayer Barnes Papers box 2 folder 23).
216
These lines are found in the undated revisions found in box 2 folder 25 of the Margaret Ayer Barnes

Papers, Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library. The folder contains various versions of

several scenes as well as a few notes from Sheldon.


217
After criticizing the inactive dialogue about American women versus European women, Barnes

forwarded a revised version of the scene, presumably deleting this dialogue, to Sheldon later the same day. In a

letter accompanying the revised scene she reported, I think nothing essential is gone (21 Feb. 1927).
218
Barnes crafted Ellens description of the enchantress who diverts the knight from his duties as a direct,

though of course on Ellens part unconscious, description of Mayof what happens to Archer (10 May 1927).
219
While the male, white, social elites of old New York society conduct extra-marital affairs in the novel,

they understand Beaufort and the count as foreign in their sexual practices because they, unlike the old New

Yorkers, pay their lovers (67, 90).


220
It could be argued that Wharton implies Beauforts ethnicity through his activities as a financier, a

common use of racist stereotyping in early twentieth-century literature. However, while several characters in the

novel remark on Beauforts origins as foreign, they do not explicitly mention his ethnicity.
221
When beginning the play, Barnes explained to Sheldon that Anastasia might well be dago-ed up a bit

by translating her dialogue into Italian (3 Nov. 1926). Anastasia simultaneously serves as a reminder of Ellens

foreign past and a foreign contrast to Ellens American origins.


222
Ellens name and her situation with the count closely resemble that of Eleanor Patterson, an American

socialite who married Count Josef Gizycki, a Russian Polish count, in the early 1900s. The count confessed to

marrying Patterson only for her money and proceeded to conduct open affairs with prostitutes. Isolated in the

counts remote estate, Patterson conspired with her servants and escaped by sleigh with their only daughter. Count

Gizycki followed Patterson and kidnapped their daughter, restoring her to her mother only after his arrest, which the
262

Tsar authorized at the request of President Taft. Patterson finally obtained a divorce in 1917, two years before

Wharton began The Age of Innocence (Dannatt).


223
Critics uniformly praised Arnold Korffs performance as the love-stricken Beaufort. Even Atkinson,

who did not care for the play as a whole, wrote that, in this scene, Mr. Korff was magnificent (The Play:

Wharton). Padraic Colum in The Dial enthused, This is a triumph . . . (especially for Arnold Korff; his speech

about the clock-strokes, his sudden aging after Ellens refusal, are amongst the memorable things I have known in

acting) but it is a triumph for the producer.


224
In this draft, the count also forces Ellen to listen while he rapes a young girl. This draft is found in the

undated revisions in box 2 folder 25 of the Margaret Ayer Barnes Papers, Special Collections Department, Bryn

Mawr College Library. The final version includes the rape, but not the act of forcing Ellen to listen.
225
Earlier versions of the script also tied such disregard for morals specifically to European women. As

Ellen explained to Archer, It [marriage and infidelity] was just a game this thing that we Americans take with

such high seriousness. The [European] women didnt care (box 2 folder 25 Margaret Ayer Barnes Papers).
226
It is important to note that not all scientists promoted such bigotry. Cultural anthropologist Franz Boas

and his students, particularly Ruth Benedict, challenged contemporary definitions of race, claiming race did not

determine culture or intelligence and pointing out the political interests determining the widely-accepted definitions

of race in this period.


227
Films such as The Inside of the White Slave Traffic (1913), Smashing the Vice Trust (1914), House of

Bondage (1914), and Is Any Girl Safe? (1916) were popular during the 1910s. The 1913 film Traffic in Souls was so

popular that it was later published as a novel (Lindsey 2).


228
Given the ambivalence of Archers affection, as expressed through his musings in the novel, this loss is

less tragic to the reader than to Ellen.


229
See Carlsons chapter The Haunted Body in his book The Haunted Stage: The Theatre as Memory

Machine.
263

230
Whartons sister-in-law Mary Cadwalader Jones approved of Cowl and described her to Wharton

saying, Jane Cowl is very handsome, about thirty-five, although looking younger, and has a great following; if she

really likes the part of Ellen I think she could make a considerable success of the play (Letter 9 Aug. 1927).
231
Cornell felt The Age of Innocence too closely resembled Sheldons Romance. She had played a character

role in Romance in 1918 and, perhaps, feared the affiliation between the two plays would diminish her present

standing as a leading lady. Cornell also may have worried that starring in a play reminiscent of Romance would

prompt comparisons between her and Doris Keane, who played Mme. Cavallini, the central character in Romance,

for over 1,000 performances in London. Keane also played Mme. Cavallini in the 1920 silent film and revived the

role on Broadway in 1921.


232
In a letter to Sheldon, Barnes mentions changes she is making to Beauforts character at Cowls request

but does not specify the nature of these changes (13 Sept. 1927).
233
In November 1927, Sheldon informed Wharton, Katharine Cornell is the first actress we plan to

approach. She would bring a kind of personal poetry to Ellen which would be very valuable, but there are others in

case she is unavailable (Letter 22 Nov. 1927).


234
At this time, Barnes and Sheldon were completing Jenny, which Cowl starred in in 1929, and

Dishonored Lady, which Cornell starred in in 1930.


235
This letter is held by the Margaret Ayer Barnes Papers, Special Collections Department of Bryn Mawr

College Library. At the time of my research, the letter had not yet been catalogued.
236
Barnes enclosed a copy of her letter to Claire in a letter sent to Sheldon. It is this copy that resides in the

Margaret Ayer Barnes Papers at Bryn Mawr College Library.


237
Sheldon enclosed a copy of his letter to Cowl in a letter he sent to Barnes. It is this copy that resides in

the Margaret Ayer Barnes Papers at Bryn Mawr College Library. At the time of my research, the letter had not yet

been catalogued.
238
According to Mosel and Macy, 200,000 copies of Cornells hat from the show sold across the country

(204).
264

239
Mosel and Macy claim Cornell turned down the role in Jealousy (218), but Cornells scrapbooks contain

clippings announcing her upcoming role in the play and subsequent articles describing her collapse and breakdown

in California, which, the articles claim, prevented Cornell from continuing in the production.
240
Claire had also requested this edit, which Barnes resisted. However, Barnes ultimately conceded that so

much criticism on that one point is certainly to be taken seriously (Letter to Sheldon 5 Aug. 1928).
241
The contract granted Cornell $1,000.00 per week for the first eight weeks. After the play grossed

$50,000 over and above the initial cost of production, Cornell would receive ten percent of all additional profits.

McClintic received $500.00 per week during rehearsals and one percent of the gross weekly receipts during the run.
242
Ferris acknowledges that the details on Guthries homosexuality are even more sparse than Cornells

(201) and advises a cautious embrace of gossip and rumor in discussing their relationships (200). Barnes

encountered the rumors surrounding McClintic through Ina Claire and what Barnes referred to as Claires uncalled

for characterization, that fairy, in reference to McClintic (Letter to Sheldon 19 Mar. 1928).
243
Ferris claims the lavender marriage came into its own in Hollywood in the twenties, when known

homosexuals and lesbians were married by the studios as a ploy to cover up or divert attention from their same-sex

relationships (218).
244
Clippings in Cornells scrapbook reveal that Cornell turned down $11,000.00 from a cigarette company

that wanted her to endorse their product and credit their cigarettes for her distinctive voice. Her refusal led the

February 1929 issue of Advertising & Selling to dub her The Incorruptible Actress.
245
Barbier designed the costumes which Worths of Pairs produced. Cornell considered arranging a

meeting with Wharton while she was in France for fittings, but ultimately decided against it because she feared she

would be unable to convey to Wharton her intentions for the character (Cornell 85).
246
Cornell later recalled this as her favorite costume from the show (Cornell 85).
247
Critic Francis R. Bellamy acknowledge a connection to the modern generation but only in as much as

the play highlighted its disconnect from the old. Bellamy seemed relieved by the gulf that lies between such a

world and this present remarking that the Victorian code of conduct produced a subterfuge about infidelity that

modern individuals would find dishonorable (The Theatre).


265

248
Bellamy informs readers that he has not read Whartons work, so his impressions stem entirely from the

play.
249
Jones recorded Whartons earnings for each week for the entire run, including previews, Broadway

performances, and the tour, in a notebook held in the Edith Wharton papers at the Beinecke library (box 50, folder

1498). Her totals match those recorded in Barnes correspondence (Bryn Mawr Box 1 folder 18). Jones calculated

that the production earned Wharton $22,545.63. Barnes, who shared equal royalties with Wharton, earned the same

amount minus the $500.00 she paid to Sheldon to reimburse him for the money he paid Wharton for the adaptation

rights.
250
While there are no official numbers for Cornells earnings, her contract stipulated that she receive 10%

of the gross receipts, while Barnes and Wharton received approximately 2.85% each.
251
Cornell and McClintic later formed their own management company, the Cornell-McClintic

Corporation, so that she would have more artistic freedom and authority over her productions (Cornell 98).
252
Wharton biographer Hermione Lee observes that, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes hits all the targets

Wharton was fond of attacking herself, like Bolshevicks, the Ritz, motion pictures, Jewish sugar-daddies, Dr Froyd

[sic] . . . and Americans abroad (615).


253
Ziegfeld also stated that he preferred blue or brown eyes, claiming, Grey eyes cannot be beautiful.

They are too hard, too intellectual. They are the eyes of the typical college girl (How I Pick 158).
254
Both Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Age of Innocence satirize their protagonists, Archer through his

self-righteousness and hypocrisy and Lorelei through her upper-class pretentions. Both characters serve to satirize

the social systems they represent, but Archer has an inkling of his hypocrisy whereas Lorelei has no such awareness.
255
As Churchwell points out, education does not always stand in for sex in the novel as Loos also employs

this term for shopping and spending money. However, the substitution of education for sex is the most frequent use.
256
Quotes from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes are taken from the thirteenth printing of the book, May, 1926.

Loos edited the serial version for book publication, but the changes, while occasional but careful, as Churchwell

observes (160), were also minor.


257
According to Loos, newsstand sales of Harpers tripled during the serials run (A Girl 270).
266

258
This view influenced Looss perceptions, and in A Cast of Thousands she relates, Ive always thought

theres something rather monstrous about any female who writes (86).
259
Loos describes her first thrilling experience of being considered stupid while being escorted in Berlin

by a gentleman unable to communicate with her because of the language barrier (A Girl 249). Loos recounts, On

one of our lunch dates he pretended I was too frail to cut up my apfelstrudel [sic], and when he proceeded to do it for

me I experienced the unwonted ecstasy of being cherished as a helpless female (A Girl 249). However, on her

second visit, she explains, [I] spoiled everything by knowing enough German to make a few wisecracks . . . and I

went right back to being a neglected brunette (A Girl 249).


260
For information on Looss contributions to the development of film titles see Laura Frosts article

Anita Loos and the Language of Silent Film. In addition, Anita Loos Rediscovered, edited by Cari Beauchamp and

Mary Anita Loos, offers a discussion and collection of several of Looss film scenarios.
261
Carey states that Loos and Emerson married on June 21, 1920 (68), but Loos states that it was in June

1919 (A Girl 198), which Beauchamp confirms (44).


262
This incident led Emerson and Loos to separate but not divorce and prompted Emerson, who controlled

Looss finances, to offer Loos a regular allowance. According to Loos, Emerson refused to divorce her exclaiming,

Ill never leave you; youre so gullible you might fall into the hands of some crook whod get hold of your money!

(Kiss Hollywood 14). After the stock market crashed, Emerson revoked Looss allowance because, he reasoned,

Loos was healthy and could find work (Kiss Hollywood 14). In 1937, after he attempted to strangle Loos, Emerson

was diagnosed with schizophrenia and confined to a sanatorium (Carey 172). Emerson was healthy enough to use

his condition, which worsened whenever Loos pursued divorce, to manipulate Loos who continued to pay for his

care until his death in 1956 (Carey 178).


263
Reflecting on their marriage in her autobiography, Loos writes that because Emerson depended on her

financially, he envied me. And until the day he died he resented me (A Girl 182).
264
Emerson opposed publication of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as a book, concurring with magazine editor

Frank Crowninshield that the scintillating nature of the narrative would harm Looss reputation (Loos, A Girl 271).

However, once the galley proofs were prepared, Emerson presented Loos with the dedication he wished her to place
267

in the book: To John Emerson, except for whose encouragement and guidance this book would never have been

written (Loos, A Girl 271). Loos settled for To John Emerson.


265
William Faulkner, for example, wrote to congratulate Loos for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, particularly

Dorothys character. Faulkner concluded his letter saying, I am still rather Victorian in my prejudices regarding the

intelligence of woman, despite Elinor Wylie and Willa Cather and all the balance of them. But I wish I had thought

of Dorothy first (qtd. in Loos, Fate 63-4).


266
Edward Paramores 1926 article in The New Yorker, for example, claims Loos was writing for Griffiths

while still in her early teens, and emphasizes this amazing fact in the articles title The Child Wonder (26).
267
According to Carey, Loos, who bore most of the financial responsibility for supporting her household,

routinely arose at four in order to be at work writing by six (74). Cari Beauchamp describes Looss work ethic

saying, Anita wrote almost every day for more than seventy of her ninety-four years (1).
268
Well aware of this issue with Looss capital, publisher Boni & Liveright sought permission from

Wharton to quote her praise for the novel in their advertisements. Wharton granted them permission, and her

accolades appeared in subsequent ads.


269
Loos also belittles her little critique in her autobiography A Girl Like I but focuses in this account on

the romantic inspiration of her efforts rather than the childish impulse (267). In this version, Loos speaks of the

tremendous financial success of the book, but then relates, Any such female accomplishment could have been

motivated only by sex (266). Rather than youth, her comments here diminish her efforts on the basis of sex,

suggesting that men accomplish literary and, hence, intellectual greatness independently while women can only

venture near greatness when inspired by love.


270
Loos estimated that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes earned her over a million dollars by 1930 (Carey 103). In

1974, Loos wrote that the book had seen eighty-five editions and fourteen translations (Kiss 272).
271
Loos stated, I am hard put to describe Mencks enormous charm; based on extreme masculinity, at the

same time it never seemed to be quite that of a grown-up (A Girl 213).


272
Biographer Gary Carey places their meeting around 1919 (64), but Loos describes meeting him in the

early 1920s (A Girl 214).


268

273
Loos retells this story in A Girl Like I (264-9), Cast of Thousands (73-80), Kiss Hollywood Good-By

(12, 191), and Fate Keeps on Happening (53-7), which is a reprint of her introduction to the 1963 edition of

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and appeared in the 1983 edition as well.


274
The spelling of Harpers Bazar changed in 1929 when the magazine placed another a in Bazaar.
275
A. E. Hotchner indicates that rather than sending the piece to Mencken as a joke, as Loos implies, she

intended the piece as a serious literary submission to Mencken and George Jean Nathan, then editors of Smart Set

Magazine. Nathan later recalled that they rejected the narrative because we were fools (qtd. in Hotchner 94).

Hotchner states that Loos then sold the piece to Cosmopolitan, but the publication did not print her story.
276
Ralph Barton was a friend of Sell and a frequent contributor to Harpers. His modern and comic style

suited Looss narrative. His illustrations appeared with the serialized version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and were

reprinted in the novel version. Barton was married to Carlotta Monterey who divorced Barton in 1926 and married

Eugene ONeill. Barton committed suicide in 1931.


277
Barton was also about to depart for Europe, and, according to Leckie, Sell arranged a meeting between

Barton and Loos before they left for Europe (77). Loos claims that men started purchasing Harpers for her serial,

and Advertisements for mens apparel, cigars, whisky, and sporting-goods began pouring into the magazine (Cast

80). While Looss claim is often repeated, the look of the magazine remained consistent during the serialization of

Blondes, and the advertising remained largely similar to advertizing in Harpers before the series. Ads for

automobiles did increase, but many featured fashionable women at the wheel, conveying a strong desire to attract

female, rather than male, readers.


278
Churchwells essay Lost Among the Ads: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and the Politics of Imitation

offers one of the few analyses examining a work of 1920s literature within the context of its serial publication.
279
William Randolph Hearst purchased Harpers, which had struggled financially for several years, in

1913. Because of the magazines failing sales, Hearst was able to purchase the publication for only $10,000 (Gribbin

139). From 1913 to 1934, Harpers operated under six different editors (Gribbin 139).
269

280
Initially stonewalled by French designers nursing post-war animosity towards the United States, Sell

eventually entered the Parisian elite and courted designers by hosting lavish parties with Hearsts money (Leckie 56,

62-3). Sell also enticed French advertisers by allowing them to advertise in French (Leckie 67).
281
Vogue also served as a class magazine and was Harpers main competitor. In 1926, Vogues ad income

was second only to that of the Saturday Evening Post (Zuckerman, History 115).
282
While understandings of race and class complicated this construct of femininity as a natural inheritance,

1920s constructs of gender drastically distanced, but not altogether divorced, femininity from Victorian

understandings of gender as an innate quality.


283
Each issue featured an advertising section suggesting establishments for readers to visit while shopping

in Paris.
284
Much of the scholarship on Looss Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, including studies by Faye Hammill,

Laura Frost, and Susan Hegeman, centers on issues of elite and mass culture in the narrative as well as in relation to

the classification of and critical response to the work itself.


285
Churchwell focuses her analysis on these issues of capital because, as she explains, most readers, then

and now, have focused on the storys sexual politics, [but] Blondes is also pervaded by contemporary anxieties about

cultural capital, advertisement, imitation, and the middlebrow (135). Accordingly, in her focus on cultural capital

and the middlebrow, Churchwell tends to separate anxieties about capital and consumerism from contemporary

sexual politics and gender. Churchwell discusses gender in relation to the role and work of the writer as well as

genres of fiction but tends to discuss issues of capital in the magazine as if they are disconnected from a specifically

female consumer.
286
Contemporary stereotypes of the female gold-digger, an unintellectual, working-class woman, often

represented as a chorus girl using her sex appeal for entrance into the upper-class also worked to construct this

low mode of accumulation as feminine. Magazines and newspapers in the early twentieth century participated in

this gendering by featuring sensationalized tales of chorus girls winning and wedding society men (Mizejewski 69).

Such narratives implied that, unlike men, with the option to work and earn their way into a higher tier of the middle-
270

or upper-middle class, women, particularly young, stylish women, could aim for immediate entrance to the top with

little more than a strategically-aimed flirtation.


287
While I do not agree with Bourdieu, who speaks of women as lacking agency in attaining capital and

serving only to display the capital of their husbands, it is clear that Harpers represented its readers in a manner

consistent with Bourdieus assessment.


288
Marketing for the print and stage versions of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes promoted reading or seeing the

work as a sign of smartness. Ads for the novel called the book culturally indispensible to the smart man and woman

of today, and Brooks Atkinson noted that the play had been Heralded for months as the smart comedy of the

season, indispensable to all smart people who profess even the slightest sense of social responsibility (Speaking).
289
As discussed earlier in this chapter, Harpers and Vogue were known as class magazines because they

maintained strong subscription numbers among high-income readers and featured high-end fashions and

advertisements for luxury items (Zuckerman, History 133, 164).


290
A 1929 Armand advertisement featuring eight types of women includes the Lorelei Type, describing

her as, Blond and aggressive, she gets her man (reprinted in Peiss, Hope 147). Such ads proliferated throughout

the programs for the stage production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The Times Square Theatre program for the

week beginning September 27, 1926, for example, includes an advertisement for The Rogers Peet Company

reading, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes[.] Blondes prefer gentlemen when theyre well-dressed; so do brunettes

(Rogers Peet16). In the same program, another ad references the play declaring, Blonde or Brunette . . . [sic] Youll

Prefer this Corset Comfort (Corset 13).


291
Since the narrative is written in Loreleis voice, brains is her term for what the gentlemen find

interesting, one of the many ambiguities Loos uses to tantalize the reader (12, 25, 51).
292
Lorelei participates in this faade by ignoring the sexual nature of the mens interest and insisting that

they are gentlemen and that she is a lady.


293
Lorelei recounts the conversation, saying, he never thought that I really had brains but now that he

knows it, it seems that he has been looking for a girl like me for years (56). The intentional ambiguity Loos uses in
271

Loreleis phrasing leaves it open to question whether Bartlett now knows she has no brains or whether he now

believes she is intelligent. In either case, Lorelei clearly interprets his comments as a compliment of her intellect.
294
The gentlemens attraction to Loreleis ignorance and their attempts to mold Lorelei through reading

and cultural experiences mirror Archers conflation of sexual and cultural initiation in The Age of Innocence

(Wharton 60).
295
The narrative implies that Eisman is Jewish, a characterization made explicit in the play.
296
Anxiety about womens culpability in such situations held center stage in the public conscious at this

time due to the widely publicized 1924 trials of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner , women accused of murdering

their paramours, which Maurine Watkins later adapted into the 1926 play Chicago.
297
Throughout the novel, Lorelei attributes the events in her life to fate (25, 43, 56, 162). Fate Keeps on

Happening was the title of the July installment of the story in Harpers and also served as the title of the 1984

collection of Looss essays and articles.


298
While Emerson received credit as co-author for the play, given his habit with other Loos creations, it is

likely he assisted with little, if any, of the adaptation process.


299
While Theatre Magazine claimed that producer Edgar Selwyn prompted Loos to adapt Gentlemen

Prefer Blondes, Loos received numerous proposals soon after the novel was published. Due to the serial and novels

tremendous popularity, producers clamored for the rights. Loos soon signed a contract with Edgar Selwyn but later

regretted this agreement which prevented her from accepting a subsequent offer from Florenz Ziegfeld, who wished

to turn the novel into a musical (Fate 58).


300
Loos estimated that between 1912 and 1915 she wrote one hundred five film scenarios and sold all but

four of these (A Girl 71). Loos wrote several scripts for Constance Talmadge and wrote The Redheaded Woman

(1932), which made Jean Harlow a star.


301
Loos and her husband John Emerson wrote The Whole Towns Talking and The Fall of Eve, which

played at the Booth Theatre in 1925. While Emerson is credited as co-author of these works, his habit of taking

credit for Looss work makes his contribution difficult to determine. Following Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Loos
272

wrote more than eight additional plays, including the stage adaptation of Gigi, which brought Audrey Hepburn to the

United States.
302
This eliminated Loreleis meeting with Freud and her visit to an art museum with Spoffard.
303
These items are listed in the property plot in the script (n.p.).
304
Critic Gordon Leland especially praised the set for Act III, saying that Soveys design alone made the

play worth attending and describing his design for the opulent apartment a work of art.
305
Quotations from the script are taken from the copy held by the New York Public Library. The citations

conform to the pagination used in this script with first number indicating the act of the play and the number

following the hyphen indicating the page number within that act. On May 30, 1926, the Chicago Daily Tribune

announced that the script for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which was playing at Chicagos Selwyn Theatre, would be

revised (Odds-and-Ends, 30 May 1926). The article explains that the new version would transfer the speech

revealing Loreleis spending habits from Dorothy to Gus. The script held by the New York Public Library contains

this change as well as a detailed properties list, wardrobe requirements, and set plans. It is therefore evident that this

version of the script originated after the Chicago alterations and likely, given the production details and lack of a

cast list, that this version was intended for use in future productions. Following the Chicago alterations, Loos altered

the script again for the New York production. While the goal of these revisions remains unknown, critics who

viewed both productions did not remark on any differences in the script, indicating that the revisions were minor.
306
Whartons The House of Mirth presents an interesting parallel to this arrangement as Lily Bart engages

in similar transactions and cannot escape, as Lorelei does, the consequences of her implied promises.
307
In the play, Loos compounds Loreleis treachery against Lady Beekman by making her the former

owner of the tiara. Lady Beekman unknowingly sells her family heirloom for her husbands cash and only later

learns that Lorelei has seduced her husband into supplying the funds.
308
Connie uses a French phrase she does not understand to ask French taxi drivers to drive carefully. When

Dorothy explains that the phrase means Connie is pregnant, Connie jumps up, Xes to table L. and touches wood,

actions indicating pregnancy is a possibility she hopes to avoid through luck rather than virtue (2-12).
273

309
Carey notes the similarities between Lorelei and a specific Ziegfeld girl, Lillian Lorraine, who

accumulated a massive collection of jewelry from various admirers and sent herself orchids to teach a stingy suitor a

lesson (100-1).
310
As a child, Loos had performed under Belascos direction in May Blossom, and she referenced this

previous relationship in her appeal for Hibbard (A Girl 25-6).


311
See the discussion of Marvin Carlsons theory of ghosting in chapter three.
312
Manuel Transformations, a wig company, carried an ad in Vogue featuring a photo of Walker as Lorelei

and a quote from the actress thanking the company for the finest transformation anybody ever had (Manuel).
313
Photos from the original production housed by the New York Public Librarys Billy Rose Theatre

Collection depict these costume choices.


314
See discussion in chapter one.
315
Critic Gilbert W. Gabriel applauded Walkers escape from such casting saying Her cleverness was sure

to break the bounds of those bedraggled, quaint slavies her recent seasons had assigned her (Gentlemen).
316
While Loos often downplayed her work as frivolous, it is unlikely she expressed outright disdain for

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.


317
Iris West replaced Walker for the final weeks of the Chicago production so that Walker could rest before

the Broadway opening. Selwyn also had three touring companies preparing, so there were several possible options

for Walkers replacement.


318
The Times Square Theatre shared a faade and marquee with the adjacent Apollo theatre. While

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes played at Times Square, the George Whites Scandals, a Follies-esque show, played at

the Apollo, placing Looss satire side by side with its target.
319
Both Gilbert W. Gabriel (Gentlemen) and the writer of Odds-and-Ends (9 May 1926) used this

adjective to describe Walker in their discussions of the play.


320
Mary Ricard played the role of Dorothy in this production.
321
Paramount also produced a film version in 1927, which contained one scene with sound. Loos worked

on this as well as the 1949 musical by Joseph Fields, Jule Styne, and Leo Robin, but did not assist with the 1953
274

film directed by Howard Hawks. Her play version also received many performances in New York during the 1930s

as part of the federal theatre project.


322
In 2012, Encores! produced a concert staging of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes starring Megan Hilty and

Chicago Lyric Opera produced a revival of Show Boat.


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