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daddysprimadonna

A Silly Question Maybe?

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Is it just me, or do the ladies in the films up to approximately the early-mid forties SEEM to be built differently? Is it that a different kind of film was used, or what? The ladies in the earlier pictures all seem to be more petite and small-boned and streamlined or something,"daintier", maybe, and the ladies in the later pictures seem more full-figured and bigger-boned. I can't explain it exactly, and it's more than the difference in style. Does anyone have a possible explanation, oif you've ever noticed this?

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Yes easy answer! This is no joke, they wore shoulder pads! Particulary all the MGM starlets.

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That's true, but I also mean, their faces for instance look smaller and finer-boned, and their bodies seem smaller-boned and more petite-a lot of them seem like little bird-women---really petite and cute and dainty, more girlish.

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Maybe Spencer can help you with that daddysprimadonna! He seems to be the resident movie encyclopedia-boy genius around here. I understand your point and am a bit curious to know the answer myself.

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I don't think there really was much difference in the way actresses were built up to the mid-forties. There were those "Griffith Girl" sorts that were kind of small, but there were plenty of actresses from the silent era and the thirties with substantial figures.

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You asked a good question. I think there was definitely a different type of movie woman up until the seventies. Movie moguls in the 20s and 30s liked petite women, girlish, delicate/refined, and if they were under contract, they were kept to a strict diet. If you think about all the superstar movie queens, bette, joan, mae, bow, etc. all of them were almost midgets. I've seen their movie costumes here in NYC and it looks like these creations were designed for junior high girls! Vivien Leigh's costumes in GWTW were so little that some people asked the curator of the Metropolitan Museum if the gowns had shrunk. He said nope. That was her actual size. Also, women back then had different diets and nutritional habits. They dieted madly for the cameras. Also, super legends like Mary Pickford, Swanson, Bow and Colbert were so little that every studio wanted clones just like them.

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This is a great topic--being a petite woman myself, I've always been drawn to the ladies of the 20's and 30's more than those of the 40's and 50's (although my fave, Garbo, doesn't seem to fit that mold). I was telling my husband last night during MADAME DUBARRY with Delores Del Rio, that women from that era seem like they could be plucked from that time period and put into modern films and not look out of place, but women like Marilyn, Jane Russell, etc. look very much of their own time. I think that it is due partially to their figures, but the studios and costume designers did everything they could to accentuate those attributes. The women of the 30's wore clothes that gave them a more streamlined look that seemed to camouflage everything. I don't know if that could be the difference??

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I don't even think that it's so much that they WERE built differently, I know Greta Garbo was a big woman(not fat-at least not when Louis B Mayer got through with her), and in her later pictures Myrna Loy seems full-figured(not fat, just tall and womanly), and Ginger Rogers, the same-to name a few. But in those Thirties and early Forties films, they seem different. Sort of insubstantial and ethereal. I mean, Garbo in "Camille"-she has that look. It always makes me think maybe the film used was different, or the lighting techniques, or SOMEthing. Not neccesarily the women themselves. I'm not explaining this too well.Lolmsted, I agree with you that the women from the Thirties movies would look right at home today, they seem more "classic", in spite of marcelled hair and all. You know, I LOVE that movie"The Glenn Miller Story", and I love June Allyson, but it always peeves me that they June in full circle skirts when it's supposed to be the Thirties and Forties. A lot of Fifties movies did that. I guess the Thirties movies did it too(especially with hair styles, in the period movies), but I like the Thirties better, so I don't care,LOL:)

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What an interesting question. Why do women look bigger over the years, especially beginning during the '40s? A quick check of some stats in an old resource book breaks the heights of some well known ladies down this way:

 

Norma Shearer 5'1"

Eleanor Boardman 5'6 1/2"

Colleen Moore 5'3"

Ruth Chatterton 5'2"

Kay Francis 5'9"

Claudette Colbert 5'4 1/2"

Irene Dunne 5'5"

Bette Davis 5'2"

Joan Crawford 5'3"

Vivien Leigh 5'3"

Ingrid Bergman 5'10"

Lauren Bacall 5'8 1/2"

Marilyn Monroe 5'5"

Grace Kelly 5'7"

Sophia Loren 5'8"

 

With some notable exceptions, they do seem to have been shorter in the old days, don't they?

 

Maybe better nutrition, the changing tastes of casting directors and more man-tailored clothing made women look bigger--along with a useful-don't-tread-on-me attitude copped by such actresses as Davis & Crawford.

 

There's one other element that might have changed their appearance, and this gets into a kind of delicate area: underwear. Twenties gals might have been smaller, but they also sometimes didn't wear a bra or corset, but actually flattened their bosom and wore teddies to give them that sleek, slight silhouette. Oddly, beginning during WWII, when fabric was harder to come by, women wore much more, uh, shall we say "structured" underwear, which gave even smaller gals a formidable look...this trend reached its goofy zenith in the fifties, when you see some really unnatural, though effectively engineered bras being flaunted by such folk as Mamie Van Doren & others.

 

Another thing that happened during WWII: shoulder pads, as previously mentioned in another post, were borrowed from men's tailoring and traditional male fabrics such as twill & worsted wool were used for women's clothing much more during this period--chiffons, silk, and light cottons just didn't cut it on the assembly line or in the office and, of course, heavier fabrics lasted longer at a time when clothes needed to be worn for more than one fashion season.

 

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moira, I agree with you that it was probably the clothing that made women's bodies look different. Take Joan Crawford, in her silent and pre-code movies, she looks so tiny...then when she adopted the look that she's most associated with (shoulder pads, big styled hair) she looked--to quote Ann Blythe--"head and shoulders above the rest". Looking at the heights of the actress you listed (the biggest shocker was Ingrid Bergman as being SO tall) made me realize that shorter was the rule, and now seems to be the exception. Today, our shortest star is Salma Hayek @ 5'2", yet she's got all the curves of a 50's icon. Hmmm...how times change :)

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I can see what you mean about the clothes, but it's not just height and weight that I notice as being different-I mean they even seem smaller -boned. Maybe I'm putting too fine a point on it. Jane Powell was a small woman, and Debbie Reynolds, and even they seem somehow more "substantial" and three-dimensional in their movies. Something really makes me think it was the film or the lighting. Was it different from the Thirties to the Fifties? I know the aesthetic ideal was different also. I remeber reading in F Scott Fitzgerald's stories how the heroine is always ideally "dainty", in her dress, her grooming, her mind-set(but not her actions-in that,she was ideally a free spirit-just like his ideal flapper, Joan Crawford).Then in the late Forties-Fifties, the curves become more blatant, the women seem bigger-boned(even the petite women, when seen next to almost any Thirties heroine), they seem "meatier" and fleshier. When I see them in Technicolor, it seems REALLY obviuosly different to me. The Ginger Rogers in "Barkleys of Broadway" seems to have a different shape altogether from the one in "Follow The Fleet"- and look at the difference in Harriet-oh my gosh, I can't remember her last name!-from how she looks in "Ozzie and Harriet". It's not JUST the clothes. The women don't seem as glamourously unreal and kind of "silvery" and ethereal.

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I can really see a difference (just a beginning of the difference) in Norma Shearer in "The Divorcee) and "A Free Soul", and Norma in "The Women"-it's not a full-blown difference yet, but it's beginning. Norma seems more "real" (appearence, I mean), in "The Women", not so elusive as in the earlier movies.

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Do you know, I've noticed that in a lot of the earlier picturs, especially the pre-codes, the women aren't wearing bras, and they don't seem to mind that they have no cleavage or support, in fact, it seems to be a look they went for. They all SEEM to be small-breasted, and if things go different ways, that seemed to be fine. As if they were all adolescent.I suppose many of the actresses we're familiar with WERE much younger then also, so they WOULD look more girlish,LOL. But they still looked different beyond all of that, gosh darnit! I just can't seem to explain myself.

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If you watch any of the l900-1923 movies, women really looked big! In the beginning, they wore soooooo much camaflogue. huge picture hats, bustles, corsets, long dresses. then, when the "flappers" came on the scene, they began to shrink in appearance because their attire was lighter and boyish. they also strapped down their bosom to look "boyish." and again, looking slender and mannish was all the rage, hence the rigid diets. it's rare you saw a heavy flapper. also, i still think movie moguls wanted a certain femme type: slender, feminine, almost skinny.

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That's true, they looked more "matronly" then, but I guess at that time the Edwardian ideal was still in effect. And rounder faces were still in vogue(although actually, a somewhat rounded face seemed to remain in style after that-you know, like the girl in the "I'm Young and Healthy" routine with Dick Powell, in "Gold Diggers of 1933" (I think)-the women all seemed to be Lolitas. That didn't seem to last long, except in a niche, then the more chiseled sophisticated look started to vie with the teen look.Maybe things are not as categorised as I thought, after a deeper look at it all!

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I mean the very EARLY Thirties still had that baby-faced look, then maybe the European stars started to influence things more. It's like the difference between the "Flaming Youth" of the Twenties and the early Thirties , then the more sophisticated Thirties "cafe society" look.

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But they ALL seemed smaller than the late Forties and beyond women:) I REALLY REALLY think it had something to do with the film or lighting, as well as the fashion and popular aesthetic. I wish someone could tell me if things changed in that respect.

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In regard to the 1900-1923 movies, I suppose like Theda Bara? I have that movie" A Fool There Was" and she's definitely fleshy in it, but it's in a different way than the Fifties women-not so "real" or something.

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From what I've read, in the l900s, heavy men and women were in style. This extra weight meant they were supposedly "wealthy" and had money to buy food. Theda Bara looked fleshy and plump in l915's "A Fool There Was" as were the other femme cast members.The men were big and fleshy. When Mary Pickford became a sensation, there were countless clones, in particular, Mary Miles Minter. So an army of child-like women, with enormous manes of curls, and tiny little features became the vogue. I wonder what these old pioneers would think of today's stick-like women who often resemble robots. Liz Taylor was the last of the full-bosomed, full-bodied screen divas.

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What do these films have in common?

 

-Cleopatra

-The Way of All Flesh

-London After Midnight

-The Divine Woman

-The River

-Gold Diggers of Broadway

-Convention City

 

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