Sex Is Not Enough
The fat, white fingers of silver light, beaming from the cones of great searchlights, played tic-tac-toe in the night sky above Hollywood. Wilshire Boulevard, in front of the Ritz Theater, was a happy bedlam. Traffic was backed up for a mile, and in the glare of sputtering arcs sleek Cadillacs pullied to the curb and discharged elegantly appointed stars and movie-makers who made their way into the building through an avenue of ropes that held back thousands of breathless fans.
One by one the big names of the movies made the walk past the spectators and each got applause and cheers. Some signed autograph books and others hurried inside self-consciously. It was a gala night, for it was the world premiere of 20th Century-Fox’s Call Me Madam.
The picture was scheduled to go on in a few minutes and the electricians were just about to cut off the lights when a long studio limousine pulled up and Marilyn Monroe, alone, as usual, got out and stood uncertainly on the curb. She was dressed in a white gown, cut just a little below the accepted level, and as tight as the skin on a sausage. She carried a white fox stole casually, none of it covering her bare shoulders and back; and with her blonde hair glittering, her eyes doe’d to the fashion and her parted lips luscious-red, she was a sight to behold.
Well, the fans went wild, not just mildly or politely wild but crazy wild, boys and girls alike. And rightfully so, for we were there and must admit that Marilyn made the girls who had preceded her look like hens next to a peacock. As she posed for pictures, her chest high and heaving, one knee pushed provocatively forward and her lips quivering gently, she was just about as sexy a picture as even Hollywood has ever seen—and the fans threatened to riot in their tumultuous appreciation of the moment and the girl.
An executive from another studio stood just inside the lobby chewing an unlit cigar and glowering. He turned to an aide.
“Son.” he said, “why can’t we find somebody like that. Sex is what they want in the movies now-a-days. Sex with a big S.”
“Yes, sir,” the aide said, “sex.”
In the calm light of the next day, however, an executive at 20th Century-Fox had an entirely different point of view. He had on his desk figures on the business being done by Niagara, and he was almost weeping.
“I can’t understand it,” he moaned. “We’re top-billing Monroe. I was afraid they’d close down the picture in some places because we played her so sexy—but the picture’s flopping. How do you figure it out?”
His immediate superior sat with his feet propped up on the desk. “There’s only one way to figure it,” he said. “Sex is not enough.”
And it isn’t. It might sell pictures to newspapers and magazines. It might make a star better known than Eisenhower. It might drive fans mad at public gatherings. But sex alone has never, in the history of Hollywood, been enough of an attraction on its own to fill movie theaters or keep a star’s name in lights.
There is at the moment a fresh crop of sex queens being readied in Hollywood, presumably to steal some of Monroe’s thunder, and all are expected by their studios to make the companies rich. But they won’t. Not, that is, unless they have something more on the ball than the ability to create desire—and are handled as actresses rather than attractions.
The most promising new sex queen, most Hollywoodites admit, is Elaine Stewart of MGM, whom you may have seen as the ambitious bit player in The Bad And The Beautiful. Elaine is, photographically, everything that could be desired in a screen beauty. She is a tall, willowy five feet-six inches. She has copper-auburn hair that falls to her shoulders seductively, and velvet-brown eyes. She weighs 118 pounds, and it is allotted elaborately in the proper places. Elaine also has that intangible that might be called “stance,” the thing that allows a girl to provoke sex without movement.
Elaine Stewart, though, for all her loveliness and possible talent, is, at this time, purely a sight attraction. Her theatrical background includes just a few appearances on TV and a Martin and Lewis picture in which all she was required to do was look sexy. Her fame lay, before she came to Hollywood, in the magazine field as a Conover model and cover girl. In The Bad And The Beautiful she was used purely as a sex image, a representative of Hollywood fluff that could take a producer’s mind off his work and his sweetheart. It is true she spoke her lines well and there was a glimmer of promise of better things if she is given a chance, but in her debut she was a sex attraction and nothing more.
Another current example of side-show sex is Universal’s Mamie Van Doren who is admittedly that studio’s answer to Marilyn Monroe. Mamie, until a few months ago Jack Dempsey’s favorite date, and well columnized under her true name Joan Olander, is a blonde sprite with a full mouth and curvy figure who bears a remarkable resemblance to Marilyn. However, at this writing, it does not appear that Mamie will be put into the front lines immediately. Her resemblance to Monroe is superficial, according to the reports from picture editors, not enough oomph, even when she holds her mouth open, so Universal has put her into the talent mill to learn to act before springing her on the public in a movie. That is sound judgment.
Roberta Haynes is another newcomer who has been plunged into the sex race. She, if you remember, is the girl plucked from nowhere and given the lead opposite Gary Cooper in Return To Paradise. Her publicity had been pretty run-of-the-mill until she fell into the hands of Russell Birdwell, the dean of Hollywood publicists and a man of ideas. One morning all of Hollywood choked on its coffee as they looked at a picture of Roberta on the back of The Hollywood Reporter. She was as sultry as Cleopatra, and she wore what appeared to be a slip and bra, which was obviously not her size. The picture itself was the end, but the text was stunning. Credits for the photo, wardrobe, etc. and the last line read: “Body by God.”
There was the devil to pay, but Birdwell took it in stride. He planned this publicity for shock value—and it worked. Roberta, maybe as a result of the ad, was signed to a contract by Columbia Studio. Miss Haynes, by the way, has an edge on her fellow sex gals. She has a solid background in the theater and is rated a first class actress by her contemporaries, such as Marlon Brando. She may do well.
Another up-and-coming young lady due to dent the crown of the current holder, if all goes well from this point, is Laurette Luez, a newcomer Columbia is grooming for sex-stardom. Miss Luez is a tall, dark curvy amazon, half Portuguese and Irish, who seems to have been endowed with the best beauty points of both races. Her hair is raven-black, her eyes brown and she has a peaches-and-cream complexion.
Laurette is not a complete newcomer, having starred as the Panther Woman in Prehistoric Women, an independent film made a couple of years ago. She was highly publicized at that time and made more girlie magazine covers than anyone else ever did. But she considered this sort of thing a little undignified and refused to pose after a few months. Her background, as an actress, is good. Both her father and mother were on the stage for many years, and as a child of four she made her debut dancing for the Sultan of Jabore in Singapore when her parents visited there.
She has been tabbed by newsmen who met her on a tour for MGM’s picture, Kim, in which she played Errol Flynn’s seldom-seen leading lady, as “The Flower of Delight Girl,” and other such extravagant names. The Hollywood press once gave her a Mickey Award for being the “Best low-cut cleavage on a movie billboard” a couple of years ago. Her startling measurements are 5‘ 7”, 37-24-35. She went to school with Marilyn Monroe.
The one actress, and there should be a question mark after that, who may reach the heights of Marilyn Monroe is a lady known professionally as Lili St. Cyr, a bump dancer from the burlesque circuits. Miss St. Cyr, a tall, magnificently proportioned blonde with emerald eyes and a pouty mouth, has been the queen of the strippers for several years—as well as the toast of the Hollywood night life crowd. In a couple of appearances at Ciro’s here she jammed the place every night with an exhibition of a lady undressing, taking a bath and dressing again. She did nothing more. Spoke not a word. But she was a smash.
Naturally the producers asked her to make movies, but didn’t get her. Jerry Wald once announced her for one of his films and when she didn’t appear he stated he couldn’t get her name on a contract because he couldn’t afford her salary. That was quite true, because Lili makes more money in night clubs and burlesque theaters than most movie queens and didn’t want to take a cut in salary. She has been signed, however, by producer Albert Zugsmith to star in a Technicolor epic that will also feature a moon, a sarong and a lagoon. Then Lili will be better known. If she can act she may cut the mustard. But if she can’t, she will no doubt go back to the runways assured that in the movies sex is not enough.
For the past couple of years Terry Moore, who used to be practically a child actress, has been working up a storm in the papers using sex as a gimmick. We recall her press agent trotting into our office with pictures of Terry in a bathing suit, trying to tout us on the proposition that Terry was the bustiest child in the land. He succeeded in getting some of these pictures into print, and this, coupled with interviews in which Terry is reported to have said she’d give Marilyn Monroe cards and spades and still top her measurements, put Miss Moore into the running in the sex derby.
But all that has changed. Terry got an Academy Award nomination for her work in Come Back, Little Shebaand probably a talking-to by a wise man and is frantically trying to recall all the past publicity along the sex line. She appeared at a party recently in a dress that covered as much as the average sweater. She wants no more of it.
No symposium on sex queens can be complete without a mention at least of that pioneer Jane Russell. Jane was the forerunner of all our modern skin specialists. As long as 12 years ago she was heaving her bosom for the movie cameras and pulling down the neckline for the stills. And for sheer beauty and grandeur of form she may never be topped. There was a period of several years in which she never made a picture, but the papers and magazines ran her art anyway. She didn’t need a news peg to get into print. Jane, she admits herself, was not much of an actress, but no one expected it of her. All she had to do was appear in a room and the audience got the idea the leading man had in his mind.
But Jane, possibly because she was the pioneer, saw the handwriting on the wall before the others got started and began to brush up on her acting. And nowadays if you mention her obvious attributes to her she sneers at you. Unfortunately she can not start all over again without the low neckline, but she will not make a deal until she knows it’s an acting part these days. She, too, has had it. At the present time she is negotiating a new contract with Howard Hughes, who has been her boss since she started, and one of the main articles in the pact will be that she is not required to continue as the national emblem for sex.
A girl can’t help growing up, so a new sex attraction is headed our way now in the person of Mitzi Gaynor. Mitzi also came to the movies as a kid and a very talented one at that. She is one of the very best dancers Hollywood has, can sing very well and is a fair actress. But during the past year, personally and professionally, she has matured with a capital M. She appears at parties in gowns that are adult to be sure—and she is the object of every male eye. She used to be a mouse, shy and inhibited in public, and dressed like a dancing school graduate. Now Mitzi waltzes into a room like a young duchess, her almond eyes flirty and her movements the sort that drive strong men mad.
At a recent party a wife began looking for her husband. He wasn’t within sighting distance, so she asked her hostess if she knew where he was.
“I believe,” the hostess said, “he’s talking to Mitzi Gaynor.”
“Good,” said the wife, “generally he’s hanging around the neck of some glamor girl.”
The wife should have seen her husband at that moment. He wasn’t talking to Mitzi, but he was trying to. He was on the fringe of a mob of males who had Mitzi backed into a corner—and if his wife had taken a look at the way Mitzi had them all panting that night she’d have dragged her old man out of there by the ear. Mitzi has an aloof type of sex appeal, not at all obvious on the screen, that may be the combination required to sell sex at the box office. And as a top-notch dancer she has talent, too.
Actually, it was sex that really put movies on the map. Valentino can be credited with being the prime assist and he was noted for his ability to ooze passion from every pore as he dragged a panting captive across the Sahara to a lonely tent. The public, it seemed, wanted sex in those days. Maybe they’ve become bored with it, or maybe they’ve come to appreciate acting and a good story.
Sex really grew up in the movies, though, with Jean Harlow, also a Howard Hughes contribution. Hughes put meaning into it. And if he wasn’t a designer of loose garments he certainly was aware of what was provocative. The dress that Jean Harlow wore in Hell’s Angels ought to be in the Smithsonian Institution. It was as much an invention in its day as was the first mixmaster. From the first moment she appeared on the screen in that rag Jean Harlow was destined for greatness—in sex. And until the day she died she never played a part that didn’t call for an exhibition of flesh and lust. MGM just recently made Mogambo, a reshuffling of Red Dust, the film that made millions pay to see Jean take a bath in a rain barrel, under the watchful, eager eyes of Clark Gable.
There are some who will deny that Jean was ever a good actress, but most Hollywoodites, after a moment of thought, will say she was. But it was something that had to be considered, for Jean’s name was synonymous with sex, not art.
There have been others, too, who today are substantial performers, who were once considered sexy as all-get-out. Barbara Stanwyck, for instance. Now the public thinks of Barbara as one of the reigning artists of the screen, but in her early pictures she was a lusty, lip-biting half-tart that seldom took no for an answer. Barbara learned early in her career, though, that sex is not enough and raised her sights. In doing so, she’s become an all-time great.
Some time ago Joan Crawford gave an interview to one of the major wire services in which she was reported to have said that she considered the exhibitionism of some of the younger players of this day slightly revolting. She particularly selected Marilyn Monroe as an example of how not to publicize a movie star. When it was printed there was quite a fuss. Marilyn’s studio thought it was unkind, to say the least. Marilyn herself was said to have considered it catty. And the town took up sides.
When Miss Crawford was approached by other reporters for more details, she expressed herself as being sorry she had put her thoughts quite so strongly. She thought back, maybe, to the days when she first came to Hollywood—a Charleston dancer from Texas. She remembered Our Dancing Daughters in which she wore a dress that wouldn’t make a fair handkerchief for a grown man. She remembered, possibly, the scene she’d played dancing atop a table, with the Crawford legs showing to the tan line, and the mouth-trembling way she’d look at a prospective lover for a close-up. And she didn’t take back what she’d said, but she did reconstruct her opinion, from a wisdom she learned the hard way.
“Maybe,” she said, “I should have said that I am concerned, because I know now that sex is not enough.” Or words to that effect.
BY JIM HENAGHEN
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE JUNE 1953