One of the most essential components of classic hollywood can be summed up in one word: Glamour. Many of the men and women who possessed the big screen appeared almost supra-human onscreen. They were gods and goddesses that walked among us. Flaw-less complexions, perfect make-up, hair styles that never fell out of place (never a bad hair-day in the lot), wardrobes fit for kings and queens, and a certain elegance that made them appear all the more ‘perfect.’ However, many of these stars had to go through painful and unpleasant practices in order to maintain the ideal screen presence.
The first platinum ‘blonde bombshell,’ was no exception to these practices. To maintain her signature look (as her hair was naturally an ash blonde color), she had to have it bleached on a weekly basis. This required a mixture of Lux flakes, peroxide, ammonia, and Clorox to be used on her head. Needless to say, this picture was not only painful but extremely damaging to her hair. According to the book, “The 50 most Unforgettable Actresses of the Studio Era, this process resulted in Miss Harlow having to eventually wear a wig. This was due to the toxic nature of the substances used in her ‘hair dye.’
Another leading lady who had to go through a difficult styling process was the ever gorgeous, Myrna Loy. The following bit of information was also found via the fabulous book, “The 50 most Unforgettable Actresses of the Studio Era.” “Although she appeared pale and raven-haired in movies, Myrna was a red-haired and freckle-faced woman who despised her ‘piano’ legs. MGM producer David O. Selznick was more concerned with her prominent ears, forcing make-up artists to glue them to her head.” One can only imagine how uncomfortable it would be to have your ears glued to your head each and every day. Clark Gable was another actor who had rather large ears, but no where have I come across any information that suggests that he was relegated to the process that Myrna was.
Judy Garland was another actress who had to take specific actions to help enhance her appearance. It has been documented that she had to wear removable caps on her teeth. In addition to that, she had to wear rubberized disks that were inserted into her nose, in order to reshape it.
A specific device that was implemented by Max Factor in the early 1930s was the Beauty Calibrator. It looks like a device that one would expect to see in the “Saw” horror movies. Here is an excerpt that explains the machine in more precise terms than I am able. “Flaws almost invisible to the ordinary eye become glaring distortions when thrown upon the screen in highly magnified images… the device, remotely resembling a baseball mask, fits over the head and face with flexible metal strips which conform closely to the various features. The strips are held in place by set screws, allowing for 325 possible adjustments. If, for instance, the subject’s nose is slightly crooked — so slightly, in fact, that it escapes ordinary observation — the flaw is promptly detected by the instrument and corrective makeup is applied by an experienced operator.” The entire article relating to this device can be found on this link.
Another glamorous gal went through pain to perfect even the most minor of imperfections. Rita Hayworth, went through a process of electrolysis in order to raise her hairline. It took an entire two years to complete and was noted to be a painful process which only make a subtle difference, but one that Rita was very happy with in the end.
“Hollywood always wanted me to be pretty, but I fought for realism.” -Bette Davis