18 Fabulous Flappers
This post was planned long ago as a followup to The Rise of the Flapper, which looked at some of the reasons for the iconic lifestyle many young women adopted in the 1920s. Some famous flappers were role models, either in real life or in the movies or other entertainment venues, and others only became famous later, but all looked wonderful in photographs of the era.
Marie Prevost was an actress who spanned the transition from silent films to talkies with ease. She appeared in 121 films between 1915 and 1936, including a half-dozen or so in which she portrayed a flapper. After her mother died in an auto accident in 1926, Prevost began drinking heavily and gained weight, and her career suffered. She went into a cycle of crash dieting and bingeing. In 1937, Prevost was found in her apartment, dead from heart failure due to malnutrition and alcoholism. She had died a couple of days before, and was only found because the neighbors complained of her dog barking.
Barbara Stanwyck made movies for 37 years, but is best remembered today for her TV series The Big Valley in the 1960s and Dynasty II: The Colbys in the 1980s. Her first film role was an uncredited fan dancer in 1927. Stanwyck’s roles ranged widely, but she always played a strong woman. In the ’20s, she was as cute as a button.
Colleen Moore was probably the earliest film actress to be typecast as a flapper. She made thirty movies between 1917 and 1924. Moore was a valuable silent film actress with comedic moves and expression. Her “look” was an example to Jazz Age girls, with her short hair, skinny frame, and devil-may-care attitude. Moore later became known for the fantasy dollhouse she created, which was featured in an earlier post.
Dorothy Parker wrote poetry, short stories, and essays, and was a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of fashionable writers and celebrities who met for lunch and drinks and whose lifestyles influenced the smart set from 1919 to 1929.
Coco Chanel had a brief career on stage in the early 20th century, but will always be known for her fashion designs and the line of clothing and perfume that carries her name. By 1920, the French designer had introduced her “chemise,” the simple, short, and loose dress that allowed flappers the freedom of movement to dance the night away.
Zelda Fitgerald was an author and the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her lifestyle made her a celebrity outside the literary world, and her husband called her “the first American Flapper.” The two were notorious for public partying, and their drunken antics were a staple of society headlines in the 1920s. From 1930 on, Zelda was in and out of mental hospitals for the rest of her life.
Gilda Gray was not the first to dance the shimmy, but she made it popular nationwide in the 1920s. The young saloon singer went to New York to perform in vaudeville and joined the Ziegfeld Follies in 1922. By then Gray was known as the Shimmy Queen, and made several Hollywood movies between 1919 and 1936.
Josephine Baker achieved some fame in New York as a singer, dancer, and comedienne, but when she went to Paris in 1925, she became an international superstar. Baker’s performances ranged from striptease to opera, and were acclaimed from all sides. Baker became a French citizen in 1937. Her work with the French Resistance during World War II earned her the Croix de Guerre. Baker was also active in the Civil Rights movement in America. However, during the 1920s, she was just the most exotic, sexy, and talented woman in Europe.
Helen Morgan became famous as a nightclub singer in the speakeasies of Chicago during the 1920s. She also had success on the Broadway stage and in film in the 1930s, but alcoholism caught up with her. Morgan died in 1941 from cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 41.
Bessie Smith began singing in minstrel shows and cabarets in 1912. She toured with vaudeville jazz shows for two decades, singing the blues, and more importantly for history, recording music. Her last recording session was in 1933; she died in an auto accident in 1937.
Clara Bow was called the “It” girl of the ’20s because she was so photogenic, every young lady wanted what she had -and she had “it.” Her career was fast and furious, with 55 films between 1922 and 1933 and almost as many scandals. Bow retired from movies at age 30, married, and lived a quiet life until her death in 1965.
Norma Talmadge was one of the biggest silent film stars ever. Between 1910 and 1930, she acted in 160 films and produced 25! Talmadge was also a smart businesswoman. She and her much older husband, Joseph Schenck, formed the Norma Talmadge Film Corporation in 1917, giving them control over her work. The corporation generated profits way beyond what a film actress of the time could have made.
Edna Purviance was best known as Charlie Chaplin’s leading lady. She appeared in 40 films over a dozen years, 33 of them with Chaplin. She was romantically involved with him, but then married another man in 1938. Still, Chaplin kept her on his payroll until her death in 1958.
Dorothy Sebastian went from college to musical theater to Hollywood, where she appeared in films for about fifteen years beginning in 1925. She was married three times (once to Hopalong Cassidy), but was known for her long-term affair with Buster Keaton.
Anita Page started her career in silent films and made an easy transition to “talkies” soon after. She cranked out many films between 1925 and 1933, and came out of retirement occasionally to act again until her death in 2008. At that time, she was hailed as the last silent film star.
Joan Crawford had a half-century career in film, and many film lovers only recognize her in later roles. But in 1925, she carefully crafted her entertainment persona as a flapper with a campaign of self-promotion. She worked hard for each film role, which led to more roles, until her career snowballed -just as she had planned.
Norma Shearer appeared uncredited in the 1920 film The Flapper when she was 18 years old. Between 1920 and 1942, she starred in dozens of films, many under the supervision of MGM executive Irving Thalberg, whom she married in 1927.
Anita Loos was an author, screenwriter, and playwright, best known for writing Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, first as a magazine series, then a 1925 book, a 1928 film, a 1949 Broadway musical, and the 1953 film musical starring Marilyn Monroe. The story was inspired by Loos’ observations of Jazz Age love and temptation, and featured a flapper as the protagonist.
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