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“The Mad Search for Beauty”: Actresses' Testimonials, the Cosmetics Industry, and the “Democratization of Beauty”1

  • Marlis Schweitzer (a1)

“Actresses as a rule know no more about making themselves beautiful than does the average woman; neither are they naturally more beautiful,” wrote actress Margaret Illington Banes in a 1912 article entitled “The Mad Search for Beauty.” “The truth of the matter is,” she continued, “that no actress—or any woman—can impart the secrets of beauty to another, any more than the rich man can impart the secrets of business success to some other man.” Disturbed by recent trends in the theatrical profession that required actresses to present themselves as “beauty specialists,” Banes sought to expose the constructed nature of their on- and offstage performances. Stage stars captivated audiences because they had numerous opportunities to appear onstage dressed in the height of style; “under the same circumstances,” she concluded, most women “would look quite as well.”

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Maria Elena Buszek , “Representing ‘Awarishness’: Burlesque, Feminist Transgression, and the Nineteenth-Century Pin-up,” The Drama Review 43 (winter 1999): 141–61

Katie N. Johnson , “Zaza: That ‘Obtruding Harlot’ of the Stage,” Theatre Journal 54 (2002): 223–43

Tracy C. Davis , “The Actress in Victorian Pornography,” Theatre Journal 41 (October 1989): 294315

Christine Stansell , “Women, Children, and the Uses of the Streets: Class and Gender Conflict in New York City, 1850-1860,” Feminist Studies 8 (summer 1982): 310–35

Elspeth H. Brown , “Rationalizing Consumption: Lejaren à Hiller, and the Origins of American Advertising Photography, 1913-1924,” Enterprise & Society 1 (December 2000): 715–38

Ellen Gruber Garvey , The Adman in the Parlor: Magazines and the Gendering of Consumer Culture, 1880s to 1910 (New York, 1996)

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The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
  • ISSN: 1537-7814
  • EISSN: 1943-3557
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-gilded-age-and-progressive-era
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