Flappers in America's 1920s were young women who flaunted their disdain for the status quo. They were brash and daring, wore lots of make-up and short skirts. They were the face of the new American woman.They could vote. They smoked, they danced and they symbolized a departure from the conservative Gibson Girl image of women prior to World War I. Flappers epitomized the Jazz Age and the freedom of expression relative to it. They helped define a new cultural change and were the catalyst to the idea of the "modern woman". There were several famous Flappers in the 1920s. This was reflected in movies, books and magazine covers. Following are a few who you might or might not know but who were stars of the Flapper era.
Louise Brooks -
Born Mary Louise Brooks in Cherryvale, Kansas in 1906, Louise Brooks became the quintessential symbol of the disdainful flapper of the 1920s. She was one of the first to cut her hair into a short bob style. Though she started her career early as a dancer, she is best known for her alluring performances on the silver screen. She became a legend in the silent film industry and starred as LuLu , the amoral temptress in the 1929 movie, Pandora's Box. She was often compared to this character. Louise Brooks went on to star in several films but never quite fit into the Hollywood social scene. She retired from acting in the prime of her career at the age of 32 and wrote numerous books including her autobiography.
Joan Crawford -
Joan Crawford was born Lucille Fay LaSueur in San Antonio, Texas in 1905. After a rough childhood, she worked as a dancer in travelling revues. In 1925, she snagged a film contract in Hollywood but was soon disappointed by how little she was given to do. Always undaunted and willing to reinvent herself, Crawford was determined to learn all she could about acting and get her name recognized. Her persistence paid off and MGM studios eventually decided to take an active role in her career. That career lasted over 45 years and she became the tawdry and tragic star she had always aspired to be.
Marie Prevost -
Born Mary Bickford Dunn in Ontario, Canada in 1898, Marie Prevost had the looks of a star. By the time she was eighteen, she was a chorus girl on Broadway in New York. She became one of Mark Sennett's famous Bathing Beauties on screen. In the 1920s, she was cast in several light romance films and became very popular in her portrayal of the comedic flapper. Marie began to suffer from depression in the following decade. She drank too much and gained weight. When told she needed to slim down for her career, she subsequently starved herself. She died tragically at the age of 38 from malnutrition and alcohol poisoning.
Barbara Stanwyck -
Barbara Stanwyck was born in 1907 in Brooklyn, New York as Ruby Stevens. At the age of 17, she realized she could make more money as a chorus girl than at her present occupation at the telephone company. She landed her dancing job at a whopping $40 a week. In 1928, Stanwyck moved to Hollywood. She was a versatile actress and excelled in roles in all genres of film. She most enjoyed playing a strong woman and was well liked by her peers. In all, Stanwyck appeared in over 80 films but she is best remembered for her role as the matriarch in the television western The Big Valley. She died in 1990.
Clara Bow -
Clara Bow personified the flapper of the 1920s. Born Clare Bow in New York in 1905, she was an unwanted child who found escape in the new medium of motion pictures. At 16 years old she entered and won a Fame and Fortune contest sponsored by Motion Picture Magazine. It was all uphill from there. She became known as the "It" girl, though the reference to "it" had several meanings in that time. Hollywood immediately realized that Bow had iconic value and exploited it. She managed the transition from silent movies to "talkies" quite effortlessly but the media was not kind to her. Eventually she retired to Nevada with cowboy star Rex Bell who she married. Though unfortunately characterized as a wild and sex-crazed actress, her real talent as an actress was only appreciated after her death in 1965.
Zelda Fitzgerald -
Zelda Fitzgerald was a modern girl and the prototype for all the flappers that followed. Born Zelda Sayre in Montgomery, Alabama in 1900, she was known as wild and daring. Zelda started taking ballet lessons in 1917 and performed often at local events. Her favorite place to dance was at a hotel where soldiers from nearby camps gathered. It was here that she met and fell in love with F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1918. They married shortly after the publication of Fitzgerald's first novel in 1920. Zelda found she was not content with just being part of a celebrity couple. She strove to find her own place and dabbled with writing and art. In 1925, while they were living in Paris, Zelda decided to return to dancing. But at age 27, she was deemed too old to attempt a serious career. She had her first breakdown in 1930 and continued to be treated for schizophrenia for the rest of her life. She died in a hospital fire in 1948.
Norma Shearer -
Norma Shearer was born Edith Norma Shearer in 1902 in Montreal, Canada. Unlike many flappers of her day, she had a happy and privileged childhood. She was born with a cast eye which initially hurt her Hollywood career but learned quickly to conceal it. She earned money as a model but eventually landed small parts in several movies. Her fortune continued when she met and married Irving Thalberg whose influence as a Hollywood movie producer helped launch her successful career. It didn't hurt that her brother, Douglas, was the Recording Director at MGM. She was mostly known for portraying the "good girl" image though took on more sexually liberated roles later on. After the death of Thalberg, Shearer's name was linked with James Stewart, Micky Rooney and George Raft. She died in 1983 at the age of 80.
Anita Page -
Anita Page had the fortune to become quite famous very quickly. Born Anita Evelyn Pomares in Queens, New York in 1910, her flawless beauty intrigued those in the film industry and she was offered contracts by both MGM and Paramount. She chose MGM. In the late 20's and early 30's, her talent was in demand and she stayed very busy. She had leading roles alongside Joan Crawford, Lon Chaney, Clark Gable and Buster Keaton. Anita was one of the most popular actresses at that time. In 1933 at the young age of 23, she announced her retirement from film much to the chagrin of her fans. She enjoyed being known as one of the last silent film stars. Anita Page died of natural causes at the age of 98.
Edna Purviance -
Edna Purviance was born in 1895 in Paradise Valley, Nevada. As a child, she was a talented pianist. In 1913, Edna moved to San Francisco to attend business school. It was there that Charlie Chaplin found her. He was looking for a leading lady and someone suggested Edna. Chaplin at first thought she was too serious for a comedic role and she had no previous acting experience. But she rose to the occasion and she appeared in over twenty-five films with him. Between 1915-1917, Edna and Chaplin became romantically involved but she ended up marrying pilot John P. Squire and remained with him until his death in 1945. Chaplin kept Edna on his payrolls for decades even after she retired. It is said he treated her better than he did any of his former wives. She died in 1958.
There were many more famous flappers than mentioned here. Dorothy Sebastian, Betsy Compson, Dorothy Parker, Coco Channel, Marian Davies and Norma Talmadge are a few. What they had in common is that they challenged the traditional role of women at the time.
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