The Nude in American Performing and Fine Arts 1890-1917
The nude inspired great interest in the earliest motion pictures. Whether suggestive nudes—dancers swathed in gauzy costume performing peepshow antics—or creatures in the altogether, meaty models exposing pale haunches in an artist’s studio, the prospect of the flesh early became an important subject of motion picture exhibition. [Biograph Still, The Artist’s Studio] Yet to treat visual presentations of the nude solely within the purview of the screen would misunderstand the meaning and visual valences of nudity. The nude in the motion picture still, the nude on film, and the nude on stage participated in a work of exposure that can only be understood when our focus expands beyond the limited view of motion picture and stage photography to the general presentation and representation of the revealed body at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century in the United States. At times photography was ancillary to this story, at other times central. Only by letting the nudes themselves gesture at the causes of their exposure and the condition of their display can we claim to understand the rationale for flaunting the flesh.
Late in the nineteenth century Mark Twain quipped, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” After 1890 this witticism was no longer true. The nude took on the radiance of art, the purity of hygiene, and the organization of scientific physical culture.
The emergence of the nude occurred in contest with the strong traditional aversion to carnal idolatry taught by Christianity. Indeed, the profound ambivalence in Christianity about physical human being—that division between the body (soma)—spiritual, sacral, integral, and capable of resurrection—and the flesh (sarx)—material, profane, lusting, and mortal gave rise in the 1800s to two contesting cultural impulses—that amorphous movement that sought to perfect and celebrate the body, and that enduring and active group of Christian reformists who wished to rein in the flesh. Ralph Waldo Emerson embodied the former, declaring “A beautiful person is sent into the world as an image of divine beauty, not to provoke, but to purify the sensual into an intellectual and divine love.” Anthony Comstock, postal inspector and founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, embodied the latter, declaring, “where the nude in art is most lavishly displayed society has been most degraded.” His rallying cry: “Morals, not art or literature.”
Anthony Comstock intuited that the forces promoting carnal idolatry in America were not Emersonian philosophy, or the gymnasium movement, or even science, but art and literature. In the galleries and in the booksellers stalls persons disinterested in moral or aesthetic principles, yet curious about the human physique might pass from interest to fixation. In 1887 he began arresting print sellers in New York City for selling photographs of French paintings of nudes (“La Baigneuse” “Rolla” “Entre 5 et 6 Henres en Breda Street”), arguing that the reproductions lacked the aura and genius of the originals, thereby lacking any aesthetic justification for the display of nudity. In Comstock’s view they tended to “deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences”—the legal definition of obscenity established in “Regina vs. Hickim.” His was a crusade fated to frustration. Comstock’s problem: the blurring of boundaries in American culture. What began as a scientific matter or a philosophical practice had a way of becoming public entertainment. Those precincts where artists studied human anatomy and gymnosophists trained their bodies into perfect conformation began to appear on the stage.
The culture war over nudity erupted in 1890 when “The Clemenceau Case” drew crowds on Broadway, “attracted only by prurient curiosity to see a woman [Sybil Johnson] pose in a condition intended to represent complete nudity. The spectators are supposed to see the interior of an artist’s studio.” The object of attention appears “standing on a pedestal in the center of the stage with arms uplifted. Her figure is clad only in a silk jersey and silk tights, without trunks and without corsets. The silk fits so tightly that every contour of her figure is revealed with singular frankness. She is a woman of rather voluptuous figure, with a pretty face and golden hair.” The New York Dramatic Mirror condemned the display, not on aesthetic grounds, but for its tendency to degrade the status of the theatre in respectable society.
The dramatic disclosure of the artist’s sanctum culminated a decade-long public fixation on models in artists’ studios that found expression in newspaper articles exploring the “young women who pose.” When the Academy of Design initiated life drawing classes in the mid 1870s, sketching nude models became a standard practice in New York City. In 1880, reports from the studios of New York and the lives of the nude models of Paris, London, and San Francisco became features of cosmopolitan gazettes and periodicals. The National Police Gazette, that redoubtable tabloid that pandered to popular curiosity about the illicit while posturing about repressing vice, reported the brawl between two of the premier beauties in New York—Miss Belleville and Mademoiselle LeGrange—in “Badly Mashed Models . . . Wars of the Venuses in a New York Studio.” In this piece one finds the salacious equation of classical nudity with lust and pagan licentiousness that Comstock reckoned the real business of artistic nudity in America: “Miss Belleville is one of the most famous professional models in New York. Her perfection of face and form have made her popular with the public in many a one of those alluring pictures at which elderly gentlemen find their mouths watering, and young ones wish they had an introduction to the original. She has served as the type for more Venuses, Junos, Phrynes, and the rest of those fascinating nudities who used to drive the Athenians mad and set the Olympian gods at jealous loggerheads, than would stock a whole library of mythologies and ancient histories.” The model became a contested figure—a sexually potent Bohemian with the potential to shatter the social order in the eyes of detractors—or—a professional person of immense physical disciple capable of personifying ideals, roles, and human emotions in the estimation of admirers.
The theatrical exploitation of the model played upon certain themes found in the newspaper literature: beauty being the path up from poverty, the moral danger of the world of artists, the question whether the erotic potentials of nudity would be sublimated in art, or expressed in dangerous sex. The most volatile theatrical mixture of these ingredients occurred in 1896’s “Ten Minutes in the Latin Quarter,” a pantomime sketch performed on the American Theatre Roof Garden. Actress Hope Booth played “a ragged flower girl . . . [who] offers herself to an artist as a model. The artist refuses to accept her unless she poses in ‘the altogether,’ and after she had made many protests against it, she finally accepts his proposition. The lights are then turned down, and when they are again turned on Miss Booth is seen posing in what seems to be entire nudity. Several poses are shown.” A sufficient number for Booth and theater manager John W. Hamilton to be arrested for disrupting public decency. The failure of the authorities to secure a conviction stirred Anthony Comstock to draft a law for the New York State Legislature banning public nudity. The law bogged down in the backrooms of the Senate, so Clara Betz posed unassailed in a studio scene in 1898’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Comstock’s tireless campaigning against display of the flesh led writers to satirize him throughout the decade. Consider “Comthony Anstock: A Study in the Nude” by George Forrest.
“He dreamt he was in the land of the nude. And in the valleys of this land, and on the hillsides, youths and maidens sang and danced, their clean flanks, white, immaculate, glistening in the sun. Frank was their laughter as they played together, and joy was everywhere; and disease was known by none.
“And Comthony stood behind a tree and watched (so he dreamt), and he was horrified. He held h is hands before his eyes to close out the wicked sight (there were wide spaces between his fingers), and groaned, and from his lips came the words, “It must be suppressed,” and he thought aloud to himself: “This is worse than the ‘Kreutzer Sonata’”; and even as he thought of it, he heard it played. The music of the maidens’ voiced joined the tones of lutes and strings, and the sweet tenor of the youths sang clear above all to the highest realms of sound. Passionate was the air: strong and desiring as youth; then tender and fragile as love.
“And Anthony, or, rather, Comthony, was impressed by all this physical beauty as the music rang round him, and he thought to himself: “Why should I not join them? Am I not shapely?” and he disrobed until he was as nude as Adam before he made (as holy writ will tell) his dress of fig-leaves.
“Then he surveyed himself.
“But he appeared unclean; so he entered a sparkling brook near by and bathed himself; and then again he surveyed himself and saw that he was not yet entirely clean, for across his forehead was a black mark which would not wash out: it was evidently deep seated in the brain. But he let the mark go and mingled with the crowd.
“But when he drew near the maidens, they shrank back.
“See,” they said to each other,” he has the black spot on his forehead; he is unclean.”
“But Comthony persisted in his attentions, until both youths and maidens seized him.
“He must be clothed,” said one, “or else he will spoil us all, and we shall no longer be able to love, for our brains will be poisoned.”
Forrest’s satirical dream plays with Comstock’s fears: contagion, impurity, and loss of self-control, but reverses the polarity of Comstock’s crusade, by suggesting that nudity partakes of the innocence of Eden and Comstockism the shame-tainted mind after the Fall, when sin makes everything seem impure. What is uncomfortable about the satire in the 21st century is the racial coding: the loving, youthful, innocents are white, the tainted mind of sin, black.
Comstock, for all his prudery, had a clear understanding of the cultural forces at work. Art would indeed be the lever used to make the celebration of the flesh—carnal idolatry—popular. Indeed, in 1894 theatrical managers caused famous paintings to come alive upon the stage. Tableaux vivants had been since 1831 an established form of performance in the United States. Popular in middle-class parlors, they often featured young women in historical dress or half-dress incarnating a literary or painted scene. In 1894, they reemerged upon the commercial stage, the box office lure being nudity. “It was a brand new idea to show upon the theatrical stage as a star feature of a vaudeville show a series of dazzlingly handsome living handsome living pictures reproducing to the life famous canvasses from the brush of artists who think the human form divine the most beautiful thing in art, and have made representations of it in which the disguises of the clothiers, to put the fact negatively, have been eschewed.” Imported from Europe by von Kilanyi, the troupe of posers were all artists models “before Herr von Kilanyi bribed them into posing for the public” in imitation of the Venus DeMilo, and contemporary paintings such as “The Daughter of the Sheik” and “Psyche at the Well.” The tableaux vivant featuring a tasteful set of frozen nude performers became a staple of the American stage, finding its perfection in Ben Ali Hagan’s tableaux for Ziegfeld’s follies, and its caricature in Jake Shubert’s tableaux of classical nude sculptures and Renaissance paintings that never existed. It also influenced the conceptualization of the early motion picture.
If Broadway producers were mimicking the galleries in a quest to appreciate the human form divine, it must be said that American Fine Artists of the 1880s and ‘90s exerted great energy in exploring the landscape of the body—male and female—in stone and on canvas. Salons were glutted with nudes and civic spaces with unclothed allegorical figures personating cultural ideals—progress, sanitation, liberty, victory, motherhood, purity. The profusion of artfully rendered flesh proved too much for the defenders of morality. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union began a campaign in the nation’s capital against the display in J. W. Wheeler’s cigar store of photographs of “Night,” an allegorical nude hanging in the Corcoran Gallery. In Detroit the directors of the Museum of Fine Arts dressed their casts of ancient statues with fig leafed aprons. A citizens committee in Philadelphia petitioned the overseers of the annual exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts not to hang Alexander Harrison’s painting “En Arcadie” because of the casual attitude of the depicted Arcadians to clothing. In Omaha, an agitated young defender of public morality, ripped a leg off a gallery chair to smash the undraped figure in William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s “The Return of Spring” when he saw several young women studying it. At trial he shouted, “I did It! I did It!—for the protection of women’s virtue.”
The public hubbub over the body reached a boil with the 1893 Chicago Columbian World Exposition. In California Frona Una Walt’s open invitation to the young women of the state to send photographs of themselves showing their figures behind a cheesecloth scrim “which will conceal while yet revealing” in order to determine who will model for her nude sculpture of the “California Venus” for the Fair prompted a firestorm of indignant letters to the state’s gazettes and a rebuke from the W. C. T. U. The Los Angeles Times editorialized, “the nude in art comes by gradual and natural progression to become the nude in life, and it very soon eventuates as the nude in morals. It is very well for esthetic people—the lover of art for art’s sake—to shrug their shoulders and quote the time-worn aphorism, ‘To the pure all things are pure;’ but that is a rule which cannot be followed out in life, especially with the young, without proving a snare to their feet. Unfortunately, the idealic purity involved in the saying does not exist.”
A Wisconsin visitor to the Exposition’s Art Gallery remarked to the art editor of the Chicago Tribune the “multitude of nude women” on display, and asked, “Why are they there? Nakedness is an offense in social life. Why should it be allowed in painted women on the wall?” But the greatest perturbation surrounded the work of the greatest sculptor in the United States, Augustus St. Gaudens, for the Fair. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union objected to his nude rendering of “Diana” displayed on the Agricultural Building. When he proposed a figure of nude male for the medal to be minted in connection with the Fair, the United States Senate became involved in the controversy. Handsome naked people have always been politically suspicious to the electorate. The Senate directed the Secretary of Treasury not to strike the image lest “the morals of the community shall be perverted.” The image in question, a youth representing America, “stands full front and in a condition of nudity as complete as that of Adam before he went into fig leaves. There is nothing Immoral or Immodest in this figure. Its nudity is too audacious and aggressive to offend any right thinker.” The community of American artists was instantly politicized and the nude became their badge of cultural mission. The 1894 exhibition of the Society of American Artists in New York made human nakedness its theme, composed an address of rebuke to the U. S. Senate, and unanimously supported St. Gaudens’s artistic vision. The Society told the press that they intended “To Glorify the Nude.” The episode so bound the depiction of nudity to the work of the fine arts that the next generation’s modernist disruption of aesthetics had to put the topos into play. If the High Art of the capitalist West had to suffer modernist deconstruction, so did its central image, the nude; hence, Marcel DuChamps cubist refraction of tan pink forms, “Nude Descending a Staircase.”
Within the world of artistic photography 1894 also marked the year of the nude. Napolean Sarony published his best-selling periodical, Sarony’s Living Pictures, in which heavily retouched and repainted photographic nudes replicated the scenes found in historical and contemporary paintings. Volumes appeared quarterly. A motion picture short would vivify Sarony's pictures in 1900, three years after his death.
Only when we grasp the controversy over the body—female and male—that surrounded the 1893 World’s fair can we fully understand the context of Florenz Ziegfeld’s legendary entry into show business. Ziegfeld won fame displaying the scientific physique of German strongman Eugene Sandow to the public at the Chicago World’s exposition. Society women flocked to invitation only sessions to see and touch the perfected male body. Sandow’s employment of a language of poses drawn from classical statuary gave his self-display the aura of High Art; he was no circus strongman posturing with barbells and Indian Clubs. Indeed, Sandow confessed that a boyhood encounter with classical sculpture on a trip to Rome started him on the road to physical improvement. [Sarony: Eugene Sandow nude] The aesthetic warrant for Sandow’s celebrity was coupled with publicity about the hygienic benefits of body building in achieving muscular organization and strength. Ziegfeld’s advertising for his Trocadero Vaudevilles at the Fair and on the road either dramatized his feats of strength or his phyiscal perfection. In short order Sandow became the poster boy of physical culture in the United States, a model of incarnate masculinity who appeared in print in periodicals as widely disparate as the National Police Gazette and journals of scientific agriculture.
The American physical culture movement, a group that included a fair number of gymnophysists, free thinkers, anti-corset feminists, religious radicals, and self-appointed physical redeemers, made the cultivation of the body an increasingly powerful directive at the turn of the century. It bound a notion of physical perfectibility to an imperative to display model bodies before a public enfeebled by sedentary living, confining clothing, and prudishness. A Midwestern school teacher and physical culture devotee, Bernarr MacFadden, who worked at the World’s Fair demonstrating a dynamic tension exerciser, witnessed Sandow’s exhibition and became smitten with the presentation of the human body in the image of classical ideals. He moved to New York, established himself as a kinestherapist, began his own touring exhibition of physical perfection, published a numbered of physical development manuals before launching in 1899 his own publishing empire around Physical Culture magazine. The physique photograph—a near-nude shot of a muscular male in loin cloth, flesh colored shorts, or fig leaf—became the periodical’s visual staple. Sandow’s photographs with Napoleon Sarony inaugurated the visual celebration of the heroic physique in American culture. MacFadden popularized it in the “Body Beautiful” section of his magazine, imprinting ideal images of himself and other body builders in the imaginations of the over 100,000 subscribers he had attracted by 1903. Tens of thousands of young men (including my grandfather) took to America’s gymnasiums with the aim of increasing muscle mass. MacFadden embraced Sandow’s idea of competitive exhibitions of bodybuilding and from 1904 staged meets to determine the most perfectly developed man and woman. While the standards against which the first superlative bodies were judged derived from classical statuary, aspirants were judged by different criteria depending whether they were male or female; men in relation to the muscular configuration and comportment of antique statues (massy Hercules, long-muscled Apollo, compact Adonis) women against the bust, weight, hips, and height measurements of classical forms, particularly the Venus de Milo. McFadden, however, in his campaigns did not merely substitute captivity to a template for confinement by a corset or a business suit. MacFadden’s Physical Culture had more philosophical range than the later body-building cult that emerged around George Jowett’s magazine, Strength. MacFadden promoted sex as an important element in physical well-being, dietary disciplines designed for health rather than simple weight reduction, and alternative medicine. He insisted upon the linkage between exercise and psychological well-being. He argued vociferously that sports were beneficial to women as well as men, promoting female physical education with publicity, cash, and personnel, and published a separate magazine, Beauty and Health, for women. While the aesthetics of the body and its idealization in sculpture and painting constituted the primary artistic element in the magazine, MacFadden became singularly concerned with the development with one performative art—dancing. It would be the theatrical form that most directly transfigurred body image in America in the 20th century. It was also the art that hastened the total revelation of the new-style body.
The artistic nude during the 1890s was a static creature, whether on stage, on the gallery wall, or in the open air on a civic building. Indeed, the lack of motion was the hallmark of ideality, just as the lack of clothing denoted timelessness. Dancing put the body in motion. The body took on reality, presence, and potency. Over the course of the nineteenth century, theatrical entrepreneurs had grasped the box-office powers of real women dancing to an audience that was predominately male, heterosexual, and unmarried—the flash bachelor. Ziegfeld, when he turned away from the perfect male and toward the perfect female, Anna Held, as the figure featured in his entertainments, pondered the lessons of his theatrical forebears. [Chickering: Anna Held in drape] Making the female body a stage spectacle had been the special province of burlesque, a species of variety show that developed in the mid-nineteenth century and specialized in the parodic retelling of classic works of literature, drama, or history. Travesty supplied the gist of the earliest parodies, with women assuming male roles and male dress. The revelation of legs, first through tight trousers, then tights, led to an increasingly daring exposure of the female figure. As always, classical antiquity, particularly Greek statuary provided a warrant for fleshly imitation. New York City saw the first instance of a tights show in which women mimed the poses of ancient sculptures in 1847. It became a staple of entertainment and began the press’s joking treatment of the growth of male art appreciation. The appearance of Lydia Thompson and Her British Blondes on Broadway in 1868 with “Ixion” and other pastiche presentations of classical mythology combined the stage traditions of burlesque and neo-Greek semi-nudity. The success of Thompson’s troupe caused one satirist to concoct a questionnaire for prospective applicants to the British Blondes. “Is your hair dyed yellow? Are your legs, arms, and bosom symmetrically formed, and are you willing to expose them? Are you willing to appear to-night, and every night, amid the glare of gas-lights, and before the gaze of thousands of men, in a pair of satin breeches, ten inches long, without a vestige of drapery upon your person?” For any number of poor urban women, the answer was yes. The first girlie troupes formed in the 1870s. Tights remained the order of the day so long as women were in motion.
Nudity was and is a perceptual category, not an objective condition of undress or ‘the entire exposure of the human anatomy.” The theatre, as an arena of illusion, played with the perceptions of its audiences. Many a wide eyed Broadway swell thought that flesh colored tights were flesh, and from a vantage twenty or more rows out, who was to say? The terminology of the day points at the indeterminacy. Dances and dancers were “suggestive.” Venues branded themselves in terms of how suggestive acts could be on stage. Vaudeville until the mid-1890s prided itself on family-friendly entertainment and forbade suggestive words or deeds. The burlesques were expected to be bold. But a rule of thumb applied, the more the act moved, the more the body was expected to be covered. Blatant eroticism was from 1890 to 1910 the preserve of dancers and inhered more in gesture than in costume. A succession of undulating performers treated audiences a rising gradient of heat, beginning with Little Egypt, [Falk: Little Egypt, 1893] who entertained the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with Cootch dancing, continuing with the well endowed vaudevillian, Eva Tanguay, and culminating in the orgasmically spasmodic shaking of Millie De Leon in the 1910s. One did not need to expose one’s skin when revealing through movement the abandonment of inhibition.
The agitations for and against the nude in American culture came to a head just as when Motion Pictures first established themselves as vehicles of entertainment with the Edison vitascopes and mutascopes of 1896. The early Edisons featured dances by Annabelle, Fatima, and a number of unnamed young women. Yet its rival, the Mutoscope and Biograph company made the nude its special concern. In the 120 foot actualities and jest films of the 1890s and early 1900s one sees preserved all the peculiar powers attaching to the nude. There in exotic costumes writhed the most suggestive dancers of the era—Little Egypt in releases #136, #140-141, M’lle Catherine Bartho, in #1210-1212, and the dancing star of a host of releases, Miss “Annabelle” (the same featured in early Edison releases). And there standing static in flesh colored tights was the model in a painter or photographer’s studio while action swirled around them in twenty-six releases. Twenty additional titles described living pictures—various nude paintings, usually two per film with a pair of burlesque queens closing then drawing back the drapes once the tights model had assumed the figure of another painting—“Music” and “Galatea” or “Night” and “After the Bath.” One did not see the models move, only the ample female attendants. So the releases enacted a paradox: static tableaux vivants in a medium that celebrates motion. The horror of upstanding common folk at the plethora of flesh in the galleries was dramatized in #547 “A Country Couple’s Visit to an Art Gallery.” [Illus. 4-4] The fascination with the body exhibitionism of the physical culture partisans is registered repeatedly—in multiple installments of Eugene Sandow flexing that replicated the style and content of the earlier Edison Sandow series, of the trio of releases showing “The Physical Culture Girl,” of series devoted to medical gymnastics, the acrobatics of Silveon and Emerie, the callisthenic routines followed by students in ten different secondary schools, of nude street boys swimming in cold waters off New York. The baldness with which every aspect of the nude was treated in these shorts, without the interference of the authorities, suggests just how much a niche entertainment without the cultural cachet and import of the stage. Comstock did not bust the mutascope and kinetoscope parlors because he didn’t consider them significant threats to public morality. The calls for movie censorship came only after 1908 in conjunction with a series of calls for greater regulation of industry after several fatal theater fires sparked by overheating projectors.
If authorities remained indifferent, persons in the theater, ever attuned to novelty, realized that the moving pictures possessed powers worth exploring. Florenz Ziegfeld sent his wife, the coquettish Anna Held, to the Biograph studio to film two shorts of her dancing and posturing. The surviving images stand in an interesting tension with the blatant bawdy of “A Bare Skin Joke”. Anna is suggestive, jokey, but not ribald. And in general the dancing in of Ziegfeld’s early Follies tended toward the suggestive rather than the revealing. The 1907 Gibson Girl chorus, for instance, had a number in swim suits at the shore, in which one of the girls lost hers in the surf while singing “Come and Float Me, Freddie.” She cavorted in a barrel, prompting the enthusiastic shouts of one young man in the audience until the police escorted him from the hall. In the 1909 Follies Lillian Loraine, lounging in a bathtub full of bubbles, sang “Nothing but a Bubble”. The froth evaporated but the tub and tinted liquid hid the fact that she wore an Annette Kellerman unitard swimsuit. Bare shoulders by synecdoche implied nudity. In the program Eva Tanguay stopped the show with her comically exaggerated stomach rippling floor rolling and torso quivering rendition of Salome’s dance in a garish feathers, pearls, and satin oriental outfit. It was a comic comment on the most dangerous moment in recent theatre—the moment when dance artistry, the exposure of the body, and eroticism became confused—Gertrude Hoffman’s 1908 performance of “Salome’s Dance” in New York City
Gertrude Hoffman—now recognized as one of the founding mothers of modern dance—emerged as a talent under Ziegfeld’s aegis. She first came to public notice as one of the Anna Held dancing girls in “The Parisian Model.” Hoffman, the wife of the production’s music director, choreographed the show, and in recognition of her skill Ziegfeld let her to break from the ranks and “do a bit.” She impersonated Anna Held and brought down the house. Her success was so immediate and great that she resolved for form her own act, left Ziegfeld, and began touring vaudeville as a mimic and comedian who performed dance on the side. In 1908 the controversy prompted in the cultural elite sparked by the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Richard Strauss’s musical setting of Oscar Wilde’s “Salome” (in which a limber but entirely conventional Parisian ballet dancer “La Sylphe” performed the dance to Strauss’s luridly oriental score), determined Hoffman to do “La Sylphe” one better. Having heard that Maude Allan in London had created a sensation doing a Salome Dance in a private performance of the most “artfully immoral” sort [Foulsham and Banfield: Maud Allan as Salome], Gertrude Hoffman secured an ideal summer venue, a theatrical roof gardena and danced her way to stardom. Her costume was a “skin-tight envelope of textile imitation of skin, with the torso portion carrying two disks at the breast in the way familiarized in Egyptian pictures, and a quite transparent drape hanging from waist to feet.” Playwright and New York Sun dramatic critic Franklin Fyles remarked of Hoffman’s premiere, “Hoffman is not a dancer usually, but an impersonator, and on the first night there was a disposition to take her as a joke. Very handsome in face and figure is she, but rather stogy, and devoid of the Sylphe’s pliancy. . . . Hoffmann is a familiar stage figure, and for her to come forth in such a plight was so much like a daredevil exploit that the rounders regarded her as Gertrude rather than Salome. And they laughed when after the dance was over and she had kissed the John’s head, she sat down too hard with her overweight and turned heavily on her back.”  Nonplussed first-nighters quickly gave way to an enthusiastic crowd of fans—Bohemians enthralled with terpsichorean audacity, city bachelors savoring the country’s most sensational erotic spectacle, dancers, and the physical culture crowd. The write up in the papers was sufficient to secure bookings for a national tour and a ban from performing in Kansas City, a boon for publicity. Upon her return engagement at Hammerstein’s Roof Garden in New York, a year and some four hundred performances after launching the show, Captain George Walden of the New York City police arrested her “for violating Section 1,530 of the Penal Code by offending public decency.”
In an act of sisterly solidarity swimmer and fellow vaudevillian Annette Kellerman drove Hoffman to the West 47th Street Police State for booking and a bail hearing. The arrest ordered by the newly elected police commissioner occasioned several court hearings that eclipsed the scene at Hammerstein’s Victoria Theatre for amusement. Well-dressed men “from the Rialto district” packed the front rows of the auditory expecting that Hoffman “would appear in court in her flimsy dancing costume.” Instead she entered in “an automobile costume of purple which reached from head to foot.” A maid accompanied her with a small hand satchel containing exhibit A, the flesh colored tights that were at issue in the indecency indictment. Hoffman’s lawyer went immediately on the offensive: “I deny she wears tights only five inches long. Did the police department stop Kundry when she danced barefoot in ‘Parsifal?’ I am surprised that any one coming from Brooklyn can be shocked at Miss Hoffman’s dances. He will be trying to stop grand opera next. There are many women in the boxes who wear low neck dresses. Here is what Miss Hoffman wears, and it is enough: Pink roses on her breast, three layers of chiffon about her waist, pink tights, and a lot of gauze.” When asked directly whether she only wore “six inch long trunks” while dancing the second piece on her bill, Mendelsohn’s “Spring Song,” Hoffman shouted “False! I wear tights. I’ll put them on now and show ‘em to you.” The bench found that such a demonstration would not be necessary, much to the disappointment of the audience. The court appointed one “Mrs. McMahon,” a probation officer to inspect the costuming of Miss Hoffman for every subsequent performance of the season.
Hoffman’s Salome costume and several key dance postures, including a recumbent passage when she hugs the floor, became public imagery through a brilliant set of photographs by Frank C. Bangs, the actor turned photographer who pioneered the intimate style of stage portraiture on Broadway during the first decade of the 20th century. Even The Los Angeles Times showed Hoffman/Solome face stretched across the boards in costume to illustrate a July 25, 1909, article entitled “Perfectly Proper: Wears Tights, Dancer Insists.” [Bangs: Gertrude Hoffman, Salome recumbant] Bangs’s photography by arresting expressive poses gave Hoffman’s dances a monumental quality and expressive clarity that eradicated much of its “wriggle-dance” vulgarity. [Bangs: Gertrude Hoffman, Salome] The Hoffman episode instructed the other significant women modern dancers—Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denies, Margaret Morgan--realized that a static, artful face for a performance built popular respect for a work, a troupe, a choreographer. An artful photograph might project erotic power wile conveying aesthetic dispassion. Consequently, they sought out the most artful photographers—Isadora Duncan bonded with Arnold Genthe and Edward Steichen, Ruth St. Denis with Arthur Kales, Alice Boughton, and E. O. Hoppe. Ruth St. Denis’s primary experiment with photographic dance nudity was her suite of bare-breasted poses in “Egypta” of 1910 taken by the Otto Sarony Co. in New York. She had worn a Greek tunic (albeit opaque) and posed for photographers as early as 1896. [Otto Sarony: Ruth St. Denis, Egypta]
Photographers—and pictorialist photographers particularly—sought dancers and dances as subjects, for their novelty, plasticity, and associations with artistry. Because these photographers participated in the post-1894 political turn to the nude in the fine arts, the photographers became a force upon the dance community urging less costume and more body. Annie Brigman in California, James W. Pondelicek, Eugene Hutchinson, and Victor Georg in Illinois, Bangs, Karl Struss, Alice Boughton, Lillian Baynes Griffin, Arnold Genthe, and Maurice Goldberg in New York made nude and semi-nude scenes of female dancers disporting in sylvan glades and rural hoffmangreens a staple of the culture magazines of the 1910s. Bangs photos of Hoffman, dancing solo or with her troupe of girls, appeared regularly in Vanity Fair and Theatre, culminating in a suite of images of the dancer in the flimsies of gauze outfits, sans tights, dancing in the Max Reinhardt orientalist spectacle “Sumurun” in 1916.
In the chronicle of modern dance, Isadora Duncan, the creator of the flat footed, bare footed “Greek” style of dance, has been accorded more weight than Hoffman, the mother of “Oriental” style dancing in America. (These genres would remain in descriptive usage in the critical press through the 1920s.) Yet Hoffman’s style of Dance until the 1930s would have the greater influence on the stage, becoming a regular feature of Broadway revues, and dominating academic and other venues through the works of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Yet Greek and Oriental dancing shared certain features and conceptions of performance. Both were concerned the theatrical revelation of the body. Duncan’s interests in exposing the body were not restricted to the theatre. An avid student of the more radical theorists in the physical culture movement, she embraced naturism—what came in the course of time to be called nudism in America. Because she had expatriated in 1899, Americans knowledge of Duncan’s nudist inclinations came in the form of reports—such as the 1913 article describing her French Estate and School, “where clothing in any weather is regarded as superfluous,” and male and female students roamed the grounds totally exposed. Duncan’s theoretical nudism like her esoteric dancing, viewed in her infrequent tours of America, had more the effect of inscribing a critical horizon, a vision of a “future” freed from current convention than influencing anyone’s practice. At most her writings, particularly on the Dionysian spirit of dance gave a general warrant for Greek dancing—usually performed outdoors by all female troupes clad in loose tunics or chittons. [Goldberg: Isadora Duncan Dancers, Greek Dance]
In the United States Greek dancing (also called “picture dancing” and “outdoor dancing”) came to be a vernacular dance mode practiced by undergraduates at women’s colleges, particularly Wellesley College and Vassar, during the first decade of the twentieth century. In 1915 it enjoyed a brief period of more general popularity with several professional dance schools and troupes organizing. The corpus of photographic images these troupes generated commonly suppressed the individuality of dancers in favor of anonymous, corporate gesture. No modern dress, no modern setting, and no modern identity. The women had to be nymphs, furies, or bacchantes to experience strength and joy or practice nudity outside without the shadow of shame.1 Art must be distanced from quotidian commonplaces, but such an erasure of individuality and personality proved too alienating for a culture that placed a premium on the expression of individuality. Like the mist that often obscures pictorialist landscapes or in portraits obscures the meaningful character lines of age and experience, the archaizing sacrificed something worth seeing in these creatures—that individual genius that Duncan, Hoffman, or Loie Fuller projected and a capacity for projecting character that stage dancing always maintained. Hoffman of the early modernist choreographers was the one most concerned with characterization. Her talent for impersonation led her concoct witty parodies of the characteristic movements of her contemporaries. Her three favorite persons to mimic were Anna Held (the past), Isadora Duncan (the future), and Annette Kellerman (the present).
Kellerman, the first important woman sports celebrity of the twentieth century, was an Australian swimmer and diver, whose daring plunges and record-breaking distance swimming brought her to public notice in 1905. An innovative woman, she devised a form-fitting unitard suit to cut water drag while racing that became as controversial as pink tights in the debates over female modesty. [Hall: Annette Kellerman in unitard suit] Her arrest at a Boston beach in 1909 for immodesty (wearing her unitard suit thighs bared, sans leggings) owed much to the spectacularly attractive figure being revealed by her swimsuit—a figure that had been a matter of comment in Boston’s papers as early as 1905, before Kellerman first stepped foot in America. “The Australian girl’s beautifully molded limbs and remarkable well-developed shoulders have nothing masculine about them, but leave no doubt of their strength. . . . Her feet are small, insteps high, and as they move through the air during a dive, resembling those of a Parisian premiere danseuse . . . Out of the water Miss Kellermann would be taken for an American product, so closely does she resemble the outdoor sport loving Vassar young woman.” Kellerman indicated that she sculpted her figure through ballet dancing, a remark that piqued the interest of theatrical managers who visualized a possible act featuring aquatic ballet with some stage dancing on the side. In 1906, Kellerman’s dramatic career commenced in “The Treasure Ship in Fairy Seas,” a five-act juvenile play staged at the Hippodrome in London, in which she played a fairy mermaid who rescues trapped treasure hunters. Four of the five acts took place in a huge cylindrical water tank. The highlights of the drama aside from a fight with a rubber octopus were an undersea waltz (the first staged synchro swimming) performed by Kellerman and the Finney sisters and a fifth act ballet that takes place in the mermaid’s coral grotto. In the United States, Kellerman appeared as a headliner on Keith’s vaudeville circuit. A 1908 description of her act indicates its innovation and the variety of her talents: “When the curtain is lifted for Miss Kellermann’s number the young woman appears in an outing costume and executes some wonderful feats in diabolo [juggling a double-headed top on a string—a sport in which she became world champion]. Everybody comments on her skills and applauds loudly as the exhibition is concluded. Next Miss Kellermann appears in appropriate garb to dance before a series of mirrors and her success in this performance is marked. Next the moving picture rope is lowered and while a young woman reads an account of Miss Kellermann’s life and her many achievements there are thrown on the screen moving pictures of Miss Kellermann giving an exhibition of her prowess as a swimmer. When this is ended the lifted curtain reveals the full stage with a tank in the center, back of which is an ingenious arrangement of mirrors so that people on the floor may see everything without the temptation or necessity of standing up. Miss Kellermann dives from many positions and is rewarded with a flattering demonstration of the audience’s approval.” The reproduction of her figure though mirrors, film, and publicity photography made it by 1909 a cultural touchstone—as widely publicized a body as that of Eugene Sandow’s or Barnarr MacFadden’s. She began banking on its fame after being voted queen of the U. S. automobile carnival in 1909, commencing a correspondence school for women’s health and physical development. Ads featuring a black silhouette of Kellermann’s body began appearing in physical culture magazines in summer of 1909, blazoned with a bold headline: “Annette Kellerman is teaching Women How to Acquire Health and a beautiful Figure.” She played at the N. Y. Polo Grounds in July with her friend Gertrude Hoffman before huge crowds. When Kellerman decided to curtail the leggings of her bathing suit, baring her legs to the thigh the Boston police stepped in, arresting the star; other bathing resorts begin outlawing the style. The prohibition in Belle Isle and other beaches has the opposite effect, prompting a multitude of young women who wish to show their figures to don Kellerman suits and parade about in them.
By 1909 Kellermann’s credibility as a show business attraction, her importance as a model of feminine form, and her daring in self-exhibition convinced the Vitagraph Company that she would a viable motion picture star. She had already been filmed by documentary cameramen and had even assembled an exercise instruction film under her own auspices. J. Stuart Blackton began starring her in one and two reel releases with the company’s biggest male star, Maurice Costello. In 1911 Kellerman and Blackton hit upon the formula for acquatic adventure movies with “Siren of the South Sea,” and motion picture audiences got to see the famous “Diving Venus” bare legged and vivacious on sand and in the sea. The body on display, according to Dr. Dudley A. Sargent, director of Harvard University’s Hemenway Gymnasium, was the most perfect of the 10,000 young women whose conformation he had measured during the 1900s. Kellerman weighed 137 lbs, stood Five foot 4 and one half inches tall, with measurements of 35.2 by 26.2 by 37.2. Sargent noted that women were growing pronouncedly less hourglass in shape, having narrower hips and thicker waists that those of a generation previous. Kellerman embodied the transformation taking place in women’s bodies wrought by exercise and diet.
Possessed of such perfection, Kellerman in 1914 determined that she would insure that everyone could see as much of it as possible. Working with director Herbert Brenon on location in Bermuda, she inserted a suggestive disrobing scene in “Neptune’s Daughter.” Shot from a distance, the spectator witnesses her “in the woods undressing, and later flitting white and nymph-like through the trees en route to the ocean for a swim.” The fairy tale atmosphere of the film, the distance of the shot, and the sumptuousness of the scenery forestalled much public objection. Yet objections and bans did occur outside the big cities. The May 21, 1915 Los Angeles Times reported, “We see that one of the little suburban towns objects to the pictures of Annette Kellermann in “Neptune’s Daughter.” Wonder what these good people will say when they see Margaret Edwards in “The Hypocrites.”
Margaret Edwards, the sixteen year old actress who played “Naked Truth” in Lois Weber’s film allegory about the disjuncture between appearance and reality in human behavior could have been Kellermann’s soul sister. Raised on a 114 acre ranch in Napa County, California, Margaret Edwards from age seven underwent a regimen of physical culture training from her mother intended to give her perfect health and conformation. She also learned to paint, play the piano, dance ballet, and create architectural designs. [Somers: Margaret Edwards in a Salome costume] “The system, however, did not follow the conventional lines as to the purpose of clothes. Instead it was more Grecean and certainly hygienic.” Her mother entered her in an international “perfect-woman” contest at age fourteen. When she won, sculptors and painters besieged her with offers to become the country’s next female ideal. She posed oLnly for Count De Perharch. After repeating as the “perfect woman,” Margaret Edwards met Lois Weber, the actress/film director who hired her for a minor role in “Miss Molly Sunshine,” (1914). Weber found Edwards to be singularly free-spirited and handsome, so gave her the provocative lead in an ambitious feature, “Hypocrites.” Weber, a progressive social crusader, knew that the most successful preaching and moral teaching needed a hook to pull in the audience who needed improvement. A naked personification of truth would be precisely the sort of magnet for the immoral that would insure box office. The film featured a premise rather than a plot. The premise—“that most folks are hypocrites, smug in their confidence in their own beliefs, and horrified at the idea of anyting so naked as truth coming near them.” Edwards who had not been taught to feel shame, skipped through the role with aplomb. “Miss Margaret Edwards . . . moves through the film nakedly, but at first vaguely, elusively, like a shadow, with only glimpses here and there, accomplished by very skillful use of the fade-in. She carries a mirror, and is pursued by the priest, who wishes to take her to his people, since they will not come to her. She accedes to his desire, and with him visits sundry typical situations in life, her mirror flashing back the hidden characters of the people, showing them up as most hypocritical. Her nudity and her character become more palpable as the film progresses, with fewer double exposure superimpositions upon scenes. Her nudity consists largely of the exposure of her backside, and glimpses of her breasts in the surviving print. But scenes may have been scissorred.
Few people can stand the naked truth, even in its perfect incarnation. The Los Angeles Board of Censors had the proprietor’s of the exhibiting theater arrested for having “photographed, delineated and produced the picture of a nude woman.” The exhibitors were, of course, not the film’s producers or creators—but the practice of obscenity prosecutions has always punished publicizers—i.e. printers who made objectionable material available to persons paid the price more frequently that elusive authors. Mrs. R. B. Hallett of the L. A. board justified the action on the grounds of its social effect. “So far as entertainment and artistic value are concerned it is all right. It is a very beautiful picture. In condemning its exhibition here I was actuated by several motives. It arouses vulgar curiosity, as will be noted by the crowds of men and boys around the display in front of the theater.”
The theatrical display featured a poster of the Naked Truth (no Hypocrites to be seen) and several stills. Mrs. Hallett proved accurate about the popularity of the publicity for the film. Stills of Edwards as Truth began appearing all throughout Los Angeles deployed in advertisements; so many that Edwards loosed her lawyer, Joseph Citron, on various malefactors—The New Paris Suit and Cloak House, The Schultz Advertising Company, the Superba theater—charging that without authority they “used photographs of her ‘in the altogether’ to make money in advertisements and booklets.” The Los Angeles Times was not above featuring a still of the tunic-clothed actress kneeling on a rock in a stream in the week the suit was being heard. [Margaret Edwards as Truth] The image, perhaps be George W. Hill, a Griffith-trained cinematographer, shows Edwards the naturist. There is none of the hokey faux-classic setting devised by Frank Ormston for the motion picture that made even admirers of the film lament about its awkwardness. The image inaugurates a series of undressed girl on rock scenes that would adorn the early moral nudity cinema. Other of the stills, including a famous view of truth revealed at the gates, were dispatched by Paramount to cities in the east to publicize coming showings. A riot ensued in New York at the opening. In Boston the Board of Censors demanded clothes be drawn on every frame showing Naked Truth. About this time a song lyric about Edwards appeared in the Los Angeles Times, wittily ventriloquizing Margaret Edwards’s mother:
A mother raised her pretty daughter up
‘Til sh’d made her a perfect girl;
She took first prize at all the beauty shows
And sent each head away awhirl;
The movies took her far from mother’s side,
And mother took one look, and then she cried:
I didn’t raise my girl to be a Trilby—
I taught her to be natural, it’s true
But there are times when covers are a comfort
And daughter really ought to have a few.
A Venus has no business in the movies;
That airy pose looks very cool to me.
My girl may be a queen,
But not upon a screen—
I didn’t raise my girl to be a Trilby.
(Trilby, the heroine-victim of George Du Maurier’s 1894 bestseller of the same name was a modest young women who, after coming under the spell of the evil hypnotizer, Svengali, becomes a shameless stage performer whose image Svengali sells to the multitudes.) Respecting her mother’s sensibilities, Margaret Edwards halted her motion picture career. When interviewed, she confessed her ambition had always been to become a physical culture instructor. “I hope sometime to establish a school to teach girls how to breathe and how to exercise, so as to become perfectly developed, normal women, instead of the poor, nervous, flat-chested creatures they are . . . . There must be a new race of women if humanity is to advance.” The difficulties of securing capital, and the abundance of job offers by vaudeville managers prompted her to become a dancer. A flat-footed dancer of the American sort, despite Russian training, she evinced on stage the same verve for self-exhibition that she had on screen. “Incorporating the incomparable grace of physical culture with the panther-like motions of the native Arabian dance, Margaret Edwards has evolved a combination that suggests development toward a perfect symphony of motion. From the carelessly interpreted so-called classical dances of the ancients will come a more beautiful modern dance calling upon the study of the body perfection, relying, perhaps, upon the ancient for basic construction.” Edwards combined the body theatricalism of Gertrude Hoffman’s dance orientalism with Annette Kellerman’s use of the stage show as a means of projecting an image of physical perfection. Of the two influences, Kellerman’s provoked the greater anxiety. Edwards traveled to Harvard University to submit to Dr. Dudley A. Sargeant’s tape. Ben Hecht reported, “The good doctor, after an inspection of Miss Edwards from a purely professorial standpoint, during which he measured the young lady from head to foot, confided to the world that Miss Edwards batted 100 per cent as a perfectly proportioned beauty.” With this academic imprimatur, Edwards henceforth advertised herself as “the most perfectly developed woman in the United States and contiguous territory.” Kellermann, as an Australian, would appear not to be comprehended in this claim.
From winter 1915 through 1916 the public was preoccupied with physical perfection as defined by anthropometrics. Newspapers featured stories on a dozen women who approximated the Venus di Milo’s ideal of 5’ 4.9” height, 12.5” neck, 33” chest, 37” bust, 26” waist, 38” hips, 22.5” thigh, and 13.2” calf. Mona Marr of Los Angeles, Doris Litman of Atlanta, Irene Kelynack of New York, and seven Venuses from the seven sisters colleges of whom Margaret Willetts of Swarthmore “a good gymnast, plays golf, basketball, hockey, tennis, swims and is considered the beauty of Swarthmore” was generally deemed the Venus-most, differing only a tenth of an inch in height from the antique ideal and manifesting exactly every other measurement. Both the art world and the physical culture world fueled the quest for perfection. In 1915 John D. Rockefeller had purchased the sculpture known as “The chocolate Venus,” a purported creation of Praxitiles that gained its dusky yellowish hue from being “burnt in the middle ages as a witch.” It would eventually be outed as a fraud. In the same year Dr. J. H. Kellogg of Battle Creek Michigan announced at the 2nd Conference on Race Betterment that a “eugenic registry” and restricted marriage laws would insure the rise of a new aristocracy “of Apollos and Venuses.” 
The “diving Venus” Kellermann meanwhile was touring the theatrical circuits. Her motion picture director, Herbert Brenon was occupied overseeing Theda Bara’s third feature, “The Clemenceau Case” (with no studio nude scene), so Kellerman explored her histrionic and vocal talent in a non-acquatic, but nonetheless revealing, vechicle entitled “The Model Girl.” Little did Kellermann know that America’s most famous model, Audrey Munson, was poised to enter the world of entertainment, filling the gap in the ranks of allegorical nudes left by Edwards’s departure from the cinema and rivaling Kellermann in the popular imagination as the female image of physical perfection.
During a trip to New York in 1915, the Marquis Giuseppe Dinelli chanced upon Audrey Munson gazing at a butterfly shaped hat in the window of a millinery shop. A singer and photographer, Dinelli, immediately recognized the young woman. “Pardon me, You are miss Audrey Munson, the famous model. I could but know know you since your pictures are in all the papers. May I introduce myself? I, too, am a disciple of art.” Munson agreed to sit for a shooting in return for singing lessons. Dinelli announced his engagement at his recital at Carnegie Hall. In short order he was married to “the most reproduced girl in the world.” No model had more cachet in the world of the fine arts in 1915. She had been Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney’s angel, Furio Piccirilla’s Autumn, the figure on the walls of the Astor Hotel, the face in the medallion above the Little Theatre, and the model for nearly every statue in the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. “The Panama Girl” was five feet eight inches tall, with wavy black hair, gray eyes, a complexion that sculptor Daniel Chester French likened to an “etherial atmosphere” in its transparency. Her career began in a manner similar to her romance. Photographer Ralph Draper noticed her looking into a shop window and convinced Munson’s mother to let the girl do a sitting. He showed the images to his friend, the sculptor Isador Konti who convinced her to pose nude for a mother and child study. The success of Konti’s image insured her popularity among New York’s arts community and she quickly became the muse of Washington Square. Photographs by Charles Albin and Arnold Genthe, led to sessions with painters and sculptors. A photograph of the “Genius of Creation” by Daniel Chester French became the first illustration of a nude sculpture to be widely reproduced in American newspapers, appearing in the first week of March 1915.
April of 1915 found Munson on the Vaudeville stage at Keith’s in New York City, in the Fashion Show of 1915. The “World’s Most Famous Figure Model” would be featured in vignettes entitled, “Eve sets the Style” and “MiLady of the Negligee.” The uproar she inspired convinced her that she deserved greater compensation; when the producers did not produce, she walked in mid-May. By June she headlined at William Morris’s Jardin de Danse atop the New York Theatre on Broadway. Her competition was Nora Bayes at Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic, and the beautiful “La Bergere, the Marble Venus and her posing dogs.” After spending the summer entertaining on the New York roof, Munson was hired by Edward Thanhouser to play an artist’s model in a five-reel feature entitled “Inspiration.” Its premise hearkened back to 1890’s “The Clemenceau Case,” that a glimpse of the privy world of an artist’s studio would entice patrons to purchase tickets. Premiering in November 1915, Munson appeared briefly in the “all together” standing before an artist. [Audrey Munson, Inspiration] As people gazed upon the famous model playing a model, Annette Kellerman and Herbert Brenon led a huge production company with a $1,000,000 budget to Jamaica to film a fantasy entitled “A Daughter of the Gods.” The P.R. hyperbole made it sound a production on the scale of “The Birth of a Nation.” “In some of its scenes 15,000 persons take part. A Moorish city was built of solid steel and concrete as a background for portions of the picture, and for other scenes a gnome village was constructed around a waterfall made by diverting the course of a stream over a hillside.” As the publicity began to swell about Kellerman’s new and unprecedentedly elaborate production, Munson announced that “Woman can’t be both Athletic and Beautiful.” She counseled, “Eschew all athletic exercises! Athletics overdevelop certain muscles destroying the natural symmetry of the form. The swimmer or dancer . . . would be hopeless as a Grecian goddess!” Not one reader doubted which “swimmer or dancer” she had in mind. The American Picture Company (“Flying A”) approached Munson about a follow-up to “Inspiration,” one which would make nudity, innocence, and ideal beauty of the Grecian sort the subject of the plot. Titled “Purity” Thanhouser rushed production to insure that it would be released before “A Daughter of the Gods” was available in theaters. Their urgency was heightened in early June when a publicity photograph was released of Kellerman nude, seated on a coral rock amidst a waterfall. This production still shot by Andre Barlatier provoked extraordinary response in the artistic community. [Barlatier: Annette Kellerman, Daughter of the Gods] Carl Sloezer, the German scientific photographer and lenscrafter, said, “I believed it was posed by a sculptor or painter. . . . I had no idea that such artistic photography was possible in motion pictures. The pose and lighting is really extraordinary.”
In summer of 1916 the war of the nudes came to a culmination. Munson’s “Purity “premiered on July 26th in New York City. Filmed in California using a coastal estate with a huge natural amphitheatre, the prologue featured a vast Greek style picture dance by Ruth St. Denis and her women’s troupe on the lawns by nearly 200 models wearing diaphanous tunics. This picture dance represented the state of communal beauty and purity before evil entered the world. Evil, alas, does enter and Miss Munson wanders through the world putting the tainted right. During the course of her travels she manages to impersonate most of the sculptural groups in the Panama-Pacific Exposition. The very enthusiastic reviewer for the Atlanta Constitution observed, “There is nothing in Miss Munson’s poses in the nude which should wound the most Puritanic sensibilities. From an artistic angle, “Purity” is perhaps the most exquisite screen production it has ever been my pleasure to witness.” In Boston, the old home of Puritanism and haven of prudery, a wag contributed a poetic response to the film:
M. my Gawd re-
Member how you’re acting.
Please add a skirt
You do too much subtracting.
Filmed allegory is a form that requires a great deal of imaginative charm to make workable. Unfortunately “Purity” was rather simple-minded in its idealisms, and impersonal in its characterization. Annette Kellerman’s “A Daughter of the Gods” when it premiered on October 17, 1916, did not lack for personality; it suffered, however, from the episodic and unmotivated plot. “On tropic strands, in vine-hung pools, on coral reefs, through dismaying rapids and in the marble harem plunge, the diving Venus disports herself and the whole business of this multitudinous and overcrowded picture is just to give her occasions. This business is attended to. The result is a photoplay carefully calculated to shock the late Anthony Comstock and certain to please many others. There are long passages when Miss Kellermann wanders disconsolately through the film all undressed and nowhere to go. Audrey Munson, as exhibited in the short-lived “Purity” has nothing on Miss Kellermann, and as it has been elsewhere been observed, neither has Miss Kellermann. This business is carried rather far in the life in the palace of the Sultan where the picture suffers so from overexposure that you can scarcely say “A Daughter of the Gods” is merely released. It is positively abandoned.”
Despite the New York Times critic’s caveats, Kellermann enjoyed a popular triumph with “A Daughter of he Gods.” Crowds found the tropical scenery and spectacle intriguing, Kellermann’s acquatic exertions expert, and the nudity tasteful, yet exciting.
Yet nudity would not flourish in photoplays after the year of the nude. The 1915 Supreme Court ruling in 1915’s “Mutual Film Corp v. Industrial Commission” versus had found that motion pictures as commercial, for-profit vehicles were not subject to first amendment protections for free speech, sanctioning their censorship by any municipal or state authority. Mutual Film Corporation had distributed Munson’s films and was being blocked by Ohio’s Censorship board from distributing them. Latter day Comstocks, such as William S. Chase of the Lord’s Day Alliance agitated for governmental censorship of motion pictures. To forestall such a possibility, the National Association for the Motion Picture Industry (NAMPI) was formed to supply filmmakers with voluntary guidelines. In 1917 nudity was by a tacit agreement banned from films. As with all such tacit agreements, producers felt obliged to circumvent the spirit while abiding by the letter. Instead of bared breasts, Theda Bara’s Cleopatra sports a pair of jeweled asps. Cecil B. DeMille, who had eschewed nudity in previous releases, had Geraldine Farrar remove her Aztec Princess costume for the first in the series of feminine cinematic baths he would bring before the public in the next twenty years. Art directors made nude female statues a standard item of filmic décor. As early as 1915 House Beautiful, in a critique of the garish interiors featured in movies, noted, “One thing is certain: Bronze nymphs will parade their nudity from every available vantage point, for has not the decree gone out from the Lubins and Edisons and Kalems that this is art.” Yet after 1918, the screen did not see the candid unclothed male or female.
What the film makers repressed, the theatrical producers embraced. From 1917 on, flesh became one of the matters of distinction between the live and virtual branches of the performing arts.
The ban on film nudity did not disturb Kellermann. Despite her success as a movie star, she invariably preferred performing before live audiences. For Kellermann the need to be the sensation in the show grew out of a profound almost simple minded confidence in her own worthiness to be seen. Few persons in early 20th century entertainment had the uncomplicated joy in mastery that Kellermann possessed. The utter relaxation with which this woman performed athletic tasks that few men would contemplate doing had an electric effect on witnesses. Women were transfixed at her skill, pluck, and panache. Men were smitten by the erotic power of her superbly toned body and the unembarrassed way she displayed it. As “A Daughter of the Gods” played in movie palaces, Kellermann joined the cast of Charles Dillingham’s “The Big Show,” at New York’s largest stage, “The Hippodrome,” and reveled in the display of her figure, including a memorable suite of nude studies shot by Karl Struss. [Struss: Kellerman, nude] But the telling innovation in the show—the new dimension that revealed the peculiar compulsions of Kellerman’s psyche—was the high wire act she incorporated. She learned to walk the slack and tight ropes, using a parasol for balance, over 1916, and used the daily shows to perfect a skill in months that took professionals years to master.
Too often in reconstructing the history of the theatricalization of the human body in America stress has been given to the exploitative machinations of producers who made money by banking on the prurient interest of an audience—the Abe Minskys of the big cities who showed skirt dancers on nickelodeons in the 1900s and then staged runway shows with tights performers in the 1910s. Perhaps we should here recall that stripping in Minsky’s burlesque (the most famous such house in the United States) did not begin until 1917 when Mae Dix began her quick costume change on stage before making it to the wings. The resulting tumult prompted Abe to include the accident as a regular feature of shows that year and develop the theme further the next. This was 27 years after the nude model appeared in the Clemenceau case and well in the wake of the motion pictures nude war. As I’ve indicated here, the producers only enable certain persons inspired by a kind of messianic exhibitionism to reveal the “human form divine.” The odd conjunction of physical culture naturism and the aesthetic impulse to dismantle bourgeois prudery among fine artists led to an ideology of exposure. Sandow, Hoffman, MacFadden, Duncan, Kellerman—even Flo Ziegfeld who collaborated with MacFadden in schemes to establish women’s physical education classes—wished to obtrude upon public consciousness the potency and perfectibility of the body. For the women, this became a form of liberation. In one famous episode, Kellerman while addressing an auditorium of women about how to get a perfect figure, began to rail against the corset as a form of bondage designed to insure women’s weakness. When asked how one can get or keep a figure without such artificial aids, she ripped off her dress to show herself in her unitard suit. When seeing that some in the crowd thought something beneath the suit held her perfectly conformed she tore the side out of her suit, revealing her body armpit to thigh. You can make your own muscular corset with diet and exercise, the New York Telegraph reported her as saying.
One consequence of the physical culture campaign to project body ideals and enlist the public of men and women in their own self-improvement, was the relocation of beauty from the face to the physique. Kellerman always said that the greatest curb to her vanity confronted her in the mirror every morning—her unclassic features. Beauty contests held in dime museums had been a regular feature of metropolitan life since the 1880s. Early contests placed a premium on the face until the Miss American Contest of 1921 instituted the swim suit competition elevating physique to co-equal status with features. Newspapers regularly featured photo contests seeking the most beautiful person in the metropolitan area; the submissions were almost invariably bust shots and half lengths. After Kellerman in the films and vaudeville, Irene Castle in the dance hall, and the Ziegfeld chorines on the revue stage imprinted the new athletic body type in American consciousness from 1912 to 1916, women began to undertake the disciplines of exercise and “flesh reduction.” Confidence in healthiness and aesthetic integrity of the new shapes, the performers, producers, and physical culture promoters had little cognizance that every new ideal imposes a new tyranny. Hollywood’s first victim to anorexia, Marie Prevost, would not die until 1937.
Photography in this process publicized the ideal. Before Sandow and Kellerman there was Greek statuary. The comparative listing of measurements of Kellermann and the Venus DeMilo were for a time a cliché in articles about the athlete-entertainer. But Sandow’s photographs with Sarony, Bernarr MadFadden’s with Falk and other Broadway photographers, Gertrude Hoffman’s with Bangs, Duncan’s with Genthe, and Struss and Broenings of Kellerman provided a new standard. They were not restricted to the pages of the physical culture magazines, but broke into the new beauty and fashion periodicals, and finally into the cultural magazines of the 1910s—Metropolitan, Vanity Fair, and Shadowland. The body building exhibitions, beauty contests, and theatrical displays of new model bodies provided a growing pool of perfected beings. Despite the showbiz hoopla and vanity of the exhibitions, they authentically articulated the emerging style of physical beauty, more streamlined, athletic, and muscularly sculpted. Photography developed two modes of representation to frame the new ideal. For the male body—Tony Sansone photographed by Edwin Townsend and or Hubert Stowitts photographed by Nickolas Muray—raking light highlighted muscular contour with shadow and glow. For the female body—celebrated by Alfred Cheney Johnston and Edwin Bower Hesser—the torso was made luminous, a clearly visualized radiant entity emitting a natural and vital light of its own. Darkroom surgery on the negative finally enabled the perfect figure to shed the imperfections of flesh, and move resplendent nudity into the public gaze.
 Mark Twain, “More Maxims of Mark Twain,” Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays of Mark Twain,1891-1910 (New York: Library of America), p. 942.
 Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Michael Angelo,” The Natural History of the Intellect, Vol. XI of The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. James Elliot Cabot (Boston, 1893). The lecture was given at Harvard University in 1871.
 “Sustaining Mr. Comstock,” New York Times (December 13, 1887), p. 2.
 This was the thesis of his greatly publicized December 12, 1887 address before the Convention of Baptists Ministers in New York City. See, Nicola Beisel, Imperiled Innocents: Anthony Comstock and Family Reproduction in Victorian America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 158-198.
 Comstock stated. “The photographs upon which the indictments were based were not works of art. There was as great a distinction between on of these photographs and a work of art as between a photograph and a living being. No artist, seeing a single figure snatched by the camera from the mass of blended color on which he has spent his labor, could speak of any such production as a photograph of his painting or as a work of art compared with the original.” “Sustaining Mr. Comstock,” p. 2. This Adornoesque argument about the photographs’ lack of original aura did not impress New York’s fine artists. The Society of American Artists drew up and signed a protest to the arrests of Knoedler and Ross as being contrary to the interests of art. “Art Notes,” The Critic: A Weekly Review of Literature and the Arts, 8 (November 26, 1887), p. 204.
 “Nude and Not Pure,” Boston Globe (March 2, 1888), p. 8.
 In 1906 Comstock devised a strategy to prevent the dramatization of the studio world by going after the studios themselves, sending his agents into the Art Student’s League in New York and arresting the office administrator for the publication of lewd materials—publicity pamphlets showing nudes.
 “A Protest Against the Nude in Dramatic Art,” The Los Angeles Times (Oct. 6, 1890), p. 5. Oskar Blumenthal had created a similar sensation in Berlin with the play in 1889.
 “Mysterious Veiled Model,” The Washington Post (April 23, 1893), p. 12. See the following articles: “As to Nude Models,” Chicago Tribune (July 12, 1885), p. 5; “Nude Models,” Chicago Tribune (March 7, 1886), p. 5; Hillary Bell, “As Models for Artists,” Washington Post (October 10, 1886), p. 7; “For the Sake of Art,” National Police Gazette LXV, 903 (Dec. 22, 1894), p. 7.
 “Badly Mashed Models,” The National Police Gazette XXXVI, 138 (May 15, 1880), p. 15.
 See David Slater, “The Fount of Inspiration: Minnie Clark, the Art Workers’s Club for Women and Performances of American Girlhood,” Winterthur Portfolio, 2004), for an astute discussion of the professional status and cultural valence of the model in the 1890s.
 Mary Chapman, “Living Pictures; Women and the Tableaux Vivants in Nineteenth-Century American Fiction and Culture,” Wide Angle 18, 3 (Ohio University School of Film, 1996): 22-52. This article provides a useful overview of 19th-century practices and a glimpse into the instructional literature for home performances. The essay however suffers from viewing the stillness and silence of the form as indications of a feminine captivity to patriarchal ideology. Stillness is not de-animation, not loss of agency, not capture by some external force. Silence is not deprivation of voice, preemptive censorship, or inarticulate stupefaction. Stillness marks the self-possession of poise, an ideal condition in which gesture incarnates meaning in articulate expression. Silence makes the body speak, rather than the tongue, so the broad eloquence of expression supplants the limitations and prevarications of human language. (D. W. Griffith was
not alone in lamenting the rise of talking pictures as the end of world cinema and a fall into linguistic parochialism.) The statue, the photograph, the painting, the tableaux vivant possessed the equipoise of an ideal realm, even when the subject appeared writhing, suffering, dancing, or dying. To incarnate this ideal was to access the power of art in one’s person.
 “Masks and Figures,” The National Police Gazette 63, 867 (April 14, 1894), p. 2; “Living Pictures,” Current Literature 16, 2 (August 1894), p. 170.
 “Clothes Must be Worn,” Washington Post (March 26, 1887), p. 4.
 “Nationality in the Nude,” New York Times (April 5, 1891), p. 4.
 “High Art and Rank Indecenccy,” Los Angeles Times (March 1, 1893), p. 4.
 “The Fine Arts,” Chicago Tribune (June 11, 1893), p. 27.
 “The St. Gaudens World’s Fair Medal,” Chicago Tribune (January 21, 1894), p. 28.
 “To Glorify the Nude,” The Washington Post (February 25, 1894), p. 15.
 Sandow participated fully in this promotion, producing in 1894 a memoir-physical culture instruction manual-manifesto, Sandow on Physical Training: A Study in the Perfect Type of the Human (J. S. Tait, 1894). The volume contained several sets of studies by Napoleon Sarony of Sandow doing exercises in the nude.
 Indeed this was a practice continued throughout the silent era; the advertising for “The American Venus” (1926) starring Esther Ralston printed the Venus DeMilo’s measurements next to Ralston’s.
 MacFadden issued through his own New York-based publishing company several manuals concerning sex: Creative and Sexual Science (1904), Health, Beauty, and Sexuality (1904), Strenuous Lover (1904), Manhood and Marriage (1918), and Womanhood and Marriage (1918).
 McFadden’s publishing ventures ranged perhaps mode widely that Dance Magazine. He would eventually purchase Photoplay movie magazine for his empire.
 Aesthetic stillness paradoxically accomplished an emancipatory symbolic transport from the social and political conditions here and now. That thread of feminist critique that emphasizes the immobility as a capture to a beauty ideology or patriarchal expectation, contextualizing it in terms of the campaign for female mobility at the end of the 19th century, fails to appreciate that most female participants in tableaux, most female sculptors of the female form, most women choreographers in the Greek and oriental styles who punctuated their dances with freeze moments with performers in “classical attitudes” conceived these instances of artistic motionlessness as assumptions of the potency of the ideal. Nor does the stillness portend subservience to a tyranny of idealism. As Claudine Mitchell’s “Style/Ecriture. On the classical ethos, women’s sculptural practice and pre-First-World-War feminism” indicates, classical forms served as pretexts for modern political initiatives, operating as warrants rather than molds. Even the Venus de Milo’s measurements did not operate as a template for discipline so much as a rhetorical lever to destroy the corseted, wasp-waisted body image the prevailed in early 20th-century fashion. Art History, 25, 1 (Feburary 2002), pp. 6-9.
 Robert C. Toll, On With the Show; The first Century of Show Business in America (NY: Oxford UP, 1976), p. 219
 Anne Fliotos, “’Gotta Get a Gimmick’: The Burlesque Career of Millie De Leon,” Journal of American Culture 21, 1 (Winter 1998), pp. 1-8.
 Shortly after the turn of the century the American MutoScope and Biograph Co. New York compiled six volumes documenting its first 3002 releases for the use of distributors in ordering. On the recto side of each folio four numbered releases were listed with three 1 ¼ x ¾ inch frame capture images representing the action. Each entry listed a title, the total film footage of the release, and a code word to use for ordering. A good number of vaudeville artists, actors, comedians, dancers, and prize fighters were named in these titles, for instance #338 “The Facial Expressions of Loney Haskell.” Model in the Studio scenes began being released months after the Broadway contretemps of “Ten Minutes in the Latin Quarter” in 1896: #376 “The Model,” #548 “The unexpected visit,” #549 “An Interrupted Sitting,” #852 “Underwear Model,” #910 “Her first Pose.” #911 “Classic Poses,” #924 “The Artist’s Dream,” #989 “Burlesque Queen and a Country Photographer,” #996 “Lunch Time at the Studio,” #990 “A Bare Skin Joke,” #1156 “The Jealous Model,” #1186 “His Masterpiece,” #1226 “A Cold Day for Art,” #1432 “Confronting the Art Critic,” #2191 “The draped Model,” #2363 “A Model Courtship,” a five installment series #2614-18 “The Fate of the Artist’s Model,” #2707-08 “One Way of Taking a Girl’s Picture,” #2817 “The Rival Models,” #2816 “A Model that Didn’t Pose.”
 The earliest of these releases date from 1897, three years after the von Kilyani troupe made risqué tableaux vivants the scandal of Broadway: #1591 “The temptation of Anthony,” #1592 “The Slave Market,” #1596 “Living Pictures: By the Sea & The Tempest,” #1597 “Living Pictures: Faith & The Morning Star,” #1598 “Living Pictures: The Pole Star & The Aurora,” #1599 “Living Pictures: Departure of the Saboath & Psyche,” #1601 “Music & Galatea,” #1602 “Night & After the Bath,” #1718 “Neptune’s Daughters,” #1881 “Plastic pose: The Diskobolus,” #1882 “Plastic poses: Forward,”
#1888-1892 “Living Picture: Finishing Touches,” #1898-1900 “Experimental—Birth of a Pearl,” #2386 “A Living Picture Production.”
 “Actors Win Fame in a Day,” Chicago Tribune (June 16, 1907), p. 16.
 Frank Fyles, “New York is Dancing Mad,” Washington Post (July 26, 1908), p. A3.
 “New York Salome Called Disgrace; Police Commissioner Baker Admits He Caused Arrest of Gertude Hoffman, Chicago Tribune (July 25, 1909), p. 6.
 “Censor for Hoffman Dress,” Chicago Tribune (July 28, 1909), p. 6.
 “Tights and Chiffon,” Boston Daily Globe (July 27, 1909), p. 11.
 We should note that Hoffman danced “Sumurun” in Los Angeles in 1915, in the midst of the nude movie boom. Hency C. Warnick remarked, “There is an overwhelming richness in the Gertude Hoffman production at the Orpheum his week, souple with a sumptuous and fastidious nudity that is likely to paralyze the conventional and provincial idea of art values.” Los Angeles Times (March 21, 1916), p. II1.
 Ted Shawn would meditate on Stage nudity in Theatre Magazine (February 1922), p.84.
3Ruth St. Denis, the dancer who used art photography must extensively and creatively of any of the early modernists, to counter this tendency, insisted that the photographers who shot the Denishawn troupe feature the individuality and note the names of the dancers in a shot. The photographic archive is held by the Performing Arts Division of the New York Public Library.
 “Gay Girl Swimmer,” Boston Daily Globe (July 30, 1905), p. SM5. Illustrated with a photograph of Kellerman diving.
 “Play Acted Under Water with Tank as Stage,” Chicago Tribune (January 20, 1907), D11. Illustrated with Kellerman’s photo framed by bare breasted mermaids in profile.
 “Keith’s Vaudeville,” Boston Globe (October 20, 1908), p. 6.
 “Amusement Notes,” New York Times (July 19, 21909), p. 9.
 “Modern Women Getting Nearer the Perfect Figure,” New York Times (December 4, 1910), SM4.
 Percy Hammond, “Annette Kellerman in Pretty Pictures,” Chicago Tribune (May 18, 1914).
 “Shock in Store,” Los Angeles Times (May 21, 1915), p. II4.
 Grace Kingsley, “As in Eden,” Los Angeles Times (March 15, 1915), p. III4.
 “If you can’t see it Here-Go to Oak Park: Hypocrites,” Chicago Tribune (July 20, 1916), p. 15.
 “If You Can’t See It,” Chicago Tribune, p 15.
 “I Didn’t Raise my Girl to be A Trilby,” Washington Post (April 25, 1915), p. SM4. Illustrated.
 “More Ads for Naked Truth,” Los Angeles Times (April 9, 1915), p. III3.
 “As in Eden,” p. III4.
 “At the Majestic,” Los Angeles Times(April 12, 1915), I7.
 “Evolution of Dance,” Los Angeles Times (November 5, 1916), p. III21.
 Percy Hammond, “The Theaters,” Chicago Tribune (February 27, 1921), p. F2.
 “Keith Vaudeville,” The Atlanta Constitution (February 8, 1918), p. 10.
 “Eugenics as Basis of New Aristocracy,” New York Times (Aug. 8, 1915), p. 22.
 Nina Carter Marbourg, “The Panama Girl,” Atlanta Constitution(March 7, 1915), C19.
 Diane Rozas and Anita Bourne Gottehrer, American Venus; The Extraordinary Life of Audrey Munson Model and Muse (Los Angeles: Balcony Press, 1999), pp. 13-22.
 Advertisement: “Twenty Handsomest Women in the World,” New York Times (April 11, 1915), p. X8.
 “Notes of the Stage,” Washington Post (May 16, 1915), p. A2.
 “Written on the Screen,” New York Times (March 12, 1916), p. X10.
 “Women can’t be both Athletic and Beautiful,” Boston Daily Globe (December 26, 1915).
 “Kellermann Photo Artistic Creation,” The Atlanta Constitution (June 4, 1916), p. B7.
 “Purity, Art Classic,” Atlanta Constitution (October 22, 1916), p. C7.
 H. V. W., “The Movie Muse,” Boston Globe (August 10, 1916), p. 5.
 Robert S. Birchard, Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2004), p.115.
 Quoted by Kitty Kelly, Chicago Daily Tribune(February 24, 1915), p. 12.
 Current feminist scholarship would view the process of body perfection a cultural pathology that produced the 20th century body anxiety and anorexia. But the unequivocal sense of the women described here was that the imposition of self-discipline on one’s body was a form of agency with spiritual as well as physical benefits.
 Emily Gibson, The Original Million Dollar Mermaid; the Annette Kellerman story (Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2005), pp. 87-92.
 Bunnell’s Museum at Broadway and 9th in New York City held regular contests from 1882 onward open to amateurs.