Was Gloria Swanson Really A Sennett Bathing Beauty?

Hollywood legend Gloria Swanson–whose name is basically synonymous with “glamour”–had an endearingly humble start in the 1910s as a star in Mack Sennett shorts. The petite actress was paired with the equally petite Bobby Vernon in a number of successful films like The Danger Girl (1917) and Teddy at the Throttle (also 1917)–and yes, they sometimes shared top billing with Teddy the Sennett Dog.

File:Bobby Vernon, Teddy the Dog, and Gloria Swanson - Talking Screen,  September 1930.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Teddy in the center, his rightful place.

Pretty different territory from the tuxes-and-ballgowns dramas Gloria later made with Cecil B. DeMille! Yes, as you’ve no doubt heard, the actress that would one day earn millions and pose in furs and jewels got her start as a frolicking Bathing Beauty in slapstick films, running around the beach in various striped, ruffly, puffy (or all of the above) bathing suits. Oh, Hollywood history–the gift that keeps on giving.

Ah, but is that bit of Hollywood history really accurate? Gloria herself would always insist that she was never actually a Sennett Bathing Beauty–and stuck to her story like glue, too. (I believe the phrase “vehemently denied” has also been tossed around.) She once said, somewhat dramatically: “I was never a Sennett bathing beauty. Those glossies that sometimes turn up were pulicity stills that I unfortunately made as a favor when I had a free hour. And I’ve paid for it all of my life.”

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“Splashes of Fun and Beauty”–Sennett’s Famous Bathing Beauties

If you’re ever having an earnest discussion about silent comedy (and who wouldn’t), there are a few topics that will often bring out a smile: fake mustaches, cream pies, satirical twirling of said fake mustaches, the Ton of Fun. And there’s one topic that always seems to make people smile: Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties.

Bathing beauties

Once considered mildly risquébut now considered surprisingly innocent, the playful, perky, mischievous girls popped up in Sennett’s comedies time and time again. Admittedly the plots would sometimes screech to a halt just for them, but at least half of the theater audiences were too appreciative to mind. Continue reading

Sybil Seely, Buster’s Most Charming Leading Lady

This article originally appeared in the spring 2015 issue of The Keaton Chronicle, a quarterly publication of the International Buster Keaton Society. I am beyond pleased to be presenting it here on Silent-ology, with a couple bonus photos and clippings too!

If you ask Buster Keaton fans to name their favorite leading lady, chances are they’ll respond right away with “Sybil Seely.” Charming, natural and gracefully spirited, the brunette ingénue appeared in only five shorts with Buster but has been leaving a fresh impression on viewers ever since.

Furthman_2

Even with all the praise, little has been known about Sybil. Who was this young woman who just happened to enhance some of the greatest short comedies of all time? Continue reading