Hollywood and the Female Body

A History of Idolization and Objectification


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About the Book

From the first, brief moving images of female nudes in the 1880s to the present, the motion picture camera made the female body a battleground in what we now call the culture wars. Churchmen feared the excitation of male lust; feminists decried the idealization of a body type that devalued the majority of women.
This history of Hollywood’s treatment of women’s bodies traces the full span of the motion picture era. Primitive peepshow images of burlesque dancers gave way to the “artistic” nudity of the 1910s when model Audrey Munson and swimmer Annette Kellerman contended for the title of American Venus. Clara Bow personified the qualified sexual freedom of the 1920s flapper. Jean Harlow, Mae West and the scantily clad chorus girls of the early 1930s provoked the Legion of Decency to demand the creation of a Production Code Administration that turned saucy Betty Boop into a housewife. Things loosened up during World War II when Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth ruled the screen. The postwar years saw the blonde bombshells and “mammary madness” of the 1950s while the 1960’s brought bikini-clad sex kittens. With the replacement of the Production Code by a ratings system in 1968, nudity and sex scenes proliferated in the R-rated movies of the 1970s and 1980s. Recent movies, often directed by women, have pointed the way toward a more egalitarian future. Finally, the #MeToo movement and the fall of Harvey Weinstein have forced the industry to confront its own sexism. Each chapter of this book situates movies, famous and obscure, into the context of changes in the movie industry and the larger society.

About the Author(s)

Stephen Handzo taught in the film division at Columbia University. He managed movie theaters in New York City and was a member of the projectionists’ union. He has written for such publications as Film Comment, Cineaste and Bright Lights and contributed to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica and the Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film. He lives in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Bibliographic Details

Stephen Handzo
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 232
Bibliographic Info: 95 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2020
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7913-6
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3777-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Prologue 5
1. Not So Innocent: Controversy and Censorship in the Silent Era 9
2. Why Be Good? Flappers, Flaming Youth and an “It” Girl 29
3. Pre-Code, Post-Code and Non-Code: Before and After the Moral Crackdown of the 1930s 45
4. Something for the Boys: Pin-Ups and Love Goddesses of the World War II Era 62
5. “She came at me in sections”: Women in Postwar Genre Movies 79
6. “Looking for trouble”: Howard Hughes vs. the Production Code (Again) 95
7. Hollywood or Bust: Fifties Blondes and “Mammary Madness” 105
8. “Banned by Cardinal Spellman”: Baby Doll and Southern Decadence 116
9. Bikini Beach: From the Fifties to the Sixties 122
10. The Nude Scene: Children Under 17 Not Admitted 148
11. Blue Movie: Coming to a Theater Near You—Pornography 176
12. Girls’ Trip: The End of the Double Standard? 190
Epilogue. The Reckoning: Weinstein and the #MeToo Movement 199
Chapter Notes 209
Bibliography 213
Index 215

Book Reviews & Awards

“Wideranging survey…carefully traces Hollywood’s treatment of the female body through the decades …Plot summaries of individual films, some of them quite disturbing, and brief analyses add depth to the discussion. …A timely selection for film and popular culture collections.”—Booklist