Sennett’s Bathing Beauties (c.1919)

MACK SENNETT’S BATHING BEAUTIES

The Diving Girl (1911) / The Water Nymph (1912) / Fatty and the Bathing Beauties (1913) / A Bathhouse Beauty (1914) / Why Beaches are Popular (1919) /  …

Mack Sennett, a stately thunderdome of comedic entertainment did build, and used as it’s binding mortar an army of tumblers, travelling Vaudevillians  and  vivacious bathing beauties. Charlie Chaplin may have famously quipped, ‘All I need to make a comedy are a park, a policeman and a pretty girl’ , but Mack’s Keystone was never so economical with the beauty quota.. Why have one beauty on screen, when you can have a dozen? Cops came by the pack, so why not flappers in swimwear? It would be tempting to envision Sennett’s collection of beauties as a private Howard Hughes style harem, but one must remember that Keystone was a creative double act, with Mack under the watchful eye of the original ‘Water Nymph’, Miss. Mabel Normand.

Allegedly these gloriously oddball photographs came from Mack’s own camera, but the records are a little hazy on the facts, along with most everything else in regards to Keystone and it’s madcap workings. It’s generally held that the sexuality that went into their creation, has since waned and melted away into whimsy and frothy gaiety, but personally I find the opposite to be true. There is certainly a gulf of change separating these images from our own more explicitly sexual age.. but, like the pre-code cinema that they represent, a darker edge lays just behind the smiles. A haunting quality, that horror films such as Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’, and Scorsese’s ‘Shutter Island’ have woven into their nightmare dream-scapes. Not to say that in themselves these images are scary, but rather that they have a quality and a depth to them that the passage of time has layered and fertilised. Time capsules, that grow in fascination with each year that passes since their creation.

‘A new record in scanty costumes has been set at Mack Sennett Studios. During the filming of a bathing comedy , as yet untitled, Carole Lombard and some of the other girls appeared in such abbreviated costumes that they had to be glued on to insure their staying in place!’

Calgary Herald (4th Oct, 1927)

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‘Fatty & the Bathing Beauties’ (1913)