Splashes of fun and beauty: mack sennett’s bathing beauties
This chapter deals with Mack Sennett’s so-called “Bathing Beauties,” a bevy of beautiful babes in bathing suits on a beach appearing in Sennett’s slapstick comedy shorts between 1915 and 1929. By examining the depiction of the girls and their bathing attire, as well as by analyzing the timing and frequency of their appearances in movies and promotional materials, it links the shifting status of the Bathing Beauties to changing studio publicity policies and slapstick spectatorship. Even before Mack Sennett and his brand-new Keystone Company arrived in Evendale, California, the attraction of beaches and piers on the waterfront was apparent in his movies. In the company’s first split-reeler, The Water Nymph, directed by Mack Sennett and released in 1912, a girl in a bathing suit frolics on a beach in New Jersey and dives into the ocean. This girl is the former illustrator’s and photographer’s model Mabel Normand, who became the attractive and athletic mold for all future
Bathing Beauties. After that first iconic moment, countless girls in bathing suits trotted in and out of an undefined number of Keystone and Sennett movies set in the sunny outdoors. When they performed indoors, the girls sported dress variations such as pajamas, nightgowns, or harem attire. In The Beach Club (1928), however, they prefer bathing suits even when playing billiards in a hotel lobby. The Sennett Bathing Girls began their cinematic career in the Triangle-Keystone comedies of 1915. They briefly disappeared from movie screens in 1922 before staging a remarkable comeback in the late 1920s.2 Today a surprising number of publicity shots survive in film archives and on the internet, but assembling an actual list of films in which the girls appeared is quite hard. In some cases, the Bathing Girls were part of the publicity materials without featuring in the actual films. It appears that Mack Sennett’s promotional strategies were not always so tightly linked to the slapstick movies they were supposed to illustrate.