by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator
“Being a professional beauty has its disadvantages as well as its pearls. For instance, if you are fortunate enough to be able to capitalize on your looks and figure, you instantly incur the jealously of your less-lovely sisters, who comfort themselves with the thought that you’re perfectly brainless and that, because you’ll consent to exploit your shapely lines in Grecian drape or a Mack Sennett bathing suit, you’re not exactly – well, modest.” -Harriet Hammond, Picture Play Magazine, September 1921.
When film was new and silent, audiences enjoyed the slap-stick comedies of Mach Sennett, which would not be complete without the “Bathing Beauties.”
In 1914, Mack Sennett noticed that stories with attractive young women received more attention than others in the newspapers. He is famously quoted as saying, “Go hire some girls, any girls, so long as they’re pretty . . . they don’t have to act. Put them in bathing suits and just have them around to be looked at while the comics are making funny.” Sennett’s bathing beauties, also known as “Keystone bathing girls” quickly became a popular addition to his comedies.
The films tended to feature roughly ten young women playing ballgames on the beach and poking fun at beach strolling couples. The women were promoted as being part of the “New Womanhood” and praised for their athleticism.
In 1917, Sennett wanted to promote his studio and turned to the young women he dubbed “Sennett’s Bathing Girls.” He arranged for photo shoots with Nelson Evans of the women in risque and “daring bathing suits” on the beach. He used the images on everything he could from magazines, newspapers theater lobbies and arcade cards.
The “Beauties” also help the war effort by appearing in split-reel film with a “waste no, want not” message encouraging the consumption of fish and featuring the women fishing and cavorting in the water.
Throughout the 1920s, the Bathing Beauties were a popular feature of silent comedies and some went on to become stars.
They were the pin up models of the WWI generation. Their films were popular throughout the United States, including Newton, Ks.
By 1928, Sennett had phased out the Bathing Beauties.
In our collection, we have Arcade Cards of two “Bathing Beauties,” Harriet Hammond and Gonda Durand. Arcade cards were picture cards bought from a coin machine usually at amusement parks.
Harriet Hammond was born in Michigan in 1899. Blond, blue-eyed and a “splendid athlete,” Hammond’s career spanned the early years of silent film.
In 1918, she appeared as “an athletic knockabout comedienne” in several of Sennett’s films. She left Sennett in 1921 and was the lead and second lead in crime films and melodramas. Her salary was up to $1,000 week. In 1923, she was injured in an explosion on the set. Even though she continued to act through 1928, her career never recovered from the injury. Her last film was a small part in “talkie” in 1930. She married three times and died 23 September 1991 in Valley Center, CA.
The other Arcade Card features Gonda Durand born July 28, 1896 in Kentucky. She was a “Bathing Beauty” from about 1915 to 1917. She also appeared in twenty-four Sennett films in minor roles. In approximately 1917, she married actor Bob Kortman and they were still married in 1930. She died August 16, 1960 in San Bernardino, California.
- Evening Kansan Republican: 23 August 1919, 21 August 1920, 22 July 1921.
- Morris, I.S. “Harriet Hammond” IMDb Mini Biography
- “Splashes of Fun and Beauty- Sennett’s Famous Bathing Beauties” 24 August 2015 at https//silentology.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/splashes- of-fun-and-beauty . . .
- “Gonda Durand” at http://silenceisplatinum.blogspot.com/2014/11/bathing-beauties-v.html
- https://www.flickr.com/photos/macksennettbathing beauties/
- “Gonda Durand Kortman, Find A Grave #94445327.