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There was much controversy in 1921 over bathing suits, mostly those worn by women. Odd as it seems today, it was the one-piece bathing suit that scandalized many people back then. That's because the two- or three-piece suits covered more of the female body. Bare legs were another hot issue. At some beaches women were required to wear stockings with their bathing suits. Many of the "acceptable" bathings suits made swimming downright dangerous, as one outspoken woman pointed out:

Buffalo Evening News, Thursday, June 2, 1921
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., June 2 — “Girls have to wear more clothing for swimming than for dancing,” declared Ada Taylor, Presbyterian Sunday school teacher, protesting today against new bathing regulations here.

“Who attracts the really unfavorable attention?” she asked. “The girl bather with bare legs or milady who rolls along the boardwalk with legs crossed, showing her costly silk stockings at least to the knees?”

Miss Taylor, a champion high diver herself, is president of the Ambassador Swimming Club, an exclusive organization of young women, several of whom have been driven from the beach here by the censors.

“Atlantic City regulations require girls to wear more clothing when they go in swimming than when the attend fashionable balls,” she wrote to Dr. C. L. Bossart, beach censor.

“As one who enjoys swimming, I have no patience with stockings. They become water soaked and filled with sand and are not only a nuisance, but a real source of danger. They make swimming hazardous.

“As one who likes clean minds, I have no patience with stockings. It does not take much observation to realize that stockings particularly those sheer, transparent silk ones — and who wears wool on the beach? — fail to improve morals."

Submitting a photograph of the club’s swimming costume, Miss Taylor said it was less extreme than those worn on the Pacific coast, which attract no attention save from visitors from the prudish sections.

Fashion was changing, and by 1921 most young women and girls wanted more exposure and more freedom in their swimming suits. A movement toward bare legs and briefer bathing suits was underway, and like most cultural changes from the 20th century until today, this movement, as Ms. Taylor indicated, started on the West Coast. Several of the self-appointed guardians of our morals complained about California-style bathing suits.

What follows is a sampling of how the Great Bathing Suit Controversy of 1921 was covered in newspapers. I assume the "beach lizard" mentioned in the first story, was any man who spent all his time at the beach staring at women. I found no explanation of how police determined whether a man qualified as a "lizard." Did he have to spend a required amount of time in the water? Or simply not look at any woman more than a couple of seconds?

New York

New York Evening Telegram, May 26, 1921
Long Beach bars 'lizards' and sockless women
LONG BEACH, L.I., May 26 – One-piece bathing suits and bald-headed “beach lizards” have been positively ruled out of Long Beach for the coming season by Chief of Police Patrick Tracy.

Women absolutely “must” wear two-piece bathing suits, Police Captain Walter Barriscale said today, in making the announcement of the Chief’s new regulations, and men who come to the beach to stare will find themselves in trouble. Moreover, women must wear socks.

 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 27, 1921
Long Beach to bar “beach lizards” and one-piece suits

LONG BEACH, May 27 – Beach lizards are bunny-huggers and will be barred from the silvery sands of this resort.

That’s the ruling of Capt. Frank Barriscale, acting in the absence of Chief Patrick Tracy.

“The police are in charge of the morals of the beach,” declared Captain Barriscale today. “They will supervise closely all beach lounging.

“Beach lizards travel in pairs. If they come here they must keep at least three inches apart – for the moral appearance of the beach.”

It is Captain Barriscale’s opinion that the bunny-hugging beach lizard will find it hard to become acclimated to a three-inch interval between him and his bunny-hugging beach lizard partner.

“All one-piece suits must go in bathing elsewhere,” also rules the captain. “They will not be tolerated here. Every bathing suit must be of the two-piece variety.”

As far as I can tell from the 1921 photo at the top of the page, the approved two-piece women's bathing suit consisted of a dress-like garment, that reached the mid-thigh, worn over a second piece that looked like skin-tight shorts or (in the case of the woman at the right) or those skin-tight slacks that are so popular today. Whether the woman in the middle of the photo is wearing a one-piece bathing suit or has a second piece beneath her white and black outfit, I do not know.

However, the weirdest regulation is the three-inch distance between "beach lizards." I can't imagine there being any need for such a thing, but I'd like to have heard the discussion that preceded acceptance of that rule.

The next article, about a different, very famous New York-area beach, is much more thorough. While other beaches had similar rules, Rockaway had more of them, particularly the one about automobiles. I believe the list was stretched just so the captain of the Women's Police Reserve could liken their rules to The Ten Commandments. There seems to be enough redundancy that they could have said everything they had to say in half the rules.

MAY 30 – Policewomen at Rockaway Beach are going to keep an eye peeled for signs of immodesty by women and men bathers. And woe to the male or female of the species who deigns to expose – well, who deigns to expose.

Pretty maidens contemplating donning one-piece creations of the California type in the torrid months had better keep away from Rockaway Beach. The sharp-eyed women police’ll get ‘em if they don’t watch out.

Bare legs are ab-so-lute-ly taboo. A woman can’t even show her shoulder blade. Those living at the beach are prohibited from donning their bathing garb in their homes and walking down to the beach without wearing clothes over the surf outfit.

And those who were in the habit of driving to the beach in their motor cars and slipping into their Annette Kellermans in the sanctity of their limousine or ducking down in the tonneau will find the rigid arm of the law clasped about their shoulders if they try it this year.

Ten commandments for the benefit of bathers at Rockaway Beach were issued today by Mrs. Mary Morris, captain of the Women’s Police Reserve. They are:

1. Women and girls must wear bathing suits that are modest and men must do the same. No one-piece bathing suits allowed.

2. Bathers must sit around the beach like well-behaved persons.

3. No young women should walk along the boulevard in bathing suits and all dolled up with rouge and powder.

4. Women must wear skirts over their suits and men trousers over their suits while walking from their homes to the beach and back.

5. Bathers must not ride to the beach in automobiles and use them for bathhouse purposes.

6. Young couples should not entwine in each other’s arms while lying on the sands of the beach.

7. Women must not expose bare legs.

8. Women must not expose shoulder blades too much.

9. Bathers should not play ball on the beach.

10. Bathers must not hang out wet bathing suits from the front windows of their house.

Mrs. Morris has seventeen women policewomen to assist her in seeing that her ten commandments are obeyed. They will not be in uniform, but will wear a glistening badge of authority, b’gosh!

Coney Island was in danger of turning a trip to the beach into an exercise in cruel and unusual punishment. My favorite part of the next story is the statement from a lawyer about how many bathers are properly clad. Makes me wonder if he sat around one day and kept score, using that as his defense against being called a "beach lizard."

JUNE 24 – The “sand fleas” at Coney Island are doomed, or at least will be doomed, if the resolution framed today at a public hearing in the Board of Aldermen’s rooms is passed by that august body in its next session.

A “sand flea” is another name for the maids and matrons and also the young men who parade Coney’s beaches in costumes little larger than the ones worn by Adam and Eve.

The room of the Board of Aldermen was crowded with Coney Island’s most representative men and women when the General Welfare Committee called the public meeting to order. It was the consensus that the young women and men bathers of Coney Island wore too abbreviated costumes, and one speaker, Patrick Loftus, a lawyer stated that only one of every fifteen bathers was properly clad.

The resolution states that all females above ten years of age shall wear bloomers or tights and stockings to meet them and also a blouse that covers the shoulder blades, throat and bosom, and the men shall wear trunks reaching the knees, with a skirt or blouse covering the entire trunks.

“Do away with the bare legs and there will be less immorality and more decency,” said a young woman who did not give her name, “and the fair name of Coney Island will be preserved to posterity.”

I was pleased to note that in Central New York – or "Upstate" as the geography-challenged call it – was more progressive than the yokels in New York City. Sylvan Beach is on the eastern end of Oneida Lake, a huge body of water in the middle of the state. A popular swimming destination in the 1920s, it's better known today for its fishing.

Syracuse Journal
Bare Legs and One-Piece Suits
Get Official “O.K.”
SYLVAN BEACH, July 12 – Chief of Police Palms decreed that girls who go in bathing at the beach in one-piece bathing suits and minus stockings are keeping within the rules and regulations as set down by the Sylvan Beach authorities, and need have no fear that they will be reprimanded or jailed for such acts.

The announcement was made by Chief Palms following a visit made to the beach recently by Sheriff A. W. Pickard, who ordered young women on the beach front to cover up their nude limbs. Chief Palms stated that the village has rules and regulations of its own which permit the fair sex to wear one-piece bathing suits and no socks, providing they stay on the beach and keep off the streets and avenues unless covered from neck to ankle.

Chicago

The first story will make it appear Chicago censors were more uptight than those in New York. Perhaps they were. But subsequent stories will show why it was Chicago that was called "a toddlin' town." Censors there weren't just fighting a losing battle. They were getting clobbered.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Seamstresses Stationed on Beaches to Cover Bare Legs

CHICAGO, June 18 – Seamstresses with pins, needles, thread and other paraphernalia of the ladies tailor were stationed at Chicago beaches today to censor the bathing suits worn by women, and sew in those wearers who violated prohibitions against the display of legs and shoulders which were made effective this year.

Last year the style of costumes worn at the beaches was left almost entirely, it was explained, to the conscience of the wearer. Hundreds of women who appeared today in last year’s “conscience” suits kept the beach tailoresses-censors busy.

Either the next bunch of women were afraid they'd be doused with water that was too cold — or they recognized this event for what it really was — the first wet T-shirt contest:

Syracuse Journal
Bathing Beauties Prefer Quitting to Wet Suits

AURORA, Ill., June 23 – Eight girls in a bathing suit contest withdrew when they were told that it was necessary for them to get their bathing suits wet before they could participate.

There was one beach in the Chicago area that had restrictions even crazier than those at Rockaway. I wonder how long this one lasted:

Syracuse Journal
Evanston Puts Lid on Bathing Girls

CHICAGO, June 24 – Saintly, sedate Evanston, home of the W.C.T.U., Northwestern University, and many other uplifting institutions and individuals, has taken the bathing proposition by the scruff of the neck.

The exclusive suburb has stood all it can in the way of abbreviated bathing suits. The last straw came when it was learned some of the co-eds had gone swimming with the lifeguards.

Now the fiat has gone forth. The girl bather is to have her own portable bathing house in which she will disrobe and don her bathing suit. After which the portable house will be driven down to the water and a small door in the rear will permit the fair bather to emerge practically unobserved. When she has completed her ablutions, she will re-enter the house, drive back and come out fully dressed.

Unfortunately for the censors, the summer of 1921 was hot hot, hot. Comfort became much more important that outmoded customs. And when it came to comfort, nothing could top the one-piece bathing suit.

Binghamton Press
One-Piece Suits Go in Chicago Miles From Wild Waves

CHICAGO, June 29.—(United Press)—Chicago has gone back to Eden. The style today in woman's dress is— no dress at all.

Bathing suits have taken the place of swishing and diaphanous skirts. Many women in the Wilson Avenue, Hyde Park and Jackson Park districts within a radius of three miles of bathing beaches do their errands and visiting in one-piece splashing costumes during these sweltering days.

The wild waves didn't put the idea in the minds of the girls, say the plain, blunt men who have had midsummer zip added to their dull lives. Most of the suits have never been immersed, they say.

"I'm going to undress for dinner," is quite a usual expression, around the household these days.

Eating in restaurants, and good ones, too, is being done in seaside attire. To make it more clubby, many husbands twist themselves into bathing suits to have dinner with their wives.

Some suits have neat fig leaves interwoven; others dashing exclamation points and some cute little question marks.

Actually, there was something more comfortable than the one-piece suit:

Syracuse Journal
Nude Bathing on Gain in Chicago

CHICAGO, July 1 – The epidemic of nude bathing, which broke out along the south shore beaches and along the classic Des Plaines River, has now spread to Glencoe, a haughty and aristocratic suburb, the inhabitants of which are all financially able to buy bathing suits.

Every night brings pseudo-bathers to the beach — all of them apparently well-dressed, nice-looking young people who dance, instead of swim. This would be all right, but they dance in the altogether. They divorce themselves of all clothing which is left in the costly cars – for this is not an aggregate of roughnecks — after which they deport themselves in Greek, Russian and other dances to the strains of ukuleles.

Indignant citizens of Glencoe complained to the police that this stuff is all right in light opera and the various “Follies” shows, but they object to have it delivered free at their doorsteps.

The police have made two attempts to raid the nude dancing bathers, but watchful sentinels have given the dancers warning in time to enable them to get away in high power cars, dressing as they flew over the boulevards.

Atlantic City

Swinging down to Atlantic City, New Jersey, we find the beach censors as diligent as those around New York City. However, there is one voice of reason, and it is being heard throughout the northeast. And that voice belongs to Ada Taylor, the swimmer and Sunday school teacher mentioned earlier.

Somers Point, a community south of Atlantic City endorsed Taylor's beliefs, seeing in them a chance to draw tourists away from their more famous neighbor.

Los Angeles Evening Herald, June 17, 1921
Extend Welcome to Bathers
Barred at 'Bored Walk' Resort
NEW YORK, June 17 – Somes Point, heretofore a rather quiet neighbor of Atlantic City, has started out to win New York's trippers completely away from the resort of the 'bored' this summer. "Come to Somers Point and dress as you please — within reason And our reasoning processes are broad."

None other than Mayor Albert Crissey himself issued the proclamation. "We agree completely with Miss Ada Taylor, swimming club president and Sunday school teacher," he says, "that stockings worn by women swimmers are only a nuisance, and as for Annette Kellerman suits — they're sensible and entirely satisfactory to us. We've had 'em about for years and our city's morals haven't yet been corrupted."

Crissey also announced Somers Point would build better facilities, starting with new bathhouses, and more frequent and thorough patrols to keep the beach clean of trash, particularly that which often washed up on shore.

The mayor of Somers Point, N.J., wasn't alone in seeing merit in Ada Taylor's statements about beach wear. Eight days earlier this editorial was published in a Central New York newspaper:

Syracuse Post-Standard, June 4, 1921
The Censor Censured

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., June 3 – The Big Chief of the Department of Censorship of Swimming Togs at Atlantic City decrees and promulgates stockings for women. He maintains, after consultation with his associate, assistant and deputy censors that bare legs are immoral.

Miss Ada Taylor, who qualifies as expert in two lines, for she is a swimmer and a Sunday school teacher, files objection. In her capacity as a Sunday school teacher, she declares boldly for bare legs on the beach, and by her authority as a swimmer she is equally emphatic. Here in her own words is her case:

1. The issue in morals – stockings, particularly those sheer, transparent silk ones – and who wears wool on the beach? – fail to improve morals.

2. The issue of safety – stockings become water-soaked and filled with sand and are not only a nuisance, but a real source of danger. They make swimming hazardous.

We maintain that the lady makes her case on both counts. That stockings add to the difficulty of swimming admits no dispute. That they are the garment of a scrupulous modesty will hardly be maintained. The musical comedy stage, whose aim is the opposite of the beach censor, has been showing a preference for bare legs, to be sure, but it is getting back to stockings.

I like the next story because it's a good overall look at the beach season in Atlantic City. It also brings up, toward the end, a preview of a situation that eventually would become so widespread that it would be considered a nationwide problem – littering.

New York Evening Telegram
Guards Halt Beach Spooning

Turtle Doves Under Boardwalk Doused
with Water and Practice Wanes

ATLANTIC CITY, N. J., July 31– Economy in beach protection is as diligently observed here as in other places. For instance, it meant a lot of bother and argument to break up “petting parties” under the walk. Loving couples who want to coo instinctively hunt the shadows under the Boardwalk. Their intentions may be harmless enough, but their example is not a good one in the eyes of the city fathers, and orders are to permit no lovey-dovey practices.

Once the beach policemen had to approach the transgressors, order them away and sometimes argue for several minutes and threaten arrest if the command was disputed. A labor saving guard solved that problem to perfection. Once a “petting party” is detected under the walk, a bucket of water is carried to the spot and over their heads and then poured out. It always floods out the gushy pair and effectually cools their ardor, while the exertion required on the part of the guard is of the slightest.

Sash Going Out
Anything to avoid poking the hair under hot and unpleasant bathing caps seems to be in favor with the younger element among the sea nymphs. The popularity of ribbons to tie the hair is growing and the colors are of every description. Bathing caps with ears also are the vogue, making the maidens look like horned sea horses when their heads only are visible above the waves.

Knitted girdles likewise are plentiful, but the popularity of the sash seems to be waning. Those that are worn are board and tied in a big bow in the back. The most conspicuous bathing costume was seen today when a grim young damsel appeared wearing a complete outfit of royal purple edged with white. the skirt reached the knee and was edged with deep white fringe. To accentuate her garb, her escort was attired in a crimson jersey with blue trousers.

Toddle shoes have become a fancy among those aspiring to the latest in beach fashions. The new footwear is made of rubber in every imaginable shade and owes its prominence to Miss Ada Taylor, leader of the big swimming club, who wore the first pair when she appeared in a huge bowl of salt water which she sprinkled about at the opening of White Horse Pike in June.

The beach censors confess they are at a loss on what to decide about flesh-tinted silk hosiery. At a distance there is no difference between it and the bare skin and many times the censors have started forward to caution an apparently stockingless maid only to turn away upon detecting a wrinkle that indicated the legs were covered. As the beach edict merely specifies no bare legs, a covering of any kind answers the law, and that makes the censors chafe at their impotence.

Three striking bath costumes were noticed in the surf today. One was wine colored, one a light green and another a combination blend that took on tints with each movement of the wearer, much as a soap bubble irradiates rainbow hues.

If there is one thing above another that the girls enjoy, it is to perplex the beach censors. James Carmack was nearly afflicted with paralysis today when he saw a sweet-faced maid approach him clad apparently in a one-piece suit of dark blue. He cleared his throat preparatory to administering a warning when he detective evidence of a jacket. On closer inspection he found the maid was really attired in a two-piece garment, but so cunningly fitted it was equivalent to a single-piece suit. all he could do was stand silent as the vision passed and merged into the breakers.

Beach Censor Defied
The skirt was long enough to meet the beach regulations. the hosiery was black and the girl wore white sandals. Her male escort looked sideways at the censor and winked, as if to imply: “Butt in if you dare!” Carmack discreetly moved away, but confessed to Beach Surgeon Bossart later: “I never saw a rig that was so close to the wire. I thought I had seen them all, but there’s a new one designed every day.”

A young woman called to Policeman Craig, as he was on beach duty, and asked his advice concerning her beach garments, which she drew from a satchel. “I’m a visitor,” she observed, “and I understand the rules are strict. Will I be allowed to bathe in this?”

She held up a two-piece suit, blue striped, with low yoke. The stockings were black, the shoes the same.

“Nothing wrong with that,” said the policeman.

“Well, I wanted to be sure,” said the inquirer. “I’m from the South and they are a little more free down there.”

Mayor Edward L. Bader has under consideration two objections to local practices by E. A. McLaughlin, of Illinois, that may bear fruit in new orders next season. This summer being half over, it is doubtful if action will be taken this year. What the visitor from Illinois complains of is the massing of roller chairs along the seaward side of the Boardwalk rail so that the strollers in the most popular sections of the walk can get only distant glimpses of the sea. Also he complains of permitting bathers to don or doff their garments in their automobiles. Speaking of one instance where he had observed a girl entirely disrobed in her car, while he was walking along an avenue with his wife and two children, Mr. McLaughlin observes in a letter to the mayor:

“It is true that machine had curtains on, but the wind was high and she was entirely uncovered. I learned afterward she was changing her bathing suit for street dress, a very bad practice where children are around and surely should be put a stop to. I just thought I would drop this little note, as it would be too bad to spoil such a wonderful resort, and to my mind, considering the crowd I saw there yesterday, you and your force are to be congratulated. I never saw better order with the exceptions mentioned.”

Ice Cream Parties Fed
One by one the barriers go down that separate beach customs from those of the fully clad patrons of the ‘Walk. Now ice cream parties among the bathers are getting plentiful. After a dip in the sea, the groups gather on the beach and one hosen emissary brings the frozen delicacy from a ‘walk store, accompanied as well by paper napkins, stiff paper spoons and box containers. There is nothing to return to the vendors, and the only objection to the pleasure is that made by the beach cleaners, who have to gather up the discarded utensils by the basketful, and who look in vain for sympathy.

Nationally, the driving force behind the change in women's bathing suits was Annette Kellerman, and Australian swimmer and diver who had done well competitively in her home country, but attracted attention elsewhere when in 1905, at the age of 18, she made the first of three unsuccessful attempts to swim the English Channel, which was, to swimmers, what Mount Everest was to mountain climbers.

In 1907, Kellerman attracted attention in this country when she was arrested at a Boston beach for wearing a one-piece bathing suit that exposed most of her legs.

Kellerman went on to marry her American-born manager, James Sullivan, and settle in the United States. She set the pattern that many years later would be followed by Esther Williams, an excellent competitive swimmer who came along at the wrong time to make her mark in the sport because World War Two prevented the Olympics from being held in 1940 and 1944, the two years she might have competed.

No matter. Williams went into show business, appearing in Billy Rose's Aquacade, which was like swimming's answer to the Ice Capades. Because of her good looks, Williams attracted the attention of MGM and had a very successful movie career before launching her own line of bathing suits and swimming pools.

Kellerman had followed the same path, though her movie career was much shorter than Williams', appearing in just six short subjects and six feature films, including "Neptune's Daughter," the title of which was used for a 1949 MGM movie starring Williams. (Three years later, Williams also starred in "Million Dollar Mermaid," which purported to be the story of Annette Kellerman's life.)

While blessed with an attractive face, Kellerman, in her late teens and early 20s (photo above), has a chunky figure, perhaps the result of her desire to conquer the English Channel. After her third failed attempt, she said she had the endurance, but lacked the strength. When movies came calling, Kellerman slimmed down, and in her late 20s and early 30s, when she began promoting her line of one-piece bathing suits, she had what some people called "the perfect figure." She put it all on display in a 1916 film, "A Daughter of the Gods," by appearing nude in one scene, something no other legitimate film actress had done to that point.

By 1920, she was best known in the United States for her line of one-piece bathing suits that upset so many self-appointed guardians of American morals. The more people protested, of course, the more young women were interested in purchasing an Annette Kellerman swimsuit.

Kellerman also wrote a syndicated newspaper column on physical fitness. She and her husband were married nearly 63 years before both of them died, six days apart, in 1975.

Williams had no such luck finding Mr. Right. She was married four times before dying in 2013 at the age of 91. She may have been the most successful of the athletes-turned-movie stars, perhaps because she came along at the right time, landing with the right studio (MGM), which featured her in big budget technicolor musicals that were popular after World War Two and the early days of television, when American adults became more and more reluctant to leave their homes to go to a movie theater.

As you might expect. Williams eventually hoped to do serious dramatic roles, but her efforts ("The Hoodlum Saint," opposite William Powell, and "The Unguarded Moment") both flopped. It was generally agreed she wasn't that good an actress, but it may have been more than that. On screen, Esther Williams — she stood five-foot-eight, taller than the average woman, but not by that much — seemed larger than life, and was more statuesque than sexy, though no actress had a more beautiful face. Also, it just didn't seem right if her film didn't have a few bathing suit scenes. The public wanted to see Esther Williams, the swimmer, not Esther Williams, the actress, playing a woman in distress.

While she doesn't figure into a story about changes in women's bathing suits over the years, I feel like mentioning Eleanor Holm, who would have bridged the gap between Kellerman and Williams if only she'd been able to act. (Compared with Holm, Williams was Meryl Streep.)

Eleanor Holm was just 14 years old in 1928 when she participated in the Olympics and finished fifth in the 100-meter backstroke. Four years later, at the Los Angeles Games, she won a gold medal in the event.

However, the attractive Ms. Holm was a party girl, even after she was married at 19 to singer Art Jarrett, seven years her senior. Three years after their wedding, she was selected for the 1936 Berlin games, an obvious choice because she hadn't lost a race in seven years.

But on the S. S. Manhattan, that was carrying 330 United States Olympians across the Atlantic, her behavior attracted the wrong kind of attention, especially during a party for sportswriters where she had too much to drink and had to be removed by the chief chaperone for the women's swim team, who just happened to be Ada Taylor, which gives her a legitimate connection with this page.

Anyway, Ms. Holm — or Mrs. Jarrett — was suspended from the team. The reason given was violation of training rules. She continued on to Berlin and — no surprise — was signed to report on the Olympic games for International News Service. She also mingled with Nazi officials, including Hermann Goerring, commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, the German air force. He removed a silver swastika from his uniform and gave it to her.

In 1937, she appeared with Johnny Weissmuller in Billy Rose's Aquacade, and a year later she co-starred with Olympic decathlon champion Glenn Morris in "Tarzan's Revenge," one of three Ape Man movies of the period that did not star Weissmuller. (Other Olympic athletes, Buster Crabbe and Herman Brix — screen name: Bruce Bennett — starred in the other two.)

"Tarzan's Revenge" bombed, and in 1939 Eleanor Holm was back in the Aquacade with Weissmuller and Gertrude Ederle, who was the first woman to swim the English Channel. Divorced a year earlier, she married Rose, who had previously been wed to Fannie Brice. The Holm-Rose marriage lasted until 1954.

In 1974 she married Thomas Whalen, and remained married until his death in 1986. She died in 2004, at the age of 90.

Flo Ziegfeld fights back

Finally, back to 1921 and some comic relief. Flo Ziegfeld was a show business legend. There may be a legitimate point in what he says here, but more likely he was generating publicity in a clever way and doing it during the summer when, traditionally, theater business tends to taper off.

However, there apparently was some concern by producers of Broadway shows, burlesque and vaudeville that changes in fashion — particularly the trend toward one-piece bathing suits and bare legs — would lessen the sex appeal of showgirls in scanty costumes. But in New York City there's no such thing as an endless summer. And Flo Ziegfeld, especially, knew how to expose more skin than ever would be allowed on a public beach.

Schenectady Gazette, August 15, 1921
Jazzdom Joins in Attempting Ban
on Low Bathing Suits

NEW YORK, August 15 – This business of low-cut bathing suits has Flo Ziegfeld on the run.

The eminent impresario of the famous Follies disapproves most heartily of the latest modes in beach wear, which send a young girl out on the sand with her tender skin practically unprotected against the burning rays of the summer sun. He thinks it’s all wrong.

“Ziggy,” for once in his career, is in accord with the reformers. They are protesting against the too-ample display of the uncovered female body. So is he — when the display takes place on the beach.

For, be it understood, Mr. Ziegfeld’s objections proceed from no moral ground. Pray don’t take this to mean that the gentleman in question does not believe in morals. He does, but his ideas on morality are a trifle different from those of Dr. Wilbur Crafts or Rev. George Bowlby.

“Ziggy’s” objections are purely practical. Low-cut bathing suits and bare legs interfere seriously with the color scheme evolved by Joseph Urban for the latest Follies. The girls go down to Long Beach and Southampton over the weekend, acquire a healthy coat of tan and come back with their necks, shoulders and other portions of their anatomy the best in coffee color.

And so, when they appear on the stage to regale the eyes of New York’s “men about town” — and there are plenty of girls in the audience, too — they present a spectacle that sometimes brings out smiles.

A peaches-and-cream complexion, a dimpled Cupid’s-bow of a mouth, a lovely head of bobbed hair, a costume carefully designed to give the wearer a chance to show that the excellence of her complexion is not confined to her face alone but extends to her shoulders, neck and arms. And then, oh, horrors, a heavily-tanned neck and shoulders, with the thinnest of white stripes marking the position of the shoulder straps! Do you wonder that Flo Ziegfeld is willing, for this once, to align himself with the reformers?

“It’s tough,” moaned “Ziggy,” when the subject was broached. “It wouldn’t be so bad if only their faces got tanned — grease paint could take care of that. But when they get tanned all over, what, I ask you, is the use of having Joseph Urban to cook up a swell color scheme and spending a mint of money for costumes when the girls are all olive drab and don’t harmonize? There should be a law against these low-cut bathing suits.”

Here's one good reason not to take Florenz Ziegfeld's comments too seriously. He knew how to compete. Check out Madeline Janis in the 1927 edition of Ziegfeld's "Follies." You couldn't see anything like her at any beach, at least in the New York City area.

As for the Great Bathing Suit Battle ... well, even those formerly clumsy two-piece outfits became more comfortable and revealing. Stockings? Soon they'd be a thing of the past.

It's easy to poke fun at the way many religious leaders and their followers reacted to the America that emerged after World War One. Threats of eternal damnation often are made during drastic cultural change. For many reasons, the world in 1921 was a far, far different place than it was a few years earlier. I can understand why a lot of people didn't want to accept the idea — no matter how obvious it was becoming.

 
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