Standards of beauty definitely change over time! This picture shows Miss America 1924 (Ruth Malcolmson) beside Miss America 2022 (Emma Broyles). We judge them by their bodies and measurements and facial features (both women would probably be considered attractive in 1924 and 2022, despite Miss America 1924’s regrettable hair) and their demeanor, their expression, and their clothing.

Miss America 1924 Ruth Malcomson and Miss America 2022 Emma Broyles – photos courtesy of vintag.es and pageantplanet.com

 

Let’s take a look at some of the silent film stars of the 1900s and 1910s. These women were said to be outstanding actresses.

 

American silent film actress and model Olive Thomas

 

As you see in the first picture, Olive Thomas was both a model and an actress, but most turn of the century actresses weren’t models. The two are conflated now, at least for women.

It’s a problem for the movie industry. Look at Elvis. He was devastatingly handsome but he couldn’t act, poor fellow, to save his life. Every film he starred in was flat and forgettable. Hollywood eventually figured that out. Today most leading men are talented and better than average looking.

But most leading women are only beautiful. Hollywood has bigger problems–but if they got around to it, featuring better quality actresses would allow women to be a box office draw themselves and cast in starring roles (instead of the star’s sidekick). Wouldn’t that solve their pay gap problem? Oh well. Maybe not.

Do you know who my favorite actress is? Barbara Stanwyck. She was the star of many pre-code classics–not the sidekick but the star! As you look at their photos, do you think any of these women be hired today by Paramount Pictures or Columbia Pictures?

Barbara Stanwyck
The great Ethel Barrymore circa 1910 (LOC)
Actress Sylvia Breamer, circa 1900 (LOC)
Suffragist actress Trixie Friganza, descending steps, New York. 1908. (LOC)
Maud Gonne English political activist, suffragist, and actress, circa 1900 (LOC)
Actress May Allison circa 1910 (LOC)
Actress Malvinia Longfellow in a role, probably from The Watcher or The Whirlwind, both plays she acted in during 1910. Photographed by John H. Garo (LOC)