Monday, July 7, 2008

Edna Wallace Hopper: the First Reality Star and the Most Peculiar Beauty

"The greatest happiness I have ever known comes from sharing my beauty secrets with other women, especially with young girls, as early training brings lasting results."--Edna Wallace Hopper, My Secrets of Youth and Beauty (1925)

Edna is my muse. I became aware of her when I found a dusty copy of her slim book My Secrets of Health and Beauty. It's what I like to call an auto-beauty-ography. Written as a how-to on beauty, fitness and style, it is personal, revealing, and to me, so very delightful.Edna was an absolute superstar in her time, but I fear she's been nearly forgotten.
She acted on stage in London and on Broadway, and in silent films. Later on she built a cosmetic company and the radio advertisements she did led to her own radio show and influenced the ad industry. Claiming to be constantly besieged by questions from fans on how she managed to remain looking twenty-years old well into her sixties, Edna had a stage set built to mirror her own bathroom, bedroom, and dressing room and held matinees for women in San Francisco, demonstrating her beauty and fitness routines, including the all-important cold bath:

"Most women complain that they cannot take cold baths-- not because of ill health, but because the shock of the cold water is too much for them. I have a way of getting into my cold bath that overcomes this shock. This method always interests the women who attend my special matinees. They cannot understand why my feet go into the water last instead of first.This is my system: I grasp the sides of the tub and lower my body into the water so that the base of my spine touches the water first. Then I lower the upper part of my body until the water touches the base of the brain, at the same time splashing my chest and throat. Then I let my feet down and I am wet all over."

The show gained so much popularity that Edna took it on the road, touring the country. She also began to screen the film she'd had made of her face lift. She may have been the first celebrity to admit to having such a procedure. It seems shocking now when celebrities go on reality shows and do tell-all interviews. Wasn't there a time when the most glamorous stars valued dignity and privacy? There was indeed, but there was also Edna, the gorgeous, wacky braggart. I love her DIY and entrepreneurial spirit. Actually, I am a bit obsessed, so this is the beginning of a series of posts about her.