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May 4, 2017

The Sexiest Knees in America: The Curious Story of Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties From the 1910s and 1920s

In 1915, up-and-coming silent film actor and director Mack Sennett had a bold idea: He would form a bevy of young women to appear as a comedic element in his short films and for promotions across America. The group, to become known as "Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties", were featured in numerous films over the next 13 years, but never were the girls mentioned by name.

Though many of the Beauties did eventually go on to have thriving careers in Hollywood, most of them remained anonymous and came and went throughout the years. These photos from the late 1910s and early 1920s capture this rare moment in history.

The Beauties were alternatively used in specific comedy sketches in films or simply to set the stage around which the comedians would work. It certainly didn't hurt that these bathing suits were pushing the limits of the day!

The Beauties were often seen around Venice Beach, as they are in this photo. Their bathing suits were always a unique combination of costume and swim suit, and they collectively pushed the limits of the decency laws of the time...

Actor Billy Bevan flanked by four bathing beauties, 1920s.

Including the girls in his films was a blatant move to leverage the attractive girls, as is evident in this film promotion from 1917. At the time, women barely exposed their knees in public, so this was quite a change for film.

Two of the Beauties post on the beach for a promotional shot. Look at those beach shoes!.

In addition to the many promotional shots of the troupe, there are quite a few candid shots like this one from the early 1920s. You can tell that these girls were definitely unique and probably had a great time together on set and off.

We simply love the unique costumes the women have on in this on-set promotional shot.

Many of the early shots of the Beauties show them with longer suits and high socks. These would of course become shorter over the years!

In addition to their film appearances, the Beauties regularly showed up to larger events to add some flavor and bring out more people. Look at the smiles on these girls faces!

Here we see Mr. Sennett holding an audition for new Beauties.

A Sennett girl is photographed in Washington, D.C. sometime in the early 1920s.

Seven Mack Sennett bathing beauties standing around a car, getting ready for the picture.

This is one of the more iconic photos taken down by the Potomac in D.C. around 1917.

Back to Venice Beach with a wide range of costumes. You can see from this photo how Mr. Sennett made the girls look quite a bit alike in the face.

By 1927, the public was becoming somewhat tired of the Beauties, however, as their routine began to lose its flavor. They were thus phased out in 1928, but remain a key part of the era of slapstick comedy.

(via Old Photo Archive)


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