The latest History SPOT Podcast from the Institute of Historical Research, features Dr. Ellen Wright giving her paper Spectacular Bodies: The Swimsuit, Censorship and Hollywood. The paper was given at the IHR as part of the Sport and Leisure History series on the 3rd of June. It forms part of an ongoing research project for Dr. Wright into Hollywood, the swimsuit, pin-up imagery and advertising.
The talk explores the mutually beneficial relationship between the American swimsuit and film industries during the first three decades of the twentieth century. Ideas here formed the basis for my article ‘Spectacular Bodies: The Swimsuit, Sexuality and Hollywood’ in Sport in History v.35 #3, 2015.
Three examples are featured: Fatty and the Bathing Beauties from 1913 (prior to regulated film content), Footlight Parade from 1933 (when limited self-regulation had been put in place, but was not yet rigorously enforced) and the Tarzan film franchise – and in particular those featuring swimming star Johnny Weissmuller (which spans both the second period and a later, third period of actual implementation and subsequent negotiation). Using these examples, I consider several of the popular associations attached to the swimmer and the swimsuit and discuss the ways in which Hollywood utilised the swimsuit, the swimmer and swimming in both its films and its promotional materials; demonstrating how, through the sporting associations of both the garment and sports stars, film producers negotiated the processes of censorship and self-regulation while allowing the continued use of semi-naked and eroticised bodies, to their own profit and to that of the increasingly fashionable swimwear industry.