Exporting the Windmill Myth: Life magazine and ‘London’s Windmill Theatre’


Life (1942) ‘London’s Windmill Theatre.’ 16 March, 57-60

No automatic alt text available.

Life was a popular American photojournalism, general interest magazine, loosely similar in style and content to Britain’s Picture Post (though less left-wing ideologically).

During WWII when the Windmill Theatre story ran, Life was particularly popular with the US public & as with British newsreels and Picture Post at that same time, the unpredictability of war & the restraints of 1940s technology meant that up-to-date, relevant content was at times hard to come by and again, the Windmill & it patriotic female employees offered a predictable, consistent background against which other more novel news stories could be placed.

At the time the ‘London’s Windmill Theatre’ feature appeared in Life, America had not long been part of the international hostilities (America entered WWII in December 1941, this article is from March 1942). Hearts and minds still needed to be won & good news stories about America’s tenacious allies over the Atlantic were very newsworthy. Add to this a gaggle of glamorous young girls & it is not surprising the magazine ran a four-page feature on how the Windmill’s wartime story was being transformed into the Broadway show Heart of a City.

The article refers admiringly to play’s source material as ‘a little London theatre,’ ‘a musical girl show’ and ‘a monument to the wartime pluck of 34 pretty girls,’ detailing a number of instances whereby the girls have displayed that pluck (‘when a nearby stable was set afire by a bomb, girls rushed out to rescue six dray horses and, on another occasion, dashed to the roof to extinguish eight incendiary bombs.’)[1]

The article also makes reference to Joan Jay, the performer injured during the Blitz (see ‘Joan Jay: Windmill Girl’) and offers American readers further relevant points of interest by promoting the American stage show (which it does by comparing images from Storm’s stage play with actual photographic representations of the Windmill and its performers) & flagging up the theatre as a potential destination for any GIs headed for Britain:

‘A big majority of the Windmill’s patrons are servicemen who like its friendly atmosphere & living nude tableaux. Active nudes are forbidden in London, but the censor permits a nude who can old still.’[2]

As such it spreads the theatre & its iconic employees’ cultural reach further still, helping to cement a coherent narrative around the theatre & the notion that the show went on and it ‘Never Closed.’

To return to the main #TheyNeverClothed page click here.

[1] Life (1942) ‘London’s Windmill theatre.’ 16 March, 57.

[2] Life (1942) ‘London’s Windmill theatre.’ 16 March, 57.