Inventor of "IT" and the woman who brought glamour and sex appeal to the screen
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What I am most passionate about is to inspire you to see that your life is your own and biggest masterpiece.
Elinor Glyn played an important part in creating the allure of Old Hollywood. She brought glamour and sex appeal to the screens and invented the „IT“ girl – a concept that dominates our fashion and gossip magazine until today
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Elinor’s parents were Douglas Sutherland, a civil engineer and Elinor Saunders who was of Anglo-French-Canadian descent. Both kids were born in London, England, but raised in their grandmother’s home in Guelph Ontario when their father died from to typhoid fever when working on a tunnel construction in Turin, Italy.
Grandmother Saunders had been born in Europe and had learned how to move in the higher circles of society. In Paris, she got to know her husband. They both emigrated to Canada, but she always longed to go back to Paris. To keep their Parisian spirits, they all dressed up in their finest clothing each night for dinner. This is where Elinor Saunders returned to with her two girls Lucy and Elinor when being widowed at age 23. The grandmother intended to raise the two girls for appearing in high society and taught them all the finer things that were important back then, for example that a lady of high society never shows emotions, that she will be cheery and witty no matter the circumstances.
But this all changed, when their mother married a Scotsman of means by the name of David Kennedy who was 40 years her major and moved them all the way to Scotland. The arrival at his stately home, the impeccable decor and the lavishly dressed women they encountered there actually impressed both girls so much so that they would both set their ambitions to become rich and fashionable ladies of the world.
Soon though, they would relocate to the isle of Jersey because of Mr. Kennedy’s health problems. And here, another crucial element for the lives of the two sisters, got evident: Their absolute detest of the Victorian ideal of wifely duty. They saw their mother tend to their stepfather like an obedient slave with no emotion or love exchanged – he on the other hand got more cruel and obnoxious by the day. This obviously unfulfilled life was the one thing they did not want to have for themselves.
The two sisters were exceedingly bright and always the best dressed, because Lucy had great dressmaker skills already at a young age. When she did not roam about with the boys, she made beautiful dresses for herself and Elinor.
While Lucy left Jersey early on to escape the tyrant that David Kennedy was, staying with relatives in London, Elinor was left alone – with a big library. Her stepfather did not think much of educating girls, and paying a tutor for one girl alone was too much. So, Elinor was limited to the library to get inspiration and knowledge of the world. She learned about „glamour“, because it was Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott who first coined the expression as „a powerful dark magic that distorts reality“.
A very important writer to her was Philip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, who wrote „Letters to his son on the art of becoming a man of the world and a gentleman“ – Elinor actually had this book with her until the end of her life and always placed it next to her bed, so great was its influence on her. Basically, what this book taught her was that you could say whatever you want, even the most disrespected things in the whole of society, if only you did it in the right style. And this is another one of the gold nuggets that would carry Elinor’s life to where it would go.
Another important influence in Elinor’s life was the double standard of Victorian nobility. She knew Lillie Langtry (which was also known as Jersey Lilly who was the mistress of king Edward) and read about the Stuart Monarch Charles II and his mistress Nell Gwynn. As Charles was very loose morally, Elinor’s openness to sex was very different from what Victorian morals would deem womanly – because her world was largely made up from the books she read.
And the one book that really sharpened her desire to make something out of her life was „Vanity Fair“, the book by Thackeray with the heroine Becky Sharp coming from humble beginnings, making up her own persona and making it right up to court. Just like Becky, Elinor was very vain, this actually was her biggest vice. She always made sure that she looked good and would, later in life, spend more than was available to make everything look and feel good. Just like Becky, she did not want to be trapped in a situation that felt unbearable and unfulfilling.
Marriage and unfulfilled longing for true romance
So, what did Elinor learn? She wanted to become part of Britain’s upper society, she wanted to have means to lead the life that she had first caught a glimpse of at the castle of her stepfather in Scotland, and she wanted romance. And how would she get that? Well, by marrying rich, right!
Her sister Lucy actually did that first, she married wine merchant James Wallace, but was incredibly unhappy about that. They had a baby within a year, but James was mostly absent and drunk. Elinor stayed with them and that gave her the long awaited entry into London society with Lucy’s cottage on the grounds of Cranford park. Elinor had become a very beautiful woman, with scarlet red hair, cat-green eyes, milky skin and a tiny waist. She actually received two marriage proposals during her time in London, but rejected both of them on the grounds of personal preference. Her brother-in-law banned her from his house because of her rejections.
So, Elinor went on to their relatives in Paris, France. She had been there before, during the beginning of the Belle Époque. There had been amusement, arts, the newly erected Eiffel Tower and the theatre, which was completely different than in England. Because the French did allow for elegant sexuality and women would use distinctly feminine glamour to smooth acceptances of sexual transgressions. It was also in Paris that Elinor witnessed Sarah Bernhard, the famous actress, in the play Theodora, where she was basically having sex on the stage. This was Elinor’s sexual awakening – this was what she wanted. So, she came back to this city that she loved and adored. There, she would enter high-society with her cousins, who were part of the upper circles and enchanted the crowds with her wit and her beauty. But, she soon learned that they did not want to marry her because of her lower society background and only wanted to have her as a mistress.
So, Elinor went back to England so hunt for a suitable husband, already 25, she was past the marrying age – and the fear to be a spinster was definitely there. She used her new-found French glamour to become a party sensation in England and captured the interest of Clayton Glyn, a blue-eyed, broad-shouldered nobleman – and as he was just as smitten with her beauty as she was with his, they married a mere four months after meeting.
What Elinor was hoping for in her wedding night and on the honeymoon did not come true – ecstatic sexual pleasure as she had read about and seen on stage in France. Instead, it must have been very disappointing, as some of her heroines in later novels would moan about the honeymoons and how bad they were and definitely not joyful. But that was the beginning of her story.
Elinor was now very well versed in moving in the upper class, but her husband’s home was not in London, it was in the Essex countryside, where completely different things counted. Glamorous clothes, beauty, wits and a love for books did not. Clayton was an avid sportsman and hunter and he regularly went high up to Scotland to shoot some birds. Elinor hated these trips and got very sick during these outings. So much so that Clayton sent her home and then did not take her with him anymore.
Back home in Essex, she befriended her new neighbour, Lady Daisy Greville, the Countess of Warwick, who was way more like Elinor loved it. Glamorous, decadent, throwing weekend-long parties, Daisy was the most famous of the Marlborough House set. What Elinor learned here more than ever was the double-standard of the British upper-class. Adultery was common, especially the Marlborough House set was known to exchange husbands and wives. It was quite common to move from lover to lover even with the spouse’s knowledge. But, as always, though, when a husband’s infidelity became public, nothing but ridicule happened, when a wife’s infidelity became public, it almost always lead to the insane asylum, divorce or social death.
She later wrote about this “The cloak of glamour that surrounded the whole matter, perhaps rendered temptation all the more irresistible“. The set made everything look so glamorous, rich, marvellous and beautiful that the deeds done in private seemed more admirable than punishable. That is one of the key elements again that Elinor Glyn got from moving in Britain’s upper class. She was quite aghast when she discovered that her husband was not against sharing her with other noble men who approached her. So, trying to keep her conscience clear, she set a set of rules when to break the vow of marriage.
Elinor bore two girls – and of course, back in the day, everybody was unhappy. She did not produce an heir. But upon recovery from her second childbirth, she developed rheumatic fever and arthritis, confined to bed for extended periods of time. So, she reverted back to reading – her favourite pastime since childhood. And she did so by reading her old diaries, testaments of a former more carefree version of herself. And she found her writing utterly delighting and funny.
First steps with writing
Elinor wrote a diary almost her entire life. When she met the editor of the provincial society magazine Scottish life, he offered her to write a fashion column, being a lady AND the sister of legendary dress maker Lucy who was already using her artists name „Lucile“. She would write these letters anonymous as letters „From Suzon to Griselda“ up until the birth of her second daughter.
Then, bed-ridden, sick and entertained by her old writing, Elinor decided to write another installment of letters, calling it „The Visits of Elizabeth“. In those, debutante Elizabeth chronicles her season in London in letters to her mother, with all the mishaps and misinterpretations of someone who has not grown up in these circle. But, basically, it was a tour of the upper-classes lives and affairs. She basically exposed the philandering ways of the upper class but in such a classy way that unassuming readers would not get it.
On August 9, 1899, the first letter of the installment was published in „The World: A Journal for Men and Women“. And it caused a sensation. I like to liken it to Lady Whistledown from Bridgerton telling all the secret affairs to the wide public. And as in Bridgerton, Elinor’s letters were a sensation and scandal at the same time. Readers were fascinated and tried to figure out which parts were true and which ones were imagined. Elinor had finally carved a new identity for herself: Society’s premier „authoress“. She had ducked Victorian conventions of women writer’s taking male pen names because women were perceived as not being smart enough to write a book. Her glamorous and extrovert neighbor Daisy, duchess of Warwick had pushed her to do so, as her identity as the writer behind the works was already known in circles and would come out sooner or later anyways.
When being approached by a publisher to have all her letters published as a book, Elinor jumped on the occasion. Elinor actually was vain and wanted to be in the spotlight, she wanted to be seen and adored. And publication on both sides of the Ocean surely would make that possible. And it was. “The Visits of Elizabeth” were one of the first novels that were marketed as „bestsellers“, which as a quite new term in both England and the US.
By now, Elinor had marriage and child-bearing behind her as well as her own money in the bank. And just like Becky Sharp, she wanted to go places and travelled to Cairo, a magnetic city providing mystery and exoticism.
And that is where Elinor had her first vision. And in this vision the Sphinx talks to her and I quote from the great Hilary A. Hallet biography: „There is no beyond, live and enjoy the things of the present – Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die and I who sit here and know tell you there is no beyond. The things you can touch and hold to your bodies are the only ones worth grasping. (…) That is the wisdom sitting here for an eternity has taught me.“
In almost all her writing, Elinor usually blended her own experiences with some imaginations – so, all her novels trace back to something she had experienced herself or witnessed. So, if you look at her biographical timeline and the events happening to her as well as her books, you can form assumptions of what had been real and what she had imagined.
She actually saw the upper class men as lazy – they had money, inherited from the generations before them because of their social status, dressed and undressed, married and seduced, drank and gambled. But those who had something to prove, those who made „new money“ were more interesting to Elinor. They had gone out into the world, had created something, had made their mark on society or history. These were the men, Elinor was interested in. That’s why she hadn’t broken her marriage vows yet – there hadn’t been one interesting enough to do so. Although, she longed for passion like nothing else.
When her travels brought her to Greece into Hera’s temple, she experienced a second vision of dancers filling the temple in a strange sensual dance. And this second vision ignited passion and yearning for sex, for a man that would enthrall her completely. These two visions probably have led Elinor into embracing her womanhood and sexuality – and seizing the day. But, it would take some time until she met the right man to do so.
In Cairo, she met Boris Vladimirovich, cousin to Russia’s last emperor, who was extremely good looking – he danced with her, and even kissed her on the neck. She longed for more and he made it possible for her to get an invitation to the Russian court as his mother was the court’s most prominent hostess. She wrote „Reflections of Ambrosine“ right after the experience – a novel about an unhappily married heroine that was disappointed with the moral codes of the society that she still abided by. It sold okay, but was not a success. The people wanted smart, witty single women like Elizabeth to read about.
A turning point for her was a trip to the Swiss Alps with her husband. The surroundings made her crave passion and sensuality so much that she tried another attempt to ignite a passionate sexual relationship with her husband, but he actually just laughed at her. Things got even worse when he refused to buy her a tiger skin. She went and bought it herself with the money she had earned and the Tiger skin would become one of the most important parts of her future.
The books that followed were “The Vicissitudes of Evangeline” or “Red Hair”in 1905 and “Beyond the Rocks: A Love-Story” (1906), in which she worked through her attraction to Alastair Innes-Ker, which apparently never culminated in an affair. Although both books were not received well critically, they were commercial successes. These two were more erotic than her earlier novels and indicated that readers, mostly women, wanted to read more liberated books.
And so Elinor wrote exactly that: Her book Three Weeks turned the world upside down. She wrote it in the shortest time when her husband sent her flirt Innes-Ker on his way and the news of the death of Serbian King Alexander I and his wife Draga broke. Three weeks is about an older Slavic queen who seduces a younger man, the books insists that sexual compatibility is an integral part of a successful relationship. Most of the book is their foreplay of words, the sex scenes and their travelling. The Slavic queen is often referred to as the Tiger Queen as she lies on a tiger skin in front of an open fire with hardly anything on her body masturbating. This basically marked the start of the romance novel genre with this bestseller.
Compared to today’s standard, the book has very little actual sex in it. But, at that puritanical time, it was quite fiery in Britain. And it was not the overtly sexual scenes, but the long stretches of education from the queen to the young man, the caresses, the kisses, the role-play, the tension and the traveling that made it so utterly erotic and glamorous. It was about the building of desire and tension. It was a story webbed by the queen to culminate into their big wedding night as they called it in the book. What this book did was to show women’s sexual desires and their quite different characteristics compared to men’s. The book was a smashing success!
Elinor Glyn became a celebrity author that everybody knew – and she finally knew exactly what she was looking for in bed and in a man. Because her sex fantasy were fuelled by utter sexual frustration, her upbringing by her Grandma to never show emotion, the double standard of Britain’s morals and the Victorian ideal of the dutiful wife. These all had led to her frustration and repressed sexuality.
Success as an authoress
But morally ambiguous Britain shunned Elinor – and she went to the US instead, trying to make Three Weeks a success over there and turning it into a play. The critics in the US were even more cruel than their English counterparts. But, Elinor stood her ground and her glamorous appearance allowed her to say things that usually would have been forbidden.
Her first trip to America was the start to a great and lucrative relationship between the Americans and Elinor for a long time. She was becoming more savvy publicity-wise and timed appearances and publications perfectly – as she did with “Elizabeth visits America“. She toured the US and wowed the audiences with her impeccable style of dress, her book and her persona – she became almost as notorious as Becky Sharp, the heroine of Vanity Fair, the one book Elinor had admired so much in her youth.
Once back in London, she tried to get “Three Weeks” on the stage and starred in it herself. It was disappointing to the audience as it was not as racy as the novel would make one assume, but too daring for the Anglo-Saxons, so it was forbidden to have further theatrical runnings with this play. But, what happened: Lord George Curzon, Marquess of Kedleston was in the audience. He sent Elinor the hide of a tiger that he had shot in India and an invitation to tea. They had met several times at functions during the years, but this was their first tete-a-tete. And Elinor fell in love – deeply! They conducted their affair in private – and husband Clayton acknowledged it.
By then, the Glyn fortune had mostly dried up as Clayton was gambling a lot and taxes soared. Elinor became the main breadwinner of the family and published novels more quickly. The most successful was His Hour, that drew on her experiences in Cairo and her dalliance with the Russian prince. She wrote it in St. Petersburg at the Romanov court, being a guest of the Grand Duchess Marie Paplova the Elder, charming the Russian nobility by night writing her novel by day.
She wrote The Reason Why in a haste, but found that it was just as successful as the other books she had written and poured over for a much more extended period of time. She payed back much of Clayton’s debts, wrote more and moved to Paris with her daughters.
The Great War
And then World War I erupted and changed the world. Elinor had first seen Paris when the Belle Époque began and now would see the Paris she had loved go down. She and her daughters evacuated to Britain and helped as much as they could. Elinor even served as a waitress to pass meals to soldiers passing through Victoria Station. During that time she started her book „The Career of Katherine Bush“, with her first heroine of lower-middle-class origins that just suited her times. Followed by a book with multiple essays called „Three Things“, which says „the three essentials to strive after in life are truth, common sense and happiness“. William Randolph Hearst published the book – one of her most important connections in the US.
Then, her husband Clayton died. So, this chapter of her life was just as over as the old ways of Europe would be. Maybe she was thinking about the possibilities her new widow-ness would offer her with her still-lover George Curzon, although she was aware that he was a vain and ambitious man and not likely to marry her. Still, she met with him regularly and even did the interior design of his latest stately home. His engagement to a recently widowed rich American redhead left her hurt and she severed all ties with him. Instead, she threw herself in the war coverage that she had been invited to do on the Western Front for the American press – and she was shocked by the horrors she saw and leveraged her connection to Hearst to raise funds for French refugees. She also engaged her sister Lucy to raise funds with staging a theatre production.
The existential crisis of war liberated her of many vices and concerns that had governed her existence up until then.
She started writing again when she was invited to the Spanish court by Princess Victoria and released „Letters from Spain“ for Cosmopolitan, in which she described all the traditions and life in Spain. And something else happened: Jesse Lasky, vice president of production at Famous-Players-Lasky invited her to Hollywood.
So, Elinor travelled to the US by ship and was greeted by Lasky in New York, where she was whisked away to a press conference as well as a photoshoot. Her immaculate and eccentric clothing, her red hair, the leopard skin she brought with her – she was gold for all things publicity. And Elinor was quick to create her new identity: From now on she would be Madame Glyn. During the press conference, Elinor told the press why she was in America – to write a screenplay about romance in postwar conditions. The central part of it was a new kind of hero – a man that possessed IT. It she defined as „Something in you which gives the impression that you are not at all cold, but could be awfully loving if you wanted to, and would really enjoy dozens of kisses from the right person – that makes it.“
It was a great concept for sex – because Hollywood had a huge problem with sex at that time. Wider society blamed the pictures and the morally deprived movies for the descent of morals in the young. So, Madame Glyn was thought to be the one who might be able to smooth over the erotics with her proven track-record of glamour that showed enough but not too much. What she only found out later: Nobody actually wanted her there. It had been a publicity stunt – a staged competition between Samuel Goldwyn and Lasky who were brothers-in-law to snag the best writers. All they wanted were the prestigious names to make the movies easier to go by the critics.
When Elinor arrived in Los Angeles, she must have been blown away – she had left a world of social class, nobility, king and queens, war, destruction and the end of the Old World. But now, she had arrived in a sunny, busy metropolis that was full of hope and lots of money. At that time, Elinor Glyn was already 56 years old – remarkably older than most of the people she worked with in Hollywood, where everybody – even back then – was young and beautiful. The only one in her age range was William Randolph Hearst after opening Cosmopolitan Pictures in Hollywood for his mistress Marion Davies.
Here, in Hollywood, nothing that had helped Elinor in the past – her beauty, her youth, her status and her reputation as a celebrity author – would help her. She would have to prove that she could translate all of that into the new medium. So, she got busy building her Hollywood identity Madame Glyn – the one who knows how to do glamour. She redecorated her hotel suite to make it seem more exotic and eccentric with an Arabian flair, tiger skins on the floor, Buddha statues, Tarot cards and rugs. Her first screenplay would be featuring Gloria Swanson, who was barely 21 years old then. Swanson had been in Hollywood for a while. It actually was the most favourable environment for women to achieve wealth and opportunities – although the business was very much controlled by men, women were almost their equals. And Swanson knew that she needed influential people to like her to push her to stardom. And after meeting Madam Glyn, Swanson was convinced that Glyn would be able to help her. So, Elinor Glyn set out to change Gloria’s ways of dancing, moving and speaking, she completely remodelled her dresses to a more slinky elegance and tamed her hair to a shiny bob that accentuated her great silhouette. Gloria Swanson would become the first glamour queen of Hollywood and married into nobility later on – definitely a touch of Glyn there.
What Glyn set out to do was to bring glamour to the whole colony of Hollywood – not just the movies. For example, she set up a teatime literary salon, at which only tea was served. One of the visitors would be Charlie Chaplin – and those two would be very fond of each other and became friends, both coming from Britain, sharing the same command over a room with narratives, comments and jokes.
What came next was the search for the perfect hero for the movie „The Great Moment“ – an actor that had IT. But she could not find it. At the end, Milton Sills, who definitely did not possess an ounce of IT starred opposite Gloria Swanson. And this proved once more that Elinor actually had no influence on any choice on set. It was only great publicity. But, The Great Moment, marketed as an Elinor Glyn movie was a raving success with the masses.
Elinor with her white skin, green eyes, mundane ways of dressing, her British accent, her associations with European nobility and now her film success gave her such gravity and grandeur that she could get away with a bit more than other authors when it came to censorship. As she had always known: With a bit of glamour, sins could be cloaked quite nicely.
She became the queenly grandmother of Hollywood, exercising style and grace and manners and chaperoning her young co-workers. She actually had a string of young men following her, dancing with her and probably she conducted affairs with them, but nothing was ever reported and nothing was found in her diary about these young beautiful men.
Another man who captivated Elinor Glyn was Rudolph Valentino, a well-born Italian tango dancer. And he had IT. Although Elinor wanted him to star in “The Great Moment“, Lasky cast him for „The Sheik“. But Elinor finally got what she wanted when Valentino and Swanson were paired for „Beyond the Rocks“.
What Elinor fathomed early on: Hollywood did not need less sex, but a more glamorous way to tell the story and get away with it.
Glamour & Scandals
The Roscoe „Fatty“ Arbuckle sex scandal was the test for Glyn’s influence. She was asked by Hearst to do a series of articles on what might have caused this tragic event in the grander scheme of things – and these articles were a colossal success. They were pointing out that the hypocrisy of the Victorian age caused this great rebellion to live free, she also pointed out that looking for money and not thinking about being glamorous and classy and thinking strategically as well as drinking too much was a culprit in this tragic case.
Nevertheless, the case and trial threatened Hollywood and the movie industry – different censorship bills were put into action in various states and the move to event more censoring was near. That’s when the movie industry became pro-active – the leading producers of Hollywood asked William Hays to head the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association, later shortened to Hays Office. And what came out of it was the Hays Code. The code of self-regulation rather than censorship by the states – in effect it was censorship within Hollywood. But until he was serving in office, Elinor would be the one tasked to make the Hollywood scene as well as the movies more glamorous and more acceptable to the wider public.
It became clear that Elinor Glyn’s presence in the media, her European noblesse, her sobriety and her preaching to the Hollywood people did have a calming affair to the outside world. She made Hollywood and the people working there look less like sex-hungry, money-mad and drunk artists, but more like artistic, self-confident young Bohemians. And that would be demanded if she wanted to get a way with even more explicit romance movies without getting the censors all riled up.
Her next movie was „Beyond the rocks“ starring Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino. Glyn really focused on the love scenes – and made them more European, slower, more yearning – kissing of fingers and palms, smoldering looks and beautiful people in wonderful robes. And it worked like a charm – Valentino was the man with IT, the combination of feminine and masculine attributes that created the tension between his love for dance and tenderness and his dark, Latin looks. Beyond the Rocks was an immense success and its stars, Valentino and Swanson, became glamorous posterchildren of what Elinor Glyn could do.
Her next publications were „Letters to X“ in Hearst’s newspapers – in them, Elinor muses about life and love, recounts her travels and teaches her learnings to the younger people. The columns led to one of her most successful books „The Philosophy of Love“ (1923).
Then, it was time to make a movie out of her most famous book – “Three Weeks”. The actors did not meet expectations, but Cedric Gibbons, the art director on the movie surely did – he was the one closest to her aesthetic preferences. During the Filming, Six Days opened in the theaters and was a huge success – and her book „The Philosophy of Love“ was as well. One reviewer said about it „Glyn had become the authority on what makes the world go round.“ Three Weeks becoming a smashing hit just as much, when it opened in the US.
Elinor Glyn Productions
Then, Irving Thalberg, producer at Goldwyn offered her a deal of a lifetime – a 50-50 partnership making movies together. Thalberg was not only the husband of Norma Shearer, but also the golden boy of Hollywood. He was a savvy businessman, bringing new structures to the studio and making it bigger and better than ever with a focus on the „woman’s angle“. He was keenly aware that women were the most important motors for theatres as they could get their men to go with them. Not the other way round. So, he hired the best writers of Hollywood and the best stars – and he wanted Elinor Glyn, the one for the best and most glamorous love scenes“. Elinor signed the contract and officially started Elinor Glyn Productions Incorporated based on his offer.
Her daughters and their respective husbands though, who had no knowledge of Hollywood at all, thought her crazy for giving away 50% of her work. They basically forced her to cancel the contract and convinced her to form the Elinor Glyn Productions Inc. in England instead so they could help her. It basically was the beginning of her demise. Crossing Thalberg, one of the most influential men in Hollywood, in this way had been.a bad move. Her son-in-law in particular, a very arrogant upper-class Englishman thought he knew better than everybody else and tried to negotiate for Elinor. But that failed dramatically and made dealing with Madam Glyn a horrible experience for the studios.
The new about this exploded in Hollywood and the US – and Elinor rightly believed that everything she had worked for would go to the gutter. Finally, she worked out another agreement with Schenck for a 50/50 agreement and basically forced her family out of the negotiations and out of Elinor Glyn Productions and asked for the company to be resolved.
When production on His Hour started, Elinor Glyn was very happy with the casting of Gilbert Roland as the heartthrob – he had just as much IT as Valentino had brought to the table. The filming of the movie was going great and Elinor even directed some of the major scenes when director King Vidor fell ill. The movie was an even bigger success – and showed the world and Hollywood producers that she was of real value.
I have already recorded an episode on IT Girl Clara Bow. And this is the genius of Elinor Glyn. In the beginning I gave you a glimpse of what Elinor Glyn believed “IT” to be – but until now she only ever used it for men. It was the idea of producer Budd Schulberg, who actually started out as a publicist under Adolph Zukor. He made the proposal to Glyn that if she would write a screenplay for rising star Clara Bow that would illustrate the concept of IT for her persona, she would receive an advance of $50k (equal to about $880k today) and 25% of the film’s income. And of course, always eager for money and opportunities, Elinor Glyn took the deal.
Clara Bow was in Hollywood the odd one out – she was a very rough Brooklynite, who drank too much and loved the boys. She, apparently, was the only one without a morality clause in her contract, which had been introduced after the Arbuckle scandal. But she was mesmerizing to Elinor Glyn – her shining red hair, no hat but a scarf tied around it, big eyes and a small body brimming with energy and desire to live life. But most of all – she was absolutely genuine. She knew where she was coming from and did not try to hide it at all. She was perfectly comfortable with who she was – and that made her so magnetic. Elinor had found her IT girl – after Valentino und Gilbert Roland, there was finally a girl with this great magnetic energy. IT was the most successful movie Elinor Glyn ever worked on – she made a fortune out of it. And Clara Bow became a megastar who defined an era – her sexual escapades smoothes by the glamorous touch of Elinor Glyn.
When she was at the height of her fame, Elinor left Hollywood for Britain at the age of 64.
They revived Elinor Glyn Productions and tried to fire up the British movie scene. But the two movies she produced were box office failures and almost took all her fortunes. So, she lived quite comfortably on the trustfund her daughter had opened and managed for her all these years and wrote articles until three years before her death. She died during WWII on September 23, 1943 – peacefully after short illness.
To be honest, I was absolutely fascinated by this woman and read her biography in about three days. She bridged the Old World of Victorian England with the New Jazz of Old Hollywood. These two seem so far apart, but they were connected and overlapped. She played an integral part of forming the new identity of a New Woman, one that is independent, sexually freed and self-confident.
With all my love!