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"It" (1927) Wonder

Introduced the world to the concept of "sex appeal", and the world was never again the same.

"It" (1927) Wonder
Balthasar, Apr 5, 2018
    • Balthasar
      It isn't beauty, so to speak, nor good talk necessarily. It's just 'It'. Some women will stay in a man's memory if they once walk down the street. ~ Rudyard Kipling, Mrs. Bathurst, 1904

      With 'It' you win all men if you are a woman and all women if you are a man. It can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction. ~ Elinor Glyn, author of "It"

      Okay, admit it: if you were born after 1950, you probably thought this was a horror flick when you saw the title. In 1927 though, the title conjured titillation, not mutilation.

      Elinor Glyn, the author of "It", was a well-known writer of scandalous romantic fiction and screenplays in the early decades of the 20th century. You could compare her, both in her fiction, and in her equally scandalous private life and fame, to the later writer Jacqueline Susann. One of her most famous titles, for instance, was Three Weeks (The Romance of a Queen), about a Queen in a struggling marriage who, while on vacation, has a three-week affair with a man many years younger than she, which was inspired by an affair she herself had with 16-years junior Lord Alistair Innes Ker, brother of the Duke of Roxburghe, which had become a public scandal. Like Susann, Glyn's books became popular source material for (mostly) popular films. There had been 19 movies made of her works by the time "It" was made (out of 28 total). The first movie to be adapted from one of her books was Three Weeks, made in in 1914, directed by Perry N. Vekroff and starring Madlaine Traverse and George C. Pearce. It was adapted again by Glyn herself for the 1924 version, made by Samuel Goldwyn, directed by Alan Crosland and starring Conrad Nagel and Aileen Pringle. Glyn would later write the screenplays for film adaptations of her novels His Hour (1924) and Man and Maid (1925). She also produced and directed the adaptations of her novels The Price of Things and Knowing Men (both 1930).

      One of the scenes in Three Weeks inspired a popular poem, and the popular romantic trope of 'making love on an animal pelt':

      Would you like to sin
      With Elinor Glyn
      On a tiger skin?
      Or would you prefer
      To err with her
      On some other fur?

      In 1919 Glyn signed a contract with William Randolph Hearst's International Magazine Company for stories and articles that included a clause for the motion picture rights. Even after moving from England to Hollywood, she wrote for Cosmopolitan and other Hearst press titles, advising women on how to keep their men and imparting health and beauty tips. Her family established a company in 1924, Elinor Glyn Ltd, to which she signed her copyrights receiving an income from the firm and an annuity in later life. The firm was an early pioneer of cross-media branding.

      It is in this context that "It" was written. The novel was serialized in Cosmopolitan in February 1927, timed to coincide with the movie's release. Right away, readers noticed that the two stories being told were not the same. In the original version of the story, the character with the magnetic personality was a male. Paramount producers suggested the character be female. Also the original female character, Ava Cleveland, was upper class whereas Betty Lou is working class. In her preface to the novel, Glyn wrote, "This is not the story of the moving picture entitled 'It,' but a character study of the story which the people in the picture read and discuss." To emphasize this point, the movie's writers, Hope Loring and Louis D. Lighton, included a scene in which Glyn herself appears, reading from her own piece in Cosmopolitan (in a superb bit of cross-branding for early Hollywood).

      The film was an immediate success, breaking box office records and catapulting its star, Clara Bow, into super-stardom and film legend. Paramount's publicists and Hearst's newspapers coordinated a campaign to label Clara Bow "The 'It' Girl", a moniker that stuck to her like glue, but would be later applied to many well known sex symbols of Hollywood, such as Jean Harlow, Jane Russell, Marylin Monroe, and Raquel Welch. From the 1990's onward, however, the term tended to be used to describe celebrities that received inordinate (and often undeserved) attention from the Hollywood Press and paparazzi, such as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Brittany Spears.

      Elinor Glyn gave many confusing and sometimes contradictory explanations for what "It" meant, but she always said that "It" did not mean "sex appeal" and anyone who said it did was vulgarizing her concept. Nonetheless, it was as a euphemism for "sex appeal" that "It" entered the language in the 1920s. So we win, Elinor Glyn.
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