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Thanksgiving Pin Ups? You Bet…

by Leonard Maltin
November 27, 2013 12:00 AM
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I am grateful for many things, large and small—including the fact that Hollywood studio publicists in the olden days knew how to exploit every single holiday, including Thanksgiving, with cheesecake photos and other such nonsense. I’ve found a few new poses to add to last year’s repertoire, and I hope you enjoy them. As always, I should point out that none of this effort was in vain: newspapers and magazines around the world gladly published these silly shots, and I have a particular weakness for them. Here, then, is an array of Thanksgiving publicity pictures from the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s for your enjoyment. 

Esther Williams was always a good sport, though she may not have had any say in whether or not she cared to pose with a turkey. When she was a young contract player at MGM in the 1940s it was just part of the job.

Barbara Bates is probably best remembered for her small but significant role as the young fan who sneaks into Eve Harrington’s apartment at the very end of All About Eve, and poses before a mirror with her award. She made quite a few movies, but today we celebrate her work alongside a scene-stealing costar in this holiday shot.

Long before she gained cinematic immortality as Sweet Sue (with her Society Syncopators) in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, Joan Shawlee was a photogenic starlet at Universal Pictures using the name Joan Fulton. That’s where she first worked with Abbott and Costello, in Buck Privates Come Home; she later turned up on a number of their television shows. Here she’s on display as part of a cornucopia.

Nobody played saucy dames better than former beauty-contest winner, pin-up girl and burlesque dancer Barbara Nichols. She’s at her best in such films as Sweet Smell of Success (arguably her finest), Pal Joey, and The Pajama Game. But I don’t know who thought of “casting” her as a Pilgrim in this cheesecake photo.

Ingenue Barbara Kent seems especially eager to start carving in this Universal studios photo from the late 1920s. Kent was Harold Lloyd’s leading lady in two of his starring features, Welcome Danger and Feet First, but is most celebrated today as the wistful costar of Paul Fejos’ wonderful 1929 movie Lonesome, which has recently been released on DVD and Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection.

Jean Arthur was not yet a major star when she posed—under duress, no doubt—with musical-comedy performer Lillian Roth in a blanket of fake snow for this Paramount still. Roth was an ebullient screen presence in the early-talkie era who later wrote a confessional autobiography, I’ll Cry Tomorrow. (Susan Hayward played her in the movie adaptation.) Arthur became one of the screen’s most engaging actresses with a particular gift for comedy. I wonder if she saw the humor in this photo session.

Who better to instruct readers on how to carve a turkey than Ma Hardy of MGM’s popular Andy Hardy series? I have no idea if Fay Holden had any homemaking skills in real life, but she makes a good show of unjointing the drumstick in this photo, which was followed by other timely tips.

Here’s the original caption for this 1940 photo from RKO Radio Pictures, sent out to promote the Kay Kyser feature You’ll Find Out: “Now which one? outside the pen the turkeys all look alike. Ginny Simms casts an appraising eye over the birds to make sure she pursues the choicest. The turkeys attempt an appearance of complete nonchalance.”

I wish I had the caption for this one. I imagine it was meant to make people who were battening down the hatches for winter weather jealous of Southern Californians who could (theoretically) cook turkey on an outdoor barbecue and (even more theoretically) have it served to them by a chef as lovely as June Haver, in a two-piece bathing suit! 

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  • Sam Maronie | December 1, 2013 10:13 AMReply

    Don't ever apologize for these stills, Leonard---I love 'em! It was a true art form that is gone forever. Keep them coming!

  • Kevin House | November 28, 2013 12:20 AMReply

    Joan Shawlee also played Buddy's wife, Pickles, on "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

  • Jeff Missinne | November 27, 2013 6:48 PMReply

    She may have been no Puritan, but Barbara Nichols probably did come across in a Plymouth...

  • Steve Rubin | November 27, 2013 6:15 PMReply

    Thanks for the cheese cake with my turkey, Leonard. You're always thinking of the common man!

  • Tony Caruana | November 27, 2013 9:41 AMReply

    Great stuff...keep them coming Mr. M

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