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October 15, 2009

Hollywood Teeth: The Early Days

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

One of the things I notice when looking at pre-1930 or thereabouts photos of movie actresses, chorus girls and others in the show biz beauty trade is that their teeth are normal. Not perfect, in other words.

Here are some pictures I tracked down on the Web. They aren't the best examples, but will have to do for now.



Marion Davies
Nowadays best known for being William Randolph Hearst's squeeze, Davies was a fine comedic actress according to some observers. But we're interested in teeth. Hers don't present a solid-looking front (most apparent in the lower photo), and there seem to be some alignment irregularities (top photo).

Vilma Banky
Banky shows slight splaying along with some irregularity.

Later photos of these actresses suggest that cosmetic dental work was done, a Hollywood studio practice common by the 1930s. Some other images I came across on Google were publicity photos where the teeth seemed to be retouched to look whiter and more regular. Apparently, once the studio system was firmly in place and stars were keys to business success, the companies strove to enhance or protect their investments.

This "research" of mine was made more difficult because most publicity photo poses from the 20s stressed glamour, and glamour normally requires closed lips, not a flashy smile. Or possibly the mouths were closed because the teeth were substandard. In any case, toothy pictures were hard to find, especially where the teeth weren't up to par.

Toothy smiles are largely absent from portrait and other paintings before the age of publicity. Again, in some cases, this fortuitously eliminated the need to show bad or even normal teeth. A case in point is Napoleon's Empress Josephine who is known to have had unattractive teeth (though I've never read exactly what her problems were).

Full disclosure: I never had orthodontia, so my top front teeth are splayed (think David Letterman or 1960s British comic actor Terry-Thomas). Most of my other teeth aren't impressive either. Too bad I never worked for MGM.



posted by Donald at October 15, 2009


I've been poking around the Internet Movie Data Base and it is clear that many of the earlier stars had imperfect teeth--and often looked all the lovelier for it. There are portrait galleys, available as slide shows, at the IMDB site. Have a look at Rita Hayworth, or Olivia de Havilland (who still lives in Paris), or Veronica Lake, or Vivian Leigh. Or the gorgeous Hedy Lamarr. The stars with real teeth seemed somehow more real and personable than today's female stars, with their plastic perfection.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on October 15, 2009 11:43 PM

I was watching a replay of the TV show Chuck and noticed that Yvonne Strahovski hasn't had her teeth fixed and that they seemed so uneven by Hollywood standards. Interesting for a young Australian actress who just got her first starring role in a 2 year old sitcom.

Posted by: ajj on October 16, 2009 11:42 AM

Have a look at the early Shelley Winters. Later, she had some major dental work.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on October 16, 2009 5:43 PM

"and often looked all the lovelier for it": I must admit that I find the modern All-American mouthful of gnashers pretty unattractive. I'm not suggesting that the world adopt the dental standards of our forefathers, but plenty of, for example, French girls manage to be very attractive without resort to American levels of aggressive dentistry.

Posted by: dearieme on October 17, 2009 10:51 AM

Dearieme: I simply find perfect, plastic Barbie Doll actresses vapid and actually less beautiful than the earlier ones who didn't benefit from orthodontia and botox. Audry Hepburn and Gene Tierney and Lauren Bacall and dozens more were innately more lovely-- because they were more real. It's an old man's viewpoint, but I think younger generations are deprived. They think of beauty as perfection, and miss the heart of it.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on October 17, 2009 12:07 PM

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