Picture the first “It Girl,” and you’re likely to imagine young, fun Clara Bow, sex symbol of the Roaring ’20s. But behind the frame is the woman who wrote It: Elinor Glyn, an English-gentlewoman-turned-Hollywood-screenwriter whose romantic novels inspired so much of the era’s glamorous aesthetic. Hilary Hallett, a professor of history at Columbia University, brings Glyn back into the spotlight in her new biography, Inventing the It Girl. Glyn’s story, like that of so many of her heroines—and unlike her contemporaries—begins after her marriage in 1892 to a spendthrift noble with a gambling problem. The blockbuster success of her scandalous 1907 sex novel, Three Weeks, catapulted her to literary stardom and, as it so often does, to Hollywood, where she worked on dozens of films and styled silent-era superstars like Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson. Hallett joins the podcast to discuss how Glyn paved the way for a century of sexual, romantic, and psychological independence.
Go beyond the episode:
- Hilary Hallett’s Inventing the It Girl: How Elinor Glyn Created the Modern Romance and Conquered Early Hollywood
- Watch It, the “Elinor Glyn–Clarence Badger Production” that made Clara Bow a star in 1927
- Meet more neglected Hollywood women: Dorothy Arzner remains the most prolific woman studio director in the history of cinema; start with Merrily We Go to Hell from 1932
- Jean Smart will play a mostly accurate version of Elinor Glyn in Damien Chazelle’s upcoming film Babylon, about the decadence of the Roaring ’20s
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