The Original Influencer

Hilary Hallett on the enduring impact of Hollywood tastemaker Elinor Glyn

Elinor Glyn performs as her Tiger Queen on the London stage in 1908 (Wellington County Museum & Archives, Ontario)
Elinor Glyn performs as her Tiger Queen on the London stage in 1908 (Wellington County Museum & Archives, Ontario)

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.

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Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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