Ruth Etting as a Brinkley Girl!

Isn’t this drawing fun?! It’s by a very famous illustrator, Nell Brinkley, and shows the cast of the 1931 Ziegfeld Follies, including Ruth Etting. Ruth is dressed as a cigarette girl – one of her songs in that show was Cigarettes, Cigars! and there’s a photo of her in that same costume.

I had to look up the artist – and I’m glad I did! Nell Brinkley was born in 1886 in Colorado and illustrated a published children’s books while still a child herself. As a young woman she moved to New York, with her mother, and became a well known illustrator and comic artist, most of her work appearing in New York newspapers and magazines.

She’s also the creator of the iconic Brinkley Girl…

In any walk of life, one sign of making it is to become part of the language itself. Such was the popularity of the stately, coiffured beauties illustrated by Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944) that his ‘Gibson girls’ went into the American dictionary. Sadly, his successor, Nell Brinkley (1886-1944), has not enjoyed such lasting fame, although in her time she had an enormous influence on the appearance and aspirations of women across America and beyond. A high-school dropout and self-taught illustrator from the tiny frontier town of Edgewater, Colorado, population 311, Nell was just 21, when she broke into the New York newspaper world in 1908 with her vivacious, curly-locked beauties. Within only a few years, her new ideal of fun-loving feminity swept away the stuffy ‘Gibson girls’.

All that Gibson’s passive high-society mannequins would do on the beach is pose elegantly with a wistful, rather corseted gaze. In contrast, ‘Brinkley girls’ bounded onto surfboards, kinky hair flying, dress straps loose off their shoulders, smiling with glee. They became a national craze, serenaded in pop songs and in the Ziegfeld Follies, syndicated in Hearst’s newspapers and to The Sketch in Britain, merchandised as cosmetics and curlers, and modelled by young women coast-to-coast. And yet, the ‘Gibson girl’ is still well-known today, whereas the ‘Brinkley girl’ is all but forgotten, probably because she was too independent and disturbing a sex symbol for the stay-at-home Fifties.

Paul Gravett

I urge you to click on the link above, and read more about Nell Brinkly, and see some of her other work. She really was amazing! And the Brinkley Girls are so much fun!

I just love seeing Ruth Etting as a Brinkley Girl! In the crop above she’s shown with two of the other stars in the Follies of 1931 – Helen Morgan and Harry Richmond.

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