September 29th, 2017 | Updated on June 9th, 2020
Joan Crawford soaked her eyes with acid, Marilyn sewed marbles into her bra and Marlene Dietrich combed her wigs with gold dust: The bizarre beauty tricks of 20th Century Hollywood’s leading ladies Stars including Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn had their fair share of unique beauty routines to maintain their signature looks.
In the 20th century, the women of the Hollywood elite created their own ways of keeping the virtue they held most dear: their beauty. Still today – the lengths we go to immortalize youthfulness and desired features are seemingly endless.
However, we now have advanced cosmetic procedures and technology that can ensure it’s done in a safe and sophisticated manner. In the centuries prior, the process wasn’t quite yet perfected – and the women took it into their own hands. Oscar winner Joan Crawford soaked her eyes with acid, washed her hair with six raw eggs and ALWAYS kept a ‘yes’ expression. Joan Crawford’s secret to her shimmering white eyes was to soak them in boric acid solution.
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Boric acid is a weak acid that’s used as a stain remover, an insecticide, a flame retardant but also as an antiseptic. Crawford was onto something when she used it for the eyes because as harsh as it sounds, boric acid is the basis for many eye drops and washes on the market today.
Crawford also claimed to have been taught a special trick by Katharine Hepburn: washing hair with raw eggs, which she would massage into her daughters’ hair one-by-one. Four raw eggs, she claimed, would be fine for most, but her daughters had especially long hair. A little bit of red wine or a splash of rum served as a good dilution for the shampoo. For those with oily hair, a problem Crawford said she never had, she learned that simply dousing hair with cologne was a formidable solution.
She was also fond of do-it-yourself face masks. Some of her favorite recipes were the ‘old fashioned mixture’ of oatmeal, warm water, and honey – and witch hazel, baking soda, and a whole egg.
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Any beauty routine, Crawford said, would of course need to be done before the husband returned.
‘Europeans have known about these simple treatments for years,’ she wrote. ‘Their husbands don’t know about them though, because beauty treatments should be reserved for the end of the day, before your husband comes home. You look awful while a masque is drying- just as awful as you do in hair curlers,’ she said.
She also noted the importance of having a ‘yes’ face – looking cheerful and willing at all times was, in her opinion, a necessary component to maintaining youth and beauty.
‘All the beauty products in the world can’t disguise a disagreeable expression. Have you ever noticed that when you say “no” you begin to resemble a prune-faced schoolmarm?’ she wrote.
Of course, no woman can say yes all the time, she noted – much like Marilyn Monroe – who Crawford deemed ‘vulgar’. Marilyn Monroe used five different lip colors to achieve the perfect pout – AND sewed marbles in her bra to make her nipples look erect Monroe used five different shades of lip gloss and lipstick – dark reds on the outside corners of her lips, slightly lighter shades in the middle to add dimension, and very bright notes on the crest of her top and bottom lips to highlight Marilyn Monroe’s signature pout has a lasting legacy – but it was no easy feat.
The stunning actress was said to have used five different kinds of lipstick and lip gloss – penciling in dark reds on the outside corners of her lips, slightly lighter shades in the middle to add dimension, and very bright notes on the crest of her top and bottom lips to highlight.
The process was so extensive that sometimes it could take up to an hour and a half to get the colors just right.
Marilyn not only slept in her bra – which she thought would prevent sagging – but sewed marbles into her bras and clothes to make her nipples appear firm. Another peculiar habit of Monroe’s was her penchant to sleep in a bra, to prevent her breasts from sagging – and would often tuck in a few marbles, or three buttons sewn together, inside her brassiere to create the appearance of firm nipples.
She was also fond of applying several different kinds of cream to stay shimmering and protect her skin from the sun, because she ‘liked to feel blonde all over,’ she said in 1952. She also refused to shave any of her facial hair because she liked the way it made her face shine in the cameras, according to Monroe expert Gene London.
Gloria Grahame stuffed her top lip with cotton to keep her pout supple after a series of botched surgeries paralyzed it. Her solution was to stuff her top lip with cotton balls – which made kissing scenes difficult as the cotton would get soaked with saliva. She is pictured here in 1950 with her husband director Nicholas Ray (left) during a kissing scene with Humphrey Bogart for the film ‘In a Lonely Place’
At the young age of 24, movie star Gloria Grahame had already gone through one divorce, and had begun to feel the pressure to look perfect in Hollywood.
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Much like today, the popular look was a puffed, full lip – and Grahame who had been signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios for her ‘sex pot’ style – was determined to achieve it.
She underwent a series of surgeries on her top lip – which left it completely paralyzed.
Desperate not to lose any roles because of her impediment, Grahame began stuffing cotton balls behind her lip to help it looking supple. However, this didn’t quite have the outcome she anticipated.
Vincent Curcio, a historical author, wrote in a book about Grahame’s life that her fellow cast members and crew would complain that she constantly had to run to the bathroom to replace the cotton, that would gather saliva, and reapply her lipstick.
Marlene Dietrich combed her wigs with more than $400 of pure GOLD dust which may have helped her seduce JFK – and his father. Marlene Dietrich demanded that the leading Hollywood hairstylist Max Factor hand-brush pure gold dust into her blonde wigs to give them an added natural shine Marlene Dietrich was at one point the world’s highest paid film star – and made a name for herself as a sex symbol and outspoken bisexual, a very taboo subject at the time.
Dietrich was also famed for her high-maintenance attitude on set, particularly when it came to her wigs. She had very poor hair, which few people knew, and demanded that the leading Hollywood hairstylist Max Factor hand-brush pure gold dust into her blonde wigs to give them an added shine.
At the time, gold dust cost $60 per ounce (the equivalent of $842 today) – and each of her wigs required half an ounce to meet her standards.
Max, according to a biography about his life, was not willing to put so much money to waste on set. He ordered that the wigs be brushed out after she’d used them in a scene, and was able to recover about $23 ($322 today) worth of gold dust from each one.
Dietrich went on to have a highly controversial lifestyle – having many high-profile affairs over the years including John Wayne and then-President John F Kennedy, according to the journals of the late critic Kenneth Tynan. She’d also had an affair with JFK’s father Joe, according to a biography of Kathleen ‘Kick’ Kennedy, the second-eldest sister in the Kennedy dynasty.
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Fannie Ward, ‘The Girl Who Would Never Grow Old’, tried to maintain her youthful looks by hanging upside down from a door frame. Silent film actress Fannie Ward was known for her eternally youthful looks. She claimed this was because of a unique face-cleansing routine she learned from French actress Gaby Deslys – and also, hanging upside down from a door frame.
In a Harper’s Bazaar article, Ward explained: ‘The strange posture causes blood to pour generously through the skin to which it has been more or less a stranger. ‘The wasting tissues of the face receive their needed blood bath, a very freshet that nourishes and revivifies. This practice will freshen the most faded complexion,’ she continued, according to Buzzfeed.
There were rumors that Ward also had plastic surgery to accentuate her famously ageless appearance, which she consistently denied. At the age of 55, in 1927, she was said to have played a seven-year-old girl in a London play – a testament to her defiance of time.
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A feature article about her career in American Weekly in 1949 referred to her as ‘The Girl Who Wouldn t Grow Old’. Audrey Hepburn, a timeless doe-eyed beauty separated each eyelash with a safety pin Audrey Hepburn’s son Sean wrote in a 1999 book about his mother that her makeup artist Alberto de Rossi would apply mascara to her lashes, and then very carefully separate each one with a sharp safety pin. It is impossible to discuss the eccentric beauty habits of the 20th century Hollywood elite without mentioning Audrey Hepburn.
The iconic beauty was revered for her unique look, and especially her doe eyes and picture-perfect lashes. Her son Sean wrote in a 1999 book about his mother, Audrey Hepburn: An Elegant Spirit, that her makeup artist Alberto de Rossi would apply mascara to her lashes, and then very carefully separate each one with a sharp safety pin.
De Rossi, who always helped her to achieve her signature ‘Audrey Hepburn eyes’ became a close friend of the 20th century starlet. When he died, Sean said, his mother sobbed and said she’d rather never work again than have to find another makeup artist.
Selena Royle: For the every day housewife, the key to looking beautiful is simply to put some tape between tired eyes. Selena Royle was a revered radio, television and film actress in the mid-1900s. Though not necessarily a household name, she did her part to give back to the housewives of the era by the publication of an article promoting beauty tips for the working woman Royle recommended sticking tape between the eyes to keep the skin from creasing. Selena Royle was a revered radio, television and film actress in the mid-1900s.
Though not necessarily a household name, she did her part to give back to the housewives of the era by the publication of an article promoting beauty tips for the working woman.
Royle noted that some women develop frown eyes from focusing on fine lines while sewing – and recommended sticking tape in the shape of a diamond in between the eyebrows to stop the skin from creasing. ‘While you do your work, you can also renew and restore your loveliness,’ she wrote.
‘The hours you spend cooking, cleaning, sewing and washing can also be the hours in which you replenish your complexion, beautify your hands, renew the lustre of your hair, restore your whole beauty energy. It’s easier than you think!’