Friday, June 1, 2012

The Plastic Debutante

Cynthia is not impressed with her fancy dinner or her fancy dinner date
Cynthia is young, beautiful, privileged - and empty-headed. You might even say she's plastic. No, really, That's what she is. Or was. Meet Cynthia, the girl who would have had the first reality show, if such a thing had existed back in 1937.

She looked bored most of the time, and had nothing to say, but her creator, artist Lester Gaba, didn't seem to mind. He was happy to make all the conversation when he took Cynthia out on the town. Gaba used to tell people Cynthia just had a touch of laryngitis. Just in case they hadn't noticed she was a mannequin.

Back in the late 30s, Cynthia had a career to rival any modern celebutante's - she made the cover of Life magazine, had her own newspaper column, a radio show (which must have been tricky, since she was a plastic mannequin) and she got free clothing and jewelry from all the top designers. She also had her very own Saks' Fifth avenue credit card.

Her creator, Mr. Gaba, went on to make other Cynthia-like creatures out of soap, called, collectively, the Gaba Girls. In 1939, alas, she fell out of a salon chair and broke into a lot of bits. But luckily Mr. Gaba still had the Cynthia mold on hand, and she was recreated.

Cynthia is bored on the bus
You can see the whole Life spread over here, if you want to see Cynthia go through her day in photos - brunch on Park Avenue with a bunch of fancy literary guys, looking bored at the Stork Club, riding on top of the Fifth Avenue bus, looking exhausted in a box at the theatre, a carriage ride in Central Park and then getting carried home. The last page is a totally undignified look at Mr. Gaba dismantling her and (this picture is quite creepy) putting her into a black sateen* bag. With her wig sitting next to her. Poor Cynthia.

There's a clip on YouTube about Cynthia and Lester Gaba, stills set to "Whatever Lola Wants," if you're interested. The bus stills make me want to ride on top of a 1930s Fifth Avenue bus.

*Bonus retro tidbit: know what sateen is? I didn't, though I'd seen the word before. It ain't satin, for starters. It is cotton or rayon that is mercerized to make it shiny like satin. Yeah, and what's mercerizing? Um, a process that makes cotton or rayon shiny, of course! You can click the link if you need more details.

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