How Famous Silent Stars Kept Their Hair Beautiful (and Earned Some Cash as Spokesmodels)

The idea of having a famous person endorse a product existed before movies, of course, but motion picture stars were in a unique position to make various consumer goods attractive to their fans. After all, who better than a glamorous, curly-haired film star to sell this new-fangled “shampoo” stuff?

Shampoo in the modern sense was becoming steadily more popular in North America and Western Europe around the same time that the movies were being invented. The first commercial products were appearing on drugstore shelves and among them was Watkins Mulsified Cocoanut Oil for Shampooing. I am not sure of its exact components (the bottle says “6% alcohol”) but coconut oil remains a popular hair care ingredient.

Watkins is no longer sold so I can’t vouch for its effectiveness but major stars of the silent screen certainly seemed to love it. (For a healthy endorsement fee, no doubt, and good for them.) These particular ads ran between 1918 and 1920 but the Watkins campaign lasted longer than that. Also, the bottle is priced at fifty cents, which is about $6 in modern USD.

Obviously, “mulsified” is a way to make the word “emulsified” a copyright-ready slogan. Meh.

Props to Norma Talmadge for going by the literal letter of her contract. “You want an endorsement, I endorse it. Make the check payable to ‘N. Talmadge’ please.” Jackie Saunders, on the other hand, lays it on thick.

(I’ve never seen Jackie in anything but Drag Harlan is available, so I may check it out.)

Lillian Walker was a dimpled beauty and her endorsement may seem strange until you consider the bonkers hair regimens that were used during these days of “the crowning glory.”

Mae Murray and May Allison keep it simple, extolling the virtues of this wonder product.

Blanche Sweet plays it cool. (Is she pleased with the product or the fee?) Gail Kane is more enthusiastic. Incidentally, these are two of my favorite 1910s leading ladies, so check them out in The Captive and The Heart of a Hero respectively.

Alice Brady returns to the idea of the product being easy to use. Mabel Normand’s endorsement leads me to believe she might have been a bit tongue in cheek. And as for Pauline Frederick’s claims of “stimulating after effects”… Do tell, Pauline, do tell!

So there you have it. Some talented women making a bit of coin on the side, as well they should have, and endorsing cocoanut oil. Obviously, the bob was on its way to universal popularity but was not quite there yet and there were still plenty of long-haired beauties. I do wonder if the new emphasis on clean hair hastened the demise of these luxuriant manes. I tend to think that it must have.

You can look up lots of swell clippings like these at the Media History Digital Library.

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6 Replies to “How Famous Silent Stars Kept Their Hair Beautiful (and Earned Some Cash as Spokesmodels)”

  1. This is so much fun- thanks for posting! I remember some older female relatives telling us that on the farm as girls they used a combination of raw egg, salt, and bicarb of soda for the washing, with squeezed lemon or other citrus to rinse, then clear water. Considering they had to pump all the water, then heat it on the stove, that’s a lot of time to wash your hair! I certainly like the idea of Watkins Mulsified Cocoanut Oil to save time and trouble.

    Agree that Mabel Normand’s ad copy is kind of silly/funny ala Ms. Normand 😉

  2. It is quite a homemade combo, definitely. Would have been nice to have cocoanut oil around, but they were on a farm, so “use what you have” was the order of the day.

    As you know, women and girls wore their hair long in those days (put up with dozens of pins into chignons, buns, or braids for everyday), so also remember being told (not to gross anyone out here) that they only washed their hair once a week, sometimes bimonthly. Boy, what a relief when ladies started bobbing their hair and had actual store-bought shampoo to wash it with!

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