The Great Profile

For a long time, it has been imagined that Hollywood glamor girl Mary Beth Hughes (1919-95) must have had some kind of a built-in spanking avoidance device.

31 Mary Beth Hughes

In 1941, for example, she played one of the title roles in The Cowboy and the Blonde, which so obviously should have included a spanking scene that it often appears on lists of movies that did. The regrettable truth is that nothing of the sort happened. She also played a bad girl in Free, Blonde and 21 (1940), but ended up in jail rather than over somebody’s knee. And from the 1960s until as late as 1992, television screenings of her 1940 backstage movie The Great Profile, in which she and John Barrymore played a married couple, were regularly previewed with the following summary of its tale of a difficult theatrical engagement:

Barrymore’s high jinks run rampant as he forgets the script and plunges into adlib, climaxed by the spanking of his wife.

But all those newspaper sub-editors across America who kept on digging out that one-liner from the files, year in, year out, had never bothered to watch the film.

However, the story of The Great Profile is not only about misinformation in perpetual circulation, and it will disprove the notion that Miss Hughes bore a charmed life when it came to the security of her rear end.

During 1939, 20th Century Fox had been developing a movie about Evans Garrick, an ageing alcoholic actor with marital troubles, who tries to achieve a reconciliation with his wife by appearing with her in a stinker of a play. Adolphe Menjou had been cast to play the lead. But then the papers filled with the story of an ageing alcoholic actor who was dumped by his wife after they costarred together in a rather poor play: John Barrymore, whose tour of My Dear Children was disrupted by a celebrated casting hassle when his wife and costar Elaine Barrie walked out after being spanked too realistically onstage.

Someone at the studio had a bright idea that would simultaneously avoid a libel suit and garner valuable publicity for the picture. Menjou was paid off and John Barrymore was hired to replace him, with Mary Beth Hughes playing his wife. The script was rewritten to make it more obviously a Barrymore vehicle, which included entitling it The Great Profile – a phrase that was a byword for Barrymore himself.

32 Great Profile

Barrymore bought himself out of the New York run of My Dear Children in the expectation that a movie salary would solve his financial problems, and arrived in Hollywood to begin making the film on June 8.

As the movie begins, Evans Garrick has disappeared while making a film version of Macbeth, forcing the production into a suspension. On his return, his wife, Sylvia Manners, leaves him and he also receives news that the studio has fired him: ruin awaits around the next corner. But so does salvation, or so it seems: he is approached by a young woman, Mary Maxwell (Anne Baxter), who wants him to read her play, The Beloved Transgressor, which comes with finance already arranged. Of course, the cash is obviously more important to him than the quality of the play. But he also sees an opportunity to get Sylvia back, so he announces to the press that they will star in the play together – even though he has neither read the script nor asked Sylvia.

When the play opens in Chicago, with Garrick as a washed-up painter and Sylvia as his wife, the first-night audience breaks all records in the speed with which it nods off to sleep. Garrick knows the play is dire and his nerves get the better of him after the first act, with the result that, when he makes his entrance for the second, he is hopelessly drunk and has to ad lib his way through, complete with a generous helping of wisecracks directed to the audience, who duly wake up and begin to enjoy themselves.

The improvisation grows progressively more outrageous, until an especially offensive remark provokes Sylvia into pinching his leg. A chase around the stage follows, with Garrick obviously bent on reprisals when he catches her…

And what happens when he catches her was the very first scene they shot. Barrymore walked onto the set and met Mary Beth Hughes for the first time.

Five minutes later, she couldn’t sit down.

The studio lost no time in taking and issuing a publicity still of the scene, which found its way into the newspapers within days:

And the studio publicists saw the opportunity for a juicy little anecdote:

Two difficulties followed in quick succession. In mid-June, the Hays Office banned the spanking photograph; it was never seen again (until now). And days later, the authors of My Dear Children decided the spanking itself was a cash-in too far. If Fox wanted to include the spanking scene, their lawyers argued, the studio would have to buy the rights to the whole play – for $20,000! Now, much as you and I might have retorted that there was nothing unique about a spanking scene and that lots of other plays and movies had featured them, Fox decided to avoid litigation and reshot the scene to change one gross indignity for another. Mary Beth Hughes joined the ranks of Hollywood actresses who were spanked for nothing.

In the finished movie, Garrick doesn’t get as far as spanking Sylvia when he catches her. He grabs ahold of her skirt…

… and it comes away in his hand:

The stage manager calls urgently for the curtain, and Sylvia walks out of the play, headed for Reno to file for a quickie divorce. The show itself, however, gets rave reviews.

The Great Profile was released at the end of August, and many newspaper previews emphasized the spanking scene, notwithstanding the fact that it had been dropped months before. But not all punters were destined for disappointment. Some movie theaters played it in a double bill, the other half of which was… Public Deb No. 1!

59 Public Deb

The 39 Steps: Still No Spanking (Never Mind)


Time to revisit Patrick Barlow’s comical stage adaptation of The 39 Steps, in which the mysterious and beautiful Annabella staggers onto the stage with a knife in her back and falls dead across Richard Hannay in what is usually, though not always, a perfect OTK, or rather Faux-TK, position.

It’s an appealing image, sometimes with extra dynamism as she pitches forward into place and then undergoes her final death struggle.

The effect is often enhanced by the expression on her face, variously conveying shock at her predicament…

or bemusement…

not to mention the kind of naked horror that is supposed to convey that she’s dying,

but can also look as though she’s realized that she’s about to be spanked:

The point is that Hannay is trapped in the chair, so sometimes his hands are pinned down:

But when they’re in the right place, the illusion is complete:

Of course, Annabella doesn’t actually get spanked, but in rehearsal, a playful actor has a perfect opportunity!

And that also illustrates the pleasant variety you get from a rehearsal shot: modern dress.

But even onstage, some productions are less than punctilious about the use of 1930s period costume.

And some, particularly in central Europe, have Annabella in an appealing state of undress as she meets her doom.

But he most remarkable of all must be the 2012 production at Koblenz, in the uncompromising style of modern German theater, in which Annabella wound up OTK in a lurex leotard:

The image is so striking that it’s worth viewing the trailer to get a closer look (twice):

As always, with imagery this good, who needs spanking?

Photographer of the Week: Paulie Mendonca

Paulie Mendonca has run Freakshow Fotography since 2013, establishing himself as an able pin-up photographer based in Woburn, Massachusetts.

He often combines girls with motors:

Not much of a hot rod, is it? But the pin-up genre does sometimes entail part of a model getting hot. In this case, the model in question was Jenny Mostly:

Well, I guess that’s one way of getting it hot. But now Christmas is over, she’ll have to rely on the assistance of her fellow model Sherri Berri, like so:

If you are interested in Paulie’s work, please visit the Freakshow Instagram page.

Batted on the Bot

In the city center of Niigata, in northern Japan, there is a street in honor of the veteran manga artist Shinji Mizushima, who happens to be Niigata-born. His best-known work deals with baseball, and the street in question contains statues of some of his characters, including batsman Taro Yamada.

Late in 2014, the publisher and calligrapher Shinya Nishihara started an art project based around this particular statue. He encouraged girls to pose with it:

The objective is to make it look as if the statue is whacking them on the bottom.

Hence the name of the project: Ketsu Bat Girl – ‘Ketsu’ being Japanese for the part of the girls’ anatomy that’s getting the bat.

Many of the girls really entered into the spirit of it, pulling a lovely range of ‘just whacked’ faces:

And they often illustrated the sheer force of Yamada’s imaginary whacking…

… by launching themselves bodily into the air!

So, no home run for Taro Yamada.

No sore bottoms for the Ketsu Bat Girls.

But they do get our admiration and applause for their inventiveness, as does Shinya Nishihara, for thinking up the idea in the first place!

Rice Pudding

What’s to be done with a spoiled heiress who is determined to be married, but successively jilts three prospective husbands at the altar? That’s the problem that vexes the troubled parents of Monica Vieytes (Malisa Zini, above) in the Argentinian screwball comedy, Arroz con Leche (1950), named after Monica’s favorite dish, rice pudding. The answer is, obviously, send her away for a while so they can make an effort to repair her reputation in her home town of Buenos Aires. At least she will be accompanied into exile by her faithful butler, Silvestre, who is an expert maker of rice pudding (but otherwise culinarily clueless).

The movie is based on a stage play by Carlos Noti, Noche in Viena (Night in Vienna), about which almost nothing is known – including whether or not it features a spanking scene. You’ll have guessed already that the film is headed in that direction, but the matter remains in doubt as far as the original play is concerned because the screen adaptation evidently made a number of alterations to the story, not least of which is the setting. Jilt-happy Monica’s not sent away to Vienna but to Bariloche, a skiing resort in the Andes, and the story gets going when, en route, some friends tell her that a single woman has no chance of being seduced there: the local lounge lizards only go for targets who are safely married.

So when she arrives, Señorita Vieytes checks into the hotel under an alias: Señora Byron, wife of the well-known but, until now, thought to be unmarried, local lawyer Gustavo Augusto Byron, played by Angel Magaña. She then meets a young man she fancies, Raul (Esteban Serrador), and persuades him that, despite his upstanding public image, Dr Byron is really a drunken wife-beater. This creates trouble for Byron, who is busy trying to woo a pretty nightclub singer. And the complications really mount up when Raul asks him to give his ‘wife’ a divorce.

Let’s cut a long story short. The crisis comes with a confrontation between Byron and Monica, in the course of which he tells her he’d never marry someone like her, someone who’s no woman but a naughty little girl. Monica slaps his face, and the immediate consequence is:

In the original shooting script, this was a straightforward sequence played out across three shots: he puts her across his knee and spanks her, then (shot 2) Silvestre the butler comes in and (shot 3) he lets her go. But when the scene was filmed (on July 17, 1950), they decided to make it into something more substantial. The first addition was a moment just after she has hit him, when she realizes what she has done, backs away and is chased around the sofa. He puts her across his knee and starts to spank her, and then the shot changes as he continues to spank.

She takes the only possible form of retaliation, and sinks her teeth into his thigh.

He tips her off his lap, and the shot changes again. She makes a grab for his ankles and they end up struggling on the floor, with him continuing to smack her bottom from a much less convenient angle while, in the background, enter Silvestre. Cut to favor Silvestre as he realizes what’s going on, then intercut with the pair on the carpet. Finally, Byron gets Monica back across his knee and spanks her some more:

From a fairly simple scripted scene, the spanking grew into a little one-minute epic. Here it is:

And in the end, Monica does succeed in getting her man – only it’s Byron, not Raul. And to ensure that she doesn’t run away at the altar again, he takes the precaution of bringing a pair of handcuffs…

Photographer of the Week: Jay-p Sedan

Jay-p Sedan, based in Montreal, is an artful alternative photographer who specializes in shooting women.

I love their sensual beauty, I love the way they can be sweet, tender and sexy all in one shot, but profound and distant in the next shoot.

Another of his loves is the pin-up era of photography:

A woman wearing full-fashioned stockings, high heels and sporting victory rolls is pure art in my view!

But he also enjoys other styles, and the shoot that particularly interests us is an offbeat thematic one entitled ‘Blasphemous’.

Let’s meet those models properly. First, Karine Richard, looking a lot less chaste than for Jay-p’s lens (or her own ecclesiastical cell):

And here’s Kathleen Gallagher, looking a lot less naughty:

Here she is being naughty:

Wicked, naughty, evil Kathleen! And in the Convent Anthrax, there is but one punishment for attacking a nun with a crucifix:

If you are interested in Jay-p’s work, please visit his website.

The Sexual Politics of Santa Claus

In the weeks leading up to Christmas 2017, there were two separate media rows on opposite sides of the world, both about the same subject: Santa Claus and his well-documented propensity for smacking naughty girls’ bottoms.

Various retailers in South Yorkshire, England, were selling this new entry in the ‘Christmas sweater’ stakes:

The image was adapted from this 2014 animated cartoon of Kim Kardashian, which you can read more about here.


But a possible lack of originality turned out to be the least of the sweater’s problems, after an outraged mother made a fuss, and several papers ran a piece headlined  ‘Is this Britain’s RUDEST Christmas jumper?‘ The article, which was probably not the finest example of local journalism known to humanity, attempted to describe the offending knitwear, playing up its (actually very mild) erotic content and trying hard to impute an element of sadism:

The knitted top shows a laughing Santa Claus bringing his hand down on the backside of a dark-haired woman sprawled across his knee. The woman, dressed in neon pink pants and a bra, appears to be yelping out in pain.

And then it was over to the complainant herself, who didn’t want her name published but did favor the reporter with a choice example of what might be called the preemptive disclaimer:

‘I’m no prude but is it really suitable that there’s Christmas jumpers showing Santa spanking a woman in this day and age?’

Well, Mrs Anonymous of Barnsley, you are a prude and we should call out the illiberal attitudes underlying your remarks. But first, let’s go to the Antipodes for our second case, which was on a somewhat larger scale.

The Australian lingerie chain Honey Birdette is often criticized for its raunchy imagery, and it drew particular ire for its Christmas 2016 campaign which featured Santa in bondage. To show exactly how unrepentant it was, the firm recruited Santa again the following year… only this time he was a ‘spanking Santa’.

Needless to say, this isn’t spanking in the strictest sense of the term, and indeed you might not immediately spot Santa’s open hand poised over the girl’s shapely rear. But there is a ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ smacked bottom in the associated promo video:

The campaign photograph went up on store fronts in malls across Australia. And a legion of angry moms went on the warpath. Let’s hear from a feminist activist and mother from Canberra:

‘This advertisement is just sick. It is degrading to women and girls and teaches men and boys that this kind of behaviour is acceptable. Santa is displaying predatory behaviour, he is engaging in sexual touching, he is spanking one of the women’s nearly bare bum and snapping her underwear. And the woman in the poster doesn’t exactly look too thrilled about what he is doing to her, so there is that element of harassment, force and power as well.’

There are two reasons why it’s difficult and dangerous for people who find especial enjoyment in spanking imagery to respond to this kind of attack. The first is that there is always the risk that we may be, or appear to be, merely defending our own pleasure. I have no patience with hypocrisy on any side of an argument, and I can only try to be as objective and honest as possible, and not pretend to be speaking for anyone else but myself.

And the second reason is that you’re sometimes not engaging with people who are altogether rational. Let’s hear from another Canberra mother who is also a freelance photographer specializing in shots of very young children. Her portfolio shows that she’s good at her job, and she would probably be embarrassed to find her name here, so I won’t give it. But she should be embarrassed – nay, ashamed – by the ‘reasoning’ she offered to the press:

‘It’s well known that exposing children to sexually explicit material is child abuse – it would be like child abuse if my kids walked past this image.’

I can’t claim any expertise in pediatrics, though I do believe that it’s unhealthy to keep children entirely insulated from the complexities and mysteries of the adult world. Mrs Anonymous Prude of Barnsley said: ‘If I had been with my children, I would have been left trying to explain what was going on because they are full of questions.’ Yes, Mrs Prude, and isn’t it your job as a parent to answer their questions and help them to understand the world they live in, even the silly things like Santa spanking? But to equate a slightly risque display in a public place with child abuse…?

These are people who have no sense of proportion or of scale. This means they can’t tell the difference between porn and, on the other hand, mainstream material with an erotic dimension or impact. Broadening the point, it also means they can’t tell the difference between diverse kinds of behavior: what is criminal, what is sleazy, what is merely impolite and what is high-spirited and harmless. These qualitatively different things are conflated, largely on the basis of the offense they all give to the complainant.

So a lot of this is about projection, the psychological process whereby people treat their own subjective responses to the world as objective and inherent features of it. They don’t want to understand the world, in all its diversity, on its own terms; they want their own reaction to the world to be the defining factor in everybody’s conception of it. All of which may be summed up by saying that they are fundamentally and egregiously illiberal.

This is a complex issue with several layers to it. For people disposed to believe that all sexy imagery is ‘sexist’, the very existence of a lingerie chain in public shopping malls is provocative, but this wasn’t overtly a blanket campaign aiming to close Honey Birdette down. The specific target was the store’s Christmas advertising, centering on the question: who owns Santa Claus?

Santa is a children’s character, it is proposed, so Santa imagery should be G-rated. That’s not an entirely unreasonable argument, but you could equally well say that nowadays, like it or not, the figure of Santa is general cultural property, not exclusive to any one group, and it is undeniable that he is widely used in a variety of different contexts, some of them mildly sexual. It’s not as if Honey Birdette was doing anything with Santa that isn’t being done by others all over the world. Sometimes including…

And the focus of the maternal campaign wasn’t on all of Honey Birdette’s Santa pictures, but on one in particular, the bottom-smacking or so-called ‘spanking’ image. The various other sexy poses didn’t rate a specific mention: this one was the principal provocation. To a significant number of people in the modern world, unfortunately, spanking is toxic.

That’s partly because it is perceived as infantilizing the spanked woman, who is then taken as the representative of her entire gender, so that to demean or degrade one woman is to demean and degrade them all, fully half of our species. Partly, I expect, it also sparks latent fears of being spanked, which would explain why, for example, some unfortunate young women have reported feeling physical nausea when watching the spanking scene in Kiss Me Kate.

But when it occurs in narrative and the visual arts, spanking is a imaginative trope, not a recommendation for how you should treat the women you meet in your everyday life: pictures and stories don’t always ‘teach’ us how to behave. And in any event, what is represented in one piece of imagery, or one genre of imagery, doesn’t constitute an attempt to define the whole world. Looking at sexy images of women may well entail an element of objectification, but if it does, the objectification is local and particular, not general and universal – for if it were, it would place regular heterosexual men under a severe social disability when it comes to interacting with women.

Are we under such a disability? Is there really any evidence at all to suggest that exposure to spanking imagery in particular induces men to spank women?

Well, OK, maybe just a little…

The spanking Santa rows happened in the midst of a moral panic. It grew out of ongoing revelations about the predatory sexual behavior of a number of well-known media figures back in the 1970s, which started to come out in 2011; but the Harvey Weinstein case and the #metoo movement that sprang up in late 2017 made it impossible to maintain the stance that this kind of thing belonged to the bad old days that we have outgrown ‘in this day and age’ (as Mrs Prude put it). The outcome was that some nasty cases were brought to light; but also that many much more minor forms of sexual behavior and misbehavior became demonized. Nobody decent would want anyone (of either gender) to be raped, or to be refused a job because they won’t grant sexual favors; but surely we also don’t want to build a society where people are afraid to flirt with one another because they fear that doing so might be perceived as sexual harassment?

Feminism has achieved a lot of things that are good for humanity. We now take it for granted that people should not be deemed to be inferior to others, paid less than others, treated less well than others, for no better reason than that they belong to a particular gender. Hurrah for that. But the particular shade of feminism that supposes tropes and imagery somehow define and delimit the real world, that encourages people to equate social and moral seriousness with negative-mindedness, fault-finding and umbrage-taking, that accords more importance to an unproven theory than it does to actual human happiness and well-being: never mind spanking, that illiberal brand of feminism really is toxic.