In July 1970, the British listings magazine TV Times published a letter from a girl in her mid-teens, Miss D. Wild of Sandiacre, Nottinghamshire. She had written in to comment on an opinion piece from an earlier issue, in which the veteran scriptwriter Ted Willis wrote about the disciplinary efficacy of corporal punishment. Miss Wild’s interest arose from the fact that her mother ‘still believes a good spanking is the best deterrent’. She then went on to share one of her mother’s bon mots about the fashions of the day:
‘There is one thing about the mini-skirt: a naughty girl is self-prepared for a spanking, when it is necessary.’
I’ve always felt there was something a little dubious about that letter. Since the Victorian era, one of the less attractive habits of some fetishists has been to write to the press under false identities, expressing views about spanking that have little to do with the good that’s supposedly being done to the spanked girl, and everything to do with the writer’s sexual response to the scenario. And that slightly coy quote does hit my particular buttons so exactly…
I am always eager for authenticity, but maybe, just maybe, I shouldn’t suspect the letter. Because the spanking mother, if she really was a mother, expresses a venerable opinion, not about the mini-skirt but about skirts in general and the role they play, or don’t play, in a good spanking. To be precise, she would routinely lift the skirt out of the way and spank the naughty girl directly on the seat of her panties. So when Miss Wild, if she existed, took to wearing skirts with a fashionable 1970 hemline, and found herself over her mother’s knee, no skirt-lifting was required: her panties were already exposed, all ready for spanking.
My point is that, whatever the truth about Miss Wild and her letter, skirt-lifting wasn’t just a sexual fantasy: it is something that actually happened when naughty girls were spanked. To begin to prove it, let’s go back another sixty years and more, and delve into the forgotten annals of theatrical history and anecdotage. Our story concerns the temperamental French soprano Emma Calvé.
For three years, until 1909, she was managed by the great American impresario John Cort, later the founder of the Cort Theatre, New York. At some time during those years, Calvé threw a bigger than usual tantrum: midway through a show, she lay down on a sofa in her dressing room and flatly refused to go on for the second half. How did Cort deal with it? The tale was told by the British singer Marie Tempest in her memoirs:
Despite secretaries and dressers, John walked into her dressing room, turned up her frock and gave her a severe spanking.
She jumped up, threw her arms round her neck, kissed him and said, ‘What a man – I love you, Cort!’, walked on the stage and sang like an angel.
What most catches the attention today is the almost casual remark that he ‘turned up her frock’ to spank her. But it makes perfect sense in period context: it might have been indecorous to expose a lady’s bloomers like that, but with the amount of petticoats they wore in those days, how else could he have expected to make an impact?
And it happened onstage as well as off. In September 1909, six months after Calvé and Cort went their separate ways, actor Frank Graham introduced his one-act playlet The Girl from Albany as the opening item in the traveling vaudeville show, Kentucky Belles. The girl from Albany herself is ‘husky’ Rose Trouble, and she’s trouble by nature as well as name. The part was written for Ollie Francis, and Graham himself played her father.
The central joke was that the buxom Ollie was obviously not as young as the character she was playing – a bit like Fanny Brice’s ‘Baby Snooks’ act a generation later in the 1930s. Among the associated laughs – with the Baby Snooks analogy still holding up well here – was the sight of her getting a well-deserved spanking.
Not having been born in 1909, we’ll have to rely on the theatrical newspaper Variety to tell us all about it:
It’s such a pleasant diversion in a burlesque theatre to witness a man of matured age, and perhaps a trifle over, spank a young woman who weighs at least 175 pounds. One must admit this is something different in the ‘spicy’ line. The spanking is accomplished by the man lifting the hem of the woman’s short skirt, she playing a ‘kid’ at the time. While the process of spanking is administered, the woman is sprawling over the knees of the spanker, who is seated upon a couch. It is so clean and interesting in the full light on the stage, where the ages of the spanker and spankee cannot be missed.
So there we are again: a spanking with a raised skirt, but this time administered not in the privacy of a backstage dressing room, but in full view of an appreciative and laughing audience!
Now we leap forward two decades to the Roaring Twenties. In the intervening years, women’s fashions have been massively simplified and streamlined, and we can see both this development and its consequences for spanking if we compare Paulette Goddard’s mid-Victorian period costume (from 1942’s Reap the Wild Wind) with Sally O’Neil’s contemporary dress (from Don’t, a lost film of 1925).
When Ray Milland put Paulette across his knee, her crinoline rose of its own accord and, just as self-prepared as any mini-skirted teenybopper a century later, she got spanked on the seat of her long frilly pantalettes – not seen on screen…
… but lovingly reported in the press. But in 1925, no similar measures are necessary with Sally, who will feel the hairbrush well enough through the seat of her skirt and whatever else she may have on underneath it!
But maybe it doesn’t quite work when you’re dealing with the kind of stage dancer’s costume worn here by Josephine Dunn in the 1928 movie Excess Baggage.
We’re back to impact-absorbing frills… but maybe back to a bit of self-preparation too?
Josephine plays Elsa McCoy, a vaudeville dancer who becomes a movie star. William Haines plays Eddie Kane, a vaudeville acrobat who remains a vaudeville acrobat. The story deals with his professional and sexual jealousy of her and his loss of nerve after an accident.
It ends with their reconciliation and his comeback… but not before Elsa has been spanked more than once!
At least, that was the plan. The reviewer in Screenland said that Josephine had scored ‘a spanking success’ in the movie, but maybe she didn’t, correspondingly, get quite such a successful spanking. What happened in the cutting room is documented in a tantalizing sentence from William J. Mann’s 1998 biography of William Haines, Wisecracker:
Several spanking scenes between Billy and Josephine, especially one in which he deliberately lifts her skirts first, were trimmed back or excised completely.
What 1928 moviegoers weren’t allowed to see was:
We do know that Josephine was a good sport about showing off her panties:
But it is perhaps worth remembering that lifting a girl’s skirt doesn’t infallibly result in a panty spanking. Here’s Edna Murphy about to get the hairbrush from her father, played by Charlie Murray, in the film McFadden’s Flats (1927):
Could a raised skirt spanking be any more decorous? The unanswerable question being, did that decorum arise from the same censorious sensibility that resulted in the removal of Josephine Dunn’s skirt-up spanking from the release print of Excess Baggage? If these hadn’t been publicity photographs, would Edna Murphy been allowed the dignity of her petticoat… or would she have been spanked on her panties?
If we go forward another two decades, things begin to get a little risqué as the Forties advance toward the Fifties. Here’s a scene from the comedy Widow’s Walk, by Howard Richardson and Frances Goforth, which had a tryout at the Barter Theatre, Abingdon, Virginia, in August 1948. Another case of self-preparation coming up:
The actors are Guy Kibbee and his real-life daughter Shirley Kibbee, and the play is the stage debut for both her and her white panties!
The most this tells us is that, as before, it wasn’t completely unacceptable to see a girl’s panties while she was being spanked. But here exposure was unavoidable, and the key decision was what they gave the actress to wear in the first place, not what the spanker did with it once she was over his knee. But only a few months before Widow’s Walk opened (and then sunk without trace), studio publicists did something more demonstrative in the stills sequence they arranged for the Ring Lardner movie So This is New York.
The story concerns the culture shock that befalls a 1920s family when it moves from a small town to the big city. One memorable sequence concerns a disastrously awful stage play in which the sister-in-law, played by Dona Drake, has a small part as a housemaid, in the kind of outfit that maids only wear in disastrously awful stage plays:
Here’s the scene – but don’t watch it expecting to see her get spanked!
She stays in that little dress for the rest of the film, and ends her role on a freeze-frame that shows what we’ve all been waiting to see:
Of course, the publicists knew exactly what Dona Drake contributed to the film’s appeal, so once they got her into the photography studio, she was asked to pose like this:
Then they brought in her brother-in-law, played by Henry Morgan, and got her to make some advances…
… to which he responded first thus…
… and then thus:
And the image continued to sell the picture when it was rereleased under a new title in 1953, even though it related to nothing at all in the film!
1950 saw the opening of Nancy Mitford’s English version of André Roussin’s French farce, The Little Hut, to which she added a spanking scene that we’ll explore in more detail in a future article in the Sunday theater series. For now, we’ll just notice that the characters are underdressed, stranded as they are on a desert island, and that the spanking scene entailed Susan becoming even more underdressed! Here are Roland Culver and Anne Vernon in the 1953 New York production:
The hard-boiled heroes of Fifties thriller novels were also not above reducing the protective covering of the ladies they chose to spank. Take Norman Conquest, the so-called ‘gay desperado’ who featured in no fewer than 51 novels written by Berkeley Gray between 1938 and 1969.
In Dare-Devil Conquest (1950), he comes off worst in an encounter with glamorous Nadina Borodin. Afterwards, he says he wants to meet her again. ‘And when I do meet her again, the first thing I’ll do is to take her across my knee, lift up her skirts and smack her bottom.’
When that second meeting happens, she threatens Conquest with a gun – which turns out to be loaded.
‘Dangerous little devil, aren’t you?’
He pocketed the gun, seized hold of the startled Nadina and sat down on the lounge. Her struggles were futile in his steely grip.
Laying her face downwards across his knees, he pulled up her skirt and delivered half a dozen resounding slaps on her nylon panties. She was so surprised, and so outraged, that she even forgot to struggle and kick.
‘I promised to give myself this pleasure at our next meeting,’ said Norman as he calmly readjusted her skirt and stood her on her feet. ‘Not that you don’t deserve something far more severe than a slapping.’
Nadina’s face was twisted. ‘You hurt me!’ she said, rubbing a small hand over her rear. ‘How dare you take such liberties? No gentleman does such things to a lady.’
‘Agreed, Mademoiselle Borodin,’ chuckled Norman as he smiled into her reddened face. But I am not a gentleman, and I don’t think you are a lady. However, let’s forget it.’
She was looking at him with a new expression on her face. A moment earlier she had been indignant and angry – as any girl might who has just had her bottom smacked by a stranger – and a male stranger at that – a male who was high, wide and handsome. The enormity of the outrage had been intensified by the fact that he had lifted her clothes. But she was looking at him with wide-eyed admiration. He was so strong – so virile – so masterful.
The novel was later made into the 1953 film Park Plaza 605 – the name of the hotel room that’s crucial in the action – with Tom Conway as Conquest and Fifties sex kitten Eva Bartok as Nadina. Here she is:
And here she is with Conway making the film:
The screenplay uses much of the same dialog as in the novel, but the initial threat is cut off before he can say he’s going to lift her skirt, which, as you can see, he didn’t, either for the on-set publicity shot or the filmed scene itself:
The spanking scene as written was considered simply too strong for the screen, and the result was an equal and opposite reaction: before Conquest’s hand falls, the camera pans away to an ornament, the animated figurine of a laughing Buddha…
… whose right hand moves up and down as if to mimic the seven smacks we hear on the soundtrack. We then cut back to Conquest just in time to see Nadina getting up and rubbing her sore bottom:
And that decision, no doubt, helped to ensure that Park Plaza 605 was passed by the British film censor uncut!
So evidently it was still the case that you could get away with more in print and on stage than you could in the cinema. The point is reinforced by Jack Monmouth’s novel Lonely, Lovely Lady (1956)…
… whose title character is variously described as ‘a vision of female glamor’ and ‘a tall, willowy strawberry blonde’. She’s an upcoming actress named Barbara Maidment who is taking the casting couch route to stardom, and whom the hero is trying to talk out of her life of sin, much to her displeasure. After she goes to slip into something more comfortable – a flowered robe in jade silk – there’s a fight scene with one of the villains, and Barbara gets involved, on the wrong side. And how does the hero handle it?
I rushed her, bent her body over my knee, and started giving her the spanking of her life. She pulled up my trouser leg and sunk her teeth into the back of my calf. I wrenched her away by the hair, then I lifted her robe up over her bottom and spanked her till the palm of my hand tingled, pinning her legs down with one of my own. There was nothing between her bottom and my striking palm but a pair of black, lace-trimmed nylon panties. It must have hurt plenty, but she didn’t scream.
Then there’s Hell of a Dame! (1960), a novel in the British (but pseudo-American) ‘Hank Janson’ series.
The heroine is Titian-haired Nadia Fortescue – obviously not the girl depicted on the cover – and journalist Janson takes a fancy to her in the course of his investigation. But at one point she says something he disapproves of, and he tells her that if she carries on talking like that, ‘you stand a good chance of learning what it’s like to go across a strong man’s knee and have your bottom soundly slapped’. That initiates a thread that runs through the book, reaching the payoff only in the very last pages. Tracing the whole thing would take too long here – maybe we’ll revisit it another time – but the most important exchange comes after she has slapped his face:
‘It’s time men got rid of that arrogant notion that only their sex is tough enough to buck risks. Look at me again, Hank Janson.’
‘If you’re going to make a habit of it, honey, you better be tough enough to buck the risk of what I threatened you with before, going bottom up under my manly hand.’
‘Look at me all the same.’
I did again. She gave me one of those quick firm kisses. I said, ‘That’s my honey.’
Wham again. ‘That’s for more arrogance in talking about slapping my bottom.’
‘Watch out I don’t make my boast good. And I don’t even promise you a skirt between hand and briefs.’
And for the rest of the book, the book dangles the erotic prospect of Nadia across Janson’s knee with her skirt up, being thoroughly spanked on the seat of her pale blue panties.
Mild as they seem today, the Janson books pushed right to the limits of what was acceptable in Fifties Britain, and were often prosecuted for obscenity. And indeed, most of the post-war examples we’re been looking at are to some degree self-consciously risqué, a point that emerges most starkly in the juxtaposition of Dare-Devil Conquest in print with its toned-down big-screen version. We can also find skirt-up spankings in other genres with a ‘naughty’ edge to them, like seaside postcards…
… racy cartoons…
… and men’s adventure magazines:
None of which necessarily gets us any closer to the actual practice of spanking in real life, because what’s happening in these examples has a sexual dimension that has nothing to do with the ostensible purpose of the spanking. For undoubted authenticity, we have to go into a much more artificial world, where, by a happy coincidence, the most significant examples date from the year we’ve just reached in our survey: 1960.
Ballet has many pleasures to offer, but the one that’s most relevant here is:
So ballet is often going to be a genre of self-preparation:
That’s what we find in Jack Sparling’s 1960 newspaper comic strip Honor Eden, whose title character runs a New York boarding house for working girls away from home. And no, ‘working girls’ is not a euphemism. In the inaugural story, two of Honor’s tenants are rich girl Nina Rhodes and hillbilly Hildy Williams, respectively a ballerina and a folk singer, whom we first meet scrapping over a boy:
The reason Nina threw Brett’s picture in the trash is that he wants her to give up her career on the stage, but that doesn’t mean she’ll sit by and see Hildy to take him over. As the feud continues, Hildy disappears (it turns out that she tried to gas herself), but Nina’s reaction is callous.
Brett now takes a hand…
… and maybe Nina has cause to wish she had given up ballet after all, because…
And this is the ‘family-friendly’ genre of newspaper comics!
But one ballet girl who doesn’t wear a tutu and therefore isn’t self-prepared is Lise in the evergreen La Fille Mal Gardée. The version with the spanking scene, choreographed by Frederick Ashton, also premiered in 1960. You couldn’t find a more wholesome work if you tried, and Ashton certainly had not a jot of sexual interest in the spanking, because he was gay. But when Lise’s mother puts her across her knee, guess what?
That’s a standard element of the Ashton choreography, seen in productions all over the world, and more than anything else Fille establishes definitively the absolute authenticity of skirt-up spanking as something more than just a pleasant sexual fantasy. Only ten years later, Miss D. Wild was learning from her mother about the disadvantages of the mini-skirt.
And that means skirt-lifting, as a ‘normal’ element of a spanking, will crop up from time to time across the full range of mainstream situations. In 1974, for example, Kit Carson High School in Colorado produced John Henderson’s comedy We Dude It, in which one of the characters is a monstrous brat called Stinkey. Here she is played by Connie Bergman:
You might want to note what appear to be decorative rosebuds around the hem of her skirt – because that makes it clear where the same hem is in the next picture, wherein Stinkey gets some attention from Miss Padgett, played by Nadene Steiner:
Yes, the ‘attention’ is being administered on the seat of her white panties – and in a school production too!
More recently, skirts have been lifted in a genre where the performances are every bit as artificial as classical ballet: professional wrestling.
Then there’s reality television, where things are maybe a little more spontaneous… aren’t they?
In the 2005 Armand van Helden/Spalding Rockwell pop video of Hear My Name, most of the spankings were given on the girls’ panties:
Amber Burgess’s Lilli Vanessi was spanked on her red panties in the justly famous 2008 production of Kiss Me Kate in Nappanee, Indiana:
The same year, that excellent actress Mary-Louise Parker got similar treatment in the TV comedy Weeds:
There’s even a place for panty spanking in political protests!
… though arguably Central and Eastern Europe present a special case that calls for individual treatment another time.
All this leaves us with an interesting paradox. Naughty girls are routinely spanked on their panties, enhancing the efficiency and humiliation of the punishment; but no garment is more routinely eroticized than panties, so to expose them is also, unavoidably, to sexualize the spanking. So panty spanking precisely defines the borderline between the mainstream and erotica, partaking equally of both. In England and America, at least, it is as far as you can go before, with the introduction of nudity, the balance tips in the direction of sexuality.
And that means bad girls everywhere need to remember the terrible fate of the lady in the limerick:
There was a young lady of Shoreham
Who was spanked for a fault of decorum.
When he lifted her skirt
It didn’t half hurt.
Her fault was, she just never wore ’em.
Whether your attire leaves you self-prepared or not, ladies, don’t leave home without ’em!