The Ubiquity of Hairbrushes

Which famous movie spanking does this drawing represent?

Unless you already happen to know, you could be forgiven for not guessing that it comes from a newspaper ad for Public Deb No. 1 (1940), in which spoiled soup heiress Penny Cooper (Brenda Joyce) is publicly spanked in a Russian restaurant by patriotic waiter Alan Blake (George Murphy).

In the scene as it appears onscreen, Penny is wearing a black dress and Alan is in pseudo-Cossack garb to suit the theme of the restaurant.

Maybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised by the white dress in the drawing, since it helps the artist keep the two figures distinct. Maybe the tux makes sense as an attempt to represent a waiter without having to go into the exact particulars of the story, in which it’s relevant that he’s dressed as a Russian. But the third anomaly is more puzzling: the hairbrush!

The answer partly lies in its being commonplace, almost ubiquitous. The earliest reference I’ve found to someone being spanked with a hairbrush dates from the 1860s, so by the time of Public Deb it was a venerable instrument of domestic punishment. Parents used it to spank their daughters.

Husbands used it to spank their wives.

Though wives didn’t always take it lying down:

So if a naughty girl was going to be spanked, there was a very fair chance that what she’d be feeling was the back of the hairbrush.

One woman who could testify to that was New York nightclub hostess Marcia Estardus.

05a Marcia Estardus

At New Year’s 1927, she found herself at a party in the apartment of the notorious millionaire Harry K. Thaw. She also found herself across his knee making the acquaintance of ‘a great big hairbrush’:

Exactly why Thaw did it never came out in the ensuing assault trial, because he refused to testify in his own defense lest the other side should delve into his shady past, and so ended up paying $75,000 damages. But it’s reasonable to infer a sexual motive, especially since the incident also involved the partial tearing off of her clothes. So it’s not entirely unexpected to find the hairbrush making appearances not only in straightforward representations of mainstream social behavior, but also in the ‘spicy’ literature of the late 1940s, whose pretence of social realism was as scanty as the girls’ outfits:

And from thence it’s only a short trip to the 1950s fetish photography of Irving Klaw, which, being bespoke, was rather hit or miss. Naturally I’ve selected examples that tend to fall somewhere near the ‘hit’ side, though it’s the quality of the models’ work that stands out rather than that of the photography.

It would have been an astonishing fluke if Klaw’s most iconic model had got away without an occasional encounter with the brush:

And so the implement also found its way into the modern ‘Bettie Page’ genre of glamor photography.

And now that we’ve definitively crossed the border between the social to the sexual world, we can look at a modern example of hairbrush spanking in television comedy: the 1997 anthology show Tracey Takes On, in which Janie Pillsworth (Tracey Ullman) has a secret desire to be spanked, and in particular to be spanked with a hairbrush. Her husband won’t cooperate and DIY proves unsatisfactory:

But a newspaper ad for ‘Perfect Punishments’ leads to her to the professional help of Stuart (Ron Perlman), who grants her wish:

By the looks of it, it may have hurt more than she expected!

And, if you’ll pardon the expression, there’s the rub. Outside of kink, a hairbrush spanking is something a girl really doesn’t want to happen to her.

12 Grand Ole Opry 1940

If she encounters an irate father, or husband, or boyfriend wielding the brush, on spanking bent,

then there’s only one thing for it:

13 1950

And that starts to explain a mystery that we’ll be pursuing in the next part of this article.

3 thoughts on “The Ubiquity of Hairbrushes

  1. Danny says:

    Thanks for this! Whenever I see, or even here the word: hairbrush— I become aroused. I wish john Wayne had spanked Maureen O’Hara with a hairbrush. (McLintock!)— instead of that silly shovel.
    I can only surmise that a male hand on the seat of a woman’s pantaloons was a touch too far for the censor. And, on the other side, I bet John had issues about running around with a feminine implement. Once again: Thanks!


  2. Danny says:

    Thinking about it, I suppose that Wayne chasing Maureen with a hairbrush, during that extended sequence, would have left the audience in no doubt what the finale would be.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.