Cast & Crew
Erle C. Kenton
Larry "buster" Crabbe
Larry Williams and Jean Strange are both released from prison after taking the rap for an oil stock scam while their accomplice, Dan Healy, profited. Larry quickly develops a scheme to recruit Olympic swimming champions Barbara Hilton and Don Jackson, who are sweethearts, as editors for a revived health and fitness magazine with Healy as publisher. With the purchase of the magazine comes Health Acres, an overgrown resort and ten-acre farm. Barbara and Don soon discover Williams and Healy aim to increase circulation by printing titillating composite photos of women and by taking ads from health quacks. Don counters their efforts by sponsoring an international beauty and health contest, giving his word to contestants that his operation is legitimate. Barbara calls Don home from Europe when she finds Williams and Healy printing torrid sex stories in the magazine and her cousin Sally relishing them. Although Barbara and ethics committee member Reverend Rankin vote to censor the stories, they lose, and circulation triples. Don's moral arguments eventually cause Healy to give him a controlling interest in Health Acres and the money to fix it up in exchange for Don's stock in the magazine. Don and Barbara then refurbish the resort and invite the winners of the contest to perform in the opening pageant and act as health instructors for the guests. Jean makes herself indispensable during the remodelling and Don gives her ten-percent interest in Health Acres. At the opening, Healy and Williams try to taint the resort's reputation by distributing racy pictures of women to the male patrons, while Jean excites the female clientele with photos of handsomely built men. After the pageant, in which the international athletes perform exercises in unison to music, the patrons invite them to parties in their rooms. When Barbara finds Sally dancing in her underwear for a group of drunken guests, she saves Sally by taking her place, and is unable to free herself from lurid demands that she continue to rumba. Two male athletes tell Don about the party and a group of them break it up. Barbara, who has felt threatened by Don's attentions toward Jean, breaks her partnership with him, but he proposes and they kiss. Williams wakes Jean and she sees Don and Barbara in the moonlight. The next morning, all the guests are dragged out of bed for calisthenics. When Williams and Healy refuse to comply, they call a stock vote and Jean sides with them. Barbara then reveals that Jean's ten-percent was for the farm only. She drew up the contract with the help of Rankin, who is really from the Department of Justice. Healy, Williams, and Jean are then forced to exercise.
Erle C. Kenton
Larry "buster" Crabbe
Frank Mcglynn Sr.
William Norton Bailey
E. Lloyd Sheldon
Search for Beauty
Robert Armstrong, best known for King Kong (1933), trades on his reputation for playing fast-talking hucksters in this low comedy about three con artists looking for an easy set-up. Armstrong stars as newly released convict Larry Williams, who meets up with sidekick Jean Strange, also just out of the big house. The two had taken the rap in an oil scam for their pal Danny Healy, who became rich as a result. Larry's new brainstorm is to take advantage of the health craze surrounding the 1932 Olympics by publishing a fitness magazine, Health and Exercise. He convinces Jean to join him in his scheme, which will be bankrolled by Danny, who owes them. Larry sees the fitness magazine as a legitimate reason to showcase "skin" in the form of scantily clad athletes doing exercises. To legitimize Health and Exercise, Larry hires two Olympic athletes, Don Jackson and Barbara Hilton, as editors.
Don and Barbara take their commitment to health issues seriously; they constantly battle Larry over the shady gimmicks and salacious photos he wants to include in Health and Fitness. When Larry and Danny send Don on a trip around the world in search of perfect youth, only Barbara and Rev. Rankin, who is on the advisory board, are left to fight for the integrity of the magazine. When Larry returns with 30 of the worlds' most perfect athletes, he and Barbara leave their positions as editors to take over a fitness farm and hotel owned by the magazine. They vow to make a success out of the hotel by using the 30 athletes as exercise instructors, but Larry, Danny, and Jean have conflicting plans.
The cast of Search for Beauty includes a variety of big-screen performers. Though Armstrong's character first discusses his idea with Jean, played by Gertrude Michael, he spends his time scheming with Danny, played by character actor James Gleason. Gleason and Armstrong are like a comedy team, parroting each other verbally and providing most of the jokes. Young Ida Lupino, who was only 17, costars as the intelligent, mature Barbara. Paramount's promotion for Lupino emphasized that she was part of a prominent stage family, and the actress was intent on a serious dramatic career. She was not happy to be cast in fluff like Search for Beauty and complained to the studio. Her attitude created problems between the young actress and Paramount, who continued to costar her in small movies. Eventually she moved on to Warner Bros.
Buster Crabbe played Lupino's love interest in the film, Don Jackson. A real-life Olympic swimmer, Crabbe had appeared in action-adventure programmers, including King of the Jungle (1933) and Tarzan the Fearless (1933). Search for Beauty may have been a step down for Lupino, but it was a step up for Crabbe, who made the most of his handsome good looks and swimmer's physique. Four years later, Crabbe was cast in his first Flash Gordon serial, which made him a star. A minor actress named Toby Wing played Barbara's teenage cousin, Sally, who works in the offices at Health and Fitness. Wing was one of those Hollywood girls who had more talent for creating publicity than for acting. Prior to Search for Beauty, Wing had posed for promotion photos in every costume imaginable, had dated everyone from Maurice Chevalier to Wesley Ruggles, and had broken a high-profile engagement with Jackie Coogan. Viewers who followed the movie magazines and gossip columns would have recognized her as a Hollywood party girl. Nicknamed the "most beautiful chorus girl in Hollywood," Wing was more of a celebrity than an actress or starlet. In Search for Beauty, she was cast as a giggly, gullible girl who could be talked into anything at Health and Fitness, including posing for risque photos and dancing on a table in her underwear. The role fit Wing's image as a frivolous celebrity.
The publicity for Search for Beauty focused on Paramount's real-life contest in which studio press agents were sent far and wide to find the world's most perfect physical specimens, with an emphasis on their beauty. The tag line for the film read, "Strike up the band--Here comes the parade of beauties of all nations." Though called an "international search," the contest was limited to the U.S. and other English-speaking countries. Fifteen men and fifteen women were selected from an estimated 176,000 applicants. The lucky thirty were flown to Hollywood to appear in the film, and according to publicity at the time, six of them landed contracts with Paramount. Lupino befriended one of the winners, Clara Lou Sheridan, a former teacher from Texas. Whether Sheridan landed a contract or not is not known, but apparently Hollywood was too unsettling for her, and she returned home after the film was completed.
The contest winners first appear under the opening credits performing a choreographed exercise routine. A few of them pop up in a montage sequence in which Don Jackson conducts his search for the perfect youth, and there are two large-scale production routines featuring the athletes and a few Hollywood extras. Compared to Busby Berkeley's imaginative production numbers in his backstage musicals, these lifeless routines leave a lot to be desired.
One reason why a trifle such as Search for Beauty is still around is because of its status as a pre-Code movie, meaning it was released during that period between the coming of sound and the enforcement of censorship (the Motion Picture Production Code) in July 1934. Movie lovers are fascinated by pre-Code movies, because they regularly feature profanity, sexual innuendo, sexual situations, and unsentimental depictions of the harsh side of life. In addition, pre-Code films are known for their strong female characters and sympathy for female perspectives on social problems of the Depression era.
Several scenes, bits of dialogue, and situations in Search for Beauty would have been forbidden under the Code, while other details would likely have been subject to negotiation with the Production Code Administration. In Part 1, Section VI of the Code, under "Costume," the first point reads, "Complete nudity is never permitted;" Number 3 notes, "Indecent or undue exposure is forbidden." Early on in the film, just after the Olympic events, the male swim team has withdrawn to their locker room. Several swimmers are shown in the nude, shot from behind as they race for the showers. While that scene would have been absolutely forbidden under the Code, the concluding production number in which the 30 perfect athletes perform in their exercise costumes, might also have been challenging. The problem was not how much skin was exposed but the material used for the girls' uniforms. The lightweight material easily revealed the girls' breasts under their tank shirts, and they were not wearing undergarments. In Part 4 of the Code, subtitled "Reasons Underlying the Particular Applications," Section 6, Number 5 reads, "Transparent or translucent materials and silhouettes are frequently more suggestive than actual exposure." Likewise, the scene in which young Sally is tricked into dancing on a table in her slip for a group of leering men would not have been forbidden because she is exposing too much skin but because of the effect on the old men who are turned on by her underage character. The Code forbade situations and costumes that provoked "any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture."
Under Part 1, Section II, "Sex," Number 2B dictates, ". . . .suggestive postures and gestures are not to be shown." The Code's administrators would likely have forbidden certain shots during the scene in which Larry and Danny introduce a true-story segment into Health and Fitness. With headlines like "Passion Slave," the stories are little more than confession tales in which women admit to being seduced by cads and ruffians. To illustrate the stories, Sally is required to pose for the photographer in suggestive positions as though she is fighting for her honor.
Some of the tenets of the Code are vague, including the introduction to Part 1, Section II, "Sex," which reads in part, "Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing." Throughout the film, mature men and women ogle the 30 young athletes who are promoting Health and Fitness. In a beauty parlor scene, several women leer at photos of Buster Crabbe and other male athletes in their swimming trunks. Jean asks, "Would women give him a tumble?" One responds, "If they were like me, they would give him a double somersault," while another remarks with an innuendo about "hand springs." Later, a group of rich male patrons of the health farm get their chance to lust after the young girls at dinner. "I'll take that blonde over there," one requests. "I always take a blonde with my meals." Comments such as these are sprinkled throughout the movie with little consequence, suggesting it is common practice for both genders to chase after members of the opposite sex for lusty fun.
In the storyline of Search for Beauty, Larry, Danny, and Jean are designated the villains because they try so hard to exploit the Health and Fitness craze as an excuse to show beautiful men and women in scanty uniforms or trunks. In actuality, the film Search for Beauty did the same thing.
By Susan Doll
Producer: Emanuel Cohen and E. Lloyd Sheldon for Paramount Pictures
Director: Erle C. Kenton
Screenplay: Frank Butler and Claude Binyon from a story by David Boehm and Maurine Watkins based on a play by Schuyler E. Grey and Paul R. Milton
Cinematography: Harry Fischbeck
Editor: James Smith
Art Director: Hans Dreier and John B. Goodman
Cast: Larry Williams (Robert Armstrong), Jean Strange (Gertrude Michael), Barbara Hilton (Ida Lupino), Don Jackson (Larry "Buster" Crabbe), Danny Healy (James Gleason), Sally Palmer (Toby Wing), Joe (Bradley Page), Rev. Rankin (Frank McGlynn, Sr.), Miss Pettigrew (Nora Cecil), Mrs. Archibald Henderson-Jones (Virginia Hammond), Adolph (Eddie Gribbon), Caretaker (Pop Kenton)
Search for Beauty
A news item in Hollywood Reporter on September 9, 1933 states that Paramount had planned to "brave possible criticism and sign Sally Rand, Chicago's fan girl," to appear in this film; however, she is not in the film. As reported in Hollywood Reporter on October 16, 1933, Jack Haskell was set to direct musical numbers; however, he is not credited on the film or in any reviews, and it is unclear whether or not he worked on the film. This film includes a newsreel of the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Paramount's United States-United Kingdom beauty contest mentioned in the opening credits was a studio exploitation stunt which promised its winners a free trip to Hollywood and a chance to appear in one film. Search for Beauty marked the American motion picture debut of British actress Ida Lupino (1914-1995). The Hollywood Reporter review stated, "Ida Lupino shows what she had to make herself a musical comedy star in England." According to modern sources, actress Ann Sheridan (1915-1967) also made her motion picture debut in the film in a bit role.