Thursday, February 5, 2015

WHERE ART THOU, CYNTHIA

While most of my regulars readers may know, I am a Visual Stylist for a living at a well known iconic department store. You know, the one you makes the store, windows, and the like look all pretty, creative, and compelling, for you, to spend your money!!!!! I also do a lot of other things in addition. One of the things I do is dress all the Ready To Wear mannequins, in the latest fashions, and trends, you didn't know you had to have. We on the visual team of course have names for all the mannequins. All swank looking of course, all size 4's, flawless skin, silky hair, and have a cat like stance to their runway poses. Dominique. Ming. Artemis. Louisa. Margatha. But none of them in our store are as famous as one  mannequin that ever was. Cynthia.
 
 
In 1932 the artist Lester Gaba, not unlike Andrew McCarthy's character in the 1987 classic Mannequin, created Cynthia, a mannequin for Saks Fifth Avenue. Cynthia was "a 100-pound model who had realistic imperfections like freckles, pigeon toes, and even different sized feet." Five years later, Gaba posed with Cynthia around New York City for a LIFE magazine spread which supposedly launched the career of an up-and-coming starlet and made Cynthia a household name overnight.No, I kid you not.... really. She was a legit A-lister, complete with her own television talk show, roles in movies, and a box seat subscription to the Metropolitan Opera House.
 
 
Only years before Gaba came on the scene, mannequins were often still ponderously heavy, relatively unrealistic creations of wax. They melted in the summer heat, and even sometimes bore frightening rictus grins of real human teeth. Upper-class women preferred to see how their clothes looked by having them modeled on young, human women. Gaba was one of a wave of pioneers making modern mannequins that combined style with realism — his so-called “Gaba Girls.”
Gaba boasted that his mannequins were nearly indistinguishable from well-dressed human women, and pointed out that his creations had charming imperfections just as real women did. But the undisputed magnum opus of Gaba’s career came in the form of a 5′ 6″, 100-pound doll he dubbed Cynthia. He brought her with him to nightclubs and social events. She became something of a New York nightlife fixture. Meanwhile, the country’s finest stores lavished Cynthia with attention — and free gifts of dresses, shoes, furs and jewelry. Saks Fifth Avenue even issued her a credit card. Once she achieved a certain level of fame, gossip columnists began writing about Cynthia as if she were a living, breathing socialite. When partygoers tried to engage the mannequin in conversation, Gaba begged off by claiming she was suffering from a touch of laryngitis.
 
 
She even was known to light up.......
 
Here she is head of the table for Sunday brunch at the Park Avenue apartment of novelist Thyra Samter Winslow.
 
 
As one can see, she even had her own closet......
 
But, as with the fame that sometimes descends on flesh-and-blood humans, Cynthia’s was not to last. Her time in the spotlight proved fleeting, and the next decade saw her begin to fade from public view. In 1942, Gaba was inducted into the army. He sent Cynthia to stay with his mother in Missouri. Though the rest of the nation had moved on to other fads, Gaba insisted that Cynthia be treated like a celebrity, and instructed his mother to take the mannequin to the beauty parlor regularly. Years later, once Gaba returned, sadly, Cynthia died when she slipped from a chair in a beauty salon and shattered, the press even reported on her death. She was reconstructed and tried to have a comeback much later, in the 1950s, but the appeal was gone and she was stored up in a box.

 
She was known to even flash the camera whilst awaiting adjustments.

 
Touring NYC in a sky bus, seeing the sights.......
 

Ultimately, she remained an enigma to the man who had lavished so much of his talent and his time on her. Years later Gaba admitted to the New York Times‘ Gay Talese that, in the end, “Cynthia never made any sense.”  Cynthia's current whereabouts are a mystery. Creepy!

36 comments:

  1. I had forgotten all about Cynthia. My mother had the Life magazine that article was in. I still have it, and remember all the talk. I enjoyed her of her, and thought she's a hell of a lot more animated than most of the woman I see in NY these days...and probably more engaging.

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    1. That must be cool! I sure wouldn't line the bird cage with that.

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  2. Mistress, this is very cool and weird at the same time. But I think you should take over the tradition by doing the same.

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    1. The Mistress already carries around enough wood.

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    2. I already have enough dummies to cart around thank you.

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  3. What an interesting story. And the sad part is, that Cynthia had more of a life than me.

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    1. Well, whatever you do, don't use the same salon where she went, you may too shatter.

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  4. What a bizarre thing to do! Did she really shatter? or did she actually die of a illness? And her closet is much neater than mine.

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  5. Wow! I've never heard of Cynthia before. Fascinating!

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  6. To tell you the truth, I found her rather stiff.

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    1. I wouldn't know about that. How does one tell if a plaster woman is stiff?

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  7. Very interesting story! Now I want to know if someone in your line of work does anything similar today?

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    1. If they have, they have mysteriously been locked away im guessing.

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  8. This answers a lot of questions...like, where Kristen Stewart has been looking for inspiration for her acting performances.

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  9. If only she could cook and iron, he would have sold millions of them! But she was quite the life of the party!

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  10. Talk about fallen to pieces over keeping up with ones image.

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    1. It tough these days keeping up appearances.

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  11. What a simply fabulous and stylish girl! And to have a nightlife to boot? Someone did this today, they would be locked up? Jealous, must have got to the Met more than me

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    1. Short of the talking thing, I think he's already Cynthia.

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    2. Norma, wouldn't that make me hard 24/7? And could I be still for so long?

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  13. I have never heard this story either. the creepy factor squicks me out though. what gaba REALLY needed was a fabulous living boyfriend!

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  14. Darling Maddie,

    Lester Gaba and Cynthia are very well known to us and we posted about them on our own blog a little while ago as we are such devotees. The whole idea of taking your own company with you to dinner parties, the Opera and the like appeals to us enormously, especially if the companion does not answer back!

    We take our Teddy Bear, aptly called Teddy, with us to concerts and the Opera, rather as Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited. This is, perhaps, a slightly more modern take on 'Cynthia' and Teddy is certainly more portable.

    In your line of work, darling Maddie, we can definitely see a revival of Cynthia being a real proposition. A mannequin at times could be far more fun than the company one is forced to keep and, one does find, all manner of people curious to meet one's silent companion. We will join you...with Teddy!

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    1. Oh dear! With I and a mannequin of choice and the fabulous Hattitts with Teddy, could we all be trusted to behave ourselves???? I will have to go back and read you post of Teddy now that you have a interest piqued. And yes, I would agree, some days a mannequin could make for better company.

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  15. I once got drunk with Cynthia and Mabel Norman at the Algonquin. While Mabel and I slipped under the table to sleep it off, Cynthia really seemed to be able to hold her liquor.
    It was like she had a wooden leg or something.

    PS Thanks for the history lesson. I'd never heard it bedore and it's fabulous!

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    1. I have never said anything, but I already knew about your exploits with Cynthia. Our papers here are very good at reporting the going ons down there. Does Carlos know you were feeling up other wood?

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  16. What an interesting story, bit creepy at the same time!!! And her skin is nicer than mine.

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  17. Gee, even a piece of plaster gets around more than me.

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  18. What a fascinating story!!! Thank you.

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  19. That is a very bizarre story, but how fun to hear all she did! I'd go to pieces if she isn't still intact , no pun intended.

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  20. As soon as I win the lottery, I'm taking her to a cosmetic surgeon and saying 'this please'

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    1. I have the feeling they may yet mold a mannequin after you!!!!

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  21. What a fun post!!! Very fascinating. I bet he could have had a lawsuit when Cynthia slipped and scattered!! She probably at least got a new wardrobe out of it.

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  22. I have never heard of this before. I wonder if Saks has any ode to Cynthia in the store anywhere? That is one lucky mannequin. You think I can get a guy to take me to all these cultured things?

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  23. Thanks for sharing that pretty amazing yet campy story. I had no idea the older ones were made of wax!!! I do know that when I was a kid, the mannequins were creepy as hell, not like the ones today. With her past time in the spotlight, shame she isn't in a museum somewhere.

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Go ahead darling, tell me something fabulous!

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