Charm School Extra Credit: The Elevator Girls of Marshall Field & Co.

22/03/2012 § 2 Comments

Editor’s note: Even though February’s Charm School has come and gone, I still find myself coming across lovely gems like this story and set of pictures taken by George Skadding for Life Magazine.  So if you might indulge me, I’ll share a few throughout the year as a bit of “Extra Credit.”

In 1947, Marshall Field & Co., Chicago’s biggest department store, decided that their elevator girls were in need of a bit of finishing, so they were enrolled in a local charm school where they received lessons on everything from makeup to elocution.  The article noted that the “finished” ladies were happier and much more beautiful, even if there didn’t seem to be a correlating increase in sales, and that they all hoped to follow in the footsteps of actress Dorothy Lamour, who was scouted while working at the department store.

Aside from the amusing illustrations — who knew there was a correct way to bend over? — I’ve had a thing for elevator girls ever since seeing The Apartment (1960, and which happened to be the last black and white film to win Best Picture at the Oscars, until The Artist, this year), where Shirley MacLaine plays elevator operator Fran Kubelik, who catches the eye of Jack Lemmon’s hapless corporate drone C. C. Baxter.  Written, produced and directed by Billy Wilder, it is an excellent film that you must see immediately.

To read the article that appeared in the Sept 15, 1947 issue of Life, head here.
For further Marshall Field’s nostalgia, head here.

Elevator girls June Wahl and Ann Vratarich before…

…and after.

How not to operate an elevator…

…and proper form.

How not to bend over…

…and the correct way.

Elocution lessons.

All images via the Life Archives.

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