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Venus de Gardner

By , 2 July, 2009, 3 Comments
Ava Gardner & Venus Statue From One Touch of Venus

Ava Gardner & Venus Statue From One Touch of Venus

One Touch of Venus is the 1948 version of Mannequin: a window dresser (Robert Walker) kisses a statue of Venus which then comes to life (Ava Gardner); hilarity ensues.

However, I don’t think one can really compare Ava Gardner to Kim Cattrall without thinking that Gardner’s the better-looking babe.

At least I’m more likely to fall in love with art than a merchandising hanger — and I’m not just comparing the statue of Venus to a mannequin here.

According to press releases for the film, Ava Gardner’s measurements were:

Bust 35 3/4
Waist 23 1/4
Hips 34
Thighs 19 inches
Calves 13
Ankles 7 1/2

All I know of Kim Cattrall’s measurements are that she wears a size 6 French maid costume and a 9.5 shoe; which is a bit like comparing apples to oranges. And we can’t always trust movie studios for precise measurement information either. But I think most would agree that Ava has a more curvy look.

(Also, regarding Ava’s measurements in the press release, I love the use of the word inches used only for “thighs”, presumably so people would know they weren’t quantity and wouldn’t mistakenly think Gardner had 19 thighs — as opposed to 34 hips and 7.5 ankles?)

Back to the sculpture of Venus for One Touch of Venus. The statue for the film was posed for by Gardner and sculpted by Joseph Nicolosi. Of its creation, the following story is told in Lee Server’s Ava Gardner: “Love Is Nothing”:

Sculptor Joseph Nicolosi with Ava Gardner

Sculptor Joseph Nicolosi with Ava Gardner

To help in the creation of a proper life-size statue to be used in the film, Ava was sent to pose for New York sculptor Joseph Nicolosi. Several hours each day for two weeks she assumed a position in the studio at Nicolosi’s Malibu home. At first clad in a two-piece bathing suit, she saw the sculptor repeatedly stop work to approach her and star with concern at the swimming costume. It seemed that the fabric disturbed him as an interruption of the body’s natural line; the Anatolian Venus, Nicolosi sighed dramatically, had worn no such garment.”Would you like the bra off?” Ava asked.

Nicolosi averred that it would surely aid the cause of art, and so Ava, after a steady stream of what she described as “hot drinks,” unhooked the swimsuit top and resumed her stance with breasts bared. Further sighs of dissatisfaction from Nicolosi eventually resulted in her rolling the bottom of the bathing suit to just below the pubic mound (the mons veneris, indeed). Sometime later, prompted by a reporter and sculpture enthusiast eager to hear more details of these modeling session, Nicolosi said, “Miss Gardner gives an appearance of slenderness but possesses the roundness and fullness in the necessary places which set her apart from the emaciated female whose cadaverous outlines most American women seem determined to achieve.”

In early February the sculptor proudly unveiled his finished work to producer Lester Cowan and was met with a torrent of invective.

“Are you crazy? Her tits are showing! How are we gonna put that in a movie?”

The sculptor had to go back and create a more modest goddess.

It should be noted that in Art in the Cinematic Imagination, author Susan Felleman takes issue with Nicolosi’s Venus statue:

Gardner with Venus Statue

Gardner with Venus Statue

Joseph Nicolosi (1893-1961), an Italian-born American sculptor, executed the figure for One Touch of Venus. The statue, which bears a passable but not remarkable resemblance to Gradner, is thoroughly indigestible as a veritable antiquity, recently excavated from the Anatolian earth. In Nicolosi’s defense, however, certain conditions mitigated strongly against the figure acquiring the aura or patina of “authenticity.” Materials are one. It would have been foolhardy, never mind improbably in terms of budgets and schedules, for a motion picture studio to invite an artist — even an academically trained one, like Nicolosi, accustomed to doing so — to work in the sort of materials that were used in antiquity and might survive many hundreds of years intact, that is, bronze, or, more likely, hard stone, such as marble. The processes involved are too elaborate and the materials too expensive for the manufacture of what is, ultimately, a mere prop. Even so, one might expect more in terms of style from a neoclassical sculptor like Nicolosi. An anecdote from Gardner’s memoir explains how the statue used in the film had to made under considerable time pressures, due to a rather amusing and telling misunderstanding:

Most Venuses I’d seen in art books were nude or had a magically clinging drape low on the hips, and Mr. Nicolosi clearly had the same idea. Because when I took off my clothes behind a screen and appeared modestly clothed in a two piece bathing suit, he looked at me rather severely and gave a sigh that could have been heard as far away as the Acropolis…

Nude? Me? Not even MGM had that in their contract. Bare my breasts? What would Mama have thought?… The artist, however, prevailed… “Your body is beautiful. It will make all the difference.” And do you know what? He was right. Immodest as it may sound, I have to say that the final statue looked very nice indeed. It was carted off to the studio with filming scheduled to begin in a little more than a week.

Then came the explosion. A nude statue! Who said anything about nudity? Tits! Didn’t anyone tell you that tits aren’t allowed in a Hollywood film? It doesn’t matter how beautiful they are, it’s immoral and indecent. Plus, the goddamn statue has to come to life on screen. Do you want us to be accused of corrupting the whole of America?

As the owner of the offending objects, I sat back and did not say a word. After all, I’d done my bit for the arts. But the poor sculptor, who’d poured his soul into this clay, was shattered. No one had told him they’d wanted a Venus dressed up like Queen Victoria. Finally, another statue was made, this one with me wearing the belted-at-the-waist off-th-shoulder gown that Orry Kelly had designed for Venus, and America’s morals survived to fight another day.

Another factor, of course, although one with which one might not expect Nicolosi, who studied with Solon Borglum and was a fellow of the National Sculture Society with numerous public commissions, to be particularly sympathetic, is that the film is a comedy. The aesthetic distance between the Venus de Milo and Savory’s “Anatolian Venus” ultimately affords another possibility source of amusement in a rather sweet and frothy amusement.

Ah, it’s rather like a retailer complaining about the look of the titular mannequin and then realizing, “Hey, it’s a comedy!”

But for more of Ava Gardner — and some cheeky humor — we return to Lee Server’s bio of Ava Gardner & discussion of statues for the film One Touch of Venus:

Ava Gardner As Venus

Ava Gardner As Venus

Another piece of art was created, a small souvenir knockoff of the Nicolosi statue, an idea cooked up by the Universal publicity department, to be sent to select members of the press as a promotional giveaway. Someone in the art department created the eight-inch clay version of Venus, and before it was sent out for casting, publicist Bob Rains decided that as a courtesy they should show it to Ava first. “I took the clay model over to her dressing room. I said, ‘Ava, you want to take a look at this? What do you think?’ She looked it over an laughed. She said, ‘That’s not my figure.’ And then with a cute smile on her face she pinched off some of the clay from the chest area and stuck it to the rear end. She smoothed it on with her finger and made the fanny bigger. She said, ‘That’s more like my ass.’ I was startled by amused. I took it back to the department and told them what happened and everyone broke into hysterics.”

No word on which figure, the art department’s original or Gardner’s adjusted clay model, was used to cast the promotional Venus.

And because you know I find it so damn amazing that a woman’s nipples are a danger to society, it should be noted that Server also mentions that many good takes on the filming of One Touch of Venus had to be discarded due to the chiffon gown worn by Gardner on a chilly set; eventually prop man Roy Neal was assigned to follow the actress everywhere with a portable heater to avoid such horrors as visible erect female nipples.

However, I think you’ll agree if you click to see the larger photo below, that you can see Ava Gardner’s areola. I guess that’s OK because it’s not going to poke your eye out, or whatever it is that erect nipples are feared to do.

Ava Gardner

Ava Gardner

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