Elinor Glyn  

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Elinor Glyn, née Sutherland (b. 17 October 1864 – d. 23 September 1943), was a British novelist and scriptwriter who specialised in romantic fiction which was considered scandalous for its time. She popularized the concept of It. Although her works are relatively tame by modern standards, she had tremendous influence on early 20th century popular culture and perhaps on the careers of notable Hollywood stars such as Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson and Clara Bow in particular.

Writing career

Glyn pioneered risqué, and sometimes erotic, romantic fiction aimed at a female readership which was radical for its time, though her writing would not be considered scandalous by modern standards. She coined the use of It, which is repeatedly yet erroneously described as a euphemism for sexuality or sex appeal. In 1919 she signed a contract with William Randolph Hearst's International Magazine Company for stories and articles which included a clause for the motion picture rights. She wrote for Cosmopolitan and other Hearst press titles giving advice on how to keep your man and also some health & beauty tips. 'The Elinor Glyn System of Writing' (1922) gives insights into writing for Hollywood studios and magazine editors at this time.

From the 1927 novel, It: "To have 'It', the fortunate possessor must have that strange magnetism which attracts both sexes... In the animal world 'It' demonstrates in tigers and cats—both animals being fascinating and mysterious, and quite unbiddable." From the 1927 movie, It: "self-confidence and indifference as to whether you are pleasing or not". Glyn was the celebrated author of such early 20th century bestsellers as It, Three Weeks, Beyond the Rocks and other novels which were then considered quite racy.

On the strength of the popularity and notoriety of her books, Glyn moved to Hollywood to work in the movie industry in 1920. She is credited with the re-styling of Gloria Swanson from giggly starlet to elegant star. Beyond the Rocks was made into a silent film that was released in 1922; the Sam Wood-directed film stars Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino as a romantic pair. In 1927, Glyn helped to make a star of actress Clara Bow for whom she coined the sobriquet "the It girl". In 1928, Bow also starred in Red Hair, which was based on Glyn's 1905 novel.

Apart from being a scriptwriter for the silent movie industry, working for both MGM and Paramount Pictures in Hollywood in the mid-1920s, she had a brief career as one of the earliest female directors. Her family established a company in 1924, Elinor Glyn Ltd, to which she signed her copyrights receiving an income from the firm and an annuity in later life. The firm was an early pioneer of cross-media branding.

References in popular culture

  • A scene in Glyn's most sensational work, Three Weeks, inspired the doggerel:
Would you like to sin
With Elinor Glyn
On a tiger skin?
Or would you prefer
To err with her
On some other fur?
  • Glyn makes an appearance in a 1927 Lorenz Hart song, "My Heart Stood Still" from One Dam Thing After Another:
I read my Plato
Love, I thought a sin
But since your kiss
I'm reading missus Glyn!
  • She occasionally cites herself in the third person in her own books, as in Man and Maid (1922) when she has a character refer to "that It" as something "Elinor Glyn writes of in her books."
  • In Evelyn Waugh's 1952 novel Men at Arms (the first of the Sword of Honour trilogy), an (RAF) Air Marshal recites the poem upon spotting a polar bear rug by the fire in a London club, of which he has just wangled membership (p. 125). To this, another member responds 'Who the hell is Elinor Glyn?'. The Air Marshal replies 'Oh, just a name, you know, put in to make it rhyme.' This was both a snub to the Air Marshal and a literary snubbing of Glyn by Waugh.
‘Never had he met a woman in whom 'the great It', eloquently hymned by Mrs Elinor Glyn, was so completely lacking.'
  • Among the funniest of S. J. Perelman's writings is his series of pieces, Cloudland Revisited, in which, as a middle-aged man, he re-reads and describes the risqué novels that had thrilled him as a youth. Tuberoses and Tigers deals with Glyn's Three Weeks. Perelman described it as 'servant-girl literature' and called Glyn's style 'marshmallow'. Perelman also mentions a film version of the book made by Samuel Goldwyn in 1924, in which Aileen Pringle starred. Perelman recalled Goldwyn's 'seductive' image of Pringle 'lolling on a tiger skin...'
  • In the 1954 Stanley Donen-directed film Deep in My Heart, the musical number It features acclaimed tap dance Anne Miller singing about Elinor Glyn and Sigmund Freud.
  • In the 1962 film version of Meredith Willson's musical The Music Man, Marian Paroo, the librarian, asks the prudish Mrs. Shinn, the mayor's wife, if she would not rather have her daughter reading the classic Persian poetry of Omar Khayyam than Elinor Glyn, to which Mrs. Shinn replies, "What Elinor Glyn reads is her mother's problem!"
  • In his autobiography, Mark Twain describes the time he met Glyn, when they had a wide-ranging and frank discussion of "nature's laws" and other matters not to be repeated.
  • In the 1923 film The Ten Commandments, one title card says "Nobody believes in these Commandment things nowadays—and I think Elinor Glyn's a lot more interesting."
  • In season five, episode three of Downton Abbey (set in 1924) the character Tom Branson refers to the scandalous nature of Elinor Glyn's novels.

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