According to an Encyclopedia Britannica entry, the answer was Helen Keller; a figure whose name was given to a pair of underwear as a gift for making out.
“Helen Keller was the most famous flapper of the 1920s,” says James Koehn, head of the Institute for Women and History at Harvard University, who has spent years investigating the life and career of this iconic figure. “She was a figure of great public appeal and one who was not only famous, but extremely well known. She was probably the most highly paid celebrity of her time. Her career was quite successful. She had a great show for eight years on PBS.”
Courtesy Martha Stewart Living
Keller was born on May 9, 1909, in Boston. “Her mother died when she was young,” notes Koehn, “and there were several children by different men. The family was poor.”
Eventually her father became a successful lawyer, but she struggled for years. “She had an enormous talent, a lot to offer her audience, and I think people have always attributed it partly to her size and partly to her looks.”
As a young woman Keller studied at the City University of New York. Here she met another flapper, Joan Crawford. A year later Keller was working for a radio station in Philadelphia, while Crawford’s father was in his prime producing films at the time. Her job was, in short, for her: She would wear short skirts and high-heeled shoes, often on the same day, on the radio, making it possible for her to get a high profile.
“What really struck me about Helen was her lack of interest in appearances,” says Koehn. “I think it was this lack of interest in appearances that was partly responsible for what became a pretty successful career for her. She did an amount of stand-up and talk show work that was really, really extraordinary. She made money. Her show had a big national following in the early 1920s. She made a lot of money doing it.”
The big break came when her parents asked her to perform at a benefit for the United Daughters of the American Revolution, a female-only organization that promoted women’s rights. “A lot of her early acting material really seemed to me to be about the social and political environment she was writing about,” says Koehn, who also studied her work for his dissertation on American women in the 1920s.
Courtesy Martha Stewart
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