“Abortions were our birth control,” an anonymous actress once said about the common procedure’s place in Hollywood from the 1920s through the 1950s. While patriarchal political powers connive to block women’s legal access to abortion in 21st century America, in Old Hollywood, abortions were far more standard and far more accessible than they often are today—more like aspirin, or appendectomies. How and why did a procedure that was taboo and illegal at the time become so ordinary—at least, among a certain set?
Much like today, in Old Hollywood, the decisions being made about women’s bodies were made in the interests of men—the powerful heads of motion pictures studios MGM, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., and RKO. As Aubrey Malone writes in Hollywood’s Second Sex: The Treatment of Women in the Film Industry, 1900-1999, “If you want to play in this business, you play like a man or you’re out. And if you happen to be a woman, better not mention it to anybody.”
From the very infancy of America’s film industry, abortions were necessary body maintenance for women in the spotlight. Birth control, including prophylactics, were about as new as “stars” themselves—movie performers who went overnight from being “Little Mary” or “The Vitagraph Girl” to “America’s Sweetheart” or “Sex Goddess.”
Read more at Vanity Fair.