The Vault

Fitness Instruction From 1920s Chorus Girls

The Vault is Slate’s new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

These Antics of Arabella comic strips combine fitness instruction, humor, and eroticism in a bizarre 1920s cocktail. Antics of Arabella ran in a short-lived New York City tabloid, the New York Evening Graphic (1924-1932), one of the many brainchildren of the entrepreneur Bernar Macfadden.

Macfadden was a publisher, fitness nut, and advocate of open sexuality who promoted his publishing empire tirelessly in the years between the turn of the century and World War II. (Some of the most famous titles in his stable were True Story, Physical Culture, True Detective, True Ghost Stories, and Photoplay.) Often busted by the authorities of the day, including Anthony Comstock, for his commitment to displaying the female form, Macfadden pushed the envelope—and made money in the process.

While many other Macfadden publications contained comics that bordered on the erotic, the Antics took a new tack: combining the photographic feature with the comic strip. Antics of Arabella featured photographs of Broadway “chorus girls” demonstrating stretches that showed off their bodies while they told mildly funny jokes.

Macfadden apparently hoped that this paper would be a daily version of his lucrative and sensationalist True Story magazine, which was the linchpin of his publishing empire. This page contains more scans of the Graphic’s features, with headlines such as “Raid Reveals Big Divorce Mill; 1,000 Couples May Be Bigamists” and “Give Us Back Our Beer, Mr. Hoover, and Stop Nation-Wide Bloodshed.”

Antics of Arabella 1

The Ottley R. Coulter Clippings, H.J. Lutcher Stark Center E-Archive.

Antics of Arabella 2

Image from Allan Holtz’s blog on comic strip history, “Stripper’s Guide.”