The Spirit of Color: The Playful Brilliance of Gladys Monkhouse

The great Broadway revues of the first half of the 20th century, like Florenz Ziegfeld's famous Follies, are often scorned for objectifying women. The showgirls descending the stairs, the dance choruses that transformed women into things: blooming flowers; a bride's trousseau; even, as costume designer Gladys Monkhouse cleverly depicts, painters' tools. We know nothing about Monkhouse (active ca. 1917-1922) except that she was a brilliantly imaginative and stylish artist whose work overturns the negative connotations of "œthe objectification of women by revues." She was at her best in developing thematically linked chorus costumes, such as her amusing designs for the "women-in-men's-jobs" chorus for the musical revue Cheer Up (1917) at the Hippodrome Theatre in New York. (Note the "œ-ette" suffix for the designs for the woman bartender and woman waiter; the advocates of votes for women preferred the term suffragist, but Broadway revue writers used the satirical suffragette.) Monkhouse's vibrant "œSpirit of Color" design for Cheer Up references the American modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller and her followers, while her costumes for the "women as artists' materials" chorus from Jack O'Lantern (1917) satirize the Artists and Models revue series, which featured women only as semi-nude living sculptures.

Gladys Monkhouse. Costume designs for the Broadway revues Cheer Up and Jack O'Lantern. Pencil, ink, and gouache on board and paper, 1917.
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Billy Rose Theatre Division, R.H. Burnside Collection.

Related Publication: Curtain Call: Celebrating a Century of Women Designing for Live Performance

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