Lux Toilet Soap and Movie Stars, 1929

“9 out of 10 screen stars guard their skin this way…”


A vintage ad for Lux soap from 1929,  featuring popular movie stars of the time.

This ad for Lux Toilet Soap comes from the June 1929 issue of Woman’s Home Companion magazine. Several bold claims are made in this ad – the first is the big headline in the center of the page:

“9 out of 10 screen stars guard their skin this way…”

And then, a bit further down, we have this:

“Directors and screen stars know so well that lovely skin is the most magnetic of all charms. And in Hollywood, among the 451 important actresses, including all stars, 442 (98%) use Lux Toilet Soap to keep their skin lovely.”

Naturally, I assumed this was all advertising speak and most likely not true, or at the least a definite stretching of whatever truth was at the core of the claim. So I did some research on Lux Toilet Soap and found a fascinating story centering around their Hollywood ads.

According to a book called The Erotic History of Advertising, by Tom Reichert (Prometheus Books, 2003), Lux bar soap originated as being similar to fine French soaps, but at a much lower price point. While French soaps ranged in price from fifty cents to two dollars, Lux cost just 10 cents a bar (a fact that you can see at the bottom of the ad above). Still, though, there was a concern that consumers would still find the soap too expensive. Thus the following excerpt from a 1925 letter from the Lever Brothers president, Francis A. Countway:

“I feel that we must throw more glamour around our new product to justify the price in the consumer’s mind of 9 cents to 10 cents per cake which she which she will have to pay.” (Reichert, page 118)

Thus the campaign, of which you see an example in the above ad, was born. Hollywood stars definitely represented glamour, and who wouldn’t want to use the same soap as these beautiful actresses? Reichert goes on to say (p. 119) that “By some means, perhaps by salesmen, it was discovered that the vast majority of movie stars did indeed use Lux Toilet Soap.”

Although it may be true that many stars did use Lux soap, that didn’t mean they would just automatically choose to appear in the ads. Negotiations had to be done behind the scenes, and according to another book, Hollywood and Broadcasting: From Radio to Cable by Michele Hilmes

(University of Illinois Press, 1999), it was the Hollywood Bureau Head for the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency who could take the credit for the multitude of actresses to be found in these ads. His name was Danny Danker, and according to Hilmes,

“‘Making the right friends and doing favors for them with the flair of an Irish politician, Danker succeeded partly by sheer personality, and later on by pointing out to picture players that Lux testimonials meant free national advertising. Finally it became fashionable for actresses to sign exclusive releases for Lux.’” Whether or not this is strictly true, the fact does remain that Lux, via Danker, was singularly adept at obtaining these endorsements.” (p. 89)

For an example of Hollywood notables who appeared in ads for Lux, we can look at those who are found in the ad shown here. First, Aileen Pringle, “Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer star,”  is in the big photo at the top. In the lower left side we have Fay Wray, an actress with Paramount (known to us, of course, for her role in King Kong), and the lower right shows Jacqueline Logan from Pathé. But not only actresses are represented. Although there is no picture of him, Malcom St. Clair, a movie director for Paramount, states that “Exquisite skin is woman’s most compelling charm.”

I never was able to find out if there was an actual list of the 451 important actresses in Hollywood, but at least most of my curiosity about the ad was satisfied!

In 1929, a cake of Lux Toilet Soap cost 10 cents.

{ 0 comments… add one }

Leave a Comment