In the 1930s, a Mono-Named Mannequin Took New York by Storm
Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures
Forget Ginger Rogers and Joan Crawford. The most sought-after celebrity of the late-1930s was a mono-named socialite called Cynthia. She was invited to the most elite parties, including the posh wedding of Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII of England. She received freebies from Tiffany and Cartier. She had box seats to the Metropolitan Opera. She was featured in LIFE. She was also a total dummy.
No, really — an actual mannequin.
Cynthia was a 100-pound plaster clothes hanger designed by a soap sculptor named Lester Gaba. As one of Lester’s “Gaba Girls,” Cynthia was a new type of mannequin designed to be realistic — Cyn had freckles and different-sized feet — while not melting under the sun like wax models did. In order to boost his status as an artist and cement his place in the New York social scene, Gaba began squiring his creation around town as if they were on a date.
As you might imagine, people took notice. It probably didn’t hurt that Gaba was very close friends with Vincente Minnelli (Liza’s dad), so the quirkiness spread to the city's trendsetters pretty quickly. Cynthia was soon a mainstay at galas and dinner parties, where, in keeping with her real-girl status, people tried to chat her up. Gaba would apologize profusely, explaining that the blonde beauty had laryngitis.
Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images; See More Photos Here
Sadly, Cynthia met an untimely end when Lester Gaba went off to fight in World War II. Before he shipped off, Gaba decided that his main girl would take a sabbatical to Hannibal, Missouri, to live with his mother and de-stress from the frantic socialite life. Though she was on hobnobbing hiatus, Gaba left his mother explicit instructions to treat Cynthia like the star she was. She was to receive weekly beauty treatments, including styling at the best salon in town. It was there that, tragically, Cynthia slipped from a chair and shattered onto the hair clipping-filled floor below.
According to LIFE.com, newspapers reported Cynthia’s death as if a real person had died in an unfortunate accident. Though Gaba later recreated her and even installed equipment that allowed her to “talk,” he couldn’t recapture the magic. The country’s obsession with the plaster princess was over.
And if you’re wondering how the U.S. managed to get so worked up over such an empty object to begin with, well, Barney’s New York Creative Director Simon Doonan can explain:
“It’s not that big of a leap to go to a window mannequin from The Real Housewives of Orange County,” he told the New York Times in 2010.
C’mon. What does an artificial glamour queen with no brain and nothing to say have to do with... oh.