The First Live Beauty Pageant
Venice of America was founded by tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney in 1905 as a beach resort town near Santa Monica, California. Kinney dug several miles of canals to drain the marshes resembling Venice, Italy. He added a pleasure pier with an auditorium, ship restaurant, and dance hall,and a block-long arcaded business street with Venetian architecture. The population soon exceeded 10,000 and the town drew 50,000 to 150,000 tourists on weekends.
In 1907 Annette Kellerman was giving a swimming and diving exhibition before members of the English royal family. Women’s swimwear at that time forbid the showing of any bare leg and was a cumbersome dress and pantaloon combination. Kellerman bought a pair of long black stockings and sewed them onto a boy’s short racing swimsuit. This was the first one-piece swimsuit for women. Kellerman was later arrested for indecency after wearing her creation on a Boston beach. She told the press: “I can’t swim wearing more stuff than you hang on a clothesline.”
On July 14, 1912 the first live beauty pageant (where the contestants were judged in person in one event) in the US took place at Venice Beach as 169 female contestants participated in the “Festival of the Sea Bathing Costume Contest” parading in their one-piece swimsuits before an enthusiastic crowd of 100,000. Lydia Anderson of Los Angeles won first prize receiving $200 wearing a white mohair bathing costume trimmed in cerise with her legs cris-crossed in cerise ribbons.
The contest inspired Mack Sennett to make the movie “The Water Nymph” with Mabel Normand in 1912.