“The Mad Search for Beauty”: Actresses' Testimonials, the Cosmetics Industry, and the “Democratization of Beauty”1

“Actresses as a rule know no more about making themselves beautiful than does the average woman; neither are they naturally more beautiful,” wrote actress Margaret Illington Banes in a 1912 article entitled “The Mad Search for Beauty.” “The truth of the matter is,” she continued, “that no actress—or any woman—can impart the secrets of beauty to another, any more than the rich man can impart the secrets of business success to some other man.” Disturbed by recent trends in the theatrical profession that required actresses to present themselves as “beauty specialists,” Banes sought to expose the constructed nature of their on- and offstage performances. Stage stars captivated audiences because they had numerous opportunities to appear onstage dressed in the height of style; “under the same circumstances,” she concluded, most women “would look quite as well.”