Now featuring a face

Yesterday I posted something about perceived invisibility, accompanied by a picture of someone who was “actually” invisible. This was, of course, motion-picture special-effects work; but for 1940, those were damned good effects. (In fact, John P. Fulton was nominated for an Academy Award for them.)

I was tempted to turn that in for a Rule 5 roundup — she does look good, to the extent that she looks at all, in that dress — but decided that might be a bit too hard to deal with, so here’s the visible Virginia Bruce (1910-1982):

Virginia Bruce at the beach

Really good shots of VB are hard to come by; I am indebted to Dr. Macro for this one:

Virginia Bruce not at the beach

So how does a Hollywood-pretty actress end up in a role where she can’t be seen? It went something like this:

Deadly serious fans of the Universal horror films have never quite come to grips with The Invisible Woman; somehow its screwball farce just doesn’t seem to fit into the rest of the series. They’re missing the point. Invisibility of any sort is bizarre; the original H. G. Wells story was full of weirdly humorous bits, and James Whale’s 1933 film, which launched Universal’s Invisible series, successfully translated that weirdness into visuals. Even the more formulaic later pictures in the series still contained scenes that inspire giggling, and not always by accident.

It was this sort of whimsy that, judging by her previous appearances (consider, for instance, The Shop Around The Corner), you might think would have appealed to Margaret Sullavan, Universal’s first choice for the role of Kitty Carroll. But Sullavan refused to take the part, which got her suspended by the studio, and Virginia Bruce was chosen to replace her. The actress formerly known as Helen Virginia Briggs grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, moved west as a teenager to attend UCLA, but wound up doing bit parts in pictures instead, graduating to leads shortly thereafter. She was thirty years old when she signed for The Invisible Woman. It’s not likely that she considered it anything more than a paycheck, but today it’s one of the roles for which she’s best remembered. Her last appearance was in Strangers When We Meet in 1960, playing Kim Novak’s mother; she died in 1982.

“Appearance,” he says. Haw.

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