The woman behind DuPont's nylon leg

By Frank Esposito
Senior Staff Reporter

Published: August 8, 2014 11:23 am ET
Updated: August 8, 2014 11:29 am ET

Image By: DuPont Co. Marie Wilson was recruited by DuPont Co. when it needed a real model for its giant nylon leg used to market the new material.

Related to this story

Topics Materials, Materials Suppliers
Companies & Associations DuPont Co.

What do Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis have to do with the start of the nylon market?

Surprisingly, they’re all interconnected. And it all begins with Marie Wilson’s leg.

Wilson was a 23-year-old Hollywood starlet in 1939 when DuPont Co. recruited her to promote its new nylon product. The company had a 35-foot-high duplicate made of one of Wilson’s shapely legs and had it displayed in Los Angeles. The garter-clad cast tipped the scales at two tons.

Wilson was an odd choice for a celebrity endorser at the time. She’d had some success in supporting roles in such films as “Boy Meets Girl,” which starred silver screen tough guy James Cagney, but she hadn’t really scored a big commercial breakthrough. Even in these roles, Wilson was cultivating a role as a ditzy blonde.

The DuPont gig didn’t seem to do much for Wilson’s career. Warner Bros. declined to renew her contract in 1939, but she kept her career alive through live stage work, primarily in the Blackout shows that were a big hit in Los Angeles in the 1940s. In those shows, Wilson was “the sexy stooge” to host Ken Murray, according to her Internet Movie Database entry, written by Gary Brumburgh.

Wilson’s mock striptease was a highlight of the shows, Brumburgh wrote.

Wilson also became a favorite pinup model for soldiers and sailors during World War II. Her big break came in 1947, when she was cast as the radio voice of the title character in “My Friend Irma,” a hit series which was extended into a TV show and two feature films, all focusing on the misadventures of — you guessed it — a ditzy blonde. The radio series would last until 1954.

The Monroe connection comes via Wilson’s persona and use of her physical assets, which Brumburgh described as “a figure that wouldn’t quit.” She’d been assembling this persona since as far back as 1936 when she appeared in the finely-named “Satan Met a Lady” — an early adaptation of the Dashiel Hammett story that would later be remade as the Hollywood classic “The Maltese Falcon.” Wilson’s performance in “Satan Met a Lady” “is a virtual template for Marilyn Monroe’s later onscreen persona,” according to the opinionated person who wrote Wilson’s Wikipedia entry.

Movie buffs are lucky that Monroe chose not to emulate the movie’s female lead: Bette Davis.

Monroe — then Norma Jeane Baker — would have been a poor 10-year-old growing up in Los Angeles when “Satan Met a Lady” was released. She made her screen debut in 1947, the same year Wilson caught her big break with “My Friend Irma.” But even after Wilson’s Warner contract ended, she managed to make 11 more film appearances before Irma debuted. Monroe would have had ample time to study up.

On Wilson’s IMDB page, Brumburgh goes so far as to say that Wilson’s career “bottomed out after the spectacular arrival of Marilyn Monroe.” Let’s just say things would have been awkward if the two somehow met on a street in downtown L.A.

Martin and Lewis come in via the 1949 “My Friend Irma” movie, which provided the comic duo with their first screen appearance after building a successful nightclub act. The combo play juice-bar operators — no, really, juicebar operators — who are discovered when a talent manager hears Martin’s singing voice.

“This is a strange little comedy in which the appearances of Dean and Jerry almost seem an afterthought,” scoffed an IMDB reviewer.

The Martin and Lewis team would go on to major stardom in the 16 films they made together. But in 1949, they needed the star power of Marie Wilson — a decade after DuPont made use of her shapely legs — to get on the big screen.

Wilson’s film and TV career would slow down after the late 1950s, although she’d appear with Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart in the 1962 comedy “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation.” She’d pass away young, from cancer at age 56 in 1972. Wilson is one of very few entertainers to have three stars on the Hollywood Walk of fame — one each for her work in radio, television and motion pictures.

In a way, Marie Wilson was a good choice for a plastic-based product, even in 1939. Because — like nylon and other plastics — Wilson sometimes had an image problem.

“My closest friends admit that whenever they tell someone they know me, they have to convince them that I’m not really dumb,” she once said. “To tell you the truth, I think people are disappointed that I’m not.”


Comments

The woman behind DuPont's nylon leg

By Frank Esposito
Senior Staff Reporter

Published: August 8, 2014 11:23 am ET
Updated: August 8, 2014 11:29 am ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Italian compounder opening first US plant

October 30, 2014 9:45 am ET

The song of the South has led Italian compounder So.F.Ter Group to open its first plant in the United States in Lebanon, Tenn.    More

Image

Ineos closing Barex plant, exiting business

October 29, 2014 3:58 pm ET

Materials maker Ineos Group is closing its only global Barex-brand polyacrylonitrile (PAN) resin plant in Lima, Ohio. Ineos – based in Rolle,...    More

Image

DSM picks Augusta, Ga., for nylon plant

October 29, 2014 11:49 am ET

Materials firm Royal DSM NV has chosen Augusta, Ga., as the site of its new North American nylon resin plant.    More

Image

Teknor Apex expands production of recycled nylon to Europe

October 29, 2014 10:12 am ET

Materials firm Teknor Apex Co. is making its recycled nylon compounds available in Europe for the first time.    More

Image

Unplanned disruption in Texas hits Huntsman's quarterly earnings

October 29, 2014 9:30 am ET

Huntsman Corp. saw its earnings drop in the third quarter of 2014, due in part to an unplanned disruption at its Port Neches, Texas, plant.    More

Market Reports

Plastics Recycling Trends in North America

This report is a review and analysis of the North American Plastics Recycling Industry, including key trends and statistics based on 2013 performance. We examine market environment factors, regulatory issues, industry challenges, key drivers and emerging trends in post-consumer and post-industrial recycling.

Learn more

Plastics in Mexico - State of the Industry Report

This report analyzes the $20 million dollar plastics industry in Mexico including sales of machinery & equipment, resins and finished products.

Our analysts provide insight on business trends, foreign investment, top end markets and plastics processing activity. The report also provides important data on exports, production, employment and value of plastics products manufactured.

Learn more

Plastics Caps & Closures Market Report

The annual recap of top trends and future outlook for the plastics caps & closures market features interviews with industry thought leaders and Bill Wood’s economic forecast of trends in growing end markets. You will also gain insight on trends in caps design, materials, machinery, molds & tooling and reviews of mergers & acquisitions.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

June 2, 2015 - June 3, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - Chicago 2015

September 16, 2015 - September 18, 2015Plastics Caps & Closures - September 2015

October 27, 2015 - October 29, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - New York - 2015

More Events