I realize some of you are partial to imagining me bathing at home in a jumbo martini glass, under the rosy glow of a floodlight, rubbing my dirty self clean with a stroke and a squeeze of a sponge resembling a giant olive. But, seriously, darlings, that is an act! Bathing is baptism by soap and bubbles, an interlude in life to cleanse the skin and the mind and, most of all, the senses. It’s an opportunity to wash away a riotous night or a bad day, a chance to start all over again. A soak, even a quickie, under the spray of a shower, can be a tonic as restorative and revitalizing as a catnap. Is cleanliness next to godliness? Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, being filthy was equated with being righteous. Dirt symbolized purity of mind and soul. Bathing was considered simply too sensuous a practice by the moral high-minded, who were overly concerned with keeping up appearances in other ways. So born again was another era of the great unwashed. The ravenous plagues also fueled the belief that washing encouraged disease. Alive now or then, with beliefs like those, I’d rather be called a sinner than a saint!
In general, bathing, as private or public ritual, has long claimed a place in all the great world religions, monotheistic or otherwise. It’s at the altar of art, however, that this simple practice has received the most masterful exaltation, appealing to artists of every stroke, from the anonymously created mosaic in the thermal baths of ancient Greece to the splashing scenes of film director Federico Fellini. One artist who couldn’t get enough was the French Impressionist Edgar Degas, who depicted the act in no fewer than one hundred studies. Or was he simply interested in the buxom figures frolicking in and out of the water?
Elisabeth de Feydeau, Author of A Scented Palace, wrote about how Marie- Antoinette dipped in a tub laced with a confection of blanched sweet almonds, pine nuts, linseed, marshmallow root, and lily bulb. She then exfoliated her body with a sachet of bran.
Champagne baths have become an indispensable part of the bombshell playbook, and in no small part thanks to the biggest bombshells of them all. Jayne Mansfield adored her Champagne. At her Pink Palace, the Bel-Air mansion she shared with her husband and tots, Jayne boasted of having an outdoor fountain that burbled with bubbly. Inside, she luxuriated in a big tub filled with pink Champagne at least twice a week. She so made champers a part of her shtick that in a twenty-four-page booklet she produced during the 1964 presidential election positing she runs for the White House, she appears in a black strapless bra and black pumps, a magnum of Piper-Heidsieck parked in an ice bucket next to her patio lounge chair. It’s a scream. It’s also very likely she took a page out of Marilyn Monroe’s manual, down to the brand of bubbly. The queen bee of blondes apparently once bathed in hundreds of bottles of Piper-Heidsieck. She also claimed to go to bed nightly after dabbing Chanel Nº5 behind each ear, then reopening her eyes each morning with a glass of Piper-Heidsieck. Not to be out of the platinum players club, Mamie Van Doren praised sparkling soaks, too. She indulged her B-movie fans with a Champagne bubble bath for the 1964 Tommy Noonan sexploitation flick 3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt.
It was a gimmick all right, and we love her for it.