Video: Coney Island’s Modern Venus Beauty Contest, Circa 1939

First we brought you the stunning lady lifeguards of 1940s-era Manhattan Beach. Then we showed you what the Brighton Beach lifeguards looked like in 1921. Now Sheepshead Bites is proud to present the Modern Venus Beauty Contest held at Steeplechase Park on Coney Island in 1939.

This priceless video clip (sorry, no audio) features a seemingly endless line of ladies marching in bikinis all trying to win the favor of some semi-creepy judges.

Just like the overzealous male lifeguard instructors teaching highly suggestive techniques to the lady lifeguards in the Manhattan Beach video, again we see some questionable male behavior in this clip. If the ladies in the Modern Venus Contest thought it was necessary for the male judge to be closely measuring their busts, they must have felt a little exploited when someone sent a little person in clown makeup to perform the duty as well.

Anyway, here’s from the video’s caption:

Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park began hosting an annual poolside beauty contest called Modern Venus in 1913. Beauty contests flourished as bathing suits became skimpier.

Oh, really? We thought beauty contests were all about the talents and interview segments.

Despite the 30s-era sexism on display, the video features an incredible glimpse of Coney Island’s heyday. The shot at the :45 second mark of all the horndog teenaged boys cramming together to get a good look at the ladies is especially telling.

For those with an eye for detail, yes, the YouTube video title does indicate it was 1958 – but that just seemed off. After some further research, we found this site which says 1939, and identifies the winning gal as Grayce Reilly. Any descendants reading this?

Great stuff, and remember, if you have any classic video clips like the one featured above, please send them our way.


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