A Chameleonic Character: Celebrity, Embodiment, and the Performed Self in Cornelia Otis Skinner’s Magazine Monologues

Jamie Libby Boyle, University of South Carolina
Vol. 30, No. 2 (Fall 2011), 371-392

This essay focuses on the overlooked career of Cornelia Otis Skinner, famous American actress and magazine writer, and what her popular, self-narrated magazine writing tells us about female celebrity, embodiment, and subjectivity throughout the twentieth century. Her staged performances created a sense of grace, class, and beauty, but her writing redefines her body and her “self” as awkward, unmanageable, and clumsy. This essay uses theories from humor, celebrity, and performance studies to analyze Skinner’s middlebrow work. Her written work attempts to combat the cooptation of her subjectivity by the modern press and its gender stereotypes. Boyle argues that Skinner used humor to simultaneously work within and against the star system that created and ruined celebrities. Skinner critiques celebrity and reception by satirizing her conspicuousness, her body, and her observers. Skinner’s magazine articles suggest the potential of humorous, self-narrated writing to give voice to public women seeking to regain some control over their public selves.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]