Please, You’re Tinkering with my Art – Dagmar

Cadillac automobiles have often featured a lot of chrome.  From early on Cadillac has been a premium American brand, and that meant a lot of chrome to buyers.  The more the better.

Dagmar bumpers, also known simply as Dagmars (D-HAG-mar) is a slang term for the artillery shell shaped styling elements found on the front bumper/grille assemblies on some Cadillacs.  Artistically, the bumpers were probably supposed to suggest a feature from an aircraft.  However, to the Viewer they suggested a popular actress of the day, Virginia Lewis (Dagmar).

Standing 5 feet 11 inches in her heels, Dagmar combined ”the voluptuous curves of a Venus, the provocative grace of a young Mae West and the virtue of a Girl Scout,” Murray Schumach wrote in The New York Times in 1950.

NY Times’ Douglas Martin wrote:

Dagmar’s significance transcended [television,] beating Cher and Madonna to first-name-only status. Her necklines were debated on the floor of the House of Representatives, and when her salary soared from $75 a week to $3,000, the government’s Wage Stabilization Board took public notice.

Wikipedia has this info on Virginia Lewis (Dagmar):

In 1950, when Virginia Lewis was hired by Jerry Lester for NBC’s first late-night show Broadway Open House (1950-52), he renamed her Dagmar. Lester devised the name as a satirical reference to the huge success on television of the TV series Mama (1949-57), in which the younger sister, Dagmar Hansen, was portrayed by Robin Morgan.

As Dagmar, Lewis was instructed to wear a low-cut gown, sit on a stool and play the role of a stereotypical dumb blonde. With tight sweaters displaying her curvy 5′ 8″ figure (measuring 42″-23″-39″), her dim-bulb character was an immediate success, soon attracting much more attention than Lester. Lewis quickly showed that regardless of appearances she was quite bright and quick-witted. She appeared in sketches, and Lester made occasional jokes about her “hidden talents.”

Virginia Lewis’ success as a performer was stated eloquently in an article in Huntington Quarterly magazine (Issue 35) which read:

“The secret of Dagmar’s success was a star quality that transcended sex appeal. Beneath the bust line and the punch line beat the heart of the nicest hometown girl you would ever want to meet. And to a generation of men separated from home — and from mothers, and sisters, and wives and sweethearts — Dagmar was American womanhood in its most appealing outward form. She was the farmer’s daughter and the Pretty Girl come to life. She was nothing less than an icon — a living, breathing example of the pinups painted on the noses of U.S. military aircraft during World War II and Korea.”

Says Milton Berle: “She was extra-talented. She could sing, she could dance, she knew how to throw a line, and she was a good ‘feed,’ like a straight woman. She was a pro.”

Certainly this is one classic Cadillac anthropomorphic detail that should make a return in the modern cars.  Celebrating the beauty of a Woman who found her own voice in early media as a genuinely talented comedic actress would be a good thing.

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