The term sex symbol was first used between the 1910s and 1920s to describe the first emerging movie stars of the era. One of the first sex symbols on-screen was Sessue Hayakawa for men and Asta Nielsen for women. Movie studios have relied heavily on the looks and sex appeal of their actors to be able to attract audiences. This concept increased in World War II.
In the 20th century, sex symbols could be male as well as female: actors such as the romantic Sessue Hayakawa and the athletic Douglas Fairbanks were popular in the 1910s and 1920s. Archetypal screen lover Rudolph Valentino's death in 1926 caused mass hysteria among his female fans. In Hollywood, many film stars were seen as sex symbols, such as Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper, and Clark Gable. The "bad boy" image of the 1950s was epitomized by sex symbols such as James Dean and Marlon Brando and women like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield were seen as the archetype of the blonde bombshell.
Fictional sex symbols
With regard to fiction, Rotten Tomatoes states that the 1930s cartoon character Betty Boop is "the first and most famous sex symbol on animated screen". Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Kathleen Turner) from the 1988 live-action/animation crossover film Who Framed Roger Rabbit has been described as a sex symbol as well.
- Blonde bombshell (stereotype)
- Bombshell (sex symbol)
- Sex kitten
- Pinup girl
- Matinée idol
- Sexual objectification
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- Pam Cook, "The trouble with sex: Diana Dors and the Blonde bombshell phenomenon", In: Bruce Babinigton (ed.), British Stars and Stardom: From Alma Taylor to Sean Connery, pp. 169–171. Quote: "– the sex symbol is usually defined in terms of her excessive sexuality"
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- Flexner, Stuart Berg; Soukhanov, Anne H. (1997). Speaking freely: a guided tour of American English from Plymouth Rock to Silicon Valley. Oxford University Press. p. 373. ISBN 978-0-19-510692-3.
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