Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mind the Gap

Dance Recital – Age 6

I inherited my Mother’s gap between her two front teeth.  If you look closely at this picture you can just make it out.  I think this may be the last time I smiled with my mouth open until I got my braces off at the age of 14.  At my junior high school in the 1960s, orthodontic braces were “the” de rigueur fashion accessory.    Almost all my classmates wore them to correct gaps, crooked teeth, overbites and underbites.   In those days, it wasn’t unusual for a kid to wear braces for years at a time.  In fact, some wore them so long that nobody recognized them when they finally came off.  Is that you, Billy?  Wow!  I didn’t recognize you without a mouth full of metal.  I was lucky; I only had to wear them for nine months ----- the longest nine months of my life! 

If I close my eyes, I can still see rows and rows of pink plastic retainers sitting on grey plastic trays in the school cafeteria at lunchtime.  You popped the retainers out to eat and popped them back in again afterwards.   At the end of every lunch period, about a third of them got dumped into the trash bins along with the remnants of lunch.   I’ve always suspected that the cafeteria ladies ran a black market business in pink retainers from the back of the kitchen.  Believe me, those things weren’t cheap, especially if you ran through several sets of them, but they represented the final, rosy phase in the quest for perfectly straight teeth.  They were worn to fine tune everything after those instruments of torture, the metal braces, were removed.  Hallelujah!!!

The quest for perfect teeth started when we saw those glamorous Hollywood Stars up there on the silver screen, all of whom had perfect teeth, but most of whom had started out looking just like the rest of us with less-than-perfect teeth. 

Clark Gable (1901–1960; né William Clark Gable)
As Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind” (1939)
When Clark Gable came to Hollywood, he did not have the classic good looks that moviegoers were used to seeing in their leading men.  The studio didn’t know what to do with his big ears and irregular features, but they did know what to do with his rotten teeth.  They yanked them all out and replaced them with dentures. 

Yes, I know, it’s a bit of a romantic downer to think that the man who scooped Scarlett up in his arms and carried her up those long, red stairs, put his teeth in a glass by the bed every night.   But, the “real” Rhett Butler, had he existed in the 1860s, would probably not have had perfect pearly whites either.  The truth is that most people well into my parents’ generation outlived their teeth by many decades. 

Dentistry for the average John and Jane Doe may still have been pretty basic back then, but cosmetic dentistry was already beginning to flourish in Hollywood.   In the 1930s, Charles Pincus, dentist to the Stars, invented the first porcelain dental veneers.  Held in place by denture adhesive, they had a short shelf life and were constantly falling out, but, no matter, the age of the Hollywood megawatt smile was born.  

Lauren Bacall (1924-present; née Betty Joan Perske)
Nina Leen Pix Inc. Time Life Pictures Getty Images
Not every Hollywood Star was seduced by the lure of the Hollywood smile, however.  The beautiful Lauren Bacall flatly refused to let the studio correct her uneven teeth with veneers.  Bogie’s Baby, as she came to be known after marrying Hollywood Icon, Humphrey Bogart, 25 years her senior, was clearly no pushover.   Brava, Betty. 

Gene Tierney (1920–1991) in “Leave Her to Heaven”
And then, of course, there was the gorgeous Gene Tierney, with that sexy overbite that drove men wild.   Thank God she didn’t let Hollywood “fix” that! 

Esther Williams (1921–2013) - Vintage Makeup Guide
By the 1950s, every woman in Hollywood had juicy red lips and perfect teeth.  For me, the Lady who epitomized the era was the beautifully wholesome Esther Williams.   A record-setting swimmer, her dream to compete in the 1940 Summer Olympics was thwarted by the outbreak of World War II, so she joined an Aqua show and was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout.  With that face and that body, it’s no wonder she became America’s favorite mermaid. 

No amount of water could dampen Esther’s megawatt smile.  She went into the water with it and she came out of the water with it. 

Just take a look at Esther in action in “The Princess Mermaid.” 

Natalie Wood (1938-1981; née Natalia Nikolaevna Zacharenko)
By today’s dental standards, Natalie Wood’s teeth would have been considered too small and spaced too far apart, but, to me, she was absolute perfection in every way.  I adored her.  She was the all-American dream girl that every boy dreamed would move in next door.   She was real, yet slightly exotic.  Men wanted to make love to her and women wanted to mother her.  The news of the premature death of this stunning Star hit us all very hard.   She is still greatly missed. 

Super Model Lauren Hutton (née Mary Laurence Hutton; 1943-present) - Ron Galella Wire Image
When Lauren Hutton burst onto the modeling scene with her signature gap, I was thrilled and began to think that maybe I had been a little too hasty in closing mine.  But then, I am no super model.  Like Lauren Bacall before her, modeling agencies either wanted to “fix” her or refused to hire her outright.  For a time she plugged her gap with a bit of mortician’s wax, then went to a removable cap, which would either fall out or get swallowed.  But, eventually, that famous Hutton gap became her calling card. 

Lauren Hutton – 2013
(Ben Gabbe/Getty Images North America)
And I’m still a fan of the woman and the gap. 


  1. Thank you for posting again!!!
    And yes, I too have a gap and it is just part of who I am. A bit of individuality never hurts.

    1. Yes, indeed, Irene, individuality is what adds that certain "je ne sais quoi" that makes us stand out from the crowd.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Hugs, M-T

  2. I went back to wearing a brace on my teeth about 5 years ago to straighten them. Not cheap but the best money I have spend. It really does take years off. I too had them done as a teenage but the years took their tole and the reverted to crookedness. Now I wear a retainer at night most week-ends just to keep them from moving again.

    1. Money well spent, Josephine. Now, if only I could find a whitening system that doesn't require me to sip my tea, coffee and red wine through a straw for 3 to 4 weeks, I'd jump on it. I may give some of them a try and report back.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Cheers, M-T

  3. Dearest Marie-Thérèse,
    Lovely post and 'au naturelle' is by far the best way to go as nowadays most actresses are almost 'custom build'... What a beautiful women those that were born in the 20s. Wow, incredible.
    You were lucky for having lived in the USA. In Europe teeth straightening for teens started a lot later. So I ended up having my teeth re-done here in the USA. Wore that retainer long enough and so glad I got rid of it but it improved my smile. I too, like you smiled bashfully with closed mouth...
    Hugs to you,

    1. Dearest Mariette,
      I do think you are right about the loss of the natural in favor of the artificial in today's so-called "Stars." That said, however, I think we're both glad we improved our smiles a bit.

      Always a joy to hear from you,

  4. Replies
    1. I'm glad I'm back, too. So glad you haven't forgotten me.

      Warm hugs,

  5. I had a teeth gap before but I want to be who I am I mean I want to be me for who I am. I don't want to change but my friends keeps on bullying me because of my teeth gap so I tried the Orthofill Orthoband Brand and fixed it #OrthoBands

    1. Dear Phoebe, Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. Whether or not we choose to live with our "gap," I'm so glad you are happy with your decision to fill in your gap. Thanks for sharing with us.

      Cheers, M-T


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