Question: What was the first feature-length American movie to include a nude scene, not counting porn?


Answer: Inspiration (1915) is generally cited as the first American movie to contain a nude scene; it starred well-known artist’s model Audrey Munson as a country girl who moves to the big city, becomes a nude model and falls in love with a sculptor. Inspiration was short by today’s standards, but it was feature-length by the standards of the day. Munson made three more films, Purity (1916), Girl o’ Dreams (1917) and Heedless Moths (1921), and she appeared naked in all of them.

In 1916, Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman starred in the lavish fantasy A Daughter of the Gods, widely cited as Hollywood’s first million-dollar production and by all accounts at least two hours long. But it has been lost, like so many films of the silent era (including all of Munson’s except Purity, a print of which was found in 2004), so there’s no confirming its length. Overall, the silent era was pretty risqué. What we think of as Hollywood prudishness was a later development and resulted directly from the "anything goes" atmosphere of earlier silent-era movies. By 1930 the industry had begun a program of self-policing aimed at heading off the possibility of government censorship, and nudity was a major concern. That said, until 1934 you could still see an awful lot of flesh in thoroughly mainstream pictures like Roman Scandals (1933), which includes a scene of chained-up slave girls wearing nothing but long blonde wigs (one of whom was a young Lucille Ball). The skinny-dipping scene in Tarzan and His Mate (1934) was the last cry of Hollywood nudity until the '60s and was regularly trimmed from the film until recently. And while star Maureen O’Sullivan was doubled in that scene by former-Olympic swimmer Josephine McKim, subsequent Janes had a whole lot more animal skins in their animal-skin bikinis. Though technically it was Marilyn Monroe who brought back American mainstream nudity by doing a totally bare swimming sequence in the never-completed Something’s Got to Give, shot in 1962, Monroe-manqué Jayne Mansfield actually did the honors in a lame sex comedy called Promises, Promises (1963).