Did Cecil B. DeMille have a foot fetish? Probably not.

Kevin Brianton, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia

Charles Higham in 1969 made the claim of DeMille’s foot fetishism in his discussion of Feet of Clay (1924). Image courtesy of eMoviePoster.

One of the persistent myths about Cecil B. DeMille was that he had a foot fetish.  DeMille Biographer Charles Higham in 1969 made the claim of DeMille’s foot fetism in his discussion of Feet of Clay (1924) where he wrote that there was ‘no doubt’ that DeMille’s obsession with feet drew him to the title.[1] This entry would create a claim of a foot fetishism which would be repeated by many people over the years, even though the evidence is against the idea. Film historian Robert Birchard in 2004 pointed out that Higham had no opportunity to watch Feet of Clay as the print was lost and the case for foot fetishism was weak. Moreover, Feet of Clay was about a man who lost his foot – hardly a sexual image at all, and the film was imposed on DeMille by the studio.[2] The fetish claim possibly came from DeMille’s niece Agnes who repeated it in a TV documentary about DeMille in 1982.[3] The evidence is pretty thin. DeMille told Photoplay magazine in 1930 that ‘pretty feet and trim ankles are something he always admired in a woman.’[4] Even so, it is doubtful that his niece Agnes DeMille understood the precise use of the term and she certainly had no detailed understanding of the intimate details of her uncle’s sex life. A foot fetishist enjoys sexual stimulation by the use of the feet. Liking the look of a woman’s feet and a foot fetish are quite different.  A ‘well turned ankle’ is an old fashioned phrase that DeMille might have used to describe an attractive women.

Writing in 2001, David Wallace discussed DeMille’s alleged foot fetish in some detail, saying that DeMille was enchanted with his wife Constance when he saw her feet walking up a stair case.[5] DeMille’s autobiography is the only available account of their romance and he did not mention his wife’s feet at all.[6] DeMille wrote that she was beautiful and had wit.

Paulette Goddard did appear barefoot in North West Mounted Police, but it is not a sexual image.

Other evidence was that Paulette Goddard was rumoured to have got her role in North West Mounted Police by showing her bare feet during an audition. The reality is probably more mundane. DeMille’s grand daughter Cecilia deMille Presley suggested that the possible reason for the rumour was that DeMille liked to see an actor’s feet if they were to appear barefoot on screen.[7] Her eventual role in the film does depict her barefoot, but it is a stretch to say it is a sexual image.

The final piece of threadbare evidence given by Wallace is that DeMille ‘probably’ suggested that people leave footprints in the concrete outside Grauman’s Theatre. No source is given for this weak claim. As weak as the evidence, the idea has permeated critical and biographical writing about DeMille. It is quite possible over the course of 40 years in film making to identify any number of bare foot scenes, but given DeMille directed more than 70 films, the evidence is just not there.

Originally published on kbrianton.com.

[1] Charles Higham, Cecil B. De Mille: A Biography of the Most Successful Film Maker of Them All, Scribner, New York, 1973, p. 129.

[2] Robert S. Birchard, Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 2004, p. 195.

[3] Barry Norman, The Film Greats, ISIS, Oxford, 1985, p. 186. Certainly

[4] Rosalind Shaffer, ‘I never choose beautiful women,’ Photoplay, Volume 38, No. 4, September 1930, pp. 30, 31, and 114.

[5] David Wallace, Lost Hollywood, St Martins Press, New York, 2001, p. x.

[6] DeMille, Autobiography, p. 45.

[7] Interview with Cecilia DeMille Presley, January 2008.

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