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Last on

Thu 26 Aug 2010 11:30 BBC Radio 4 FM only

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 26 August 2010

Madame Sylvia was a tiny, opinionated Norwegian who became the toast of 1920s Hollywood.

Employed by Pathe studios, her legendary violent massage technique kept stars such as Gloria Swanson ready for their close-ups.

She claimed to be able to make fat ooze from the pores like mashed potato through a colander. A shrewd businesswoman, she made herself into a brand, marketing her techniques through books, articles and radio programmes across America.

She made her name at a time when the movie boom meant not just stars, but audiences were starting to become more self-conscious about physical appearance.

She was the very first fitness guru, and kick-started our modern obsession with working out.

Karen Krizanovich, a film critic and accredited personal trainer, goes to Hollywood in search of Sylvia's story.

She goes to Sylvia's house and the studio where she worked, and reads her racy newspaper columns. But she also assesses Sylvia's legacy, questioning the role that fitness and beauty play in modern Hollywood as she talks to a celebrity personal trainer and joins a class of hula-hoopers on Santa Monica beach.

Was Sylvia a pioneering trailblazer - or can we blame her for the darker side of today's obsession with the body beautiful?

Producer: Kate Taylor
A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4.


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