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Article 1   

The History of a Logo:
The Lady with the Torch

March 24, 2001

The Columbia Lady as she appears on the 2000 Columbia/Tristar Logo.

The "Columbia Lady" who has worn her toga and held her torch high for most of Columbia Pictures' seventy-five year history, has a history of her own, although the facts get a little fuzzy in places and are completely missing in others.

The logo first appeared in 1924, and though multiple models have come forward over the years and claimed to have posed as the original lady, Columbia Pictures themselves (now owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment) says they have no records or documentation to verify any of the claims.

In Bette Davis' 1962 autobiography The Lonely Life, she makes a passing reference to "Little Claudia Dell", an actress from the 1930s and early '40s, "whose image," Bette remarks, "was used as Columbia Pictures' signature for years."  But there are others.  In 1987, People Magazine reported that a Texas-born model and Columbia bit-player named Amelia Batchler had modeled for the logo in 1933.  And a February 2001 article in the Chicago Sun-Times reported claims by a local woman named Jane Bartholomew, who worked as an extra at Columbia in the 1930s, that she was the model for the version of the logo that appeared late in that decade.  Given the many incarnations of the woman in the logo over the years, it is even possible that all three of these women posed as Miss Liberty at some point, each for a different version of the image.

Columbia Logo 1934
The Columbia Lady introducing IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934).

The logo as it appears at the beginning of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) is without clouds.  The lady is featured with a dark bob and a kind of Cleopatra-like headdress across her forehead, standing (no feet or pedestal visible) under an arch of chiseled though square-shaped letters reading "A Columbia Production".  She is draped in an American flag complete with the stars on her left shoulder and the stripes coming across her middle, supported by her left arm, and hanging down her right side.  Her torch is displayed with a rather primitive, flickering style of animation emitting lines of light as rays.

Columbia Logo 1939
The Columbia Lady introducing  MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939).

By the opening of MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON in 1939 however, the woman with the torch appeared completely different.  Much more refined, ethereal and goddess-like, her facial features became less pronounced and she looked away (up and to the right) instead of straight ahead.  Her headdress was removed and her hair swept back instead of hanging by the sides of her face.  The drape over her shoulder became somewhat less-obviously an American flag, the stars on the left shoulder having been toned down in a shadow, and the stripes visible only on the portion of the drape hanging down her right side.  "A Columbia Production" was replaced with the tall chiseled letters of "Columbia" running straight across the top section of the screen, with the lady's torch glowing in front of the "U" and clouds appearing for the first time in the background.  A new form of animation was used on the logo as well, with a torch that radiates light instead of flickers.

The Columbia lady as she appeared before THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961).

In 1941 the logo underwent another makeover.  As the new logo appeared to introduce ALL THE KING'S MEN (1949), the lady looked much as she had in 1939, only the stripes were removed, and the flag became simply a drape without markings, dark on the left shoulder but only the shadows of the folds differentiating the rest of it from the lady's white gown on her right side.  The "Columbia" lettering was also modified in 1941, still chiseled but less bold, and with darker shadowing.

Sometime in the 1950s, the Columbia Lady's robe was redrawn and shaded so as to emphasize the plunging neckline.  By the end of the 1960s she had lost her slipper-clad foot peeking out from the bottom of her robe as it divided just above the pedestal.  Also in the 1960s, the clouds behind the logo became concentrated in the center and more billowy in shape.

In 1975 the Columbia Lady was dropped from the logo altogether and replaced with a simple sunburst representing the beams from her torch.  She returned in 1989 however, smoother in appearance and with much less detail.  "Columbia" became "Columbia Pictures" on either side of the base of her pedestal, and in a less conspicuous rounded font.  Some even described the lady's smoother body shape as resembling a Coke bottle.  (Coca-Cola had bought the studio in 1982.)

The 1993 logo designed by Michael J. Deas.

The logo's most recent overhaul was undertaken in 1993 when Sony Pictures Entertainment (which bought Columbia in 1989) commissioned illustrator Michael J. Deas to redesign the lady and return her to her "classic" look.  The result, based on Deas' sessions with Mandeville, Louisiana homemaker Jenny Joseph who posed for him with a makeshift robe and torch, was a taller, slimmer Columbia Lady with lighter, curlier hair and a dimmer torch.  Rather than use Joseph's face however, Deas constructed a composite face made up of several computer-generated features.

Deas returned the giant chiseled letters to the logo, but the design was also updated for the 1990s.  In the animated logo that appears before Columbia films on the big screen, the torch sparkles, the background clouds move across the sky, and a ring of light shimmers around the lady.

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The Journal of San Diego History
April 1964, Volume 10, Number 3
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(From a hitherto unpublished manuscript of the late Herbert C. Hensley)

The old Pacific Beach Race-Track was the scene of that famous horseback duel in 1888.

Probably the most exciting sporting event witnessed in San Diego in the eighties was the famous Jaguarina-Weidermann broadsword contest, held at the Pacific Beach race-track at the foot of Rose Canyon, on Sunday, October 28, 1888. The fight was divided into eleven rounds (called "attacks") of three minutes each, and at the close the woman was declared the winner by the score of six to five.

As this result showed, it was a pretty close thing and had the fight gone on, (as the crowd vociferously but unsuccessfully, demanded), it might have ended differently, for Weidermann was almost a giant in size and an all-round gymnast, besides being a master of both sword and foil. At this time he was physical director of the German-American Turnverein as well as of the College of Letters at Pacific Beach; this latter was an early-day academy or college, originally built and which occupied the old structure which later became the main building of the Brown Military Academy.

It is evident that Jaguarina must have been a remarkable lady. Born in the United States, of an English father and a Spanish mother, she had spent most of her life in Europe and for the last eight years had been almost constantly engaged in sword-contests in America and abroad, being uniformly successful. Not long before the meeting with Weidermann she had bested the champion of the United States army, Sergeant Owen Davis, and also another notable representative of that army, Duncan C. Ross.

Of late years she had resided in Mexico, between bouts, and at this time was living near Ensenada. When the meeting with Professor Weidermann was arranged, Jaguarina made the trip to San Diego on horseback by way of conditioning her charger, Muchacho, for the coming fray. In San Diego, she bought another big horse and proceeded to train him, just in case anything happened to Muchacho.

Jaguarina (I never heard her family or given name) was an exceedingly fine-looking woman with dark hair and eyes but very fair complexion. I often saw her, from the window of James Harris' bookbinding shop in the old Tremont building where I worked, strolling composedly along Third street, with a great mastiff on leash. She dressed quietly, though richly, but such was her personal distinction that she could not but attract attention.

I did not attend that battle. In the first place, it was on Sunday, which settled the matter at the start, and besides, I hadn't the price of railroad fare plus admission, anyway. But, by all reports, the crowd got its full money's worth. There were around seven thousand persons present.

The contestants had their "corners" at opposite sides of the enclosure, and at the word rushed upon each other like knights of old. On their big horses, with flashing swords and breastplates, it must have been a thrilling spectacle. Jaguarina, though a large and powerful woman, looking, in her street clothes, what you would call a "stylish stout," was much the smaller. But she made up for that by a tremendous vigor and impetuosity. She constantly forced the fighting, thundering out of her corner and across the field, to meet the captain almost before he was out of his. She wore a French army officer's cuirass, of copper and brass, which blazed in the sunshine, as she came tearing across the lists.

Of course, both contestants were masked and helmeted, and besides their breastplates, had their sword-arms well padded. But at that, what with the rearing and pawing and snorting of their chargers and the ringing whacks of those sure-enough swords, and the referee and seconds (also mounted) swooping about, it was a gallant sight.

Captain Weidermann may not have heard of the great reputation of his fair antagonist, for when the contest was proposed he voiced a reluctance to engage in such a rough bout with a woman. And that idea, of chivalry, (though I imagine it did not last long after the first clash of arms), might possibly have had some little effect on his performance at the start of the mill.

The contest was marked, almost throughout, by good feeling; and altogether so on the part of the principals, except that there was one fiery argument joined in by contestants, referee and seconds, resulting in the change of referee, which so scared Captain Weidermann's second that he dove into the crowd and remained there, perdu, during the balance of the tournament. A Captain Heilbron quickly took his place.

Jaguarina remained some time in San Diego. She was talented in other ways than with the sword, and a couple of weeks later took part in an entertainment given by the Turnverein, at Leach's Opera House on D Street, when she sang and posed in classic living pictures. She and Weidermann also appeared in another contest, this time with foils.

At fencing she showed even greater superiority, winning by a larger margin of points than with the broadsword. These bouts made a great hit and an attempt was made later to bring the two together for a third meeting. But the captain declined. Probably he thought that enough was plenty. Could it have been a rough-and-tumble fight with no holds barred, or a melee with clubs or battle-axes, his chances of victory might have been better; but as it was, apparently the lady was just too fast for him.

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