Carhops as Sex Symbols — 1940

by Paula Bosse

male-car-hops_AP_1940“At your service, ma’am” (click for larger image) AP Photo

by Paula Bosse

In 1940, Dallas was in a tizzy about the sudden fad of scantily-clad “girl carhops.” This scourge had made its way to Dallas from Houston (brought to Oak Cliff by the enterprising husband and wife team behind Sivils Drive-In), and in April of 1940, it was a newspaper story with, as it were … legs. For a good month or two, stories of sexy carhops were everywhere.

The girls started wearing uniforms with very short skirts — or midriff-baring costumes with cellophane hula skirts. Some of the women reported an increase in tips of $25 or more a week — a ton of money for the time.

The public’s reaction ranged from amusement to outrage. There were reports of community matrons who reported the “indecent” attire to the police department and demanded action. Other women were annoyed by the objectification of young womanhood. Lawmakers in Austin discussed whether the practice of waitresses exposing so much extra skin posed a health risk to consumers.

But it wasn’t until a woman from Oak Cliff piped up that something actually happened. She complained that she didn’t want to look at girls’ legs when she stopped in at her local drive-in — she wanted to look at men’s legs. Drive-in owners thought that was a GREAT idea, and the idea of the scantily-clad male carhop was born.

carhops_FWST_042840Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Apr. 28, 1940 

One might think that the woman behind this “equal ogling” campaign was sort of proto-feminist, until you get to the part where she said that the whole girl carhop thing was “wrong socially and economically and should not be tolerated” (DMN, Apr. 27, 1940) — not because of the skin flashed, but because men needed jobs, not girls. And that also raised hackles. Two married women who had been carhops wrote to the Dallas News to speak up for these girls and women who were “at least coming nearer to making a living wage than at any other time of their existence. […] The girl carhops are either supporting their family or sharing the expenses. […] Why all the storm about a leg? It is nothing more than you see at a movie and a vaudeville” (DMN, May 5, 1940).

The photo at the top ran in newspapers around the country with the headline: “Adonis and Apollo of Roadside Bring Trade to Daring Stand.”

First large roadside stand Friday to bow to the demand of Dallas women and feature husky young male carhops in shorts was the Log Lodge Tavern at Lemmon and Midway where four six-footers found jobs. Above, in blue shorts, white sweatshirt and cowboy boots, Joe Wilcox serves Pauline Taylor who smiles her approval of the idea. Bound for another car is James Smith, at right.

April, 1940 must have been a slow news month, because this story really got around (click to see a larger image).

sexy-carhops_corsicana-daily-sun_042740Corsicana Daily Sun, April 27, 1940

One intrepid reporter even tracked down a Texas Ranger (!) to ask his opinion, to which the Ranger replied, “…letting those roadside glamor boys wear boots is nothing more than a slam at the state. People think of booted Texans as men, not as fancy-panted carhops.” The whole article, below, is pretty amusing.

sexy-carhops_anniston-AL-star_042840Anniston (AL) Star, April 28, 1940

There were other male carhops around town, some not quite so hunky. This guy — game as he was — really needed to reconsider his outfit.

carhops_xenia-ohio-daily-gazette_050340Xenia (Ohio) Daily Gazette, May 3, 1940

But back to the female carhops and their siren-like hold over their male customers. This was, by far, the best story to hit the wires:

sexy-carhops_waxahachie-daily-light_071640
Waxahachie Daily Light,  July 16, 1940

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Sources & Notes

Top image from the Associated Press, 1940. 

The Log Lodge Tavern was located at 7334 Lemmon Avenue, which was across from Love Field and adjacent to the Log Lodge Tourist Court. It was located approximately where the red circle is below, on a page from the 1952 Mapsco (click for larger image).

lemmon-ave_mapsco-1952

Check out these related articles from The Dallas Morning News:

  • “Skimpiest Costumes Bring Biggest Wages” (DMN, April 24, 1940)
  • “Women To Fight Girl Carhops; Slogan: Let Us See Men’s Legs” (DMN, April 26, 1940)
  • “Adonis and Apollo of Roadside Bring Trade to Daring Stand” (DMN, April 27, 1940)
  • “Word For Carhops Grass Skirts And All” (letter to the editor) (DMN, May 5, 1940)
  • “Went Crazy Over Car Hops, Wife Says of Fugitive” (DMN, July 16, 1940)

UPDATE: This has been a weirdly popular post — it’s gotten a few thousand hits and even resulted in a short radio interview on Dallas’ public radio station, KERA. I don’t really add anything new to this story, but if you’d like to listen to the interview conducted by Justin Martin, it is here.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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