Amelia Batchler has appeared in more movies than any actress in history, and always in the same role: She stands there holding a torch over her head, looking like the Statue of Liberty’s sexy little sister. Got it? She’s the girl who posed for the logo that has introduced every Columbia Pictures feature made since 1936. Now 71, Batchler lives with her husband of 53 years, ex-producer Keith Daniels, in a 12-room Bel Air duplex dotted with mementos of famous friends (Carole Lombard, Loretta Young, Jeanette MacDonald) who passed her on the way up. Here’s how she got the part that made her anonymously immortal:
One day Harry Cohn—he was the president of Columbia and a very, very crude man—said to me, “Go up to wardrobe and they’ll dress you. There’s an Italian artist who’s going to paint your picture.” This was, I think, in 1935 or 1936. I was a stock contract player, and for $75 a week we did everything but sweep the floor. We posed for this and that and did bit parts, sometimes in two or three pictures a day. Jobs were very hard to get, and $75 was a lot of money then, when you could buy a loaf of bread for 10 cents. Anyway, I didn’t mind posing. I’d won a beauty contest in Dallas, and my one and only ambition was to be discovered.
I remember it was very hot, midsummer, and I was wearing this little pink one-piece bathing suit I always wore to interviews. Some of the girls used to think that I was indecent for wearing that bathing suit of mine to the studio. I wore it because they’d call in about 30 girls and pick maybe three, and I was always one of the ones who got the job. One girl said, “No wonder you got the job, coming here in a bathing suit!” Anyway, for the painting the Columbia people draped me in a big black velvet robe that hung all the way down in front. Then they sent me into a little fitting room with no windows and no air-conditioning, just a tiny fan. This Italian artist—I can’t remember his name—was very slow. It was a big painting, about 3½ feet by 5 feet, and I posed for three days—seven, eight hours a day. I got a Coke and a break for lunch. The torch was made out of light material, plaster or papier-mâché, but my arm got so tired from holding it up in the air that I told the artist it was going to fall off. So he got the prop man to drop a wire down from the ceiling, and they hung the torch from the wire. I just sort of held onto it, and it helped.
I figured maybe the painting would be used in a picture, or that it was for Harry himself. I never bothered to ask. I didn’t know until I saw it on the screen that it was going to be the Columbia Pictures symbol. It was only a few years later that I began seeing that painting I posed for in the theaters all the time when Columbia’s pictures began. Nobody ever told me. Residuals, are you kidding? They didn’t pay residuals to anyone in those days. This was before the unions came in.
Harry kept the painting. I know because I saw a picture of him in a magazine posing with it. In those days they’d take anything home and charge it to production costs. But he’s been dead a long time. I’d like to know who owns it today. Anyway, Harry fired me two weeks after I posed for the picture because I wouldn’t go up to wardrobe and get a fur coat and evening gown and go downtown to entertain some exhibitors who were visiting. I said, “Mr. Cohn, I came here to work as an actress, and I’m not a whore.” When my contract was up, he let me go.
Being Miss Columbia didn’t change my life in any particular way. I got tired of saying to people, “Hey, I posed for that,” because their attitude was—so what? I called Columbia one day and told this girl in the publicity department that I was the girl in the logo, in case the studio wanted to do something about me someday. But she didn’t seem too excited. I just figured, “Well, that’s people today.”