Priscilla Lawson: The Aura of Princess Aura

Some brief attention to actress Priscilla Lawson (Priscilla Jones Shortridge, 1914-58). Lawson’s time in the sun was brief, and she wasn’t very directly in the sun (more in the cave shadows of a faraway planet), but she did play one notable role that rates a brief discussion.

Originally from Indiana, Lawson started out as a model and won the title of Miss Miami Beach in 1935, leading to work as an Earl Carroll dancer at the Miami Casino. She went directly into films that year. Lawson played fewer 30 roles over a five year period, most of them bit parts as secretaries, switchboard operations, hat check girls, and the like.

Lawson’s biggest, best known roles by far was that of Princess Aura, daughter of Ming the Merciless, in Universal’s 1936 Flash Gordon serial. I find Princess Aura to be a genuinely intriguing and possibly influential character. She is Dale Arden’s rival for the heart of Flash, but not really because she strictly desires him, she wants to possess him, and has no idea what love is. In a more sophisticated kind of movie (a noir, for example) Aura would be a genuine rival, and Flash would be tempted by her at least on a physical level, or fall play to her wiles. Because this is a kid’s movie, he is completely uninterested by her. But the audience is!

Oddly, this plum role didn’t really lead to subsequent ones. The biggest of her later parts were in the films Rose Bowl (1936, also with Buster Crabbe), The Girl of the Golden West (1938) and Test Pilot (1938). She has a tiny part as a hairdresser in The Women (1939), her penultimate film. Two years later she has a walk-on a barmaid in Billy the Kid (1941) and that was her last film. After this, she joined the WACs and did active duty in World War II. She did not return to show business after the war was over.

For more than you’ll ever want or need to know about Priscilla Lawson, you’ll be glad to know that there’s an entire website about her. Check it out here!