The 1964 James Bond action thrilled Goldfinger features a plot in which the titular villain, the evil Auric Goldfinger, plans to contaminate the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox. Goldfinger’s secretary, Jill Masterson, tries to foil the plot by betraying her criminal boss, but he kills her in thematic style by painting her entire body gold:
As James Bond explains after he find Masterson’s body, covering a person with paint will cause death because the body “breathes” through the skin. He then goes on to state that professional dancers know to leave a small patch of unpainted skin at the base of the spine to prevent their falling victim to asphyxiation.
Although it was still widely believed at the time Goldfinger was made that we “breathe” through our skin and that closing off all the pores in one’s body would result in a quick death, we now know this to be false. (Another commonly accepted part of this concept was the notion that
leaving a small portion of the body unpainted was sufficient to ward off disaster.)
As long as a person can breathe through his mouth and/or nose, he will not die of asphyxiation, no matter how much of his body is covered with paint (or any other substance). This isn’t to say that painting yourself isn’t unsafe,
When Shirley Eaton, the actress who portrayed Auric Goldfinger’s doomed secretary, was covered with paint for the “gold corpse” scene, the studio had a few doctors standing by to ensure that she was not overcome by the effects of the paint. She wasn’t completely naked in this scene (she wore a
Eaton did not die or even become ill as a result of her Goldfinger experience: she made a few more films before retiring from acting to spend more time with her family.
On the surface this sounds like a pretty silly story
Incidentally, Goldfinger was not the first film to feature a character’s being killed through being covered with gold paint. That honor belongs to the 1946 Boris Karloff movie Bedlam.
Day, Crosby. “Gilt-Edged James Bond.”
Orlando Sentinel Tribune. 31 May 1992 (TV; p. 49).
Preston, Jane. “Heartbreak That Haunts Goldfinger Girl.”
Daily Mail. 3 December 1995 (p. 40).