Thursday, July 14, 2011

Career Girls: Daisy Kenyon, Laura Hunt and the Dana Andrews Connection

What do Daisy Kenyon 
Joan Crawford as Daisy Kenyon
and Laura Hunt 

Gene Tierney as Laura Hunt
have in common?

You mean besides being beautiful, artistic career girls (Daisy a commercial artist, Laura in advertising) and having FABULOUS New York City apartments?

You mean besides going out to fancy New York City restaurants and nightclubs?
Laura and her beau, Shelby, have a liquid lunch
Daisy and her 2 men have a civilized dinner 

Besides looking chic?
Smart Girls dress smartly

Just a "little something" Laura slips into for a typical evening soiree

This guy - Dana Andrews!
Dana Andrews: Loving Laura

Dana Andrews: Loving Daisy
Dana Andrews seemed to like those independent career girls!

Both films, directed by Otto Preminger, present the plight of those smart-but-sometimes foolish career women of the 1940s. The wartime "Laura" (starring the beauteous Gene Tierney as Laura) gives us the tale of a young woman whose success is almost unbearably perfect. She is beautiful, talented, tasteful and sweet. Of course, she has to be a nitwit about men. That's where Dana Andrews comes in.

In "Laura" he's the tough but tender cop who calls women dames, but knows a lady and a nice portrait when he sees one. He's good for Laura and eventually saves her glamorous hide from psycho Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) and wimpy and weak Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price). Actually, before meeting Detective McPherson, the manliest person in Laura's social circle was her aunt (Judith Anderson).
Judith Anderson's Ann Treadwell speaks the truth
 to her niece: "I'm not a nice person, Laura."
Naturally, it all ends well, with Laura rushing into the arms of the detective who saves her.

But, what if things didn't work out for Laura and her detective? Fast forward a few years. Could Daisy Kenyon's story be Laura's future?

Post-war Dana was not so good for poor "Daisy Kenyon" (Joan Crawford). Here he's the married hot-shot lawyer who annoyingly calls everyone "honeybunch" and is stringing poor Daisy along. He is the man who never lost a case and always gets what he wants. The chief thing that he wants is to maintain his marriage and keep Daisy on the side until he is ready to make a move. Where Laura is in the first bloom of youth, Daisy sees years wasted on a married man flying by. In defiance of Andrews' control of her, she takes up with a moody and haunted Henry Fonda (in a rare "dark" role). Dana eventually loses a case, is dumped by his ultra-neurotic wife (Ruth Warwick) and tries to make things right with Daisy (see, he's Dana Andrews - a nice guy after all), but Daisy sticks it out with Henry, who claims to really love her - really. And it appears he does, although Daisy has to get into a car accident and trudge home in the snow, wearing just flimsy high heels and a mink before she realizes it.

"Laura," is a classic. But Laura Hunt, other than being extremely beautiful, is not a very interesting character, mainly because she is so young and poised and perfect. Those jaded, corrupt and just plain nutty older folks who surround her are what make the story hum.
Dana Andrews, Vincent Price and Clifton Webb all have eyes for Gene Tierney's Laura
"Daisy Kenyon," while not a classic, is interesting precisely because Daisy is becoming a woman of a certain age. Here she is, a successful commercial artist, and she is still acting like a schoolgirl over her married lover and wasting precious years foolishly waiting for him to leave his wife. Daisy is a good sport, but she knows it's time for a change. She was strong and independent enough to land a great career and a swell apartment, but those cannot make up for lost time. Luckily, Henry Fonda (who Joan, for some reason calls "Pee-tah" rather than just "Peter") shows up and hangs in there for Daisy, outsmarting the smarty-pants lawyer and winning her love in the end. It's been said that Joan Crawford was too old for this role (she was 43), but that's the point: Daisy was too old to keep living the life of the girlfriend of a married man. She knows it's time to take control of her own destiny.

While Laura says all the right things about a career, it's really loves she's after. Daisy, on the other hand, sees her work as her salvation and sanity.  When the going gets sticky, Daisy works. She has no intention of giving it up for either man.

Both Laura Hunt and Daisy Kenyon presented a glamorous image of the 1940s independent New York City career girl. The glamour, the freedom, the wardrobe! No matter how many dumb choices they made for love (it goes with the territory, right?), their allure was irresistible. When Fonda and Andrews try to force Daisy Kenyon's hand to make a choice between them, she says,"I'll do my own thinking, thank you - and my own existing." I wonder how many young girls sat in theaters around the country and said to themselves "I want that life."
Daisy makes up her own mind!
There weren't many role models out there for independent-minded females in the 1940s. While both "Laura" and "Daisy Kenyon" offer imperfect views of career women, they both give a fledgling glimpse of the freedom, the glamour, and yes, the heartbreak, of an independent life.


Caftan Woman said...

Interesting and thoughtful piece comparing the movies, eras and those career girls. Not only the girls in the audience at the time were influenced, but Late Show viewers of future generations still have those images.

Loved your line - "Actually, before meeting Detective McPherson, the manliest person in Laura's social circle was her aunt (Judith Anderson)." - I howled!

Diane said...

Career girls, wow...wonderful piece. It is interesting to think of the women of the 40's and then think of the women of today.
Great insight.

FlickChick said...

@CW - thank you. We girls had to find our role models wherever we could!

@ D - thanks, honeybunch!

msmariah said...

There's something about movies during this era that can't be duplicated. These folks had serious style, both in fashion and in prose.

FlickChick said...

Gene and Joan were certainly glamorous "career girls." I wish I looked as good as either one when I head out the door every day!

ClassicBecky said...

Flickchick, it took me long enough to get over here! Very astute thinking, woman! I never put together the message of those two movies and how different they are really are. You are totally on the target - Laura was the young and lovely sponge upon which men could make their impression, and Daisy was a mature woman with a mind of her own.

You know, I loved "Laura", but watching it as I got older, I could see the harder side of Laura. I mean, she really used Waldo in a lot of ways. I think women are well aware when a man really wants them, and she must have known that while allowing Waldo to reshape her and make her career. Yet she chooses Price and Andrews and really is kind of mean to Waldo about it. Just a thought, evolved from when I first time I saw it as a young girl.

Your usual excellent and humorous work, Chick! Loved it!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Becky. And I do agree with you that Laura was very mean to Waldo (but isn't that how young, beautiful women who are always used to getting their way are sometimes?)It's a great story because nothing is really as it seems. That's why we have to watch it at least 127 times!

Dawn said...

Wonderful article "Career Girls". The women of the 40s had great style.

I'm with Caftan Woman, I loved the line, "manliest person in Laura's social circle was her aunt." Now when I watch the film "Laura", I will be thinking about your thoughts.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Dawn! Really - compared to Shelby & Waldo, Ann Treadwell wore the pants!

Jan Miner said...

Knowing myself as I do, I would definitely have been one of those young girls sitting in the darkened movie theater thinking - "That's the life I want. Now where can I get it???"
Thanks for an interesting piece.

FlickChick said...

Ah, Hollywood - always tempting us and always messing with our minds! I am still looking for that life - and Dana Andrews - too!

DorianTB said...

FlickChick, I loved your career-girl double-feature here! Excellent points about the differences between Laura Hunt and Daisy Kenyon. "I'll do my own thinking, thank you - and my own existing" has already become one of my favorite movie lines. I, too, laughed out loud over your crack about Judith Anderson as Aunt Ann Treadwell being the manliest person in Laura's circle! But as for Laura "using" Waldo, I'd say he wasn't above using and manipulating people, either; heck, it seemed to be an indoor sport in their circle. No wonder Laura decided to ditch these nuts and users, and throw in with Mark instead! :-)

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Dorian! As Detective McPherson said, Laura surrounded herself with a lot of dopes!

Page said...

I to enjoyed the comparisons. I never can picture Joan as a "Daisy" but there it is! Ha Ha

A great topic for a post. I can't wait to see what you come up with net to entertain us and to get us thinking.

FlickChick said...

Thanks so much, Page. Yeah, Joan isn't really the "Daisy" type, is she?

The Lady Eve said...

Really enjoyed your post, FlickChick. Insightful and hugely entertaining.

As a latter-day "career girl" (I mean "woman"), it's always interesting to see how "we" were depicted in earlier times.

Actresses like Crawford, Davis and Stanwyck were made for these parts - ambition and determination seemed a natural part of each of them and, in those days, usually requisite for such roles.

Tierney's Laura is a relatively oblivious beauty...her great success hinges on her initial enterprising but bumbling approach to Lydecker - who I doubt would have sought out & made amends to a less lovely Laura.

Can only imagine what your take on "The Best of Everything" is!

FlickChick said...

@ Lady Eve: Oh yes - "The Best of Everything"- watch out for Joan in that one! It's funny that a lot of people have seen Laura as a bit of a schemer. I di agree that she should have known better with Waldo, but, really, when you look like that, who can blame you for anything?

theoncominghope said...

I just watched Laura for the first time last night, and was definitely struck by what an independent woman she was. Will add Daisy Kenyon to my list of films to be watched.

Here are my thoughts on Laura, if you're interested in the thoughts of a newbie!

FlickChick said...

Indeed - Laura is more complicated than she initially appears - one reason why the movie is so endlessly watchable.