Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mary, Mae, Marlene and Doris: Industrial Strength Blondes

Twelfth in a series about strong women in film. Strong women are independent, beautiful, sexy, feminine and just want everything in life that a man wants and believe that they have every right to have it!

Blondes have a reputation. To have a "blonde moment" these days means something empty-headed and silly. The "dumb blonde" is a long-standing joke - she's sexy, but not very bright. Before the advent of one very sexy blonde by the name of Jean Harlow, blondes were also looked upon as pure and virginal (while the wicked and sinful woman was a brunette). Here are four movie blondes who took those stereotypes and stood them on their heads.

Mary Pickford: Girl Power
Mary Pickford was one of film's first superstars. "America's Sweetheart" stole the hearts of the world. Today, by those not familiar with her work, Mary Pickford is viewed as the virginal blonde, just a woman playing a little girl whose appeal belongs to the ancients. 

Well, that just couldn't be more wrong. Mary Pickford, in the days of Hollywood's infancy, was the embodiment of the all-confident, all-powerful spirit of the adolescent girl. Secure in her strength, no man, woman, child or force of nature can defeat the girl and the high esteem in which she holds herself. The doubts of maturity have not yet invaded her psyche. True to the times, she is morally beyond reproach, but she knows her power. The pre-Raphaelite hair, the sensuous hands, the luminous eyes all held out the promise of womanhood, but before the surrender. Mary was the girl who belonged to no man, only to herself. She was undefeatable. 
In real life, there was no woman in Hollywood more powerful than Mary Pickford. She crafted a career second to none and, along with her Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and her husband, Douglas Fairbanks, founded United Artists. Her artistry, financial acumen and negotiating prowess were legendary.

Mae West: The Strength to be Fabulous
Is there any woman, blonde or otherwise, more powerful than Mae West? Posing as a 19th century woman of questionable virtue, she was really a very modern woman advocating the shocking notion that a woman had the right to enjoy her life. What a concept!

In the dark days of the Depression, Mae's joyful outlook was a tonic. The Queen of the Double Entendre, she battled the censors like a cat playing with a mouse. One could go on all day about this glorious blonde, but nobody can sings her praises better than Mae herself. Here's just a few a Mae's famous words of wisdom:

"A dame that knows the ropes isn't likely to get tied up."
"A hard man is good to find."
"An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises."
"Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly."
"Give a man a free hand and he'll run it all over you."
"I believe that it's better to be looked over than it is to be overlooked."
"I never worry about diets. The only carrots that interest me are the number you get in a diamond."
"Whenever I'm caught between two evils, I take the one I've never tried."
"Too much of a good thing can be wonderful."
"Ten men waiting for me at the door? Send one of them home, I'm tired."
"I used to be Snow White, but I drifted."
"I'll try anything once, twice if I like it, three times to make sure."
"I've been in more laps than a napkin."
"It's not the men in my life that count, it's the life in my men."
Of course, Miss Mae did it with humor, but her confidence in her allure and her brains was a lesson to all those women who just couldn't help being sexy and smart. In real life she was a canny magician who made the illusion last long after the sun had set. To quote Mae once more, "You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough." 

Marlene Dietrich: 
The Strength to be Devastating
Did Marlene really have a choice? So seductive, mysterious and devastating to both men and women, what choice did this creature have but to be herself? Was it her fault that men worshiped her became her slaves? Was it her fault that women envied and admired her? I think not. Garbo shared the same cross, but Dietrich carried it with humor and flair. Garbo's cross at times seemed a heavy burden; Marlene's was light as a feather.

You see, Marlene was quite brilliant. Instead of fighting the inevitable, she embraced her power to devastate and reveled in it. Like a beautiful jungle cat, she simply is what she is and, if you don't like it, well, you're lying.
In real life, Marlene was a mass of contradictions. However, when it came to the courage of her convictions, she was a tower of strength. The bravery she demonstrated during World War II is legendary and helped add dimension to a femme fatale who seemed to have sprung from a fantasy.

Doris Day: The Strength to be 
Independent and Happy
If ever there was an actress whose reputation has been unjustly maligned, it's Doris Day. Anyone who thinks of her as the "professional virgin" who never said "yes" clearly does not know Doris' work. Aside from a few films, Doris was always a woman whose strength was on display. True to the times, if she said "no" (mainly because she didn't like a fellow or just didn't want to), it was interpreted by the rejected suitor as the response of a frigid woman. It was all done in jest, but the image stuck.

The fact is, at the height of her fame, the image Doris Day projected on film was that of an independent woman, many times a career woman, many times a common-sense housewife who was usually more than a housewife. She was well dressed, smart, crisp and honest. She was always sincere, honest and a straight shooter. There was a sureness about her and a competency in all of her characters that made you feel that, as long as Doris was in charge, all would be well.

In real life, Doris had one of the most successful and diverse careers in Hollywood and beyond. A star of radio, recordings, movies and television, Doris endured some private tragedies, but emerged  - well, just like Doris Day - triumphant. Not only has she devoted the last several decades of her life to her passion,  the Doris Day Animal League and the animals whose rights she protects and defends, but she also became the oldest recording artist to top the charts in the UK with an album of new material. At age 87 Doris has a hit album, My Heart, and it couldn't happen to a nicer person.


Dawn said...

Ohmygosh!! It is going to be a glamorous month on TCM. I can not wait!!

I hope that you will stop by N and CF and help me celebrate.

Diane said...

Oh how I love this series on strong women in film. This one is interesting and I love your thoughts on Marlena. Wonderful post.

Valarie said...

WONDERFUL ARTICLE! Ah, Mae West...her quotes never lose their punch or comedic value; so brilliant...and an incredible business woman too. She owned The Ravenswood for quite some time. The penthouse suite was hers => EVERYTHING decorated in white (what a contradiction!). Love her! She was in full control of her movie sets as well, which was pretty impressive then since not many females were and, sadly, that is still the case even today.

H said...

These and many more like them of the time had a profound effect on me as an impressionable boy - bless 'em all ;-)

FlickChick said...

Hi Dawn - we must surely be on the same wave-length! Loved your post and I just want you to know I was NOT reading your mind!

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Diane. I know that you are a Marlene fan.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Valarie. That Mae was surely something. She didn't wait for the world to tell her it was okay to be a strong, independent woman. She found a way to do it all her way. Love her.

FlickChick said...

H- bless them all is right. Wonderful women who made their mark.

Dawn said...

FlickChick, I was so tickled to see you were also celebrating "blonde bomeshells" this month. I hope you do not mind if I share your post on my "Blonde Bombshell" post?

FlickChick said...

Dawn - absolutely not! Interestingly enough, I had this planned months ago and it just happened to coincide with the TCM event and your post! Spooky, no?

VP81955 said...

To the power of blonde!

Here's my entry on TCM's "Battle of the Blondes" this month:


FlickChick said...

You gotta love 'em!

Page said...

What a group of iconic women you've put together! And you described them perfectly.
A fun post for some fabulous Hollywood stars who were one of a kind.
I adore Mary Pickford. Hoping to get a bio up on her and West soon showcasing their autographs and memorabilia.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Page. They were pretty fabulous, weren't they? Mae in particular was one of a kind. Looking forward to your post!