|All pix in the blog from http://www.dorisday.net|
Watching lovely blonde cutie Doris for more than 10 movies, I was struck as never before by how influential these images of her were in my life. While her too-sweet-for-words looks and voice sometimes made me wince even as a kid, this week I was enthralled by her range. But I am also struck as never before by how much she marks the specific years of her work as an icon of that moment in time.
Note that the following week, I watched Doris's polar opposite and contemporary artist, Rita Hayworth, Bad Girl Personified. I hope to have a few thoughts on her persona, too. Later.
Going from band singer to movie star, Doris started her career as the "sweet kid next door" who can get the man. With laughs and a ploy here and there, Doris sang her way through charming feel-good flicks of the post-war era of the 1940s. With a note of drama here and there, she remains in each script the Girl who is Normal, Sweet and Deserving of the Hero. Even in such dramatic pix as The Man with the Horn (1951), Doris portrays the foil to sophisticate Lauren Bacall opposite an alcoholic trumpeter played by Kurt Douglas.
But in 1955, she gets the role of blues singer Ruth Etting in Love Me or Leave Me, starring with ever-so-bad bully James Cagney.
I remember seeing this as a kid, being told by my father that "Ruth was a great singer and this guy she married was a bum."
And as we watch Ruth deal with this man, we see why Betty Friedan did so well so quickly with her theories of the need to rise up and break the chains that bound women.
Cagney blusters, bullies and brow-beats. He struts and manipulates and totally cows Ruth, first as a singer whom he "discovers" and gets her her first gig. But then later, he builds on that, makes her beholden and ensures she remembers it.
The astonishing facet to me, of course, is that with this portrayal of a woman living in the 1920s, Ruth Etting never questions that he has a right to bully or berate her. (At least this is true in the script.) And this makes me cringe, point my finger and say, wow, Ruth, you never thought you had options?
No. She did not. And she, sadly, was not alone.
The rule of the 1920s and as we can see in the portrayal of 1950s housewife Betty Draper in MadMen, many women thought there was no way out.
They took what they could get, paid for it with a devotion that was half dead and then paid other prices in self-esteem, drugs, alcohol and who knows what effect upon their children.
Fast forward to the movies at the beginning of the 1960s. Gee, golly, what a difference for Doris and the rest of us!
While I leave it to you to watch these yourself, I will say my conclusions about what is happening to women in the first three years of the sixties is phenomenal.
I know. Because I remember those years VERY WELL.
In the Rock Hudson movie, we see Doris as as professional woman who works her butt off to succeed in business and she is foiled mightily by a scheming no-good wily man who is her rival for the same accounts. The plot is terribly funny and in the end she loves him, he loves her. AND WOW, we wonder why!
At no time in the movie except for the last ten minutes does this man show any redeeming qualities. Yes, he is handsome. A CATCH, right? He is rich, successful, and the fact that he has been unprincipled toward her and his clients seems to matter not at all! SHE LOVES HIM! If I wrote this in a book, captured this man's essence in words, I WOULD BE REJECTED. He is about as worthy a hero as Vlad, the Impaler. But of course, that is what he reps, isn't it? A Romantic Vlad.
We will have a moment of shuddering here....
This flick left me rather agog that I had watched this then...and now!
She is his wife and mother of his two charming children. He is a noted OB-GYN. Quite by chance, she becomes a spokesperson for a product that sweeps to her onto billboards, fame and money. When hubby Jim gets fed up with her celebrity, his bright idea to bring her back to home/heel/submission (do choose a word you like here) is to get her pregnant again.
He actually has a moment in the film where he sits at his desk and recalls one of his patients telling him that there is no finer calling in life for a woman than to have a baby.
While I had three of my own babies, and loved every moment of being pregnant and their early lives and bringing them up to adulthood, I must say that they rank up there with a few other events in my life.
- My enduring relationship with my husband, now more than 45 years.
- My enduring relationship with my writing profession, now more than 32 years.
- And my enduring relationship with my devotion to my intellectual stimulation, now more than...well, let's say...lots of decades!
Doris, you did right by me at the time. But not all of what you taught us was the whole picture of what a woman can and should become.
On to Rita Hayworth!