Marilyn. Need we say more?
Saturday, February 13, 2010

Women We Love

Esquire used to run, and I guess it still does, an annual feature called Women We Love.

My father was never, as far as I know, a big Esquire reader, though some of his friends were, and when I was growing up it was Playboy that I looked at, and hid.

Whenever I looked at that issue of Esquire on the newsstand it usually had actresses, maybe some writers, but they were always public figures. So obviously there are the women we love in private, our wives and girlfriends, whom we devoutly pray never meet, and the others that we admire from afar.

The picture of the blonde looking at the baby is my wife, ca Christmas of 1970, and she’s looking, to my besotted eyes, quite glamourous. Love that long hair, and that ever so slight evocation of Veronica Lake.

Another blonde in the category of women we love is Marilyn, shown in the picture above. I grew up yearning for Marilyn. I think the first picture I ever saw with her was The Seven Year Itch. I must have been about 10 at the time, and I think I saw it at a drive-in with my parents. I was heartbroken when she died, and while I didn’t go on to become a collector of memorabilia, I have seen most of her pictures.

Kim Novak—I commented in an earlier post that Kim was always classy in every movie she appeared in. Kiss Me, Stupid, in which she plays a trailer trash hooker, may be an exception to that dictum, but overall I think she managed to convey that no matter how poor, or how desperate she was that she was a classy dame. She was eminently desirable in both Bell, Book, and Candle, and Vertigo. Who wouldn’t emulate Jimmy Stewart and fall in love with her? She’s not generally considered to be a serious actress, i.e., not a Streep or a Bette Davis, but more of a glamour girl. She does, in my view, manage credible acting jobs in Vertigo, Jeanne Eagles, and Man With the Golden Arm.

Diana Krall—This is the only time I ever envied anyone named Elvis. Mr. Costello sees her every night.

I have to admit I haven’t been enthralled with some of her later albums, but she has a pure, beautiful voice that catches the mood of a song perfectly. At her best, which I’m afraid is some of her earlier CDs, maybe from Stepping Out up to and including The Look of Love, she is very good, and some of the tunes get under your skin in a way that many do not.

Holly Cole—Here’s another singer with the uncanny ability to sing in such a way that the song becomes part of you. My favorite album is Dark Dear Heart. The song Onion Girl is a devastating portrayal of a woman in the throes of strong emotion. When she sings that she is naked and shameless before her lover you know that she is not referring to the physicality of nakedness and shamelessness, but the emotional reality of cutting through the psychic defenses. I Told Him that My Dog Wouldn’t Run is the portrait of a man breaking down. The refrain “I read the Bible every day/To keep the demons away,” can refer to anyone who feels tormented by constant temptation, and prays for the grace to resist it. Holly gets to the emotional core of her songs, and you can’t ask for much more from a singer.

Hedy Lamarr—I’d get a haircut for her any day. Hedy was smart. She was married to Friedrich Mandl, a Viennese arms manufacturer, and picked up some familiarity with military technology from him. She escaped from her husband, and came to the U.S. in the early 1930s after starring in Ecstasy. The film, while not much by modern standards of eroticism, featured Hedy nude, in some rather coy shots, and exhibited a Lawrentian romanticism. Her career in Hollywood pretty much peaked in the 1950s after Samson and Delilah (guess which role she played), and My Favorite Spy. During the war, however, she and the composer George Antheil formulated the concept for spread spectrum communications. She and Antheil received a patent on the concept, but it was not put into use until after the patent expired.

Audra McDonald—I can’t say that I care her for her role on Private Practice, but she was one of the best things on a miserable show called Mr. Sterling. That was a modernized Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and while the earlier film is now considered a masterpiece, Mr. Sterling is barely remembered. As a singer, however, McDonald is unforgettable. Her renditions of Any Place I Hang My Hat and Bill on How Glory Goes are very good, and I Won’t Mind gets into the soul of a woman who wants a child, and is ready to give all of her love to a child that will never be hers, but will always belong to someone else.

Cyd Charisse—What’s not to love here? She had those incredible long legs, and great beauty. Fred Astaire is supposed to have described her as “beautiful dynamite.” Indeed she was. Look at her as the seemingly innocent blonde in “Girl Hunt,” the concluding dance segment of The Bandwagon. (Not shown here). She manages to look completely innocent, but you know, since the sequence is modeled on Mickey Spillane’s books, particularly I, the Jury, with its memorable closing line, that she’s no good. The fifties were her era, and when the era of the musicals ended she moved into more dramatic roles, such as Party Girl. She did dance in that movie, but it was primarily a dramatic picture with dance sequences in a night club. In The Silencers she played an exotic dancer and did a modest, but still exciting, striptease.

Rita Hayworth—My father had a 45 of the music from Salome, the Rita Hayworth film, not the Strauss opera. The record had this picture on the sleeve. Need I say that as a pubescent boy that I spent hours looking at that picture and indulging in fantasies. While the costume may leave little to the imagination, it certainly stimulates the imagination.

Gilda was perhaps her most famous role, but she had the good fortune, or perhaps it was his good fortune, and her bad fortune, to be the wife of Orson Welles. In her hair has been cut, and she’s blonde, but she’s every dame who ever lured a man to destruction. She’s a far better Eve than Stanwyck’s lady.

Oh, I should add that I own CDs of Salome, the Strauss opera, but sadly not the Rita Hayworth movie.

 Audrey Munson—1891-1996. She became an artist’s model at the age of 15, and is supposed to have been the model for the Walking Liberty silver dollar, shown over at the left. She posed for numerous sculptures in and around New York, and about half the sculptures at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 used her for the model. She is credited, or discredited, depending on your viewpoint, with being the first American woman to appear nude in a film, Inspiration, now lost. There is a book, out of print, about her that I’ve had on one or another of my Amazon lists for some time. There is a blog about Munson here.

Audrey tried to commit suicide, and was committed to a psychiatric facility at the age of 39. She remained there for 65 years till she died at 104. You can read more about Audrey, and find links to sculptures featuring her at Wikipedia.

Hettie Anderson—To judge from the photograph she must have been a light skinned Black (or African-American) woman. She modeled for August St. Gaudens, and was the model for Victory in the Sherman monument. She was also, along with Mary Cunningham, and possibly others, the model for Liberty on the 20 dollar gold piece.

This coin is generally considered to be the most beautiful one ever struck. The story is that Theodore Roosevelt asked St. Gaudens to design the coin, and that he originally intended for the coin to be struck in a high relief. Unfortunately the presses at the time were unable to generate sufficient pressure to achieve a good strike. It was not until last year that the mint was able to obtain a high relief for the $20 gold bullion coin.

I haven’t been able to track down much information about Hettie, but there are two stories from the NY Times, back when it was a reliable paper, about Mary Cunningham here and here. There is an article about St. Gaudens, Hettie, and the coin here. The sketch of St. Gaudens and Hettie mentioned in that article can be seen here.

Jennifer Jones—Shown here in a shot from Duel in the Sun, sometimes known as Lust in the Dust, was a great beauty. I’ve blogged about her in connection with Cluny Brown. She married Robert Walker, and came to Hollywood as the Depression was ending. Her first role was as Bernadette, in Song of Bernadette, but she was far from saintly. She had an affair with David O. Selznick, and divorced Walker to marry Selznick. She remained with Selznick until his death, and then married Norton Simon. While she may not have been saintly in her personal life, she did convey, particularly in a film like Since You Went Away, youthful innocence and passion. As she matured she proved capable of portraying the Hispanic beauty of Duel, the working class girl of Cluny Brown, the blonde Britisher of Beat the Devil, and the unfaithful wife of Indiscretion of an American Wife. In Ruby Gentry she gave a memorable performance as a redneck woman who gets revenge upon her “betters.”

Brigitte Bardot—In Shalako, shown at left, Sean Connery tells Bardot, “You’re too beautiful to die.” While the picture here doesn’t do her justice, it is true that Bardot at her peak was one of the most beautiful women in the world. Her presence was the sole redeeming feature in a wretched film like Godard’s Contempt. She had a reputation as a sex kitten, one which she earned in movies such as And God Created Woman, and others. She retired in the ‘70s and has devoted herself to animal rights. In recent years she has gathered notoriety for expressing politically incorrect opinions regarding immigration, and the decline of Europe. She has been taken to court for “hate speech,” and fined for offending delicate sensibilities. She deserves celebration not just for her stunning youthful beauty, but for daring to express herself, and to stand together with Milton, Jefferson, and all those who believe that freedom can flourish only when speech is free and vigorous, even if it is offensive.