Classic Film Stars and the Art of Femininity, Pt. 2

Last week, I drooled over three actresses whom I believed to be good examples of classic femininity (see the post here). In the end, I concluded that some key traits to the classically feminine woman were: love of life, sense of beauty, quiet confidence, grace, vulnerability, and flexibility. 

This week, I've selected three actresses who don't make the cut. Although undeniably feminine, I would call these women "unconventional" beauties. Maybe you will disagree. Let's find out!

1. Judy Garland


Judy Garland had one of the most beautiful voices America will ever have the privilege to hear, packed with emotion and power. I think people also liked her for her innocence and trusting nature. These are lovely traits, to be sure. But the reason I have put her on this list is primarily because I don't think Judy could overcome her own emotion. 

  • Governed by fear. Of course I am only speaking of the impression Judy Garland gave on and off camera. I claim no personal insight into her true self. But, the ever-looming aura of fearfulness can sometimes make Judy Garland hard to watch. She is so often quivering and quavering, those enormous doe eyes filling with tears or widening with dread. Her performances can be reminiscent of watching a bunny flatten against the grass while a hawk circles overhead. I think this pulls Judy out of the classically feminine category, because she lacks that strength which I wrote about last week. 

  • Childish. There is a difference between child-like innocence, and childish innocence. Judy leans too far toward the latter. In college, we were always taught that a good actor can "let go" on stage without losing control. Although Judy tackled many an emotional scene (see: A Star is Born), she tended to do so with reckless abandon. The mature woman can vent her emotions without allowing them to run amuck. Although Judy Garland was undeniably an exceptional talent, I feel this lack of maturity keeps her out of the category of classically feminine. 


2. Katharine Hepburn

Who doesn't love Kate? Talk about a force. Her acting can only be rivaled by the likes of Meryl Streep. There are some things about this spit-fire of an actress that I feel are unquestionably feminine in the classic sense. Her resilience, for example, invites a kind of awe. And, I'd say she is chock full of gracefulness. But, you have to admit, Katharine Hepburn did not for one moment consider herself a classically feminine figure. It seems she took great strides to be just the opposite. What sets her apart?

  • Inflexible. On screen and off screen, Kate was not one to compromise. She refused to wear skirts on countless occasions. She gave no TV interviews until she was in her twilight years, and then only a handful of times. She insisted on maintaining a romance with a man who could not in good conscience divorce his wife. She was something else. I don't say this inflexibility and tendency toward stubbornness should be considered a masculine trait. However, I think it contributed to Kate's reputation as a novel mold for the beautiful woman. 

  • Closed-off. Related to Kate's lovable stubbornness was her lack of openness. Even at her most vulnerable on screen, Kate seemed to put a wall up rather than invite the solace of others. In The Philedelphia Story,  the character of Tracy Lord is a great study in this lack of openness toward others. Again, this is a kind of strength that endeared her to America. However, it strikes me that the kind of generous openness of women like Priscilla Lane or Audrey Hepburn fit better into the image of the classically feminine. 

3. Joan Crawford 

I will be honest; I am not a fan. I definitely love movies that Joan is in, but I don't necessarily love them for featuring her. I especially dislike her seductive, utterly selfish character in The Women, but I guess that's the point! She's obviously stunning, and had excellent taste. Again, a wonderful actress. Here's my question: where's the love of life?

  • Humorless. When was the last time you watched Joan Crawford delight in something? She seems so calculated, as though life were one long chess game. She doesn't strike me as the type of woman who stops to smell the roses. There can be a lot of appeal to this kind of woman -- the allure of an icy, unshakable queen who reigns supreme. And that's cool, if that's your thing. But characteristic of the classically feminine? Maybe of the classical feminine villain. Oooh! That would be a fun blog post ...

  • Disinterested confidence. It's one thing to be quietly confident. It's quite another to prefer yourself to anyone else. Joan doesn't need anybody, and she is not one to suffer fools. Again, this is part of the appeal (I imagine). But, there's no vulnerability in it.

Judy, Kate, and Joan were all hailed as some of the country's most striking women. They possessed a unique inner beauty all their own. 

To me, what unites these actresses (Priscilla, Myrna, Audrey, Judy, Kate, Joan), and all women we look up to, is that they had a sense of purpose. Something drove them forward. Such sense of self always seems magnetic.

For those of you wondering what this has to do with being a writer, I say, EVERYTHING. The more we explore the nature of things, the more compelling our stories will be. 

Ok, fine. I also really wanted to write about my secret obsession, classic film. There! You happy?

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Photo creds can be found here, here, and here.