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Do you not know I am a woman? What I think, I must speak.
—Rosalind in As You Like It, act 3, scene 2
A girl has the right to talk, doesn't she?
—Amy Lind (Olivia de Havilland) to T. L. "Biff" Grimes (James Cagney) in The Strawberry Blonde
To start with: a curious kind of sexual compliment and come-on that punctuates It's a Wonderful World (1939 version), one of those unpretentious gems that gave the thirties, decade of disasters, their distinctive comic glitter. "I don't know, lots of times," confesses Guy Johnson (James Stewart), a gumshoe on the lam, to Edwina Corday (Claudette Colbert), a poet who first avoided Johnson, then invented all manner of reasons to stick with him, "I've thought to myself, `Well now, this, this just can't be—that all dames are dumb and all men ain't,' but that's the way it seemed to me, until you came along.... Yeah, you sort of changed my whole philosophy about women. I don't know, I always figured they all ended at the neck. You sort of begin there." Let us begin, then, where Guy leaves off: reevaluating dames from the neck up. At first Guy, who finds he can't ditch Edwina once she realizes that he is innocent of the murder rap hanging over his head, thinks she is the "worst break I've had in five years." This is saying a lot, given his earlier pronouncement that he had hot met a "dame yet who wasn't a nitwit and lunkhead." So this declaration comes as a kind of revelation about a particular kind of woman—adame—and a dawning masculine awareness of the special charms she holds from the neck up.
We could of course begin by admiring the obvious charms of those luminous female faces that irradiated the screen at that moment in cinema when, as Roland Barthes remembers, "capturing the human face still plunged audiences into the deepest ecstasy." We could start there but we mustn't end there, lest we miss much of what is greeted as really new and wonderful in Guy's recantation. What he's saying is that he now sees a dame—at least this dame—as a brainy marvel. He will change his mind several times on this score, but ultimately he and the movie will vindicate this self-surprising love of brainy womanhood. Stewart, consummate actor that he was, lingers over the phrase "sort of begin there" in a kind of wonderment. His character has had his first glimmer of a new kind of woman being born, seemingly before his eyes. What he sees is no hallucination. There is nothing like a dame, as the song tells us in a similar moment of erotic salute. It tells us, too, that in the multicultural world celebrated in South Pacific a dame is a specific American creation, one of the things worth fighting for in our culture.
One of the things that makes a dame like nothing else, certainly nothing else you can name, is that nothing talks like a dame—talks fast and talks on and talks in a singularly American way. A momentous, exhilarating yet underappreciated sexual and social revolution occurred when movies acquired the power of speech. The talkies provided the opportunity, quickly exploited, for the representation of emergent social types who spoke, sometimes invented, a language that was to become the American idiom. This book is a study of one of the most impressive and influential creations of the talkies—the fast-talking dame. The fast talk isolates the quality that distinguished her life on screen; the dame suggests an unaffected if occasionally uneasy delight in women so swift on the uptake. A pretty or even beautiful face has no particular claim on damehood—that distinction is reserved for the quick-witted as well as the attractive. Brains as much as fine facial lines and beguiling eyes account for the unique sexual allure of the fast-talking dame. They also ensure her survival. Anita Loos, the screenwriter who gave many fast-taking dames their snappy lines and who thought of herself as cérèbrale, genially drew this moral in remarking on the rate of Madeline Hurlock, the wife of Robert Sherwood: "She is the only known survivor of the Mack Sennett bathing beauties; beauty combined with lack of brains is extremely deleterious to the health." The dames of American comedy possessed lovely, sleek bodies and knew how to show them off to their best advantage, but they captivate us less by how shapely they are below the neck as how sharp they are above it. And nothing gives as much definition to a face or to a dame as her speech—the pace as well as the gist of it.
Her speech as much as her demeanor is, indeed, what defines the fast-talking dame as a female type indigenous to American shores. She exists in ironic and often rebellious relation to British dames, a social as well as linguistic fact that Preston Sturges deliriously embroiders in The Lady Eve, which casts Barbara Stanwyck in a dual role as cardsharp Jean Harrington and aristocrat Lady Eve Sidwich. A running gag has Muggsy (William Demarest), the only character in the film to notice and object to the fact that both women look exactly alike, declare to unheeding ears, "Positively the same dame." He is, of course both right and wrong. The American "dame" and the British dame may share the same body, but they are not the same person, as the film goes to extravagant lengths to demonstrate.
In building an entire comedy on this linguistic joke, Sturges was remarking the impatience of Americans—modern, democratic, spiritually and socially mobile—with any suggestion of insuperable class divisions. In calling a woman a dame, then, Americans are rejecting all the genteel associations adhering to the word. Slang has a way of puncturing pretentious usages, but such democratization is not always viewed with good or kindly grace. The sardonic Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) is ready to murder—for the second time!—Laura (Gene Tierney), the heroine-victim of the movie that bears her name, because she has bestowed her affections on the police detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), who refers to her as a dame. Lydecker's villainy, of course, is signaled to us precisely by his refusal to tolerate those who speak the virile common tongue. (He doesn't think highly of Laura and Mark's "disgustingly earthy relationship" either.) His verbal snobbery, like the class snobbery that his starched syntax proclaims, makes him hostile to the jaunty rhythms and salty speech of the American vernacular.
Others are more alert to the comedy of type and behavior that the mere word "dame" can conjure. In Song of the Thin Man (1947), for example, Nora Charles, played by the classy (but never snobbish) Myrna Loy, becomes uncharacteristically proper in her diction when her son uses the word "dame" at the breakfast table. She appeals to her husband, Nick, the unflappable William Powell, to correct him. "I never say dame," he instructs his son. "I always say doll or dish." One of the reasons Nora married Nick, we are given to understand from the very first of the Thin Man movies, is that she gets to hear talk, as well as meet characters, as far removed linguistically as they are socially from her Nob Hill crowd. When Nicky is dragooned into paying a family visit in After the Thin Man (1936), he cannot help asking of the butler who opens the stately door: "Is this the waxworks?" Once inside, Nora's formidable Aunt Katherine Forrest (Jessie Ralph), looking down while breathing through her nose, at once greets and dismisses him in the snooty locutions typical of her clan: "Hello, Ni-col-ass." In a populist form like the movies, elevated diction, like an overly genteel manner, is often regarded as a sign of the creeping sclerosis that comes from inbreeding. Much of the comedy of After the Thin Man, in fact, stems from the comic bout in diction between Nick, who prefers the saloon to the salon, and Nora's high-toned, straitlaced tribe, just as Song of the Thin Man derives great fun in having Nora, a quick study, start talking back to jazz musicians in their own stupefying patois.
Still, Nora's discomfort, however bemused, at hearing her son refer to women as dames suggests in the word an undertone of vulgarity, or even vague criminality. This suggestion does not come amiss. Dames are often seen consorting with gangsters, and there is a good reason they do so. They speak the same language. Yet even in their more law-abiding pursuits, American dames may arouse suspicions of moral as well as verbal laxity. Even a slight pre-Production Code class comedy like 1931's The Hot Heiress (one of the many films that show us what we missed when Thelma Todd died before she could graduate from delectable comic foil and sidekick to leading comic heroine) pokes knowing fun at the dame's reputation for acting as well as talking fast. A working-class riveter who falls for a "hot" heiress boasts that he knows "a dame so fast she could turn out the lights and jump into bed before the room gets dark." What moralist could hope to catch up, much less keep up, with such high-speed flight? Dames inspire such ambiguous tributes because they tend to ignore, when they do not openly mock, traditional notions of respectable femininity.
These notions were safeguarded to an extent under the censorious Production Code, instituted in 1930 but not effectively enforced until 1934 by Joseph Breen, the "supreme pontiff of motion picture morals." Thomas Doherty, echoing Virginia Woolf's famous pronouncement about the beginning of modern culture, dramatically reports the effect the Code had on classical Hollywood cinema:
On or about July 1934, American cinema changed. During that month, the Production Code Administration, popularly known as the Hays Office, began to regulate, systematically and scrupulously, the content of Hollywood motion pictures. For the next thirty years, cinematic space was a patrolled landscape with secure perimeters and well-defined borders. Adopted under duress at the urging of priests and politicians, Hollywood's in-house policy of self-censorship set the boundaries for what could be seen, heard, even implied on screen.
Banned were "scenes of passion." Adultery, illicit sex, seduction, and rape could not even be alluded to unless they were absolutely essential to the plot and condemned by film's end. One of the commandments of the Code inculcated respect for the sanctity of marriage, an institution that many of the fast-talking dames questioned, often openly. Language necessarily fell under prohibition. By invoking the "dictates of good taste and civilized usage" the Code sought to limit obscenity, seen as "against divine and human law, and hence altogether outside the range of subject matter or treatment" permissible in film, and vulgarity, "the treatment of low, disgusting, unpleasant subjects which decent society considers outlawed from normal conversation." The fast-talking dame was a vulgarian who often flouted the dictates of good taste and civilized usage, hence her often ambiguous reputation in the minds of moviegoers and in the annals of popular culture.
The association between fast talk and loose morals that lurks in the popular imagination is made overt in the conventions of pantomime. In the formulaic characters of pantomime, the Dame, like the villain, is a stock figure, usually a middle-aged woman, who is always impersonated by a man. As a figure of fun as well as authority (the dame initially designated a social superior or ruler), the dame is credited with that power Chaucer's Wife of Bath identified as maistrie—mastery over the male, particularly in sexual matters. This wayward pleasure in sexual dominance hovers mischievously and tenaciously on the semantic fringes of a word that in modern usage has mainly been restricted to its aristocratic or colloquial usage. The word "dame" seems to attract, like a magnet, all the free-floating anxieties—as well as erotic interest—inspired by any license with, or reversal of, sexual roles.
There is no question that the fast-talking dames who came of age in thirties comedy were cheeky experimenters who balked at traditional gender roles and were insistent on self-rule. In exposing "The Big Lie" on which she believes Western patriarchy and its modern propaganda organ, Hollywood movies, are founded, Molly Haskell pays tribute to "the proud ones, the unconventional ones, the uppity ones ... bucking the tide of an industry that, like the human race generally, preferred its women malleable and pleasing to the eye; and that, like men the world over, felt deep down that women should be seen but hot heard. Like animals or silent comics (Harpo Marx, Keaton, the silent Chaplin), women are more lovable without the disputatious, ego-defining dimension of speech."
This is a just and shrewd tribute to the uppity ones, but it must be said that the last half of Haskell's comment departs from its first half, turning acclaim into a jeremiad. The crucial fact, as Haskell herself recognizes, indeed celebrates, is that uppity women did speak up and never so smartly nor so insistently as with the birth of sound. They did so partly because, as the studio bosses came to recognize, "those wonderful people out there in the dark" (as Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond [Gloria Swanson] describes her audience) wanted to hear what they had to say. But there was a more primary, compelling existential motive that urged them to speak as quickly and as distinctly as they could. Speech is, as Haskell says, ego-defining, a psychological as well as social fact known to the articulate women of dramatic comedy from Shakespeare to Wilde and Shaw. The classic American comic heroine—the dame who attained her majority with the birth of sound—became a fast-talker not just to keep up with the times, but to run ahead of them. She paved a way for a new class or sort of woman who finally would answer to no one but herself.
This, at least, is the claim of this book—that when film found its human voice, it simultaneously gave to the American woman, as performer and heroine, a chance to speak her mind, to have a real, hot just a presumptive, say in her own destiny. It was a chance that women of the silent screen, intertitles notwithstanding, were effectively denied. Recall Gloria Swanson's famous line about the splendor of silent films in Sunset Boulevard—the line that sums up her career, her character, and the silent movies in one megalomaniacal statement: "And no dialogue. We didn't need dialogue. We had faces then." Norma Desmond's lament at the advent of talkies records a truth about women in silents. They were limited as well as immortalized by the mesmerizing prestige of their status as stunning visual icons. A comedienne of the thirties and early forties could say with equal authority and conviction: "We had voices then." She captured and held attention with her verbal fluency and improvisational genius as much as with her looks, which were as ravishing as any that graced the screen before or after her heyday.
The female voice has never been recorded in so many expressive registers: the merriment that stitched together Lombard's comic wails and droll sighs, the not unpleasant shrieks and dips in Harlow's sexual yelps, the unladylike sounds made by these reckless, even silly dames unafraid of being, as well as appearing, game for anything; the cadences that gave a heart-grabbing lilt to the speech of Claudette Colbert, Myrna Loy, and Irene Dunne, comic actresses with voices that could be petulant or confiding, childish or maternal, erotically curious or sexually knowing; the sharp sophistication in the way Constance Bennett could articulate vowels, making them sound as svelte as her art deco body; Ginger Rogers's way of savoring her repartee, either to make sure her verbal sallies hit their mark or to give herself time to prepare her next one; Rosalind Russell's crisp and supremely confident intonations, which gave her comic delivery the assuredness of a large woman who knows she is taking up room and is enjoying the space allotted her; the husky pitch of Jean Arthur's voice, with that hint of a sexual catch at the back of the throat that suggests her readiness, despite the big-city veneer of cynicism, to be thrilled back to her small-town idealism; the self-assured diction of Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis, suggesting years of elocution lessons in Yankee finishing schools, years that have never fully erased the undertone that whispers, "I'm a good sport, too."
And then there is Barbara Stanwyck's voice, modulated and enriched by all the under- as well as overtones of a young woman already burdened with a full, often checkered past. Her voice in The Lady Eve is that of a young woman who has been around, but one whom experience has not made cheap. Jean Harrington may be crooked, but as her father insists as a point of honor, "never common." On the contrary, the whiff of past affairs is the source of her enticing "perfume," to use Sturges's own metaphor for the aura of worldliness that so intoxicates her mark, Charles Pike (Henry Fonda). Stanwyck, whose Jean is so immersed in the world where getting and spending is accomplished by charming and gulling, is just as comfortable in film noir, the world of Double Indemnity (1944), as she is in the menacing, visibly corrupt yet "comic" world of Meet John Doe (1941). The expressiveness of Stanwyck's voice is used, with stunning effect, to link the unhappy end of Jean's shipboard romance to the creation of that female revenger, the Lady Eve. Jean is informed that her father has actually pocketed the money that Charles lost in a card game. Jean, satisfied by this turn of events, approvingly remarks, "I feel a lot better already." Stanwyck delivers this line not in breezy repartee but in the dark and determined tone taken by the femmes fatales of film noir. I'll have more to say later about this sudden translatability—and convergence—of comedy and the dark revenge melodrama of crime films and film noir. For now, let us remark the astonishing variety with which female performers amplified the sounds and quickened the senses of the early talkies.
Fast-talking dames were major figures in what Robert Benchley lampooned as the "voice culture" that sprang up with the advent of sound. (Benchley, a humorist, would make a fine living playing to this voice culture, contributing his bon mots and mordant asides not only to his secondary roles, usually as the tippling sidekick to the working girl, but to a series of MGM shorts in which he offered his own woeful but hilarious commentary on the minor hazards and major indignities of ordinary life.) Benchley reported to his New Yorker audiences, those sophisticates accustomed to the verbal aplomb of voices trained for the stage, on the droll aspects of the panic that set in when Hollywood needed actors who could speak. The panic was not just commercial, however. The philosopher and movie lover Stanley Cavell has written most perceptively about the existential, indeed ontological, challenge posed by a technology that could capture the human voice in all its registers from the birth wail to the death rattle. "With talkies we got back the clumsiness of speech, the dumbness and duplicities and concealments of assertion, the bafflement of soul and body by their inarticulateness and by their terror of articulateness. Technical improvements will not overcome these ontological facts: they only magnify them."
But not everyone felt terror. Women could feel tremors of excitement, the counterpart of terror, when confronted with the chance to speak and to attest to their own experience of the world. Female daring before the terror of articulateness was observed a century earlier by Alexis de Tocqueville, another philosophical observer of democratic manners. Tocqueville, approaching the end of his study of American personal and political culture, concluded that "if I were asked ... to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply: To the superiority of their women." To what did he ascribe their superiority? To the "happy boldness with which young women in America contrive to manage their thoughts and their language amid all the difficulties of free conversation; a philosopher would have stumbled at every step along the narrow path which they trod without accident and without effort."
In certain cases, such as the ones we're considering in this book, American women can astonish by the sheer speed of their verbal courses. We can gauge the quickness as well as length of their strides by considering the justly admired speaking pace of His Girl Friday (1940), certainly the fastest of the talky comedies. So quickly do words come flying out of mouths that it is difficult to follow what is being said, a predicament hilariously dramatized in a scene in which Rosalind Russell (Hildy Johnson) and her former husband, Cary Grant (Walter Burns), are trying to meet a deadline and get an exclusive on a prison break. In a comic oratorio that is played molto vivace, they bark orders and telegraph copy to their editor on the phone, hurl words back and forth to each other without any apparent intake of breath, all the while plugging their ears to screen out the noise they themselves are making. Their talk is so furiously fast that it becomes a challenge to sort out from the rapid buzz of words what these two characters are saying to each other, and since they so often speak at the same time, to decide whom to listen to.
This sexual competition for attention is very much the verbal motive for comedy. Howard Hawks, who conceded to women in comedy their dominant part, resorted to a code term to direct Cary Grant in his moments of comic opportunity. Hawks recalls of his collaboration with Grant: "We finally got so that I'd say, `Cary, this is a good chance to do Number Seven.' Number Seven was trying to talk to a woman who was doing a lot of talking." Number Seven is shorthand for the challenge comedy puts to men: they must try to do what women apparently do so effortlessly—talk a lot.
In issuing this challenge to men, comedy also presents a dramatic and certainly literate alternative to that distinctly American film genre concerned with masculine codes: the Western. In the Western, incorruptible and heroic manhood is associated primarily with the laconic —the "yup" and "nope" that impersonators invariably mimic when they "do" Gary Cooper as the quintessential Western hero. (Cooper good-naturedly mocked himself doing a cameo for the genial Hollywood spoof It's a Great Feeling. The glibly narcissistic Jack Carson finds, like many a down-and-out cowpoke before him, that he cannot elicit more than a yup and nope as he relates his woes to the star in the studio commissary.) The recognizably American actors who figure as naifs in American comedies of the thirties and forties—Gary Cooper, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda—also gave us our most memorable screen portraits of the Westerner, the archetypal role that idolized the plain-speaking eloquence of the American male. The Western identified the laconic, even the inarticulate, as the very sign of the manly. That iconic Western figure John Wayne perfected the image of the "quiet man" who conserves his strength for things too important to put into words. The American male of heroic character is often portrayed as either shy of words or suspicious of them. Cary Grant and William Powell, the most articulate as well as debonair of comic actors, would never convince in a Western; they are too cosmopolitan in demeanor, their relation to words too gratifying for them to abide by the Western code of taciturnity. James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson, reveling in their gangster roles, spit out their words like so many bullets; but their exuberance in ranting is never regarded as anything but hooligan self-display, a symptom of their sociopathy. Clark Gable, who began playing gangster and irresistible bad boy roles, soon displayed a gift for comic tomfoolery that absorbed rather than compromised his renegade manliness. Still, his Western roles depend on our considering him essentially an adventurer, not, as Stewart or Fonda or Cooper can impersonate so believably and so likeably, the quiet but hardy defender of American values. (In the Westerns he made with Anthony Mann, Stewart tries on the roles of demonic crusader or penitent marauder.)
Romantic and screwball comedies of this era redeem us from this culturally endemic paranoia about words. In doing so they provide us with another version of the manly. For Rudolph Valentino and John Gilbert, the stars who defined the erotic style of silent film, the eyes were the sexual organ that transfixed and captivated their female quarry. With the advent of sound, the voice became an erotic instrument on which to play, with infinite more subtlety, the sexual game of give and take, advance and retreat, flight and pursuit. The talkies gave birth to a new kind of woman who needed a new kind of man to fantasize over and, equally important, to play with (playing verbal games was especially fun). Thelma Todd's Lola in The Hot Heiress has been around, so when her society pal Juliette Hunter (Ona Munson) falls for a riveter she can appraise him without laying eyes—or hands—on him: "I know that type—ungrammatical but strong." Never has the reputed sexiness of the "strong, silent type" been more breezily dispatched. Even in the subdued precincts of a family comedy-turned drama like Four Daughters (1938), we can see female impatience with male inarticulateness when one of the daughters, pursued by a shy and virtually wordless suitor, sets the comic terms of her submission: "If he ever finishes a sentence, I'll marry him."
Such attitudes define a new masculine ideal, one that prizes verbal fluency as well as physical or moral charisma. Romantic and screwball comedies rejoice in the giddy energy of human speech, in invective, in repartee, in drop-dead one-liners, and reserve their highest delights—and kudos—for those most adept at verbal sparring. These comedies do not exalt the laconic but reward the quick-witted and outspoken. In Westerns you survive if you draw fast and shoot straight, and talk, if you must, much later and then as little as possible. In comedy you triumph—morally as well sexually—if you think fast and talk even faster. Men must be found—or formed—to answer to such demands. Even if the desired male is initially slow of speech or stunned, like Gary Cooper's Longfellow Deeds in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) into an emotionally burdened silence, he must be made to speak his mind. Such films taught a generation how to talk about the things that meant the most to them. But they also taught the ways that language itself could create desire rather than lamely stumble after it. Fast talk may occasion panic or even terror in quieter, more contemplative souls, but it also offers unparalleled moments of happy astonishment at the creative power of bold and unhesitating speech.
Astonishment, but at some deep unreachable level of national reserve, dismay. Suspicion of fast talk still haunts out culture, especially our movie culture. This suspicion tends to surface and express itself in two major worries. The first is that fast talk is loose or dishonest, especially as practiced by those vaguely amoral, manipulative characters of whom we should beware—this is a psychological and moral objection that mobilizes a great deal of gender suspicion already at large, at any given moment, in the popular culture. Indeed, the misgivings attached to fast-talking dames represent America's contribution to an ancient and venerable misogynistic tradition directed against mulier loquax (the talkative woman), as she was called in the eponymous diatribe against her by the Greek rhetorician Libanius of Antioch (A.D. 314-c. 393) and as she was lampooned in Juvenal's Satire, VI. We shall consider this distrust shortly. But let us first attend to the disquiet surrounding fast talk, or any prolonged or virtuoso act of human speech. The disquiet takes the form of a concern that fast talk may privilege pace over meaning, facility over substance.
This is at once an aesthetic and philosophical worry that Cavell has acknowledged as one of his own. While appreciating that the advent of sound made it possible for films to "discover the poetry in speech," Cavell questions the kind of poetry that talkies could ever be expected or be likely to produce. Such poetry, he assures us,
will not be the poetry of poetry. It seemed at first as if it ought to have been, as if when the filmed world expressed itself in speech it would have the same absolute intelligibility as its exhibition to sight.... The best film dialogue has so far been the witty and hard-nosed, apparently because the lines are fast, or laconic. But wit and clip are in themselves not always of the highest interest. They work, I think, because they provided natural occasions on which silence is broken, and in which words do not go beyond their moment of saying; occasions on which silence naturally reasserts itself.
In the talkative world of comedy, however, silence is not something that is broken, or that we subside back into, but something that is achieved. We are not born into a noiseless world, nor may we even hope to die into one.
There is no better example of how an eloquent silence struggles for a foothold in the clamorous human world than the comedy that set the standard and style for fast talk—His Girl Friday. According to one account, the film reproduces speech at 240 words per minute, compared to the average pace of 100 to 150 words. The evidence comes in the form of an anecdote related by Todd McCarthy in his biography of Howard Hawks. "At one point," he writes, "Roz Russell became concerned that the unvarying torrent of dialogue would prove too much for audiences to take, but Hawks, with great insight, reassured her: 'You're forgetting the scene you're gonna play with the criminal. It's gonna be quiet, so silent. You'll just whisper to him, you'll whisper, Did you kill that guy? And your whispering will change the rhythm. But when you're with Grant, we don't change it. You just rivet in on him all the time.'" Hawks understood that silence is a dramatic complement of speech. In His Girl Friday, silence functions powerfully as a form of moral registration. When people are rendered speechless in Hawks's comedies, it is usually because they have run out of words, not out of gall. Silence gives us a chance to glimpse the moral vista of shame. As Manny Farber has noted, it is Hildy's singular reproach of her heartlessly gabby colleagues, "Gentleman of the Press," that calls forth all the sardonic irony lurking in "gentleman." Her rebuke also represents the quietest moment in that film.
But not the longest nor the last. That belongs to the last word, always of supreme importance in any form, but especially in the talking comedy, which equates vitality with quick, witty, and seemingly unstoppable speech. Although wit and clip are in themselves not always of the highest interest, the dialectical relation between them attracts and rewards our attention. The "depths" of silence in comedy do hot preexist the characters but collectively form as the talk goes on. Silence is the pool—or bog—into which the sinners and scapegoats of comedy are destined to plunge to expiate their sins of talking to no, or to bad, purpose. The heroines of comedy know that silence is not a natural state but a moral and emotional one reached through speech. The heroines of comedy also know the difference between a silence pregnant with emotional or moral meaning and a silence born of or burdened by inarticulateness. The silence that struggles to make itself heard in fast-talking comedies is a silence that, as the saying goes, speaks volumes. Comedy is the talkative form that makes that paradox real, rather than merely a clever contradiction.
|Part 1||A Gomic History of Dames|
|Part 2||Hot Heiresses and Working Girls|
|3||Blonde Bombshells: Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, and Ginger Rogers||84|
|4||My Favorite Brunettes: Myrna Loy, Jean Arthur, and Claudette Colbert||132|
|Part 3||The Grande Dames|
|5||Missing Links: Bringing Up Baby||174|
|6||The Lady-Dame: Irene Dunne and The Awful Truth||202|
|8||Female Rampant: His Girl Friday||268|
|9||The Lady Eve and the Female Con||298|
|Conclusion: Blondes Born Yesterday||324|