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Platinum power

Blonds in movies can be bombshells, bimbos or brains, just not ignored.

July 06, 2003|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Before Witherspoon hit it big with Elle, she explored darker aspects of the blond character in such films as "Cruel Intentions," "Best Laid Plans" and "Election" (all from 1999). Even in last year's comedy "Sweet Home Alabama," her blond Melanie Carmichael is dismissive of family and friends in her Alabama hometown she left years before for New York City.

Witherspoon is now in London filming the latest version of William Makepeace Thackeray's "Vanity Fair." She plays ambitious Becky Sharp, a poor girl in 1840s London who ascends the social ladder. It's a role with a rich blond tradition. In 1935, one of that era's best-known blond actresses, Miriam Hopkins, played that role in the film "Becky Sharp."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 20, 2003 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 0 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Michelle Pfeiffer -- In the July 6 Sunday Calendar, an article about the history of blonds in movies said that Michelle Pfeiffer had won an Oscar. She has been nominated but hasn't won.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday July 22, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Michelle Pfeiffer -- In the July 6 Sunday Calendar, an article about the history of blonds in movies said that Michelle Pfeiffer had won an Oscar. She has been nominated but hasn't won.

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Blonds' film history roots

Blond characters in movies come in many shades. Here are a few:

The virginal blond: Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish were the epitome of innocence and chastity during the silent era. (Pickford, who was known as "America's Sweetheart," was playing these young-girl roles into her 30s.) But perhaps the best-known virginal blond was Doris Day -- and in Day's case, the older she got, the more virginal she became. The former band singer started her movie career at Warner Bros. as the perky blond in such musicals as "The West Point Story" (1950), but her image changed forever with the 1959 Rock Hudson comedy "Pillow Talk." Not only did her hair turn from golden to platinum, it marked the beginning of her persona as a thirtysomething career woman who wanted to remain chaste until she found Mr. Right.

The femme fatale: Although Barbara Stanwyck sported blond hair in several of her film comedies, including the 1941 Preston Sturges classic "The Lady Eve," she gave her best performance as the seductress with a blond variation of a Prince Valiant haircut in Billy Wilder's 1944 film noir, "Double Indemnity." Other blond performers in the femme-

fatale film noir category include Lana Turner in "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946), Rita Hayworth in "The Lady From Shanghai" (1948), Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction" (1987) and Sharon Stone in "Basic Instinct" (1992).

Making-a-statement blonds: Over the years, actors have dyed their hair or donned a blond wig to further define characters. They include Laurence Olivier in "Hamlet" (1948), Marlon Brando in "The Young Lions" (1958), Vivien Leigh in "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951), Robert Shaw in "From Russia With Love" (1963) and Terence Stamp in "Billy Budd" (1962).

The Hitchcock blond: Alfred Hitchcock had a penchant for cool, sophisticated blond actresses in his films going as far back as Madeleine Carroll in "The 39 Steps" (1935). In the 1950s, Grace Kelly took on that role in "Rear Window" and "Dial M for Murder" (both 1954) and "To Catch a Thief" (1955). Eva Marie Saint took over the mantle in "North By Northwest" (1959) and Tippi Hedren concluded the cycle in "The Birds" (1963) and "Marnie" (1964).

Serious blonds: Oscar winners Joanne Woodward, Meryl Streep, Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer and William Hurt.

Sex-kitten blonds: The 1950s saw the rise of the sex kitten with France's Brigitte Bardot in the 1956 film "And God Created Woman." The phenomenon continued stateside with the likes of Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren. Pamela Anderson is the latest entry in this category.

Musical blonds: MGM had June Allyson and RKO had Ginger Rogers. But it was 20th Century Fox that had the greatest blond musical performers under contract, including Shirley Temple, Alice Faye, Betty Grable, Carole Landis, June Haver and Marilyn Monroe.

The blond who saved a studio: Just how mighty is the box-office power of a blond? Look no further than platinum-coiffed Mae West. The buxom, bawdy bombshell left Broadway and came to Hollywood in the early '30s and saved struggling Paramount Pictures with the success of her naughty pre-Code comedies such as "I'm No Angel" and "She Done Him Wrong."

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