So the other day I was having a conversation with somebody about the dangerous and (IMHO) unattractively creepy preying mantis/holocaust survivor thinness that is now apparently obligatory for successful women in the fashion and acting businesses (hey, it just came up), when I happened to catch a movie that kind of put a fine point on the discussion. Seriously, no other flick I can think of top of my head puts how much our notions of feminine desirability have changed in the last fifty years into some weird kind of perspective so clearly.
I refer, as it turns out, to the otherwise unremarkable 1960 comedy Please Don't Eat the Daisies (based on the memoir by Jean Kerr, wife of then famous theater critic Walter Kerr). I'm not, however, referring to the Kerr character played by Doris Day (of whom Oscar Levant famously said "I knew her before she was a virgin") although she is in fact by contemporary standards rather broad in the beam, if you get my drift, but rather to a supporting character. To wit: A man-eating temptress played, with luscious glee, by one of the most drop dead sexy women who ever wore shoe leather -- the gorgeous Janis Paige.
The crucial scene in this regard comes in the film's first act. To begin, we see Paige as Broadway actess Debra Vaughn sashay into Sardi's and slap theater critic Larry McKay (David Niven) right in the puss for giving her a snarkily unflattering review.
The next day, she's taking a bubble bath when her supercillious Brit manager, Alfred North (Richard Haydn) stops by to read her a McKay colum recounting the incident. Vaughn, for some reason, is expecting an apology.
North: (reading from Niven's column) "Miss Vaughn is no actress, but that is a fact and not debatable. She cannot act. Neither can she sing, dance, or move scenery, all legitimate reasons for being on a stage. What she does do is wiggle her fanny..."
Vaughn: (takes newspaper from him and continues reading) "...and this too justifies being on the stage. It depends, to be blunt on the fanny. When it is Miss Vaughn's fanny she still has no reason for being on the stage."
[crumples newspaper and throws it]
Vaughn: Why the lying slob...I'll match my fanny against any fanny in America!"
Cut to the beginning of the clip below, in which Paige as Vaughn -- clad in one of the most remarkably va-va-voom outfits ever seen by sentient mammalian eyes -- sashays into a party and wiggles her fanny so convincingly that McKay recants.
As you can see from the clip, however, said fanny is of such Wagnerian proportions that even a contemporary devotee of same like Sir Mix-a-Lot (of "Baby's Got Back" fame) probably wouldn't approve anymore. Seriously -- watching the clip the other day, it dawned on me that the possessor of the fanny in that scene would be considered laughably overripe and probably couldn't get arrested in today's Hollywood. Which, I think we can all agree, only goes to show just bizarre our current notions about women's body images have become.
Let me repeat: This actress --
-- would these days probably be considered too fat to be romantically viable.
I'm sorry -- as a culture, we really need to have a word with ourselves, is what I'm saying.