Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Insecurities of (Hollywood) Men

You know what I would like to see an end to? Fictional scenes in biographical films where a woman has to choose between her career and her husband. It seems like Hollywood can't imagine a man would actually be willing to stand by a more famous and successful wife, whatever era they live in, and so they have to write them into every biographical film on a female subject. I honestly can't think of any that don't feature them. And while it is true that some marriages might break up over a husband's insecurity over his wife's success; it's also very true that there are men out there that are just fine with their wife being more well-known or successful then themselves.

In both the Annie Oakley (1932) and Annie Get Your Gun films, after out-shooting Frank Butler throughout a competition, Annie Oakley ends up throwing it at the last minute, because his fragile male ego couldn't handle losing to a woman and because she's enamored with him and thinks she has to lose to win his affections. Yet in real life, she wins the competition between them and after they eventually got together, Butler willingly quit his career as showman sharpshooter to manage Oakley's career. They had a long and happy showbiz marriage with him as manager behind the scenes, and her the successful star, they died within a few weeks of each other and everyone said when Butler followed Oakley so quickly it was from a broken heart.

In The Rosa Parks Story, even Rosa Parks for crying out loud, they show her husband as jealous of the time she's spending working with the NAACP. Which does Raymond Parks a total disservice. Raymond Parks was also active in the civil rights movement, and although he was worried about his wife's safety, especially once she became such a public figure after the bus boycott started; he absolutely did support her work in the movement. The two were married until his death in 1977.

In Princess Kaiulani, a film about the last Hawaiian heir to the throne; Princess Kaiulani is sent to England for schooling to escape some of the unrest at home. There she gets meets and gets engaged to a young man named Clive Davies. The movie is a result of a great deal of speculation, since the whole romance in the film is based upon one letter stating the princess may have been engaged to Davies, all circumstances surrounding it, and the engagement's end, completely unknown. So anyway, Davies claims he will come to Hawaii and support her as princess and later queen, and repeats over and over that he knows how much her people and land mean to her. She gets back to Hawaii soon after the Dole corporation has deposed the monarchy and Davies comes after her to bring her back to civilization and have her be a proper Victorian wife for him now that her people no longer need her. Or something like that. She promptly refuses him and says with a hostile business having just taken over the monarchy in a coup, the new government is now denying native Hawaiians any rights or privileges, so her oppressed and beaten people need her as their advocate more than he needs a trophy wife cooped up a home. But thanks for playing as a contestant in the self-centered egoist contest.

The best send-up of the trope was in The Calendar Girls, a movie based on a women's club in England. After a member's husband dies from cancer, they decided to do their yearly calendar with photos of them posing nude and give the money to a cancer charity. The whole thing becomes a worldwide sensation. Chris (Helen Mirren), who had the idea for it, absolutely relishes their completely unexpected fame. Up until then, she has run a floral business out of her home with her husband, and been an attentive mother to her 16 year old son. And when the whole success thing starts, she makes it very clear to her family that promoting the calendar will last for a year, and then she will be back home, no exceptions. While on the road doing interviews, she gets word that her son has gotten into trouble with the police, and Annie, who's husband was the one who died, totally lays into Chris for daring to leave her family in the first place, for daring to like success, for daring to have fun, etc. And it's all so ridiculous because as I said, Chris up until this point has clearly been an attentive wife and mother, she clearly knows this fame is not going to last and while she's enjoying it she hasn't become overly selfish or arrogant about it, and again, it's only for ONE YEAR! So Chris goes home upset and talks it over with her husband. In a Hollywood film, the husband very likely would have added to Chris' guilt and misery about how badly she's been treating them or neglecting them and all that. But amazingly and refreshingly, her husband simply says I'm proud of what you've done, keep doing it; and our son's an idiot and would be an idiot whether or not you were here. So way to resist the insecurity trap Calendar Girls.

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