So here I am knee deep in 5th Avenue, 5 AM, and the Dawn of the Modern Women by Sam Wasson , when low and behold the same issue- women in the 50’s and 60’s- starts glaring at me from the tv screen in the form of The Tender Trap (1955). Frank Sinatra plays the more-than-one-woman- bachelor, while Debbie Reynolds plays the I-know-what-I-want girl, fluffing up the image of marriage as the end all be all of a women’s life. Poor Celeste Holm plays Sylvia, a woman of a certain age, still feeling unfulfilled as a famous violinst, because heck, nothing beats the husband and babies she could have been having long before now.
Sylvia says, “Joe, do you have any idea what’s available to a woman of 33? Married men. Drunks. Pretty boys looking for someone to support them. Lunatics looking for their fifth divorce! It’s quite a list, isn’t it?”
Giving us all a clearer picture, that all you single ladies better find a man before you’re 33. or it gets worse.Now, don’t get me wrong, I knew women had issues with all that “what is and isn’t right in society” stuff back then, but I really had no idea. I watched all those forbidden hollywood films, just like the rest of you, and even those didn’t seem so bad. After reading the memoir Summer at Tiffany’s a couple years ago, I must say I merely appreciated that women were allowed grace the floor as emplyees at the worlds best jewelry store, but after reading Wasson’s rendition of women, and the influence film was and wasn’t allowed to give on the topic, I was floored.
We all saw the limitations put on film production by the Hays code, but that almost seems tame compared to what was expected of women in actual society, from the 1930’s onward.
Many a secretary was sent home because her skirt was not brushing her knees. Little Mary Smith in Easy Living (1937) was fired from her job at the Boys Constant Companion magazine due to ethical reasons, though one would hardly think walking into work with a fur coat sacrilege, it apparently was.
George Axelrod, the screenplay writer of The Seven Year Itch and Breakfast at Tiffany’s had been pigeonholed into a formula script from the start of this career by the big wigs in the censorship office. The Production Code alone was responsible for films full of innuendo and no action. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the film, bared little resemblance to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the book, because basically it was a story about a hooker. Axelrod’s The Seven Year Itch was supposed to be about a series of actual affairs and infidelity, but instead all we got was a movie outlining how we should feel bad about lust, temptation and the image of Marilyn Monroe with her big toe stuck in the bathtub faucet. And while Axelrod would eventually become respected, but not nearly enough, one wonders what else had to be fully rewritten in the name of The Code.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s in the form that we finally see on film is all Axelrod. The conjuring of Paul Varjak as a gigilo, instead of the gay friend Capote intended, is quickly loved and adored as the man who who save our little Holly Golighty for a life of promiscuity, and is what won him the right to write this picture. And the happy ending, which is always essential for The Code, where the guy gets the girl and not another guy, or vice versa is always preferable to staying true to the book and having Holly run off with the brazilian, Jose, as intended. Love’s not so bad in a cage if you’re in there together.
The Production Code finally died in 1968 giving way to the current rating system that we now embrace, leaving only a trail of happy films all portraying the fake society that American culture has come to idolize, but one, that if we looked deep down had a lot to say if only we would let it.