Seeing one of William Wyler’s most telling films, Counsellor at Law, I must admit spurred an almost immediate need to address the issue of the quintessential secretary in the workplace. It is in Classic Hollywood, more than any other time in film history, that we see this sort of glamorous take on the working woman. And why, you ask? Because being the Office Wife was the most coveted job any women could possibly find.
The position of secretary through the 30’s and 40’s became known as an almost necessary stepping stone in order to snatch a rich husband. A position which caused envy in many wives, who knew not what they’re husbands did between the hours of 9 and 5, and sometimes quite late into the night.
And once again we can count on Classic Hollywood to chronicle all the endeavors of the aspiring secretary.
Jean Arthur runs a typing school in More Than a Secretary, and successfully too, until she realizes almost every inadequate girl she trains soon leaves the secretarial position to which she was assigned to marry the boss. It takes her a while to realize her need for success and independence has inadvertently cost her all her chances to be a wife herself. So she does the only thing she can do, assigns herself to the next available secretarial position with George Brent, even though she is far above it, to snatch a husband for herself.
Linda Darnell and Tyrone Power make just as charming a couple as they did in The Mark of Zorro in Day-Time Wife, as Tyrone tries to prove that his secretary is only a secretary. Leave it to smart and sophisticated friend Wendy Barrie to turn Linda’s mind to thoughts of betrayal. Taking a job as a secretary to one of her husbands business associates, she puts herself to good use only to end up in a game of cat and mouse. Unable to admit to her boss her true identity, she agrees to join him for dinner, when she realizes her husband is also going to be out late that evening. But then, what more is needed than for everyone to show up at the same place? Some wonderful comedy unravels as we see Linda, Tyrone and the respective boss, secretary and bosses wife all try to get out of their self imposed web of lies.
Of course Classic Hollywood doesn’t stop there. Counsellor at Law(1933) shows us a tortured secretary, in love with her married boss, who she supports more than his own wife, but then what can be done when the boss is in love with his wife? In Wife vs. Secretary (1936) we see the jealous wife sure of her husbands infidelity. The Office Wife ( 1930) brings the possibility of every wife’s fear; that the relationship between a boss and his secretary is one that even a wife can’t hope to equal. Even well into the fifties we see the role of secretary to the married man still a viable temptation in The Seven Year Itch (1955).
Check back as we highlight these and other Office Wife films from good old Classic Hollywood.