To the Women of Classic Hollywood.

I'm at a loss as to how to begin this letter. I have a million things to say, trust me, but organizing my thoughts is difficult when it comes to confessing my adoration for the people I call my heroes. And trust me, you gals are my heroes. I've always been proud to be a woman, but watching you on the screen consistently makes me hold my head up a little higher. We have a camaraderie, despite coming from different places, cultures, and time periods, and there has never been a time when I felt disconnected from you. Can I relate to you snuggling with blindingly handsome leading men? No. Can I recall a moment where I was dressed in Adrian, Irene, or Givenchy creations, looking stunning with my Bud Westmore-applied makeup and Sydney Guilaroff hairstyle? Absolutely not. But can I giggle when you make a funny face at that leading man? Can I do the most horrific sobbing when the plot deals you an undeserved hand? Can I cheer when you finish a complicated dance or complete a beautiful song? Definitely.

I've been very lucky because all of my life, I've been surrounded by the strongest and most amazing women imaginable. I've never been lacking in that department, and when I happened upon classic Hollywood, things only got better. I don't think I could ever picture myself as an actress, with the relentless publicity and premieres and working under hot lights and the media's constant obsession with appearances. That's not why I try to emulate you ladies. I try to follow in your footsteps because you were shrewd, ambitious, hardworking, warm, utterly wonderful, and so many more adjectives, all in your own ways. Things are about to get real sappy here...

 Esther, you had my heart the second you walked into frame in my first movie of yours. You were bright and easily one of the most gorgeous people I've ever seen, but you were also extremely tough and resilient. I think about you almost every day, especially when I encounter a problem. You never gave up on a fight and you made sure to look out for yourself because you knew no one else could do it for you. Remarkably self-aware and levelheaded, you dictated your own career and your life with grace and candor.

Greer, you're our English rose, but it would be foolish to categorize you as prim and proper. You radiated so much light and you didn't let your vulnerability victimize you. You've shown me the importance of having a sense of humor and being okay with my sensitivity.

Rita, you didn't have the easiest life. A lot of things became a struggle for you, but I honestly believe you tried your damnedest to make it through. All of your films demonstrate a professionalism that masked your hardships and instead presented the world with a sultry and bewitching personality. You couldn't forget your problems, but you helped your audiences forget theirs.

Deanna, I misjudged you for the longest time. I assumed you'd be sweet to the point of nausea, with your curled hair and "Winnipeg's Sweetheart" label. But then I got to know you and I had to scold myself for ever thinking you weren't an actress I could admire. Just because you were vivacious and charming didn't mean you couldn't also be sassy and the tiniest bit wicked. Although I'll forever be sad that you left films at the age of 28, you had to do what was right for you and you never regretted it.

Like Deanna, you left Hollywood to follow your heart, Alice. You adored having a family and you wanted to devote your life to them, which by all accounts you did with success. It took courage to turn away when you were still a star, particularly a star as luminous as you, but we'll always have the stellar work you left behind.

Loretta, you are a new discovery for me and one I've been so thrilled to learn about. Your every move is so natural and so thoroughly Loretta, and you saw to it that your career survived by moving to television, a risky venture that you handled beautifully. You endured as a lovely, alluring, and steadying presence for years and I'm sure you'll continue to do so.

Bette, I don't think you've ever given a goddamn what people say about you. You knew you were strong-willed, intelligent, and completely your own person. You fought for total control of your career, and while you've consistently remained a little enigmatic to me, I know your life was hard, yet you never said "I give up."

We lost you entirely too soon, Judy. Whether you were playing gin rummy with Broderick Crawford or singing with Dean Martin, all you ever did was make us laugh and feel joy. But what strikes me the most about you, Judy, is that you never stopped being yourself. Your voice, your look, your high energy, your comedic timing -- you were a force of nature. You had all of these idiosyncrasies that made you the unique goddess you were. I know that whatever I don't like about myself, it all adds up to make me something different than everyone else.

Ingrid, to look at you is to love you. The light and the humor you radiated made you beautiful, but the strength you exhibited in following your heart when everyone else shunned you makes you an icon.

Really, Janet, I just love you. Watching you in a movie always makes me feel good. Even though you were discovered by Norma Shearer, and your marriage to Tony Curtis made you public darlings, and you became a huge star in your own right, you didn't lose sight of yourself and what you believed in.

You could never be just another dumb blonde, Jean. You infused your roles with warmth, sensitivity, and street smarts, and you always seemed to say "This character matters. You can't dismiss her. She has thoughts and feelings, no matter what stereotype you think she follows."

Wouldn't we all like to be Julie Andrews when we grow up? Intelligent, sassy, kind, funny, and always ready with some colorful four-letter words (it's true!), Julie, you are a queen we could all learn a few lessons from.

Ginger, out of all of the many qualities I admire about you, I think perhaps the most important one is your work ethic. You were one of the most hardworking individuals I ever heard of, whether it was perfecting a foreign accent or tirelessly working to appease Fred Astaire without breaking into tears, even when your feet bled into your shoes. You were a warrior, let's face it.

Judy, I don't think words could describe the part you have in my life. You were Dorothy to me all through my childhood, but at some point, in a way, you became my best friend. I will always wish that I could have been there for you like the many, many times that you have been here for me. Just seeing your picture brings a smile to my face and I can hear your adorable laugh. I'm sure you'd have some self-deprecating remark for that; you always felt like the runt of the litter, the "hunchback" next to the Lana Turners and the Hedy Lamarrs. But to me, you were always the most gorgeous person in the room. You got knocked down so much and you kept getting back up, although no one believed you could. I love you, Judy, just because you were you.

If anybody inspires me to tap into my wild side, it's you, Shirley. You're the voice in my head that says "Go on, do it! You'll at least have a story to tell!" Although I'm much too cautious to always follow your lead, I'm trying to do better and step out of my comfort zone more often. I'm not saying you'll see me swinging from a chandelier anytime soon, but I'll find my own level.

Kim, you've gone through a lot of unjustifiable treatment in your life. When you decided to appear at the Oscars a few years ago, I was so excited because I knew that public appearances were hard for you and I desperately wanted to see you get the standing ovation you deserved. Instead, you were brutally mocked, the very thing you were afraid of. I appreciated that you tried to conquer your fear, and I still appreciate you every time I watch one of your films. You have such a huge heart, Kim, and the fact that you're still willing to share it with us is inspiring.

Leslie, I've always felt a kinship with you. Reading your autobiography was sometimes like reading my own diary, although our experiences could not be more different. I'm so grateful to you, in more ways than I could count.

Joan, I don't think I could explain in words what you mean to me. It sounds like a cop-out, I know, but there's just something there that I find indescribable. You were one of the first actresses I ever related to, and you'll always be one of my favorites.

Someone once asked me what it was about you, Lucy, that I liked so much and I immediately started stammering before I could form a few intelligible sentences. You were raised by tough women and you relied on what they taught you for the rest of your life, which sometimes made you feel conflicted in your marriage to Desi. When your movie career seemed to be going nowhere, you persisted until TV finally made it clear how much of a force you were -- and that was at the age of 40! You became a pioneer in so many ways. While I'll always adore I Love Lucy for being the perfect sitcom, I'll also always love it because it ensured that you became someone the world would never forget.

Hedy, while Hollywood pared you down to your extraordinary beauty, you worked hard to prove that you were more than a statue to be looked at. Your hassles exemplify what a lot of women go through, which is infuriating to type in 2016. Your brains were far more important than your looks, and in the end, you demonstrated that (although it really should have gone without saying).

What more could possibly be said about you, Audrey? You lit up so many people's lives, and you continue to do so although you've been gone for over twenty years. The way you lived your life is so inspiring, but the biggest takeaway for me has been the importance of showing kindness towards others. Your legacy is more than enough proof that being compassionate can make a world of difference.

Strong women aren't often respected the way they should be, which can make it intimidating for the ladies who feel like they have to suppress their inner lioness because they don't want to come off as a bitch. However, watching you, Ms. Stany, has convinced me that I don't want to be anything other than strong. If that's off-putting to others, that's their problem because empowering myself is something I will never stop doing.

Marilyn, you have to be one of the most complex women I have ever known. You're also one of the most polarizing. Honestly, I could care less what your naysayers think because I believe you were a wonderful talent. You were savvy about your career, often vocalizing how you were typecast into someone that didn't represent you at all. You tried taking control, both personally and professionally, yet you weren't always successful. We were just starting to get to know you when you left, but I think that since then we're realizing how much we've underestimated, and maybe even undervalued, you.

Jean, I admire you immeasurably. You had terrible insecurities, always trembling before you went before the camera and constantly second-guessing your looks and your acting. Yet you pushed on, and you became one of Hollywood's best actresses. You had such an enviable voice and you were never an unattainable glamour girl. Watching you in The More the Merrier or You Can't Take it with You or anything else, I see pieces of myself and it makes me hopeful that I can achieve the success that you did.

Betty, what fascinates me about your filmography is that you never seemed to let yourself be victimized. I've always appreciated the tough, wise women you played, especially because I can tell that you were that way in real life too. Nothing could dampen your vivid personality.

Gene, you were such a gorgeous person, inside and out. Sharing your struggles with depression was such a brave thing to do, and I sincerely hope that it helped to remove some of the stigmas attached to the public's perception of mental illness.

Myrna, you're the reason I value wit so much. Not only is it delightful to witness, it immediately made it clear that you and your leading man were equals too. You also illustrated the importance of remaining down-to-earth no matter how successful you become. Staying true to yourself is invaluable.

Doris, I could probably write a book about how much I adore you. This idea of you as the eternal virgin infuriates me because it takes away everything you are: sweet, fierce, smart, generous, and just a little bit cheeky. And then there's your talent. My God, woman, you are an amazing triple threat. Throughout so many things -- your abusive first marriage, the financial ruin your third husband put you through, the death of your son, the unfair treatment of your image -- you've retained your smile. To call you anything other than a goddess is to discount your iconic career.

Betty, I've written about my immense affection for you before, so I'll keep this short. Your independence, your ability to love, and your unwavering wit are things I appreciate and aspire to all the time. With me, and with so many other women, your legacy will never come to an end.

Kate. Kathy. Kat. My love for you has never been a secret. You guide me constantly, and I could only hope to be one-tenth as incredible as you were. Your strength and self-reliance and wisdom are what I live by. I can't imagine what my life would be like without you in it.

I couldn't possibly list every actress and what she means to me. Thelma Ritter, Ann Sothern, Eve Arden, Cyd Charisse, Ethel Barrymore, Vera-Ellen, Jane Powell, Ann-Margret, Elizabeth Taylor, June Allyson, Olivia de Havilland, Sophia Loren, Jane Wyman, and so much more, all of you inspire me every day. You're my women of the century, and for centuries to come.

With every ounce of my love,
Michaela

______________________

This is my first contribution to the What I Learned from the Movies Blogathon. To hear more about what other wonderful bloggers discovered from the silver screen, click here. Stay tuned for my second post tomorrow!

Comments

  1. Oh, Michaela. Consider this a placeholder comment. I couldn't wait to comment but then realized I had to wait before I could get all my thoughts together. Tremendous women, tremendous letter.

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    1. Consider this a big thank you! I can't wait to hear what you think.

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  2. What a beautiful tribute, and quite a moving one, too. You've articulated so many wonderful qualities of these women and how we can learn by their example. I loved reading your thoughts, and I couldn't agree more.

    Thank you for joining the blogathon with this wonderful essay.

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    1. The pleasure was all mine! I was really worried that this post was going to be too mushy, but it's how I feel. Classic Hollywood has done a lot for me, and discovering these actresses is at the top of that list.

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  3. This is so great, loved reading. Thanks for putting so much thought and work into it, and thanks for joining the blogathon :)

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    1. Thank you! I was really happy to be able to contribute this piece.

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  4. Sappy? No. Things didn't get sappy, only honest. Many of your comments brought tears to my eyes. Your tribute is lovely and reminded me of how long these women have been a part of my life as well.

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    1. Thank you so much! I'm so glad I'm not the only one who feels so connected to these women. They were obviously pretty incredible!

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  5. Such a beautiful letter! You captured so well the characteristics of each actress and why we admire them. When my sister and I were in our pre-teens each of us had a "Lady X" personality which represented the woman we hoped to grow up to be. Our Lady Xs were different but they were each made up of character qualities from the same movie actresses that we have loved on screen....Judy's enthusiasm, Julie Andrews' spunk, Betty Grable's fun, Doris' acceptance of everyone she met, etc. It's comforting to read your post and see that you appreciated those same qualities.

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    1. Thank you! I could not have asked for better role models than these ladies. It's lovely to hear from others that they admire the same things. It just goes to show that although many of these actresses are gone, they won't be forgotten.

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  6. This was so lovely! You've shown me how to look at so many of these actresses in a new and deeper light and what we can learn from them. Thanks so much for this and for being willing to share something so personal!

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    1. Thank you! I was pretty hesitant about how this post would be accepted, just because it came from my perspective so much and I wasn't sure many others could relate. I'm glad to see how wrong I was!

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  7. Honest and heartfelt. A great combination. A really enjoyable read.

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    1. Thank you so much! I'm happy to hear that you liked it.

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  8. OK, here I go...

    I did cry reading this! Some of these women I've only loved and admired very recently. But I was already in tears before I even got to Audrey, and I had been waiting for her, haha. I think about her every day too, so that was something I could relate to in your letter to Esther. Thanks to Summer Under the Stars, I got to appreciate your mermaid so much more, and this after being indifferent. Can you believe it?? I just love the sincerity of this whole piece; the great care you took in writing about each, even if I only love them from ~afar~ as it were, it was wonderful to read about your personal connection to each. And I could just relate so much, I've been surrounded by courageous women my whole life, but the women of Classic Hollywood joined them too. I could go on but I'll stop here lest I start composing my own letter to each of them! Thanks for such a beautiful post.

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    1. Aw, thank you, Simoa! I'm thrilled that you gave Esther another chance. And Audrey holds a very special place in my heart as well. It's amazing that we've never met these women, yet we feel so close to them. Although they were great actresses, I can definitely see their true selves coming through in some way or another.

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  9. Fantastic read...how wonderful to put all these great ladies together to pay homage too. I especially, appreciate your choice of pictures, unusual while capturing an essence of each personally. Thank you for sharing the love.

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    1. Thank you! I wanted to pick photos that weren't the ones you always see. And there were so many more women I wish I could have singled out, but this list would have gone on for a very, very long time.

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  10. Beautiful, Michaela! I was strong, holding back my tears, until I got to Miss Garland and they continued to trickle. :) This reminds me of why I've always loved reading their bios and memoirs. In their efforts to entertain us, they have really left their marks on us by overcoming many odds in their workplace and homes and pushing forth to meet their goals, and ultimately inspiring us. It's a glorious tribute.

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    1. You made so many good points. It's astounding to think of the legacies these women left behind, both in film and in the audience's personal lives. Thank you for reading! Sorry I made you cry! :)

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  11. There may or may not be tears in my eyes.
    It was a marvelous post! True, warm, moving post. I agree so much with what you wrote about Jean, Judy, Myrna and Kate!
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Kisses!
    Le

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  12. Such a powerful, illuminating letter. Loved every bit of it!

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    1. Thank you! Happy to know you enjoyed it!

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