Chuckling as Sarah Jessica Parker juggles husband, kids and high-powered job in I Don't Know How She Does It -- a movie that has a smile rather than the teeth of its source material -- I thought fondly of prior Hollywood movies where Her pinstripes are wider than His.
Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year. Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. Ginger Rogers in Lady in the Dark. Judy Holliday in The Solid Gold Cadillac. Diane Baker in The Best of Everything. Diane Keaton in Baby Boom. Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. Sanaa Lathan in Something New.
One could chart the modern history of women in the workplace through these films. Though there were many female professionals in pinstripes in 1930s films, the genre really exploded during the 1940s when women were manning the worplace front during World War II.
1940s heroines juggled love for job and love for Joe. Think of Mitchell Leisen's great tryptich, Lady in the Dark, with Ginger Rogers realizing in therapy that all her life she has dominated men and now she has to find a man to dominate her; Take a Letter, Darling, with ad exec Roz Russell letting her assistant Fred MacMurray be her collaborator; and No Time for Love, with photographer Claudette Colbert hiring blue-collar laborer MacMurray as her assistant.
With the exceptions of Judy Holliday in Solid Gold Cadillac who got the job and the guy, and Doris Day in The Pajama Game the union leader who fought for a raise and married management, the typical 1950s heroine had to choose between love or work. Consider the gals of The Best of Everything (Martha Hyer, Hope Lange, Diane Baker, Joan Crawford) who learn that there is love and there is work but there is only one heart.
In the 1970s there were the empowerment narratives such as Norma Rae, with Sally Field as the textile worker who helps unionize her shop and have a homelife, and Faye Dunaway as the television exec in Network who invents reality TV and uses men for sex instead of vice-versa.
In the 1980s, Baby Boom showed Diane Keaton overcoming the prejudice against working moms in the corporate world and Working Girl Melanie Griffith a working-class employee overcoming the class prejudice against her becoming an executive.
In the best working-gal movie of the new century, Sanaa Lathan is the African-American exec who battles racism in the workplace and her own racism about dating a white guy in Something New.
In 1980 I met Ginger Rogers who told me about the "odd" experience of showing Lady in the Dark to a feminist audience. "In 1940, the audience thought my bosslady character so modern and daring. In 1980, they laughed. You know, Carrie, times have changed!"
Have they? Your favorite gals in shoulderpads and pinstripes?