Jewish World Review July 11, 2003/ 11 Tamuz, 5763

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Hepburn couldn't hold a candle next to Mom


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Before the fire and water damaged the bottom floor in 1980, the old Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel/Casino had an elegant theater where it aired Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer classics. Its marketing theory was to offer gamblers a break from roulette or jai alai but keep them confined within the walls of astronomical odds stacked against them. The locals, however, not the gamblers, ended up occupying the plush screening couches in that sub-casino theater, lapping up the products of Hollywood's golden era in pre-VCR, DVD, cable, and even Beta Max days.

My mother introduced me to Katharine Hepburn in that theater in the summer of 1973. I was aware of Kate's existence but not her talent until my mother dragged me to "The Philadelphia Story." What a woman that Hepburn was! What a screen presence! What diction!

My mother and I had already developed a strong film kinship, she enjoying more success in impressing me than I her. Her "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing," with Jennifer Jones and William Holden, was indeed a splendored thing. Holden's untimely death in the film, leaving Jennifer Jones, a physician, waiting on their hillside for him to no avail, still brings tears.

I took my mother to "Love Story." She hated Ali MacGraw's "foul mouth." We saw "The Graduate." My mother had no comment. Her "Desk Set" with Spencer Tracy and the great Kate still sends my mind spinning with its questions and riddles.

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We watched "Mildred Pierce" together, and Joan Crawford's performance brought my father in for the film feast. My mother forced my father to weave and swerve in downtown Pittsburgh traffic, cutting off Teamsters from the steel mills, so we would not miss the opening scenes in "The Sound of Music." "We can't miss Maria in the Alps!" she moaned. After the Captain and Maria climbed every mountain, my mother said, "Wasn't the baroness grand?"

It was when we saw "Harvey" together that I realized that my mother had more than just impeccable taste in films. The women in my mother's films were defiant, confident, and witty, but lovely. My era's films runneth over with sniveling wimps and partially clothed babes. Neither of us will watch a James Bond movie. Bond girls are an affront to civilized cinema.

When Katharine Hepburn passed away last week, my movie memories descended like water down a Las Vegas wash. Ironically, the great Kate passed away in the same week that "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" premiered, and "Sex and the City," the HBO series, launched its final season. The juxtaposition of the roles for women and their degradation is stunning.

Kate in a bikini, ala Demi Moore, carrying a surfboard on screen? We'd be punk'd! Hepburn appeared in a bathing suit for a terrific dive in "The Philadelphia Story," but emerged to a full-length robe. Even with a bathing cap Kate oozed grace. Reviews for Sarah Jessica Parker's last HBO season highlight her choice of shoes. Shoes can't change "vulgar" and "shallow," my mother's adjectives for that inane series.

The women in my mother's timeless films were like a Kate Smith rendition of "G0d Bless America." Strong, simple, modest dress - a focus on words and art, not shoes or cleavage. Celine Dion sings "G0d Bless America," but needs a moving stage with Siegfried, or Roy, mountains, and white foam, not from the oceans, just Caesar's productions. Gaudy, dependent on props - female celebrities today are arcade material, not artists.

We have come a long way, baby - down. In former eras of repression, women crackled on the screen. In past times of inequality, women controlled the landscape, the men and the plots. Hepburn rewrote scripts. Crawford took on Pepsi. The world heeded them. My mother has few films of today to recommend - "A Beautiful Mind." Strong woman, again. Our cinematic bond now depends on repeats even as my mother is affected by time's toll on the mind. Sometimes she seems unsure who I am or where she is. Even amidst this confusion and vulnerability, my mother's cinematic-like class and charm sparkles.

The women in our movies always grabbed a purse and tucked it firmly under their arms as they bounded out doors. My mother still does the same. The purse is empty, its contents squirreled away in some cubby we may never find, but the purse goes with her or everybody stays home. She remains in charge, and won't be seen in public sans purse.

My mother's enduring film choices, and our time together catching those classics late at night or at the MGM, in pre-tech days, were a window into her soul. Cinematic moments expressed her hopes for her daughters. She wanted them to have strength, wit, and class.

Mom and I talked the day Kate the Great passed away at 96. We agreed no actress today comes close to Hepburn's spirit or presence. My mother shared Hepburn with me as a role model years ago. She used movies to teach me what women should be and have. I didn't need the movies. I was watching her. Hepburn couldn't hold a candle next to Mom.

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.

Up

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06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

© 2002, Marianne M. Jennings