Jewish World Review August 2, 2001/ 13 Menachem-Av, 5761

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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FRAN, MARY JO, MONICA & CHANDRA -- The Apartment, Billy Wilder's 1960 movie, has come to mind twice in a fortnight. Jack Lemmon's passing was a reminder of his unforgettable role as milquetoast corporate suit, C.C. Baxter, who loaned his apartment to his company's executives for their use, illicit affair-wise. His reward was a key to the executive washroom.

Reminder #2 sprang from revelation of the tawdry affair between Gary Condit and the missing Chandra Levy. Mr. Condit owned up after 10 weeks, a brow beating by the National Enquirer, and emerging mistresses from the byways, skyways and Fox News. The Apartment's theme, as explained by CEO Jeff D. Sheldrake (oddly, Fred MacMurray), was "You see a girl a couple of times a week and sooner or later she thinks you'll divorce your wife. Not fair, is it?" C.C. responds, "No, especially to your wife."

Billy Wilder's film was a tough critique of the pink-collar ghetto. Just the Christmas office party scene would send today's EEOC sexual harassment sheriff s into hyperventilation. But, The Apartment was not just social commentary on the corporate gender caste system; it provided insight into the tragedy of office affairs.

While there is a plethora of commentary on Mr.Condit, his jacket and hair, Ms. Levy has remained above the analytical fray despite showing the discernment of Darva Conger in zeroing in on husband material. Condit makes the Kennedys look chivalrous.

While my heart goes out to Dr. and Mrs. Levy, I wonder about parents, here and ala the Lewinskys, who seem unfazed by their daughters' self-destructive romances. The Levy case adds the confidant aunt who was supportive of l'affaire du Gary.

What has happened to aunts with painted brows who have built-in radar for Casanovas? Where are the aunts who look and act their age and dispense wisdom that begins, "Listen, honey . .". Chandra Levy's aunt was like tiny Barbara Stanwyck trying to contain gunfights, Nick, and Heath on The Big Valley. Someone forceful needs to be in charge. The Levy aunt looks as if she runs marathons on tofu stuffed with sprouts. Anorexic vegetarians don't project the image needed to rein in errant nieces. We need aunts in flowered stretch pants who could deck Tony Soprano, a cut above Mr. Condit.

Without the heavy hand of adults, Ms. Levy lived Fran Kubelick's (Shirley MacLaine) life in The Apartment. Miss Kubelick had a minimum wage job and no education or future except with CEO Sheldrake, who had pretty much nailed everyone in the office. We're still tallying Condit mistresses.

There is nothing new here. Thirty years and graduate degrees later and women still bestow their physical gifts on powerful guys, hoping they'll leave their wives. Fran Kubelik and J.D. Sheldrake. Ted Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne. Monica Lewinsky and legacy man.

The age-old story hasn't changed despite a women's movement that was to have eliminated women's dependence on men. Coupled with the sexual revolution and a strange tolerance for affairs, the formula for female independence backfired. Now women have graduate degrees and are self-supporting, but can no longer wield the powerful sword of shame. Men need not make any commitments for sexual favors and there is no condemnation for their fickleness, even from a young lady's parents or aunts. Miss Kubelick at least had Dr. Dreyfuss's outrage and her brother-in-law, Carl's, fists. Today, cads abound sans shunning. No one demands that they do right by women and daughters. And there's little guilt in dumping someone who can support herself.

Following her near suicide, Miss Kubelick rediscovers C.C. Baxter, who took back his apartment and gave up his key to the executive washroom for he could no longer bear to see Fran hurt by that heel Sheldrake. Miss Kubelick found happiness with an unmarried guy her own age. He made her spaghetti with a tennis racket colander in his humble apartment, no longer ground zero for office trysts.

C.C. loved and honored Fran, marriage-wise. Miss Kubelick, the elevator operator in the gloves in a male-dominated world of pink-collar women had a happy ending with C.C. Baxter, the guy outside the power circle. Monica, Mary Jo, and Chandra, educated sophisticates, aimed for the powerful married guys and had tragic endings. Would that there had been a C.C. Baxter and a couple of hard-nosed adults in their lives to help them give these married scoundrels the boot.

A review of The Apartment reads, "The character of Fran for today's standards of course seems too submissive and vulnerable." Indeed. We've come a long way, baby.

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


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings