This is my second post featuring the mannequin work of Pierre Imans (1850 - 1930) whose fabulous creations I've just recently discovered online. So thanks must first go out to the Monsieur Imans' Atelier for having fashioned these extraordinary and very recognizable types.
Read my first post featuring the male side of all this, here
Movies from the 30's and 40's were usually populated with dames of this sort (there was even a movie called DAMES), so much so that I simply can't imagine a film from that era without at least one or two of these gals serving back-up to the leading lady or, for that matter, even occasionally (but rarely) taking the lead role themselves especially over at RKO or Republic.
After all, Ginger Rogers began in films as a blonde floozy (albeit a blond floozy with gumption), not even second best, but inserted as third or fourth where by dint of talent and ambition, she then moved up, film by film, level by level, to fame and glory with a guy named Fred Astaire who embellished her with movie class.
If you love those old movies as I do (no matter how you discovered them) you know who this post is about - right? We're talking the best friend. The room-mate. The wall flower. The reporter. The sarcastic secretary (though this category sometimes moved up to leading lady status). But also the step-mother. The society dame. The night club singer. The innocent pawn. The gun moll and occasionally, the murder victim. The divorcee. The devoted wife. The other woman. The Mata Hari. The sacrificial lamb. The housekeeper. The wisecracking maid. The little sister. The older sister. The evil step-sister. The shop girl. Well, obviously I could go on and on, but I'll stop here. You get the picture.
Okay, who do we have here? Obviously (I mean, look at that face) this is the egregiously spoiled older daughter who takes after her father, a powerful Senator. She is the disapproving heiress who can barely tolerate her high spirited sister Polly, the leading lady (takes after her late mother), a math whiz who refuses to wear dresses preferring instead to stride around the family mansion in glasses, overalls and brogues. The perky genius is in love with her older sister's discarded boyfriend, a hapless scientist oblivious to his lucky escape.
Usually named Pamela (never call me Pam) or Laura or Barbara, no one remembers ever seeing this haughty creature laugh. When was the last time those tight little lips broke into a real smile? Not lately. Convinced of her own superiority, this gal is too busy finding fault and belittling the lesser world about her. Her current fiance George, a sacrificial scion of an old but impoverished society family, has been driven to drink and all but cowers when this snooty miss enters the room. (What some people won't do for money.) The servants, who tend to come and go in quick rotation, are convinced she has the evil eye.
Older sister would, of course, prefer to rule the world but will have to settle for ruling the clique at the country club and eventually, the jittery George. She will, of course, wind up dead as a door-nail in the gazebo. Tsk. Tsk.
This kindly looking sort is the leading lady's understanding aunt who is nursing a broken heart. Deeply in love with her phlegmatic hubby Kirby, who is a tall, dark and handsome British novelist, she is aware that he does not return her devotion - although she cannot figure out why. The truth is, Kirby is in love with his best friend and literary agent, Ben. Of course, this being a 1930's movie, nobody is aware of this, not even Ben who is secretly in love with the gardener (an undercover German spy) who has his stealthy eye on the plucky leading lady who has volunteered for war service and is currently a driver for her widowed father, the natty chief of Army Intelligence. Aha! you say.
Usually named Cynthia, Margaret or Nancy, our virtuous family relation suffers in silence, unaware of the pent-up emotions and desires swirling around her as she blithely goes about her cloistered existence planning charity fetes, tea parties and knitting balaclava helmets. If only she knew that happiness is waiting for her in the person of Major Abernathy, a long time family friend and war hero who has loved her from afar for years.
Will virtue ever get its just reward? Will Ben ever get his hands on the Teutonic gardener? Will said gardener ever get his hands on the leading lady and/or any secret papers lying arbout? Will the love-lorn Major ever notice the spy lurking among the roses? And by the way who and where the heck is the leading man?
This femme fatale (with a heart of gold) has obviously been around the block a few times (note the dark hair and brutal make-up - a giveaway) so therefore she cannot get 'a happily ever after' with the leading man - this femme must necessarily die (usually stepping in front of a bullet meant for you know who) at the end. She might as well carry a placard in front of her that says, 'I am doomed.'
Once upon a time our gal was pure as the driven snow, but headstrong and spoiled. Result: a couple of errors in judgment (the usual clumsy affair of the heart when she was young and green) resulting in expulsion from her strictly middle class family, a hasty runaway marriage and shortly thereafter even hastier widowhood. Add a few years up the river for manslaughter (she killed him in self-defense, ladies and gentlemen) and it's obvious life has left our bad luck gal with a jaundiced view of men and worse, no easy way to earn a living except, sadly, to become a floozy chanteuse at a seedy nightclub on the wrong side of town.
Usually named Margot or Sonia or Brenda, she has recently (and unadvisedly) fallen hard for the fresh-faced cop (the leading man) who has sworn to bring her mobster boss to justice. The cop, in turn, has been making goo-goo eyes at the saucy leading lady (a young society type engaged to an up and coming politico) who is apparently the long lost daughter (given up for adoption after mom was carted off to prison) of our dark-eyed gal who has no clue - yet - to the girl's true identity. Prediction: disaster and heartbreak
This is the rather pragmatic society grand dame who has in her own unruffled way seen it all, done some, and is shocked by little. She is an American, daughter of a railroad tycoon, married to a British earl who, on the whole, prefers horses, dogs and the life of a country squire - something our lady tolerates with a bemused eye reasoning - rightly - that it could all be much worse. Usually named Marian or Catherine or Dorothy, she is the mother of two grown sons who adore her and whom she indulges shamelessly. Though maybe not so much when the youngest shows up out of the blue (sent down from Oxford) with his brand new bride, a Harrod's shop girl named Petal Phelps.
What is a mother to do when disaster looms? Especially when said son was already betrothed to Lady Gwen Pierpont (the leading lady), the 'horsey' good-natured daughter of their closest neighbor, the excruciatingly proper Duke of Beresford. Well, maybe the older son (very correct and not given to wild ways) can step in and prevent social catastrophe - if he can be convinced to sacrifice himself by stepping into his brother's shoes. Little does mother know that Lady Gwen has secretly been in love with the eldest son (the leading man) since she was twelve years old. He merely thinks of her as that 'funny looking' kid with freckles who, in between riding horses, inexplicably became engaged to his younger brother. Stay tuned for further developments.
This is the perky, fun-loving, gap-toothed best friend who pretends her father hasn't lost the family's money speculating in a flabby stock market - the real reason she's has had to get a job as a reporter, insisting she wants to be independent and fend for herself. All her well-to-do friends, except one, tsk-tsk in sneering amazement when they're not rushing about getting ready for the upcoming debutante ball.
Usually named Patty or Alice or Debbie, this best friend is the sort of gal who will stick by the leading lady, a beautiful but empty-headed heiress who has a habit of stumbling into misadventure. The beauty can't decide which beau to marry, and her reporter friend must dive right in to help when they find the dead body of one of the handsome beaus hanging in the pool house. The leading lady faints but the best friend begins taking notes in her brand new reporter notebook.
Once revived and told (by said best friend) not to be such a wet noodle, the two pals will try and save the leading lady's younger brother whom the reporter secretly loves and on whom all suspicion has fallen since he was last seen playing an afternoon set of tennis with the dead guy and has since disappeared - the brother, that is, not the dead guy.
Of course we must have a handsome but confused homicide cop (the leading man) who is perturbed by two young lovelies interfering in the investigation, mixing up the clues and even getting themselves kidnapped and needing to be rescued again and again. Well, nobody ever said that being a cop was an easy career choice.
Now here we have a true angel in distress. So much distress that she might almost be the leading lady of the piece. In fact, if this were anything but the story of a rather gruff and exceptional female at the forefront of early aviation - first of her sex to join the embryo Royal mail corps where she will, rightly, be viewed as just another pilot - then our fragile looking lovely would rule the roost. But instead this innocent wilting lily is the female pilot's younger sister, the girl left behind by the hero, a pilot wounded grievously in the war. A hero too noble to permanently inflict his scarred visage on such a fragile flower of young English womanhood.
Especially since said 'flower' cowered with revulsion when he first came home and revealed himself to her. A jagged gash across his forehead and down his cheek to his chin has made this tender miss have second thoughts.
Usually named Susan, or Ellen, or Elizabeth, the wilted lovely is now overcome by guilt, wishing she were not so repulsed by the ruin of her ex-fiance's good looks and had not, in her heartbreak, turned to the hero's still handsome brother (the prodigal son who managed to avoid active service and is currently involved in black market activities) to assuage her grief. She is weak and spineless, she tells herself. Well yes, but really, how could anyone with any delicate sensibilities be expected to spend her life with a Frankenstein? Oh, if only she could be less fastidious.
In the meantime, our heart-broken hero has joined the mail corps where he will deliver air mail alongside the plucky heroine whom he has grown to admire for her grit and bravery and who, unbelievably at least to him, does not seem to notice his grotesque physical scars. She, in turn, has successfully hidden the fact that she has been in love with him for years.
Why can't the course of true love ever be nice and neat?
'Dames' Song Lyrics