Strong Women, Strong Movies!

The March sisters from the 1933 film adaption of Little Women

Guest blog by Jan Wahl

I am the strong, successful woman I am today because of the movies my mother carefully chose for me when I was a child, teen, and all throughout her life.  Yes, I had a good education, great teachers, solid parental training, but having a mother who believed in strong women onscreen made me blossom and bloom. It all started with two very different onscreen images.

There was once a madcap, extravagant world traveler known as Auntie Mame (1958).  She’s positive that “life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  One of the greatest women to ever work in Hollywood, Rosalind Russell, is perfectly cast as the flamboyant Mame Dennis, a character who never lets the world stop her from living out loud.  Do not mix this up with the inferior Lucille Ball version of the musical Mame. Even composer Jerry Herman cried when I interviewed him, talking about his disappointment with that one. Stick with this amazing ’58  Auntie Mame!

Jo March was and is a role model.  Little Women is the story. I started at the beginning with Kate Hepburn as the ambitious Jo (1933).  Wynona Ryder was perfection as unconventional Jo (1994) as was the entire cast and film in the recent adaptation (2019).  The family women struggling together and Jo staying strong to her own vision is one for the ages and all ages.

As a daughter of a politically active mother, I’ve always loved movies about women who are in the public eye, whether on purpose or accident.  The Betty Ford Story (1987) is a TV movie worth digging for starring Gena Rowlands—who deserved her Emmy for portraying the gutsy Betty. The movie helped normalize issues of breast cancer and addiction.  Greer Garson as Eleanor Roosevelt is inspiring in Sunrise at Campobello (1960) and Harriet Tubman’s remarkable courage was at last shown onscreen in 2019’s Harriet, one of my Top Ten Movies of that year.  But it is A Face in the Crowd (1957) that reminds us of what can happen when a woman has had IT, ready to explode…look out world!  Patricia Neal pulls the plug on a dangerous, egomaniacal TV star getting too close to the Oval Office.  She finds a way to end it. Makes me wish she was here now.

From Frida (2002) to Albert Nobbs (2011) to the First Wives Club (1996), this is a subject that goes on as long as we strong women continue our fight to be ourselves against all odds. We will celebrate more of these onscreen women in the future. Let’s be in the solution, not mired in the muck of the problem.  That’s what the onscreen women do..telling us: You go, girls! Meet you in that place of authenticity and joy.

Jan Wahl is an Emmy winning producer, entertainment reporter, and film critic—wearing many hats—based in San Francisco. Her reviews appear in newspapers, radio, and on television across the Bay Area. Over the course of her career, Jan Wahl has interviewed them all from Gregory Peck to Ben Affleck and Meryl Streep to Renee Zellweger.

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