In my post on Fictional Blondes I promised that there would be another piece on More Blondes with further consideration of the phenomenon in the works of Raymond Chandler and other 20th Century masters.
So here it is.
MORE BLONDES FROM CHANDLER
In 1953, Chandler wrote what was possibly his masterpiece – The Long Goodbye. The narrator is again his honourable loner private eye, Phillip Marlowe. He still battles the forces of corruption, injustice and conflicted loyalties. He is as clever, wary and tough as usual. But he is not invincible – and this time the police arrest him for murder.
But this is a darker book than its predecessors. It is full of damaged people. Two in particular must have been very close to what Chandler felt himself to be: the self-doubting alcoholic writer, Roger Wade, and a psychologically wounded war veteran.
And it is this book, heartfelt and dangerously close to home, in which Chandler/Marlowe has a substantial digression on blondes – and it’s not for fun.
MORE BLONDES – THE JOKE
There are blondes and there are blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays.
Enter the Dumb Blonde. She is naïve, which gives rise to a lot of jokes at her expense, often a party girl, and very, very pretty. She hit the comic strips in 1933 in the flapper shape of Blondie Boopadoop, who went on to marry her sports-mad rich boyfriend Dagwood and, eventually grow up to be a pillar of tolerance and good sense. But even at her daffiest, she was always lovable and, of course, enchantingly pretty.
Judy Holliday, blonde and possessing a breathy, little-girl voice, played a whole series of them in 1940 and 50s romantic comedies. Sadly, the scriptwriters and directors mostly had her characters stay dumb.
And, of course, she has a whole series of dim, giggly, charming successors: Goldie Hawn’s role in the Laugh In; Lisa Kudrow as Friends’ Phoebe and in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion; Clueless; Legally Blonde; and, arguably, one or two celebrities as they are presented in the media.
MORE BLONDES TO AVOID
This is all Chandler, and I’m not going to apologise for quoting at length because it is so beautifully written and is so full of a whole trunk full of experience and doubts. It’s not quite misogyny, I think. Mainly because already we know Phillip Marlowe is chivalrous to a fault. But also because even in this short passage, you sense his bewilderment and vulnerability.
All blondes have their points, except perhaps the metallic ones who are as blond as a Zulu under the bleach and as to disposition as soft as a sidewalk. There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare. There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very very tired when you take her home. She makes that helpless gesture and has that goddamned headache and you would like to slug her except you are glad you found out about the headache before you invested too much time and money and hope in her. Because the headache will always be there, a weapon that never wears out and is as deadly as the bravo’s rapier or Lucrezia’s poison vial.
MORE BLONDES TO DREAD
the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde — I’m not entirely sure what Chandler has against her, she sounds like good fun, except that she wants mink and dry champagne at expensive nightclubs and being soft and willing seems to be what she’s willing to pay for it.
the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo — Now, what’s wrong with her, I thought — until I got to the judo. And no, it’s not because she can fight off our hero, if she chooses. This is Phillip Marlowe, the 20th century’s answer to Sir Galahad, remember. She can fight off a truck driver. And, even worse, without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review.
Aha. This woman is omni-competent. She doesn’t leave Sir Galahad anything to do for her. Heck, you could probably say she makes the male of the species redundant.
MORE BLONDES — FEAR OF THE INTELLECTUAL
the pale, pale blonde with anaemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can’t lay a finger on her because in the first place you don’t want to, and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land… This is surely Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen, implacable, powerful, fascinating — and turns you to ice. Sends chills up my spine.
She is also, in Chandler’s nightmare, fluent in other languages, a reader of obscure and difficult poetry and has a pitch so perfect that only Toscanini can match her. This blonde is also intrinsically untouchable. She leaves intellectual and emotionally sophisticated Phillip Marlowe floundering and frozen.
I was reminded of the unintellectual and emotionally adolescent Bertram Wooster, falling for the beautiful profile of platinum blonde Lady Florence Craye and failing to notice that she is both bossy and an intellectual. Lady Florence is the author, you will probably remember, of Spindrift, well received by the members of the Bloomsbury set. (Jeeves doesn’t think much of it.)
When engaged to Bertie, she requires him to read Types of Ethical Theory. Wodehouse’s authors, both male and female, are, on the whole, a rum lot and best avoided. But, but, but…
When Lady Florence moves on from Bertie to the unfortunate Stilton Cheesewright, the latter is only rescued from her lethal grip by another author. Bertie may be as dim as a Toc H lamp but of this woman he approves: “Seppings flung wide the gates, there was a flash of blond hair and a whiff of Chanel Number Five and a girl came sailing in, a girl whom I was able to classify at a single glance as pipterino of the first water.”
This is Daphne Dolores Morehead, clearly his intellectual superior in every way. But Bertie forgives her because her priorities are sound. She knows a decent man when she sees one — and she dislikes moustaches which are, after all, “on the slippery slope to beards.” And yes, she’s blonde and neither scary nor untouchable. Yay!
THE ACCEPTABLE FACE OF BLONDE
In fact Chandler/Marlowe really only seems to have one blonde in his list of whom he is whole-heartedly in favour.
the gorgeous show piece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers and then marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap Antibes, an Alfa-Romeo town car complete with pilot and co-pilot, and a stable of shopworn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absent-mindedness of an elderly duke saying goodnight to his butler.
Call me cynical, but it seems to me that her main virtue is that she is not tangling with the narrator. All he has to do is stand back and watch. And watching her makes him feel warm and fuzzy — and unthreatened. Because, of course, though she may look like Marilyn, Lauren Bacall or Betty Grable, she has the simple, well-meaning, unworldly soul of… Lord Emsworth!
MORE BLONDES — NOT JUST A DOCTOR…
This blonde is a fully rounded (super) human being. She does have elements of the ditzy, the sunshine and common sense. Probably she reads more intellectual stuff you can shake a stick at. But she’s not going to talk about it much, unless it’s useful. And she has power — and issues about how it’s used.
Blondes have a champion!