Sunday, July 05, 2009

Mae West: Blonde Bonds

One nickname for MAE WEST was the "blonde bombshell," a title linked to an evolving archetype in both literature and motion pictures.
• • For an intriguing "long drink" on this, refresh your mind with "I'm No Angel: The Blonde in Fiction and Film" by Ellen Tremper [University of Virginia Press; illustrated edition; 288 pages; hardcover book published on 30 March 2006].
• • Here's what Publishers Weekly thought of it: Ellen Tremper's authoritative treatise on the role of the blonde in modern fiction and early film is as fascinating as it is dense. The author of the Virginia Woolf biography "Who Lived at Alfoxton?" shows how the blonde evolved radically over two centuries. In fairy tale lore, she was the angelic and passive Rapunzel, who could be saved from imprisonment only by an all-powerful prince. But by the mid-1800s, romance got ahold of her — Thackeray's Becky Sharp is an example — and the blonde became a bombshell in the truest sense: a pre-Raphaelite siren rocketing through the patriarchy. When the blondes of the silver screen — Harlow, Dietrich, Monroe — hit big, the blonde had become iconic and transgressive: she was a catalyst of sexual and social disorder, particularly when she left comedy and went to film noir. As her hair — dyed an impossible shade — lit up screens and pages, the blonde ignited social mores with her brassy independence. Tremper's thesis wanders in places, as she equates the blonde with other transgressive characters (people of color, Jews), and at times the sheer volume of her scholarship overwhelms. Nevertheless, the work explores a complex character with thoroughness and verve.
• • British entertainer Denise Van Outen, who may not be to the honey-haired manner born, nevertheless will pour out her blonde ambition next month at the Fringe in Scotland. Actress Jackie Clune wrote the show "Blondes," and Denise has been busy stoking the fires for it.
• • In Scotlland, reporter Jackie McGlone did a goodnatured flack piece for The Scotsman freckled with a few cliches: "Interview: Denise Van Outen — — actress and presenter." Going straight to the root of it, Jackie McGlone writes: DENISE VAN OUTEN examines a lock of her ash-blonde hair and announces that at last she's the blonde she has always wanted to be. "This is my happiest blonde colour," says the newlywed, with a smile. If happiness were a colour, then it would be golden, just like the 35-year-old Essex girl, actress, and TV and radio presenter. And it's not just her highlights that are looking good.
• • For Denise Van Outen, who has starred on Broadway and in the West End, played a nurse in ITV1 drama Where the Heart Is, and who is bringing a new, one-woman show to the Edinburgh Fringe called Blondes, is clearly on cloud nine. ...
• • At 12, Van Outen was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, playing Cosette in Les Miserables in the West End. By the time she was 18 she was the nation's favourite Essex girl, sharing a sofa and saucy banter with Johnny Vaughan.
• • Dare her to do something and she'd do it back then. "My gay friends were always egging me on," she grins. She flashed her bra at Prince Charles at a Royal Variety Show, she dyed her hair pink, and she dressed like a Barbie doll. She even nicked an ashtray from Buckingham Palace. ...
• • Soon she was, in the words of one newspaper columnist, "the nation's top telly vulgarian" . . . .
• • Yakking about the "Blonde Thing" • •
• • WE TALK about the "blonde thing" and Blondes, which has been written for her by her friend – "another Essex bird"
— — the actress and writer Jackie Clune, who has been the toast of many a Fringe herself. It's a celebration of what it means to be blonde, so she'll tell a few stories about her own life, but she'll also reveal why gentlemen prefer blondes and address the vexed question of whether blondes have more fun ("Yes!" she exclaims emphatically. "All the blondes I know have had a really good time"). Oh, and she'll be singing, too.
• • "I love blondes who sing: Blondie of course! Bonnie Tyler, Kylie, Britney, who I'm completely fascinated by, having lived in LA for a couple of years when I presented the TV talent show, Grease: You're The One That I Want. I used to see Britney out all the time. So I've some stories to tell about her. I really want to ask why so many blondes like her have meltdowns and why so many iconic blondes' lives ended tragically.
• • Blondes as Victims • •
• • "Why do blondes in the public eye have to be victims? I'm sure Kylie still gets all that 'poor Kylie' stuff for having had breast cancer. People have certainly wanted me to be the victim over the years, mainly because I've made no secret of the fact that I've been unhappy in my love life.
• • "There's a lot of pressure on you, being a blonde. You're expected to be the fun-girl, the good-time girl, the life and soul of the party. Those are always the days when I'm having a brunette moment
— — I can be a moody cow."
• • From Mae West onwards • •
• • She pauses to drink a glass of water and exclaims: "But just look at all the fabulous blondes in history! They're the women who have shaped me, the women who've influenced me, made me who and what I am now. So we'll range from Mae West to Marilyn Monroe and Madonna. From Dusty Springfield to Olivia Newton-John and Dolly Parton . . ." Which brings us to the notion of the dumb blonde. "Yeah," sighs Van Outen. "All those tired old cliches about blonde moments and the fact that I'm always described as 'laugh-a-minute, bubbly blonde Denise'."
• • Yet Van Outen, who is clearly a smart cookie, echoes the divine Dolly: "Just because I'm blonde don't think I'm dumb, 'cause this dumb blonde ain't nobody's fool." Unlike Dolly, who pronounced herself never offended by dumb blonde jokes, because "I know I'm not dumb; I'm also not blonde," and the marvelous Mae West, Van Outen did not make herself platinum. Her hair was so fair as a child it was almost white.
• • Since she's become something of a gay icon, despite the years as a lads mag lovely, Van Outen reckons the gays and the girls will love Blondes, which she and Clune hope will transfer to the West End post-Edinburgh. ...
• • Denise Van Outen will appear during August 2009 in The Fringe [ * Edinburgh, Scotland] in "Blondes" — — Previews: August 6-7; then August 8-31, 2009.
— — Excerpt: — —
• • Interview: Denise Van Outen, actress and presenter
• • Byline: By Jackie McGlone | Special to The Scotsman newspaper
• • Published in: The Scotsman — —
• • Published on: 4 July 2009
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