Haskell remains a controversial figure in both feminist and film circles, accused of "uncritically celebrating heterosexual romance"--a charge to which Haskell cheerfully pleads guilty. Holding My Own In No Man's Land challenges the conventional feminist wisdom that the classic films of the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties were made by a male-dominated industry which reduced women to objects of the "male gaze." Instead, she says that women were better served by the notoriously tyrannical studio system than they are in the "newer, freer, hipper Hollywood of the present." A fascinating interview with Doris Day points out that, despite her current image as a symbol of all that was repressive about the suburban Fifties, she played a series of roles as--and was herself--a successful career woman who worked because she enjoyed it. In another perceptive portrait, Haskell describes the mesmerizing power the sultry, self-parodying sex symbol Mae West had on screen, and the financial clout she had off screen. And she writes about Howard Hawks's screwball comedies, such as His Girl Friday and Man's Favorite Sport from the Thirties, where assertive women were equal to men, and more than held their own in the battle of the sexes.
Holding My Own in No Man's Land ranges from interviews with Hollywood legends such as Gloria Swanson and John Wayne, to celebrations of the comic verve of Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett, to ruminations on literary figures such as Truman Capote and his Holly Golightly, and Jane Austen's Emma. We learn that the cleaning woman of The Carol Burnett Show logo was a reminder of the days when Burnett and her grandmother, "out of spoons and relief money," worked nights as cleaning women in the Warner executive offices. We see Meryl Streep "hiding in the spotlight" in a refreshingly skeptical analysis of Streep's determination to be an actress rather than a star. Finally, Haskell closes with a wickedly funny section on recent fashion and style, including pieces on "Lipstick Envy" and "Nude With Attitude."
Haskell describes Holding My Own in No Man's Land as "a kind of continuing set of ruminations, encounters, insights, and images of people and characters who have had an influence on our lives." With wit and style she illuminates the hopes and fears we project onto these larger-than-life figures-- the grand dames, the stoic heroes, the dueling couples--and the lessons we learned from them about how to fall in love, how to act as adults, and how to live in this complex world.
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