It may be difficult to believe today, but before #MeToo, a number of people in Hollywood were candid and outspoken about sex and all its ramifications. Differences between men and women were a given, sex appeal was lauded and flaunted, racy jokes were common…and nobody objected. I’m not necessarily talking about Hollywood during the silent era or its golden age before television. Some of the quotes that follow are from actors (or behind-the-scenes movers and shakers) who are still drawing breath. And none of them sprang from the mind of a screenwriter or publicist.
Producer Harvey Weinstein regularly employed the casting couch and paid a steep price for it. He didn’t do anything his predecessors hadn’t done. They didn’t necessarily brag about it but they didn’t try to hide it. Of course, this was before “privilege” was a curse word. Rank had its privileges, and that was that. Consider the following:
Why don’t you sit on my lap when we’re discussing your contract – the way other girls do?
- MGM Mogul Louis B. Mayer
The casting couch was an occupational hazard for aspiring actresses. It wasn’t written about in the fan magazines but for women it was definitely part of the Hollywood experience:
Hollywood…the land of yes-men and acqui-yes girls.
- Screenwriter Dorothy Parker
What’s an actress to do? Well, some went along, some didn’t…some worked, some didn’t. But more than likely, the young woman involved was probably not a paragon of virtue anyway:
In Hollywood, a starlet is the name for any woman under thirty who is not actively employed in a brothel.
- Screenwriter Ben Hecht
But even if a young woman was chaste (or relatively so), it didn’t necessarily consign her to the unemployment line. There were other ways of getting ahead in Hollywood:
Girls have an unfair advantage over men. If they can’t get what they want by being smart, they can get it by being dumb.
- Yul Brynner
And if women couldn’t get what they wanted by being smart or being dumb, they had other arrows in their quivering thighs:
We modern women can learn a lot from Poppaea [wife of Roman emperor Nero]. We go about demanding our rights, arguing with a man for what we want. But Poppaea let down her hair, perfumed her body, and arrayed herself in her most daring costumes for his pleasure. Then she did whatever she pleased.
- Claudette Colbert, who played Poppaea in The Sign of the Cross (1932)
Other actresses readily understood how much power was embodied in their sexuality:
Women get more unhappy the more they try to liberate themselves.
- Brigitte Bardot
The male gaze (not to mention the male grope) has always been a motivating factor in human affairs. A notably pithy expression of this is:
Pussy rules the world.
Admittedly, when Madonna says that, it’s chalked up to female empowerment. That same statement coming from a man…well, you can imagine the response. Nevertheless, the power of T&A has long been acknowledged in tinseltown:
Tits and sand – that’s what we used to call sex and violence in Hollywood.
- Burt Lancaster
We’re not getting enough production out of Jane’s [Jane Russell’s] breasts.
- Producer/director Howard Hughes referring to The Outlaw (1943)
I’d rather play cards if I can’t have a lady with big tits.
- Producer/director Russ Meyer, known for tasteless movies with trashy/chesty actresses
Curiously, a number of women accepted the rules of the game. There was no shame in being a sex object; on the contrary, it was a sought-after status:
I’m very proud of my breasts as every woman should be. It’s not cellular obesity. It’s womanliness.
- Anita Ekberg
The trouble with the censor is that he worries if a girl has cleavage. He should worry if she hasn’t any.
- Marilyn Monroe
There’s a broad [Marilyn Monroe] with a future behind her.
- Constance Bennett
There’s a little bit of hooker in every woman.
- Sarah Miles
One renowned sex symbol is on record with an admission that would give feminists apoplexy today:
I have the face and body of a woman and the mind of a child.
- Elizabeth Taylor
Sex appeal has always played a part in stardom. Directors have long recognized this:
All women are sirens at heart.
- Ernst Lubitsch
And it works both ways. Sex appeal is not just the province of the female:
A lot of 007’s appeal, let’s face it, stems from his doings with the ladies.
- Guy Hamilton (director of Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, The Man With the Golden Gun)
Of course, female movie stars with sex appeal was a time-tested way of enhancing male turnout at the box office. A number of men not only admired the female figure, they chased it, kept score, and boasted about it:
I haven’t had that many women – only as many as I could lay my hands on.
- Dudley Moore
I had a real Ford assembly line going throughout much of my life. If you’re rich and famous, getting laid isn’t difficult.
- Marlon Brando
There was never any trouble getting girls. But it’s big trouble getting rid of them.
- Sean Connery
Not surprisingly, simply being a movie star enhances one’s real-life sex appeal. The phrase “sexual athlete” is usually reserved for men, but it certainly fits some actresses:
I wonder about sex with every man I meet, and they sense it and – well, respond.
- Marilyn Monroe
Of course, some men were more enlightened, insisting that women had more to offer than mere sex appeal:
Having children gives a man confidence. A man should fill up a woman with children.
- Cary Grant
Keep in mind that Grant fathered but one child – and that at age 62! But another screen legend shared his opinion.
A woman doing comedy doesn’t offend me, but sets me back a bit. I, as a viewer, have trouble with it. I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies into the world.
- Jerry Lewis
“Barefoot and pregnant,” eh, Jerry? Is that how you really feel:
When they get a period it’s really different for them to function as human beings.
Of course, any actor, no matter how popular, would be excoriated for merely stating there is a difference, much less vive la difference:
It’s too simple to say men and women are equal. You can’t make equals of an apple and pear, they’re different.
- Dustin Hoffman
Sexual differences have inspired any number of jibes, observations, and put-downs:
What do I look for in women? Clean knickers [panties].
- James Caan
You know the Canadian definition of the perfect woman? She’s 4 ft high, got no teeth and has a flat head so you can rest your drink.
- Tommy Chong
Women are more difficult to handle than men. It’s their minds.
- Peter Sellers
My interest in the cinema has lapsed since women began to talk.
- Critic George Jean Nathan, whose career encompassed silent films and talkies
Actresses have busy minds. They’re always busy changing them.
- Newspaper columnist Earle Wilson
The one thing that men and women have in common – they both like the company of men.
- Michael Douglas
Getting a hard-on, that’s something a woman will never understand.
- Christopher Walken
Given the divorce rate in Hollywood, it’s not surprising that numerous wisecracks concern marriage:
It’s something that happens to you. Like blight.
- Woody Allen
Do you know what it means to come home to a woman who’ll give you a little love, a little affection, a little tenderness? It means you’re in the wrong house.
- George Burns
You never realize how short a month is until you pay alimony.
- John Barrymore
Marriage is the best magician there is. In front of your eyes it can change an exciting, cute little dish into a boring dishwasher.
- Ryan O’Neal
Take it from me; marriage isn’t a word, it’s a sentence.
- Director King Vidor
A man in love is incomplete until he has married, then he’s finished.
- Zsa Zsa Gabor
Zsa Zsa, who was only weeks away from her 100th birthday when she died in 2016, was married nine times – a jaw-dropping number even for a movie star, and breaking Mickey Rooney’s record of eight. So she was also something of an expert on break-ups:
He taught me housekeeping: when I divorce I keep the house.
I have never hated a man enough to give his diamonds back.
Known for being a shallow and materialistic beauty queen, Zsa Zsa was certainly qualified to comment on woman as vampire. One man who agreed was Cecil B. DeMille, who featured femme fatales in a number of his silent movies as well as his Biblical epics (e.g., Samson and Delilah and The Ten Commandments):
The main way that women hurt men is to drain them dry.
And you can take that literally, figuratively, or both ways. Small wonder that some men in Hollywood adopted proto-MGTOW attitudes:
I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I’ve known.
- Walt Disney
In most action movies, women are in the way.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
After Hollywood’s numerous failed attempts at featuring kick-ass women in action films, it should be obvious that Arnie was right. Without meaning to, he also alienated the gun control crowd:
I have a love interest in every one of my films – a gun.
Love interest is a given in most old movies, somewhat less so today. Consequently, MGTOW-like quotes are rare. One curious exception follows:
The doc suggested as an experimental cure for emotional problems, I should try being celibate for six months – as all the creative juices expended in sex can give a man great power and energy in other directions. He was right. That six months was the most productive and sexually exciting time of my life. What power it gives one to say “No!”
- Anthony Quinn
Bear in mind that Quinn fathered 12 children, the last when he was 81! Of course, today he would be vilified for stomping so many carbon footprints onto mother earth.
Curious indeed that in the age of social media, more stars are speaking out than ever, yet most of them say the same thing…over and over. The First Amendment is as good as repealed if people with opposing views don’t feel free to say what’s on their minds. Since Hollywood is based on freedom of expression, one would think intolerance of dissident speech would be a big no-no. But it’s just the opposite.
So hooray for Hollywood…on Turner Classic Movies. But not today.