FORMALS WORN BRALESS. SMILES GOING the full count. ‘Hair done’ and flown in for the occasion. Rosalind Russell doing an inspired Bert Parks. What more could a mother of four or a young career girl or a grandma want? All of us females were glued to the TV to see the Clairol television spectacular—Women of the Year 1973. For the special the sweet team of Clairol and Ladies Home Journal had joined forces to scatter some insight, honesty and pin-pendants (female version of Oscar), on the movement. Television, which has cast women as so many mannequins was going to do right by us.
As testimonial affairs go, it had the makings of a fascinating variety show. Even Ed Sullivan couldn’t have booked this bunch—Shirley Chisholm, Nikki Giovanni, Eunice Shriver, Barbara Walters, Lynda Johnson Robb, Margaret Chase Smith, Mamie Eisenhower, et. al.
Pin-pendants, Emmys, and Oscars, however, are to real achievement as Mother’s Day is to child birth. You had to extend your imagination to remember that these women had achieved great things away from the TV camera and away from the special. Somehow the ladies receiving the awards were, more sinned against, then winning, all victims of the rigid event. They deserved our sympathy for having to be the first to receive awards that were only production numbers.
There were various categories, plotting out the paths of liberated women—Business Woman of the Year, Political Woman of the Year, Woman of the Theater, Youth Activist, Volunteer Woman of the Year. There was no category for bridge or dieting or chauffeuring kids about.
Rosalind Russell, reigning at the podium, leant her ample voice and enthusiasm to the theatrics at hand. She would lavish great introduction on a woman (the presenter of the award), who would then bestow an even greater introduction to the winner of the award. Have you ever seen a girls’ relay team, one woman passing a basketball over her head to the next woman who passes it between her legs, to the next breathless woman who passes it over her head? Well, the mechanics of the awards were like that. In this way (which was the way of inadvertent high comedy) Rosalind introduced Marlo (Thomas) who presented the ever so great Helen Hayes with a pin-pendant. Marlo Thomas is to Helen Hayes as Danny is to Agamemnon.
There is probably a reason why Ed Sullivan’s show fossilized his face. Smiles can become paralyzing. Luckily, though Women of the Year had obviously been programmed as a slick presentation, it was saved by some wonderful human flaws that allowed a little empathy and laughter to come in the back door. You see, some of the ladies really weren’t used to the theatrics and cameras and radiance of a diamond-studded audience. One woman, honored for her role as coordinator of a large urban volunteer corps, began her lines with the strength she must have begun every day; but soon lost in the moment, nothing clearly recorded in her memory, she became a grammar school actress and froze: “We must all respond (blank), we must all respond (blank) we must all respond (blank).” She turned to Rosalind Russell, staged left for support, and blurted out with an eight-year old’s grin, “ WELL I’VE DONE IT.” But a stiff smile from Roz soon restored her enough to verbalize her gratitude. Unfortunately, each woman was given about 20 seconds to accept the award, time only to smile and fumble her lines, but not time enough to impart any wisdom. After the 20 seconds were up, blond usherettes with rockette smiles, escorted each winner off the stage with the determination of a vaudeville hook.
The guiding light behind this whole affair seemed to come from Clairol, the sponsor, who kept nibbling away at the finished product with outrageous, inane commercials. Of course what commercials wouldn’t have been insulting—women and geritol, women and hamburger helper, women and floor wax, women and regularity? The same inequities would have been served up to men with male commercials: People as consumers are not exactly people as humans. But Clairol did seem to be adding insult to injury by asking women if they wouldn’t like to be a taste of honey, by saying everything would be all right after the age of 37 if one only dyed the fact. Then, they belied that statement by using a progression of models who were all padded creatures in their teens and twenties. They even postured Raquel Welch as what women could expect if they only voted brunette. Clairol, selling women up the river by telling them their hair would survive their accomplishments and exhaustion. They left too many split ends.
Enough rancor. The show went on, slightly diminished. But unlike the commercials, at least the pin-pendants went out to all age groups. They didn’t just honor the fad. So women with Ethel Merman upper arms and lots of lines (the kind that time writes) stepped forward. Mamie Eisenhower, fumbling her script like a real veteran, stepped out into a standing ovation. Whether people were standing more for pity than honor was not immediately discernible. There seemed to be invisible, strong cue cards turned on the audience.
Naturally, the most important award category was missing, the Deep Throat Award. No time for innuendo or a little irony. Women would have come along way, baby, if only Viva had been up there accepting the award