America cheerfully lives with a great many classics. There’s our love of freedom towering in the Statue of Liberty, our passion for individualism riding the range in the Old West, our zeal for success reflected in our great glass cities. But no American classic is more iconic than the “girl next door.” The fresh-scrubbed, all-American girl who perfectly blends perky tom-boyishness with irresistible sensuality.
Over the last 100 years we’ve had them by the cinematic dozens. Mary Pickford…Judy Garland….Doris Day …Debbie Reynolds…Julia Roberts…Cameron Diaz….take your favorite.
Putting chauvinism and feminism aside, what’s not to like? But in grading this classic, my vote and heart go to Doris. Anyone under 40 won’t remember her; anyone over will never forget her. Her songs and her movies were marquee events throughout the American Century. And yet Doris never garnered any lifetime achievement awards or White House tributes. So how can this blond icon from not-so-long-ago remain so ignored?
Couple theories. One, she chose to remain fiercely private since retiring in the 70s. But there may be a second. Pretty, perky Doris became a cultural dinosaur. Today’s guys like their sugar laced with more spice. Today’s gals like their image a lot more assertive. When TMC plays all those mid-century Doris Day-Rock Hudson flicks, the under-40 crowd see right through the gauze on the cameras that perky but aging Doris insisted upon. In today’s age of realism, that makes her image of girl-next-door idealism seem pretty silly. Although to me that often makes today’s no-room-for-innocence realism seem pretty sanctimonious.
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