In 1953 the following tidbit appeared in TIME: “Actress Diana Barrymore began her evening by pub-crawling with an off-duty policeman: ‘He has a wife, two children and a Buick and must be nameless.’ Returning home after midnight, she found her husband Robert Wilcox, arguing with another rival named John McNeil: ‘I kept saying, shut up boys, shut up, don’t be so Hemmingway-feudal!’ After two fights: ‘I said, boys don’t kill anyone in the apartment; it would be awfully messy.’ McNeil was carted off to the hospital for scalp repairs. Diana ordered her husband to pack his things and move out. To the reporters she explained that her own black-eye had resulted from a domestic tiff four days earlier: ‘I don’t mind being punched. Noel Coward said that women should be struck regularly like a gong, and he’s right.’ In conclusion, she observed thoughtfully: ‘Women are no damn good.’ ”
As earlier acknowledged, the preceding gem was mined from TIME; more precisely, from the magazine’s 1983 “Special Anniversary Issue—The Most Amazing 60 Years In History.” Its front page featured several thumbnails
of earlier covers bearing images (a few in black and white) of such as Einstein, Jackie Robinson, Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan (together), Queen Elizabeth, Groucho Marx, Sadat (a former Man of the Year), an American astronaut on the moon, Star Spangled Banner held high, Khrushchev, Fidel, JFK, his brother Robert, the Beatles, Pope John, the twisted face of a Vietnamese child, illustrative of the horrors of war . . . legends all. On the magazine’s last page, there’s a picture captioned “Earth as seen from Apollo spaceship en route back from the moon,” under the headline: “And Here Comes 1984: At last, the Dreaded Year is at Hand.” The accompanying piece by TIME’s most famous essayist, Roger Rosenblatt, opened this way:
“The brilliance of George Orwell’s decision to invert the last two digits of 1948 (the year he was completing 1984) is that it gave his readers a point to watch for in their own time. So they have watched up to the present when the fatal year is about to make its entrance. For those who have trusted Orwell’s gloomy vision the results may seem disappointing. Some Soviet bloc countries and several scattered dictatorships may be living close to the ‘Freedom Is Slavery’ of Orwell’s imagination, but among the democracies one has to stretch a good deal to find equally condemning evidence. Observers will continue to play intellectual games comparing Big Brother to Big Government, but Orwell was describing the destruction of human will . . . unexciting though it may be to concede, the upcoming year will produce no mass telescreen surveillance, no Ministry of Truth, no 1984.”
Oh, yeah? No mass telescreen surveillance, huh? Tell that to the countless surreptitiously caught-on-camera victims the world over; tell that to the ladies and gentlemen, famous and not so famous, whose cell phones and tablets were hacked and their most private notes and pictures sent in seconds to anyone with a computer; tell that to the Wikileaks-fingered political sharks and sardines; to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.
But let us return to my starting point, to Diana Barrymore, a hot tamale in 1942 when Hollywood declared her “Most Sensational New Screen Personality”—aunt of Drew Charlie’s Angels Barrymore. By her measure “a woman should be struck regularly, like a gong . . . Women are no damn good!”
While reading the above from TIME’s ’83 anniversary issue I thought: Wow, how times have changed! Several hours earlier another illustrious career had bitten the dust, this time that of Charlie Rose—until this week a TV personality especially famous, according to the Washington Post, as a “man who preached character and integrity.”
The paper recalled Rose in baggy academic robes before Georgetown University’s graduating class of 2015, in the final moments of a commencement speech: “Think ahead to the end of your life and think about what you’d like to be remembered for at the end of your life. It’s not honor. It’s not prestige. It is character. It is integrity.
It is truth. It is doing the right thing. It’s hard to imagine or think about that when you’re 22. It’s easy when you’re 73.” Now, at 75, eight women were accusing him of lewd behavior toward them some forty years ago!
Like others in similar straits before him, Charlie Rose acknowledged some of the allegations but claimed he thought at the time of occurrence he had been pursuing “shared feelings.” He now recognized that over the years there had been “a significant societal change.”
I thought again about Diana Barrymore’s black-eye and her enthusiastic (drunken?) endorsement of the legendary flamboyant English playwright, actor, composer and singer Noel Coward’s Neanderthal attitude to women who, by the actress’ own measure, “were no damn good.”
Bob Dylan had warned in song way back in the sixties that “the times they are a-changin’.” But Charlie Rose spoke only of “societal change.” Did he refer only to American society? Mere coincidence or not, the vast majority of the publicized alleged victims of boar manners make their living in the world of showbiz, at the heart of which is publicity: getting their names and images in the papers. They live to be quoted delivering outrageous lines, who knew whether or not scripted?
It’s no secret that showbiz agents and their clients have cooperated with the paparazzi in their shared interests, whether the conspiracies included catching female starlets or singers on the comeback trail with their pants down, so to speak. So-called wardrobe malfunctions have turned out to be anything but accidental. Of course, I realize that for having stated this last thought I run the risk of being labeled complicit in the attacks by powerful men on vulnerable women seeking to be powerful themselves. Women “forced” to do what a woman shouldn’t have to do to get herself on TV or on the silver screen . . . or any other line of work (unless of course it is part of their job description).
Have times really changed that much? Or has the abrupt change occurred only in a certain section of society that recently discovered there’s power in numbers, not to mention
special thrills to be had from forcing powerful men down on their knees for a change. Politics on both sides of the Atlantic has also had its share of shocking casualties. The same politicians who got a Schadenfreude kick out of reading about the concupiscent bunga bunga exploits of Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister, are now confronting their own worst nightmares—or waiting for their inevitable spin on the wheel of torture.
I can’t help wondering, nevertheless, why all of the exposed targets have so far been showbiz or political figures. Could it be no-name and broke males are all respectful of women? Is money really the root of the particular evil? It certainly looks that way. On the rare occasions that local women have openly complained about sexual assaults, the accused transgressor has usually been a male of some standing, whether or not imagined. Sadly, more than a few men and women here, never mind the contrary talk on Newsspin etc, continue to believe that if a man does not from time to time beat his wife he really does not love her.
But who knows of tomorrow? They say when America sneezes we catch colds. And boy has Uncle Sam been sneezing lately!