Movie moguls have often been with good reason, but if Hollywood films have sometimes been gratuitously salacious, they have also been exhilaratingly sensual. In the right vehicles, and through the collaboration of writer, director, producer, cinematographer, and costume designer, certain actresses have been able to transcend their roles to become symbols of sensuality, viewed by audiences as the ultimate object of sexual desire. Audiences need and want an ideal image to long for. In the case of the male moviegoer, that desire has been elicited by an ever-changing and evolvingcompany of female sex symbols.
The first Hollywood sex symbol, THEDA BARA, played upon the fear of sex. She was the original vamp, an exotic seductress whose brand of Girl, epitomized this dominant sex symbol of the 1920s. The early sound era of the late 1920s and early 1930s featured the last of the flapper sex symbols in the person of JOAN CRAWFORD. But Crawford, like GRETA GARBO and MARLENE DIETRICH, soon crossed the fine line from sex symbol to glamour queen. The real sex symbol of the 1930s was JEAN HARLOW.With her platinum hair and blowsy style, she was a wonderfully vulgar icon of her age. What distinguished her from the glamour queens was that her appeal was based not on romance or sophistication but on her sexual magnetism.sensuality in films during the mid-1910s was both alluring and dangerous; men would pay if theyt long, though, before a healthier attitude toward sex and women emerged. The Jazz Age introduced the flapper, a sort of uninhibited girl next door”
Moviegoers went to the movies not to see how she was dressed but how she was undressed and how she slinked and purred. Harlow’s impact was so great that a great many upand-coming actresses, including CAROLE LOMBARD, BETTEDAVIS, and BARBARA STANWYCK, were forced to dye their hair to match her platinum marcelled waves. After Harlow’s tragic death in 1937, the sex symbol mantle was available to all comers, and there was a growing number of ontenders, among them the beautiful and exotic HEDY LAMARR, the G.I.’s favorite pin-up girl, BETTY GRABLE, the peekaboo hairstyled VERONICA LAKE, the ravishing RITA HAYWORTH, sweater girl LANA TURNER, and the smoldering AVA GARDNER. All of them were popular, but none was the dominant sex symbol of the 1940s.
JANE RUSSELL, under the tutelage of Howard Hughes, made a splash in the 1940s, personifying a new breed of more blatant sex symbol, her cleavage creating a stir in The Outlaw (1943). But Russell was merely a precursor of the 1950s sex symbol personified by MARILYN MONROE. Monroe was the vulnerable child/woman, blonde, big breasted and naive; she set the standard in the 1950s as Harlow had done during the 1930s. In fact, she was asked to play the title role in Harlow (1965) but turned it down repeatedly. Like Harlow, Monroe had clones such as Jayne Mansfield, Mamie Van Doren, KIM NOVAK. Marilyn was warm, sexy, and provocative; every move she made, every sound she uttered, seemed to have a sexual connotation; yet she communicatedroles allowed and that set her above the competition. If Monroe was hot, GRACE KELLY was cool, representing a more aloof version of the 1950s blonde sex symbol. Somewhere between the two was the dark-haired ELIZABETH TAYLOR, a child of Hollywood who grew up to become a violet-eyed temptress.
The 1960s saw the rise of a new sort of sex symbol, oras dubbed by the media. These were often poutys death, were touted as her successors, among them Carol Lynley, Carroll Baker, Ann-Margret, and JANE FONDA. During the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, an influx of foreign actresses came to Hollywood to seduce American moviegoers. Sophia Loren led the pack, followed by such beauties as Virna Lisi, Gina Lollobrigida, Ursula Andress, and Elke Sommer. The sexual revolution of the sixties and the feminist movement of the seventies made sex symbols somewhat obsolete. It was no longer acceptable to view women merelyemphasis on individuality alsos perception as to what constituted sexy. Sex appeal became less a matter of physical appearance. Cybill Shepherd in The Last Picture Show (1971) and KATHLEEN TURNER in Body Heat (1981) exemplify later screen sirens, but often they played down the sensual side of their screen personalities to receive a wider range of roles. Even Raquel Welch, who worked at becoming a sex symbol in her early years, found that she received few good roles in films and abandoned the movies for a nightclub, stage, and video career.
In the 1980s, Darryl Hannah and Kim Basinger seemed to be heading in the sex-symbol direction, but neither established herself as a major box-office attraction strictly on the basis of her sex appeal. Perhaps the only bona-fide sex symbol of the 1980s was Bo Derek; her screen image was basedpurely on sex, but her films did not do well at the box office, and she hardly became the traditional sex symbol. Nowadays there are few female sex symbols in feature films, although there are actresses who do not mind taking off their clothes and being seen as “sexy.” Actresses don’t want to be typecast as sex symbols because that would inevitably restrict the range of roles they are offered. SHARON STONE is a case in point. There are, however, a handful of actresses who might qualify for the label of “sex symbol,” including Pamela Anderson, CAMERON DIAZ, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie.