By Marilyn Beck and Erick Johnson
Hollywood has gone through all kinds of changes in the last thirty years, but one thing the industry's stayed consistent about is its infatuation with the ditzy blonde.This summer alone has brought us Cameron Diaz
reprising her role as lightheaded-but-lethal Natalie in "Charlie's Angels Full Throttle" -- and Reese Witherspoon
sashaying across the screen as the pink-loving fashion devotee Elle Woods in "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde."
But while movieland's made a mint off of light-tressed misses who can toss off baby-voiced malapropisms with eyes open wide and necklines cut low, many times it's those same ladies who wind up getting the last laugh.
Indeed, while Diaz pocketed $20 million to reprise her Natalie role, the real power behind the "Charlie's Angels" franchise -- blonde Drew Barrymore -- took home $14 million against 12 per cent of the film's gross, plus a producer's fee. The movie's made more than $93 million to date in the United States alone, giving Drew $11,160,000 of the domestic cut. So far. With international boxoffice keeping apace -- and eventual home video/DVD release looming, her payday will be stratospheric.
Sure, Drew adores butterflies and wearing flowers in her hair, and sometimes she sounds like a new age self-help tape -- but there's nothing airy fairy about the Flower Films' company head's business acumen.
Think about it: playing dithering blonde Phoebe on "Friends" -- not to mention her daffy waitress character on "Mad About You" -- has paid off handsomely for Vassar graduate (a bachelor of science degree in biology) Lisa Kudrow, the first "Friends" cast member to win Emmy recognition.
Pouty-lipped Renee Zellweger is a Hollywood power player whose boxoffice clout has put her in position to play just about anything she wants to. She won an Oscar nomination this year for playing a blonde who could turn the dumb, sweet 'n' innocent act on and off at will -- husband-murdering Roxie Hart in "Chicago."
"Being called a ditzy blonde doesn't bother me. When I started out, I realized that I was sort of an inkblot and people would see what they wanted or needed to see, and that it didn't have much to do with who I really was."
So said Goldie Hawn -- film star and mother of another film star, Kate Hudson.
Goldie's original image, which she played to the max, couldn't have been much dumber: a ding-a-ling in a bikini and body paint as a "Sock it to Me Girl" on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In." She employed it until she outgrew it, which didn't take long. By the 70s, she was turning out hit features. She went on to become a producer, and land a headline-making multi-picture pact with Disney. Today she's known as a sharp Hollywood operator and savvy political mind.
The history of Tinseltown is full of anything-but-dumb blondes.
It just so happens that Hollywood's first superstar was a blonde who was known for playing wide-eyed innocent children -- Mary Pickford. A shrewd businesswoman and film producer, she was a founder of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In fact, she's credited with having conceived of the institution -- which means, among other things, that every Oscar winner has Mary to thank. She also cofounded United Artists with Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith and Douglas Fairbanks.
In a paradoxical world in which people snicker at "dumb blonde" jokes, then proceed to rush out for hair bleaching kits, Hollywood blondes find preconceptions based on appearance a double-edged sword. Many have complained of not being taken seriously -- of being expected to actually be the "dumb blond" -- and not just women.
Robert Redford, legendary screen idol, founder of the Sundance Institute and godfather to innumerable independent filmmakers, played a character who was nobody's idea of a fierce intellect as Barbra Streisand's fair-haired goy toy in "The Way We Were." He has admitted to mixed feelings about his natural handsomeness.
But let's face it, being too attractive is not a problem that's going to elicit much sympathy.
Now a new crop of blondes is coming to the fore. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Hilary Duff, Brittany Snow...Time will tell whether any try the time-honored not-so-dumb blonde route.