Classic Film Fashion #182: The Hawksian Woman, Slim Keith.
'For all of Howard's coldness, he always wanted me with him. He appreciated my style, and the comfort I provided his guests and for the little things I did to make our home special; but mostly, I think he liked the way I looked. For him, I was a fabulous armpiece, the ultimate decoration, the embodiment of the Hawks woman. It wasn't about the woman herself, it was about a look. Howard liked a no-nonsense femininity. His woman could be chic, she could be sexy, but you'd better believe she could also make a ham and hoe a row of beans.
That was pretty much how I looked when I met Howard. He took it a step further by supplying me with gear—sporty things, always in beige. He liked me in well-cut, man-tailored styles. If you can compare this look to anything today, it’s the Ralph Lauren image of a woman.
In film history, this clean-cut, frank female has come to be known as the Hawksian woman. She’s unusual in the Hollywood movies of the thirties and forties because, although she’s quite direct about wanting to be with a man, she’s not passive, clinging, or dependent. On the contrary, she’s an equal. She can hold her own against any man in verbal Ping-Pong, as Katharine Hepburn did in Bringing Up Baby. She can work on the same professional level as a man, like Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. And although Carole Lombard regresses at the end of Twentieth Century, we remember her mostly for her strong-minded refusal to be duped after years of being strung along.
There were many flavors of this Hawks woman. Physically, though, I think there were only two: Lauren Bacall and me. The former was created by Howard Hawks to be a screen image of his wife. I’m not saying that I was the inspiration for the Hawks woman—Howard had been working on this formula woman for years in his films. Rather, it was that, until he met me, the woman of his dreams was only in his head. And until Howard got to Betty Bacall, there hadn’t been an actress to make that dream come alive on screen.’
—Slim: Memories of a Rich and Imperfect Life by Slim Keith with Annette Tapert (1990).
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