The Lost Art of the Bombshell: Glamour in America is Gone

You might say it all started with the fall of the studio system. You might say it was solidified by Sharon Stone wearing that Gap short-sleeved mock turtleneck to the Academy Awards.Gentlemen Prefer Blondes There was a beginning somewhere and a statement has certainly been made, but I do not have a ghost of a clue as to what has been said.

For me, it began when I was 11-years old. I had spent five whole years dressing myself and I always matched. It was easy; I wore either all camouflage or denim and anything. I was a Tomboy. Then my parents got cable. I was smart enough to flip to American Movie Classics right away, and the first movie I saw was concrete evidence of divine intervention-God gave me Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. This was the only musical Howard Hawks ever directed… and in the end, Hawks taught me everything I ever needed to know about being a woman, and in this instance, a bombshell.

The first solo number (in case you need to be told) is Jane Russell’s, a little ditty called “Ain’t Anyone Here For Love?” written especially for the movie by Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Adamson-not that the music had too much to do with the magic recorded on film. As Jane waxes rhapsodic about her passe preoccupation with hormonal attraction (“I like a beautiful hunk of man!”) the U.S. Men’s Olympic Team does a kick-and-fanny number behind her to beat the band-in nude-colored swim trunks, no less. The very next day I made Daddy take me out to buy a tube of lipstick. My first pencil skirt followed shortly thereafter. If this was what being a woman was about, I thought, sign me up!


Oddly enough, this serendipitous discovery did not usher me majestically through my early experiences as a woman. None of the other girls at school were dolled up in 18-hour bras and tight sweaters. They didn’t wear red lipstick day or night. They didn’t dare make smart remarks in front of boys. They didn’t even set their hair. What is worse is that they didn’t want to! They made sure they were just attractive enough to catch a boy’s eye while being simultaneously inconspicuous, so as not to scare him off. I quickly discovered that it wasn’t my ingenious image of femininity that was off, it was the rest of the world. Don’t feel too sorry for me though. By the time I was 15 I made another important discovery-college boys.

The sad fact that I had to face was that somewhere between the golden age of film and my coming of age glamour had breathed its last breath. Of course, you sympathize. You may have even had a similar realization. janesimonsketch“But what can one woman do?” you wonder. Look back to your betters, I say. There were the femme fatales, the starlets, the divas, the leading ladies and, my favorite, the bombshells. They were the progenitors of glamour. Look to the best. Take their leads. Live as an example to our time.

Others quote Marilyn, Jayne, Lana, or Mamie as their bombshells, but let me assure you-Jane Russell had it all down pat. Just look at JANE magazine, which asked her to do a guest column for their August celebrity edition. “I may not have made passes at guys,” she writes, “but I tortured and tormented them. Men may prefer blondes, but they marry brunettes, honey.” If you need any further evidence of her place in the bombshell kingdom, just add Outlaw, Macao, The French Line, or His Kind of Woman to your video rental list. You won’t be sorry.


1. Keep your clothes on.

“(Leave) something to the imagination.” Give them a chance to undress you in their minds before you do it for them.

2. Stop having bad hair days.

“I’ve never seen hair-dos like the ones people are wearing today-they don’t even have a straight part!” I know bedroom hair worked for Brigitte Bardot, but she was the exception. Get a comb, foam curlers, rag tails, pin curls, hot rollers, or even Velcro. Think of the technology to which you have access. Have a plan.

3. Get some personality.

Amen. (This is an article in itself.)

4. Pay attention to other people.

“And not so much to yourself.” Guess what? When you stay home, life goes on for the rest of us. It’s not a party until you know the players.

5. Lay off the makeup.

“For my films, I always did my own makeup. It took me one hour. Marilyn would come in two-and a-half hours early, and still she’d be late for shooting. She was always ready on time, but she was just too scared to come out onto the set. I’d just stop by her dressing room and say, ‘Come on, baby. Let’s go.'” Cover the bases adequately, my friends, but remember: No nonsense saves the day. If you have to have Fire Engine Red on your kisser, go easy on the eyes.

6. Know what flatters your body.

“I have very long legs and a short waist. You don’t put a belt around a person who’s built like that and you don’t give (her) a full skirt.” You know your body better than anyone else, so don’t let your infatuation with a frock make a fool of you. I know that if I want to go strapless, I am going to need some serious support. Likewise, if you can’t fill out that bust, baby, leave it on the rack!

These are all fine precepts for beginners, I agree. But what if you are looking for advanced study? I found a cute little book the other day called The Bombshell Manual of StyleThe Bombshell Manual of Style by Laren Stover that offers endless advice on living the bombshell life. Ms. Stover and her contributing pals proclaim an intuitive sense of what a bombshell would or would not wear, read, do, or say. At first I was thrilled and amused. They had clearly seen GPF and some of the other movies, and they seemed to be tapping in to the pulse points in the introduction, observing that a bombshell had to be intelligent above all else. Then I noticed that they provided catalogs of the art she should like and the music she listens to for every occasion while only listing 10 bombshell films. In attempting to define her, they began to box the bombshell in with credos that sounded like requirements and descriptions that read like rules.

Surprisingly, tantrums are a point of pride for the author. To her mind, bombshells can get away with them while other women cannot. I am left wondering why any woman would want to. If you can’t make your point without throwing your drink in someone’s face or against a wall, well, you’re not a real woman, much less a glamorous one. From there it was one shock after another. Bombshells wear ankle bracelets. Bombshells can go without underpants. You know what, honey? In The Seven Year Itch Marilyn wore two pairs and I just pray that an upward wind doesn’t hit you on the street-at least not while I’m walking past. I think someone has let one or two ingenues slip onto her bombshell list.

Big mistake.

Standards have deteriorated far enough without our needing this kind of “help.” How then are we to resuscitate glamour? Let’s start by doing our homework. Check out and pick your favorite. Watch her movies. Read her biography. Emulate the good parts. Above all, watch Gentlemen Prefer Blondes again and again and follow Jane’s advice. And remember, bombshells don’t corner the market on glamour-not completely. Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis were amazing leading ladies. Angie Dickinson could stand by a man in more ways than one. Lauren Bacall was a femme fatale when she told Bogie how to whistle, and don’t even get me started on Marlene Dietrich, darling. They were all terribly glamorous and they were always finding new ways to show us. Find your favorite and hold on tight-it’ll be a bumpy ride!


[Originally published by The Simon.]


Hillery eventually learned not to say everything that came to mind. Some were too good not to write down.

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