The celebrities listed in Kibbe’s book are Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Lana Turner, Lauren Bacall, Rosalind Russell, Lena Horne, Alexis Smith, Katharine Hepburn, Maggie Smith, Faye Dunaway, Kathleen Turner, Jamie Lee Curtis, Barbara Carrera, Connie Sellecca, and Sheryl Lee Ralph. According to people who have gone to see Kibbe, he has moved Rosalind Russell to Flamboyant Natural, Barbara Carrera to Soft Dramatic, and Connie Sellecca to Dramatic Classic, so I won’t be discussing them.
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(Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15)
Modern women rumored to have been named as possible Dramatics by Kibbe include Kate Moss, Keira Knightley, Tilda Swinton, and Cate Blanchett. I will only be discussing the book celebrities in depth, however.
Dramatic Women on Screen
While today many think of fellow Dramatic Faye Dunaway’s portrayal of her in Mommie Dearest when they think of Joan Crawford, I’ve always had a soft spot for Joan Crawford because I love Mildred Pierce so much.
This article is a feminist reading of Mildred Pierce using The Feminine Mystique, also mentioning Katharine Hepburn. Mildred Pierce, while it certainly does not have a happy ending, is also the story of a woman who rises to become the founder of her own company, and a self-made woman. She exudes power in her big fur coats with broad shoulders. In her early career, she was well-known for flapper roles, again a very modern version of womanhood. To me, onscreen, Joan Crawford’s image was that of a woman who is powerful and glamorous.
Katharine Hepburn is another Dramatic whose movie roles often defy what we think of as being conventional for women of her day. Obviously, since one of the things she is famous for is wearing pants. She played an aviatrix who has an affair with a married man in Christopher Strong and Jo in Little Women (the tomboy!). She also fared well in comedy, such as The Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby. In the former, she plays a divorcée (who divorced Cary Grant) about to marry her second husband, and in the latter, she plays a free spirit who causes a lot of trouble for Cary Grant. The basic theme to Katharine Hepburn’s roles is that she, like Crawford, is an independent woman who does what she wants. She is more witty and free-spirited in comparison with Crawford’s presence and glamour, but the basic idea of a strong woman is there.
Greta Garbo was resistant at first to the image Irving Thalberg created for her: an exotic, sophisticated woman of the world. In Queen Christina, she plays Queen Christina of 17th-century Sweden. In Camille, she plays a lower-class woman who manages to climb her way up to becoming a high society mistress.
Ninotchka was her second-to-last film, and was advertised with the tagline “Garbo laughs!”, as it was the first comedy she had ever made. An attempt to give her an “ordinary” role failed: She never made a movie after Two-Faced Woman. I’ve never seen the movie, but the ski instructor with a pretend twin who is a “wild woman” sounds like it would have been a good part for Hepburn–it’s important to remember that just because you’re the same type doesn’t mean you can play the exact same roles.
But Garbo, to me, is even more formidable a presence than even Joan Crawford. Garbo was apparently Joan’s favorite actress, and even hosted a documentary on her in 1969, which you can find on YouTube. Garbo represents the mysterious side that we sometimes see in the public image of Dramatics.
Interestingly, Lauren Bacall was born with a high-pitched and squeaky voice and was trained until she acquired to low-pitched “growl” she is known for. She was also known for her “look,” which you can see in the gallery above. In The Big Sleep, she played “an independent and sultry femme fatale,” which is what would become her usual on-screen image.
Another femme fatale is Lana Turner, who has an interesting image compared to the rest. She was known as a pin-up and a “sweater girl.” Combined with her short stature, she is an interesting choice for Dramatic, perhaps one that shows one of the limits of the type. Body discussions, however, will be saved for another day. Lana Turner started with an ingenue image (odd for a Dramatic, to be certain) but began to take on more serious roles with The Postman Always Rings Twice, a noir classic.
She even took on a role vacated by Katharine Hepburn in Green Dolphin Street, although she and Hepburn are still very different. So for celebrities from Hollywood’s Golden Age, we have powerful, independent, and glamorous Joan Crawford; independent, strong, and funny Katharine Hepburn; enigmatic, glamorous, and powerful Greta Garbo; and Lana Turner, the sexy femme fatale.
For the more modern examples on the list, I’m going to talk about Faye Dunaway and Jamie Lee Curtis. They both also represent extremes of the Dramatic type.
Faye Dunaway is an actress who seemed tailor-made for the 1970s neo-noir revival. Of course, Chinatown is probably the best example of a neo-noir film there is.
Further linking her to the Dramatic icons of the past, she was Joan Crawford in the Mommie Dearest biopic, and Faye’s Wikipedia page states that the critically panned A Place for Lovers was a “romantic tragedy in the vein of Camille.
Another important role for Faye Dunaway is in Network, where she plays a scheming television executive.
Jamie Lee Curtis, on the other hand, made her name as a “scream queen” in movies such as Halloween. In her horror movies, she played the role of the protagonist who was the only one to survive. She entered into sexy roles and acting awards in Trading Places, where she played a prostitute. And in A Fish Called Wanda, she played a con artist–another Dramatic comedy role.
What we see over and over again in roles given to Dramatic women is women taking control of their own lives and achieving what they want. Femme fatales, queens, serious businesswomen. This meshes with how Kibbe describes the Dramatic woman:
You are a woman of majesty and mystery, a striking and imposing figure capable of inspiring awe by entering a room. Bold and charismatic, you were born to lead. The world listens to you with respect. Your opinions carry great weight with others simply because they come from you!
While we can see how all the women above differ from each other, this idea of a powerful women is common to all of them. If you’re a Dramatic, you might not feel particularly powerful, but your strong yang image gives off this impression.
By people who don’t know them well, Dramatics are described as
Unfortunately, none of the Dramatics have ever been in a play, but a lot of them seem to like Angelina Jolie.
(If you are a Dramatic, you can still send me your survey results!)