The celebrities listed in Kibbe’s book are Sophia Loren, Anne Bancroft, Maria Callas, Raquel Welch, Ava Gardner, Barbra Streisand, Anita Morris, Jacqueline de Ribes, Diahann Carroll, Marlene Dietrich, and Connie Sellecca. Connie Sellecca was also put in Dramatic in the book, and finally supposedly moved to Dramatic Classic in recent years, so again, we’ll ignore her. Rita Hayworth was moved to SD. Kim Novak was also confirmed as SD, as was Italian Actress Sandra Milo, Michelle Lee, and Mae West.
For modern celebrities, Kibbe has named Sofia Vergara and Rachel Weisz as SD, and recently moved Christina Hendricks from Romantic to SD. I’m trying to keep people on the younger side in the gallery so that comparisons will be easier to make across types, but I must say, the full glamour of SD only really comes out around 40 and they age incredibly well!
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(Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
Soft Dramatic Women on Film
Of course Sophia Loren is the prime Soft Dramatic celebrity. Even in her 80s, she commands any room she enters by her innate glamour alone. Her first real role was the lead in Aida, a film version of the famous opera. She was no ingenue; she took on diva roles from the start. In Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, with Marcello Mastroianni, she stars in three separate vignettes, playing three different characters, which I think pretty much shows her accepted range (although she played against type in the film Two Women, where she played a mother trying to protect her daughter in war-torn Italy). In “Adelina of Naples,” she is a housewife in a poor section of Naples in 1953 who is supporting her unemployed husband by selling black-market cigarettes. In order to avoid being arrested for hiding furniture that was about to be repossessed by creditors, she schemes to get pregnant to avoid arrest, since Italian law stated that pregnant woman could not be incarcerated. But she and her husband already have seven children, so she has to choose between being impregnated by a friend, or remaining true to her husband. In “Anna of Milan,” she is the wife of a wealthy industrialist and is having an affair. She has to decide what is more important to her: love or money. In “Mara of Rome,” Loren plays a high-class prostitute whose neighbor’s grandson, who is studying for the priesthood, falls in love with her.
While she occasionally played against type and made herself less glamorous (and, like contemporary actresses, was rewarded for it: she won an Oscar for Two Women), she most often played either an adulteress or a sexy rich lady. Now, of course, she is known for being the most glamorous woman in her 80s on the planet. I feel like I keep on repeating the word “glamour,” but I feel it’s key to SD women.
Another SD woman known for her glamour is Ava Gardner. Ava Gardner’s breakout role was as the femme fatale/boyfriend stealer/criminal in the film noir [i]The Killers[/i]. One of her most significant roles was as the star of The Barefoot Contessa, the tragic story of a woman who rises from nightclub dancer to international movie star and the wife of a count. For this movie, she was billed as “The World’s Most Beautiful Animal.”
She frequently played women which royal lineage, which was “indicative of her sophistication.” She even literally played the goddess Venus in One Touch of Venus.
Like her character in The Barefoot Contessa, many of her characters were beautiful women who met tragic ends. But they were also often women who were independent and took initiative.
Barbra Streisand has acquired a diva reputation in real life, but her onscreen persona is a bit more down to earth. A common theme throughout her some of her most famous films is that she plays an ambitious woman who gets involved with a man who is not her equal in some way, and she ends up alone, but as strong as ever. In Funny Girl, she’s a vaudeville actress who gives it up for love, and then returns to the stage, while her husband’s business ventures fail, he gets involved in gambling, and he eventually goes to jail. In The Way We Were (the #1 best movie to watch with your mom or daughter or best friend when you all just want to have a good cry), her love interest is less of a loser (Robert Redford!), he does not share her Marxist ideas. This leads to a split during the Blacklist era when he is a successful screenwriter.
She always remains true to her ideas, while he chooses the easy way out. In A Star Is Born (a remake of a movie starring SG Judy Garland), Barbra plays an aspiring singer who finds success after being discovered by her future husband, a famous singer/songwriter played by Kris Kristofferson. As Barbra’s character becomes more and more successful, Kris’s continues down a downward spiral.
Basically, Barbra’s characters always stay true to themselves, despite what society wants or the person they are involved with want from them. They retain their independence, and find strength in that, no matter what happens in their lives.
Marlene Dietrich is the early SD prototype. She gained international fame through her role as Lola Lola in The Blue Angel. Lola Lola is the headliner of the Blue Angel cabaret in Weimar Germany. A local teacher ends up being consumed by his desire for her, which ends up being his downfall.
She played a similar role as a nightclub singer in Morocco, although this character is more sympathetic and vulnerable. Whereas Lola Lola is fine with her scandalous lifestyle, Amy Jolly has been disappointed by men. In Shanghai Express, she plays a courtesan in China named Shanghai Lily, who became Shanghai Lily after her former lover Harvey had broken her heart.
She also played Catherine the Great in The Scarlett Empress. The film depicts Catherine’s transition from a “wide-eyed innocent..[to a]..sexually-hungry dominatrix.” Marlene Dietrich’s image was very sexual and glamorous.
SDs in film are generally strong, capable, glamorous, and desirable women. Many SD stars seem to be cast in roles that involve being some kind of singing star/performer. Many are literally divas of this kind, including many opera divas (Maria Callas). She is a woman in the spotlight:
Your diva-esque essence is awe-inspiring, thrilling, and deeply inspirational to everyone lucky enough to come into contact with you! Let us share in your wild passions, womanly sensuality, and elegant sophistication and you can be sure to star in any production you wish!
This can seem like a lot to live up to. But if you’re a Soft Dramatic, that is your destiny.
I highly recommend the podcast You Must Remember This. The host, Karina Longworth, goes in depth on the life and careers of Hollywood stars from its first century. So far, she has episodes on Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth, Barbra Streisand, Kim Novak, and Raquel Welch.