Momentary Musings on Lee Remick, Betty Draper, Beauty, and Intimacy

Cool blondes. Very Hitchcock.

Last evening I was zapping around on cable and came across 1968’s The Detective, with Frank Sinatra and Lee Remick. I had forgotten the blue of Sinatra’s eyes, and more mesmerizing – Lee Remick, with her girl-next-door appeal, her reserve, and the smoldering sexuality just beneath.

I thought immediately of Mad Men‘s Betty Draper, so adeptly portrayed by January Jones.

Sure – in 1960s attire, Lee Remick’s thin frame and teased coiffure conjure Betty’s character. It is typical of that initially icy exterior that Alfred Hitchcock was so fond of. His favorite leading ladies come to mind. You know the ones – very You can have me, but you can never possess me.

Then again, Remick has always seemed sexier – and softer – than Hitchcock’s women. Recalling her role in the 1959’s Anatomy of a Murder, she is the epitome of sex kitten in a memorable film.

As I watched Remick’s character interact with Sinatra, I was struck by the way she wowed him with her mix of remove and sensuality. Of course, beauty is always an asset, isn’t it? In the day, it was acceptable for women to use it to their advantage.

And has that really changed?

Betty Draper Francis: Cool blonde, Mad Men style.

Is January Jones beautiful?

I certainly think so. And in her role as Betty Draper Francis? Some might say that her chilly demeanor and increasing cruelty make her less so; I would agree. We see indifference, anger, and distance. Is it all a smokescreen to cover her vulnerability? Is there an invisible fence that screams Keep Out?

As to her desirability, would any man say no if given the opportunity to bed her? I doubt it. Bad behavior does nothing to diminish the irresistible quality that reminds me of Hitchcock’s unattainable blondes – Kim Novak, Eva Marie Saint, Grace Kelly, and Tippi Hedren. 

Each woman’s world.

A few days ago, I sat at a kitchen table in a woman’s home, discussing a little of this and a little of that. I don’t know her well, but we’re the same age, we’ve been divorced the same amount of time, she has two teenage daughters and I have two teen sons. On paper, we have much in common. We enjoyed our time together, sipping a Côtes du Rhône, and nibbling on stuffed olives.

She says she is content. She doesn’t particularly miss men.

“The three of us work,” she explained. “I never wanted to bring someone else into that mix, and throw things off.”

I understood. My children come first and I make no bones about that. As a single mother, I never wanted to be the revolving door. But sexual desire doesn’t disappear at 40 or 50 or 60. It remains a vital part of life, for some more than others. My world may focus on finishing the job as parent, but I am not content, and I do miss men.

What Betty knows.

Men may long for their cool blondes, their fiery redheads, or women who are dark and sultry. But here’s what the character of Betty Draper Francis knows: intimacy may elude her, but beauty will buy her the presence of a man. At least for awhile.

What Betty also knows: she is a woman who desires a man in her life as well as her bed. She didn’t have that in ex-hubby Don. Ironically, she does in Henry Francis, though the depth of her unhappiness seems to grow. So is it the outline of a life that Betty really wants? Is that her comfort zone?

Sometimes I think so. Did she fall for Don because on some level she knew that intimacy would not be required?

The empty bed. The man’s voice.

We learn from our fictional figures; we examine our motives and our lives, and compare them to what we see on the screen or read on the page, what we imagine might happen next.

I like to believe that Betty and Don both would prefer a genuine partnership, the substance of a couple’s life as well as its framework. But Mad Men takes us on an unexpected journey – Don is feeling his way toward more clarity than Betty. Perhaps he is the one with greater emotional capacity.

As for Sinatra and Remick in The Detective, the hard-boiled cop (Sinatra) wants more than his wife’s exquisite face, lithe body, and sexual prowess.

He wants commitment. He wants intimacy. She struggles with both.

The empty bed? Is it more easily remedied than the splendor of a man’s voice, and the constancy of his presence? Can it be untethered from obligation?

As for beauty, I know what Betty only senses: it may blossom from intimacy, but not the other way around.

Images courtesy Read more Mad Men musings and recaps.

© D A Wolf



  1. says

    Very nicely put. Physical Beauty may attract, but rarely will beauty alone maintain. Coolness and distance may challenge, but do not nurture.

    But silly me! When I was a teenager and young adult, my favorite actresses were those Hitchcock type cool blondes. I so wanted to be them. Back in the day. No more.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I’ve never understood the appeal. I saw their beauty, but they seemed so unapproachable as to be less than warmly womanly. As a teen, I remember aspiring to an Elizabeth Taylor sort of beauty (on the brunette side of the fence), and when it came to blondes, I remember thinking Elizabeth Montgomery of Bewitched was (ho ho) enchanting. She was effusive and mischievous rather than chilly and distant.

  2. says

    What a well thought out post. Your writing is so concise and smart and organized. And the last line of this post? Absolutely perfect.
    Well done.
    PS: I LOVE men. And I miss having one of my “own” every single day. In the midst of the busyness that is work and children and friends and life the absence of a man is never unnoticed and there will always be a place for him when he decides to appear. Sigh.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Thank you, Susan. I also love men! So nice to hear from another woman who readily admits that she does, too. (Why are so many women afraid to say so? Is that another topic of discussion altogether?)

      For me, it isn’t a matter of feeling incomplete without one. Or even noticing the absence of a man (it’s been some time). It’s more a sense that everything is more expansive, sweeter, richer when shared – and for me, as much as I adore my children, that means shared with a man. (Trust me, I also know it’s more complicated. But life is complicated alone as well, isn’t it?)

  3. says

    I love men too. I don’t miss them every day but, although I feel relatively content, a partner would undoubtedly make my life more complete. If on my own is how I am, I’m okay with that but hopefully the last chapter is not yet written!

  4. says

    I love that you’ve put the onus on women to be responsible for what they want and how they are complicit in the life they end up getting. Most of my life I’ve blamed my father, first husband, etc. for not having the intimate relationships with men I’ve always wanted. Truth is, it was me. I picked men (and said men were attracted to me), until now, who were not available. Regarding beauty, the kind of ice cold, blonde, sexy that you speak of, it fades and then what?

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Yes, we are complicit. Perfect word, Michelle.

      And as for blonde beauty – all external beauty fades, and we must ask “then what?” All the more reason for a foundation, a connection, some degree of intimacy – or at least – understanding.

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