Fast-Talking Dames


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Maria DiBattista

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“There is nothing like a dame,” proclaims the song from South Pacific. Certainly there is nothing like the fast-talking dame of screen comedies in the 1930s and ’40s. In this engaging book, film scholar and movie buff Maria DiBattista celebrates the fast-talking dame as an American original. Coming of age during the Depression, the dame--a woman of lively wit and brash speech—epitomized a new style of self-reliant, articulate womanhood. Dames were quick on the uptake and hardly ever downbeat. They seemed to know what to say and when to say it. In their fast and breezy talk seemed to lie the secret of happiness, but also the key to reality. DiBattista offers vivid portraits of the grandest dames of the era, including Katharine Hepburn, Irene Dunne, Rosalind Russell, Barbara Stanwyck, and others, and discusses the great films that showcased their compelling way with words—and with men.

With their snappy repartee and vivid colloquialisms, these fast-talkers were verbal muses at a time when Americans were reinventing both language and the political institutions of democratic culture. As they taught their laconic male counterparts (most notably those appealing but tongue-tied American icons, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, and James Stewart) the power and pleasures of speech, they also reimagined the relationship between the sexes.
In such films as Bringing Up Baby, The Awful Truth, and The Lady Eve, the fast-talking dame captivated moviegoers of her time. For audiences today, DiBattista observes, the sassy heroine still has much to say.

Maria DiBattista is professor of English and comparative literature at Princeton University, where she also chairs the film studies committee and serves on the women’s studies faculty.

“This affectionate and astute study of the beguiling cinematic comediennes of the 1930s and 1940s—Jean Arthur, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, and Rosalind Russell, among others—celebrates and assesses their use of the American language. . . . [DiBattista] writes with authority and perspicacity. . . . This is a smart book about very smart women.”—Benjamin Schwarz, Atlantic Monthly

“We love wisecracks and the dames who make ‘em, which is why we like reading about the spunky film actresses chronicled in Fast-Talking Dames, author Maria DiBattista’s homage to and examination of the screen stars who knew their way around a smart comment in films like My Man Godfrey, Bringing Up Baby, and The Lady Eve.”—E! Online

“In her exploration of these dames and the films they populate, DiBattista thoroughly and delightfully details what gave Barbara Stanwyck, Irene Dunne, and Carole Lombard (among others) the nerve to question men and their most sacred creeds. . . . Just as nothing is sacred in screwball, not much escapes this analysis of the genre and its incomparably sharp-tongued heroines.”—Lisa Levy, Entertainment Weekly

“DiBattista…provides a smart new take on film criticism by celebrating the character of the fast-talking dame of 1930s and 1940s Hollywood as typified by actresses such as Barbara Stanwyck, Rosalind Russell, Myrna Loy, and Carole Lombard. . . . …a worthy addition to film studies collections.”—Library Journal

“[A] terrific and valuable book. . . . Fast-Talking Dames leaves the reader with a severe longing for the kind of delightful farces and comedies in which the heroine slayed the hero not with a striptease but with her tongue.”—Sabine Reichel, Los Angeles Times

“Though DiBattista does provide explanations for the emergence and popularity of the fast-talking dame, she does not allow these to diminish in any way the sheer joys that watching these movies brings.”—Theresa Sanders, National Catholic Reporter

“[T]he best on its subject since Stanley Cavell’s Pursuits of Happiness (1981) and Molly Haskell’s From Reverence to Rape (1974). . . . [T]he bravest and the most admirable thing about DiBattista’s book is her standing up to sing the praises of heroines who are both the characters in her favorite movies and the actresses who played them. . . . There are vivid insights along the way, and . . . the writing is excellent.”—David Thomson, New Republic

“The strongest sections of Fast-Talking Dames are those that anatomize these beautiful and charming—and voluble—women. . . . Brief quotation can do only partial justice to the loving acuity with which DiBattista considers this band of admirable women, who give as good as they get, if not a great deal more. . . . [The book] is filled with insights into films and actors.”—Robert Gottlieb, New York Times Book Review

“DiBattista’s main point is hardly a new one, her attention to screen dialogue reveals many great lines and performances. For fans of [Myrna Loy, Katherine Hepburn, Roaslind Russell and Barbara Stanwyck] as well as Carole Lombard, Jean Arthur, Claudette Colbert and Irene Dunne, the author gives scholarly justification for continued appreciation of the great screwball comedies of the ‘30s and early ‘40s.”—Bruce Dancis, Sacramento Bee

“DiBattista . . . examines how the history of women in film reflects the history of our society. . . . [Her] points are well made, her film portraits evocative and her arguments both interesting and illuminating.”—Sharon Schlegel, Trenton Times

“Maria DiBattista’s Fast-Talking Dames is a reverent reading of the screwball and romantic comedies of the 1930s and ‘40s and the leading ladies who brought them to life. . . . Movie aficionados already familiar with these exquisite pleasures will clamor happily when Fast-Talking Dames hits bookstores in April.”—Darcy Cosper, Variety

“Unlike Marilyn Monroe and other ‘garish Technicolor goddesses,’ who wiggled and simpered and rarely got to show more than skin and a glimmer of intelligence, those women of an earlier era had the benefit of pages and pages of slangy, witty dialogue, and they knew how to deliver it. Fast-Talking Dames celebrates those actors and the scintillating lines they got to wrap their tongues around.”—Dennis Drabelle, Washington Post Book World

“The linguistic velocity of these Girl Fridays and blond bombshells is examined in a refreshingly buzzword-free academic thesis.”—World of Interiors

“[W]ell-illustrated and well-informed.”—American Cinematographer

Designated as a 2002 Humanities Honor Book by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities
ISBN: 9780300099034
Publication Date: March 11, 2003
384 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
39 b/w illus.