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All Was Right for the Women of THE RIGHT STUFF

The Right Stuff Veronica Cartwright Mary Jo Deschanel Ben TCM

“Do not eat the meat!”

Veronica Cartwright says that while filming the huge Houston barbeque scene in The Right Stuff, a booming voice shouted over and over again with a reminder to not eat the steak served on all of the plates. Indeed, in the film, plates and plates of food are shown, and Dennis Quaid and Fred Ward are even seen eating baked beans, but never does anyone take a bite of meat. (The cast and extras didn’t go hungry. Cartwright says after the scene was over, they were each handed a bag of McDonald’s food.)

Cartwright played Betty Grissom, wife of Ward’s astronaut character Gus Grissom, in The Right Stuff. She and Mary Jo Deschanel, who played John Glenn’s wife Annie, discussed the making of the film with Ben Mankiewicz at the 2018 Turner Classic Film Festival.

The Right Stuff tells the story of the beginnings of the U.S. space program through the eyes of the astronauts that risked it all to go into space and their wives.

The two credited writer-director Philip Kaufmann for creating an environment where the actresses playing the wives could bond, and therefore, quickly create the familiarity that developed over time amongst the wives of America’s first astronauts. “They stuck us in honey wagons. I [shared] with Pamela Reed,” says Cartwright. “We had big dresses so one person would have to stand on the toilet to get dressed, it was so small!”

Deschanel adds, “Phil told me, ‘I think the women are much more fascinating characters.’ And, he set up an atmosphere that supported the women.”

Both actresses were unable to meet their real-life counterparts. Gus Grissom’s portrayal in The Right Stuff is based on the scandal that unfolded but the portrayal is ultimately unfair,  leaving the audience to question if Gus Grissom did indeed “blow the hatch” of the Liberty Bell 7 capsule after splashdown (this accusation had been debunked long before the film was made). Therefore, Betty Grissom was not supportive of the film.  As for the Annie Glenn, John Glenn was running for president of the United States during the production of The Right Stuff, and Deschanel says the Glenns “didn’t want to have anything to do with the film.”

The real Betty Grissom seemed to have fun with fashion.

The actresses were still able to research their roles as Kaufmann provided each of the actors “huge packets of film footage” of the real people they would be portraying. One thing Cartwright saw in the footage stuck in her mind as a key to understanding Betty Grissom: her unusual straw purse she carried to a ceremony where she believed she was going to meet First Lady Jackie Kennedy. “I had to find that bag!” says Cartwright, “It said so much about her!”

Another fond memory the actresses shared was of the actors playing the press. Unlike in the film, the actors playing the reporters enhanced – not hounded – the lives of “the wives.” “The ‘press corps’ were all part of a theater company [San Francisco’s improv comedy troupe Fratelli Bologna],” says Cartwright. “They would sing and always be entertaining for us! It was a fun atmosphere.”

Mary Jo Deschanel Veronica Cartwright The Right StuffThe actresses took the note. Deschanel and Cartwright say by movie’s end, “the wives” had become a clique and spent time together outside of their shooting days. The women choreographed a song and dance number that they performed at the wrap party.

This year marks the 35th Anniversary of the release of The Right Stuff. This article was written the day it was announced that Tom Wolfe, the author of the novel in which the film is based on, passed away.

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I FEEL PRETTY is the unofficial reboot of BIG

Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty is a lot of things: an extremely relatable physical comedy, a statement on what society has done to women’s body image, and a demonstration of the power of self-confidence. And, it’s an unofficial sequel to Big.

It’s about a woman who is self-conscious about what she perceives to be her lack of beauty in today’s world. After watching the Tom Hanks ‘80s classic Big on a rainy night, she goes to a fountain and makes a wish to be beautiful. The next day, she suffers a blow to the head and wakes up seeing herself as beautiful, even though she looks exactly the same. What transpires is a display of off the charts self-confidence; the audience witnesses how her life changes just because she believes she is gorgeous by society’s standards. (See my What the Flick?! review below:)

Of course, the messaging is totally different than in Big, which is a gentle nudge that kids shouldn’t be in such a hurry to grow up and adults should hold on to their childhood.

Big gets the official tip of the hat, but I Feel Pretty is also reminiscent of a broad comedy from 2001: Shallow Hall. In the Farrelly Brothers movie, Jack Black plays a pig who dates women only based on their appearance. Then, Tony Robbins (!) hypnotizes him into seeing women’s outer appearance as a reflection of their inner beauty – and falls in love with a 300-lb. woman. When Hal’s “vision” returns to normal, he realizes that it’s who we are that counts, not what we look like. So, similar but still, a very, very different message geared to men, where I Feel Pretty deals with what it’s like to be a woman.

More gender or ethnicity-flipping ‘80s reboots are on the way: Overboard, Splash, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Of course, Ghostbusters set the trend.

Personally, I dislike the idea of remaking movies that are still relevant and a part of pop culture. However, by switching roles, it can freshen up an old property while paying homage to it – like the recent Jumanji redo. If it makes audiences interested in watching the classic, then, let’s celebrate it. What films would you like to see reimagined with some sort of role reversal?

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Molly Ringwald Says John Hughes Films Were Empowering But Damaging to Teens

80s Movie Guide is a site that celebrates what is wonderful about ’80s movies, while also pointing out how very, very messed up the messaging was to its target teen audience. Today, ’80s teen movie icon Molly Ringwald wrote a thoughtful, well-researched article for The New Yorker examining the films she made with John Hughes from both the movie-making experience and the final product. The article should be an eye-opener to everyone, except maybe us here at 80sMovieGuide.com. We created this site and its accompanying podcast ’80s Movies: A Guide to What’s Wrong with Your Parents with this notion in mind.

The very fact that the movie genre that defines the ’80s is the teen sex comedy should be unnerving. The good news is, we’ve come a long way. The bad news is that when we look at men (particularly in their 40s and older) and wonder why they think it’s okay to sexually harass, assault, mistreat or manipulate women, all we have to do is look at movies of the 1980s. The “boys will be boys” angle is played in nearly every film. Even in Pretty in Pink, best friend and nonthreatening Duckie makes a lewd comment to some girls at school about how he could impregnate them by Christmas. Oh, isn’t that so funny? No, that’s the kind of nonsense even 15-year old girls have to endure…and that behavior was perpetuated by films encouraging boys that it’s not only acceptable, it’s HILARIOUS. Of course, it gets worse.

Ringwald realizes points out that in Sixteen Candles, dreamy boyfriend Jake Ryan trades his long-term girlfriend Caroline (played by Haviland Morris) for a pair of Samantha’s underwear. Caroline is so drunk, she can’t tell what’s real. Her boyfriend, whom she trusts, gets rid of her by giving her to The Geek and having him “driver her home;” The Geek is a freshman who has been drinking alcohol and does not have his driver’s license…and does not get Caroline home. Instead, he rapes her in a grocery store parking lot while she is unconscious.

Ringwald recently spoke with Morris to get her opinion on the scene. The fact that Morris initially felt that Caroline was complicit in her own rape by getting drunk shows how much these films have affected women’s perspectives as well. I’d point out that Caroline got blitzed believing she was in a safe place – she was at her steady boyfriend’s home, at a party she was co-hosting. If we’re all being honest and facing the reality of underage drinking, we’d recognize that most minors are unlikely to know how much alcohol is too much and if there was a place to feel you could let go, it would be at your own party in the care of the person who supposedly loves you.

As the #MeToo movement is underway and we as a society try to evaluate what is and isn’t okay, just keep in mind that women received all of these mixed messages, too. Some women have spoken out to condone sexual misconduct by blaming the victim. Look again at ’80s movies, where audiences were shown that women’s primary value was as a sexual conquest. It’s “good” (virginal) girls vs “bad” (“slutty”) girls – that’s who we are to men. A hot, sexually aggressive girl is a man’s fantasy. If they trick her into having sex (i.e., Revenge of the Nerds), that’s depicted as funny — ha ha, jokes on YOU! With messages bombarding teen brains in our most formative years of self-identification, it’s no surprise that ’80s teens didn’t stand a chance.

At the same time, ’80s films were incredibly empowering to teens because they validated us. Going to the prom is important. Living our own lives outside of school is important. Taking the time to figure out who we are versus who society wants us to be was and is always relevant. Ringwald nails the complexity of the subject: for all the empowerment Hughes and ’80s filmmakers and studios (who were almost always men) gave Generation X by giving us the spotlight, they did equal amounts damage by marginalizing and sexually objectifying women.

So, as you watch ’80s movies…and you should because they are amazing…just keep an active mind, because the movies feel so right but the messages are so, so wrong.