The unrealistic idealization of women is nothing new to culture. Since the beginning of time, the “softer sex” has been called angelic, saintly and as chaste as a Madonna, and, with the release of the bestselling novel “Gone Girl,” the phrase “cool girl” found its place in literary and popular culture jargon.
In the 2012 literary thriller (that was adapted into a 2014 film), readers are introduced to narrator Amy Dunne’s thoughts on the Cool Girl, as she seeks revenge from her unfaithful husband: “Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl… Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl…. Men actually think this girl exists.”
The perpetuation of the Cool Girl myth can be witnessed through twentieth-century film and TV, but the birth of the Cool Girl in popular culture goes back well past the 1980s. She can be found, endlessly chic, stylishly dressed and sipping cocktails in many of Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense thrillers.
Perhaps the better name for Hitchcock’s Cool Girls would be the Cool Blondes, as many of his leading ladies were fair-haired, especially Grace Kelly and Eva Marie Saint in “To Catch a Thief” and “North by Northwest,” respectively. These two personify the ideals of the Hitchcock Cool Blonde: unflappable, endlessly supportive and sexually adventurous – the last being especially notable, given the movies were filmed in the much less risque 1950s. Saint, in “North by Northwest,” assumes man-on-the-run Cary Grant is innocent the moment she meets him, and, after a few minutes of unapologetic flirtation, calmly states, “It’s going to be a long night. I don’t particularly like the book I’ve started. Do you know what I mean?” As Grant’s adventures ensue, she remains by his side without breaking a sweat, chipping a nail or mussing a strand of hair – even when hanging off of Mount Rushmore in danger of plunging to her death.
Also personifying the ideal of the Cool Girl is Grace Kelly in “To Catch a Thief,” the wealthy young woman is fascinated by the reformed cat burglar, also played by Cary Grant, who is suspected of recent crimes. After meeting at an opulent French hotel and appearing disinterested, she calmly plants a kiss on the surprised man before engaging in a fast-paced flirtation packed with double entendre and literal fireworks. His criminal past doesn’t matter to the alumni of American finishing school; she, and her stunning evening gowns are along for the ride.
Kelly also brought another Cool Girl ideal to life in “Rear Window,” where her character is first introduced as a successful and stylish career woman who hopes to wed, and thus domesticate, restless photographer Jimmy Stewart. When he becomes entangled in a covert criminal investigation, she comes to his aid, going so far as to break the law and endanger her own life.
The list could go on. In “Suspicion,” Joan Fontaine takes the blame for her husband’s gambling addiction. In “Spellbound,” detached doctor Ingrid Bergman falls head over heels in love with a mentally disturbed man and puts her career and life at risk to help him prove he is innocent of a murder. Faithful, pliable and supportive, these women were the Cool Girls of the 1950s. And, of course, they are stunning, stylish and sexy. It only takes one look at popular culture today to see the dream of the Cool Girl is still here, captivating film and TV audiences everywhere.