Women Need a "Clout on the Kisser" and a "Tumble in the Hay": In 1960, Sexism Became Schtick
Author: Lee Mortimer
Publisher: Julian Messner, New York
Discovered at: Suggested by SF Weekly contributor Larissa Archer
The Cover Promises: "The Mortimer Report on the devious and unpredictable behavior of the human female." Also, that Gumby's shadow could be kind of sexy.
"What women need and want is a good clout on the kisser and a good tumble in the hay, and if they aren't getting it, it's the man's fault." (page 44)
"The principal danger to the community from homosexuality, other than the corruption of the young, is that homos hang together, forming an international conspiracy." (page 65)
Honestly, in spite of everything that's so obviously horrible about him, I thought at first that I might like Lee Mortimer. During his years dishing about Broadway for New York's Daily Mirror, Mortimer won the greatest honor any mid-century gossip columnist could ask for: Frank Sinatra once took a swing at him. Almost as important, Mortimer's writing is often a marvel of barbed bitchiness, as any quick look at Women Confidential will demonstrate.
The first sentence I read the first time I opened this book:
"If a German hasn't a wife or kid to beat, he buys a dog."And just a couple pages away, I was treated to this:
"Beauty in Italy is so rare that any female one step above a bologna sausage automatically qualifies for motion pictures."Following that, Mortimer carps that, when he visited Italy, he saw "so many streetwalkers in Rome that at certain times of the day traffic cops were needed to keep them moving." He tops it off with:
"Another attribute of beauty in Italy is the female mustache."
As far as retrograde laddishness goes, many of Mortimer's remarks are playful, sharply honed, and somewhat charming: These could be low-grade Noel Coward or high-grade Roger Sterling. But then I hit this:
"The chief attribute of the Italian girl is her mammary glands. Nature is supposed to have bequeathed organs similar to Lollobrigida's to every Italian wench. The reason they look that way is because they are fatter than other girls above the waist. As soon as they get out of their teens, they get equally fat in all departments."That's when I realized the sad truth. His playful chauvinism -- presented with the authority of a globe-trotting sophisticate -- is no parody. He is entirely serious, and all that rougish schtick is in service to larger arguments that such joking still advances today: that men had ceded their position of authority; that American women were both drearily sexless and far too promiscuous; that a once-great America was being destroyed minority rights; that all of these ills are the result of socialism.
Even his dustup with Sinatra is ugly. According to the December 1948 issue of Modern Television & Radio, Sinatra threw a punch at Mortimer outside the nightclub Ciro's after
Mortimer allegedly murmured a slurring remark as he passed Frank. Apparently the remark did no credit to minority groups--reflecting on the nationality to which Frank belongs. The Italians.Based on Women Confidential alone, I'm inclined to believe that -- this one time -- the journalist on the receiving end of Sinatra's tough-guy preening had it coming. (James Kaplan's excellent Sinatra biography also justifies this reading.)
A reactionary crank even in his youth, Mortimer was nearing sixty when he wrote Women Confidential, a follow-up to New York Confidential, U.S.A. Confidential, and other tomes of vice and crime that he co-authored with Jack Lait. Rather than spilling wild tales about America's urban underbelly, this final Confidential resorts to an old coot's generalities:
"The American mother has crippled more lives than all the wars of the Republic. She is responsible for the softness and neurosis of the present-day American male whom she raised as a sissy, almost wanting him to be a girl because she has no respect for men whom she considers inferior."
"The kind of men who make passes at athletic lasses and fall in love with lady shot-putters, weight lifters, and broad-jumpers, are the kind of insecure men who, when you come right down to it, are not broad-jumpers themselves, and you can take that any way you like."
His theory goes that socialistic education (where "she is taught a lot of things she doesn't know the meaning of by people who don't know it themselves") had made women more manly, which made marriage "a constant struggle between wives and husbands for dominance" wherein the young mother "raises her young according to precepts laid down by aged virgins of both sexes."
Put more succinctly:
"The first tap of Eleanor Roosevelt's flat shoes across the White House threshold spelled the end of American men."Next: Mortimer vs. pretty much every minority group