In 1981, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark was released. It featured a character played by Karen Allen who became such a fan favorite as Indy’s leading lady that when she re-appeared, twenty-seven years later in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the audience with which I watched the movie spontaneously burst into exuberant applause.
Marion Ravenwood was strong, funny, sensibly dressed, intelligent and a true adventurer. She could wield a mean frying pan and drink just about anybody under the table. There’s a scene in Lost Ark where Indy shows up to rescue her just as she’s finishing up rescuing herself. Notably, she also pretty much looked like somebody you might know in real life: the adorable, sporty, quirky girl who everybody wanted to be friends with in college.
A day or two ago, Ted and I were watching Scrooged, a 1988 Christmas movie in which Karen Allen also played a lead. Such a different role from Marion that it starkly highlighted what a versatile actress she is. I also saw her play Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie with a remarkably fragile quality in comparison to the action heroism she’s capable of.
As we watched, and I mentioned that there aren’t any actresses like Karen working today (talented, endearing, but normal looking ones). Ted commented that if Indiana Jones were being cast for the first time today the role of Marion would probably be played by someone like Megan Fox.
It is no longer enough to simply be average pretty or cute. Successful, non-comedic actresses today are expected to be nothing less than preternatural in their level of beauty.
Yes, there is what I refer to as the “chubby funny girl exception”. This consists of Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson and… well, actually they’re the only two I can think of. They’re both lovely women, but since they are sized like the average American they are relegated to having comedic value in movies and sit-coms rather than getting to play a leading lady.
Case in point: Wonder Woman was just cast (to play a supporting role in an upcoming film about Batman and Superman… *snort*) and the woman playing her is a former model and beauty queen. Not having ever seen her on film I can’t speak to whether or not she’s a good actress – although I am confident that she is good at her job having won the role – all I can say I know about her is that she’s very, very, very beautiful.
For a Superhero that’s pretty expected, all the actors who play them are phenomenal looking people. But as actresses like Karen Allen fade from Hollywood and are only replaced by one specific appearance, I wonder what other talent we are missing out on by being denied the sight of someone up on that big, glittering screen who actually looks like they might belong out in the audience too?
It makes me very sad.