Friday, 24 June 2011

These Are the Girls: Part One: Ginger vs. Mary-Ann

article and illustrations by Mrs Tami Thirlwell-Nicol

Gilligan, Ginger and all the rest
It’s no secret that I received my early childhood education primarily from 1960s television. Oh sure, there were the extraneous interruptions, like having to attend a few hours of public school, but as soon as I returned home it was straight downstairs and straight to business. I clocked in to work and headed to the rec. room, (which I recently learned isn’t meant to be spelled ‘wreck room’), to tune in, turn on, and drop out, sans the LSD.

I loved the fact that kindergarten started early in the morning and ended by noon. This gave me plenty of time to engage in my more critical curriculum: my favorite afternoon shows, in particular the gothic cult hit Dark Shadows. When you are five years old, there’s nothing more frightening than watching a good old-fashioned vampire drama alone in your dark, dreary basement where a freaky cellar and other nooks and crannies are bursting with horrific paranormal denizens. I sat paralyzed with fear, knowing that if I tried to run upstairs to the safety of the kitchen before the end of the show I would somehow be punished, either by Barnabus Collins or my mom for my self-inflicted daytime terror.
Barnabus Collins himself

When I felt I could safely make a break for it, I tore up the steps like my pants were on fire. I could sense a bony, gnarled hand was mere inches from grasping my ankles and dragging me to the depths of a snake-filled hell, every time. Gasping for air I tried to cover up my panic by insisting it was time for a milk and cookies break. And really, it was. And then back to work. Refueled with sugar I safely returned to my ‘study den’. While kids were getting kudos for memorizing the times table in arithmetic I should have been awarded at least four gold stars and a ribbon for committing the entire TV schedule to memory. After a few game shows, like Truth or Consequences and What’s My Line, (yes, there was a time when I wanted to change my name to Kitty Carlisle, who didn’t), it was finally time to settle in for some serious television: Gilligan’s Island. This show was ultimately made for a five-year-old such as myself. It had all the key ingredients necessary to babysit me for a good half-hour. What more could a mom ask for?

The castaways were a complete family, with the exception of responsible parental figures. I could relate to this on some level. There were rich grandparents (the Howells), a lovable uncle, (the Skipper) and the choice of the Professor or Gilligan as potential love interest. And while the Professor was brainy, if I had to make a decision I would opt for real estate. It was, after all, called Gilligan’s Island. Lastly, the ladies, the older sisters, who would contribute to my impressionable mind and warp it into the gem it is now. 

 As far as my young, spongy brain could determine, there were two types of women in the world: the Gingers and the Mary-Anns. Ginger, of course, was a second-rate Marilyn Monroe and a genius with the make-up kit. Fabulous winged eyeliner and a beauty mark that never smudged. Unfortunately her reasoning skills were somewhat subpar, rivaling those of a tennis racquet. Even I rolled my eyes when she’d contribute suggestions on how to get off the island based on plots from movies she starred in. I pondered the dilemma of being beautiful yet unable to consistently grasp the obvious. Mind you, she had enough foresight to bring along more than enough make-up for a three-hour cruise. That counts for something.

Desert island essentials

Then there’s Mary-Ann, a down-to-earth country girl with a spunky spirit. She sported a wholesome fresh-faced look. Sassy in her own right, but not really thinking ahead in terms of her appearance. The pigtails, reminiscent of Dorothy in Oz, symbolized a naïveté, which contrasted perfectly with Ginger’s more experienced femme fatale quality. But did I really want my role model to live in a state of arrested development? No, I would strive for a more sophisticated look, hers was too country bumpkin heavy.
Mary-Ann still has it at 80

And what of the love dynamics? Sure, both girls had their eye on the Professor, but his head was so buried in dry logic that his ability to sense their flirting was nonexistent. Ginger wasn’t going to stoop for Gilligan or the Skipper, so that only left Mr. Howell, if she could just edge Lovie out of the way. But Lovie was a pretty tough broad under all that Tilley Endurables ladies sportswear. And she would have had no problem getting down and dirty to fight for her man if push came to shove. As for Gilligan, if he ever grew some testosterone, it would seem that Mary-Ann was the logical choice. She was closer in his age range and they were undoubtedly both virgins -- so they had that in common. The only snag might have been convincing the Skipper that it was time to let go of his ‘little buddy’.
I didn’t have to make my decision any time soon as to who I would model my feminine prowess after when I became a young lady, but I started weighing out the pros and cons. For all of Mary Ann’s fun-loving attributes, it was Ginger who tipped the scales ever so slightly with her knowledge of the benefits of a mud bath while being stranded (spoiler alert!) indefinitely on a deserted island. She was the ultimate Survivor. And I’m sure that once she ran out of the make-up she brought she would eventually (with the help of the Professor) figure out how to manufacture facial scrub and moisturizer from the indigenous habitat. Perhaps she would grind up oyster shells for highlighter and squeeze out some concentrated berry juice for lip stain and blush. Her eyeliner might be a concoction of plant oils and charcoal from the campfire.

Meanwhile, poor Mary-Ann would be relegated to a corner of the island fashioning little gingham romper sets and aprons out of old picnic tablecloths for herself while sewing lavish gowns for Ginger from Mrs. Howell’s satin drapes. Her perky spirit slowly fading with each passing sunset as her eyes strain while she struggles to reattach some errant sequins on Ginger’s best dress. No, this will not be my destiny. I choose the life of Ginger, the movie star!

I reach for another cookie and swig of milk feeling satisfied that I have chosen the right role model. Unwittingly, I have secured the value of a beauty mark and somewhat unconsciously I will apply that precious nugget in my teens for a glamorous nightclubbing look in the punk scene.

So many television shows and so many ladies would influence my style sense over the next several seasons. We’ll have to wrap it up for today’s class, but next time I’ll discuss the kooky yet extremely fashionable Ann Marie, aka That Girl. Her hairdo defied gravity with its perfect pipeline flip.  Also, Wilma versus Betty, which one are you? We’ll continue to explore iconic TV Girls from the Sixties. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Sterling scholarship T.T.N. I'm afraid I was too old to grasp the rich subtexts of Gilligan's Island. To my pseudo-sophisticated teenage mind this show, which I of course never watched, was the most inane, insipid thing on TV. "I Dream of Jeannie" - now there was a show. But your analysis is brilliant. I look forward with a keen since of anticipation to reading more.

    But gag it all I have no recollection of Dark Shadows. Zilch. Maybe, after all, I did grow up in a jar.