Back to WHKMLA Main Index . WHKMLA, Students' Papers Main Page . WHKMLA, Students' Papers, 13th Wave Index Page

Husband Hunting in Hollywood Movies 1950-1965

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Kim, Hye In
Research Paper, Fall 2010

Table of Contents

I. Objective of the paper
II. Representative Husband Hunting Movies
II.1 I was a male war bride (1949)
II.2 How to marry a millionaire (1953)
II.3 Gentlemen prefer Blondes (1953)
II.4 To Catch a Thief (1955)
II.5 Pillow Talk (1959)
II.6 It happended to Jane (1959)
II.7 Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
II.8 Charade (1963)
III. Types of women
III.1 Hawksian Woman
III.2 Bimbos
III.3 The Capricious-Hepburnesque Type
IV. Historical Background
IV.1 War Brides During the Second World War
IV.2 Change of Women's role in the Second World War
V. Media & Cultural Development
V.1 The Impact of Golden Age of Television
V.2 Rise of New Age - exciting symbols
VI. Conclusion

I. Objective of the paper

I.1 Definition
            Katharine Hepburn, Norma Sherer, Vivien Leigh, Ingrid Bergman, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe ... Most of the prominent actresses in Hollywood history appeared on the screen in the period of 1930 to 1960. Films in this period were mostly romance, or romantic comedy films, strikingly portraying the attractive appearances of these hollywood-heroines; such as Bring up Baby, directed by Howard Hawks and starring Katharine Hepburn, Gone with the wind, starring Vivien Leigh, and How to marry a millionaire, starring Marilyn Monroe. I will call these movies "Husband Hunting Movies", for they portray various kinds of women giving their fullest charm in the movies in order to achieve the marriage they want. There are eight representative movies starring one of the most famous leading actresses in the world, showing their own charmness to attract men.

II. Representative Husband Hunting Movies

II.1 I was a male war bride (1949)

                "You're not Mrs. Rochard !"
                "I'm *Mr.* Rochard."
                "Well, it's your *wife* who must report here for transportation to Bremerhaven."
                "According to the War Department, I *am* my wife."
                "You can't be your wife !"
                "If the American army says I can be my wife, who am I to dispute them ?"

            It is a film made in 1949, directed by American director, Howard Hawks. Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan star as Captain Henri Rochard of the French army, and Lieutenant Catherine Gates, of the American. The Film, as it is shown in its title, is focused on a French Army Officer married to a female American Army officer and tries to pass as a war bride in order to go back to the United States.
            The woman starring in this film, Lieutenant Catherine Gates is the person who is quite different from any other woman who tries to use all her charms in order to get the few good men. She is rather a tough woman, who drives motorcycle and Henri riding in the sidecar. She does not even save Henri asking her to vouch for his identity, and allows the police to arrest him. While Henri is in jail, Cathy finds Schindler, which was their main mission.
            This kind of a tough woman character is, according to a film theory, a "Hawksian woman." It is the character who is a tough-talking woman, and who keeps her male partner in constant banterings, but she overpowers the partner and reach her personal goal, which is the way of her husband hunting. Howard Hawks usually uses actresses such as Katharine Hepburn, Ann Dvorak, Rosalind Russell, and Angie Dickinson as his "Hawksian woman."

II.2 How to marry a millionaire (1953)

                "Most women use more brains picking a horse in the third at Belmont than they do picking a husband."

            How to Marry a Millionaire is a 1953 romantic comedy film. Schatze Page (Lauren Bacall), spunky Loco Dempsey (Betty Grable) and ditsy Pola Debevoise (Marilyn Monroe) try to marry millionaires by renting a pent house, planning to attract men living around. While Schatze Page is quite a resourceful woman, Loco Dempsey and Pola Debevoise are the "Bimbos" who use their attractiveness. Pola, severely near-sighted, refuses to wear glasses saying "Men aren't attentive to girls who wear glasses."

II.3 Gentlemen prefer Blondes (1953)

                "Don't you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty ? You wouldn't marry a girl just because she's pretty, but my goodness, doesn't it help ?."

            Directed by Howard Hawks and starring Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, Gentlemen prefer Blondes does not show any Hawksian woman, but rather focus on Marilyn Monroe's "dumb blonde" persona. In the movie, Monroe starring as Lorelei Lee, a gold-digging showgirl, attracts any men with a fortune. Although she was not as silly as she behaves in order to attract men, she relied on her looks rather than on intelligence. However, at the end of the movie she evinces that she is not a stupit girl relying on her looks, and gets permission to marry a man she loves.

II.4 To Catch a Thief (1955)

                "You're here in Europe to buy a husband."
                "The man I want doesn't have a price."
                "John Robie : That eliminates me."

            To Catch a Thief is a Romantic thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and starring Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis and John Williams. Francie Stevens (Grace Kelly) is a daughter of Jessie Stevens, an American tourist displaying the most expensive jewelry shown at the Riviera. Although Francie pretends to be modest in front of her mother, she enjoys escapades. Francie, unlike any other woman, considers herself an accomplice of John Robie (Cary Grant) who might share his passion and accept his desire towards diamonds. As usual, she shows not only polished, and graceful figure but also an ingenuous character.

II.5 Pillow Talk (1959)

                "You see I'm an interior decorator and I do a lot of work at home, so naturally there are business calls that I must make. I cannot get a call through. That man is always on the phone with someone else. Have you any idea what it's like to be a party line with a sex maniac ?"

            As we can see from her line, Jan (Doris Day) is a professional woman, who has her own job and life. She does not banter men, not as much as "Hawksian woman", but she is assertive in her position and denies requests conditionally. In fact, it is her brazenness that attracts men, who cannot help but yield to bold ladies, and fall in love.

II.6 It happended to Jane (1959)

                "You don't see. I mortgage my house. We become partners ..."
                "It's very sweet of you and I appreciate it. But we are not starving."

            It Happened to Jane is a 1959 romantic comedy film starring Doris Day, Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs directed by Richard Quine. Like Jan in Pillow Talk, Jane Osgood is a professional woman who has her own business and a bold young widow who clashes with a railroad magnate after her shipment of lobsters is spoiled.

II.7 Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

                "I love you."
                "So what."
                "So what ? So plenty ! I love you, you belong to me !"
                [tearfully] "No. People don't belong to people."
                "Of course they do !"
                "I'll never let ANYBODY put me in a cage."
                "I don't want to put you in a cage, I want to love you !"

            Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) in Breakfast at Tiffany's, directed by Blake Edwards in 1961, is shown as "the capricious-Hepburnesque type" woman who has childlike appreciation of simple pleasures. She has a spirit of a child with wild spirit, and difficulty to pin down. In fact, Hepburn's naive character has been the actress's most memorable and identifiable role since now.

II.8 Charade (1963)

                "Any minute now we could be assassinated. Would you do anything like that ?"
                "What, assassinate someone ?"
                "No, swing down from there on a rope to save the woman you love. Like the Hunchback of Notre Dame."

            It is directed by Stanley Donen in 1963, starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. It has been called by critics as the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made, incuding three genres: Romance, suspence and comedy. Regina (Audrey Hepburn) has to deal with the death of her husband, Charles, who was a CIA agent involved in theft during the WW II, and who has been murdered.
            Regina is also the "the capricious-Hepburnesque type" woman; she easily attracted to Peter (Cary Grant), just for his gentleness. Her capriciousness stands out in the close-up shot of her face with two eyes broadly opened. She is rather a weak woman who needs help from others, but acts boldly in reaching her love that she wants, a husband hunting, with her natural attractiveness. Her seeming callousness of her husband's death emphasizes her capriciousness, and absorbtion in husband hunting.

III Types of women
            In a broad way of categorization, leading actresses of these eight movies can be divided into three types which are somewhat natural but also affective in appealing themselves.

III.1 Hawksian Woman
            Hawksian woman refers to the unconventional female characters in Howard Hawk's films. They have a strong will to get what they want from men. Also they usually gamble, drinks, carry guns, and banter with men. This can be regarded as a part of post-feminism. Hawksian woman shows how people started to refuse dominant ideology such as monogamous couple and patricarchy. (1)

III.2 Bimbos
            Bimbo is a term that refers to a woman who is physically attractive but has a low intelligence. This term began in the United States in early 19century. It often associates with the Dumb Blonde, which Marilyn Monroe embodied well in the movie, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In the movie she pretends to be dumb because she believes that men prefer unintelligent but physically attractive women. (2)

III.3 The Capricious-Hepburnesque Type
            The Hepburnesque type refers to characters played by Audrey Hepburn. They are easily attracted to a good looking man, but at the same time they attract a lots of men for their natural beauty. Especially Audrey's wide, expressive eyes make male characters sympathize with her situation.

IV. Historical Background
            Movie, as a medium reflecting not only cultural tastes of general public but also political and social aspect, may hint at the environment the time it was made. Behind these movies in which leading women actively engage in husband hunting, there lies a social phenomenon during 1950 to 1960. The stories of women attracting fine American men were the real stories of war brides during the WW II.

IV.1 War Brides During the Second World War
            Most of the "Husband Hunting Movies" were made during the period from 1950 to 1965, which was the period after the Second World War. As it is best reflected in "I was a male War Bride", there was a great decrease in male population in Europe, and wartime marriage flourished. Considerable numbers of European women were sent to America.

Population of Major countries by sex and selected age groups after World War II, in Thousands : USA 1940 (whites) (2a)
20-24 25-29 30-34 70-74
Male 5,114 4,892 4,573 1,183
Female 5,227 5,012 4,633 1,031

Population of Major countries by sex and selected age groups after World War II, in Thousands : West Germany (including West Berlin) 1946 (2b)
20-24 25-29 30-34 70-74
Male 1,107 908 2,477 1,789
Female 1,927 1,575 3,838 2,064

Population of Major countries by sex and selected age groups after World War II, in Thousands : France 1946 (2c)
20-24 25-29 30-34 70-74
Male 1,634 1,046 1,384 552
Female 1,643 1,070 1,419 772

Population of Major countries by sex and selected age groups after World War II, in Thousands : United Kingdom (England and Wales) 1951 (2d)
20-24 25-29 30-34 70-74
Male 1,427 1,625 1,514 591
Female 1,500 1,654 1,565 837

            From the statistics above, we could see the prominent imbalances between the number of men and women in Germany. In comparison, France and United Kingdom show fairly balanced numbers in gender ratio.
            Still a lot of American soldiers married local women in various countries where they stationed. In 1945, as The War Brides Act (Public Law 271) was enacted to allow spouses and adopted children of United States military personnel to enter the U.S. after World War, a number of war brides traveled to the United States on former troop or hospital ships.

U.S. Immigration by Decade, in Thousands (4)
Period Immigrants to U.S. Emigrants from U.S. Net Immigration Ratio Emigration/Immigration
Total, 1901-90 37,869 11,882 25,987 0.31
1981-90 7,338 1,600 5,738 0.22
1971-80 4,493 1,176 3,317 0.26
1961-70 3,322 900 2,422 0.27
1951-60 2,515 425 2,090 0.17
1941-50 1,035 281 754 0.27

            From the statistics above, net immigration in 1940s has increased about three times more in 1950s. This reflects the great number of people had moved to America.
            It has been estimated that more than 100,000 American servicemen alone, married brides from fifty countries. Between 12,000 and 15,000 Australian women, and at least 50,000 brides from the United Kingdom married US servicemen. In addition, 40,000 brides, mostly British, followed their husbands to Canada. Thousands of women from Britain and Europe, and many from Japan married Australian and New Zealand servicemen. (5) The following is the statistics of the number of war brides immigrated to Canada during and immediately after the Second World War.

Immigration to Canada by War Brides and Their Children 1942-1948 (6)
Year Total No. of Immigrants of Brides and Dependents % of Total
1942-43 7,756 188 2.40
1943-44 8,504 1,255 14.75
1944-45 12,801 6,442 50.30
1945-46 22,722 16,133 71.00
1946-47 71,719 39,092 54.50
1947-48 64,127 1,336 2.00
Total 187,449 64,446 34.30

            Marriages occurred in substantial numbers where large numbers of men were stationed and where no active combat operations. Thus large numbers of marriages occurred in Britain both during the War and after the war when Americans were stationed in Britain. There were fewer marriages in France because the United States did not maintain large bases there after the Liberation. (7) A number of wartime marriages in Germany is incontrovertible according to the statistics above.
            In fact, the attraction of young Australian women to the glamorous, well-paid American soldiers was encouraged by Hollywood films because they presented the American visitors as romantic heroes. With more money to spend, the Americans delighted their Australian girlfriends with taxi rides and flowers. They were chivalrous and knew how to give compliments and seemed more sophisticated than the average Australian male. (8)

IV.2 Change of Women's role in the Second World War
            Leading women's change in their active attitude itself reflects how women¡¯s role after the world war the second has changed. After the war, women substituted the responsibility of men to work. Women got some of economic power which they could not have before, and got some ease in some difficulties (9)
            During the war, women's roles in a soicety that had depended on the movement of women's labor from its traditional location where previously been the most excursive preserve of man. By 1945, more than 2.2 million women were working in the war industries, building ships, aircraft, vehicles, and weaponry. Also, Women joined the federal government in massive numbers during World War II. Nearly a million "government girls" were recruited for war work. (10)

            The graph above (11) clearly shows that all women were working full-time for at least one month during 1950.
            While ultimately 3 million women worked in war plants, the majority of women who worked during World War II worked in traditionally female occupations, like the service sector. The number of women in skilled jobs was actually few. Most women worked in tedious and poorly paid jobs in order to free men to take better paying jobs or to join the service. The only area that there was a true mixing of the sexes was in semiskilled and unskilled blue-collar work in factories.
            However, women's role actually extended greatly in some countries: there were thousands of others joined defensive militias at home and there was a great increase in the number of women serving in the military itself, particularly in the Red Army.
            Although more and more women population in work had increased, it took quite some time in changing changing men's attitudes. Male employees and male-controlled unions were suspicious of women. Companies saw women¡¯s needs and desires on the job as secondary to men's and did not take them seriously or give much attention. However, as time went on and more and more women entered the work force, the attitudes towards women workers changed. Also the decreased number of women in work after the war increased again. Therefore, we can conclude that the war accented the current trend toward an increase in the women labor market, and elevated their rights.
            Moreover, the paternal absence from family, an the stability of the traditional roles, women for domesticity and the man's role as breadwinner, brought a huge change in gender castration. In some movies such as It's a wonderful life, there is no presence of any family in film noir but a figure of sexually predatory femme fatale. (12)
            In the post-war United States, there were a lot of films noir which particularly proceeds psychoanalytic prospectives of sexually-aggressive figure of womanhood, and husband hunting movies also proceeds not in a psychoanalytic way but in a reflective way, shows the elevation of woman's social status in postwar period. In the film, woman are usually depicted as a masculinized type of womanhood.

V. Media & Cultural Development
            Even behind the rise of strong leading actors, there is cultural history explaining how they themselves and their movies were loved by a number of people.

V.1 The Impact of Golden Age of Television
            In the post war era, motion pictures are entering the third major era: Television Age, first as a silent period, and then the sound era. The presence of television meant that fifty million Americans will be able to sit at home and take their choices of visiting the ball park, or the legitimate theater, and the motion pictures without stirring from their own living rooms. It required something truly superior to cause them not only to leave their homes to be entertained, but to pay for that entertainment. (13) The following statistics is about the number of television increased in distribution (14).

            Motion Picture Industry had to turn out pictures several times as good as pictures are on the average. The Hollywood heroines definitely would have been the solution for motion picture industry to meet the competition.

V.2 Rise of New Age - Exciting Symbols
            In the period following WWII when most of the films were idealized with conventional portrayals of men and women, young people wanted new and exciting symbols. The young adults seems to know about the world in a quite early age though mass media. Magazines and newsreels were full of beaming couples buying houses and cars, and television dramas and commercials contained meesages about male and female identity. A lot of singers and movie actresses such as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Bettie Page, Sophia Loren, Marlon Brando, Grace Kelly, and hundreds of stars became sex symbols of the 1950s. (15)
            The 50s decade also ushered in the age of Rock and Roll and a new younger market of teenagers. This youth-oriented group was opposed to the older generation's choice of nostalgic films. With the Hollywood¡¯s Golden Age which lasted till the late 1950s, the burgeoning number of stars came up on screens. During that time, MGM claimed it had contracted "more stars than there are in heaven." MGM dominated the film screen and had the top stars in Hollywood, and created the Hollywood star system altogether as well; From this, a number of Hollywood heroines were born.

VI. Conclusion
            Through multi-dimensional research of the phenomenon, we figured out that it was not only historical but also cultural and technological advancement that cause the husband hunting after the second World War. The emergence of the attractive young women who struggles to attract men's attention was, in other words, incontrovertible situation for women, and one of the marketing strategies for the film industry.


1.      Boxwell 1977
2.      Wikipedia
2a.      Mitchell 2003 p.21
2b.      Mitchell 1987 p.22
2c.      Mitchell 1987 p.20
2d.      Mitchell 1987 p.42
4.      Immigration Statistics USA
5.      Arrowsmith
6.      Jarratt 2008, p.12
7.      Boys' Historical Clothing
8.      Arrowsmith
9.      Harvey 1993, p.¥¨
10.      Wikipedia
11.      Goldin
12.      Chopra-Gant 2006, p.66
13.      Smoodin, p.200
14.      TV history
15.      Wikipedia
16.      Dirks


Note : websites quoted below were visited in 2010.
1.      B.R. Mitchell, International Historical Statistics, Europe 1750-1988, Stockton press 1987
2.      B.R. Mitchell, International Historical Statistics, The Americas 1750-2000, Fifth Edition, Stockton press 2003.
3.      The Internet Movie Database.
4.      Brett Harvey, The Fifties - A Women's Oral History, 1993 Harper Collins.
5.      Melynda Jarratt, Captured Hearts: New Brunswick's War Brides, University of New Brunswick. Dept. of History 2008
6.      Mike Chopra-Gant, Hollywood Genres and Postwar America, I.B. Tauris Publishers. 2006
7.      Eric Smoodin & Ann Martin, Hollywood Quarterly, University of California Press.
8.      David Boxwell, Howard Hawks, senses of cinema, December 26 1977.
9.      Article : Bimbo, from Wikipedia.
10.      Article : Sex symbol, from Wikipedia.
11.      World War II: A Changed America - War Brides, Boys Historical Clothing.
12.      Tim Dirks, The Dawning of the 50s, Film History of 1950s, filmsite.
13.      Television Facts and Statistics - 1939 to 2000, television history
14.      Immigration Statistics USA, from Maps of the World,

Back to WHKMLA Main Index . WHKMLA, Students' Papers Main Page . WHKMLA, Students' Papers, 12th Wave Index Page

Impressum · Datenschutz