The Doll Who Made Puppets of Men

I won’t be in town in time to celebrate her 100th birthday and join in the festivities currently (if somewhat prematurely) underway at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The celebrated one is Brooklyn-born Barbara Stanwyck, who, on this day, 2 May, in 1943, added a piece of wood to the pile of men she knew how to manage. Charlie McCarthy, that is, a ventriloquist dummy oozing sap after a period of protracted prepubescence. Suddenly, he was sprouting facial hair, some not so hot fuzz with which he hoped to attract “women of the opposite sex.” Yet unlike Marilyn Monroe after her, the Ball of Fire hadn’t come to woo, wow, or wed Charlie. She was going to burn him without having to turn on the heat.

After cutting this log down to size by reminding him that he still worked for a measly salary of 75 cents per week, the shrewd Lady Eve offered Charlie her services as a manager: “Just place yourself in my hands and I’ll put you on a solid basis,” she promised. Apparently, Indemnity wasn’t the only thing this Lady of Burlesque preferred double. And Charlie, eager for a little independence after years of service, promptly rose to the bait.

As he would a few weeks later, when Claudette Colbert invited him to her beach house, Charlie learned another important wartime lesson: not to be too selfish or greedy while Americans were called upon to make sacrifices and lend their support to neighbor and nation alike. As for Ms. Stanwyck, she still walked away with a few extra nickels she had managed to squeeze out of the timbered twerp, who, for once, ended up not having the last word.

Whether or not she had any desire to handle or caress men, she could manage them, all right.

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