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"Should I surrender?": performing and interrogating female virginity in Hollywood films 1957-64

By Tamar Elizabeth Louise Jeffers


The twin topics of interest to this thesis are the figure of the desirous virgin, as she appeared in Hollywood films around the cusp of the 1960s, and Doris Day, during the later evolution of her star persona around the time of Pillow Talk (Michael Gordon, 1959).\ud An introductory section looks at important works from star studies and film history. Several texts from stereotype studies are also examined, both sections working to build up a methodology for the explorations of the virgin and Day which follow.\ud Films which seem to constitute part of a distinct mini-cyle, the 'virginity dilemma' film, are then explored in detail, with their shared themes, narratives, characters, and, often, actors, examined. This cycle of films seems crossgeneric, with both comic and melodramatic entries produced. Furthermore, a generically-inspired rubric, dictating the physical performance of the virgin, emerges from comparison of the films. Here the comic virgin displays a buoyant comic body, her unruly kinesis indicative of energies not yet directed into sex. By contrast, the melodramatic virgin is always marked by a stillness and composure which may wax and wane through the film but will reach both its apogée and rupture at the moment when she capitulates to consummation.\ud The final section looks at Doris Day's star persona as it emerged after Pillow Talk attempted to redefine her as a maturely sexual star. Subsequent films pathologized the qualities of maturity and sexuality, resulting in the creation of a coy aged virgin persona. Although actually performed only once, in Lover Come Back (Delbert Mann, 1961), this persona subsumed previous incarnations of the star, eventually leading to the decline of her active career and calcifying to become the dominant lasting memory of Day even now

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