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    Strong Women, Strong Movies

    By Jan Wahl–

    I am the strong, successful woman I am today because of the movies my mother carefully chose for me when I was a child, teen, and all through her life. Yes, I had a good education, great teachers, and solid parental training, but having a mother who believed in strong women onscreen made me blossom and bloom. It all started with two very different onscreen images.

    There was once a madcap, extravagant world traveler known as Auntie Mame (1958).  She’s positive that “life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” One of the greatest women to ever work in Hollywood, Rosalind Russell, was perfectly cast as the flamboyant Mame Dennis, a character who never let the world stop her from living out loud. Do not mix this up with the inferior Lucille Ball version of the musical Mame. Even composer Jerry Herman cried when I interviewed him, talking about his disappointment with that one. Stick with this amazing ’58 Auntie Mame

    Jo March was and is a role model. Little Women is the story. I started at the beginning with Kate Hepburn as the ambitious Jo (1934.) Wynona Ryder was perfection as unconventional Jo (1994), as was the entire cast and film in the recent adaptation (2019.)  The family of women struggling together and Jo staying strong to her own vision make this one for the ages and all ages.

    As a daughter of a politically active mother, I’ve always loved movies about women who are in the public eye, whether on purpose or accident. Since I find myself deeply disappointed in our current First Lady, a TV movie is worth digging for called The Betty Ford Story (1987.) Gena Rowlands deserved her Emmy for portraying the gutsy Betty, bringing out to the world the issue of breast cancer as well as addiction. 

    Greer Garson as Eleanor Roosevelt is inspiring in Sunrise at Campobello (1960) and Harriet Tubman’s remarkable courage was at last shown onscreen in 2019’s Harriet, one of my Top Ten Movies of that year.

    But it is A Face in the Crowd (1957) that reminds us of what can happen when a woman has had it and is ready to explode … look out world! Patricia Neal pulls the plug on a dangerous, egomaniacal TV star getting too close to the Oval Office. She finds a way to end it. Makes me wish she were here now.

    From Frida (2002) to Albert Nobbs ((2011) to The First Wives Club (1996), this is a subject that goes on as long as we strong women continue our fight to be ourselves against all odds. We will celebrate more of these onscreen women in the future. Let’s be part of the solution, and not mired in the muck of the problem. That’s what the onscreen women do, telling us: You go, girls! Meet you in that place of authenticity and joy.      

    Emmy Award-winner Jan Wahl is a renowned entertainment reporter, producer, and teacher. A member of the prestigious Directors Guild of America, she is regularly featured on KPIX television (every Monday morning starting at 6:15 am) and on KCBS AM & FM and other media outlets. To read and listen to her reviews for KCBS, go to: For more info about her remarkable life and career:

    Published April 9, 2020