Harlow was only the first in a long and distinguished line of tragic blondes. Every man, woman and child is aware of the legend of Marilyn Monroe. Mock-Fifties diners around the world proudly display framed Marilyn posters inscribed with the words boulevard of broken dreams, as if she were a new brand of soda. Indeed, she struggled all her life to be seen as a serious actress. When she married Arthur Miller the joke was, he was the beauty and she was the brains. As Monroe descended into mental illness, Jayne Mansfield, the starlet created in her image, sank into depression following a lack of recognition of her genius IQ. It's a join-the-dots journey from Monroe to Anna Nicole Smith, the poor white trash Playboy centrefold who considers herself to be the reincarnation of her heroine, and is currently enjoying a lengthy stint in a detox centre.
And though both women have the ultimate womanly physique, there is something about the male reaction to their white-blond hair that has unpleasant undercurrents of paedophilia. Since the only time your hair is naturally that extremely light is as a child, Marilyn and Anna Nicole are essentially infantile sex symbols. By their own hand, or that of their hairdresser, they have condemned themselves to being perceived as perpetual infants. Both of them are women who were badly mistreated as children. Of course, not all women with blond hair have a dreadful past, or are crying out for attention to compensate. But you can't help noticing that the top media manipulators of the day are all bottle blondes: Princess Diana, Courtney Love, Paula Yates, Pamela Anderson. Part of the reason Elizabeth Hurley is unusual is that though she is of course dark, her media profile is indubitably that of a blonde.
Look around. Very, very few women remain naturally blonde into adulthood. Maybe Candice Bergen and Ulrika Jonsson. Which is partly why light hair is so prized. The fairy stories we are told as children perpetuate the myth. Lightness represents goodness and virtue. Darkness is evil, malevolent: jealous spirits and wicked stepmothers. Heroines are blonde. Witches are dark. In the history of cinema, this has always rung true. Norman Mailer wrote that Marilyn Monroe's face says "f*** me Daddy", whereas Elizabeth Taylor's says "I want the roots of your soul". There is something inherently witchy about hair as perfectly raven as Liz's that is understandably frightening. When they say that "blondes have more fun", what they really mean is, "the men who are with blondes have more fun". You can imagine having an affair with Marilyn or Jayne, or even Drew. But you can't contemplate anything less than having your heart ripped out by Liz, Ava or Audrey.
There are, of course, a few blondes who could compete with the brunette sirens for the title of greatest screen beauty of all time: Kim Novak and Lana Turner especially. But blond hair also has the power to ruin even the most raving beauty. Remember the photograph of Liz Hurley wearing a platinum wig? Think of Sherilyn Fenn in Ruby, Winona Ryder in Edward Scissorhands or Demi Moore in The Butcher's Wife.
There are blondes who have all the components of a classic brunette, and these I call "spiritual brunettes". Lauren Bacall, although pretty mousy-haired, is more brunette than anyone. Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction is the modern-day bad, dark fairy: a strong-featured sexual predator who would sooner boil a rabbit than be exploited. Whatever colour her hair is this week, Madonna always seems like a true brunette. This is partly due to her striking Italian features, but mostly because her artistic endeavours have been so thoroughly brunette; sure she did porn for the Sex book, but what unsettled people was that she was in control. She didn't do it because she needed to, but because she wanted to.
Girls who hit the bottle may be playing a power game, but it is a game. And these days they don't look as if they're winning. Look at the latest Pammy Anderson stories: rumours of anorexia and drug abuse. In fact, the only bottle blondes having conspicuous media fun these days are boys: ex-Take Thatter Robbie Williams, Gazza, Blur's Damon Albarn. The "blonde is fun" diatribe has been so successful that the lads have been sucked in. Leaving the lads to get on with it, the top female sex symbols of the past year have all been very dark: Sandra Bullock, Liv Tyler, Julia Ormond, Elastica's Justine Frischmann.
In the history of pop culture, blonde women have not had much fun at all. They've become great Warhol prints, but have hardly ever been truly happy. Those who haven't died tragically (Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe), have lived tragically (Lana Turner) or both (Jean Seberg). Compare them to the classic screen sirens: Elizabeth Taylor, Raquel Welch, Sophia Loren, Anne Bancroft, Joan Collins, Gina Lollobrigida. Brunette beauties last. Then remember how quickly the media dispensed with Patsy Kensit, Amanda de Cadenet, Mandy Smith.
When interviewed by Ruby Wax, Pammy Anderson came off surprisingly well. You looked at her and thought: "If you made her hair her natural colour and put her in a high-necked black dress, she'd probably be considered classically beautiful." But she has been cast as a blonde and she is sticking to it. As she tugged at her swimsuit and tossed her platinum mane, she seemed like a girl with a sense of humour about herself. She needs to be. How lonely it must be to be Pamela, to know it won't be long before someone even blonder and blander comes along to topple herReuse content