Today’s guest blogger is Heidi Holmstrom. Heidi works in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab, which is responsible for performing conservation and preservation work on motion picture records held across the National Archives.
Look Like a Winner opens with a male narrator intoning: “Yes, you’ve come a long way…no question about it. You have more to say these days about your education…your appearance…your occupation…and your role in life than any young women have ever had in history.”
From watching the film, you wouldn’t know that women cared about anything other than appearance. Among the topics covered are the importance of selecting the right hairstyle (“Nobody can be attractive with unkempt and poorly styled hair”) and tips on achieving a natural look with makeup (“Makeup can do a wonderful job if it is used intelligently”). Femininity and attractiveness are given even more emphasis than following WAC uniform regulations.
Mind Your Military Manners sets up a situation in which three WACs are being considered for a plum assignment overseas. Will the assignment go to Marilyn, with her extreme hairstyles and hiked-up skirt? Or will it go to Carol, who is efficient and knowledgeable, but walks like a man? Maybe it will go to Susan, with her good poise and well-modulated telephone voice.
The film leaves the question of the assignment up in the air, but really there is only one right answer . . .
The production history of Military Etiquette and Grooming is described in detail in the production files for the series. It was originally pitched as a four-part series and received approval to be shot in black and white. The producers felt that color was integral to the portrayal of proper make-up, clothing selection, and skincare, so the decision was made to shorten the series to three films and use the money saved to pay for the higher cost of color film production.
The script evaluation contains pages of comments on Look Like a Winner that appear to reveal some ambivalence about the film’s message. At one point the reviewer asks, “Is this emphasis on Susan’s figure necessary?” However, this is soon followed with a suggestion to emphasize “that watching diet helps you keep looking good in uniform—and on dates.” Some notes are wry and humorous, like the below comment about a proposed shower scene.
The Production Files also contain the Daily Production Reports for the films. In the report for October 6, 1969, we can see the challenges posed by putting an “honest to goodness hair dresser” on screen in Look Like a Winner.
The Military Etiquette and Grooming series is a time capsule of a world that is now forty years gone. Women have been serving alongside men in the Regular Army since 1978, when the WAC was disestablished. Even when remembering how much time has passed, the strong emphasis on femininity over competency in these films can still be shocking. Viewing them as a window to the past, we can better understand the present situation of women in society and the military. Fortunately, thanks to the work of the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Branch and the Motion Picture Preservation Lab, these films are being preserved in the holdings of the National Archives, where they will continue to be accessible to researchers far into the future.