FRIDAY, JANUARY 21, 2022
Misogyny's endless summer: In its obituary for Yvette Mimieux, the New York Times barely mentioned it. The passage in question read like this:
Ms. Mimieux was a child bride in “Toys in the Attic” (1963), based on the Tony Award-winning Lillian Hellman play. Mr. Crowther declared her performance “showy but without plausibility” in his Times review, which was not much nicer than what he said about her co-stars Geraldine Page and Dean Martin.
In 1964, Ms. Mimieux turned her role as a doomed surfer with epilepsy on the television drama “Dr. Kildare” into a starring movie role with the show’s star: She was Richard Chamberlain’s too-nice-for-sex new bride in “Joy in the Morning” (1965). She also reputedly became the first actress to show her navel on television.
Then her career took a downward turn...
"Her role as a doomed surfer" on Dr. Kildare barely got a mention in the obituary itself.
In comments, things were different. Comment 2 went like this, along with that one response:
COMMENTER FROM FORT WORTH: Yvette made a big impression on me as a little kid in the early 1960s, especially in her roles in The Time Machine and in the “Tyger, Tyger” episode of Dr. Kildare. It must have been her blend of extreme beauty and delicacy that melted my pre-adolescent heart.
RESPONSE FROM PHILADELPHIA: Me too! I was twelve when I saw “ Tyger, Tyger.” I’ve never forgotten it.
"Tyger, Tyger" was a two-part episode of Dr. Kildare in January 1964. It was a very important cultural moment in early-60s network television.
Other commenters remembered it. For example, Commenter 5:
COMMENTER FROM WASHINGTON D.C.: I remember crying my eyes out watching her in the two Dr. Kildare episodes "Tyger, Tyger." Such a beauty.
RESPONSE FROM COLORADO: Amazing how I also remember her in this show, so many years ago. Lovely woman and interesting in aging.
RESPONSE FROM MISSISSIPPI: So glad these two episodes are remembered. Even the music from them was great.
RESPONSE FROM NEW YORK: Oh my God! Blast from the past!
There were only 73 total comments to the notice of Mimieux's death, but Tyger, Tyger punched well above its weight. In these comments, people began to circle around what made the episodes important:
COMMENTER FROM D.C.: I was a child in 1964 when I saw Yvette Mimieux in an episode of Doctor Kildare, "Tyger, Tyger," in which she played an epileptic surfer. Ignoring Kildare's concern, she continues to surf and eventually has a seizure while surfing...
RESPONSE FROM BOSTON: I was so impressed with the episode "Tyger, Tyger" that it remains the only Dr. Kildare episode I recall. It also turned me into a William Blake fan and I memorized that poem. She was so beautiful and seemed so fragile.
RESPONSE FROM NEW JERSEY: Yes, it was a great episode! When you think of the plot, not being able to give up surfing, it really does belong to a more innocent time. It really was memorable—two impossibly good-looking blonde people in that ill-fated romance.
For the record, Mimieux's impossibly good-looking surfer was Kildare's only romantic interest during the five-year series. She died on the beach, in the doctor's arms.
Why did people remember Tyger, Tyger? This comment is intriguing:
COMMENT FROM NEW YORK CITY: After all these years, her performances resonate: Where the Boys Are, Tyger Tyger, Light in the Piazza, The Time Machine. The male critics of the day were quite sexist and nasty. Try reading what passes for film criticism from those days online.
That commenter listed Tyger, Tyger with her three most remembered films—and that highlighted comment "brings the eternal note of sadness in."
Were male critics of the day dismissive of Mimieux? We can't speak to that point. But Tyger, Tyger was a giant TV event not just because the young Mimieux was "impossibly good-looking," but because of the greatness of the episodes' theme, in which a very young woman was brought center stage possessed of full and total and complete self-possession and agency.
Again, it was January 1964. Mimieux was cast as Pat Holmes, a young woman surfer with a serious medical condition which made it unsafe for her to continue with her passion for surfing.
But in the type of role which would traditionally have gone to questing males, the Mimieux character rejects Kildare's sound medical advice. As in the Blake poem for which the episodes were named, she was burning with a bright flame. She was involved in a quest.
She insisted on extending her quest—and she died in a surfing incident at the end of the second hour, with Kildare pulling her out of the water.
We recall these episodes for their greatness in letting "the girl" go center stage. We recall them for their greatness in letting a very young woman who was a surfer perform the depth of her passion.
We ourselves had just turned 16; we were now living in California, where the sexual politics was much better than it had been in the old-world Boston area. We're grateful that the Kildare writers presented this type of fully-empowered young female character, just as "the problem that has no name" was starting to be discussed.
(The wife of one of our many young teachers gave The Feminine Mystique to our older sister when she went off to college.)
Someone else was watching Dr. Kildare in Alabama. He was eight years old:
COMMENTER FROM ALABAMA: I must confess to my first crush as an eight year old boy. Yvette Mimieux was not only beautiful but her character on Dr. Kildare was determined not to let a terrible illness define her. So on she went, to her ill-fated rendezvous with the ocean.
At eight years old, he wouldn't have known that he was being allowed to see something a little bit different.
In 1959, Hollywood had taken a step in this direction with the Sandra Dee character in Gidget. But Tyger, Tyger was pointing the way toward a new and better age of young women's empowerment.
That said, the backsliding is ubiquitous, right to the present day. Kirsten Sinema voted the wrong way this week, and so—at New York magazine, no less!—she was reviewed like this:
JACOBS (1/19/22): She was absent from the chamber for most of the final hour of debate where Democrats inveighed against the filibuster. Minutes after listening to Mitch McConnell’s speech, she slipped out of the chamber and returned with a bag of cough drops, from which she carefully unwrapped one and slipped [it] under her face mask. Then as the roll call began, she prepared for her big moment. She reached into her overstuffed handbag and pulled out a brush she ran through her hair. Then, removing her mask, she applied a layer of powder to her face and carefully re-did her lipstick. Then she pressed the cough drop wrapper to her lips, letting the lozenge drop out and chasing it with a sip of water. She looked tense as senator after senator stood up to solemnly pronounce their vote, smoothing out the wrinkles in her sweater, until finally her name was called. She stood up erect, both hands on her desk, and shouted “aye.”
There were 106 comments to the Ben Jacobs piece. No one mentioned the oddness of this treatment, which comes from a very old playbook—one which refuses to leave.
In the past, we've been puzzled by Sinema's peculiar behavior. That said, we'll have to admit that we thought her Senate speech, in which she stressed "the underlying disease of division," did in fact speak with striking clarity to a very important point.
That said, it's amazing to see where the boys are today, even after all these years. The gentlewoman cast the wrong vote. Even within our own enlightened tribe, a published essay responded by discussing her lipstick, her overstuffed handbag, her powder.
Tyger, Tyger was a major TV event for teenagers of the time. It's generally described as the highest rated program in the five-year run of Dr. Kildare, a humane and intelligent TV show which called intelligent attention to a great many medical issues.
We recall Tyger, Tyger with something resembling passion. We're grateful that we got to see it. Then as now, it was an unusual program, promoting a hidden set of values.
We read the Blake poem at Aragon High. That TV show cut a bit deeper.