Classic Hollywood actresses are often described as having a “whiskey voice.” They are strong, suave, sultry, and classy. And they don’t take crap from anyone. Think Ava Gardner:
“I wish to live to 150 years old, but the day I die, I wish it to be with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other.”
There’s a reason Lauren Bacall was chosen for a Suntory whisky ad in 1978, Bette Davis advertised for Jim Beam in 1974, and most recently, Christina Hendricks is the face of Johnny Walker. They bring a cool sophistication. Women want to be them. Men want them. And everyone wants the whiskey.
One of my favorite lines comes from Greta Garbo in her first talking film, the 1930 classic Anna Christie. She was sent to live with relatives at age 5 and is coming to see her father after 15 years, some of which she spent in a brothel to earn enough money to survive. She’s had it tough for being so young, and it shows.
“Give me a whiskey, ginger ale on the side,” she tells the waiter. “And don’t be stingy, baby.”
On the (much) lighter side is Billy Wilder’s cross-dressing comedy, Some Like it Hot, a film that opens with a coffin leaking whiskey after it’s shot by cops who are chasing the hearse as it speeds up to Mozzarella’s Funeral Parlor. Hint: this is Prohibition. And that’s not a real funeral parlor. Although they only serve coffee: Scotch coffee, Canadian coffee, sour mash coffee…
Enter Marilyn Monroe, our next whiskey screen goddess. She keeps a flask of bourbon in her garter belt that she’s just pulling out for a sip when she meets Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon (a.k.a. Geraldine and Daphne), who are dressed as women to run away with an all girls band in an attempt to hide from the mob.
“I don’t want you to think I’m a drinker,” she tells them. “I can stop any time I want to. Only I don’t want to.”
But bourbon’s best scene in the movie involves a spontaneous Manhattan party taking place in Daphne’s bunk on the train. Jack Lemon gets a special “whiskey woman award” for being adorable as a man trying desperately to act like a woman despite the fact that he’s surrounded by a seemingly endless mass of women’s legs and they are about to discover that he’s ticklish.
Then there's Butterfield 8. The film opens with Elizabeth Taylor as she wakes up in a married man’s bed, then proceeds to wander around his apartment in her slip with a glass of whiskey, which she swirls, sips, and uses to brush her teeth. She finds a note from the man with money, “I hope $250 is enough.” In pure whiskey diva form, she writes “No sale” on the mirror in lipstick, grabs his wife’s fur coat, and takes a bottle of whiskey, leaving a few dollars - to cover the whiskey, not the coat.
Which brings me to one of my favorite whiskey heroes – Karen Allen as Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark. From what I have been able to find out, that’s whiskey in the glasses as she matches a large ox of a man shot for shot in her bar. While the oaf sways and struggles, she merely pretends to get a little light-headed before he keels over and she defiantly cashes in all those who bet against her.
I would not bet against these women. But I would join them for a drink.