Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 21
November 12, 1943
Wallace Shawn born

While many know Wallace Shawn as the loveable (or loathsome), pudgy clown in films like Clueless or The Princess Bride, there is another more serious side to him. Wallace Shawn was born among New York’s smart set. As the son of longtime New Yorker editor William Shawn, Wally went to the best schools (Dalton, Putney, Harvard, Oxford) and was on first-name basis with America’s best and brightest. Shawn later wrote about his teachers and others treatment of him: “I didn’t’ realize why they were groveling at my feet, and it made me a very self-confident person until the age of forty, when I figured it out––when I had a crisis of confidence.” In his confidence, Shawn was a daring playwright. Much of his early theatrical works were verbally violent and sexually explicit.  His 1971 A Thought in Three Parts became the center of public controversy when it was threatened with censorship as obscenity in London. Later work, often allegorical, focused on government repression. While often dark and abstract, three of his plays––The Designator Mourner, Marie and Bruce and The Fever––have been adapted into films. Shawn has also long been in a voice in left-wing politics, writing regularly for The Nation and starting his own short-lived political journal. Yet despite such high-brow pursuits, for many Wallace Shawn will always be the querulous, high-pitched voice of Rex the Dinosaur in Toy Story.


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Working Girl Dec. 21, 1988
Working Girl Opens

With Carly Simon's anthemic "Let the River Run" scoring Melanie Griffith's Monday-morning commute from Staten Island to Wall Street, Mike Nichols' Working Girl, which opened December 21, 1988, is an upbeat fantasia celebrating female empowerment, class mobility, and the underlying soundness of our financial system.

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December 21, 1988
Working Girl, a fable of money

Just days before Christmas, director Mike Nichols delivered Working Girl, a new brightly wrapped present of the American dream. If Oliver Stone’s 1987 Wall Street showed the greed and cruelty behind that fueled America’s financial professionals, Nichols' Working Girl gave that same capitalist dream a positive––and feminist––spin. A downtown secretary (Melanie Griffith) steals the identity of her investment banker boss (Sigourney Weaver) in order to sell a sure-fire marketing idea. But rather than being a political fable of the Man––er, Woman––keeping the hero down, like the 1980 feminist comedy Nine to Five, Working Girl was a fable of class mobility. In her New York Times review, Janet Maslin commented, "One of the many things that mark Working Girl as an 80's creation is its way of regarding business and sex as almost interchangeable pursuits and suggesting that life's greatest happiness can be achieved by combining the two," In some ways, the film serves as a counterpoint to Pretty Woman, the 1990 film that should have perhaps switched titles with Nichols' comedy. The film proved a feelgood hit, with the Carly Simon anthem "Let the River Run" going on to win the Academy Award for Best Song in 1989. Significantly, the original title to this stirring track was “The Wall Street Hymn.” While the big hair to big money story hit box office gold, the 1990 TV sitcom spun from the story was fired soon after its broadcast premiere.

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