All hail Betty Schaefer, the character played by actress Nancy Olson in 1950's Sunset Boulevard. As the character who said "I don't want to be a reader all my life, I want to write," Miss Betty Schaefer is the queen of all d-girls. The story of one Joe Gillis (William Holden), down-on-his-luck screenwriter who happens upon the Sunset Boulevard driveway owned by Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), is tragic. The ways and manners of Betty and her d-girl world weave themselves intricately into the plot of this classic Hollywood film.
When Betty is first seen in the movie, a production executive Mr. Sheldricke (Fred Clark) calls her to join him in his office. Betty's caramel-blond hair is tied back in a bun, her white shirt with Peter Pan collar is buttoned up to her chin, long-sleeved sweater and calf-length skirt completes the ensemble, with a bow in hair and Max Factor-style makeup. She is a picture-perfect example of a mid-twentieth-century working girl. She is asked for a copy of her coverage and her opinion of a story she has just read. She responds quickly, confidently: "It's a rehash of something that wasn't very good to begin with. I found it flat and trite." Mr. Sheldricke then introduces her to Joe, the author of the "flat and trite" story. She is taken aback, makes a gesture to be polite, but defends her thoughts by stating: "I just think a picture should say a little something." The three discuss how writers could take Plot No. 27A and make it glossy, make it slick, until Joe states he needs to write to make a living—and, basically, it's coverage like the one she's just provided that's standing in his way. True, Betty did wield that little bit of power by expressing her educated opinions in her coverage, but the meeting provides her with an introduction to what she begins to dream is her future. Fate, of course, has other plans.
Chapter 4 : D-Girl 77
Betty is an excellent composite of many young women who worked in Hollywood during its early years. She's fastidious, confident, and determined. The next time she sees Joe, she's at Schwab's Pharmacy with her fiancé Artie (portrayed by a young Jack Webb, a.k.a. Dragnets Sgt. Joe Friday). It's New Year's Eve, her hair is still combed back, but she's ditched the white blouse for a strapless (yet demure) dress. She tells Joe that she felt a little guilty about their first encounter. As a result of that meeting, she took a second look at some of his old stories. They begin by discussing business but the interaction turns into a delightful exercise in character dialogue. Joe says, as he leaves to return to Norma, "You'll be waiting for me?" Betty replies: ". . . with a wildly beating heart . . ."
And that she has for him. Betty is then seen fast at work at her desk on the Paramount lot. With pencil in hand, she dials Crestview-51733, desperate to locate Joe. She is told Joe is not at that number. It's back at Schwab's that she sees Joe again and again, but she's with Artie (the famous drugstore is their favorite hangout.) She explains that she's been calling him. Joe announces that he's given up writing on spec—in fact, he's given up writing all together. It is here that Betty, disappointed, announces that she wanted to get in on a deal with him—she had twenty pages of notes on one of his stories—and she delivers her famous line: "I don't want to be a reader all my life, I want to write." Apologetically, Joe says, "I'm sorry if I crossed you up."
"You sure have!" she exclaims.
With Betty's determination, she won't give up. Joe sees Betty on the Paramount lot. She tells him that Artie is on location in Arizona, working as an assistant director. She's free evenings and weekends. Betty and Joe throw around a few ideas, he still tells her "no" playfully, as he leaves and she nearly tosses her half-eaten apple his way.
The next shot is of Joe, standing in Betty's cubbyhole of an office, telling her that he feels like he's playing hooky every time he escapes from Norma's mansion to come and work with her. Betty makes coffee in her sweater set and long A-line skirt. They smoke cigarettes as they type away page after page. They take a break and tour the back lot, apples in hand, a picture of innocence. Betty reveals that she was born two blocks from the
studio — her father was an electrician, her mother still works in Wardrobe. She's had ten years of diction and dancing and a new $300 nose after a studio test. The studio didn't like her acting so she gave it up — "it taught me a little sense" — as she worked her way from the mail room to stenography up to reader. (See? Even then the Hollywood Food Chain was in full force.) "What's wrong with being on the other side of the camera?" she asks. Joe's cheering for Betty as things heat up between them—a near kiss — he tells her she's like "freshly laundered linen handkerchiefs" and asks her to stay two feet away from him at all times. A few scenes pass . . . and finally Betty admits to Joe that she's no longer in love with Artie. Joe asks, "What happened?" Betty answers, "You did." They kiss.
Meanwhile, back at the palatial mansion, Norma, who has now taken possession of Joe, discovers a cover page from a script Joe is writing, Untitled Love Story. She doesn't like this. Her jealousy is driving her into frenzy. She's already attempted suicide. Norma places a call to Betty's home, which results in Betty and her roommate Connie being invited to visit 10086 Sunset Boulevard—Norma's abode. They arrive only to find the odd menage of has-been Norma, her creepy manservant, and the very surprised Joe. Betty, a trooper to the end, states that she never received a call from Norma, she's never been to Norma's house, and, wanting to erase the weird visit, begs Joe to go with her. He tells her no, wishes her luck, and tells her to finish writing the script while on her way to Arizona to return to Artie . . . and that's the end of Betty's character in this all too tragic Hollywood story.
Betty survives the ordeal. The picture of confidence, this twenty-two-year-old kid with plans to be a writer more than probably succeeded in a writing career. Betty Schaefer is the first and original d-girl.
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