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Top 5: Feminist Characters in Classic TV (Pre-1970)

1.) Emma Peel- The Avengers


Diana Rigg‘s portrayal of Emma Peel in The Avengers is the stuff legends are made of. While the actress wasn’t the first to grace the screen opposite Patrick Macnee‘s John Steed, her super-spy has been the primary one to transcend time. Just think, how many female spies have worn the leather cat-suit since 1967?

john-steed-emma-peel-splash

Watching the series, what stands out primarily is how equal John Steed and Emma Peel are as a pairing (it’s a shame the same wasn’t true with the treatment of the performers off-screen). Emma Peel (like her James Bond equivalent Tracy Bond) is fully independent, and is not only able to save herself, but her male lead as well.

Mrs. Peel, we’re needed…

2.) Julia Baker- Julia



Julia
is a standout television series, especially coming out of the late 1960s. The series follows Julia Baker (Diahann Carroll), a nurse and single mother in the late 1960s.

I will freely admit that I have yet to see as many episodes of Julia as I would like. The series premiered in 1968 and ran for three seasons.

Historically, simply the inclusion of an African-American female lead is tremendously important. Prior to this it’s a struggle to think of African American characters in lead (non-comedic) roles, and to add the factor that Julia Baker is a single mother? It was a tremendous important series in the late sixties, and it’s a shame it’s not syndicated more.

3.) Morticia Adams- The Adams Family


Before Angelica Huston graced screens as Morticia Adams, Carolyn Jones played the iconic TV Mom in the mid-1960s television series.

The series follows the Adams Family of the title, led by family patriarch Gomez (John Astin) and his wife Morticia. Along with the couple are their children Wednesday (Lisa Loring) and Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax) as well as Uncle Fester (Jackie Coogan) and Grandmama (Marie Blake).

What I’ve always liked about Morticia (particularly the television version) is her sense of self. Morticia and Gomez are one of the most solid, stable couples on television. And it makes it even better that their quirks played completely straight. To Gomez and Morticia, they are completely normal, we’re the weird ones. She (and them as a couple) embrace who they are completely.

4.) Ann Marie- That Girl

style-that-girl

A struggling actress in New York, Ann Marie (played with unending adorableness by Marlo Thomas) made her way through life in the Big Apple during the late 1960s. While probably the biggest criticism is that her overly sugar-coated life is far from realistic (especially for a struggling actress). However, we gave Friends 10 seasons with the same exact suspension of disbelief. 

Thomas herself is a passionate feminist, and from the start Ann Marie is very much her own character. She’s romantically linked with the adorable Donald (Ted Bessell), but he’s kept very much limited to the “straight man” role. As such, Marlo Thomas is allowed to carry the series a la Lucille Ball and Gracie Allen.

5.) Constance Brooks- Our Mrs. Brooks

Our Miss Brooks started on the radio, and transitioned onto television during the 1950s. The  series follows high school English teacher Constance Brooks (Eve Arden) and the zany happenings around at Madison High School.

The main flaw with Miss. Brooks is her schoolgirl crush on the bland and ineffectual school biology teacher Mr. Boynton (Robert Rockwell). However, Miss. Brook’s snarky tone is heavily reminiscent of that of actress Eve Arden. In her delivery, she actually stands out as a unique and interesting female lead. She doesn’t have to lean heavily on physical comedy or creating a zany persona. She stands out and establishes herself as a unique and interesting (while relatable) female lead.

Author:

Freelance writer, screenwriter, editor.

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