A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Last week, Sylvia Trench died. She was 90 years old. You’ve probably never heard of her, but she had a massive impact on popular culture that’s still ringing in our ears, today. You see, before Honey Ryder (played by Ursula Andress) rose out of the surf like Venus in a white bikini, Sylvia Trench (played by Eunice Gayson) was the original Bond Girl in the original Bond movie, Dr. No.
Here in the ‘fraidy-cat days of contemporary feminism, there is a prevailing myth that “Bond Girl” is synonymous with bimbo. Nope! Guess again! Ian Fleming didn’t write ‘em that way. First of all, Fleming’s Bond Girls weren’t girls — they were women. And secondly, the majority of his female characters (written between 1953 and 1965) were decidedly not typical women of that era. Back in those days, the female ideal was June Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver) Margaret Anderson (Father Knows Best) and (let’s face it) the seriously ditzy Lucy Ricardo (I Love Lucy.) Fleming’s women, on the other hand, were mainly independent, assertive professionals who were sexually active and made no bones about it. (Ring any bells in 2018?) Which brings us back to Ms. Trench.
Actually, Sylvia Trench was not in the novel Dr. No, but the movie version is the first time the world got a good look at James Bond, so she’s there to set the tone. In fact, she appears before Bond does. In the scene, we see a woman (not a girl) in an off-the-shoulder red dress. She’s gambling at a high stakes Chemin de fer table. She’s there by herself, and she’s clearly a regular player. (The house agrees to cover her marker when she loses.) An off-camera voice says,
“I admire your courage, Miss…?”
She replies, “Trench, Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr…?”
Cut to Sean Connery. Cue the theme music:
“Bond, James Bond.”
And the 007 film franchise begins.
However, this isn’t where Sylvia Trench leaves her mark as the quintessential Bond Woman. Three scenes later, Bond returns home and there’s Sylvia, out of the red dress and into one of Bond’s shirts, practicing her putt – with Bond’s golf clubs. Bond (because he’s Bond) bursts into the room with a gun in his hand, but Sylvia doesn’t freak out, shrieking “OMG! He’s got a gun!” — she flirts. This is a confident woman. This is an Ian Fleming Woman. She’s come to Bond’s apartment (broken in, actually) to sleep with him. She hasn’t been seduced. She hasn’t been coerced. She isn’t a victim of Bond’s raging sexism. She’s a woman who makes her own decisions — and today she’s decided on James Bond.
So, as feminists from Maine to Malibu theorize and chatter about how many misogynists can dance on the head of a pin — Ms. Trench, I salute you! You were a woman before it was fashionable and saw no reason to complain about it.