Year of Publication

2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Virginia L. Blum

Abstract

Sexual delinquency marked midcentury cinematic representations of adolescent girls in 1940s, 50, and early 60s. Drawing from the history of adolescence and the context of midcentury female juvenile delinquency, I argue that studios and teen girl stars struggled for decades with publicity, censorship, and social expectations regarding the sexual license of teenage girls. Until the late 1950s, exploitation films and B movies exploited teen sex and pregnancy while mainstream Hollywood ignored those issues, struggling to promote teen girl stars by tightly controlling their private lives but depriving fan magazines of the gossip and scandals that normally fueled the machinery of stardom. The emergence and image of the postwar, sexually autonomous teen girl finally began to see expression in mainstream melodramas of the late 50s, and teen girl stars such as Sandra Dee and Natalie Wood created new, “post-delinquent” star images wherein “good girls” could still be sexually experienced. This new image was a significant departure from the widespread belief that the sexually active teen girl was a fundamentally delinquent threat to the nuclear family, and offered a liberal counterpoint to more conservative teen girl prototypes like Hayley Mills, which continued to have cultural currency.