They may not be the most sympathetic characters in the world, but pop culture would be awfully boring without its uptight ladies. They provide a little tension, a little contrast, sometimes even a little comic relief. Here are some of my personal favorites.
GLADYS KRAVITZ (ALICE PEARCE & SANDRA GOULD)
What a great, great character name: Gladys Kravitz! From the old “Bewitched” TV show, Mrs. Kravitz is the ranking member of the Uptight Ladies Brigade’s Nosy Neighbor Division. Two actresses did duty as Gladys, and both were excellent. First was Alice Pearce, whose photo graces the introduction to this List. She was the mistress of window surveillance. Then you had Sandra Gould, shown here. Gould had a more direct approach, with a voice that could launch a thousand migraines.
A wonderful actress in any type of role, Harper for a time in the 1980s excelled at playing uptight Southern ladies. “Crimes of the Heart” from 1986 was one of her best, earning her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.
Nobody did a better uptight society lady better than Dumont. She appeared prominently in many of the Marx Brothers’ best films, including “Duck Soup,” and she was the perfect foil for Groucho. He would hurl blistering verbal assaults at her; she would huff and puff, then continue on gamely with the rickety plotline.
Neuwirth’s Lilith character on “Cheers” heads up our Uptight Ladies Intellectual Division. She was rigid, unrelentingly severe and hysterically funny.
BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD
With last year’s “The Help,” and to a lesser extent “50/50,” Howard solidified her standing as a gifted, uptight young lady onscreen. Her strong acting in those parts gave Viola Davis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt something to play against.
THE CHURCH LADY
Who said every great Uptight Lady had to be female? Dana Carvey’s peerless powers of comic inventiveness on “Saturday Night Live” gave us a character who was outlandish yet utterly recognizable. We all know people like this, but rarely do we get to laugh at them openly.
Here’s how magnificent Margaret Hamilton was. As iconic and scary as her Wicked Witch of the West was in “The Wizard of Oz,” her Miss Gulch at the beginning of the film was even scarier. She made an uptight lady on a bicycle seem as menacing as Arnold Schwarzenegger in “The Terminator.” Bravo.
Those are my favorites, but I’m sure you have a few of your own. Add to The List!