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Julie London Is Her Name

Julie London album cover
Julie London album cover
Julie London album cover

Among Mad Men devotees, it’s a popular assumption that Betty Draper, the blonde knockout of a New York suburbanite played by January Jones, is closely modeled on Grace Kelly. But I’d argue a better archetype for Betty is Julie London. Whereas it is difficult to picture Princess Grace as anything but icily regal, it’s easy to imagine London as both the tigress of a Westchester boudoir and a poised and perfectly coiffed housewife, as capable of whipping up a last-minute soufflé for hubby and his boss as she is at bagging bologna sandwiches for the school bus-bound kiddies. Indeed, a fair argument could surely be made that the phrase “bedroom community” was coined in London’s honor.

With her throaty, smoky voice – as playfully seductive an instrument as ever crafted – London was certainly a skilled temptress. But she never played the goddess. Her appeal wasn’t of the unattainable Rita Hayworth or Lauren Bacall variety. Instead, she cleverly cast herself as the sexy girl next door (leaving the wholesomeness to Doris Day), the gal at cocktail parties who would send every man in the room fumbling for his lighter whenever she reached for a cigarette. As a recording artist she was, perhaps more so than any other, entirely a product of her time. No wonder her career began in the mid-’50s, just as America was starting to shake off its chastity belt, and ended in 1969, when a female singer actually in tune with the misogynistic sentiments of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Wives and Lovers” was suddenly outré in a society redefined by the sexual revolution and women’s lib.

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