She Works Hard for the Money


In the 1970s increasing numbers of women entered the workforce, but since it takes several years for a film to go from script to screen, Hollywood is typically late to the party.Throughout the 1980s, several films explored the lives and challenges of working women.

“Norma Rae” (1979) is one of the best Hollywood films to tackle the subject of union labor, and it transformed Sally Field from a sitcom actress (“Gidget,” “The Flying Nun”) into an A-List Oscar-winning film star. As a smart, feisty single mother trapped in a dead-end factory job, who risks everything to help unionize the local textile mill, Field gives one of the finest performances of her career.

“Nine to Five” (1980) turned the struggles of under-appreciated secretaries into a broad comedy revenge fantasy as Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton (in her film debut) get even with their chauvinist pig boss (Dabney Coleman). The three stars make a great comic trio, Parton’s catchy title song won the Oscar and it became one of her signature hits.

“Silkwood” (1983) stars Meryl Streep in the true story of Karen Silkwood, who became contaminated with plutonium at her job at a nuclear plant. As she protests the indifference and denial of her company, she becomes a threat to the nuclear industry and the government agencies that monitor it. The film also marked Cher’s debut as a dramatic actress.

“Swing Shift” (1984) stars Goldie Hawn in a World War II era comedy about a young woman who does her part for the war effort by going to work at an aircraft plant. Although there was reportedly on-set friction between the star and director Jonathan Demme, Hawn fell in love with her co-star, and long-time partner, Kurt Russell while making the film.

“Working Girl” (1988) is the romantic comedy that launched the career of Melanie Griffith as a smart young secretary who seizes the chance to rise up the corporate ladder by taking on the identity of her treacherous boss (Sigourney Weaver). Along the way, she finds romance with Harrison Ford’s investment broker.

A more recent tale of a young woman with big ambition is “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006). The irresistible Anne Hathaway struggles with the challenges of working for a deliciously imperious fashion magazine editor (Meryl Streep), allegedly based on Vogue editor Anna Wintour. But as the Wintour documentary “The September Issue” reveals, Streep’s Miranda Priestly is much more interesting – and a lot more fun.

About The Author

Adam Sandel is a playwright, screenwriter, lyricist, journalist and film critic living in San Francisco, California. He's the film writer for dot429 Magazine and is the host of the internet radio show "Happy Hour" on

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