|What Would Nora Do?|
|Written by Eileen Forster Keck|
A Requiem to Nora Charles, as played by Myrna Loy
What Would Nora Do? I speak of Nora Charles, of course, that lanky brunette* with a wicked jaw, the distaff half of Nick and Nora Charles, as played by William Powell and the inimitable Myrna Loy.
The Nora Charles written by Dashiell Hammett is said to have been based on the acerbic brunette Lillian Hellman...who was, according to many, appropriately named. However, Nora as realized by Myrna Loy was something else—finely complex and witty. She was the perfect, carelessly clever charmer most of us secretly wish to embody.
According to director George Cukor, "...Loy and Powell were something new and original...Myrna gave the wit to the whole thing...she underdid it, creating a grace, a charm, a chemistry."
Nora would go out and take the world by storm if necessary, but always with a blend of grace, humor, and remarkable style, as well as a touch of sarcasm, if it befit the time and the place. That grace, charm, and chemistry were conveyed easily by her voice and physical mannerisms. Her lilt and insouciance made the driest line or gesture speak volumes.
Still, she refused to suffer fools gladly. "Well, subcoming [sic] isn't the only interesting aspect of a relationship, is it?"
How did she accomplish these things? She used wit. Wit can be a formidable tool, or even a weapon, if one so chooses. Nora chose to use it primarily as a tool, whether to win her point, get a laugh, or—better by far—both.
Being clever in a graceful and politic manner isn't second nature to many. It's a difficult task, made no easier by the erosion of fine manners and the ever-present drone of the pop media. To be elegant, witty and precise and yet draw little or no metaphorical blood is the work of a lifetime or more.
When in Rome...Do As Nora Would
Know your social setting, and have respect for the people you encounter. At least, give that impression! Don't condescend. That's a tough one, especially if you're particularly bright, or if you fancy yourself a wit. After all, even Oscar Wilde had his bluff called in the last battle, and it broke him.
Make it funny. But not at the other fellow's expense. Aim the barb at your own precious hide, or some neutral territory. Deliver it with a wink. (Not necessarily a literal one.)
For example, on the Christmas Eve Nick filled their Manhattan apartment with the crowd Damon Runyon knew best, Nora simply cooed, "Nicky, I love you! Because you know such lovely people!"
Nick got the point. So do we, and all of us with a smile.
* Yes, Myrna Loy was a redhead, but in black and white, who knew?