Nevada Women in Movies

Movies will tell you that much of what women do in Nevada involves work and marriage, but with the state's unique twist. When it comes to jobs, entertainment is a big field for women, with more singing and dancing opportunities than found in most states. Nevada is also the only state where women can work legally as prostitutes. And while marriage is common throughout the rest of the country, Nevada offers a strong lure with themed wedding chapels, originally flourishing because of less stringent license requirements. Even though it's easy to get married and divorced in almost every state, Nevada maintains a reputation as a great place for both—in real life and on screen.

Divorce brings Nevada two of its most famous titles, The Women (1939) and The Misfits (1961). Though filmed in California, The Women uses Reno as a setting for a group determined to establish Nevada residency and qualify for quick divorces—the favored way to do so right up through the 1960s, when The Misfits brought Marilyn Monroe to town. Settling into Reno to wait out her divorce time, Monroe gives one of her most enduring performances in her last completed film role.

Despite being the Divorce Capital, Nevada gets more screen time for its marriages, thriving on a reputation as a great place to go for a weekend wedding in a kitsch chapel. This trend continued into the new millennium, with couples as gorgeous as George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones using Las Vegas's Scottish themed chapel for their vows in Intolerable Cruelty (2003). Women who show up in Nevada planning on-screen vows include Sarah Jessica Parker with Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), Sally Field in Surrender (1987), Salma Hayek with Fools Rush In (1997), Charlize Theron for Waking Up in Reno (2002), Meg Ryan in Promised Land (1987), Annette Bening in What Planet Are You From (2000), and Greer Garson in Adventure (1945).

These women are often visiting the state. Residents have other challenges, like supporting themselves. Movies and television emphasize three basic jobs: dancer, singer and prostitute. Granted, there are forensic investigators like Marg Helgenberger's Catherine on C.S.I. (2000), but even her background includes a stint as an exotic dancer.

Of the dancers, the women of Showgirls (1995) may be the most famous—though for being part of a cult favorite whose appeal involves endless opportunities for ridicule. Respect shows up for Mary Steenbergen as a stripper in Melvin & Howard (1980), mostly because her performance was good enough to win a best-supporting-actress Oscar. Real-life dancers such as Cyd Charisse, Vanessa Williams, and Ann-Margret have shown their moves in the state for Dance With Me (1998), Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956), and Viva Las Vegas (1964).

Singers such as Bette Midler also work in Nevada, both on real-life stages and on screen. However, Midler's Jinxed (1982) proved an accurate title at the box office, despite her enthusiastic vocals. Whoopi Goldberg is also known to hit Nevada stages in real life, though as a comedian. Her work in Sister Act (1992) has her singing in a tiny lounge at Reno's Fitzgerald's Casino-Hotel. Singing by Dreamgirls (2006) is supposed to happen in Las Vegas, though it filmed out of state.

The state also provides job opportunities for a host of prostitutes, though most stories have them in Las Vegas or Reno, where they're subject to arrest. Whatever the location, playing a prostitute has often led to awards and nominations for actresses, and this holds true in Nevada where Sharon Stone won a Golden Globe for Casino (1995) and Elisabeth Shue got nominations for Leaving Las Vegas (1995). Jacqueline Bisset in The Grasshopper (1970), Sondra Locke in The Gauntlet (1977), Gwyneth Paltrow in Hard Eight (1996), and Annie Potts in Corvette Summer (1978) are among other actresses playing prostitutes illegally working the streets or casinos.

Legal brothel settings show up more rarely, as in the failed cable series The Ranch (2003). The show used a Canadian set for its operation, in contrast to HBO's reality series Cathouse (2002) which highlights the Moonlight Bunny Ranch and its staff. Generally though, screen versions of brothels and their girls stretch the imagination, like the private home in Diamonds (1999) where Lauren Bacall runs an operation that includes Jenny McCarthy.

Real life shows that these images of entertainers and romantics are limited given that many of Nevada's women have earned their fame as lieutenant governors, attorney general, secretaries of state, and state Supreme Court justices.

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