According to the Wikipedia Dictionary:
A "battle-axe" is a term, generally considered pejorative, for an aggressive, domineering and forceful woman.
The prime example was the militant temperance activist Carrie Nation, who wielded a hatchet and made it her symbol, living in Hatchet Hall and publishing a magazine called The Hatchet.
She became involved in the suffragette campaign for votes for women and this campaign further established the archetype.
Synonyms, according to the Thesaurus: Hag, Harridan, Old Bag, Biddy, Fishwife, Harpy, Shrew, Crone, Beldam....
That pretty much covers it.
The "Battle-Axe" has pretty much been a staple of movies and television since the beginning of talkies.
They have been exclusively female.
I can't, for the life of me, think of a male battle-axe.
Battle-axes have become a dying breed.
Perhaps they have become politically incorrect.
God, I hope not.
They have been God's gift to comedy.
When Carol Ann Susi, who provided the unseen voice of Mrs. Wolowitz on "The Big Bang Theory", recently passed away, and Chuck Lorre killed off the character, it may have marked the death-knell of the battle-axe as we know it.
I loved Mrs. Wolowitz.
Just as I loved every battle-axe who preceded her.
This series of articles will be an extended traipsing down Battle-Axe Memory Lane.
I'd like to ask you to please refrain from posting suggestions of anyone I've left out until I announce that the series of articles has ended.
Thank you for your cooperation in advance.
Where to begin? Chronologically, I guess.
The earliest notable example of a battle-axe in the movies that I can recall is Mae Busch.
Mae Busch was probably most popularized as the punch-line for Jackie Gleason's character, Stanley R. Sogg, the pitchman for the Late, Late, Late, Late Late, Late, Late Show.
As it went to "commercial break", Gleason would say something like "We'll return to our film, the classic "Hello,Annapolis",
starring Dick Foran, Larry Parks, Thurston Hall, El Brendel, and the ever-popular Mae Busch".
"The ever-popular Mae Busch" always got a huge laugh.
Then Gleason would go into a litany of pitches for various products, invariably ending with "For each order you place, you will receive, at no extra charge, a three pound wedge of Fatchamarra's Matzaroni Cheese".
If any of this sounds familiar, it's because Johnny Carson directly stole this routine, almost verbatim, when he did Art Fern, the host of the "Tea-Time Movie".
Gleason even had the equivalent of the Matinee Lady.
Except I think he had like three or four of them at once.
Mae Busch specialized in being the battle-axe wife of Oliver Hardy, her hen-pecked husband, in the Laurel and Hardy movies.
Most notably "Sons of the Desert".
She was the hen who did the pecking.
After being particularly miffed at him, for good reason, she would hurl crockery at him that smashed all around him.
She'd hit him over the head with a rolling pin.
Hardy was never injured by any of this, which is what made it palatable.
There was absolutely nothing soft or sensitive about Mae Busch.
That's what made it work. Big time.
Even before she was the Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton played hatched-faced, battle-axe schoolteachers, housekeepers, telephone operators, and secretaries, playing the foil to W.C.Fields on a couple of occasions.
Her battle-axe status was so ingrained that, in the late seventies, when I saw the L.A. company of Sondheim's "A Little Night Music", and Hamilton appeared in the role created by Hermione Gingold, it was an utter travesty.
Hermione Gingold may have been many things, but she was never a battle-axe
Could you imagine Hamilton and Maurice Chevalier singing the duet "I Remember It Well" from "Gigi"?
Neither could I.
And that was the equivalent of what I saw when she was in "A Little Night Music".
But boy, when she played the hatchet-faced battle-axe everywhere else, she was in a class by herself.
She was virtually untouched.
And she did it in scores and scores of movies.
We have many more battle-axes to discuss as we proceed.
Again, please no suggestions until I finish the entire series.
My books ,"Show Runner" and it's sequel, "Show Runner Two", can be found at the Amazon Kindle Store.
Along with the newer ones, "The Man Is Dead", and "Report Cards".
They are all compilations of blog entries that have since been removed from the blog.
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You can search by typing in my name, Cindy Williams, Laverne and Shirley, The Odd Couple, or Happy Days.
Check them out.
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- mark rothman
- Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."