“It is not enough, if you want to be liked, if you want to be loved, to be merely good. You also have to fight for the good things you want. You have to compete with other girls. What’s more you have to make up your mind to win. Otherwise you’ll not have your pick of the best boys. You’ll only have what’s left over.”
Once Upon a Dream: A Personal Chat with All Teenagers, 1960
By Patti Page
About the Book: Patti Page opens up about her own weaknesses and insecurities as she tells young fans her Cinderella story–a story that transformed Clara Ann Fowler, “that shy, overfed, part Cherokee choir singer from Claremore, Oklahoma,” into a “Singing Rage.” (Although a Cinderella motif pervades the book, the title references a song from Walt Disney’s 1959 film Sleeping Beauty.)
As we’ve seen before in this series, celebrity-written advice books for teens proliferated in the 1950s and early 1960s. While I always wonder how much the celebrities actually “wrote,” I found this book’s voice consistent and believable.
About Patti Page: All I knew about Patti Page going into this book was that she sang “How Much is That Doggie in the Window?” and “The Tennessee Waltz.” The latter was one of the best-selling songs of all time, and Page was the top-selling female artist in the 1950s.
Her rags-to-riches story had a genuinely ragged start—she was the 10th of 11 children, and money was so scarce that she sometimes went to school barefoot. In this book, she tells a moving story about the time she wanted a Mickey Mouse watch so badly that she made one out of paper.
She made up her mind to escape poverty and began to plan for a career as a commercial artist. She took a job making posters at a Tulsa radio station, soon found herself performing on the air whenever they needed a girl singer, and was “discovered” when band manager Jack Rael passed through town and heard her voice on the radio.
To her teenage readers, Page presents herself as shy and insecure, with ongoing weight issues. She talks about a period in her life when she burst into tears after every performance, and she uses the language of psychoanalysis freely.
She writes a lot about her husband, choreographer Charles O’Curran, whom she married in 1956. She doesn’t mention that she had an earlier, short-lived marriage, or that she was O’Curran’s third wife (Betty Hutton was his second). Page and O’Curran would divorce in 1972.
I’ve chosen some of Page’s sillier-sounding statements to feature here, but this book actually gives plenty of good advice. She encourages girls to be themselves, to care about others, and to develop their minds. Though she has a typically 1950s obsession with “femininity,” she advises girls against playing dumb and against letting boys get in the way of their dreams. She even manages to talk about religion without sounding preachy.
Today, at 85, Page is still performing.
Quotes from Once Upon a Dream: Inner and Outer Beauty
“Charm is simply the art of being pleasing…charm is the magic wand that can transform an ugly duckling into a princess, or a shy quiet type into the belle of the ball.”
“The girl who thinks she can get by with an overweight figure by calling attention to her face is only fooling herself. Eventually people notice her figure too. In the same way, the gayest of hats will not make up for a shabby pair of shoes. A tight-fitting sweater is a poor substitute for a bad complexion. No matter how elaborately you do your hair, which may be your good feature, how long do you really think it will keep people from noticing your teeth, which may not be so good?”
Examples that prove personality is more important than beauty: Helen Hayes, Lynn Fontanne, Katharine Cornell, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman. (“True, they’re older now than when they first rose to fame on Broadway, but even in their youth they were never what we might call great beauties.”)
“Once a week…is usually enough to keep the average girl’s hair clean. Thursday or Friday night’s the best time to do it—so you’re all set to look your best for the week-end.” Ew. If I followed this schedule, even as a middle-aged woman, my scalp could help America achieve energy independence.
“If you’re young and healthy, your eyes have enough sparkle and fire without needing any ‘extra added attractions.’ Besides, if you’re an adolescent, you’re mysterious enough. Mascara and eye shadow would make you positively inscrutable.”
“It’s impossible to apply rouge so that it looks natural on tender young cheeks…If you feel you’ve absolutely no color at all, I’d rather you pinched your cheeks—as grandmother used to. After all, she got her man.”
“A lipstick should not only blend with your own coloring but with the color of your dress.”
“The more inconspicuous your clothes, the better. “You don’t want them to distract attention from you. (It is only older women who tend to wear startling colors and daring designs to make up for tired faces and bad figures.)” She’s starting to hurt my feelings now.
Getting Along with Boys
“If you can’t be empathetic, at least be observant, especially when it comes to boys. It’s not so hard to figure out what gives them pleasure and what makes their hair stand on end.”
“Very often, for women especially, conversational ability is only a talent for listening rather than for talking. Of all the women I know, the one I have most often heard described as a brilliant conversationalist scarcely says a world. But when she sits listening to a man, she looks at him as intently as though he were first man she had ever met, and as though speech were something he had just invented.”
“Passion is violence. It is loss of reason. It is a loss of control so complete that it’s too late to say yes, no, or maybe…So the only way to handle an invitation to passion is to say No! And make the reason for your no a moral one.”
“…at one time, a woman’s greatest pride before marriage was in her chastity. It was proof she was good and pure in heart. It meant she had something precious and rather wonderful to give to the one man of her choice. But to take away this pride in virtue and to joke, as some people do, about virginity is to cheapen something rather wonderful. To indulge in sex as a biological act, rather than an expression of love, is to strip a woman’s life of dignity, meaning, and fulfillment.”
“For all their teasing and loose talk, boys—and men, too—are really looking for a girl with the courage to have standards and the wisdom to say no. It’s true, if you say no, there’s a chance you’ll never see the young man again. But there’s an even greater chance he’ll ask you to marry him.”
“There are, so far as I know, only two types of males who don’t resent an aggressive female, and I don’t think you want either of them. One is the vain ladies’ man who waits for girls to call him. He appreciates each call. It’s a tribute, he feels, to his irresistible charms. But this type of man is incapable of love. He can love only himself. The second is the weakling type, with a domineering mother, who likes girls who take charge because they remind him of his mother.”
About the kind of girl who’s a pal to boys: “This type of girl, like most people on earth, eventually does get married. It isn’t necessarily a romantic marriage. In fact, it’s usually a sensible one. But it works because both husband and wife are comfortable.”
“If you will just remember that woman’s traditional role is to help a man make something of himself, you will realize that there is always the chance that you can help the drip of today become the man of the moment tomorrow.”
“When you’re shopping for a dress, do you like to have three to choose from or thirty? Well, it seems to me that choosing a husband is a much more vital decision. And how can a girl be sure she’s making the right choice if she only knows the three or four boys she’s gone steady with?”
“And necking, contrary to popular belief, is not a way to hold a boy—it’s a sure way to lose him. No boy values anything that is too easily won. What’s more, nothing remains static. Necking either develops into something more, after a while, or it dies. Either way, you stand a good chance of the boy’s losing interest in you.”
Marriage and Femininity
“My advice to you is to have a career—not instead of marriage but before it. A career is not only, in my opinion, your best preparation for marriage, but the most enjoyable way to pass the time until you’re over 21 and ready for marriage.”
“…your generation seems to know—at a much younger age than I ever did—that for a truly feminine woman, the only true answer to life is a marriage based on true love.”
On keeping her weight down: “…it’s no longer a matter of professional pride alone. Loving my husband, I have also learned what it means to be a woman. So it’s now a matter of personal pride—the pride of a woman who is loved—that I be as pleasing as I can to my husband. (And my husband just doesn’t happen to like overweight women.)”
“…many men in enumerating the qualities they expect of the ideal woman or the model wife say, ‘Above all she must have a soft voice.’”
An interesting quote, considering that she and her husband had both been married before: “Divorce takes a terrible emotional toll. Something that is sweet and lovely and trusting seems to vanish forever from your life. Sure, you can make a second, more sensible marriage, but it won’t be the romance the first one was when you had the thrill of sharing that first apartment, that first ice cube, maybe even that first baby.” First ice cube?
“…the only way to get a man to come home every night and want to stay there is simply to make your home the place where he enjoys himself the most.”
“I think you’ll find, when your married, that it isn’t nearly so important for you to be interesting as it is to make your husband feel that he’s interesting.”
“The main purpose of marriage, which some people forget, is not just to find someone to share a life with, it’s to raise children. This is why you were born, and why you used to play with dolls.”
“I read somewhere that 60 percent of American husbands get their own breakfasts while their wives stay in bed. To me, this is a sign of trouble…How can (a wife) expect her husband’s continued love if she won’t even get up when he does and see him off to work?”
If you enjoyed this post, take a look at the whole Weird Words of Wisdom series.
And, if you want to see Page in action, here is a 1956 episode of The Patti Page Show.