On the History of the Evil Blond—and Eight of our Favorites

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
April 14 2011 6:08 PM

On the History of the Evil Blond—and Eight of our Favorites

ThisSunday, HBO debuts its widely anticipated new series, Game of Thrones . Of the many characters jockeying for power in this epicfantasy, the most seductive are the Lannister twins, Cersei and Jaime. In GeorgeR. R. Martin's books, the siblings are described as "tall and golden, withflashing green eyes and [smiles] that cut like a knife." Without giving awaytoo much, let's just say their blond beauty belies some serious brutality.

Cersei Lannister—asplayed in the HBO series by Lena Headey*—is just the latest incarnation of thedangerous, and dangerously tempting, blonde. In her book On Blondes , JoannaPitman explains how blondes—of the distaff variety, anyway—have been associatedwith sexual allure since at least ancient Greece, thanks to the love goddess Aphroditeand her golden hair. In the misogynistic Middle Ages, when sex and women were equallysuspect, the sinful blond seductress became a common trope; Eve the scheming temptresswas often depicted with fair, flowing locks.

But evilblonds come in other flavors, too. And as Juliet Lapidos noted in her history of the "dumb blonde," fairhair connotes youth—since children are much more likely to be natural blondsthan adults are—and, therefore, innocence. The fairy tales of Perrault andGrimm, for example, are full of heroines whose golden hair signals their "youth,innocence, purity, and cleanliness," as Pitman writes. Two types of evilblonds find their roots here: In one direction, the villain whose sunny hairand sweet disposition mask a black and wicked heart. In the other, the baddiewhose chiseled, healthy good looks echo those of the 20 th century's real-life nightmare blonds .

Fromthese basic archetypes, pop culture has spun a thousand and one blood-chillingiterations. In honor of the Lannister twins, Brow Beat has put together thispantheon of our favorite evil blonds. Who else would you nominate forinclusion?

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withKaty Waldman, Elizabeth Weingarten, and Jessica Leader


Life-in-death, Samuel Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798)

InColeridge's famous poem, Life-in-Death is a ghostly woman who appears with Death on the deck of anotherworldly ship, engaging him in a dice game for the fates of the strandedsailors. Coleridge writes:

Her lips were red, her looks werefree,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Nightmare Life-in-Death wasshe,
Who thicks man's blood with cold. 

Thisblonde's soul-sucking beauty carries with it more than a whiff of decay. LikeKeats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci or one of Bram Stoker's vampireladies, Life-in-Death may seem at first like a potential love object, but takeup with her and you'll live to regret it. TheRime of the Ancient Mariner doesn't exactly have a happy ending, yet ourblonde does teach the seaman a valuable lesson:

He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small.

(In other words, don't shoot atalbatrosses). 

Phyllis Dietrichson, Double Indemnity (1944)

Bewitchinglysexy, dirty-blond Phyllis uses her bodacious body for evil. Walter Neff, hertarget, leads a normal life as an insurance salesman until he meets her.Phyllis flirts with him until he loses control and surrenders to her desires—namely,to help kill her husband and make his death look like an accident, so Phylliscan cash in on double the worth of his insurance policy. Later, Phyllis revealsher multi-faceted wickedness: She's cheating on Neff. When he confronts her,she shoots him (he recovers, and shoots her twice for the kill). If she wasn'tso evil, Phyllis might be an early feminist of sorts: She submits to no one,and knows how to pull a trigger. 

 

RhodaPenmark , The Bad Seed (1956)

Asevidenced by the popularity of TheExorcist and The Shining , creepychildren arehorror movie gold, and The Bad Seed cashes in with the chillingly evil Rhoda Penmark. Rhoda (Patty McCormack) is abutton-nosed eight year old whose blond pigtails paint a picture of cherubicinnocence. But after she murders a classmate (by bludgeoning him with a pair oftap shoes) and kills a janitor by setting him on fire, Rhoda's mother realizeswhat her daughter really is. She slips her daughter a lethal dose of sleepingpills and attempts suicide herself. While in the book and stage versions of The Bad Seed , the mother dies and Rhoda survives, theHays Code wasn'tabout to let that fly on film. The movie ends with the mother recovering in thehospital and Rhoda dying after a freak lightening accident. A few years later, Village of the Damned would reiteratejust how freaky a dead-eyed, blond cutie could be by conjuring up a whole townfull of them.

JohnnyLawrence, The Karate Kid (1984)

JohnnyLawrence is the villain of the original KarateKid , and a textbook instance of the golden boy gone wrong. The star pupilat Cobra Kai dojo, he practices a vicious method of karate predicated on themotto, "The enemy deserves no mercy." Johnny beats newcomer Daniel LaRusso sosavagely that karate master Mr. Miyagi needs to intervene, adopting Daniel ashis pupil so that he can learn to defend himself. With his sun-kissed featuresand athletic build, Johnny has nothing to prove (at least outwardly). His formof might-makes-right brutality is a perverse expression of physicalexuberance—one that is straightened out and redeemed at the end of the film,when Johnny finds a more ethical karate teacher. 

 

Catherine Tramell , BasicInstinct (1992)

In her career-making performance as blondbombshell Catherine Tramell, Sharon Stone made cinema history by simply crossing and uncrossingher legs . When her boyfriend is found dead and naked in bed,Tramell, a seductive novelist, becomes the main suspect. She tantalizes theinvestigators, starts a torrid affair with the head detective, and manages toget away with murder—literally. Oh, and she kills men with ice picks—whileshe's having sex with them . Tramell is the classic femme fatale, butwith a twist: Not only is she manipulative and seductive, but unlike her earliernoir sisters, she is never punished for her crimes.

Peyton Flanders, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992)

Deranged and out for revenge, strawberry-blond Peyton Flanders is on a mission to destroy the Bartelsfamily. Claire Bartels blew the whistle on Peyton's molester husband, a gynecologist who latercommitted suicide. Onceshe convinces the Bartels to hire her by pretending to save baby Joey fromchoking (actually, she put the back of an earring in his mouth), Peytonattempts to pit each member of the family against one another and hatches aplan to murder Claire. Like many of her malicious blond counterparts, Peyton doesn't look evil .It's her innocent schoolgirl veneer that makes her behavior even moreappalling.

 

DracoMalfoy, the Harry Potter series (1997-2007)

Weak-willedand ferrety, Draco Malfoy's lack of coloring matches his lack of conviction.He's a good nemesis for dark haired, independent Harry Potter—he sneers; hesnarls; sometimes he runs to his parents for backup. While Malfoy is obnoxious,it's not always clear that he has it in him to be truly evil—he specializes incheating, lying, and other forms of schoolboy sabotage, which often leave Harryin detention or nursing minor injuries. As the franchise descends into darkerthemes, sickly Draco can't quite keep up with a new set of truly evilevildoers. He's the type of kid—delicate, ambitious, furious—who fights dirtybecause he'd lose otherwise. (Meanwhile, his coldhearted father Lucius is asflaxen as he is devious). 

ReginaGeorge , Mean Girls (2004)

Reginais beautiful and spiteful—a tow-haired Queen of Darkness who likes spreadingrumors, manipulating guys, and humiliating her so-called friends. She almostsucceeds in remaking heroine Cady Stanton in her own backstabbing image.Despite her cruelty, Regina and her minions, the Plastics, are widelyworshipped: It takes a bus and a school-wide anti-bullying workshop to breaktheir reign of terror. But maybe calling Regina "evil" goes against the messageof the film, which is that girls need to stop labeling each other slut , freak , evil bitch , etc.After all, all Regina really needed to become a functioning member of societywas to join the field hockey team.   

Update, Apr.15: This post originally misspelled the last name of actress Lena Headey. 

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Nina Shen Rastogi is a writer and editor, and is also the vice president for content at Figment.

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