Out of the Caves

For a year and a half in 1977/78, Doctor Who was accompanied on his travels by Leela (Louise Jameson), a warrior girl from a savage tribe, armed with knife, crossbow and poison thorns. Suffice to say that her attitude to violent conflict was a little at odds with the Doctor’s own.

And from a different angle:

Among the fantasies she provoked were the following interesting remarks in a specialist magazine which encouraged its readers to write in with lists of celebrities they would like to spank:

I have often wondered why Doctor Who has never spanked his assistant. As she is a primitive, she would surely accept a spanking.

It’s interesting in part because of the way the two sentences seem to be working at cross-purposes. In the first one, spanking scenes in fiction are assumed to be so straightforwardly normal a part of the modern world that it’s a baffling mystery when they don’t happen. (If you too have often wondered why Doctor Who never spanked his assistants, go here for the answer.) But the second sentence assumes that spanking belongs to a primitive culture, a normal part of Leela’s world rather than ours, so that she would find it ‘acceptable’ treatment as wouldn’t be the case if the Doctor were to spank a sophisticated modern woman like her illustrious predecessor, Sarah Jane.

What we’re really talking about here is cavemen. Early hominids were first known to archeology in the 1850s, at the same time as Darwin was doing his great work on evolution, but it wasn’t until the 1890s that the caveman became a recognizable figure in popular culture. From there on, people began to speculate what kind of lives these ancient ancestors might have led: what they wore (animal skins, of course), how they fed themselves (hunting woolly mammoths, of course) and how they handled the one piece of social interaction without which they couldn’t have become our ancestors – mating. As they were primitives, they would surely have lacked the kind of sophisticated social rituals used by modern man. So, it was reasoned, they didn’t bother with courtship, just bashed their women over the head with a club and dragged them back to the cave by their hair. Or something like that.

So in the first analysis, primitive mating was all about abduction and general brutish violence. But somewhere along the line, a much more modulated form of violence entered the equation. Here’s a slightly later illustration of caveman courtship:

Hence, decades later, the observation, ‘As she is a primitive, she would surely accept a spanking.’

By the second decade of the last century, the caveman’s rough way with women was starting to be applied to modern sexual psychology. The postulate was that cavemen beat their cavewomen, and that both parties enjoyed it. Some modern men still enjoy roughing up women, the argument continued, and this must be a survival from the primal past of our species. It follows that there should be corresponding tendencies in some modern women – in which case, an effective method of courtship might be to discard all the polite, gentlemanly behavior enjoined by the Victorians, and instead use what came to be called ‘caveman tactics’.

One early advocate of such methods was the Boston commercial artist and self-styled ‘cave man’ Gibbs Mason (1879-1937).

Much of his work lay in portraying beautiful women, often for magazine covers, and they are pictures typical of the time: sentimental, restrained, romantic. One piece he did for purposes of self-advertisement hints delicately at his awareness of the appeal of a certain area of the female anatomy…

which may start to account for the opinions he expressed, vigorously, in a 1921 interview with Muriel Caswall of the Boston Post:

Most women would be better for an occasional spanking. A little of the real cave man stuff would do them good. Men who are the most successful with women ‘treat ’em rough’. Women love ‘brutes’, though they won’t admit it. there are a lot of women I’d like to spank – so I could like them better. I don’t care how ‘ugly’ a woman may appear to others – if a man loves her, she is beautiful in his eyes, for true beauty resides in character and disposition. It’s a pity the pretty ones get spoiled – they might develop such fine beauty if it were properly ruled. But the trouble is, men are afraid to rule them. The worst cowardice in men is their fear of women. Nevertheless, I have actually heard more than one woman admit that she not only deserved to be spanked, but that she could never love any man who was afraid to spank her!

So there we have the fully articulated and decidedly non-progressive viewpoint of a modern ‘cave man’ of a century ago. Later the same year, Hollywood picked up on what was presumed to be the other side of the equation when 23-year-old comedienne Constance Talmadge began making a screenplay specially written for her by playwright Edgar Selwyn (1875-1944), which was provisionally entitled The Divorcee, but is better known to posterity as:

06 The Primitive Lover

I’ve discussed the film at length elsewhere, so we need only turn to the review in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette for a quick precis emphasizing the point that’s most salient for our discussion here:

She is shown as a girl craving not the ordinary lover, but one in the role of a cave-man. To say that she gets her heart’s desire is putting it mild, when one considers that, among other things, she is subjected to a sound spanking on the knee of her cave-man idol.

The censorship of the surviving print means we’ll probably never know how sound a spanking it really was, but there are two key things to bring out. The story is predicated on the notion that, for some modern young women, rough wooing is more effective, and more welcome, than polite courtship: as the caveman says in this advertisement, ‘We’ll show you how to treat them.’

07 Primitive Lover

And secondly, this ‘caveman’ treatment involves a lot of general masterful behavior, but also, and specifically, spanking.

Spanking was still ‘among other things’, as the Fort Wayne review put it, when the 1924 Harold Lloyd comedy Girl Shy explicitly referenced ‘cave man methods’ as the way to a flapper’s heart:

08 Girl Shy

Lloyd secures her love first by smashing the place up, and then by…

(You can read a more detailed account of the film here.)

But the balance was starting to shift. In the first half of the Twenties, the phrase ‘caveman tactics’ meant rough treatment, including spanking, whereas in the second half it was more likely to mean spanking and other rough treatment – a small but significant change of emphasis that led on to the supposition that spanking featured prominently in the culture of the cave.

We can illustrate the change with a film from just one year later: Exchange of Wives (1925), a seven-year-itch comedy adapted from a 1919 stage play by Cosmo Hamilton with almost but not quite the same title – An Exchange of Wives. One outcome of the swap is telegraphed in the publicity:

09 Exchange of Wives ad 1925

The story concerns a mismatched pair of couples, the Rathburns and the Morans. John Rathburn (Lew Cody) is a high-living gadabout, whereas his wife Margaret is a virtuous ‘square’, though you might think Eleanor Boardman was miscast in the role when you see how she allowed herself to be photographed in 1918:

You can take that as compensation for the fact that, despite rumors to the contrary, only one of the wives gets spanked, and it’s not her. No, that fate will be coming only to flirty, flighty Elise Moran, played by French actress Renée Adorée.

She’s married to a homebody, Victor (Creighton Hale), and, to quote the Detroit Free Press, ‘Her only complaint against her husband is that he is too much of a gentleman and not enough of a cave man. She likes ’em rough.’

Exchange of WIves

The two couples set about resolving their marital difficulties by arranging to swap for a week, with certain censor-placating rules concerning sex, or rather abstinence therefrom. This is where Margaret comes into her own: she may be dull, but she’s a hell of a cook, and John begins to miss his gastronomic pleasures after a few days of the canned food that is the height of Elise’s culinary prowess; eventually he sneaks home to steal some of his wife’s pie from the fridge. Meanwhile, Victor is frustrated by Margaret’s aloofness, and comes to realize exactly what Elise needs from him:

As the Detroit review puts it, ‘At the end of the week, the men are desperate, and a reconciliation takes place, but not before the gentleman had turned cave man and given his wife a spanking she deserved and longed for.’

So the meaning of being a modern caveman is narrowing, and if we turn the clock forward eight years, into the early sound era, we find it has become even more specific. Our example is the adventure drama When Strangers Marry (1933), starring Jack Holt and English actress Lilian Bond.

Shortly before making the film, Lilian expressed a wish to play more spirited parts than she had recently been getting. It’s tempting to suppose that she might have been thinking of her recent work on the comedy Hot Pepper, in which she plays a rather uptight hustler and Lupe Velez gets all the attention in the firecracker of a title role, not to mention also getting a good spanking in her first scene. And if Lilian had designs on anything similar, the part of spoiled heiress Marian Drake certainly gave her the opportunity for an energetic performance, not to mention a good spanking in her first scene.

It happens when Marian buys the exclusive use of a Paris nightclub for the evening, and orders the patrons who are already there to leave. One of them is engineer Steve Rand (Holt), there to celebrate his last night in Europe before he leaves to build a railroad in the Far East, and he declines to go at her command. So he gets his face slapped and, as the Honolulu Advertiser put it, ‘the young lady receives a sound spanking’.

Lilian perhaps had cause to regret the energy she put into her performance. For the face slap, she really gave it her all. So Jack Holt really gave it his all in the reciprocal spanking – which was considerably more than he gave it when he spanked Nancy Carroll five years earlier in The Water Hole. ‘Fortunately Lilian was supposed to howl, and howl she did,’ wrote a reporter who was on set. ‘It wasn’t necessary to retake the scene.’ Lucky for Lilian?

It is indeed a most vigorous performance, far more than you might think from the alternate footage used in the trailer, the only easily accessible part of the film today – and that, incidentally, belies the story that it was all done in one take. The publicity made much of just how hard a spanking it is:

16 When Strangers Marry ad

And that’s appropriate, because the spanking is the motivating factor in the whole unlikely story. When Steve tells her he’s going to Java, she asks him what he’s going to do there – spank people? In fact, it’s a rankling spanking! So she takes a strange revenge: gets him drunk, marries him and joins him in Java. The problem is that he has no memory of the marriage, only of what happened beforehand: ‘You’re the lady I spanked once in Paris, and unless I’m much mistaken you’re a lady I’m going to spank again in a Malay jungle.’ She convinces him not to send her home (or spank her), but the marriage seems doomed; she later admits that she’s a failure as a wife, and tells him that he should spank her again. In the end, she saves his life – but only by disobeying his express orders not to go into the jungle. And that means the film ends the same way it began – with a spanking!

Well, not quite the same way. The first spanking is hostile, energetic and reputedly bottom-reddening (even though the movie of course has no nudity and is in black and white). And that’s to establish a contrast with the second time around, when Steve says once again that he ought to spank her, and she asks him to go ahead: once she has been spanked, she will know that she is forgiven. So what she gets this time is much less severe, described by one reviewer as mere ‘love-taps’. But it is a second spanking scene, making this one of only two films in which the same girl is spanked twice. (The other is Beauty and the Bandit, with Gilbert Roland and Ramsey Ames, though it’s also a reasonable inference that Joan Crawford gets a second hairbrush spanking from Clark Gable immediately after the end of Forsaking All Others.)

So this is a story which is, at least in part, about Marian Drake getting spanked. In fact, she ultimately admits that’s why she really came to Java: to get another spanking, because she liked the first one so much. And the Honolulu review sums it up, and brings us to the point, when it says, specifically about that first spanking: ‘It is back to the caveman days when women were won with a club.’

That’s it, then: the cavemen spanked their women, and the cavewomen accepted and liked it! But was it really that simple? I don’t mean in prehistoric times, about which we have really no way of knowing, but the way our more recent forebears imagined those prehistoric times. We shall be thinking about that next week in the second part of this article.

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