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Lottie Da 

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Lottie Da says every woman's fantasy is to be either a nun or a slut. "I always wanted to be a prostitute. That was my fantasy life. But I never was--because I didn't need to be," she concludes.

Da's philosophy about womanhood is more well-thought-out than it sounds. She has spent a lifetime studying "bad" women, and she's spent the last several years specifically studying the way women are portrayed in movies. And about a year ago she came out with a coffee table book called Bad Girls of the Silver Screen.

"It took 13 years for me to get my book published," says Da, who has a master's degree in English literature from San Jose State University. "At first my writing was so dry, so academic. I needed a writer to help me. It was a blow to think that I needed help writing--but the idea, the concepts were so important, I looked for someone to help."

Lottie Da, the former Lottie Jo Meyers, a graduate of South Shore High School and the University of Illinois at Chicago (when it was still called Circle), says her interest in prostitutes and other "bad girl" characters in the movies began in her teens in the 60s, when she spent time living in the Playboy mansion. She was bored on the south side, and during excursions to Rush Street and the beach she met some Lake View High School girls who knew Hugh Hefner. One day Hef's assistant Bobbie Arnstein called Lottie and invited her to a party. "Hef told me after that that if I bought my own cigarettes and food, I could stay with him as long as I wanted."

Da says she never had sex with him. "I was a virgin. I was a voyeur. Seeing all these gorgeous and glamorous girls with these older men, and Hefner's attitude toward some bunnies that 'If you don't do it, you're out,' led to my interest in [women having] sex for gain--not for love, but for gain," she says.

It is apparent that Da was once attractive, but her life has taken a toll on her looks. Beneath the short remnants of strawberry blond are long gray roots, and on her short, round, solid body she wears an old puffy, synthetic winter coat and a knit cap.

"I never realized how many hookers were in movies. So many social values are taught to women subliminally through movies. My mother always taught me to say no, but movies told me to say maybe--to flirt, to be provocative."

After graduating from UIC, she spent one week as a clerical worker and then followed her rich boyfriend to San Jose. "He had a lot of money, so I didn't have to work," she says. "He paid for grad school."

There she legally changed her name to Lottie Da. "I always liked the [musical] scale, and then the four-year-old daughter of one of my instructors started calling me 'La ti da,' and I thought 'I like that,' so...I changed my name. I needed a new identity."

Eventually she met Peter Whigham, a professor of British literature who had written 18 books of poetry. They married and he took the name "Da" as well. Their literary circle in Marin County, California, included Alan Watts. One night Margo St. James, who founded Coyote, a prostitutes' rights group, came to dinner and asked Lottie to work for her.

"She needed someone to go to the jail in San Francisco at five in the morning to help the girls, many who were underage, get out of jail," says Da. "Peter loved it. He'd drop me off and there was a bar he liked to go to where the garbagemen and journalists drank." (Da and Whigham later divorced, and he was subsequently killed in a car accident.)

Da learned a lot about "bad girl" images from St. James. They organized a prostitutes' convention in Monte Carlo and a Hookers Film Festival in San Francisco. "The newspapers wouldn't use the name, and the fire department picketed us," says Da.

In the course of organizing the festival, Da began collecting film photos and meeting people on the international film scene (by this time she'd inherited money from an uncle and had traveled around the world), and she found she was becoming knowledgeable about "bad girl" images in the movies, from the early part of the century up to the present. Friends helped her make slides and videos from her growing collection of photos, and she began lecturing. She desperately wanted to transfer her developing ideas into a book.

In her research, Da came across books on the subject of sex in the cinema, but says they dealt with things like fetishists--"people who like kissing feet and toes." No one, she says, had put together any scholarly interpretations or commentaries dealing with subjects like pre-1920 white slave films, or 1950s "hard-core triple-X-rated porn, which consisted of women in black bras and garter belts spanking each other." Da found that no one had published anything on how film images of women who are "tainted" influence men's perceptions of women and women's concepts of themselves.

In other words, her work was cut out for her. The book, written with Jan Alexander and graced with a picture of Marlene Dietrich, was published by Carroll & Graf in late 1989 and is selling well, particularly in Europe.

Da says in the course of her work she did a lot of "disentangling clues within films"--films like Breakfast at Tiffany's. "I saw that movie when I was 10 or 11," she says. "I wanted to be a party girl like her. But dissect the movie--go ahead, dissect it--and you can see she was really sleeping around for money. Where did she get that $50?

"In the end, bad girls in movies either get punished or get reformed. They don't stay bad." Da says that in the past, bad girls got punished by ending up sick in the hospital, sometimes with syphilis or gonorrhea. "Today, they might end up with AIDS." But in real life, she says, women who sleep around for gain and not for love often end up very successful--"as real estate moguls or public relations specialists."

"Now marriage--that can be considered 'reform' for a bad girl in a movie, but it can also be punishment. In Pretty Woman, she reformed. But there was another ending to Pretty Woman that had her being punished that the studio said no to. She ended up back on the streets, this time taking drugs. Movies want a formula, and there is a structure, a dramatic form that makes them tend toward the simplistic, the one-dimensional." Movies give "subtle clues about life that are wrong."

TV sends the same messages, she says. "Marlene Dietrich wearing pants and red lipstick then is like Madonna wearing lace underwear today. Movies make things acceptable....They say that certain kinds of stereotypical visual patterns make someone a bad girl.

"When I lecture about this, it becomes a revelation for people. Women nod because they know what I'm talking about. But men don't know why they equate things like red lipstick and long red fingernails with a 'loose' impression and expectations when they meet a woman at a bar. They shake their heads, and they say, 'Gee, I never thought of that before.'...It's men's idea to separate good women from bad women, you know."

Until a few weeks ago, Lottie Da was at home in Hyde Park with her mom, working out a lot at Women's Workout World and deciding what to do next with her life: visit a boyfriend in Malaysia, take a pleasure trip with a girlfriend to Vietnam, meet with a newspaper publisher in Bombay to get some Indian press, work for a movie director in Bangkok, set up a nationwide lecture tour with a British madam, or stay home and work on the postcard pack, the paperback version, and the sequel to her book. She didn't pick any of these; instead, she went to Hong Kong.

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