December 19th marks 37 years since the release of 9 to 5, the cult comedy that brought together Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin with Dolly Parton in her film debut as Miss Doralee Rhodes, a kind-hearted secretary who fantasizes about lassoing her "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" boss and roasting him on a spit.
Tomlin stars as Violet Newstead, a working widow and mother of four who's passed over for promotions despite her obvious qualifications. The project was conceived of by Jane Fonda, who was inspired by the work of Karen Nussbaum, an old friend from the anti-war movement and founder of 9to5, an organization still in the business of advocating for working women. Fonda cast herself as the uncharacteristically mousy Judy Bernly, a nervous divorcee who can't figure out who she is, never mind how to run the copy machine. Sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot boss Franklin Hart Jr. is played to smarmy mustachioed perfection by Dabney Coleman.
The plot of 9 to 5 feels nothing short of radical, even (and perhaps especially) today. Mr. Hart spends his days harassing Doralee by telling her she's much more to him than "just a dumb secretary." He lies about sleeping with her, and purposefully knocks pencils on the floor so she'll lean over and pick them up. He insults Judy, and bullies Violet by demanding she fix his coffee. After learning she lost out on a promotion to a man she trained, Violet confronts Mr. Hart. "Spare me the women's lib crap," he replies.
Mr. Hart is soon made to pay. After a coworker gets canned for comparing salaries — technically a protected activity since the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 — Violet, Judy and Dolly head to the bar to drown their sorrows in birdbath-sized martinis, smoke a joint and spin revenge fantasies about their boss. The next day, Violet accidentally stirs rat poison into Mr. Hart's coffee. Hijinks ensue, and eventually they kidnap him.
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