July 18, 2011

Vassar Media


Welcome to the Vassar Media gallery.

Shortly after graduating Vassar in 1995, I started to note how often Vassar was mentioned in film and television.  But unlike other oft-referenced, well-known schools such as Harvard or Yale, which are frequently used to denote a character as elite or intelligent, invoking Vassar tended to imply something more.

As the best-known women’s college, the Vassar label was used to reflect a number of different things—wealth, intelligence, and good breeding, to be sure, but also beauty and sexual desirability. Attaching the Vassar label to a character was frequently a punchline—the easy joke was to attach the label to a man—but it could also stand for a woman’s sexuality, or even quite the opposite: a demure and virginal embodiment of elite womanhood.  Many jokes deal with gender roles, or with the idea of men ogling the beautiful women at Vassar.

In later years, the label could also be used to peg someone as a radical feminist. And once depictions of homosexuality onscreen became more commonplace, we begin to see some gay characters (men and women) with Vassar backgrounds.   (And the overall frequency with which the college is mentioned increases heavily in the 80s and 90s, no doubt as some of Vassar’s graduates were beginning to occupy television writing staffs.)

This video gallery showcases the iconography of the Vassar girl (and guy). The nearly 200 clips assembled here cover films and television programs released between 1926 and today. The scenes are set from the 1870s (Gunsmoke) to the 31st century (Futurama).  One (Rosalie) even has a long sequence set at Vassar. They cover genres from kids’ shows to hardcore pornography.  A remarkable number of police procedurals, including 10 Law & Order episodes, have mentioned the college.  Vassar has been sung about by Elvis, Julie Andrews, Ann-Margret, Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, and Ginger Rogers, among others; joked about by Bob Hope, Woody Allen, Lou Abbott, Cedric the Entertainer, Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Groucho Marx, and John Wayne, among others; and referenced as a place to aspire to attend in everything from A Letter to Three Wives to the The Hebrew Hammer.

The clips are assembled on the next pages in chronological order, except where multiple episodes of a tv show mention it over a few years; in that case, I’ve edited the pieces of the various episodes together and placed the compilation at the year of the first reference.

An alphabetical list appears in the sidebar to the left. You can also review the genre index and star index to find the clips of greatest interest to you. And a page listing novels, plays, music and other media with references to Vassar is also available.  I have not included news or documentary-film references to the college or its graduates, but reality tv and game shows, as entertainment programming, do qualify.

I apologize for the variable quality of the video and audio levels here—my skills and video-editing software are rudimentary, and many of the clips were nearly impossible to find and had to be transferred from VHS cassette to a digital format.

I owe a large debt to my many dozens of correspondents who for more than a decade have pointed me to various movies and television episodes with references. Each is thanked on the clips they alerted me to.

In the very rare instances where I have not been able to locate a clip, I have written up what I know about the scene and included it in the gallery.  I also sometimes received non-specific tips where I have no idea what episode of a particular show has the reference (or even if it’s there at all), and several tips that didn’t turn out to be correct. All of my notes on this are collected on this page—if you can supply any additional information, please let me know.

Send all tips to daezer1973@gmail.com.

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Have fun browsing the gallery!