The Ingenue

Mary Pickford - an ingenue of  silent films
What is an Ingenue?
An ingenue is an innocent; a guileless girl-woman who has charm, physical appeal and general niceness but is unsullied by too much worldly knowledge. Ingenues have been a mainstay character-type in film, literature and theatre for as long as these mediums have been around. They represent the eternal ideal of the virtue in women; Eve before the apple incident.

The Ingenue in Films
In the silent film era ingenues were particularly prevalent. Ham-fisted story-lines tended to revolve around sweet, artless young women who were often being threatened by the corrupting influence and/or physical violence of a villain - they were variations on the old cliched theme of the innocent girl tied to the railroad track by the ghastly evildoer and is rescued, with seconds to spare, by the gallant actions of the male lead.

Of course as audiences became more sophisticated, so did plots and subtler versions of the ingenue appeared. Ingenues became involved in complex plots involving a range of dramas and situations, from gangsters to spy thrillers. Screwball comedies of the 1930s featured feisty, wisecracking ingenues with bags of sex-appeal yet who seemed strangely immune to sexual innuendo.

By the 1950s the ingenue enjoyed a particularly strong surge in popularity and a fine crop of ingenues appeared in that decade. Among them, a young French actress, Leslie Caron, who represented the perfect ingenue - equipped with an exquisitely pretty, child-like beauty and a dancer's hot body but devoid of any kind of knowing cynicism, malice or deceptiveness plus an adorable accent to boot. Films like Gigi and Lili  cemented Caron as an ingenue ideal.

A more contemporary example of the ingenue can be spotted in Anne Hathaway's character in The Devil Wears Prada. Hathaway plays an initially clueless PA, naive to the bitchy, backbiting ways of the fashion industry. Although she skates around the edges of glittering ambition, even as she succeeds, wises up to the corrupting ways of the world and has the potential to one day become as powerful and ruthless as her ambition-driven evil boss editor, in true ingenue tradition, she ultimately chooses to leave it all behind and retain her wholesome outlook. A good ingenue should never be permanently sullied.

Famous Ingenues in Film
Leslie Caron in "Lili" - the ideal ingenue
Mary Pickford
Lilian Gish

Irene Dunne
Claudette Colbert
Ginger Rogers
Janet Gaynor

Ingrid Bergman
Joan Fontaine
Jennifer Jones
Jane Wyman

Anne Baxter
Audrey Hepburn
Leslie Caron
Shirley MacLaine
Natalie Wood

Tuesday Weld
Sandra Dee
Mia Farrow
Sally Field
Goldie Hawn

Molly Ringwald
Winona Ryder
Drew Barrymore

Jane Hathaway
Natalie Portman
Rachel Macadams