Laura Holt: In Honor of an Empowering Classic TV Heroine

Laura Holt: In Honor of an Empowering–and Itchy–Classic TV Heroine

For the grand occasion of this, Women’s History Month, the Feminist Sexpert honors one of the first fictional heroines who gave women across the country full permission to feel capable. Intelligent. Empowered. And itchy.

Known primarily today as ‘that one TV series that Pierce Brosnan did before he played James Bond,’ the 1980s TV series Remington Steele holds equal cultural significance as one of the first mainstream network shows to present female viewers with a brilliant, powerful career woman heroine who had brains, grit–and hormones.

Laura Holt, portrayed by the fantastic Stephanie Zimbalist, was a private detective who, despite training thoroughly for her craft and showing amazing logic and intuition in the solving of various cases (not to mention a mean right hook, when the situation calls for it), is unable to draw clients to her newly opened agency. Why? Well, basically and essentially, because she has a vagina. That’s right; Laura finds that few people wish to enlist the services of a female private detective–so she puts her creativity to work and conjures the identity of a fictional male supervisor–a gentleman known as Remington Steele.

The plan works well until a gorgeous, mysterious Englishman (played by Pierce Brosnan, one of my first and longest running crushes) mysteriously appears in Laura’s life–a handsome stranger with an unknown past, who falls into Laura’s life and soon becomes the very fetching face of the Remington Steele agency. She does the work, he takes the bows–but it is always acknowledged that Laura is the brains and savvy behind the operation. And as she and Remington work side by side, the two fall in love.

Now granted, Laura Holt was far from the first powerful, capable unmarried career woman to serve as the heroine of a hit TV show. That honor would be shared by Ann Marie in That Girl (Marlo Thomas), Mary Richards in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Julia, the title character of the Diahann Carroll TV show that depicted the life of a nurse, and Lucy in The Lucy Show. And of course, we’d already seen our fair share of kickass action heroines on the small screen, including Emma Peel in The Avengers, Pepper in Police Woman, Wonder Woman, The Bionic Woman and Charlie’s Angels. Yet, while they were emboldened to express their moxy, intellect and skills, none of these ladies seemed to have much of a sex life, or to want one.

Ah, but our gal Laura wants–and, in her own classy, reserved way, she expresses her desires for the charming, stunning gent who endlessly tempts and intrigues her.

In episode two of season one of Remington Steele (not that The Feminist Sexpert kept track), the heavenly Remington makes his first blatant attempt to seduce Laura–suggesting that they allow their passions to explode into something more fulfilling. After Laura clarifies that Steele does indeed want to ‘jump in the sack’ (love that Laura), she affirms that she would love to–but that, in an attempt to remain professional and maintain total control over their situation, she will refrain. Later she admits to Bernice Foxe, her secretary and sisterfriend, that she feels ‘itchy’ for Steele.

Um, wut? Did a woman on ’80s TV who was not Alexis Carrington just admit to being horny for some hot hunk? Holy Sexual Liberation, Batman!

Remington Steele is widely regarded among the first “Will they or won’t they?” shows, in which viewers are left to wonder as to whether the program’s central couple will surrender to their bond of strong sexual tension and head for the bedroom. And while Remington and Laura do refrain from hitting the sheets until they marry at the series end (sheesh, how did Laura hold out for five seasons?!) they enjoy many passionate kisses, romantic dances, and delicious seductive dialogue that kept female viewers in particular thirsty for more.

How thirsty? Well, I recently came across a Remington Steele fan board dating back to 2007, in which one lass claimed that she was so aroused by one particular episode of Steele that she tossed her TV to the ground and humped it merrily. We’ll just hope she was joking. In addition, several film scholars wrote essays about the impact of Steele on the expression of female sexuality on television (including Female Sexuality on TV: Suppression, Declension, and Remington Steele by Angus Johnston). 

To this day, Stephanie Zimbalist has said in various interviews that she is often approached by women who credit Laura Holt among their first and primary role models–and I definitely count myself among those women. What they might silently add is, “You and Pierce Brosnan taught me that is OK to be itchy.”


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