When secretary Gail Staton heard that Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton made a movie about women office workers, "I went nuts," she said. "Finally -- after seeing movies about doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs -- secretaries would have their day."
"9 to 5", it has been predicted by some, will do for secretaries what "Coming Home" did for Vietnam veterans and "China Syndrome" did for "no nukes" advocates.
"We hope it will be a consciousness-raiser," says Janet Blood, national pulicist for the organization behind the movie, Working Women/The National Association of Office Workers. "Comedy can be a great teacher because it creates an awareness of the issues without preaching."
The movie's theme of secretaries banding together is also the idea behind Working Women, which has groups in 12 major cities and 10,000 members nationwide. One of the founders of the oldest group, "9 to 5" in Boston, is Karen Nussbaum -- a friend of Fonda's from her anti-war days. i
Talks with Nussbaum -- who now heads Working Women -- led Fonda to launch "9 to 5." The movie deals with problems Working Women seeks to correct, such as sexual harassment, low pay, disrespect, lack of promotion and grievance procedures.
But how realistic are these problems? "Very realistic," agreed four Washington secretaries who previewed "9 to 5" last week. Despite movie citics' cool receptions, these secretaries found the film "terrific," "entertaining" and "great fun."
"It will be the talk of the office for weeks," predicted Sharon Zellmer, 38, a 10-year veteran secretary who works at a law firm. The others, whose discussion of the movie follows, were: Lorraine Westbrook, 36, a secretary at the Department of Labor; Staton, 32, a secretary at a law firm and Barbara Megahan, 38, who recently quit secreterial work after 20 years to become a systems analyst.
What emotions did the movie arouse?
Staton -- "I felt rage when the boss was ordering the secretaries around. I wanted to scream, 'You don't have to take that.' But we've taken it at one time or another."
Zellmer -- "When the secretaries started to get even with the boss I felt like a cheerleader rooting them on. I was behind them all the way."
Westbrook -- "I felt real enjoyment. The fantasies of 'doing-in the boss' offered a great comic relief to some real-life situations women get in."
Have you seen situations like those in the movies?
Megahan -- "I know someone who, like Dolly Parton, kept getting the once-over from her boss. He would always make sexual comments about her -- especially in front of other men in the office. Like Dolly she would just laugh it off because she didn't want to lose her job.
"She also had to sign his name to things. She once signed a multi-million-dollar contract for her boss."
Staton -- "The part where the boss orders Lily Tomlin to buy a scarf for his wife was very familiar. I had a boss once who asked me to pick up her lunch and cigarettes.
"I told her i'd be glad to get her lunch, but my principles didn't permit me to buy cigarettes. She got so mad. She said because I was her secretary I should do whatever she told me to do."
What parts did you find unrealistic?
Zellmer -- "The boss was almost too evil. I'm sure there are men like him, but I'm fortunate to be in an office where I'm treated with respect. Kidnapping him was a bit much -- but fun to watch."
Westbrook -- "The movie seemed to imply that all secretarial jobs are dead-end with low pay. Many are, but these days, especially in Washington, good secretaries are at a premium and can make $38,000 in top jobs."
What important issues do you think the movie raised?"
Westbrook -- "They showed how job-sharing, day care, flextime and othe changes can raise morale and increase productivity -- which is happening in many companies.
"Being skipped over for promotions -- by men you have trained -- happens to secretaries all the time. The secretaries ran that office fine without the boss, but could he run the office without them?"
Zellmer -- "They pointed out an economic bind some women get in, where they put up with some horrible things because they've got kids and themselves to support. They're afraid that if they assert themselves they'll lose their jobs."
Megahan -- "I think respect was the big issue. Too many people treat secretaries as inferior, 'dime-a-dozen' imbeciles."
Who should see this movie?
Westbrook -- "All executives should see it. They'd learn some things that would help them keep their secretaries longer."
Staton -- "Secretaries should see it to get a look at themselves in a way that could help them get a grip on some of their problems."
What massage about secretaries do you hope it transmits?
Westbrook -- "Secretaries are skilled professionals, so let's deal with one another on a professional level. That takes out all the sexual harassment and other disrespect."
Staton -- "We are all adults, trying to earn a living. A secretary's needs are the same as any other worker's -- even the boss -- so let's find as much common ground as we can to work together."