Ancient Greece: Phaedra
Lust for her husband’s son, Hippolytus, ends badly for him (sea monsters, death).
1380ish: Wife of Bath, The Canterbury Tales
Fat, horny and bold, Chaucer meant her to be horrifying, but she’s his best character.
1533-1603: Elizabeth I
The equal of any man, even in indulging pretty young things (Robert Devereux). Ditto Catherine the Great: Prince Zubov was 40 years her junior.
Her novel Chéri captured the pathos and allure of an older woman in love with a man-child.
1893-1980: Mae West
“I’ve been in more laps than a napkin.” Samantha Jones, meet your sassy, shameless ancestor.
1947: Blanche Dubois, A Streetcar Named Desire
Tennessee Williams defanged and deified the species in this pity-fest.
1950: Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard
As embodied by real-life cougar Gloria Swanson, Desmond was the saddest predator of them all.
1967: Mrs. Robinson, The Graduate
Anne Bancroft, just 35 at the time, created the Ur-cougar of the modern age: hot, poignant, a little scary.
1971: Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May”
The undisputed cougar anthem.
1971: Summer of ’42
Not really a cougar (she’s too vulnerable), but it made every teenage boy want to lose it with an older woman.
1978: Dean Wormer’s Wife, Animal House
Cougar as cut-to-the-chase horndog.
The Eighties: Cher
Her terrific onscreen older woman in 1987’s Moonstruck didn’t spare her years of cradle-robbing mockery over Bagel Boy.
1981-1989: Alexis Carrington, Dynasty
Shoulder pads, cat fights, greed: Everything was bigger in the eighties, even cougars.
1984: Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher”
The male fantasy cougar: when teacher is a stripper.
1985-1992: Blanche Devereaux, The Golden Girls
Blanche DuBois, empowered.
1992-2004: Patsy Stone, Absolutely Fabulous
Cougar as chicken hawk.
Mrs. Robinson on steroids.
1998-2004: Samantha Jones, Sex and the City
The greatest cougar of them all.
1999: Stifler’s Mom, American Pie
The icky cross-breeding of mother and de-virginizer.
2003: Demi Moore
She hooks up with Ashton Kutcher, and instantly detoxifies older women and younger men. Sexy, yes; sad or desperate, no.
2004-2009: Edie, Desperate Housewives
The blueprint for Real Housewives: crasser, Botox-fueled, and, yeah, desperate.
Present: Jules Cobb, Cougar Town
The Wife of Bath was a better role model.
See Also: Emily Nussbaum on the Cougar Moment