I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the undiscovered Hollywood hit movie waiting to happen is the true story detailed in my friend Johanna Reiss’ book, The Upstairs Room. I read it and loved it when I was a child and have always wondered just why it was never made into a movie – yet.
Johanna, called “Annie” as a child, and her older sister Sini had to be hidden as young girls in Holland because they were Jewish and it was World War II. They were sheltered by a prosperous family named the Hanninks for a few months, but the Hanninks were helping a lot of Jews and grew nervous about keeping the sisters. The girls were moved to the home of a local farmer, Johan Oosterveld. Johan, his wife Dientje, and his mother, Opoe, kept the girls safely hidden.
Johan, Dientje and Opoe were true heroes in the way they rose to the occasion and sheltered Sini and Annie during the war. They are also characters that are so unpretentious that they’re funny, on the one hand – and so ingenious in the ways they protected the girls that they’re absolutely brilliant on the other. At one point, Nazis even took over another room in their house for a few weeks to use as an office, and…well, if you want to know more, you’ll have to read the book! I can not imagine an actor or actress alive who would not want to grab the chance to play these fantastic real-life heroes. Every Jewish person who survived the war has a story and this one, in particular, deserves to be told.
The two hidden girls, Sini and Annie, survived the war. That’s Annie, in the photo above, all grown up, with me, yesterday, pedaling a Surrey on Governor’s Island. We’ve been best friends pretty much since the day we met about a year and a half ago. She’s fun! Getting that surrey moving was a bit of a challenge. It got stuck in the cracks on a sidewalk when Annie was trying to drive it in a U-turn. We had to bail out while I extricated the thing. After that, I steered it. I said, “This is like an I Love Lucy episode, say, ‘Lucy and Ethel Pedal a Surrey!'” Annie taught me how to sing “Long Live the Queen” in Dutch and now I can’t stop bursting forth with it. I recently gave her the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Mame so she could learn the song “Bosom Buddies,” since that’s what we are, sung by Angela Lansbury and Beatrice Arthur.
Speaking of Angela Lansbury…now there would be perfect casting for “Opoe!”
Anyone interested in making the book into a movie can contact the author through www.johannareiss.com.