Lucille Ball Would Have Been Perfect in a Non-Musical Remake of “AUNTIE MAME”

Lucille Ball as the lovable character “MAME.”

Lucille Ball, they say, was terribly miscast in the title role of the movie MAME.  It’s been uttered so many times you’d think it was a universal truth.  “Lucy was too old.”  “Lucy couldn’t sing.”  “Angela Lansbury played it better on Broadway.”  I could  recite the list of reasons why they say she shouldn’t have done it the way she did it in my sleep.

And yet…

If you take away the distracting, and ridiculous, soft-focus shots they used to film her close-ups, which the movie could well have done without,  and if the singing numbers had been dubbed, what would you have?  The lady’s acting in the role of irrepressible, unconventional “Mame Dennis” can hardly be faulted.  She nails every scene, and not as a “Lucy Ricardo” type, either.  If I hadn’t grown up on “I Love Lucy” reruns, I never even would have guessed this part was played by the same actress.

Take the scene where she’s fired from the department store.  She’s tried on the roller skates to demonstrate them for her handsome customer, “Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside.”  She gets fired from the job.  She can’t get out of the skates because she’s knotted the laces.

What does Mame do?  Well, first let’s look at what she ought to do, what anyone else in her position back then would have done.  After all, it’s a scene set in 1929, she’s broke, the world is a different, stuffier place, and to be a lady accidentally on skates out in public in a store is supposed to be mightily embarrassing.  Yet watch the scene.  The character holds herself up high, as if being stuck in those skates is an honor, not a disaster.  She makes it look deliberate, a matter of pride, yet it’s all subtly done.

I imitated her stance for years, after seeing this movie as a child, whenever I got myself into a bit of a jam.  If life gives you lemons, stand tall, even if you’re five foot one, like me, and make some lemonade, folks.  Wherever you are, Lucy, thank you so much for that scene!

I only wish that Lucy had tried to make a remake of AUNTIE MAME, the non-musical movie version of the same basic story that was made in the 1950’s and starred Rosalind Russell.  Yes, Lucy in the musical was a mistake, but if she had starred in AUNTIE MAME, sans the unnecessary gauzy close-ups and songs, I think she’d have been remembered well for it, and rather than going down in motion picture history as something of a bad joke, it would be remembered as a good movie.

And let me add this: I hate it that Lucy took abuse for this movie!  Her version was the very first one I saw of this story, so Lucy was “my Mame.”  The joy and love and fun of this movie gave me a whole new perspective – and even got me through several godawful years at a terrible, abusive school.  Wherever you are, I say, BRAVA, Lucy!  Just wish I could have told you in person.

 

Stunning in every outfit: Lucy as MAME.

Fabulous Book: “Last Days of Summer” by Steve Kluger

One of the best books ever: LAST DAYS OF SUMMER by Steve Kluger!

One of the best books ever: LAST DAYS OF SUMMER by Steve Kluger!

This time of year – late summer – naturally always brings to mind one of my favorite books of all time.  It’s called LAST DAYS OF SUMMER.  The author is Steve Kluger, and the book is funny, sad, inspiring, awesome…and will also make you laugh out loud!

The book is about a Brooklyn boy named Joey Margolis, a Jewish lad in World War II New York City who has a schmuck for a father.  Not exactly shy when it comes to going after what he wants, Joey zeroes in on his hero, a Protestant baseball player named Charlie Banks, as his new father figure.  Charlie plays third base on a New York team, has an actress girlfriend, and certainly doesn’t need a child on his hands…but be that as it may…

I’ll stop there, because there’s no way I’m going to add any spoilers to this one.  There are too many surprises within for me to ever ruin them with too much information.  People will just need to read it to find out what happens next.

However, I’ll tell you this much.  If you love the history of the World War II time period, as I do, there are plenty of well-known characters you may come across in the pages of the story.  FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, and even the incomparable Ethel Merman show up in LAST DAYS OF SUMMER.  It’s fiction, but Mr. Kluger’s use of them is brilliant.

I can’t recommend this book enough.  In fact, whenever I need to buy books to give as  presents, I usually choose two – AUNTIE MAME  by Patrick Dennis and LAST DAYS OF SUMMER by Steve Kluger.  They both possess a similar brand of joy.

Speaking the late Patrick Dennis, if he were only still alive and well and could meet up with Steve Kluger, how much do you want to bet they’d find they were definitely kindred spirits?

Here’s the link.  Enjoy!  http://Last Days of Summer

Peggy Herman Sings Jerry Herman at Feinstein’s & a Visit from Arlynn Presser

Some weekends are just plain spectacular.

On Sunday evening I was invited to a show that my friend Richard Skipper had been promoting at Feinstein’s night club in Manhattan.  His friend Peggy Herman had recorded a new CD of songs by my all-time-favorite Broadway composer bar none, Jerry Herman.  Jerry Herman is so multi-talented that he wrote the music and the lyrics to some of the best shows Broadway ever produced – like Milk and Honey, Hello, Dolly!, Mame, Dear World, Mack and Mabel and La Cage aux Folles – and more.  His greatest inspiration was his beautiful mother, Ruth, who believed in Jerry from the moment he was born.  Ruth even set up the meeting with another songwriter, Frank Loesser, that led to Jerry becoming the composer that the world loves.  Ruth’s positivity wound up in every one of her son’s songs.  In addition to the title songs of most of the shows, they include “Open a New Window,” “It’s Today,” “Each Tomorrow Morning,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” “With You On My Arm,” “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and “The Best of Times.”

That, right there, is already a collection of numbers bright enough to light up a large metropolis.

For me, though, Jerry Herman’s music means a whole lot more.  Back when I was a kid being bullied by a gaggle of kids so vicious they could have done a Fascist youth group proud, it was a lifeline.  I loved it, played it constantly, and, thank God, it kept me flying above the type of despair that plagued so many other bullied kids.  If Jerry wrote it, I believed it.  I particularly loved the line in “Open a New Window” that deliciously advocated, “Whenever they say you’re slightly unconventional just put your thumb up to your nose” while around people who couldn’t appreciate you.  How perfect!  Bullies destroy plenty of children, but after hearing that, they didn’t have a chance with me.  Somehow I got the idea from those fabulous songs that great times were waiting for me, just as I was waiting for them.  I was all of twelve years old.

It’s thirty-nine years later, but I still go to every Jerry Herman show or event possible.  Fortunately, tons of them seem to happen right here in New York.  This was one of the best.  Feinstein’s is a great venue in Loew’s Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, and Peggy Herman’s event was as spectacular as Jerry Herman’s songs!  I was seated at the same table as another friend, Elli the King of Broadway.  This night was also the launch of Peggy’s CD, Herman on Herman: Peggy Sings Jerry, and she gave every person who attended the show a complimentary copy.  And what a CD!  I thought I knew all of Jerry’s songs, but Peggy found three even I wasn’t familiar with – “It’s As Simple As That,” “The Best in the World,” and “To Be Alone With You.”  She also included one of my all-time but little-known favorites, “World, Take Me Back,” a Broadway belt number which was written for Ethel Merman when she took over the leading role in Hello, Dolly!

I thought one of the best parts of the night came towards the end of the show.  Peggy acknowledged plenty of people, including her 92-year-old voice teacher.  It just happened to be his birthday.  Peggy led the audience as we all sang “Happy Birthday” to him and the waiters brought out a cake!

My weekend wasn’t done yet, because I’d put in for a long one at work and had Monday off, too, in honor of the fact that my Facebook friend Arlynn Presser was visiting from Chicago.  Arlynn also has a blog here on WordPress.  One day it was the “featured blog” and I read it – and was amazed.  Arlynn’s agoraphobic but decided to fight it.  She has been going around the world for over a year to meet all of her Facebook friends in person!  Don’t every say anything can’t be done.  She’s living proof that it can!

I was going to have Arlynn, who was staying in a Brooklyn hotel, meet me at the Brooklyn Museum and Botanical Gardens, but they close both on Mondays (oh, what nerve)!  We met up at the Aquarium in Coney Island instead.  Incredibly, we turned out to be so much alike that it was kind of astonishing, and I had more fun than I’ve had in ages. We look so much alike that the Cantonese woman giving me a manicure  at nail salon in the Russian neighborhood by Coney that we hit after lunch thought we were sisters.  We seem to have the same taste in just about everything.  Next up, I’m visiting her in Chicago!

So it’s been a wonderful last couple of days.  Thank you Richard, Elli, Peggy, Arlynn…and Jerry.  Long, long ago, it was Jerry Herman’s songs that make me think that some day I’d have, well, spectacular weekends exactly like this one.  If there’s any bullied kids out there, please take note – and take heart.

Mr. Herman, if you ever read this, please know that with what I owe you, you’ll absolutely never be broke.  Hats off to your inspirational mother Ruth, too.

“The Third Man” – a 1949 Movie about Vienna that Hits Home for So Many of Us

Orson Welles, March 1, 1937

Orson Welles, March 1, 1937 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I posted previously that the movie The Help, and especially the character of “Minny” as the maid whose employer pushes her way too far, hits a universal chord in so many of us.  If you can find so much as one person who never, in their career, had an employer treat them disrespectfully or took them for granted, then that’s a miracle.

Another movie that I think strikes a powerful note that almost everyone gets at once is The Third Man.

Set in the black market days of Vienna right after World War II, this movie has so much going for it, especially (well, to me) with handsome Joseph Cotten in the male lead.  Cotten plays “Holly Martins,” who travels to Vienna to meet his old school chum, “Harry Lime,” played to evil brilliant perfection by the incomparable Orson Welles.  They may have been the best of friends as children, but if they were ever even remotely alike, they’re not any longer.  Martins has a conscience, and Lime, whose “death,” which allegedly happened minutes before Martins’ arrival, is revealed to have been a criminal – and something of a psychopath.  Children are dying because Lime had sold defective black-market penicillin to hospitals.

It’s bad and shocking news for Martins to learn about his old friend.  Martins also becomes increasingly aware that the facts he’s being told about Lime’s death don’t add up.

Then he sees the “dead” Lime alive, well, and walking the streets of Vienna…and Lime suddenly disappears into thin air, or so it seems.  Nothing about Lime is what it seems, which is the point of the movie.  He didn’t vanish into the mist.

He took refuge in the sewers.

I won’t go into the plot line any further or add spoilers that might ruin this great movie for anyone who has yet to see it.  What’s fascinating about it this: who hasn’t known a friend, somewhere along the line, who turns out to be horrifically unlike the image that they present to the world?  And then, once you realize there’s a real creep that’s lurking under the surface of their affable facade, what do you do?

I’ve been extremely lucky with almost all of my friends.  There are many friends that I’ve had since the day I was born and newer ones that I know I want to keep until the day I die.  Over the years I rarely have had to write off any of my friends.

But there was one terrifying exception.

And it was an old school chum…who was also, it turned out, a denizen of the sewers.  Once I wrote the fool off, I was stalked.  At least Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins didn’t have to put up with that from Orson Welles as Harry Lime!

When I was about the age I’d been when I first met that school friend, I had wanted to grow up and be just like a character I’d seen in the movies: Auntie Mame.  Well, I did get to be like a movie character, all right.  It just wasn’t the one I expected!

But I’m not complaining.  It’s infinitely better to have written off a friend who belongs in the sewers than to be down there in the muck alongside one!

If you get a chance to see this film noir, or better yet, buy the DVD, take it.  I think it’s the best of the whole film noir genre.  It might even hit home for you, too: The Third Man.