Friday, May 14, 2021

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night- “The Next Girl Who Throws Sand In My Face Is…” –With Johnny Silver’s Sad Be-Bop 1960s Beach Blanket Saga In Mind.

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night- “The Next Girl Who Throws Sand In My Face Is…” –With Johnny Silver’s Sad Be-Bop 1960s Beach Blanket Saga In Mind.

YouTube film clip of the Falcons performing You're So Fine.

Introduction by Allan Jackson

[I could not tell you thing one about the 1960s dating rituals on in the farmlands although I think from what Laura Perkins who actually grew up on hard rock truck farm in upstate New York it had a lot to do with going to school basketball games, checking out the Dairy Queen and maybe, just maybe, “necking” down in some back road Farmer Brown place. I could not tell you thing one about what the 1960s dating rituals were among the leafy suburban youth but from what ex-wife number one, Josie Davis, told me it had plenty to do with driving cars, driving to nice restaurants, checking out the woods around Walden Pond and the like and maybe, just maybe, “necking” down behind the boathouse at said pond. I could not tell you thing one about the 1960s dating rituals of the small town mountain teens  of Vermont or Colorado although I think what I have learned from Janis Jamison, Sam Lowell’s wife number two they mostly hiked and biked and drank large quantities of beer and maybe, just maybe, “necking” up on Sugar Mountain. As for the dating rituals of the 1960s Mayfair swell progeny I am clueless about that as I am about every aspect of their existences except they probably had plenty of discretionary funds to pave their ways and maybe, just maybe, “necking” if that was something they even knew about (although Josh Breslin’s second wife, Amy Drinkwater, yes of that Drinkwater tribe who owned all the factories in Ohio before they went under told Josh who told me that the sexual activity among the Mayfair swell young, replicating that of their parents was like that of rabbits.) 

What I do know about and provided the genesis of this story about beautiful Johnny Silver when he was a squirt and later when he was Handsome Johnny and Scribe spent half his time fending off girls who wanted to meet Johnny or know what he was up to meaning did he already have a girlfriend was the 1960s dating rituals of those who grew up near our mother the ocean. I knew exactly what “watching submarine races” meant, knew why cars parked along the boulevard were fogged to perdition come late Friday or Saturday night, knew who were nerds and had to fund shelter against the night behind the seawall and who got to square off with some honey down at the Squaw Rock end of the beach. Knew lots of little tricks about how to get girls to talk to you when we were hanging out even if all of this information never got translated into any dates, at least with hometown girls during high school. Knew too what Josh and a few of the other guys meant when they said “don’t bury me in Kansas.” Yeah strewn ashes on the sea is our fate and rightly so. Allan Jackson]


No question that Jimmy Callahan and his corner boy comrades, including Sam Lowell, of the old Frankie Riley-led Salducci’s Pizza Parlor hang-out “up the Downs” (no further explanation is necessary for any old corner boy who knew pizza parlors were exceptionally good places to hang your knee against a wall waiting, well just waiting for whatever might come up for any others it was nearly impossible to be a corner boy if you did not have a corner and that should be enough on this matter) from the day high school got out for the summer in the early 1960s drew a bee-line straight to the old-time Adamsville Beach of blessed memory. One day recently Jimmy had been thinking back to those times, back a half century at least, as he walked along the beach at Big Sur and had been telling his girlfriend, Miranda, that his love affair with the sea started almost from the day he was born near that beach, a beach that still held his sway although he had seen, and was seeing right there with her better beaches since then. (As far as that girlfriend designation goes with Miranda Jimmy always wondered what the heck do you call somebody whom you are not married to but are intimate with who is along with you pushing the wrong side of sixty, so Jimmy’s simple girlfriend it is until somebody comes up with something better that “significant other,” what the hell does that mean, “consort,” like he/they were royalty or something or “partner,” like you were ready for incorporation rather than romance.)

The old Adamsville beach with its marshlands anchoring each end, its stone-laden sands uncomfortable to sit on, its rendezvous teen meet-up yacht clubs, its well-sat upon seawalls, and its thousand and one night stories of late night trysts in fugitive automobiles and while on skimpy beach blankets, its smoldering fried clams at the Clam Shack fit for a king or queen, its Howard Johnson’s many-flavored ice creams still held memories wherever he was in later life.

Although from what Red Rowley, an old corner boy comrade, had told Jimmy a while back when they had touched base for a minute in Sweeney’s Funeral Parlor over in landlocked Clintondale a couple of towns away after the death of a Jimmy family member the old beach had seen serious erosion, serious stinks and serious decay of the already in their day ancient seawalls and no longer held the fancy of the young who back in the day wanted to go parking there at night to “watch the submarine races.” (For the clueless that is an old local custom gag because looking for midnight submarines off shore was not what was going on in the back seat of some Wally’s car.) Also the beach no longer served as a coming of age spot for winter-weary guys watching winter-weary well-tanned girls in skimpy bikinis between the yacht clubs hot spot for such activity. In fact Red said that last time he checked on a hot July summer’s day at high noon nobody, young or old, was in that sacred spot.   
Red Rowley who was the youngest boy in the Rowley household and who had been afraid of girls, not closet gay or gay afraid, but just afraid of girls and their ways had like a lot of Irish guys who took their stern religious upbringing too seriously never married and had stayed in town the whole time, stayed in the same house, and once his mother’s health declined after his father died never thought to leave. So Red could, as an old fixture like the street lights, see what changes had occurred around town. And he would ask young people, some of who were interested in talking to him, what they were up to, what they knew about the old time customs of the high school and of the town.

Hell, Red said, the young guys in the neighborhood didn’t know what he was talking about when he mentioned “watching the submarine races,” that old code word for getting in the back seat of an automobile (or if car-less and desperate on a skimpy beach blanket against that stony sand) with a girl and seeing what was what, coming up for air to check for any midnight submarine sightings. One guy even asked how one could see a submarine at night if one was in the neighborhood of the beach. Jesus. Also they, and here Red meant both sexes, had no idea on this good green earth that those now old tumble-down yacht clubs in dire need of serious paint jobs after the slamming of the seas and the furious winds had done their work had been the site of many a daytime planning for the night heat sessions. Were clueless that guys would ogle girls there, thought it kind of, what did one of them, one of the girls, call it, yeah, sexist. Jesus doubled.   

Red, by the way, was one of those ancient Irish Catholic corner boys who had stayed in town to help mother in order to have clean socks and regular six o’clock suppers without the bother of matrimony but also like Jimmy, hell, like Sam Lowell and every guy who breathed their first breaths off an off-hand sea breeze, also stayed to be near the ocean too. But Red had mainly watched the town change from an old way station for the Irish and Italians to the South Shore upward mobile digs further south to a “stay put” moving from the big city immigrant community which he was not particularly happy about since he could not speak any of the new languages (frankly in high school he had serious trouble with the English language) or understand the cultural differences when they, the collective mix of immigrants none from European homelands, did not bend at the knees in homage on Saint Patrick’s Day. But Red’s trouble with the new world of America (not really so new since these shores since the sixteen hundreds had seen wave after wave of immigrants just back then they had been from Europe, or had been Africa branded), or the real condition of Adamsville Beach was not what had exercised Jimmy on that trip to Big Sur with Miranda but about the old beach days, the now fantastic beach days.

Jimmy had chuckled to himself when he told Miranda- “Did we go to said beach to be “one” with our homeland, the sea? You know to connect with old King Neptune, our father, the father that we did not know, who would work his mysterious furies in good times and bad. Or to connect as one with denizens of the deep, fishes, whales, plankton, stuff like that. No.” Then he went down the litany of other possible motives just as a little good-humored exercise. “Did we go to admire the boats and other things floating by? The fleet of small sailboats that dotted the horizon in the seemingly never-ending tacking to the wind or the fewer big boats, big ocean-worthy boats that took their passenger far out to sea, maybe to search for whales or other sea creatures? No.” “Did we go to get a little breeze across our sun-burned and battered bodies on a hot and sultry August summer day?” Jimmy, a blushed red lobster in short sunlight who was sensitive about that red skin business declared a loud “No,” although Red, Frankie, Peter, and Josh, his other comrade corner boys less sensitive to the sun would have answered, well, maybe a little.

Jimmy said that he soon tired of those non-reasons, this little badger game, and got to the heart of the matter, laughed to himself as he thought and then mentioned to Miranda-“Come on now we are talking about sixteen, maybe seventeen, year old guys. They, every self-respecting corner boy who could put towel and trunks together, which meant everybody except Johnny Kelly who had to work during the day in the summer to help support his mother and fatherless younger brothers and sisters , were there, of course, because there were shapely teeny-weeny bikini-clad girls [young women, okay, let’s not get technical about that pre-woman’s liberation time] sunning themselves like peacocks for all the world, all the male teenage North Adamsville world, the only world that mattered to guys and gals alike, to see. Had been sunning themselves in such a manner since bikinis and less replaced those old-time bathing suits that were slightly less cumbersome that the street clothes you saw in your old grandmother’s scrapbook. And guys had been hormonally-charged looking at them that long as well.”

“Here is the catch thought,” Jimmy continued. “They, and they could be anywhere from about junior high to the first couple of years in college although they tended to separate themselves out by age bracket were sunning themselves and otherwise looking very desirable and, well, fetching, in not just any old spot wherever they could place a blanket but strictly, as tradition dictated, tradition seemingly going back before memory, between the North Adamsville and Adamsville Yacht Clubs. So, naturally, every testosterone-driven teenage lad who owned a bathing suit, and some who didn’t, were hanging off the floating dock right in front of said yacht clubs showing off, well, showing off their prowess to the flower of North Adamsville maidenhood.” And said show-offs included, Jimmy, of course, Frankie Riley (when he was not working early mornings at the old A&P Supermarket and did not show until later in the afternoon), his faithful scribe, Pete Markin (who seemingly wrote down for posterity every word Frankie uttered and some that he did not, and others including the, then anyway, “runt of the litter,” Johnny Silver. And Sam Lowell too.

It is Johnny’s sad beach blanket bingo tale that Jimmy had suddenly thought about when he had driven pass the old beach one day to confirm Red’s recent beach judgment mentioned at the funeral parlor and wanted to relate to Miranda as the over the top waves pummeled the scarred rock faces in the secluded reaches of Big Sur to give her an idea of what the sea meant to a lot of guys he knew. If, in the Jimmy telling, it all sounds kind of familiar, too familiar even to old time non-corner boys, to those who do not live near the oceans of the world, to the younger set who may have a different view of life than what carried the day back then, it is because, with the exception of the musical selections, it is. This is how it all started though:

“The next girl who throws sand in my face is going get it,” yelled Johnny Silver to no one in particular as he came back to the Salducci’s Pizza Parlor corner boy summer beach front acreage just in front of the seawall facing, squarely facing, the midpoint between the North Adamsville and Adamsville Yacht Clubs. “For the clueless,” and Jimmy assumed Miranda was in that vast company so he took pains to spell it out, “the corner boy world in North Adamsville, hell, maybe every corner boy world everywhere meant that you had certain “turf” issues in your life not all of them settled with fists, although an issue like some alien corner boy looking the wrong way at one of the Salducci girls could only be resolved that way.” But mostly it was a matter of traditions, traditional spots which the “unwritten law” held for certain groups and the spot between the boat clubs was theirs, and had been the “property” of successive generations of Salducci’s Pizza Parlor corner boys since at least the end of World War II when Frankie Riley’s father and his corner boys, some very tough boys transplanted from South Boston to work in the shipyards and some restless guys who had like Frankie’s father served in the war but were not ready to settle down “claimed” the spot.”       

Johnny, after having his say, fumed at no one in particular as the sounds of Elvis Presley’s Loving You came over Frankie Riley’s transistor radio and had wafted down to the sea, almost like a siren call to teenage love. Then one of those “no one in particulars,” Pete Markin replied, “What did you expect, Johnny? That Katy Larkin is too tall, too pretty and just flat-out too foxy for a runt like you. I am surprised you are still in one piece. And I would mention, as well, that her brother, ‘Jimmy Jukes,’ does not like guys, especially runt guys with no muscles bothering his sister.” Johnny came back quickly with the usual, “Hey, I am not that small and I am growing, growing fast so Jimmy Jukes can eat my… ” But Johnny halted just in time as one Jimmy Jukes, James Allen Larkin, halfback hero of many a North Adamsville fall football game running opponent defensive players raggedy in his wake, came perilously close to Johnny and then veered off like Johnny was nothing, nada, nunca, nothing. And after Jimmy Jukes was safely out of sight, and Frankie flipped the volume dial on his radio louder as the Falcons’ You’re So Fine came on heralding Frankie’s attempt by osmosis to lure a certain Betty Ann McCarthy, another standard brand fox in the teenage girl be-bop night, his way Johnny poured out the details of his sad saga.

Seems that Katy Larkin was in one of Johnny’s classes, biology he said, and one day, one late spring day Katy, out of the blue, asked him what he thought about Buddy Holly who had passed away in crash several years before, well before he reached his potential as the new king of the be-bop rock night. Johnny answered that Buddy was “boss,” especially his Everyday, and that got them talking, but only talking, almost every day until the end of school. Of course, Johnny, runt Johnny, didn’t have the nerve, not nearly enough nerve to ask a serious fox like Katy out, big brother or not, before school let out for the summer. Not until that very day when he got up the nerve to go over to her blanket, a blanket that also had Sara Bigelow and Tammy Kelly on board, and as a starter asked Katy if she liked Elvis’ That’s When The Heartache Begins.

Katy answered quickly and rather curtly (although Johnny did not pick up on that signal) that it was “dreamy the way Elvis sang it, but sad when you think about all the trouble guys bring when they mess with another boy’s girl.” Then Johnny’s big moment came and he blurted out, “Do you want to go to the Surf Dance Hall with me Saturday night? Crazy Lazy is the DJ and the Rockin’ Ramrods are playing?” And as the reader knows, or should be presumed to know, Johnny’s answer was a face full of sand. And that sad, sad beach saga is the end of another teen angst moment. So to the strains coming from Tammy’s radio of Robert and Johnny’s We Belong Together we will move along.

Well, not quite. It also seems that Katy Larkin, tall (too tall for Johnny, really), shapely (no question of “really” about that), and don’t forget foxy Katy Larkin had had a “crush” since they had first started talking in class on one John Raymond Silver if you can believe that. She was miffed, apparently more than somewhat, that Johnny had not asked her out before school got out for the summer. That “more than somewhat” entailed throwing sand in Johnny’s face when he did get up the nerve to ask. And nothing else happened between them for the rest of the summer, except Johnny always seemed kind of miserable when he leaned up against the wall in front of Salducci’s to confer with his corner boys about life being kind of crazy. But get this- on the first day of school, while Johnny was turning his radio off and putting it in his locker just before school started, after having just listened to the Platters One In a Million for the umpteenth time, Katy Larkin “cornered” (Johnny’s term) 

Johnny and said in a clear, if excited voice, “I’m sorry about that day at the beach last summer.” And then in the teenage girl imperative, hell maybe all women imperative, “You are taking me to the Fall All-Class Mixer and I will not take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Well, what is a guy to do when that teenage girl imperative, hell, maybe all women imperative voice commands. After that Johnny started to re-evaluate his attitude toward beach sand and thought maybe, after all, it was just a girl being playful. In any case, Johnny had grown quite a bit that summer and it turned out that Katy Larkin was not too tall, not too tall at all, for Johnny Silver to take to the mixer, or anywhere else she decided she wanted to go. “

Here is what Jimmy told Miranda that Big Sur day to put a philosophical twist on the whole episode fifty years later.  After stopping his car toward the middle of Adamsville Beach, the place between the two yacht clubs where he and the Salducci corner boys hung out, the two clubs whose appearance that day spoke to a need of paint and other fixing up, the place that had stirred his memoires that day Jimmy Callahan thought Red had it all wrong, all wrong indeed, it had nothing to do with the condition of the clubs, the beach, the sand, the waves or the boats. Mr. John Raymond Silver and Ms. Katy Silver (nee Larkin), now of Naples, Florida, are proof of that statement.    

Monday, May 10, 2021

After The Fall-Fred Astaire and Jane Powell’s “Royal Wedding” (1951)-A Film Review

After The Fall-Fred Astaire and Jane Powell’s “Royal Wedding” (1951)-A Film Review 

DVD Review

By Bart Webber

Royal Wedding, starring Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Peter Lawford, directed by Stanley Donen, 1951

Everybody loves a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie what with the pair dancing gracefully across the whole set usually some ballroom doing amazing coordinated movements and fancy footwork accompanied by the singing of classic show tunes like “dancing cheek to cheek,” “the way you look tonight” and a million other hum the tune catch a verse here and there from ancient memory form works by the likes of venerable Cole Porter, the catchy tune Gershwins, a hot of Jerome Kern and Mr. American Broadway Irving Berlin. Everybody, well maybe not everybody, but at least fellow film reviewer Phil Larkin and me, loves Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth going through their dancing routines although I confess that I only have eyes for Rita ever since she tore up the screen in Gilda and proved why to the guys who fought and bled in World War II, the parents of my generation had her pin-up girl photo on their locker doors or in their duffle bags so I don’t know if Fred is dancing of not. Then there is this late Astaire turkey from 1951 with Jane Powell in the Technicolor-etched Royal Wedding where Fred and partner fall through the cracks in the Astaire pantheon.

Turkey you say let me count the ways. First maybe the whole idea of Technicolor is the villain. Maybe the magic of Astaire and previous partners is lost against the colors clashing with whatever it is they are doing. The black of Fred’s tux, suit, whatever he was wearing while dancing and the white of the dresses let you focus on the dance not the distractions of the backdrop. Secondly our boy has lost a step or seven by 1951 and it was noticeable that while he had the small circle steps down as usual the pair never swept the vistas as he had with his previous partners. Or maybe he just didn’t trust Jane to go the distance with him. (Even the so-called legendary dancing with the walls, a solo by Fred, toward the end of the film was done in one room, or the walls of one room.) Thirdly there was nothing memorable, meaning hummable or catch a verse on the tip of your tongue, in the various songs sung by either partner and it was almost laughable that Ms. Powell (or the director) couldn’t lip-synch to any of the operatic songs that she was supposedly singing although everybody knew, or should have been presumed to know, that she was barely opening her mouth at times (and was caught at least one time so shame on the editing crews bursting into dance before she was supposed to be finished with her number).      

Worse, worst of all was the tripe storyline which I, and fellow film critic Laura Perkins, watched together to determine who was to do the review could never figure out at least trying to coordinate the storyline with the song and dance routine. To not hold you in suspect any longer Laura “passed” on this one from about the first five minutes, said so, and so against my better instincts I was forced to actually pay attention to this dog in order to warn the reader what to expect. (Seth Garth, yet another film reviewer here, a longtime one, had the whole place in an uproar of laughter when he mentioned that it was easier in the old days on dogs like this one just to rewrite whatever the studio sent out in a press release, sign you name at the top and past in as your considered wisdom on the matter and not actually have to watch the thing.)      

Here is what happened or I think what happened. Tom, played by Astaire, and Ellen, Tom’s sister played by Jane Powell are a song and dance team doing grand business on Broadway. ( A third contender to do this review the previously mentioned Phil Larkin dropped out when he found out the much older Astaire and Powell were tagged  as brother and sister and not to be the “romance” distracted team of the musical so he could go forth on his intergenerational sex kick.) Their agent gets them booked in London for the royal wedding of Princess (now ancient Queen) Elizabeth and still consort Prince Philip although how the shows, the song and dance shows, have anything to do with to with the wedding other than by coincidence is beyond me.

Tom and Ellen while loving to play the romance field in order to add to add to their respective trophy rooms are all business-everything for the theater and the rest be damned. Except the wedding fever must have been catching since Ellen was smitten by a world weary Lord, played by Peter Lawford and Tom by a fetching dancer in the show. After the usual denial of love both are caught by the throat of Cupid’s grip and on royal wedding day, a day when everything comes together about why this thing has that title as the dance team  watch the royal wedding procession pass by about two hundred yards away from their hotel room. On the basis of that spectacle both jump the marriage hoop and live happily ever after-I guess.

As for the dance routines-a mock royal wedding act, a solo by Fred dancing with a hat stand, a ballroom dance on the rolling seas which aboard what might have been the Titanic for the amount of list they had to fight (and which reportedly and I can believe this took 150s takes), a red-light district “romance,” the aforementioned legendry walking the walls shtick, and then a politically incorrect, today, and one would have wished then as well a dance set in Haiti with an all- white cast of ensemble dancers and singers. And Haiti was not even a British colony but French before the 1789 revolution. How does this logjam fit together? Not.              

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-When Gary Ladd Danced The North Adamsville High School Be-Bop Hop Dance Night Away

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-When Gary Ladd Danced The North Adamsville High School Be-Bop Hop Dance Night Away 

YouTube film clip of The Shirelles performing their 1960s teen angst classic Mama Said  

Introduction by Allan Jackson

[On reflection a lot of what went on in high school, what drove guys like me crazy, guys who had no sisters, maybe had no close girl friends was the very subject of chasing women. There is no other way to put the matter. Strangely enough everybody, every guy was on his own (I will let the women of our generation speak for themselves but I have on anecdotal evidence the distinct thought that also from different biological needs their social stories don’t differ too much from the guys)on the subject, had to learn the hard way what was what. I don’t know how much things have changed in the last fifty years concerning parental guidance through the sexual thicket but I suspect, again on anecdotal evidence, that some things have stayed pretty much the same despite the tremendous amount of information out there. Of course a lot of our Tonio’s Pizza corner boys being on our own was self-imposed since we neither wanted to be thought nor really have much going on since we got a lot of very bad, or erroneous information from the “street. Since parents were books sealed with seven seals the only real way to get any information about sex, or anything else that might interest a teenager was from older brothers, sisters or stuff heard out on that street. Many a guy got some kind of social disease and many a girl had to visit faraway “Aunt Emma” shorthand for pregnant based on that erroneous information. The other coin thought was that we, individually were lying our asses off half the time about sexual conquests and the like. That too on anecdotal evidence gained many, many years later when the smoke and fog had cleared.

Despite the shortcomings of our knowledge about sex, about how to approach girls you could almost take it to the bank the information, the intelligence we called it that the late Peter Paul Markin, the Scribe, gathered in other areas, areas like what girl was interested or not interested in what guy or guys, and the crucial information about who was “going steady,” taken, or however you wanted to call unavailable in your neighborhood. This critical information saved many a guy from making a social faux pas and going even further down the high school social hierarchy. See what that situation meant that you were duty-bound and maybe depending on the guy to keep “hands off” if that was the information Scribe handed you. And except for one very embarrassing time when Scribe didn’t know that a girl Seth Garth was interested in had a steady guy who was in the Navy and he wound up calling the girl up and got an irate slap down Scribe knew his stuff. Again, later based on anecdotal evidence, this tradition, this point of honor so-called was honored more in the breach than the observance. (By the way on that misstep by Scribe with Seth that girl had been interested in him earlier in the year and not getting any response from her signals went on to that sailor boy and when he called she was just kind of paying him back for his lateness on the matter. Yeah, life was, is like that sometime. Seth said damn when he found out about that a couple of years after our high school graduation.)

How Scribe got his information, why girls were free to talk to him about stuff that they might not talk to their girlfriends about was always a mystery. Maybe they thought he was a eunuch, or more likely in those times “light on his feet” and no threat to whatever they were interested. Part of it might have been his two million facts which he would spout at the drop of a hat and that impressed many girls from what I came to understand later although not enough to strike up a romance. For a fact, Scribe, and I, although I always lied about it, never in high school had a date with anybody from North Adamsville High or even the town in general so it wasn’t about getting dates for himself. Maybe too it was that he had a reputation for knowing who and who not to approach and maybe that held him in good stead. The funny thing is that if Gary Ladd had been a couple of years younger he could have scooped up his honey, the one e was able to “dance” the night away with once things got clear a lot faster than he did. Allan Jackson]   

Saturday night from seven to eleven, any third Saturday of the month from September to May, every red-blooded teen boy and girl in the 1961 North Adamsville High School be-bop, be-bop night could only be in one locale, or want to be. That was the night of the monthly seasonally-themed high school hop. The Fall Frolic, Pumpkin Ball, Mistletoe Magic, Frozen Frolic, and so on themes with hop at the end to give the old-timey innocent high school feel to the night in a town which had had such dances since the school’s founding in the 1920s. Although the term “hop” had been of more recent vintage reflecting the effect that such cultural phenomena as the afternoon television program American Bandstand and Danny and the Juniors classic song At The Hop had invested the word with significant teen meaning. More importantly this monthly hop, unlike the more exclusive Autumn Leaves, Holly Hock and Spring Fling dances which were meant solely for juniors and seniors and their guests and which were not designated hops or any other such shorthand reflecting the new rock and roll breeze that had been stirring through the nation for some time by then, anyone, even freshmen and sophomores, could ante up the dollar admission and dance the night away.

There had been a large attendance of wallflower-like freshman, girls and boys alike, all red-faced, all sweaty palms, all trying to look nonchalantly like they had been going to these things for ages to hide their wallflower fears  who were hanging off the walls in the transformed festooned gym. As were most of the sophomores, a little more self-assured and hovering around the gym bleachers which had been extended to provide some seating, but still worried about whether they, the boys, had put on enough underarm deodorant, had swigged enough mouthwash, had combed enough parted Wild Root-infested  hair, and the girls, whether that stolen mother’s perfume would seem too strong, their permed hair was still in array and that that padded dress showed their figures to good effect were witness to the fact that anyone, sweaty palms or not if they had enough moxie could dance the night away.  

Well almost everybody in attendance had the chance to dance the night away. And that had been the dilemma confronting one freshman, Gary Ladd, he the “wallflower” way off to the side of the gym almost into the wall if you didn’t think you had seen him on one of the third Saturday nights in question. And right next to him is another guy, Sam Lowell, hair-slicked, underarm-protected, Listerine-inhaled, his best friend since junior high days when he moved to town from Clintondale and they have since tried to defend each other against the hardships of American wayward youth times, times when they both would have rather just that moment had cool sunglasses on to stifle their fears. But let’s get back to Gary because the night Sam was referring to was his night after some many failed efforts and Sam’s story can be simply stated. He will wind up going home at intermission kind of defeated since nobody, nobody at all had asked him to dance, believing that he had not put enough deodorant on, enough Wild Root or swilled enough mouthwash and had been defeated by the ever-present bane of the wallflowers-personal hygiene.

[Sam would find out a couple of days later when he mentioned his defeat to Emma Wilson in History Class that most of the freshman girls that she knew kept an arm’s distance from him not for personal hygiene, some girls thought that he was “cute,” but no girl, no self-respecting girl could permit herself to be barraged by the two thousand odd-ball facts that he would spew out in order to impress them during the dance. Sam has since decided to take her comment under advisement. But back to Gary.]   

What had been bothering Gary, though, we might as well have our moment of truth right up front since this is a confessional age and the truth would have come out anyway, is that he can’t dance. Can’t dance a damn, to hell, heaven or any place in between. Couldn’t dance in junior high when Sam tried to shadow-box teach him a few steps and when the moment of truth came he almost broke poor, beautiful Melinda Loring’s big toe. Such a reputation in a small town is hard to break. Sam’s corner boy Gary’s problem: two- left feet. Two left-feet despite the more recent best efforts of one Agnes Ladd, North Adamsville Class of 1961 Vice President, whose own feet have taken a terrible beating, and has earned some kind of medal for service above and beyond the call of duty, trying to teach little brother Gary the elements of the waltz, the fox trot, and hell, even two feet away from your partner rock and roll moves and the twist to no avail.

All of this teaching done under the cover of tight security since Gary had sworn Agnes to secrecy about their doings. Agnes, for her part, one of the smartest and most popular girls in the senior class, had no intention of telling anybody that she was talking to, much less teaching dance to a freshman even if it was her own brother. Those are the school conventions, and nobody, nobody who is smart and popular is going to defy conventions like that. The freshman, as Agnes told Gary, would have their day in a few years and would in turn snub their subordinate freshman. That is the way it is. But Gary, no twerp under his two left-footed exterior, has always, as he put it, exercised his democratic right as a freshman in good standing to be at these universal dances, come hell or high water.

But that night, that warm April Bring Spring Hop night Sam was talking about, things were destined to be a little different as Gary has already staked his place against the far wall (the wall farthest away from the girl “wallflowers” just in case you wanted an exact location. Mostly wallflowers, boy or girl, although not Sam, were keeping their respective distances on the odd chance that someone may actually come up and ask them to dance. First off this month, unlike most months when some lame student DJ from Communications class spins platters on a feisty school record player, the local craze rock band sensations, The Rockin’ Ramrods, were performing live on the makeshift bandstand and were guaranteed to have everybody who gets to dance rocking before they are done, including Gary and Sam who are scared but still hopeful. Just that minute as Gary shifted his weight and placed his back to the wall they were tuning up before their first set of three with the appropriately named Please Stay by the Drifters. Secondly, but in line with that Gary hopeful, a new girl in town, Elsie Mae Horton, had told Gary that she would be coming to the hop, her first since moving to town a couple of months before. Naturally the mere fact that she said she would come was an added reason why Gary was there  all that exercising democratic rights stuff be damned (and also why he had tortured his sister Agnes to try, try in vain, to teach him some dance steps). See Gary has the “bug” for Elsie Mae, Yeah, as Sam well knew since he had taken a failed and fruitless run at her with his two thousand facts in Civics class and had gotten the deep freeze, Gary was smitten.

Now this Elsie Mae was maybe, on a scale of one to ten, about a six so it is not looks that had Gary (and about six other guys, five and Sam), well, smitten. An okay body, fair legs, nice brown hair and eyes, a so-so dresser like Sam said a “six” (and Gary agreed with Sam in that department although if you see Elsie Mae Sam never said that, nor did Gary). See what Elsie Mae had was nothing but smarts, book smarts which had been how Sam had made his approach to her in Civics class talking about this book they were reading about President Andrew Jackson and how he broke the back of the aristocrats like the Adams family who wanted to keep political power in the hands of some self-selected elite, themselves, and forget the guys going west, yeah Sam confessed not exactly the smoothest move. Idea smart too which enthralled Gary since he liked to talk about novels and such which was what Elsie Mae was into, talk smarts you name it smarts and one of the sweetest smiles this side of heaven. And, as Gary found out early on in one of their shared classes, very easy to talk to about anything, if she wanted to talk to you. Yes, he was smitten; the only unknown in his mind is whether she could dance good enough to stay out of his way if it came to that. That is if he got up the nerve to ask her. And as the Ramrods started their first set with Gary Bonds’ School Is Out (praise be) he noticed her coming in the door. Heart pounding he started sinking into the wall again. 

As they finished with Brother Bonds the Ramrods started in on The Impressions’ Gypsy Woman before Gary realized that Elsie Mae has drawn a bee-line straight for him and was standing right in front of him, turning a little red after he did not greet her. “Oh, my god,” Gary whispers under his breathe, “she is going to ask me to dance. No way.” The usually easy to talk to Elsie Mae though said nothing, nothing but turned a little redder as the Ramrods covered the Pips Every Beat Of My Heart (nicely done too). She stood there waiting for Gary to ask her, if you can believe that. Well, two-left feet or not, he did ask her. And she smiled a little smile as she “accepted.” Relief.

Needless to say when they did their dance, The Edsels’ Rama Lama Ding Dong, it was nothing but a disaster. A Gary disaster? Yes. Although you can use fake moves galore on such a tune Gary, maybe nervous, maybe just trying to show off started moving all his arms all over the place so he looked from Sam’s wall position like one of those devilish Hindu gods with a ton of arms. And while in motion he had hit Ella Mae a couple of times, not hard but not cool either. Once she came close to him and he moved back into another couple, a senior couple and Sam thought the senior, Bill Daley from the football team, was going to level poor Gary but he just moved away with his date with the meanest look of scorn Sam had seen in a while. 

So disaster was the right word. But here is the funny part. Elsie Mae Horton, formerly of Gloversville, a town in farm country a few miles away and known for the Gloversville Amusement Park on Route 9 and nothing else really, and new to North Adamsville so of unknown dance quality, had two-left feet too. When she had been closing in on Gary it was because she had lost her balance and was ready to careen into him. Get this though. When the dance was mercifully finished, and the two had actually survived, Elsie Mae thanked Gary and told him that he was a wonderful dancer and said she wished that she could dance like him. Whee! Here is the real kicker though. Elsie Mae had also been taking dancing lessons on Saturday mornings at the YWCA, unsuccessfully. Dancing lessons solely so that two-left feet Elsie Mae Horton could dance with Gary Ladd. See, she was “smitten” too. And so if you did not see Gary or Elsie Mae at the Mayfair Dance last month you have now solved that mystery. That night they were sitting, sitting very close to each other, on the seawall down at Adamsville Beach laughing about starting a “Two-Left Feet” Club. With just two members.

[As for Sam’s fate at the Mayfair Moon dance he went to the hop with Emma Wilson. See after she clued him in to “what was what” that time in class about his style Sam ran into her at the library and they talked, or rather she talked, not two thousand facts, talked but talked. And Sam let her. And right after that she asked Sam to escort her, her words, to the hop.]   

When It Rains Pennies From Heaven-Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly’s “Singing In The Rain” (1954)-A Film Review

When It Rains Pennies From Heaven-Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly’s “Singing In The Rain” (1954)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Leslie Dumont

Singing in the Rain, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Gene Kelly,  1954

An old associate of mine in this wacky journalism business once told me that when writers, meaning in that case reporters but here commentators and reviewers, start airing “their dirty linen in public” that usually means some problems are congealing up the ladder, up in the administrative offices, when decisions such as assignments and plum pieces get decided. That old associate also pointed out that when things get dicey it is much easier to put one administrator under the bus than fire a whole raft of writers who make the whole thing hum. We shall see, we shall see. Here is my gripe. I seem to be getting a whole raft of these silly feel good musicals, song and dance ones a specialty. I just got this one, this silly Singing In The Rain, which is so corny it could not possibly be made today and not just because song and dance films are passe, quite passe, but because would try the patience of an eight year old if an eight year could be wrestled into the theater something in my day which could be done since there was nowhere else to put us if Grandma had other business to attend to and we were force fed this stuff which we couldn’t understand then, or now. These musicals other than endless songs and dances at the drop of a hat, and maybe you didn’t even need to do that with a song bursting at the seams or some guy dancing up the walls to show his prowess. With that in mind this thing is a loser despite its future post-release iconic status which must have been led by those poor wrestled kids brainwashed into sitting through this turkey. One of these days I will kindly refuse to swallow yet more pride and say no.

For now though as Laura Perkins, who got the saying from Sam Lowell who used to be the head honcho in the film room here, and who said it was okay for me to use when I mentioned that I would not because she had it “patented” “here is the skinny.” Don, Gene Kelly’s role, is former vaudeville duo with Cosmo, played by Donald O’Connor, who have played every venue without coming up roses. Hard times indeed in the 1920s when vaudeville was losing it grip to surging Hollywood. They, mainly Don, once they hit Tinsel Town tried everything to get into the movie business from go-for to stuntman. Finally he got and finally he got his     
Big chance with a big star, Lina, who made all the men weep for her hand-in the “silent film” era. Don made it big on Lina’s say so and both rode the stardom trail until the advent of “talkies.”

That is where Lina had a little problem. Her low-rent Brooklyn-Bronx-Yonkers someplace in urban New York anyway accent and manner were zero when The Jazz Singer ruined many a lucrative career by making actors more than mimes and forced then to talk the King’s English. Don and Lina had been touted by the studios and egged on by Lina as a Hollywood star pair but that was strictly for show. Strictly PR stuff but Don had Lina tagged as from nowhere in his dream girl nights. What did get Don in a dither was meeting Kathy, played by all-American “girl next door” Debbie Reynolds who was star-struck and stage-struck but before some big break was getting by as a chorus girl showing her gams for the nightclub set. Strictly second-rate stuff but better than being beaten back to Boise or Omaha on some one-way Greyhound bus. For a while as is almost standard in these older films she gives Don the big chill but only for a while, made him burn like a firecracker but eventually she defrosted after he rushed her.

Meanwhile what to do about Lina and that horrible voice which will turn audiences off in about two minutes. This is the lamo gag that was supposed to get audiences worked up-rise up. Star power Lina would do the on stage acting in the latest Don-Lina vehicle which conveniently was turned from a loser period piece romantic drama into, guess what, a musical so Kathy can do the talking and singing and old battle axe Lina could lip-synch. Beautiful and the screenwriters should have gotten millions of that little sleight of hand. But what about tons of talent Kathy. Will she ever get her big break. Come on now you know she will once by another screenwriter sleight of hand Lina is exposed as nothing but a manqué for Kathy’s real talent. What still makes me grind my teeth days later is how such a thin story line can promote about eight million songs which have nothing to do with the plotline or the title of the film and about seven million dances one in that very rain out of nowhere. Beware, beware too the critics who claim this musical is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Gene and Donald can dance no question but to what purpose.