To be or not to be. . .

Yeah, I would be jealous, too, only I never got to see her either. . . when the show went out on tour, there were two companies, one headed up to Boston with Roz and one headed down to Philly with

but still, I had never seen anything like it. . . and I’m not sure I have since, come to think of it. Something like 25 scenes, 25 actors in the opening scene, dozens of set changes and a leading character that stole my heart in the first five minutes. Hey, it’s about a ten year old boy, Patrick Dennis, who’s just lost his father and is taken in by his beautiful, wealthy, madcap, loving, “life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death!” aunt. . .

After two and a half hours of unbridled laughter, after hearing one of Auntie Mame’s last lines,

“I’m going to open doors for you. . . doors you never dreamed even existed.”

I burst into tears and cried all through the curtain calls while applauding like a wild child. . . I just couldn’t decide which I wanted more. . . to be Patrick or to be on stage playing Patrick.

Of course, seeing the play meant that I now had to read the book, which I was shocked to find was not available in the school library. “Simply not appropriate for Girard boys”, Miss Cheyney had said.

So I did the only sensible thing a fourteen year old boy would do under the circumstances. The following Saturday, I went downtown to John Wanamaker’s, strolled into the book department and shoplifted a copy. And since it’s sequel, “Around the World with Auntie Mame” had just been published, I five-finger discounted one of those as well.

The book was my introduction to “a world I never dreamed even existed!”

That Christmas, the film version of Auntie Mame came out and I was as excited as everyone else to see it and I have to say, in retrospect, it’s one of the best play to film transfers ever done. But at the time, I was so disappointed when I heard the changes in Auntie Mame’s dialogue. Those starving sons-of-bitches became suckers and Patrick’s bastard of a father became a seven letter word beginning with B that means your late father (is that even a joke?) and perhaps one of my favorite lines in the play was also bastardized, when Auntie Mame is trying to get her Madonna-like hairdo ready for Babcock’s first visit to Beekman Place. . .

“What am I going to do with this goddamned halo?!”

It was my first realization that the movies treated us all as if we were children. But the theater treated us all as if we were adults.

Still, I have to admit, I watch the movie every year when I need a lift and can’t reread the book without superimposing the actors faces onto the characters in the novel. And after fifty years, I still haven’t decided whether I would rather be Patrick or play him.


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