Monday, June 3, 2019

Lively Aunt

This is my entry in the Rosalind Russell Blogathon hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood

When I was growing up, my father's older sister, my Aunt Shirley, was my favorite.  She used to harangue my mother about how much she was holding me back, and she was the one who first taught me to drive.  I can remember my mother having a fit when she found out that Aunt Shirley had let me drive her pickup (when I was 16, and should have been driving already... most of my high school friends already had their own cars...)

Auntie Mame reminds me quite a bit of my Aunt Shirley (although Shirley was married and had three boys).  She was the epitome of an independent woman and not ashamed to admit it.  I have a lot of love for a woman who refuses to bend to the rules of "respectability" and "conservative behavior".  Not an uncommon thing these days, but in those prehistoric days before Erica Jong and Betty Friedan, a woman of independence was viewed with suspicion and disdain, not only by the male-dominant populace, but also with many woman (who may or may not have viewed with envy as well as disdain.)

Auntie Mame (1958):

"Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death."

In the beginning there was Mame.  Mame (Rosalind Russell) is the sister of millionaire tycoon, who has passed away.  Under extreme regret at having to do so, due to his dislike of his sister's bohemian lifestyle, the father has made his sister the caretaker of his young son, Patrick (Jan Handzlik), whom he has made the beneficiary of his inheritance.

But the old man put a caveat in his will.  He wants young Patrick to be raised right.  Mame is saddled with a watchdog, Dwight Babcock (Fred Clark).   Babcock's first order of business is to see to it that young Patrick is enrolled in the right school.  Although Mame spouts agreement with Babock, behind his back she enrolls him in a rather liberal school run by Acacius (Henry Brandon), who, among other things, teaches some rather unorthodox subjects.  When Babcock finds out, he flips his wig and takes Patrick out of Mame's hands and enrolls him in a more conservative boarding school.

While Patrick is away, Mame ends up going bankrupt after the stock market crash of 1929.  She ends up having to go into the real world and actually work for a living, which she is supremely unqualified to do.  She is a failure at all the jobs she takes.  (I doubt she would have even been successful as a drive-thru clerk at a fast food place...)

But during one job as a counter girl at a department store she meets a rich oil tycoon, Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside (Forrest Tucker).  Beauregard is absolutely smitten with Mame.  After she is fired for being totally incompetent as a counter girl in a department store, Mame returns to her mansion where her two faithful servants have delved into their own savings to help keep her afloat.  Enter Beauregard, who has searched the city trying to find her.

Beauregard woos Mame and eventually wins her over and they are married (despite the fact that she doesn't hit it off with Beauregard's family who are just as conservative as her late brother).  On a whirlwind world honeymoon, however, Beauregard dies.  But since Mame is now a rich widow, she can resume her rather flighty lifestyle.  She returns home where Patrick has hired her a secretary and she is encouraged to write her own autobiography.

And this is only halfway through the movie.  Patrick (Roger Smith), now grown,  has met a girl with whom he is smitten and wants her folks to meet Mame, but he is wary of Mame's rather exuberant attitude towards life.  He pleads with her to act more "normal" at the meeting, but of course, Mame just has to be herself.  Which not only makes for a bad first meeting with the parents but even Patrick's bride-to-be disdains Mame's liberality.  But the plans continue until Mame invites the bride's family to her place as a return gesture, where she really lowers the ball on "polite" activities.  The marriage plans fall apart.

When you have such a character as Mame in the family you have to learn to go with the flow.  Patrick, who has become more and more like his father despite the free-spirit substitute parent he has acquired, eventually does find the right woman.  But he is wary about letting Mame have contact with his young son.

I would be remiss if I didn't also give attention to Agnes Gooch (Peggy Cass), the woman Patrick hires to be Mame's secretary.  She is an absolute hoot as a clueless girl who has no real idea of what she has gotten herself into by working for Mame.  Cass was an also-ran at the Oscars that year for the role.

Rosalind Russell was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, but she lost it to Susan Hayward.  Maybe the Academy just wasn't quite ready to acknowledge such a outrageous character as it's top winner.  It remains a popular movie however, especially among the gay community.  One website I saw a while back recommends this as the #1 movie in a list of Movies All Gay Men Should See Before They Die.  (Note I tried to find the website but I can't remember where I found it.)

But you don't have to be gay to enjoy Mame and her personality.  I personally find myself in Beauregard Burnside's shoes.  I think Mame is a breath of fresh air, and I would definitely marry someone like Mame.  I tend to be more restrained in the circles I hang around in, but I think she could draw out a hidden joie de vivre in me.

The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards.  It lost out on all of them, most of them to the musical Gigi.

I don't agree with my friend Chris who thinks Russell should have gotten the Oscar.  (I actually would have voted for Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof , but they both lost to Susan Hayward).  But I do think, as he does, that this is probably Russell's "greatest and most enduring screen role" (at least of the ones I've seen...).  I mention my fellow reviewer because it was he who directed my attention to this previously unseen movie.  Thanks, Chris.

Well, time to fire up the old Plymouth.  Going home to my cat which, though I love her, is no substitute for an Auntie Mame...  Drive safely, folks.



  1. Who wouldn't love Mame? Her bravery at bucking society is how we all would like to see ourselves. Mame has fun!

    Peggy Cass won the Tony award as Gooch on Broadway. Roz's Mame was nominated but lost to Margaret Leighton in Separate Tables.

    1. Did not realize she had played Mame on Broadway. For some reason I thought it was Angela Lansbury, but that must have been the musical based on the original. Thanks for reading.

  2. Oh, so you had an “Auntie Mame,” too, which obviously had a very positive impact on you, Quiggy! So do I, my Aunt Gail exposed me to culture, Broadway, cocktails and all the liberal arts.
    I too love Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie the Cat, but because Roz never won the Oscar and Liz won two, I still vote for Russell for 1958! Though Hayward is of course totally fierce in I Want To Live!
    Great article as always, and thanks for the shout out, buddy!
    - Chris

    1. Shirley didn't introduce me to drinking, but her son, my youngest cousin did. I never really got too involved with her. I think my mom didn't really care for her much.

      As far as Academy Awards, I'm of a totally different mindset than i am in sports. (I'm tired of seeing Golden State Warriors in the finals and winning it all...) But as far as Oscars, I don't have any such qualms about multiple winners. I thank you again for introducing the movie to me, though. Thanks for reading.


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