Mystery

I remember being in Beverly Hills Junior High School and going to Seller’s Memorial Library for the first time.  Seller’s is the main branch of the Upper Darby Township Library System and is one third an old Victorian type house and the rest a modern building attached to the house.  It’s a pretty cool piece of architecture.

Beverly Hills Junior High School was only a short walk to and from the library.  My house was nowhere near the main branch, and I wanted to go because I was on a quest.  So, after school one day I walked to the library in search of mystery.

The year was 1974 and Murder on the Orient Express had made a huge impact as a film starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot and a host of other A-list stars including Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman.  I saw the film and fell in love with it.  I was already an enthusiastic reader and wanted anything and everything by Agatha Christie.

I started with my school library at first, but I don’t remember finding very much there.  Junior High School English had already introduced me to Sherlock Holmes, but I wasn’t ready to commit fully to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective yet, I would in the years to come.  I wanted Mrs. Christie.

So, one late afternoon in 1974 I found myself fully engaged in the mystery section of my hometown’s biggest library.  I was combing my way through the stacks looking at title after title when an older gentleman approached me and asked what I was doing in that section.  I was a little bewildered.  It’s not like I was in some sort of X-rated area of the library so I stammered out some kind of answer and he replied that this section was for older people, and I should look for books somewhere else.  To quote Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame, “What an idiot.”

Needless to say, I didn’t listen to him and went on with my search much to his annoyance.  I don’t know what I went home with that day, but my guess is it was And Then There Were None, probably the most famous of all Mrs. Christie’s works.  When I opened up that book, I opened up a whole new world of mystery one that I still live in.

Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None were my first two trips into adult mystery, but my love of mystery goes back to my grade school days when I was reading Encyclopedia Brown and The Hardy Boys.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, Encyclopedia Brown was a series of short stories where all the clues were laid out in a pretty obvious way.  The reader was challenged to solve the mystery themselves before looking at how the hero, Encyclopedia Brown, solved it.  The books were fun but, in many ways, they were a one-time only read because after the mystery was solved there was no point in going back. 

The Hardy Boys were a different story, they were probably another level up.  The adventures of Frank and Joe Hardy solving mysteries in their hometown or in exotic locations were the stuff of fifth and sixth grade fantasies and doing it with your brother made it even better.  I’ve mentioned my cousin Steve before.  It was his library, that he left at home, that also introduced me to The Hardy Boys.  The first book I read was called While the Clock Ticked.  My aunt made me give this one back too, but I started my own collection after that and read several of the books in the next few years.

I stayed with Miss Christie for a long time, as if she were the only mystery writer worth paying attention to.  There was reason for this.  She wrote so many novels that you just don’t know when to stop and enjoy other authors.  Mrs. Christie had a whole stable of detectives that she created, and they were all worth reading.  Besides Hercule Poirot there is Miss Jane Marple and Tommy and Tuppence Beresford to name her most famous.  There were also her standalone books such as The Pale Horse and Endless Night all totaled Mrs. Christie wrote 82 detective Novels.  I have no idea how many short stories and several plays.  She was and is the queen of mystery.

Other author’s and movies would come along as I got older.  Soon I began to notice other detectives in novels and movies.  In 1934 Dashiell Hammett published his novel The Thin Man with the crime solving detectives Nick and Nora Charles.  This was not the first husband and wife detective team.  Agatha Christie was first with Tommy and Tuppence Beresford.  Tommy and Tuppence were middle class when pitted up against Nick and Nora.

The Thin Man was soon scooped up by MGM and immediately and made into a popular film starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora.  Though filmed in black and white the film showed the opulence of upper-class New York because Nick and Nora Charles were very wealthy.  This was the exact opposite of what most Americans were living like at the time. And because of the opulence and the devil may care attitude of the leading players The Thin Man became very popular and a series of films, totaling six, was produced from 1934 to 1947.

Mysteries were popular on both sides of the Atlantic and though we started with Agatha Christie we must now go back in time the great Victorian era.  London was gaslights and fog.  The English countryside was speckled with large estates nestles against mysterious moors.  And one man walked through those mysteries into international fame, the great Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes first appeared in The Strand Magazine in 1887 in a story titled A Study in Scarlett.  He was creation of Arthur Conan Doyle.  The story goes that Doyle, who was a doctor, did not have a very busy practice so to pass the time he created Sherlock, Doctor Watson.  It is said that there are three characters every child knows, Mickey Mouse, Superman and Sherlock Holmes.

In the Sherlock Holmes canon, there are 4 novels and 56 short stories that Doyle originally wrote.  After Doyle came many who tried to emulate Doyle’s style, and some came close.  There is The Seven Percent Solution by Nicholas Mayer and most recently a whole series of Holmes books which are surprisingly good, written by Kareem Abdul Jabaar.  But there are probably 100s of other authors who have taken up the pen to write further stories of the great detective.

After the popularity of the Holmes stories Doyle himself got a little tired of writing about his detective and had him killed in a story called The Final Problem.  The public outcry was so great and the national mourning so sincere for a fictional character, that Doyle brought him back first in The Hound of the Baskervilles which took place before his death and then he resurrected Holmes in a story titled The Empty House.  Holmes had never actually been dead but had faked his death to make himself scarce to those who still wanted to kill him.  Sherlock Holmes is now part of our great arts culture.  He will continue to be loved and to be enjoyed for generations to come.

One of my favorite detectives that I have discovered in the last couple of decades is the wonderful Nero Wolfe.  Wolfe aided by his handsome, man about town assistant Archie Goodwin was created in 1934 by Rex Stout.  He would go on and publish about a book a year until 1975.  There are 33 novels and 41 novellas and short stories in the Nero Wolfe canon.  I have read about thirty percent of the novels and have enjoyed each of them.

Nero Wolfe lives in an NYC brownstone house in the heart of metropolis.  He weighs a quarter of a ton and rarely leaves his home unless under extreme compunction to do so.  He solves his mysteries in a great desk chair built especially for him and has all the leg work dome for him by Archie Goodwin.  The Wolfe stories are told in first person from Archie’s point of view.  Wolfe, in today’s language would be called a foodie and takes great delight in being involved in the preparation and the consumption of his meals. He has chef/butler that lives with him as well as a gardener who manages his large collection of Orchids that are kept at the top of the house in the plant rooms.  Some of his greatest stories are centered around the office, the plant rooms, or his meals.  For those who desire to eat like Nero Wolfe there was even A Nero Wolfe Cookbook that was published many years ago and is still available today.

Nero Wolfe was not left off of film. There is one movie I know of and two TV series.  The best television series was done in the early 2000s and starred Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin.  These shows kept very close to the source material and are fun to watch.  The producers decided to hire a company of actors that worked across all the shows playing different parts.  In some of the shows the performances are so good you don’t realize you had seen the performer in a different role the week before.  These shows can be found on YouTube to watch for free.

To delve into humorous mystery, we are going to make one stop.  The Polly Pepper Mysteries.  There are four books in The Polly Pepper series.  Remains to be Scene, Final Curtain, A Talent for Murder and Set Sail for Murder all written by Richard Tyler Jordan.  Mr. Jordan worked in Hollywood for a long time and his books are riddled with caricatures of famous celebrities.  Half the fun of reading his books is trying to guess who the real people are behind the characters.  The Polly Pepper book have been described as a cross between Carol Burnett and Murder She Wrote.  Polly Pepper herself is an out of work actress who once had her own wildly popular variety show.  She knows and schmooses with the best of Hollywood but when a murder gets committed leave it to Polly to solve the crime with the help of her openly and well-loved gay son and an outspoken maid.  The books are a hoot and should be on the shelf of every mystery loving fan.  Here’s to hoping Mr. Jordan decides to take up the pen and give us more Polly adventures.

Most of the detectives I’ve written about went from page to screen but there is one that took the opposite route and went from screen to page.  That would be Jessica Fletcher and the television show Murder She Wrote.  Murder She Wrote starred Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher a retired schoolteacher and widow living in the fictional town of Cabot Cove Maine.  We are introduced to Jessica as her nephew has secretly submitted her murder mystery book to a publisher.  The book is excepted and becomes a best seller.  Jessica is pinned in the spotlight and whisked off to New York City to meet her publisher and to solve her first murder.  Murder She Wrote gave the audience the chance to solve the mystery and entertained television viewers for twelve seasons.  It had many celebrity guest stars including Florence Henderson, Shirley Jones, Van Johnson, and June Allison. 

Not long after the show started a series of books began to be published supposedly written by Jessica herself.  These are told in the first person as if Jessica is speaking to us.  The books are very good and keep the flavor and the pace of the TV show.  Murder She Wrote had stopped new TV episodes several years ago.  New books come out regularly.

Charlotte and Thomas Pitt are the creation of Ann Perry and began their adventures in 1979 in the book The Cater Street Hangman.  The stories take place in Victorian London where Thomas is a police detective.  Charlotte, his wife always finds a way or stumbles into his investigations. 

These books aren’t just telling mysteries.  Miss Perry has all her characters grow.  There is a regular cast of recurring supporting characters that you begin to care about as much as Charlotte and Thomas.  In the first book Thomas meets Charlotte in the second they are married as the series continues; they have children.  These books don’t just tell of the solving of a good case but also are the story of a family.

In recent years there have been several new detectives that come at solving crime through cooking up delicious food.  These books are three quarters story and maybe one quarter or less cookbook.  The best of these are The Hannah Swensen series by Joanna Fluke.

Hannah is a caterer in Aspen Colorado when meet her in The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.  She is divorced but is doing quite well on her own serving up meals to the Aspen elite.  In this series the characters also grow as Hannah meets new people falls in love and starts a new family. All of this takes place over several delectable tales.  The latest is the series is The Triple Chocolate Cheesecake Murder.  The recipes in these books are usually easy to follow and fun to try.

Mystery!  Why do we love these stories of who dun it?  It is kind of odd that we take delight in murder.  Or is it possible that we don’t delight in the murder as much as we delight in the solving of the puzzle?  All murder mysteries are puzzles and the pieces are all laid out before you to find if they seem obscure.  These mysteries may be a metaphor for life.  After all we start asking questions and trying to solve the mystery of our existence almost as soon as we can talk.  What parent doesn’t cringe a little when their three-year-old asks, “Where did I come from?”  No parent is going to give a technical answer regarding sex so other answers are given that a child can appreciate, but the question remains.  Where did I come from?  It soon turns into why am I here?  Is there a God what does that mean for me?

We all ask these questions.  And we spend our lives trying to find out the answer.  I think mysteries are there to tell us that the answers are there if me choose to seek for them.  There is a meaning and a purpose for every person born on this planet.  The hard part is that no one can tell you the answers to your questions at least not the most basic ones.  You must seek those answers out on your own.  I think mysteries tell us that there are answers to all questions.  I think mysteries give us hope.

Children’s Literature

I read recently that classic children’s literature is being removed from schools and school curriculum.  Books like The Odyssey, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are now considered unsuitable for a child to read or to be taught.  I take exception to this.  There is great Children’s Literature out there and to be honest I don’t think that the books that claim to be written for children these days are not anything more than feel good shlock made for the child to feel ok about his or her own self as opposed to becoming self-aware that we all can always be improving.  It has been said that once you stop changing you start dying.  I think this is true.  We are people that have been put on this planet to grow first outwardly and then inwardly.  We start out being constantly in need and when we have grown old enough, we begin meeting the needs of others and this should never change.

There are some books that we should come across early in life that celebrate just letting a child be a child.  Winnie The Pooh, Peter Pan and Tom Sawyer are three of these.  Let’s take a look at these three classics.

Winnie The Pooh is heading toward his one hundredth birthday.  He is 95 this year.  AA Milne released the “silly old bear” on the world in 1926.  I doubt there are very many children in the world who don’t know of this lovable bear.  The reason, of course is the star treatment this character has gotten from The Walt Disney Studio since the 1960s.  Disney, as much as I admire the work of Walt Disney did a bit of disservice to Pooh Bear.  The book of his adventures is charming because they are not adventures at all.  Winnie The Pooh never gets his honey as is depicted in the film Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.  He really never accomplishes anything in the books, and he is perfectly content with that.  His world is the world of the very young pre-school child who also plays at all kinds of imaginary games but never goes much further than his back yard.

Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, is an adventure for all the characters.  Peter defeats Captain Hook and saves Wendy, John, and Michael.  Here we see character development in Wendy, John, and Michael as they leave Neverland knowing they will grow up.  In the book Peter’s lost boys go with Wendy and her brothers and are adapted by Wendy’s parents.  Peter however stays the same.  In the book and in the original play Peter comes back for Wendy and in a heart-breaking scene finds that she has grown up with a child of her own named Jane.  Being heartless Peter takes Jane to Neverland and we are led to believe this will go on thru time.

Tom Sawyer is probably the most read of Mark Twain’s novels by younger people.  But younger people were not his only target audience in his Preface he wrote: ‘Although this book is intended mainly for boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and how they felt and thought and talked and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.  – Hartford 1876

Mark Twain was not only writing for children but for adults too.  Any children’s book worth its salt should be able to engage the adult as well as the child.  In other words, it might be easy to read but the words and stories have depth to them that you have to look for in order to find them.

Tom Sawyer is like that.  Here is a boy longing to hold on to his childhood but being slowly drawn into adulthood.  He is a hero and an antihero at the same time.  His friends Becky Thatcher and Huckleberry Finn are names etched into our collective memory and it would be tragic if any of these names became forgotten.

As we grow older the world of children’s literature grows with us.  We begin to have complex thoughts so Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with its charm and wit appeals to us.  We make friends, some of which will be life long and so The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham makes sense to us as there are no better friends in literature then Mole Rat Toad and Badger.  Our minds begin to solve problems and we begin to learn more complex math and language skills.  Even at this stage there is a book, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

Most of the books mentioned in the last paragraph, in fact I think all of the books in this Blog have been made into movies, but they weren’t good movies.  The screen writers took liberties with all the books and cut out some of the best parts.  There is a stop motion animation version of The Wind in the Willows that is well worth seeing.  And the 1970s adaptation of Tom Sawyer with Johnny Whittaker is also worth watching.  Still parts are left out and there is nothing like the book.

One book that captured my imagination in the fifth grad was My Side of the Mountain by Jean George.  Sam Gribley, a city born boy, learns to live on the land his grandfather bought in the Catskill Mountains.  That book was mostly novel, but it also taught you how to fish and other practical camping secrets.  I am no great outdoorsman, but I love a good adventure and Sam striking out on his own, building a house inside a tree and taming a falcon to help him hunt food had everything a boy could want.

There are other books that I wish I had read when I was younger but was glad, I discovered them as an adult.  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is a great American novel.  I don’t really see it as a book for children alone.  It is about four sisters growing up and sharing hard times as well as fighting and making up.  It’s really about the idea that if real love exists in a family, you can conquer the worst of times.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is another book that teaches fundamentals of life.  Those lessons are that hard work, and healthy habits are what you need to lead a good life.  It helps that it is set in an old castle on the desolate Yorkshire moors with strange secrets.

Robert Lewis Stevenson gave us the greatest high seas adventure of all time when he wrote Treasure Island.  Treasure maps, pirates, tall ships, men with one eye or leg and black spots thrill the imagination.  There is a very good film version of this book starring Christian Bale and Charlton Heston.  I still believe it is more fun to read the book first and see the film afterward.

Now we come to the father of modern fantasy the great JRR Tolkien.  While professor Tolkien was grading papers, or so the story goes, he wrote on the back of one of the exam books, “Once in a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…”  And the world would never be the same.

The Hobbit was published on September 21, 1937.  It became a popular book for children and Professor Tolkien found that he had very strong base of enthusiasts for his book.  The story of Bilbo Baggins and his quest to aid the 13 dwarves to get their gold back from the dragon Smaug took the reader into a new land of Middle Earth and they didn’t want to leave. 

I first came upon the book when I spent the night at my Aunt Mary’s house.  It was sometimes in the 70s and I can’t remember why I was there.  I was put in my cousin Steve’s old room. Steve is ten years older than me, and he was already married.  I was rummaging through the bookshelf and found The Hobbit.  I started it but of course couldn’t finish it all in one night and asked if I could have it.  Steve had left it behind and as anyone knows treasure that is left behind is free for whom ever finds it.  My Aunt Mary said “no”, but I could borrow it.  So, I did and was transported myself to the best of the fantasy worlds.

I remember the first time I read the book of having a dream where the dwarves came to me and in one way or another invited me to go with them.  I remember pickaxes and ropes and climbing but that’s about all.  The Hobbit had a hold of my sub-conscious mind as well as my conscious mind.

If you look at the title of Walt Disney’s first animated feature, you’ll find that it is called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Tolkien, who was, to put simply, a professor of languages, decided that that was not the way to spell Dwarfs and changed it in his book to dwarves.  It has remained that way ever since.

Tolkien got letter after letter asking for information about hobbits and Middle Earth.  It would take him almost 20 years to publish The Lord of the Rings the first book of the sequel, The Fellowship of the Ring appeared in July of 1954.  The other two books in the trilogy would follow, The Two Towers in November of 1954 and The Return of the King October of 1955.  These books probably surprised his readers.  The light touch of The Hobbit was slowly pulled away and a darker scarier world was revealed.  Tolkien had gone form writing books for children to writing books for both children and adults.

With the publication at the subsequent popularity of The Lord of the Rings books of fantasy were no longer just in the realm of children’s literature but squarely in the world of books for adults too.  And those adults who cherished the memory of going to Wonderland with Alice now would have books that led them into strange new worlds of adventure and excitement.

I would be remiss in not mentioning here CS Lewis and his Chronicles of Narnia.  Lewis was a friend of Tolkien and an atheist.  The story goes that one day the two friends took a walk.  They both loved the old myths and legends of ancient times and Tolkien explained to Lewis that Christianity and Jesus redemptive work on the cross was the one true myth.  This argument convinced Lewis that Jesus was all that he said he was and that the Gospel’s were true.  He became an ardent follower of Jesus and wrote many books for adults on Christianity.  Mere Christianity is Lewis’s explanation of The Christian Faith.  The Four Loves is an explanation of the four Greek words for love and how they interact with Christianity.  Surprised by Joy is his memoir.  All these books are great for adults but his work for children may well out last anything else he wrote.

CS Lewis once said “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now That I am 50, I read them openly.  When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”  He also said, “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”  In Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, he gave us, in seven books, the history of Narnia from its creation to its end.  He also gave us many characters to know and love.  First the children who find their way from our world into Narnia and then the inhabitants of Narnia itself, Prince Caspian, Reepicheep, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver and Father Christmas himself.

The Narnia books are more than fantasies.  They are in many ways allegorical to the Christian faith.  Many people come away from reading these books with their faith strengthened and commitment to Christ renewed.  Others who read them see no connection at all between Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia and in that I believe you see the genius of CS Lewis.

There are so many other books that in children’s Literature that I could mention but if I did, we would be here for weeks on end.  The Harry Potter books that grew up with the readers as they originally were published.  Aesop’s Fables which seem to have disappeared in these days but when I was child held valuable lessons and still do if they are sought out.  Then there are the books of legends, The Greek God’s and Heroes and The Norse Gods and Goddesses.  Then there is The Matter of Britain better known as The Story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and we cannot leave off this list The Adventures of Robin Hood.  The there are the fairy tales those collected by The Brothers Grimm and those written by Hans Christian Anderson these are some of the tales that Lewis was speaking of when he said there would be a time when we are old enough to read fairy tales again.

One last thought somewhere in the late 1800’s L Frank Baum decided that American children had no fairy tales of their own.  Oh, we had our legends, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, and The Headless Horseman to name a few but no magical fairy stories.  In 1900 Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and gave America it’s first fantasy.  Baum would go on to write 15 Oz books all truly delightful tales and all for American children, though, of course, the books would go on to delight children around the world.

I started this as a call to arms not to allow classic children’s literature to disappear from our schools and libraries.  Our kids shouldn’t be deprived of the lessons these books teach and adults should be at the forefront of the fight reading these books again and digesting the simple yet profound messages almost every one of these books teach.

Auntie Mame or Mame

Mame or Auntie Mame as she was originally called has had quite the impact on my life over the years.  Auntie Mame was originally a novel by Patrick Dennis, a pen name for Edward Everett Tanner, and  was published on December 1, 1955 to a grateful public.  To be honest the book itself is rather dark in places and funny yes, but at times black humor.  The novel came to the attention of Lawrence and Lee, playwrights, they saw the potential of the novel and turned it into a hit play starring Rosalind Russell which opened at the Broadhurst Theater on October 31st 1956.  It was a huge success.  Russel would go on to Hollywood to star in the film version of the play in 1958.  In 1966, Jerry Herman, after his major success with Hello Dolly, which was originally a play called The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder. Set his hand to turning Auntie Mame into a musical, he fought to have Angela Lansbury as his leading lady and won.  And as a song from Jerry’s Girls goes, “The Winter Garden was sell out, when she played the hell out of Mame.”  In 1974 Mame would have one more incarnation as a movie musical starring Lucille Ball.  This is where I come in.

No I was in none of those productions, but I would have liked to have been.  If I lived in a different world maybe my folks would have seen my talent at being an actor and started me early.  I could have played a young Patrick or even the older Patrick a few years later.  My folks didn’t think like that.  As I explained in another blog I came across the original Soundtrack album of Mame in the bargain bin at The Bazaar Record Shop. 

What was that question?  What’s The Bazaar? The Bazaar was a sort of a mall.  Built in 1960 it housed between curtained off walls many independent stores.  There was a shoe store and shoe repair store, there was a bookshop, a candy store, a fruit stand, an Amish Market, a bakery, toy stores and hardware stores and a pet shop and many more.  If you couldn’t find it at The Bazaar, honestly it wasn’t worth having.

I spent a lot of time at the Bazaar growing up as it was just up the street and short walk through the woods to get there.  At first it was the toy store and book shop.  I could get comic books there that were out of date, so they were half price.  As I grew older it became less the toy store and more the record shop.  Being an old soul, I found myself going thru the bargain bins a lot.  I’d find music by The Lettermen, Bobby Sherman others whose time had passed.  It was here that I found Mame.

Mame as noted above starred Lucille Ball, and I love that woman.  I make the claim that Lucy was my first babysitter.  Well… Lucy and Jack Benny.  After my brother and sisters left for school, to get her chores done, mom put me in front of the TV to watch these two shows.  I think they became part of my DNA because Lucy and Jack feel like family to me.  As I got older, I could start watching Lucy on prime-time TV and no one missed Lucy on Monday nights at 9.  I also found out that there was a whole era of shows I missed.  I had seen all of I Love Lucy and never missed an episode of Here’s Lucy, but The Lucy Show, which aired in those years I had to go to bed at eight, I hadn’t seen.  Thank God for reruns.  I was able to see The Lucy Show and much to my surprise there was an episode that guest starred Jack Benny.  It remains one of my great moments in TV history.  Fact, in real life Lucille Ball and Jack Benny were neighbors.

I bought that bargain bin album of Mame and brought it home.  I played it constantly.  Before the week was out I think I had every song memorized.  Jerry Herman’s music was fantastic.  It’s Today, Open A New Window, My Best Girl, We Need A Little Christmas and If He Walked Into My Life were songs that I felt deeply about and still do. I didn’t know the story behind the songs, I only knew the music and that was enough for that moment.

I would get the book, and as I said above, it was dark humor to me and I didn’t see how the music could have come out of that.  Eventually I would see the film starring Rosalind Russel and that made sense.  Here was joy and life and happiness here was a woman I wish I had as an aunt.

Auntie Mame is the story of a woman who is left in charge of her orphaned nephew Patrick.  Mame is not exactly the motherly type.  Her lifestyle was that of a rich flapper in 1920s New York City.  She gave elaborate parties and was friends with all kinds of people.  It’s into this world that Patrick finds himself.  He arrives in the middle of one of Mam’s parties.  Though a bit out of his depth Mame loves Patrick from the start and does her best to raise him, but her ways and the trustees’ ways are different.  Mame is a Modern and the trustee a conservative.  After Mame enrolls Patrick in a school where all the children and teachers are naked, the trustee snatches Patrick away and puts him in a boarding school.

At that exact moment Mame’s troubles multiply as the Wall Street Crash of 1929 wipes her out financially.  She can’t do anything about Patrick unless she can make some money.  She agrees to do a show with her best friend Vera Charles a current stage star.  Now this is where we will depart from the straight version and go to the musical.  Mame plays the one-line role of the moon lady.  She needs to sit on a quarter moon cut out and let her rise.  Between the costume and the seat, she begins to fall off the moon and when she finally gets settled she can’t remember her line.  So ends her career in show business.

Mame contuse to try.  She becomes a telephone operator and other jobs until she finally ends up at Macy’s selling roller skates.  She can’t do this right either as all she can make out is sales slips for Cash on Delivery payment.  Into Macy’s walks Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, a wealthy southern plantation and oil well owner.  He wants to buy a pair of skates and Mame gets caught modeling them for him.  She is fired.  In the film we see her trying to get thru Macy’s on one skate because the lace wouldn’t untie.  Miss Ball plays this kind of comedy well.

Mr. Burnside tracks Mame down to her apartment, feeling sorry for having gotten Mame fired, he invites her as well as the two servants Agnes and Ito and Patrick who is home for the holidays out to dinner.  Mame has found her man and her savior.

Our next scene brings Mame and Patrick to Beau’s Plantation where Mame dressed like Scarlett O’Hara meets Beau’s mother, family and his ex-girlfriend.  Mame is not well received by anyone and when she asked whether she rides, meaning horses, she brags that she does.  Not only does she ride but side saddle.  Beau’s Ex sees her chance, she knows Mame is lying to save face and so arranges a fox hunt for the next day.  Mame can’t even get her feet into the riding boots she is provided with but somehow, she gets on the horse and takes off.  Mame eventually falls off the horse but at the same time finds the fox sitting next to her she picks him up and nuzzles him.  Mame become the toast of the south.

Beau and Mame are married and spend many years touring the world with Patrick joining them during his summer breaks.  Patrick is growing up and getting involved with eligible society girls.  Mame is a bit put off by this.  She decides to go home and tells Beau.  It is at this point that Beau has climbed a little too high on the Mountain they were on he falls and is killed.

Mame comes home to NYC a wealthy widow.  She finds Agnes and Ito still there keeping it all going.  She finds Patrick engaged to woman that probably never had a thought of her own.  She makes up with Vera and together she and Vera team up on Mousy Agnes and turn her into a femme fatale.  The next time we see Agnes she’s pregnant.

It’s with Agnes that Mame makes her philosophy of life clear.  Agnes is afraid of the changes Mame wants to make in her.  Mame tells her to stop being afraid.  To Live.  “Live Live Live Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Agnes goes a little too far and get pregnant but that’s what living is about.  We make choices and changes and we have to live with the consequences.  That’s true for all of us.  But the choices have to be made.  Sure, you can stay in a safe little bubble, but what good does that do anyone.  So you go out and you do something and it falls apart, so what, you try again, and again or you try something else.  Live this life to it’s full potential.  Every person no matter how bad things get can make a choice to make it a little better.  Rich or poor, young, or old we can all change our lives and make them count.  That’s the message in Mame and coincidentally also the message in Jerry Herma’s previous hit Hello Dolly.

Mame does take on Patrick’s new fiancé and makes short work of her at the same time finding Patrick a suitable new woman.  All of this is done in funny outlandish ways.  At the end of the movie, play musical we see Mame now older trying to convince Patrick to allow her to take Michael, Patrick’s son, to India with her.  She wants to show Michael all that she had showed Patrick.  She wants her grandnephew to LIVE.

The story of Mame is funny, it’s a little irreverent and totally off beat.  Most of us though would feel lucky to have an Auntie Mame in our lives.  My cousin Joanne was like that to me.  She was about 18 years older than I and had endured the first open heart surgery in The United States.  She and her family lived next store and Joanne was always trying different things and going different places.  She took me to my first professional theater show which was The Wiz and also to my second which was 42nd Street.  She gave me the best Christmas gifts always to do with what I was interested in.  She was a devout Catholic and when Godspell became a film she took the whole neighborhood to that.

I would come home form school and go right over to her house.  We talked about everything, and she really helped me through my teen age years.  She was also the only person I ever knew who had real gold table wear.  The knives and forks and spoons all of gold.  It was only for formal dining, but it was amazing to me.

The songs from Mame encourage me.  Open a New Window.  An invitation to try something you haven’t done before and not to worry about what other people think.  We Need A Little Christmas, Christmas is the happiest day on the planet for most of us, and sometimes between January and November we need a little of that spirit in our lives.  In A Christmas Carol Scrooge makes it clear after his ghostly visitors that he would keep the spirit of Christmas alive in his heart all the year through.

If He Walked Into My Life is a song of regret.  And we all regret things we’ve done and said.  We wonder if we had the chance to do it all over again would we make the same mistakes, could we have done any better.  We have to examine our lives not only to see where we’ve been but to know where we will end up.  That sometimes means changing courses.

Mame said Life is a banquet and I believe it is.  I can back that up with Biblical text.  Jesus said “I have come to give life and abundantly.”  In other words, the man who I believe came to save people from their sins and from an eternity in hell also came to give abundant life.  He came to give a banquet one which everyone on this planet is  invited to.  They just must accept his invitation.  That abundant fulfilled life is not just what will happen after we die but its’s to be lived out here on earth.  Christians should be the most alive people on the planet and many of them are.  Some are not and they get all the negative media attention.  Christians should be alive and loving.  They should be in the moment as Mame Sings about in the opening song It’s Today!  Christians should be the front runners in science and innovation and social justice and loving our neighbors well.  Christians should be giving the best parties, serving delicious food and drink, Jesus went to weddings and parties and dinners all the time.  He also drank.  Not to get drunk but for the flavor and for joy of it. Christians should be opening new windows all the time.

Many of us don’t.  We live in fear of what may happen or if we will get it wrong.  I’m as guilty as anyone of doing that.  But I’m trying to change that.  I’m a writer and if I can’t get hired to write I’ll write this blog till someone sees it.  I’m an actor and director and it’s in my heart to produce and direct Mame on stage.  I don’t know how or where but I think it can be done if I don’t become afraid.  I must open doors and windows I’ve never tried before.  But this is life abundant, and this is life’s banquet.  It’s here, it’s now and it’s for everyone.