From the time I was a school-aged kid, up to the November of my third grade year, I had many bouts of tonisilitis. I’d get a sore throat and a fever, the doctor would come to our home (those were the days!), I’d be given some antibiotics and an order to stay home from school for a while.
This was actually a suburb of Heaven, the staying home. My mother and I would have a leisurely breakfast, there was often ice cream (often to disguise the bitter taste of the antibiotic), and she might play cards or a board game with me, or read to me. Then, she tended to her tasks while I “rested.”
I had fun creating castles, moats, and caves out of the folds in my blanket so that my dolls, often a Ginny,
a Barbie, a bear (Pink Bear), and a rabbit (Pink Bunny – she had long plastic eyelashes – oooh!) could have adventures. On TV, with only six stations, there were game shows (how did they remember all those clues and solve the rebus on Concentration?) and, twice a day, on Channel 9, was The Million Dollar Movie.
The Million Dollar Movie, which used Max Steiner’s lush musical theme from Gone With the Wind, showed Hollywood’s (mostly) finest, usually twice a day, every weekday. That’s ten sweet times to watch Swing Time, arguably Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ finest work, and Love in the Afternoon, a sophisticated romantic comedy with Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper, and Maurice Chevalier. I saw Eleanor Parker in the melodramatic Caged, a story of an innocent nineteen-year-old widow incarcerated for stealing an apple to feed her baby. She was so hungry. She was so distraught. Most of the movie is set in a women’s prison with its inner corruption – despite prison matron Agnes Moorehead’s true blue leadership. Eleanor’s character was denied parole after parole. She was despondent but wouldn’t take the easy way out and become a disciple of a tough old lifer – a white-haired woman who, gasp, was permitted to wear lipstick in prison! Eleanor was determined to be reunited with her baby and, thus, made her bargain with the Devil. The lipstick turned out to be an important symbol of her transition.
Orange is the New Black has nothing on Caged.
My imagination ran wild – usually before lunchtime and a nap.
Years later, I found out that renowned director, Martin Scorsese, was shaped by childhood movie-watching due to asthma. Not being able to engage in vigorous play in the open, Scorsese went to the movies with his Dad. They bonded, and Scorsese got to be simultaneously in the wild, wild, west and Queens, New York.
Similarly, I’ve lived in a Parisian apartment with a (seemingly) hopeless crush on a powerful American industrialist who took me rowing, made my silk chiffon dress bounce while dancing with my tap dancing partner (who worked hard to gain my affections), and I’ve learned that resilience and survival, even when it means profound compromises with what I know to be an ideal life, are key.
Martin Scorsese wasn’t making movies yet when I was a kid, but I’ve continued to be mesmerized by and learn from great story-telling even after my tonsillectomy (third grade). Now, when I’m in prison, developing grit with Eleanor Parker, and preparing a souflée that is a barometer of my romantic yearnings in Sabrina, I am also cooking with Pauli, the head of a “family” in Goodfellas:
Paulie did the prep work. He was doing a year for contempt and he had a system for doing garlic. He used a razor and he sliced it so thin it used to liquify in the pan with a little oil.
Thanks, Martin Scorsese. Happy Birthday and many more.