You Must Remember These: 1950-1969
The bible of adolescent spiritual angst, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye raised ”phoniness” to the status of original sin and made teenagers the arbiters of morality and authenticity. Middle-aged critics greeted the turmoil of Holden Caulfield with a mixture of surprise, appreciation, and dismay, but the young preppie’s following among adolescents was virtually unreserved from the start.
SPLASH DANCE Where Fred Astaire glided across shiny dance floors, Gene Kelly bounced. Where Fred tapped, Gene stomped. Where Fred was an airy continental concoction, Gene was an all-American jock — and his rise to stardom revitalized the movie musical. Kelly’s apotheosis came when he sang ”Singin’ in the Rain” in Singin’ in the Rain. High-voiced and easy, alone in the patently fake downpour of a studio set, Kelly reveled in the plastic bliss of a world where one can breathe out one’s longings in song and dance. The truth is, he filmed the scene while suffering from a bad cold. The point is, you can’t tell.
COOP’S SOLITARY STAND
Was ever a lawman so awesome? Was ever victory so lonely and bitter? Did ever a town clock tick so ominously? As sheriff Will Kane in High Noon, Gary Cooper wasn’t afraid to walk the empty streets of Hadleyville alone. Even to face killers sworn to get him. Even when everyone who might help him who flees in cowardice. (”This ain’t our job!”) Angry? Disillusioned? You haven’t seen despair and disgust ’til you’ve seen a ”victorious” Cooper toss his sheriff’s badge on the ground. At least he didn’t toss his Academy Award for the role.
BEACH AND MOAN
How many scenes are instantly recognizable even to people who haven’t seen the movie? From Here to Eternity‘s steamy, sandy surfside clinch between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr was an erotic ’50s icon right up there with Monroe on the subway grating. Accordingly, it has been parodied by everyone from Sid Caesar to the bad boys of Airplane! What no one remembers is that the role of the adulterous wife turned Kerr’s tea-and-crumpet image around 90 degrees, giving her career a needed boost. Other actors saved by Eternity: Donna Reed (playing a hooker!) and Frank Sinatra, who literally begged the producers for the role of Maggio. Both won Oscars.
1953 A COMEDY CLASSIC IS BORN
She would do anything for a laugh. Stuff her cheeks with assembly-line chocolates. Set her putty nose on fire. Put her face in cement and her feet in vats of grapes. Even drink Vitameatavegamin. But Lucille Ball’s single greatest piece of physical comedy was a more literal kind of hard labor. Timorous censors banned the word ”pregnant” from I Love Lucy‘s scripts. But not the concept. On Jan. 19, Lucy and Ricky and Fred and Ethel, in quadruple dithers, headed for the hospital, arriving just in time for little Ricky to debut in front of just about everyone who owned a TV. Everyone except Ball herself: That night, she gave birth to Desi Arnaz Jr. off-camera. Her timing, as always, was peerless.