Hopelessly immersed in the recent 13 installment fifth season of the AMC late Sunday evening series “Mad Men”, I weekly revisited the quirky 60s on my dates with dapper, dashing advertising executive “Don Draper” and the gang! And, baby, that cast has got it right! How do I know? I lived, loved, laughed and came of age during that precise decade — to the maximum!!
Outside of giddily graduating and happily exiting from high school (yay!), getting “pinned” and then engaged during my college career, and marrying husband Don in 1968, the zaniest fun I ever experienced during that decade occurred in the beachy metropolis of Warsaw, Indiana, at an innovative theater–in-the-round…a heady Hollywood Babylonish, episodic adventure for a naive teenager. First, the audition — my vocal solo earnestly delivered across the living room of that colorful mogul Major Herbert Petrie — met with approval. I earned a spot as an apprentice!
No longer would I nag Mom and Pop about my mission in life (while leaning forward upon skinned-up elbows and propping a determined chin upon the back of the front seat and swiveling an eager face from one parent to the other) on half hour moon-lit drives home departing the original canvas, Chautauqua-inspired tent-in-a-field productions of “The King and I” and “Plain and Fancy” in 1956. I actually had landed by 1962, successfully catapulting from spectator to center stage! The acting bug seduced another starry-eyed victim. As a 16 year old, I appeared in several musicals in a newly constructed lodge-type theater-in-the-round which had become the next home for the Wagon Wheel Experience well on its way to national renown.
Truthfully, I spent a huge quantity of time hammering nails into wood, assembling “flats”, and slopping paint onto one-dimensional back-drops while crawling around an outback chicken coop doubling as an impromptu classroom-setting for a crash course I snidely referred to as an “Introduction to Stagecraft 101”. However, such rigorous labor assured my choral participation as just another one of the townspeople, singing contralto, in imaginary River City, Iowa and twice in a fictitious New York City. Performing before audiences often including Columbia City Rotary or Kiwanis or Jaycee Clubs or friends and family chauffeured by my convertible-driving brother-in-law, high-school-ism ceased holding any allure for me whatsoever. Although only 25 miles from my own house and its bustling, pleasantly intrusive, seasonal re-modeling Reiff Brothers crew, I imagined myself as distanced (from reality) as Stratford-Upon-Avon itself and fantasized performing the works of Will Shakespeare — totally hooked….in a good way!
Thus, blissfully adrift in baseball legend/evangelistic preacher Billy Sunday’s territory in neighboring Kosciusko County far away from “home sweet home”, Susie — the virginal ingénue and “Marjorie Morningstar” wannabe — hob-nobbed with Northwestern University co-eds and frat boys, many succeeding eventually as Broadway and television situation comedy stars and starlets. Notably, the MOST enchanting, exciting member of our troupe stood 6’3” and cut a striking figure as flirtatious, athletic, uncommonly handsome and outrageously hilarious. We called this friendly guy “Mac”, short for McLean Stevenson, who hailed from Normal, Illinois. During his second cousin Adlai Stevenson’s bids for the White House, my affable fellow thespian served as press secretary!
Mac, formerly employed as Northwestern’s assistant athletic director in Evanston, Illinois, accomplished his first ever professional theatrical stint just up the road as “The Music Man” in 1962, according to “Wikipedia” — AND according to ME as well! I can vouch for that fun bit of showbiz trivia! Awe-struck, I sang and danced alongside the hunk as he portrayed Professor Harold Hill, conducting a kids’ band filled with “Seventy-Six Trombones”!
This down-to-earth, “casual as an old shoe” fellow portrayed Doris Day’s magazine-editor-boss in her 1969-1971 television show, and in 1972 through 1975 — co-starring with Alan Alda and Wayne Rogers — his popularity soared as Lt. Colonel Henry Blake on the Korean War TV sitcom “Mash”. Furthermore, Stevenson substituted for Johnny Carson, while guest hosting the “Tonight Show”, a grand total of 58 times — garnering a wide array of global fans!
Since Ms. Day had stolen my very young heart in her 50s Warner Brothers/MGM musicals, I delighted in viewing her exchange of dialogue each weekly broadcast opposite Mac and considered that my childhood “Pillow Talk” idol was now only disconnected from me by “Six Degrees of Separation”, the maybe preposterous theory that a string of five intermediary human beings link each of us to some other person somewhere on this vast planet! Now, let’s review then. My mom married my dad who voted for Adlai in 1952 and 1956 and who also, in 1962, introduced me to Major Petrie who cast me in a couple of musicals with “Mac” who chased the star of “Calamity Jane” (one of my favorite films) around an office desk on a television show – Hellooooo, Doris! “Que Sera, Sera!”
I survived another decade in “show business” before settling down as a humdrum participant in sometimes dreary real life. However, in late July and early August, our son will star as Georg Nowack in 1963’s stunning Broadway musical “She Loves Me” reprising a role which James Stewart, Van Johnson, Tom Hanks, and Daniel Massey once tackled. The show opens July 26 and runs three weekends – more info can be found at www.pennyseats.org. So, what possibly might provide more fun that treading the boards myself? No doubt about it, I anticipate — with glee — sitting comfortably with an Ann Arbor crowd applauding someone I dearly love who sings on a par with Mario Lanza or Hugh Jackman and whose talent far exceeds my own. Nothing finer, believe me!
* Title’s cadence and number of syllables equals that of “MAD DOGS AND ENGLISHMEN GO OUT IN THE MIDDAY SUN!” Thanks, Noel Coward! ;D
In the Good Old Summertime
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
In the Good Old Summertime is a 1949 musical film directed by Robert Z. Leonard. It starred Judy Garland, Van Johnson and S.Z. Sakall.
The film is a musical adaptation of the 1940 film, The Shop Around the Corner, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, and starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, and written by Miklós László based on his play Parfumerie. For In the Good Old Summertime, the locale has been changed from 1930s Budapest to turn-of-the-century Chicago, but the plot remains the same.