Friday, January 14, 2005


Okay, this may take a bit of explaining. Let's start here: my mother grew up in Hollywood in the 30s and40s; went to Hollywood High, and had friends who were in the local business--film. (Alexis Smith was in her gym class, for example.) Mom's two best friends were Portia Nelson and Susanna Foster. If you've seen The Sound of Music you've seen Portia--she's the nun with the long face who pulls the distributor cap from the Nazi's car during the climactic chase. She was also an incredible vocalist, headlining at clubs almost up to the time of her death. Susie, as Mom called her, had a relatively brief career in film; she was a coloratura soprano, brought out to Hollywood when she was 12 to become the next Deanna Durbin--she didn't, but she did make films with Claude Rains, Nelson Eddy, Franchot Tone, Buster Keaton, Boris Karloff and Donald O'Connor. Eventually she left Hollywood, married, had kids. I remember Susie and her two sons, Michael and Phillip, visiting us in the country, and going uptown to their apartment (in Hells' Kitchen, I think) when I was pretty small.

Jump forward many years. Younger Girl wants to see the new movie of The Phantom of the Opera. I am, as I think I have stated elsewhere, no big fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and I think I did my duty five years ago when I took Older Girl to see the show on Broadway. Many curlicues, but all the music sounds like all the other music. So I said "If you want to see Phantom, you have to see the non-musical version first." So this evening we rented the 1943 Claude Rains version, with Susie as the singing ingenue, Christine DuBois.

It's not a great film. It's stilted, and can't decide whether it's a horror film (according to the conventions of the time) or a musical or a comedy. Before the movie, at dinner, we started playing a "six degrees of separation" game in which I realized that I knew Susie, who worked with Claude Rains, who worked with Humphrey Bogart and Errol Flynn and Lionel Barrymore, and Bogart worked with Katherine Hepburn, I (and the girls, who were totally thrilled by this nonsense) are all connected by six degrees or less to any number of great old Hollywood stars. Whee.

We sit down to watch the movie. And once again Younger Girl throws me for a loop by being brokenhearted at the end when the Phantom dies in a cave-in in the catacombs under the Paris Opera. She was howling, in tears, calling "Phaaaantom! Phaaaaantom! Why did he have to die! Why were they so mean to him?" Sarcasm Girl attempted to explain that this was a kinder death than if he'd been hung for the murders of all those people he dropped the chandelier on, but YG wasn't having it. When I tucked her in to bed tonight she was beginning to get silly, but there was still a core of sadness for the poor, misunderstood psychopath who just wanted to make music.

And of course, now she's going to start a campaign to get me to take her to the Lloyd Webber film. Sigh.


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