Friday, March 21, 2008

Pal Joey: Still Wise After All These Years

In New York two weeks ago, I stayed in the gracious Upper West Side apartment of an old (in years, but never elderly!) family friend. She's an actress, and by her desk has a bookshelf full of plays. One title caught my eye: Pal Joey.

Wow! That's the show my father was in when he met my mother. So I pulled out the slim paperback. To my surprise, it wasn't a play but "the book from which the successful Broadway musical was made." The author is John O'Hara, whose Appointment in Samarra resided unread (by me at least) in my stepfather's bookcase for decades.

Turns out that Pal Joey is a collection of fictional letters by the self-proclaimed "poor man's Bing Crosby," most of which ran in The New Yorker in 1939 and 1940. Unlike in the movie version starring Frank Sinatra [Dad was so blacklisted, even his character was cut from it], Joey is an unrepentant womanizing heel through the very end, where he's broke and alone in Chicago.

Given that Chicago is being blasted by a major snowstorm as I write, Joey's assessment [all spelling sic] of the weather there is particularly apt:
Friend Ted:
I don't think I will be able to take it out here much more. In the 1st place it is because you never saw such cold weather until you spent a winter in Chi. I do not mean weather like you have to chop the alcohol before putting it in the radiator of the car. I mean weather that is so cold that the other day this pan handler came up to me and braced me and said I look as if I had a warm heart and I gave him a two-bit piece because if it wasnt for him would not of known I was alive or frozen to death. That has how it has been here in Chi. Maybe that explains some of the pecular actons of many of the inhabintants. Illinois is in a state of suspended animaton and the people live in hibernaton from Oct. to whenever it ever gets warmer. I do not know and hope I am not here long enough to find out. I am merely telling you this in case you ever decide to take a job to spend the winter in Chi and I am not there to stop you at the point of a gun.
And here's Joey on an old song requested by nightclub doorman Sailor Bob, a "punchy stumble bum":
He apprisiated my singing I will say that for him altho always asking why didnt I sing like Oh you beautiful doll which you are too young to remember and so am I but the story I hear is that when the Titanic went down (a ship) people sang it or hummed a couple bars and then said the hell with this and jumped the hell off the boat so they would not have to finish singing it. I do not know that for sure but only base that on hearsay based on a weak moment when I allowed the Sailor to sing it for me one nite.


Southern Writer said...

I've seen some of your dad's movies. How fun for you to be from such colorful stock (my grandfather was a trapeze artist for a while). I think it's rotten what they did to your dad, but I still sometimes wish I could have lived in that glamorous old era (I would have wanted to be Rita Hayworth). It sounds like you have such a fun life -- dining with literary agents, being the house guest of an actress ... would you like to adopt me?

Bella Stander said...

I only write about the fun stuff. If I adopted you, you'd have to hear about all the crap, like my medical travails. Oh wait...I've written about them too. (And there are more coming. Stay tuned!)

I also wish I could have lived in the glamorous old era. I was born during the nadir of my father's career and didn't get to L.A. till I was nearly 25--and then there was an actors' strike on so didn't get to see much of anything. Except I went to the 8th birthday party of my little half-sister's best friend: a girl named Maya Rudolph. They served pasta with green pesto sauce, and none of the kids would touch it. (Duh!)