By Caitlin Kelly
Starting a new occasional series here, dedicated to cultural things I love — and hope to inspire you to check out as well: music, books. films, art and more.
Do you know the book, musical or movie of Mame?
If you’re below 50, probably not!
Written in 1955 by Patrick Dennis, it sold more than two million copies and stayed on The New York Times best-seller list for 112 weeks. Then it became a play, a musical and a film, nominated for six Academy Awards.
The 10 year old boy at its center — also named Patrick — is sent to live with his madcap aunt Mame, who defines fabulous; in the 1958 film, Mame re-decorates her apartment almost every scene.
I adore Mame, and its spirit of joie de vivre.
I know all the songs by heart and love singing along, although “My Best Girl” always makes me weepy.
A June 1958 Los Angeles Examiner article named six different styles: Chinese, 1920s Modern, “Syrie Maugham” a French style named for writer Somerset Maugham’s wife; English, Danish Modern and East Indian. When the Upsons visit Mame, they run afoul of the Danish Modern furniture, which is equipped with lifts The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction (Art Direction: Malcolm Bert; Set Decoration: George James Hopkins).
The costume design for the film, which includes outfits for Mame that coordinate with those sets, was provided by Orry-Kelly, who had worked with Rosalind Russell on a number of films. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther observed: “The lavish décor of Mame’s apartment is changed almost as frequently as are her flashy costumes, and all of them are dazzling, in color and on the modified wide-screen
Ten reasons I adore Mame, and hope you will too!
— Although Patrick lands abruptly in her care after his father suddenly dies, she’s thrilled to now be taking care of him, not resentful.
— Her glamorous Beekman Place apartment is a froth of over-the-top fun and fantasy.
— That cigarette-holder!
— The characters are great, including lock-jawed snob Gloria Upson and gloomy Agnes Gooch.
— Mame can not stand snobbery!
— She reminds me so much of the wealthy, profligate Chicago-born heiress who was my late maternal grandmother, all raw silk turbans and custom-made raw silk muumuus and gold-topped canes and limo’s everywhere.
— Like me, Patrick is sent off to boarding school but treasures his visits with Mame.
— Despite moving in wealthy Manhattan circles, Mame is always urging Patrick to be curious and adventurous: “Open a new window, open a new door, travel a new highway you’ve never tried before…”
— She knows how to cheer everyone up, singing: “Haul out the holly, put up the tree…We need a little Christmas, right this very minute, candles at the window, carols at the spinnet!”
— She’s a figure we can all enjoy in our lives, whether we’re a lost little boy or a happy play, musical or film-goer. She stands the test of time.