|Old time sports bar with swell radio. Spencer Tracy in the mirror.|
When I was a teenager, we had a TV show called Million Dollar Movie in the afternoons, just when we'd just gotten home from school. If there was nothing better to do, we watched the old Hollywood classics in black and white on TV. We didn't have color TV. My father despised TV as an animated Hallmark card punctuated with arrogant talking heads. Joe was his name. Irreverence was his game. He'd honed his craft driving the nuns in Catholic school crazy. But they had their revenge by forcing my left handed father to write with his right hand.
But those stolen afternoons watching old black and white Hollywood movies defined my world and my ideals. Later, I sought them out in art house movie theaters on the Upper West side of Manhattan. Now, I own them. Yeah. Sometimes life is magic like that. Get used to it, young 'uns.
I had a son so late in life, we called him a grandchild. He's so much younger than I am that he thinks I make things up when I talk about telephone booths, TV with only three channels and no seat belts. But I've tried to educate him about what America used to be like by showing him those old movies that taught me so much. Whenever he can spare an hour or so away from work or Zombie killing sprees, he comes by and watches one with me.
What a shock I had at his response when we sat down to watch WOMAN OF THE YEAR starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, their first movie together and where they began their thirty year love affair.
Here's the opening scene: It's a bar where reporters are drinking and listening to the radio. You know, an old fashioned sports bar; for the mega screen TV substitute a really swell radio turned up loud. So the guys downing booze hear this hot shot female reporter answering impossible questions on the radio. She's Tess Harding, who takes meetings with FDR and speaks Chinese, and seven other languages.
She can answer all the impossible, obscure questions. Then they ask her a sports question and she flubs it. Sam, (Spencer Tracy) the sports writer sipping scotch, knew the answer. But not only does Tess flub the question, she then pompously declares that playing baseball should be abolished while we are at war with the Nazis. Okay, so far my son is bored. Katherine Hepburn is just another feminist know it all girl, the only kind they produce in his generation.
Sports writer Sam is appalled and angrily argues back to the radio for the benefit of his bar buddies, "We're concerned with a threat to what we like to call our American way of life. Baseball and what it represents is part of that American way of life. What's the sense of abolishing the thing you're trying to protect." Then Sam dashes off to write a stinging column in reply.
However, my son grabbed the remote and played that short scene again, telling me he couldn't believe what he'd just heard. What? What? What did I miss? We were less than five minutes into the movie.
"I can't believe he said that." he said, replaying the scene several more times. I was completely mystified about what he found so unbelievable.
"Didn't you hear what he said?" my son asked me incredulously. "You could tell he really loved this country and he wasn't ashamed or embarrassed. You could never say anything like that in a movie today."
Really? I guess I don't get out enough.
But I will tell you one thing. I kept telling him Trump would win. He very gently and sweetly told me that that was never going to happen, so I shouldn't get my hopes up. He was trying to take care of his old mom. Now that crazy old optimist mom turned out not to be so crazy, I just think, get used to it young 'un, sometimes the world hands you a miracle, and all you've got to do is take the ball and run with it. It's your turn to make a grand new world. I think it's gonna be one where it's okay to talk about protecting the American way of life.