You Must Remember This

August 17, 2014

We got our first black and white television when I was six, in 1954. The very first image the family saw was of George Reeves, as “Superman.” He killed himself. That was the beginning of me losing my faith.

I was never drawn to sitcoms but I was laser-focused on Sid Caesar and his crowd of manic comics and the great Jack Paar, particularly when his guests were the intellectuals Jonathan Winters and the astounding Oscar Levant.

Levant was a genius pianist and friend of George Gershwin and Aaron Copeland, a character actor movie star who appeared in film musicals with Gene Kelly (“An American in Paris”) and Annette Faberes (“The Bandwagon”) and others, and in the 50’s, he was in the throes of mental illness. Paar would keep Levant on track, spewing one liners and cynicism even as Levant’s head lolled on his shoulders. He spoke directly to me through the television screen.

And then came those movies, the back and white movies that endlessly played on television. There was “Tarzan” (the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan franchise with Jane as played by the edible Maureen O’Sullivan). There was “On the Waterfront,” with Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint. There was Carol Lombard, Lena Horne, and Greta Garbo, in anything. There was Myrna Loy, my own particular precious. Why?

Sex. No ten-year-old boy could have said that. But he somehow thought it.

Maureen O’Sullivan, in her costume of flimsy leaves and her bare legs going up to—where?—and her curls. In “On the Waterfront,” in the pivotal scene, Marlon confesses to Eva, who is clad in a chaste white slip that hangs to her ankles, that he killed her brother. And Marlon falls against her, puts his arms around my Eva and slides down my Eva’s slip-draped body, over her slender hips, to the floor. He was sobbing. Me, every time I saw that movie, I ran for my bedroom and, uh, thought of Eva.

Carol and Lena and Greta and Myrna had something in common. They didn’t wear bras. Their lovely breasts hung free and loose and their nipples swelled. Watch “The Thin Man.” Watch “Nothing Sacred,” where Fort Wayne’s Carole Lombard almost has a wardrobe malfunction. OMG.

When did bras get introduced to movies? What movie star looked good in a bra?

Lauren Bacall.

Those lips, those eyes, that voice, those legs, that come-hither stare that did in Bogey, that did in little Gene Baldwin of Belleville, Illinois.

“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve?” “I’m hard to get, Steve, all you have to do is ask me.” Carmen Sternwood: “You’re cute.” Marlowe: “I’m getting cuter every moment.”

Dammit. I forgot Ingrid Bergman, Dorothy Dandridge, Doris Day (yes, Doris Day, you wanna fight?) and Claudette Colbert, who jiggled like Jello.

Every time I gazed at all of the above, any of the above, I ran to my room and, uh, thought about them.

There’s no mystery in Lululemon pants. There’s joy, delight, intrigue, lasciviousness, and licentiousness, but no mystery.

Give me Myrna any day.

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