fiction, movies, music

Diamonds in the rough…

The other day, I was sitting on the patio drinking beer in the late afternoon sun. It occurred to me that Little Orphan Annie had a lot in common with Maria von Trapp. Both were musical theater heroines from musicals set in World War II (edited to add: Annie was set in the Great Depression— thanks to mphtheatergirl for catching the error). Both came from poverty– Annie was an orphan who lived in an orphanage, while Maria was a young novitiate at a convent. Both were spunky and friendly, as they turned the households of wealthy men upside down with their charms. Both were musical and used their musical gifts to brighten lives.

So I mentioned this on social media, and a friend who is into musicals piped up, saying her “musical theater brain just exploded”. Actually, she used an exploding emoticon to make her point. But I got the idea that she hadn’t thought about how similar the stories of Annie and Maria are kind of similar.

And now, as I sit here writing this, I realize that both of those stories also have something in common with Pretty Woman, a 1990 film that starred Julia Roberts as a woman named Vivian who went from being a prostitute to being Richard Gere’s character of Edward’s main squeeze. And Pretty Woman was kind of My Fair Lady— man turns woman from the wrong side of the tracks into something better and classier. Of course, Vivian and Annie also had red curly hair in common, and lots of spunk and positivity. Julia didn’t sing as Vivian, so I don’t know if they also had music in common.

In all of those stories, the cultured, wealthy, crotchety men are ultimately charmed by females who show them that they just need a little more love in their lives. It’s an appealing story, which is probably why it gets told in various ways so often. We all like the Cinderella story, featuring scrappy young women who climb out of adversity and onto something bigger and better. But then, each of these stories are not just about women making it on their own. They’re also about men who have a higher station, pulling them up. Maybe they would have pulled themselves up eventually, but being attached to a wealthy older man has its advantages, I guess.

She won his heart…
She won his heart…
She won his heart…
She won his heart…

So why am I writing this now? I’m not gonna lie. It’s mostly because I can’t stand to look at that screenshot from my duet video yesterday. This was something intriguing that floated through my mind a couple of days ago and I wanted to write it down. It occurred to me that a lot of formulas of popular stories are really the same story set with different characters and situations.

I first thought about how similar Annie and Pretty Woman were a few years ago, as I was watching Pretty Woman on Netflix. I listened to Vivian giving Edward a pep talk and realized that she was only supposed to stay with him for a week– just temporarily– so he could seal a business deal. Annie, likewise, was only supposed to have a week with Daddy Warbucks. He’d even wanted a boy instead of a girl. But in the course of a few days, both of these characters had won over their wealthy male benefactors in a heartwarming Cinderella story in which they live happily ever after. Maria von Trapp, likewise, was supposed to be a temporary governess for Captain von Trapp’s seven children. She ends up charming everyone, despite being annoying to the captain at first. And Eliza Doolittle, initially annoyed with her Cockney accent, manages to win over Henry Higgins as she catches on to what he’s trying to teach her and becomes a beautiful young lady… a diamond in the rough, just like Vivian the prostitute, Annie the orphan, and Maria the nun in training.

Isn’t that interesting? Maybe I should log off and watch some of these warm and fuzzy movies today. In a matter of days, we’ll probably be emerging from our house, at long last. I might not have the time or inclination to hang out watching movies a week from now…

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memories, music, nostalgia, YouTube

The Red Scare!

Yesterday’s post about public TV caused me to fall down a very interesting rabbit hole on YouTube. Anyone who follows this blog for any length of time is likely to come to the conclusion that I have way too much time on my hands, most days. And when I get bored, I go hunting for things to alleviate my boredom. I had wanted to add a certain video showing a Soviet children’s show on yesterday’s post. I couldn’t find it, but I did find this video, which I also shared in yesterday’s post…

Someone in 1981 was REALLY scared of the Soviets taking over our capitalistic society… That still photo is Toni Ann Gisondi, who played Molly in the 1982 movie, Annie.

I didn’t really write about what’s in this video when I posted it yesterday. That’s because I discovered it at the end of my post and had already written a lot… and the former Soviet Union wasn’t really the point of yesterday’s writings, anyway. In this video, an elderly teacher, obviously stricken and terrified, tells her class that all current teachers will be forced to give up their classes. A little boy named Johnny tells the teacher not to panic as she explains why she’s so scared.

At 9:00am, right on the dot, a tall, attractive woman with reddish brown hair, blue eyes, and a vague British accent appears at the door. She wears what looks like a Soviet inspired uniform, enters the room, and tells the children that she’s their new teacher as she firmly kicks out the old lady who had originally been teaching the kids. She knows all of the students’ names, shocking them. Then she shocks me by poorly trying to sing “Children of the World”, a positively cringeworthy song by the Bee Gees. Talk about a Red Scare!

The young teacher has a kind and friendly demeanor, but it’s clear that beneath that calm, gentle facade lurks a woman who could probably kill the children if provoked. Or, at least have them sent to a gulag or something. They are impressed by her, but also a bit scared. The teacher very carefully leads the children to her lessons, gradually and insidiously teaching them not to blindly honor American values. But little Johnny, the same one who told the old teacher not to panic, is going to be a troublemaker. The teacher takes down the American flag, then tells everyone they’re going to cut the flag, so everyone can have a piece of it. Johnny looks like he’s going to wet his pants.

A little girl named Leslie (who played Nadia Comaneci in the movie, Nadia), cuts the first piece of the flag because it’s her birthday. More pieces are cut so that everyone can have a piece, just like it was a birthday cake. The kids all disrespect the flag, all very innocently, as the sound effects get more ominous. When a child asks why their first teacher was crying, the new Soviet model says she was just “tired” and needs a long rest. And she says teachers should be young… like she is– only 23 years old. The old bat will be sent away where she will be nice and “safe”.

Then Johnny, the truth teller, demands to know where his dad is. The teacher says Johnny’s dad is “going to school”, becomes sometimes grown ups have to go to school, too. The teacher explains that Johnny’s dad had “wrong thoughts” and needs to be re-educated. And Johnny can visit him, once he has a vacation. Dads who are in school get vacation just like kids in school, do. Oh dear. The teacher tells Johnny that his dad had some thoughts that were “old fashioned” and needed to be corrected. I see where this is going. Leftists are BAD, and not to be trusted. Then the other kids start wondering if their parents should go back to school, too.

Sinister! The Red Scare was alive and well in 1981– for different reasons, as it turned out. That was also the year I learned about puberty.

Then the teacher tells the kids that they’ll all be staying together, from now on, in a nice state supported home where they will be taught the right things. They can stay up and have a good time, eat candy, and tell stories, like a slumber party that never ends as the state slowly reforms their thinking to the “right” way… which of course, is the “left” way. Then someone brings up prayer, and the teacher implies that God isn’t real because He doesn’t answer their prayers for candy. So the teacher tells the kids to pray to “our leader”. While their eyes are squeezed shut, the teacher dumps out a bag of Hershey’s Kisses.

But that pesky troublemaker, Johnny sees what the teacher did, as his duped classmates say they’re going to pray to “our leader” every time. Johnny busts the teacher for her trickery. So the teacher says that it doesn’t matter who the children pray to… only humans can give you what you want, but praying is a waste of time… By the end of the film, Johnny is starting to see things the “right” way… which again, of course, is the “left” way. Wow. I had forgotten how different things were in the early 80s. Then, at the end, a narrator explains how easy it is to fall into the trap of giving up freedom.

I was a bit fascinated by the video, so I went looking for more. And since I was somehow under the impression that April Lerman was in the above video, I searched for her on YouTube. I thought maybe I’d finally find that godawful After School Special, “Little Miss Perfect”. No such luck. But I did find this weird Disney film about a boy growing up in Leningrad. I suppose the Disney movie was intended to make us less afraid of a “red scare”.

The kid’s accent is annoying as all get out. Otherwise, it was an interesting little video about a regime that would collapse in just a few years.

And sure enough, this morning I found that video I had been looking for yesterday that made me fall down the rabbit hole in the first place. One thing I loved about living in the former Soviet Union was how many very musically and artistically talented people are there. I meant to include the below video yesterday, but never managed to find it.

The Trololo guy, Eduard Khil, is in this video. I taught school in Armenia and my pupils didn’t have uniforms like the kids in this video or the one above it. However, they did wear black and white on the first day of school, which I think was the custom during the Soviet years. They don’t seem too scary, even if they are “commies”!
The “Trololo” guy, Eduard Khil… apparently, he did this in 1976 because the lyrics to the song were about a cowboy who was riding his stallion to his farm, excited about going home. Another legend has it that Khil had an argument with the songwriter that music is more important than lyrics and decided to sing a vocalise to make his point. Khil died in 2012, so he’s not scary, either!

My search for April Lerman’s turn in “Little Miss Perfect” led to yet another weird find. As I mentioned yesterday, Toni Ann Gisondi, who was in the video about “brainwashing children”, was in the 1982 movie, Annie. April Lerman was also in that film. She played Kate. April Lerman was also in another special film… one about puberty. Annie is about an orphan who has red hair and wears a red dress… and so it’s only fitting that she should be teaching us about the true red scare of every girl’s adolescence– the dreaded first period, otherwise known as menarche!

April Lerman, who now uses the name April Haney. She led me down quite a rabbit hole.

I’ve written about this topic a few times, but because I enjoy shocking people and being gross, I’m going to write about it again. Back in 1981, I was in the fourth grade. That was the year we all learned about puberty. I went to Botetourt Elementary School in Gloucester, Virginia for third and fourth grades, so things were pretty redneck. Strangely enough, neither my mom nor my sisters ever talked to me about menstruation. I used to see my mom’s feminine hygiene supplies in her little special wooden chest kept next to the toilet. I would steal them to make blankets for my model horses or Barbie dolls. Back in those days, the pads were super thick, like miniature mattresses. I didn’t know what they were for, but they made for good Barbie doll pillows and such.

Then, that fateful day in the early 80s, all us girls were ushered into “The Pit” (which no longer exists) and we all watched a film from the 1970s about periods. And it was literally a film, as in it was shown on a projector, not a VCR or DVD player… or even a Laser Disc. I don’t remember much more about the film, other than a scene where they showed a woman in a bathing cap diving into a pool. That was about the time in the movie where they discussed whether or not a woman can go swimming when she’s ragging. After the movie, a teacher, who later became a principal, talked to us about what it was to be a woman… or maybe she didn’t do it that year (fourth grade), but I do remember her doing it another year. Maybe it was when I was in the seventh grade. I do clearly remember her talking to us about womanhood, with her deep southern accent.

After the movie, we were all given the Personal Products pitch– that was the company who made the film, the accompanying booklet, and, if you sent in for it, a box of assorted maxi pads and tampons. I didn’t need any of that stuff until New Year’s Eve 1985, when I was 13.5 years old, almost to the dot. And I didn’t have my second period until July of 1986, when I was 14. I skipped six whole months. After that, I was like clockwork until very recently. Now that I’m pushing 49, my periods are becoming weird and irregular. I suspect I’ll be done with the whole nasty business very soon, and thank God for that.

I suppose the next incarnation of “Growing Up and Liking It” came about in 1984. The musical, Annie, was still running on Broadway, probably thanks to the 1982 film. So, some bright person at Personal Products decided to get a bunch of actresses who had starred in different productions of Annie to do a video about puberty for girls of the 80s. I found that video yesterday, because April Lerman was in it. But now it occurs to me how odd it is to do a menstruation video starring kids from Annie— red hair, red dress, no mom to teach her (just like in that brainwashing video), and blood gushing from between one’s legs. Growing up is a delight!

My face was probably like the still video shot above.

The video begins with seventeen year old Shelley Bruce, who had played Annie on Broadway, introducing everyone to the motley cast of girls who had been in other Annie productions. The girls were of varying ages and statuses of development. Some were new menstruators, while others were still waiting… and they all sat around a chatted about their menses as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Interspersed within their chat sessions is the soothing voice of a matronly looking woman who looks like Anne Murray. She explains everything in calm, motherly tones, assuring us that all girls eventually turn into women and get to endure the monthly mess.

Someone in the comment section wrote the brilliant line… “The blood’ll come out… tomorrow…” which caused me to cackle uproariously. I sang it to Bill this morning, and he added, “bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be blood.” And then it occurred to me that my own period hasn’t yet shown up this month and was really light and late last month. My… how quickly 40 years goes by!

Well… I suppose these young ladies all got paid for this. And I have to admit, I kind of enjoyed watching them dance. One of the girls, Sarah Navin, apparently died in 2005. I’m not sure why, but her obituary mentions donating to Susan G. Komen, so maybe she had breast cancer at a very young age. How sad!

It’s funny listening to Shelley, who comes off as a real “pal”, except it’s obvious they aren’t friends and barely know each other. And now they’re going to sit around and talk about their monthlies– girls who starred in a musical about a girl with red hair who has no mom with whom to discuss these things– at least not until she gets adopted by Daddy Warbucks and his secretary, Grace Farrell. The girls all have New York accents, and some look a little more comfortable on camera than others. Poor Shelley, though. To go from being Annie on Broadway to teaching girls about their periods! A buck’s a buck, I guess.

Here are two Annies… Shelley Bruce played Annie after Andrea McArdle, who was probably the most famous Broadway Annie. She doesn’t look like she did in 1984!

And just because I’m still in the rabbit hole, here’s another gem about people who’ve played Annie. But most of them haven’t talked to young girls about menstruation… It now seems odd that a bunch of kids in a show about orphans, again, meaning they don’t have moms to talk to them about this stuff, would be tasked with making this video. But I guess they were at the right age. Besides, having a mom around doesn’t necessarily mean she’s going to tell you about puberty. My mom was at home all the time when I was growing up and I don’t remember her ever talking to me about periods, except to tell me when I leaked and remind me to make sure I wrapped up my pads properly so my dad wouldn’t be offended.

My goodness… I never liked Annie’s stereotypical curly hair. It was a little Mrs. Roper, wasn’t it? The last Annie, who was in the menstruation video was not in this performance. Sarah Jessica Parker is in this! And we all know where she is, now!

Well… I suppose it’s time to come out of the YouTube rabbit hole and walk the dogs. May your day be without any visits from Aunt Flow or young Red Scare teachers who kick out your kindly instructors and want to get you to think the “right” way… which of course, is the “left” way… As for me, perhaps the blood’ll come out, tomorrow.

Edited to add… you must listen to Andrea McArdle do an impression of Carol Channing! Hysterical!

I’m glad I watched it just for Andrea’s impression.
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obits

Goodbye, Ann Reinking…

Once again, I have a bunch of topics I could write about today. And, in fact, I have just written an obit post on my travel blog about a Greek guy whose restaurant we used to patronize a lot when we lived near Stuttgart. I could write about politics again, or the COVID-19 pandemic… or even my impressions of The Crown, which is a very addictive show on Netflix. But instead, I think I’d like to offer my thoughts on the sudden passing of Broadway great, Ann Reinking.

If you were around in the 1970s and 80s, and paid any attention to Broadway and Hollywood, you might remember the wonderful dancer, singer, and actress Ann Reinking was. I was first introduced to her in 1982, when I went to the movies with my sister. We’d traveled to Williamsburg, Virgnia on a sunny weekend to see the movie, Annie, starring Aileen Quinn. Aileen Queen is about my age, and although I don’t remember having any particular desire to see Annie, I really enjoyed the movie and its story, which I had not known prior to seeing the film. I do remember seeing an Annie Playbill from a Broadway in our house, though. Maybe my parents or another sister saw it on Broadway.

Anyway, I was less enchanted by Aileen Quinn than I was the beautiful Ann Reinking, who was in her early 30s at the time. She was so graceful and pretty. I remember thinking she looked like she was floating when she danced.

“You’re a guest, Annie…”

Ann’s dancing is so pretty!

Shit… now I want to watch Ann’s films. One I liked even more than Annie was All That Jazz. All That Jazz is a 1979 film based on the life of Bob Fosse, who was a famous choreographer. Ann Reinking was in the film, but she was also Fosse’s muse in real life and, for awhile, was his companion after he and Gwen Verdon divorced. I used to love to go to the library at Longwood College (now University) and watch All That Jazz on laser disc. It was a great way to escape for a couple of hours. And Ann Reinking was so young and magnetic in her role as Kate Jagger, companion to Joe Gideon, the character who was modeled after Fosse.

You better change your ways…
Look how long her legs were.

One of my friends only knew of Ann Reinking because of this unfortunate performance of “Against All Odds”, a song made famous by Phil Collins in the mid 1980s.

She was not a bad singer, but this is not a great rendition of “Against All Odds”. However, she dances divinely.

And again in 1988 with Tommy Tune, as they remembered George Burns.

They make it look so easy!
And All That Jazz!

I remember she even had a turn on The Cosby Show back in the 1980s. I couldn’t find a clip of that episode, though. It was called “Bald and Beautiful”.

I read that Ann died in her sleep on Saturday, December 12th, while at a Seattle area hotel. She was visiting her older brother, as their family was originally from Seattle. She was 71 years old, and at this point, it is not known was caused her death.

I am not a dancer myself, but my sister was one for years. I learned to appreciate watching dance, even if my particular skills are in making music rather than interpreting it. I always had huge respect for Ann Reinking, for she was a triple threat, and I found her mesmerizing to watch.

2020 has really been a rough year. We’ve said goodbye to a lot of wonderful people, especially in the entertainment world. Ann Reinking wasn’t someone I thought of every day, but every time I saw her dance, it made me stop in my tracks and pay attention. She was in a class by herself. My heart goes out to the people who knew her well, loved her, and are left behind to miss her… certainly her family, but also her many friends and admirers. As long as we can watch her films, she’ll never be forgotten.

The featured photo is a screen grab of Ann Reinking’s performance with Tommy Tune. So are the two photos above.

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