“Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.’ –Auntie Mame
Who’s Auntie Mame?
She’s my heroine and mentor, a larger-than-life character. The movies, Broadway plays and musicals that tell her madcap story are based on the novel by Patrick Dennis, a book inspired by his real-life aunt. However, it was Rosalind Russell who brought Mame to life most in her 1957 stage performance and the 1958 movie, “Auntie Mame.” Her message? “Live, live, live!” She was an adventurer who advocated opening new windows and doors every day.
The Basic Story
1928: Mame’s conservative stockbroker brother has just written his will. To his dismay, he is forced to leave his only son, Patrick, to Mame, his crazy sister and only living relative. He knows it’s just a formality, because he’s in perfect health. But just in case, out of concern for her influence on the boy, Mame’s brother names a conservative banker, Dwight Babcock from the Knickerbocker Bank to be Patrick’s trustee and to handle all the money.
As fate would have it, Mame’s brother drops dead at his health club the next day before the ink is dry on the will. Soon Patrick and his dad’s loyal Irish housekeeper, Nora Muldoon, arrive at the door of Mame’s apartment on Beacon Place in New York City. Their first encounter sets the stage for the rest of the story.
Mame is hosting a wild party with all kinds of bohemians and foreign dignitaries. Her close friend, flapper, and actress, Vera Charles, is suffering the latest effects of Mame’s free-flowing bootlegged booze. Being “hung” after one of Mame’s nightly parties and sleeping the next day past noon is par for the course at Beacon Place.
Patrick’s companion and former housekeeper, Nora, thinks she has brought the boy to a den of iniquity. Mame, though, wins him over immediately, and her bond with Patrick is instantaneous. “Come to me, my little love. I’m your Auntie Mame!”
But it’s not all fun and games. Mame’s worst hour is when she is caught defying Babcock’s edict to send Patrick to a stuffy, snooty boys’ school. Babcock discovers Patrick has never shown up at the school of his choice. Rather, the boy has been romping naked at an “experimental” school in the Village run by one Mame’s bohemian friends. Babcock arrives just as the kids and staff are acting out the way fish spawn. Not impressed by the spirit-freeing practice of nudism or such hands-on biology lessons, Babcock sends Patrick to a far-off boarding school. It breaks Mame’s heart.
Feast before Famine, a Tale for Tough Times
Soon, Mame’s heart was not the only thing broken. By now, it’s 1929—and you guessed it—Mame and all her wealthy friends are broke with the stock market crash. (Sound familiar?) How does Mame’s philosophy of “live-live-live!” cut it during the Depression? What does this heartwarming story tell us about living through tough times and flourishing in life all the way to the finish line?
For starters, Mame is not too proud to go back to work and open her mind to new ways of making a living. She tries three things—all disasters. When Mame goes back to acting and turns a Shakespearean style play into an episode of “I Love Lucy,” the star, her friend Vera Charles, is not amused. It just intensifies their ongoing rivalry since they acted together in days gone by.
But as they say, the third time’s a charm. The final job was still disastrous—an attempt at being a clerk at Macy’s during the holiday season. Mame couldn’t get the hang of writing anything but a COD order, or of how to keep her carbon paper from trailing out of her sales book. But here’s where the charm comes in. Mame nearly botches a sale with a rich, handsome Southern gentleman named Beauregard Jackson Picket Burnside. They fall in love and marry. Happy and prosperous days are here again!
Unfortunately, Mame’s bliss with Beau was short-lived. A shutterbug, during one of their trips around the world, Beau falls off an Alp stepping backwards for better perspective while taking Mame’s picture. After a lengthy gig as a melodramatic widow, Mame finally takes heart in writing her memoir, “Live, Live, Live!” This new project brings more amazing adventures to Mame, nephew Patrick, and their family of friends.
Mame’s Message for All Seasons
Whether life was up or down, Mame believed we should always, “open a new window, open a new door,” those juicy lyrics from the musical version, “Mame.” (Mame was played on Broadway in the musical version by Angela Lansbury and the movie musical by Lucille Ball.) Mame was rich in friends, an exchange that never crashed. Her loyal staff paid her bills with their savings when Mame was penniless. While we can’t all marry a rich Southern gentleman, Mame oozed integrity. She married Beau because she was in love with him, when her easy out, earlier, would have been to marry “dear Lindsay,” her prosperous beau before Beau. Mame refused to do in hard times what she hesitated to do during good times.
When the going got tough, Mame got creative. She wasn’t too proud to pawn her belongings. When her spirits needed lifting, she insisted that her little family celebrate Christmas early, because, “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute!”
Mame’s spirit was indomitable, her mind and heart both as open as the great outdoors, she had principles and a lust for life rarely matched. These are just some of the reasons why she’s my role model, but add one more. As a person not blessed with children of my own, auntie has been one of my most beloved roles in life. My nieces and nephews, no doubt, see me as their “unusual” Auntie Joyce, too.
Finally, like the baby boomers who read this blog, Mame just got cooler as her hair was touched by gray and she had a great-nephew to “open new worlds” for.
Mame Is Eternal
Recently on Facebook, I was asked to answer “44 Odd Things about Me.” Since I believe life doesn’t end with physical death, it was easy for me to answer the question, what song would you like played at your funeral?"
If Mame’s story inspires you, why not rent the DVD today? If you’re on Netflix, it’s available as a download right to your computer screen. Don’t underestimate the power of a funny movie with a fabulous message to uplift you during trying times or anytime.