Young at Heart: Ethel Barrymore and Frank Sinatra

One of my favorite all-time movies, Young at Heart (1954, produced by Gordon Douglas), revolves around the Tuttle sisters, Fran, Laurie, and Amy, in their search for love.

The three girls do find love, but in three very different ways in this remake of an earlier movie and based off of a book by Fannie Hurst. Aunt Jessie (Ethel Barrymore) is the girls’ surrogate mother and resident cook, housekeeper, and psychologist, using her influence to subtly guide the three girls into marriages with the man most suited for each.

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Ethel Barrymore gives a convincing performance as the down-to-earth aunt who seems to be the least in the household, but who actually wields the power.

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Charming, happy-go-lucky Alex (Gig Young) the perfect “catch,” a successful Broadway composer who compliments this musically-talented family, pursues Laurie (Doris Day), while each of the three girls falls for him in her own way. Gig Young recognizes and states that “a lot depends on Aunt Jessie.”

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Just as Alex claims Laurie as his pick, along comes his old pal Barney (Frank Sinatra), a brilliant musician who is drifting through life. Barney thinks he knows Aunt Jessie’s type, and, although not charming, Barney gains Aunt Jessie’s approval because he is honest and forthright. He wants to know what type of aunt she is, and she tells him she is the “you-can’t-hide-a-thing-from-me type.”

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Barney proves to be a challenge for Laurie, for he seems to not know how or care to flirt. He tells her that his masterpiece, a song he has been writing, has no beginning and no ending and that the “fates” won’t let him have a good life. She points out his incredible talent and encourages him to finish the song.

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Barney and Aunt Jessie understand each other and share a sarcastic wit and keen insight into human nature. They are the only two who notice Amy’s broken heart. As Barney (Sinatra) croons “Someone to Watch over Me,” Laurie shows the least self-awareness while she is drawn to both protecting this new drifter and sacrificing herself for her sister Amy, not realizing that she can really do neither.

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Without giving away the ending, I think this movie has as much of a twist as a romance of this era can have. Laurie must choose between an easy life with Gig Young’s character, who is much like her, or a struggling marriage with Frank’s character, who is her pessimistic opposite.

Frank_Sinatra_'57According to Doris Day, Frank Sinatra insisted that the ending of the movie be changed from its original, and the producer gave the star his way (Doris Day: Her Own Story). Years later, when Old Blue Eyes sang the all-familiar words, “I did it my-y-y way,” he meant it!

It is Ethel Barrymore who is the real star of this movie, upstaging even three superstars of the era and creating a character so believable, it is clear that the actress and her character both share a deep understanding of people. Frank Sinatra as Barney profoundly states, “Sometimes when you’re on the outside looking in, you can see things that no one else notices.”

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Doris Day remembers the movie in her book Doris Day:  Her Own Story. Day states that Barrymore was “fragile” and nearing the end of her life when the movie was being filmed, spending most of her time in a wheelchair. Yet, when called to a scene, she “was able to produce that special kind of grandeur that was the hallmark of the Barrymores” (149).

Ethel Barrymore was perhaps a little too elegant and a little too polished for the role of Aunt Jessie, but it could be that she wanted to show the wisdom and strength of all types of women–not just the young and beautiful, but also the matron aunts, the elderly, and the wheelchair-bound.  May we all realize that we are valuable and have something to contribute to those around us.

The major themes of this film are not hard to decipher. Love may not come into your life or develop as you expect, and the greatest love is found in a life lived for others.

For more on the Barrymores, go to:  The Third Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon

Coming Soon: Third Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon and Other Posts

I will be taking part in a blogathon found at:  In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood as I review Young at Heart starring the brilliant Ethel Barrymore, a young Doris Day, and Frank Sinatra. Even in movies, I am drawn to the Byronic hero, and love the way the Frank Sinatra character is portrayed. Enough of that, as I will save it for the article.

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In the meantime, I have acquired a nice library of old Hollywood biographies. Perhaps I will do a give-a-way soon. Hmmm…

Here is a pile of books I am currently reading. The red book is a very quirky read about traveling in Paris, with odd reviews of hotels, restaurants, and other tourist-y places.

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I will also be posting the second part of my article on the draw of the seashore in the 1800’s.

School is starting for my facility this week. Each day will find me teaching and prepping for Language Arts 800, English I, English II, English III, English IV, and some elective courses. Whew! I could use another visit to the seashore myself. I am looking forward to introducing The Shepherd of the Hills to my 8th grade students and will reveal how it is connected to the Ozarks and why boys love this book so much in another article.

In the meantime, I need to sit back and re-watch one of my very favorite old movies: Young at Heart  (also starring Gig Young, who was pretty hot back in the day)!

At the Seashore: Part I

Vacationing on the Florida Gulf Coast, the spray of waves and foam at my feet, the salt and sand coating everything, the little sand pipers scurrying away from the water, and the slower way of life, brings to mind stories and memoirs of the seashore (which seemed to be the general term for it in the 1800’s) in classic literature.

A visit to the ocean must have required much more effort in a time when carriages, wagons, steamships, and trains were the main modes of travel.

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Yet, “to the seashore” many did go in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, and from what I have read, primarily for the following reasons: 1) To have a “holiday” 2) to treat tuberculosis or other lung diseases 3) to be inspired (to write or paint or express themselves artistically) and 4) to live permanently in another country

As these things often go, I planned to write this as a single article, but after researching and thinking, I quickly realized this would need to be at least a two-, if not a three-part article. Here, I will look at the first reason proper English citizens flocked to the seashore:

To Have a Holiday

A “holiday” in classic literature often points to a one- to three-month stay at a seaside resort or a country house. This likely helped to make the longer and arduous trip more worthwhile.

The ultimate book, for me, about having a holiday is The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. It all begins with a little classifieds ad in a newspaper offering a castle “for rent” in the Italian riviera. Four women agree to share the costs of renting the place for the summer.

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Thomas Pollock Anshutz [circa 1900]
Mrs. Wilkins, most of all,  is transformed by the new environment. This meek wife (and mother), with seemingly mild depression, now blossoms:

“Her face was bathed in light. Lovely scents came up to the window and caressed her. A tiny breeze gently lifted her hair… It was as though she could hardly stay inside herself, it was as though she were too small to hold so much of joy…”

Von Arnim has a way of expressing what we introverts need and how a place such as the seashore can inspire us. She understands that we crave and need space to think and roam, nature to inspire and give color, creative outlets to give us purpose, and time to make all of the above happen.

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Nicolae Grigorescu [circa 1880]
Lady Caroline seems to represent best the introvert’s need for space and time alone. She thinks to herself:

“The garden on the top of the wall was a delicious garden, but its situation made it insecure and exposed to interruptions. At any moment the others might come and want to use it…It was essential to her comfort that she should be able to be apart, left alone, not talked to.”

I turn next to a short story, A Drama on the Seashore, by Honore de Balzac, not necessarily for its iconic place in literature, but because it gives us the male point of view in taking a holiday, one often missing, as the husbands and sons and uncles typically stay in the cities to continue conducting business and making money. Sometimes, in stories, they appear on weekends, or sometimes they are old enough or rich enough that they go along, but rarely are they the protagonist in these scenarios.

In de Balzac’s story, the narrator stares at the sea:

“Standing on a rock, some hundred fathoms above the ocean, the waves of which were breaking on the reef below, I surveyed my future, filling it with books, as an engineer or builder traces on vacant ground a palace or a fort…ah! Who would not have floated on the future as I did!”

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Honoré de Balzac, A Drama on the Seashore. Philadelphia: George Barrie & Son, 1897

De Balzac uses masculine imagery to show us how the sea inspires his main character to look optimistically to the future and causes him to feel as if nothing is unattainable.

English travelers sometimes stayed closer to home, with plenty of coastline from which to choose.

According to Richard Jeffries, Brighton (located on the southern shores) was a common destination in England for “sea bathers” to play on the shore, wade, and swim. He describes a mid-day scene in his book The Open Air, published in 1885. Girls wore “bathing dresses,” in hues of pinks, lavenders, and creams (only their ankles were bared to the sun), while older men loitered and younger men goggled:

“Humming and strumming, and singing and smoking, splashing, and sparkling; a buzz of voices and booming of sea! If they could only be happy like this always!”

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“Mermaids at Brighton” by William Heath

Shown above are sea bathing “machines,” used to transport ladies into the ocean and give them privacy. See this article at janeaustensworld to learn more about this English convention used by early sea-goers.

Another popular destination for sea lovers, Margate (a suburb of Dover) drew vacationers as far back as the late 1700’s. In a children’s book At the Seaside, by Mrs. Warner-Sleigh, a boy and girl pack up for a month-long stay at Margate as a reward for good grades at the end of the school year.

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Sand-castle-building, shelling, wading, and riding in a goat-pulled cart are activities enjoyed by the children at Margate.

Northern cities in England were thronged by working-class visitors, despite the poor weather and great waves of the region’s beaches.

In his book Afoot in England, W. H. Hudson describes a visit to the area of Norfolk in August. It must have been a particularly cold August:

“The wind blew with a fury from the sea; it was hard to walk against it. The people in hundreds waited in their dull apartments for a lull, and when it came, and when it came they poured out like hungry sheep from the fold, or like children from a school…then in a little while, a new menacing blackness would come up out of the sea, and by and by a fresh storm of wind would send people scuttling back into shelter” (Afoot in England 59).

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Norfolk, England [circa 1900]
Hudson describes how this goes on “day after day,” as the throngs go back and forth from their rented rooms to the beach. He seems to have some insight as to the penchant we have for the sea, even if it is a violent, dark sea:

“In such weather, especially on the naked desolate coast, exposed to the fury of the winds, one marvels at our modern craze for the sea; not merely to come and gaze upon and listen to it, to renew our youth in its salt, exhilarating waters and to lie in delicious idleness…but to be always…close to it” (60).

Norfolk Sea

Hudson suggests that this need for the sea is a result of living in “dirty, overcrowded cities.”

Near to the public resort is a sea village patronized by the affluent, and Hudson notes that they are “without their lords,” with a ratio of 3 to 1 of women to men (not counting children), something I have noticed over and over in extant texts from classic literature.

Just like today, the coasts up and down England, north and south, filled with sea towns, resorts, spas, and sleepy villages awoke as visitors came to “have a holiday.”

Expressing Sorrow

We just returned from the funeral of my 17-year-old nephew. As I cannot express it all adequately, I turn to greater writers, two of the most honest and raw:

Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not

–Emily Dickenson

King David knew the pain of losing a child:

Psalm 102

3 For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food.
In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins.
I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof.

(Psalm 102, Bible NIV)

Yet, in the midst of it, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law have hope.

Psalm 102 ends with this:  “The children of your servants will live in Your Presence…” (Psalm 102:28 NIV).

To this, we all cling.

Birds, Naturalists, and Writers

While working outside the other evening, I heard the unmistakable sound of a Bob White. Bob-Bob-White he called over and over. The sound transported me to my childhood in Iowa, where I would answer the bird-call and exult in his calling back to me again and again.

Americans have had an obsession with birds since Audubon first determined to find, in person, all North American birds and draw or paint them. The copper-plated engraving process, both expensive and time-consuming, created a soft, rich, nostalgic effect, as did lithography, which took the place of the copper technique.

Here, we see not only the beauty of Audubon’s hand-painted work, but also of the engraving, identifying the birds, done by his printer Havell. Note the plate number at the top, right-hand corner.

 

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Painted Finch:  1,2, Old Males, 3 M of 1st. Year, 4,  2nd. Year, 5, Female.

[An up-close, high-resolution download and more information can be found at Audubon.org.]

My first introduction to naturalists (as in those who study animals and plants in their natural habitats) came subconsciously through writers such as Louisa May Alcott. After years of teaching and reading about Alcott, I now better understand that Alcott was influenced by her father’s background and involvement in the transcendentalist movement.

Jo’s parenting methods in her home for boys (Little Men) allows for each boy to explore and grow in his own unique gifts and talents as an “individual”.  As a teacher at a home for boys, I relate to all the types of “treasures” boys might bring home, including the following from my own experiences:  sticks, strings, weeds, seeds, feathers, stones, fossils, lizards, snakes, and even a freshly-shot turkey (he had a license and it was in-season, but still!). In Little Men, several of the boys create a naturalist museum brimming with all sorts of specimens, including:

“A snake’s skin, a big wasp’s nest, a birch-bark canoe, a string of birds’ eggs, wreaths of gray moss from the South, and a bunch of cotton-pods” (Louisa May Alcott, Little Men).

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Nests and Eggs of Birds of the United States:  Illustrated by Thomas G. Gentry, c 1906

Audubon stuffed his home at Mill Grove, Kentucky, with similar collections, according to his own journals published by his daughter in 1897. As a way to become better known, he visited naturalist museums all over the country and tried to contribute his work to them if they allowed him to. In the process, he learned from others how to improve his methods and market himself.

He painstakingly drew and re-drew birds and found a way to color them by hand:

“February [1822] was spent in drawing birds strenuously, and I thought I had improved much by applying coats of water-color under the pastels” (Maria R. Audubon, Audubon and his Journals,Volume I).

Here is a drawing/painting which he completed that same year:

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Black Bellied Darter or Snake Bird. Painting by John James Audubon, New Orleans, 1822.

Like Audubon, Gene Stratton-Porter shared a passion for birds, as well as other creatures of the forest, but described them, rather than drew them, in her fictional works such as Girl of the Limberlost and non-fiction articles for magazines such as McCall’s. Rich with imagery, her writing shows us her beloved home in The Song of the Cardinal:

“Every hollow tree homes its colony of bats. Snakes sun on the bushes. The water folk leave trails of shining ripples in their wake as they cross the lagoons. Turtles waddle clumsily from the logs. Frogs take graceful leaps from pool to pool.”

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Illustration Pond and Stream:  Nature Books for Children, c 1906

Books, magazines, journals, calendars, and illustrations from this period of literature were ripe with nature and depicted it in its most realistic forms, perhaps due most to the efforts of naturalists of the 19th and 20th centuries. It seemed to be a calling for Audubon, Gene Stratton-Porter, and others such as Chester A. Reed.

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I quite love this illustration of bob whites from The Bird Book, by Reed and published in 1915 by Doubleday. Unfortunately, this talented artist and naturalist passed away of pneumonia in 1912.

He claims that the bob whites “frequent open fields” and build their nests “along roadsides.” That explains why I heard their call so often growing up. Open fields surrounded our house, and grass-covered ditches provided the habitat these plump birds need to propagate.

Reed also had a passion for photography, filling the pages of this beautiful book with photos of eggs, as well as appealing graphics and sketches on every page.

It is apparent that this was meant to be a resource for those who came across eggs, nests, or the birds themselves and wanted to identify them. But, had he lived in the 21st century, he might have been a graphic artist!

I try to remind myself when I watch old movies or read books with black-and-white photos that people viewed the world in color, just as we do now. They noticed the varying shades of green of the soft grasses, the yellow reeds, and the deep-emerald swallows. They, too, knew the white-blue of a summer sky and the cold-purple blue of a lake in the fall.

Perhaps this is the very reason Audubon’s works were so popular. For the bird world is a world of color. He knew this and wanted others to see what he noticed and not just in the grays of a sketch, however well done it might have been.

Thanks to the naturalists who left us records in photos, sketches, paintings, writings, and journals, we have a picture of the world as it was and in their eyes.

 

Popular Baby Names in Classic Literature

According to the most recent data from the Social Security Administration, new parents are choosing names once prominent from the 18th through the early 20th centuries. Here are some well-known female characters and writers from literature and their name rankings from the current decade (2010-2019 so far):

Emma (ranked #2) -This name is popular in the fictional world, as well as the real one. Think Emma Swan (Once Upon a Time) and Emma Frost (X-Men).  Now over 200 years old, matchmaker Emma Woodhouse shows us that it’s attractive to be confident. In a time when it was unusual to do so, Jane Austen’s famous protagonist insists she will never marry, and, though she does in fact accept a proposal, she stays true to herself by holding out for true love.

 

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Emma, 1896 edition, ill. Hugh Thomson

Isabella (ranked #3) – Jane Austen assigned this name more than once (including to Emma’s older married sister). Yet, it is Isabella Thorpe from Northanger Abbey who leaves the stronger impression. Flirtatious and beautiful, Isabella is the friend no other girl wants too close to her man. If alive today, she might go by Isabel or Bella.

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Northanger Abbey, 1907 edition, ill. C. E. Brock

 

Emily (ranked #5) – Fiercely independent Emily Bronte, author of Wuthering Heights, gave us one of the most haunting, but strangest, love affairs in history. Baffling to researchers and readers alike, this talented writer never married and in all probability never even had a love affair. She could have fooled us!

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Emily Bronte
https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dd-cf0a-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Lily (ranked #22) – Trapped between a high social standing and financial destitution, Edith Wharton’s Lily Bart (The House of Mirth) seems to always be one step behind the security she seeks. Still, she lives up to the class and dignity of her name by choosing honor over reputation. Edith Wharton well understood the world of high-society New York as shown here around 1880:

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Edith Wharton

 

Grace (ranked #20) – Even a secondary character, especially when she is mentally-disturbed Grace Poole from Jane Eyre, intrigues me enough to place her on this list. However, author Grace Livingston Hill deserves first place for creating an entirely new genre of writing known as the Christian romance and for writing well over 100 novels in the early- to mid-1900’s. She understood well the meaning of grace.

Barbour Publishing, 2000

Elizabeth (ranked #10) – “Elizabeth, Elspeth, Betsy, and Bess…” This children’s rhyme displays the versatility of this classic name. Memorable Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice lives on as a model of the strong, sassy female protagonist. In contrast, Elizabeth (Beth) March (Little Women) lives on as the girl whose sweet nature influences all those around her. [Note the illustration drawn by the real Amy (May Alcott).]

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Little Women, 1896 edition, ill. May Alcott

I like to think that at least some of the many names that remain popular decades and even centuries later can be attributed to the writers and characters of our favorite books. Perhaps Anne Shirley said it best:  “I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage” (L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables).

 

 

Kate Greenaway and Vintage Illustrations

One of my favorite things about gutenberg.org and archive.org (both sites that offer books in the free domain) are the original illustrations found in copies of works from the 19th century and early 20th century.

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Kate Greenaway first caught my attention with her illustrations of Elizabeth von Arnim’s April baby, May baby, and June baby.

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Kate’s vintage illustrations of Victorian children are both nostalgic and idealistic, of fancy teas and apple pickings, birthday parties, dolls, teeter-totters,  balancing on stone walls, and learning lessons of all kinds.

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In this millennial era where all innocence seems lost at times, I can be transported to a time when moral values were our most important priority in this country. Morality does not mean accepting everything. It means being sorry when you are wrong and maturing to a place that you do the right thing, even when no one is looking.

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How beautiful to see a girl embrace her femininity and aspire to be a wife, a mother, or woman who lives her life for others:

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Not limited to children, Ms. Greenaway’s illustrations also give us a picture of a time when we valued the elderly and respected their wisdom and experience.

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In the end, I most appreciate the imagination of the artist.

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My best friend from childhood is now an artist, and I can only admire from afar the talent of painters, illustrators, and all other types of craftsmen.