Monday, 6 June 2016

7.5 cents, Pajama Game, and Say Darling



Seven and a Half Cents by Richard Bissell, published 1953

Pajama Game: Broadway musical from 1954 and then film 1957

Say, Darling by Richard Bissell, published 1957



Say Darling
SayDarlingSay Darling Pajama Gamesay darling 4



[The narrator has written a book which is being turned into a musical: they are auditioning for the leading lady]

She had on black slacks and a two-dollar blue chambray shirt; and the longest mink coat I ever saw.

She had blonde hair, she had chest tones, she had that E, she could belt, she could project, she could move, she idn’t have skinny legs, she wasn’t nervous – she was Irene Lovelle and she was good and she knew all about it…

[Later, when rehearsals are under way]

Everybody loved Irene. She didn’t put on any crap. She was always appearing for rehearsals in something nutty: maybe toreador pants, bell-bottom sailor pants, or a skirt with a crazy blouse. With that blonde hair, she filled the dirty rehearsal hall with something resembling sunshine. And she worked. She wasn’t at lunch at the Plaza any more.

 
commentary: Yesterday I wrote about Richard Bissell’s 7 and a half cents, an unusual book, and well worth a read. Unfortunately I then watched the film of the musical Pajama Game, based on the book, starring Doris Day. It had some enjoyable moments but mostly was awful. The plot of the book was changed in small but key ways, removing some subtlety and nuance. There is a scene in which Sid sacks Babe, and is then terribly surprised that she doesn’t want to continue their affair, and literally no-one mentions the sacking as an important matter in her life. So far as I can tell – though I was losing interest by the end – she never overtly gets her job back. And the ending of the film is actually very different, much softer and easier.

I also then read Say, Darling, a lightly-fictionalized version of how Seven and a half cents got turned into Pajama Game, featuring the young writer moving to New York to take part in the process. It is full of theatrical scenes, and satire, and real people are constantly referenced, and I found it close to unreadable. Bissell had plainly read the praise for his dialogue and conversations and passing overheards (the items I liked about it), and the book is almost unrelievedly him being self-consciously clever about it, and dishing out pages and pages of clever chitchat which really does not hold the attention.

There are a few golden moments – the description of young women auditioning for the show is cleverly done, leading to the casting of Irene above – and there is a lot of this kind of thing:
We walked up to Times Square along 44th Street. Where the big trucks bring the rolls of paper in the Times, I said Hello to the guy in the uniform that stands there all the time and he said, ‘How they going?’ and I said ‘Okay’.
‘Who’s that guy?’ Sam said
‘He’s the man I say Hello to,’ I said.

-which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

The really astonishing thing is that this book, Say Darling, was ALSO turned into a play. The Wikipedia entry says ‘it is in essence a play of a book about a musical adaptation of a book’ – and that although it has songs in it, it is not a musical – apparently this is because ‘all of the songs were presented as either rehearsal or audition material and not as the thoughts or feelings of the characters’. But either way, too meta for words, and surely only of interest to people in showbusiness, you would think, although it ran for more than 300 performances.

The sad thing was that the Bissell character in the book is losing the interest in his proper job, the work ethic I mentioned in yesterday’s entry: he wants to leave the provinces and live in New York, have his family in Connecticut and have an affair with his leading lady…

Irene and the other characters do have some good clothes, say darling 3as you can tell from the excerpts above, I would love to find a pic of the chambray and mink, and I was sorry not to be able to find an exact illo for this:
She was wearing white toreador pants and a white blouse with gold inlay all over both pieces.
But there’s always room for the standard CiB matador/toreador picture.












16 comments:

  1. I've seen the stage musical of Pajama Game which was a bit too frothy for my tastes. Didn't realise it was based on a book though. Thanks for the info :-)

    Stephanie Jane @ Literary Flits

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    1. I haven't seen the stage musical - and can't quite imagine it. But they must have done something right, as it was so successful - I suspect I would share your opinion.

      Thanks for visiting!

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  2. Interesting, Moira, how those small changes can make all the difference! And I think it's also interesting that there's a story about how the book was adapted. I haven't seen that many stories of how stories are adapted into other stories. Oh, and I agree: the toreador pants are always in order...

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    1. Thanks Margot - yes, nuance is very important, and you can't expect too much in a stage show or film I suppose...
      Yes there was intrinsic interest in exactly how the book became a show - it was a pity it wasn't more entertaining to read.

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  3. Have battled with computer (internet keeps shutting down and jamming up) but read the link in your previous post, and then followed the links in that, and links to other posts (however did I get from Bridget Jones to the Fossil sisters ?)... And could I just say that you are the only person EVER to make me feel I might enjoy Bridget Jones!

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    1. Thanks, you made my day - I love the idea that people will follow the links and make surprising discoveries. I am, as you will have seen, a great defender of Bridget Jones (I sometimes think I am the Bridget and Barbie feminist queen - called on when either needs defending).
      You never know what might appeal to you...

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  4. I remember loving THE PAJAMA GAME actually, though it's been ages ...

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    1. I might well have liked it more if I hadn't read the book first. And although he has equal scorn and respect for workers and management, the film definitely has the management man solving the problem and explaining all to the girl - as a feminist leftie that gave me a few problems, but I probably shouldn't be too serious about it... (and if we want micro-details - in the book the payrise is backdated, in the film he gets away with not backdating it.)

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  5. Moira, I can't say I have heard of Richard Bissell. I admit, sometimes I get confused with adaptations of a novel, be it a play, musical, film or television. I liked Doris Day as an actress.

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    1. I think Bissell is forgotten, even if his works live on. Doris Day was great: voice, personality, everything.

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  6. I did ask Glen today what he liked about Pajama Game. He said the music was good and it had energy (and I am sure he could describe it better than I am doing). The lyrics and music were done by Richard Adler & Jerry Ross. Ross died very young and they had one other hit before he died, Damn Yankees.

    I have had the experience (often) of not enjoying a movie because it did not accurately represent the book it is based on. Even though it might have appealed to me otherwise. I generally try to separate the two but it doesn't always work. It helps a lot if I wait a good amount of time before I watch the movie version.

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    1. As I said above, I'd probably have enjoyed the film more if I hadn't just read the book - and what Glen says is all unarguably true!

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  7. Probably one of the worst things that you can do to a first time author is praise them for a specific thing about their writing. In the next book they'll simply ramp it up to ridiculous proportions. I know that some people simply love James Elroy's prose, but I suspect that he's been told for so long that it's brilliant that it's turned into self-caricature.
    Bissell seems to have recovered from this praise, and gone on to write a lot more books. Interestingly some of his other stuff also seems drawn from life, in particular his time working as a deck-hand on Mississipi riverboats after he left college (although a review of his work mentions a chapter in one book about the death of a deckhand, told from the deckhand's point of view, in one long paragraph that goes on for six pages, which just sounds to literary for words!) The play about the making of a book, based on a book about the making of a musical based on a book, which is a sequel to the original book, sounds like one of those M C Escher drawings of a hand drawing a hand which is in turn being drawn by the other hand...

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    1. Yes indeed, Escher-esque is a good description. I did wonder what his wife made of the account of his affair with the leading lady...
      If I came across another of his books I would certainly pick it up and see - but I wouldn't seek it out. The Death of the Deckhand sounds like a parody Hemingway story...

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  8. Replies
    1. Yes - trying to vary the content a bit doesn't work for all readers!

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