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
[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’.-which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.
‘Who’s that guy?’ Sam said
‘He’s the man I say Hello to,’ I said.
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, as 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.