Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Monday, August 20, 2012

You've Got to Be Carefully Taught

A FB friend re-posted this meme yesterday about racism--about how children have to learn it.  I sent her a note about that song from South Pacific--"You've Got to Be Carefully Taught"--and she promptly replied with a link to the lyrics (Song).  I don't know if she'd known the song before ... but she knows it now.

That brief exchange got me thinking about South Pacific and about its prominence in our family.  I was only four years old when the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical premiered on Broadway, 7 April 1949.  It ran for 1,925 performances--a hit.  Among the records we had at home was a boxed set of 78s of the Broadway cast, including the stars, Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin.  For some reason that show caught me in its snare, immediately became a favorite, and still is.  I'm not sure why.

My father had served in the South Pacific during World War II--a chaplain stationed in Hawaii, where he re-connected with one of his brothers, Gordon, USN, who'd been a aboard a Navy ship in Pearl Harbor when that 1941 attack commenced.  So maybe it was a family connection that first snared me.

Helen Traubel
Guy Madison as Wild Bill
I know that it would not have been Pinza's association with opera.  He had sung at the Met for nearly twenty years (1920s-1940s), retiring a year before the opening of South Pacific.  My grandfather, father, and brother were into opera and liked Pinza a lot.  I had no use for opera at all.  Well, horse opera, I did.  Give me a little Wild Bill Hickok or Hopalong Cassidy any day.  Turandot--nah.  My parents and brother occasionally tried to get me out of the OK Corral, but I would have none of it.  They would tell me about exciting opera plots--emphasizing the swordplay and other violence (maybe that would get me?).  But none of it worked.  I just could never get past what I guess, for me, was the verisimilitude issue: Opera singers--at least the photos I saw in them of Opera News--did not seem to look the parts, you know?  Guy Madison looked like a Hickok-ian hero.  But Helen Traubel?  Nah.

Mary Martin never did it for me, either.  I guess she was okay in her part as the spunky Nellie Forbush in South Pacific, but, later, when she played Peter Pan in the 1950s, well, there was, I thought (at age 10), something profoundly wrong about a woman playing one of my heroes--one of my male heroes.

So, surely, it was the music--and, later, I suppose, the romance.   I mean, once my hormones started percolating, and once I began to look at girls as, well, girls (and not as odd creatures who didn't know baseball and cared about spelling bees), well, I could not resist songs like "Younger Than Springtime" or "Some Enchanted Evening."  (I still can't, even though I met my "stranger" more than forty years ago across a not-so-crowded classroom in Satterfield Hall, Kent State University.)

I listened to those 78s over and over and over again.  That took some attentiveness.  For as those from the 78 generation know, the records didn't last very long, requiring constant changes and flippings of sides.

When LPs arrived, we bought the original cast album once again.  And, again, I listened over and over and over.  And, once, my listening precipitated a family crisis that nearly ended my life.  It was a summer's day; I was listening to South Pacific on the hi-fi. I was in high school--maybe a sophomore?  Enter: Older Brother Richard.  Who marched to the hi-fi, removed South Pacific, started playing some opera thingy.  I protested.  (I didn't immediately kick his ass--though I could easily have done so.)  Instead, I went to Mom.  Mom, Richard just took off my record and put on one of his!  She looked at me: Well,maybe he should have a turn--you've been listening quite awhile.

Well, I went off.  I yelled.  Swore.  Wept.  Raced upstairs and in a singular act of self-loathing began destroying my own gym bag.  Why?  I have no answer other than It was available.

I heard Dad's tread on the stairs.  But I was still in a Full Rage and was now kicking the wall in my bedroom.  Dad never lost his temper.  Never.  But he came close that day.  He grabbed me by the shirt and cocked his mighty fist (he was much bigger--much stronger).  Suddenly, I lost all interest in mayhem and sagged in his grip like a rag doll.  A weeping rag doll.  He released me and headed back downstairs.

I climbed out my window--my upstairs window--onto the the roof over my parents' bedroom, leaped to the ground, and ran off up into Hiram where I looked for sympathy in the houses of friends.  Found little.

I first saw the movie in the summer of 1958 (I was not quite 14) in Indianapolis, where I'd gone to visit my uncle and his family.  The previous year he'd taken me to see a Butler University production of A Man for All Seasons, during which I promptly fell asleep.  I did not fall asleep in South Pacific.  Instead, I found myself falling head over heels in love with Mitzi Gaynor.  She had ... something ... that ... interested ... me ...

Back home, I bought the movie soundtrack album and listened to it a few thousand times, all the while enjoying the cover image of Ms. Gaynor, an image spoiled only by that old perv Rossano Brazzi, who lip-synched the songs performed by Georgio Tozzi, a Met bass, who, I later learned, took to playing that role himself onstage.

Right now, I don't think I have a recording of South Pacific in the house.  Easy enough to remedy, though.  And Mitzi Gaynor is still alive, too.  Only 80, I think.  "Younger Than Springtime."

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