Dawn Reader

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

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Memories of Writer Max Shulman--Who Made Me Laugh (& Other Things)

There was a brief paragraph yesterday on Writer's Almanac about the birthday of writer and humorist Max Shulman (1919-1988). Here's that paragraph ...

It's the birthday of the humorist Max Shulman (books by this author), born in St. Paul, Minnesota (1919). He wrote several books, including Anyone Got a Match? (1964) and Potatoes Are Cheaper (1971). He grew up during the Great Depression, and he said he became a humorist because "I turned early to humor as my branch of writing ... [because] life was bitter and I was not."

I looked up his obituary in the New York Times and saw some eerie parallels: he was born the same year as my mother; he died at 69 (my current age); he had bone cancer (the likely next step in my prostate cancer saga). (Here's a Link to that obit--Aug 29, 1988.)

But let's not think about any of that. I want to think instead about all the pleasure he gave me in my reading and film-going and TV-watching life. I think I first became aware of him when, as a high school kid, I saw the movie Rally Round the Flag, Boys! at the Hiram College Theater--a popular Paul Newman/Joanne Woodward film based on Shulman's novel of the same name. It was released early in 1959 (I was in ninth grade), and I remember being dazzled by it--and not just by the humor. (It's the story of a small town, Putnam's Landing, CT, where the Army is considering building a Nike base--no, not Nike shoes, Nike anti-aircraft missiles.) There was a wild sexy subplot, too, involving Harry Bannerman (Newman), who's calmly married (to Joanne Woodward) but gets involved with lubricious Angela Hoffa (Joan Collins). When I saw that film, whole new worlds emerged in my adolescent telescope ...

Later (eagerly!) I read the book and got even better details than Hollywood permitted in those days, and that novel sent me off to the Portage Co Library (in Hiram), where I checked out and read some other Shulman novels--Barefoot Boy with Cheek, The Feather Merchants, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and I Was a Teenage Dwarf. I loved all of them.

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis became a hit TV show from 1959-1963 starring Dwayne Hickman in the title role, with the sexy Tuesday Weld as the sexy Thalia Menninger (forgive me: I was 15 at the time), and Bob Denver as the memorable Maynard G. Krebs--a "beatnik" character. Some episodes are on YouTube, and here's a Link to one. And what a coincidence! When I watched it yesterday, it was an episode that featured a moment I clearly remembered--the moment Dobie learns, in science class, the word propinquity. He's taking zoology (high school) only because Thalia (his love) wants him to become a doctor, but he has no gifts in science. The assiduous, studious girl next him never speaks--finally, he gets her to--and she says, "I love you." And she goes on to explain that it's because of "propinquity"--nearness.

Dobie & Maynard

Barefoot Boy with Cheek, published in 1943, the year before I was born, occasioned another memory. My dad used to chant some of that poem to his sons now and then: "Blessings on thee, little man, / Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan."  I would have bet the house that it was a Longfellow poem. Nope. John Greenleaf Whittier. And here's a Link to the whole thing, which is much longer than I'd supposed--and made me recall that Dad recited only the first few lines (thank goodness!). I'm sure I wouldn't have liked the "kissed by strawberries" stuff. (Neither would Dad.)

Anyway, thanks to Writer's Almanac for reminding me of Shulman--and of the bright joy he brought me in Dark Adolescence.

PS--I have a first printing of Rally Round the Flag, Boys!.  Just checked on ABE: It goes for $50-$60. Too little ... it's priceless!

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