Dawn Reader

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

Thursday, June 26, 2014

RALLY ROUND THE FLAG, BOYS!--Reading the Play ...

Early in April this spring I wrote about re-reading Max Shulman's 1957 novel, Rally Round the Flag, Boys!, a satirical novel made into a film a year later featuring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. (Here's a link to that earlier post.) I ended that post by mentioning I'd discovered there is a version of the story for stage productions, written by David Rogers and first published in 1965.

And I just finished reading it on Tuesday evening this week.

It's a script that would be easy to stage just about anywhere. There are no sets (to speak of) and no real special effects--until near the end when a boy initiates the launch of a Nike anti-aircraft missile (the story, remember, is about a small town's dealing with the arrival of a Nike base).

The script calls for action in various areas of the stage, where characters are gathered for town meetings of various kinds, and characters sometimes step away from the group to show/tell us things.

It's robustly a PG (very near a G) script. The Nike-base soldiers (so genially raunchy in the novel--and even in the film) are even more like a pack of Boy Scouts--and the townie boys (portrayed in both book and film as sort of Hells Angels-wannabes) are much milder, too--like kids who have detention for sleeping in study hall instead of for punching out their English teacher.

The language is milder, too. In the novel the soldiers used poon to refer to the girls in town; the film changed the word to boojum; the play uses quail. That's quite some progress, isn't it? The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that quail has been used in America since 1859--originally student slang to refer to young women. (Chick would evolve from this.)

But the OED also reminds us that in the Jacobean age the word quail had yet another meaning--a courtesan or prostitute (in 1609, the Bard used the term in such a way in Troilus and Cressida--tch, tch). Hmmmm.

For a play from 1965, it's a little dated--even for its own era. The character of Grace Bannerman (Joanne Woodward in the film), for example, a ferociously busy housewife (she is on--or chairs--just about every committee in town), relents at the end of the play and resolves to stay home more (husband Harry's horny). "I'm going to resign from all my committees," she says. "and I'll never direct another pageant" (143). (Are we supposed to applaud?)

And all the other various conflicts resolve themselves more or less amiably--and not always in the way Max Shulman had originally written the story ... oh, those playwrights! (The high school toughs decide to join the Army because the girls have told them it's the soldiers' uniforms that excite them so. Geez.)

As I wrote some months ago, it was Writer's Almanac that posted a notice about the birthday of Max Shulman (1919-1988), and it was WA that propelled me back into the past to read Shulman again, to watch the film again, to read the play for the first time. And I loved the journey into the past ...


  1. The play, "Rally Round the Flag Boys," was our high school Senior Class Play in the early spring of 1966. In the play, the character of Harry Bannerman was split in two and a new character, Lt. Guido DiMaggio, added. DiMaggio was a local boy, now in the Army, ordered to return to Putnam's Landing to help "sell" the Nike missile project to the townspeople. I played DiMaggio. It was lots of fun, a great experience, and I think I still have my script.