Sunday, August 16, 2015

the summer of '62

credit © 1962 Bert Stern
Marilyn Monroe in late June 1962, six weeks before her death, as photographed by Bert Stern for Vogue magazine

Forgive me, but I plan to traipse down memory lane today (and seriously date myself).

Every year, as the summer movie season begins to wind down in August, I become nostalgic for the bittersweet season of 1962.  Ah, yes, 1962...

I vividly remember my father driving me to Mass on Sunday, August 5th in '62 and picking me up an hour later with the announcement that Marilyn Monroe had died.  Marilyn.  MM. My first movie crush. Dead.

A profound loss that was very personal to me.

That summer, my parents enrolled me at Steelman's Business School to learn typing (because the Catholic school that I attended allowed only girls to take typing classes) and also signed me up at a Rick's Gym (because I was a skinny movie nerd).  I went to Steelman's at 8 a.m., the gym at 10 and then I'd have lunch at a cozy little place called Calico Kitchen.

My lunch was always the same - a Texas Tommy and a black-&-white milk shake. I believe that the Texas Tommy sandwich no longer exists, but it was fab-u-lous - a hot dog, split down the center with a strip of pickle and cheese tucked in, and then wrapped in bacon and stuffed inside a bun.

Plus fries.

I'm amazed that I survived puberty.

Then I'd go to a noon movie at one of two theaters in downtown Camden, New Jersey - the Stanley, a sprawling palace, or the art-deco Savar (which was conveniently next-door to Calico Kitchen).

On August 6th, the day after Marilyn passed, instead of working out at Rick's, I spent most of my time there reading about her in all the local papers - The Philadelphia Bulletin, The Philadelphia Inquire, The Daily News and the Camden Courier-Post.  I clipped out the articles to keep.

I was heartbroken and reluctant to see a movie that day. I felt guilty. It seemed wrong. But the Savar was showing a Jack Lemmon comedy, "The Notorious Landlady," and, given that I loved Lemmon, I couldn't resist.  So I had my Texas Tommy and fries and spent the next two hours with Jack.

"The Notorious Landlady" remains one of my all-time favorite films, not just because it's a terrific, clever comedy but largely because of the situation, the time and the place, that embrace it.  It's a special movie that perhaps no one else views - or can appreciate - quite the way I do.

I binged-watched it that summer, seeing it multiple times.

But the summer of '62 also holds a special place in my heart because of the rich array of films that moved in and out of the local theaters - "The Music Man" ... "Lolita" ... "Advise and Consent" ... "Hatari" ... "Lonely Are the Brave" ... "Five Finger Exercise" ... "The Counterfeit Traitor" ... "That Touch of Mink" ... "My Geisha" ... "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation" ... "David and Lisa" ... "Birdman of Alcatraz" ... "The Interns" ... Cinerama's "The Wonderful World of the Brother Grimm" ... the Hope-Crosby reunion comeback, "The Road to Hong Kong" ... Elvis' version of "Kid Galahad."

And Kim Novak had two films released within the same month - "Boys' Night Out," which her company Kimco produced, and a comedy directed by her then-significant other, Richard Quine, and co-starring her frequent screen partner, Jack Lemmon ... "The Notorious Landlady."

It's a film that I watch every August 6th.

Note in Passing: The movie year 1962, in general, is arguably the greatest in film history, surpassing (yes) even 1939 - something which I addressed back in 2012 in this essay.

The Marilyn Artwork: Photographer Bert Stern had three sessions with Marilyn Monroe for Vogue magazine in late June 1962, six weeks before her death. These sessions, as evidenced here, produced extraordinarily beautiful and unique images of Marilyn.


Chellis said...

What beautiful memories of a time now gone, innocence about the movies, food, and teenage life. You moved me to tears. Thank you.

k.o. said...

You mention how "The Notorious Landlady" has remained a touchstone in your life. I was thinking, do movies impact you differently at certain stages of your life? I seem to remember liking "Breakfast at Tiffany's" when I was young but thought it was silly when I saw it again in my 30s. Then again, the first time I saw "Separate Tables," I was about 12 and still thought it was terrific when I saw it again last year.

Marvin said...

Lovely, Joe; poignant and moving and so very touching. And I certainly like the point which you made about 1962 being one of the greatest of "movie years." Marvin

joe baltake said...

No, Marvin, ! I didn’t say that 1962 was one of the greatest movie years; I say it was the greatest. The best!

Kevin Barry said...

I have always regarded 1962 (and 1959) as the greatest of all movie years. I can clearly remember seeing The Music Man at the Music Hall, Advise and Consent at the Criterion, and Hatari at the DeMille (and looking up at that enormous stories-high wrap-around billboard rising above me). I am delighted to see that you agree because I have never read any critic who mentioned it before. I am rather tired of the cliched 1939-is-the-best-movie-year opinion.

joe baltake said...

Thanks, Kevin. I wrote about 1962 being the best movie year (in my opinion) twice in the past - decades ago when I was reviewing out of Philadelphia and about 15 years ago when I was working for McClatchy out of Northern California. The New York Times has also acknowledged 1962 as a banner movie year on at least two occasions. The critic Stephen Farber wrote a freelance piece on the year for the Times back in 2002, and one of the Times' chief movie critics, A.O. Scott, covered the year in 2009 when BAMcinématek honored the year with a retrospect. There's a link in my "Summer of '62" essay to a 2012 essay on 1962 in general in which I reference the two Times pieces (providing links to them). Thanks again!

Kevin Barry said...

Thanks, Joe. Yes, I saw all those prior references after I jumped the gun and posted my comment. It feels good to have one's opinions verified by experts! I think 1959 is a close second to 1962, for both American films and films from abroad.

Michael O'Sullivan said...

Joe, I am going to have to go through your blog item by item -so much I like here. But yes I agree 1962 is - along with 1959 and 1960 - the best year(s) ever. I was 16 in 1962 and seeing all those movies at my local cinema. A particular moment is watching that lovely scene with Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon down by the dock early in DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES before they hit the booze. And I remember hearing about Marilyn's death on the radio that Sunday afternoon, when we were lounging in deckchairs in the garden. Oddly enough BUS STOP had played at one of our 2 cinemas the previous night she died, I saw it then so it was fresh on our minds the next day .....

joe baltake said...

Thanks for the kind words, Michael. Re 1962, I recommend another post:

Stephen Taylor said...

I was born that Sunday, August 5th. My mother told me later about the death of Marilyn Monroe. I found a newspaper published that date a few years later. Her death was the big news, and President Kennedy was sending more troops to "Indochina".