My love affair with Mame came by chance. In fifth grade, I had the honor of being Ms. Turner's student for a second year. She approached me one morning, and it was the first time she told me about her sister. She, too, was a teacher, at a high school down the street from Joe's Crab Shack. This teacher, a fiery red-head, was participating in the school's musical, and they needed a ten-year-old boy to play a very crucial role. Ms. Turner sent me off to audition: I was the first to arrive, and after that they canceled auditions. I was IT. I've never had an easier audition, and it was one of the proudest moments of my life.
Due to an unmotivated ensemble, however, the show was canceled before I was scheduled to start rehearsals with them. Fortunately, Virginia--not just my sister, but my soul sister--had the soundtrack. It was as though rehearsals never stopped. I continued listening to the CD, memorizing the songs and falling for this Angela Lansbury character. The more I got to know about the musical, the more I learned of the original stage play, Auntie Mame.
When Patrick Dennis is orphaned, he is taken by his nanny Agnes Gooch to the home of Auntie Mame, his eccentric aunt who lives in a plush penthouse in Beekman Place. In ten years, Mame takes Patrick through the Depression, his college years, marriage to a Southern Gentleman, his engagement to a college girl, an unplanned pregnancy, and on into the future.
I read the book of the musical and the script to the play. I saw the film with Rosalind Russell, and the musical with Lucille Ball. I've yet to read Patrick Dennis's original novel, but I'm in the middle of Chapter Two right now.
What concerns me about Mame is that the Lucille Ball version is the only musical adaptation we got on film. It's not atrocious. Bea Arthur and Jane Connell reprise their Broadway roles as Vera and Gooch, respectively. Robert Preston is a great Beauregarde Jackson Pickett Burnside. But Lucy...I don't love Lucy. Not in this one. She can't sing. She's just not a singer. She does a rhythmic talking through each song, and when she does sing, it's AWFUL. Why should one of the greatest musicals be subjected to a sub-par rendering? Why remake a perfect musical adaptation (My Fair Lady) instead of revisiting an oldie but goodie?
Well, I'll remake that movie. Right now. With this damn cast. Click Read More! to get the D.L.
Who is She: Mother Burnside is the matriarch of the Burnsides. A large, intimidating Southern woman surrounded by vultures waiting for her to die so that they can collect on her will. Mother Burnside is Mame's future mother-in-law, and that's fucking terrifying.
Awesome Quote: "Mother of jefferson Davis! She's passing the fox!"
My Choice: An Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (Misery), she has played a Southern woman a number of times (Fried Green Tomatoes, for example). She also has musical experience (TV movie of Annie), and while Mother Burnside doesn't actually have a song, she could do background vocals.
Kathy Bates (Rat Race, Titanic)
Who is She: Near the end, Patrick brings his fiancee to meet Mame and her friends. He meets this gal, who Mame hires as either a maid or an interior decorator. I forget how close the musical is to the original. Anyway, she's smarter, cooler, and much less of an uptight bitch. She's the right girl, but does he know it?
Patrick: "Marriage is a great institution."
Pegeen: "Yeah, but who wants to be in an institution?"
My Choice: Pegeen is Irish, so its only natural that a redhead be chosen. This is a non-singing role, so it can be anyone, no matter what their vocal talents are. And it should be a babe.
Jenna Fischer (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Blades of Glory)
CLAUDE & DORIS UPSON
Who Are They: Gloria's parents, upper-class WASPs who own a nice piece of land called "Upson Downs." Get it? The Upsons are scandalized by unmarried preggos, poor people, and Jews.
My Choices: They must look comfortable in period WASP garb, and look wholesome. By which I mean, bred. One of them is an Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Pieces of April)
Bill Irwin (Across the Universe, Lady in the Water) as Claude Upson
Patricia Clarkson (Married Life, Jumanji) as Doris Upson
Who is She: A Southern belle who's after Beau, and Beau's money to go with it. She jump-starts the fox hunt in an attempt to kill Mame, Sally's greatest threat to Southern blue-bloodedry.
Sally Cato: "Oh, Mame, I'm so excited! I'm just gonan hold my breath 'til dawn!"
Mame: "Do that, honey."
My Choice: I chose a Southern belle who oozes sensuality and gentility, someone who can play both wholesome and bitchy.
Kristin Chenoweth (TV's Pushing Daisies, Bewitched)
Who is She: A rich girl who Patrick meets at university. Gloria is spoiled, prejudiced, vain and stupid.
Awesome Quote: "Bunny Bixler and I were in the semi-finals - the very semi-finals, mind you - of the ping-pong tournament at the club and this ghastly thing happened. We were both playing way over our heads and the score was 29-28. And we had this really terrific volley and I stepped back to get this really terrific shot. And I stepped on the ping-pong ball! I just squashed it to bits. And then Bunny and I ran to the closet of the game room to get another ping-pong ball and the closet was locked! Imagine? We had to call the whole thing off. Well, it was ghastly. Well, it was just ghastly."
My Choice: She's played spoiled, prejudiced, vain and stupid people before. She's also young and looks well-bred.
Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man, Drop Dead Gorgeous)
Who is He: The trustee left in charge of Patrick's inheritance, it means he also has a hand in Patrick's future. Babcock is a friend of the Upsons, meaning he shares their same views on the un-rich and the non-Protestant. He is a true snob, and tries to break Patrick free from Mame's grasp throughout his life.
Awesome Quote: "For nine years, Mame Dennis Burnside, I have done everything in my power to protect this boy from your idiotic, cockeyed nincompoopery."
My Choice: I wanted someone who looks professional, and can pull off that snob effect. He did this especially well in an episode of "The Nanny" in which he played CC's brother, DD. Their family name on the show: Babcock.
Michael McKean (Clue, The Producers: The Movie Musical)
Who is He: A progressive schoolteacher and friend of mame's, he finds the Montessori school to be old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy. His school holds classes completely nude, in order to strip repression off of his charges. Patrick's lessons there last a day, but Woolsey forever remains by Mame's side.
My Choice: I went with an Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor (Chaplin) who looks like a sexy Bohemian.
Robert Downey, Jr. (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man)
Who is She: Patrick's nanny, an introverted Catholic woman. Mame opens her up to new horizons with a new makeover. Gooch opens up her blouse and winds up getting pregnant.
Songs: St. Bridget, We Need a Little Christmas, Gooch's Song
Gooch: "I'm a bachelor girl. My baby is going to be a little bas-"
My Choice: What I like about her features is that she can pass for both beautiful (as she needs to be for one scene) and frumpy (for most of the film). She can do it. Her voice has the proper range for Gooch.
Idina Menzel (Enchanted, Rent)
Who is He: Mame's nephew, a writer. A good-looking young man, Patrick learns all there is about life from his Auntie Mame. As he gets older and meets more of Babcock's crowd, however, he becomes more snobbish and disapproving. It's up to Mame, Pegeen, and a few stiff drinks to save the day!
YOUNGER PATRICK: St. Bridget, My Best Girl, We Need a Little Christmas, The Letter
OLDER PATRICK: The Letter
"And if, some day, when everything turns out wrong
You're through with the human race
Come running to me
For you'll always be
My best girl."
My Choice: I've decided to keep Younger Patrick up to the unknown brigade. But older Patrick can be played by someone known, someone who can sing.
That's a video of a young Academy Award Nominee for eBest Actor (Half Nelson), but he also sang recently:
He's also a Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actor (Lars and the Real Girl)
Ryan Gosling (The Notebook, Remember the Titans)
Who is She: Mame's best friend, an actress from Pittsburgh who affects a British accent to sound more posh. Vera is a lush and a brat, but is always ready with a quip here and a smoke there. She's so delightfully bitchy sometimes.
Songs: It's Today, The Man in the Moon, Bosom Buddies
Vera: (to Pegeen) "Congratulations."
Patrick: "No, Vera, this is Gloria."
My Choice: True, she already played Mame on Broadway. But she's much more perfect for the role of Vera. A great singer, she's demonstrated her vocals in such films as Chicago and Mamma Mia!. It's a part she could play in her sleep, sure, but she always delivers. It's just too much fun.
Christine Baranski (The Birdcage, The Ref)
BEAUREGARDE JACKSON PICKETT BURNSIDE
Who is He: Beau is a Southern gentleman who meets Mame while Christmas shopping in New York. Mame is fired due to her inability to properly look after his needs, but Beau is charmed and takes her home to Georgia. They marry and travel the world.
My Choice: A handsome actor who can sing, dance, and do a Southern accent. He's an Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (The Usual Suspects) and Best Actor (American Beauty)
Kevin Spacey (TV's Recount, Superman Returns)
Who is She: Everyone's favorite aunt, a force of nature with skin. Mame is a free spirit, always changing outfits, interior decorators, hair color, etc.
Songs: It's Today, Open a New Window, My Best Girl, We Need a Little Christmas, Bosom Buddies, That's How Young I Feel, If He Walked Into My Life Today, Finale
Awesome Quote: "Life is a banquet, and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death."
My Choice: She doesn't do musicals often, but when she does, she's a natural. And she LOOKS like Auntie Mame. She SOUNDS like Auntie Mame. She's the perfect person to carry on the Rosalind Russell tradition of class and cool. She is an Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (Dead Man Walking) and a Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (In the Valley of Elah).
Susan Sarandon (Speed Racer, The Rocky Horror Picture Show)
Attention Mame fans: Any problems that you see? Or did something strike your fancy to the point of praise? Tell me about it!