Mother’s Day is coming up. (Quick, order a nice bouquet, or something more unexpected, if you haven’t already obtained a Mom-appropriate gift!) My own mom had a lot of influence on my interest in movies (to say nothing of the countless other ways she shaped me). Maybe your mom did, too. Here are a few film-related gems of wisdom she passed on to me:
Movie manners: my mom was the one that taught me that it was OK to come into a movie after it had already started, and then stay just long enough into the next showing to see the part you missed.
Some words are so much funnier than others: Like “kumquat”. Mom pointed this out one fine day when I was watching “It’s A Gift*”, probably on the “Channel 8 Morning Movie” from KTUL. She was walking through the room with a load of laundry during the scene in which W.C. Fields is cornered in his grocery store by a customer with a very specific demand. And that demand is KUMQUATS. (Watcher beware: a lot of the humor in the YouTube clip at this link is at the expense of the sight- and hearing-impaired.) But, laundry-burdened though she was, Mom had time to point out to me that “kumquats” made that scene much funnier than “apples” would have. This insight seemed magical to me at the time. And for someone like me who really treasures anything funny, and who on occasion tries to be funny myself, it’s been priceless. Can’t thank you enough, Mom.
Alec Guinness had a career before Obi-Wan: One branch of Mom’s family came from the British Isles, and she was always partial to the particular brand of dry wit that the British do so well. Lest I think that Alec Guiness‘ distinguished career began and ended with “Star Wars”, she introduced me to “Kind Hearts and Coronets” and the original “The Ladykillers” . Which opened the door to the quaint, often funny, occasionally dark world of films made at Ealing Studios. Their movies are still comfort food to me.
It’s OK for feminists to laugh at dumb blondes: Mom and Dad both made sure my sister and I got good educations and were otherwise well prepared to thrive as independent women. (Regrettably, I don’t think any video exists of Mom, my sister and I sashaying around the kitchen while Helen Reddy belted out “I Am Woman” from a cassette in our clunky portable black tape recorder.) That said, Mom wasn’t above the occasional snicker at the expense of our own gender. She and I watched “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” together, and Mom hooted louder than I did at Lorelei Lee’s “I can be smart when it’s important“. Which introduced me to the idea that, once in a while, it’s OK to be just clever enough to get what you want. She also sent the occasional mixed message. There’s a scene in “The Quiet Man” in which John Wayne drags – yes, literally drags – his wife, played by Maureen O’Hara, up hill and down dale to bring her back home after she’s tried to leave him. It’s supposed to demonstrate that he cares about their marriage enough to take drastic action. But by more modern standards – the standards my parents wanted to instill in us – it’s cringe-inducing. Yet when we watched it together, there was Mom at the other end of the couch, chortling. And when one of the village matriarchs steps in to lend John Wayne a hand with the words “Sir!… Sir!… Here’s a good stick, to beat the lovely lady“, Mom dissolved completely in laughter.
Later she made a point of taking me to see “The Color Purple“. But I wasn’t quite ready to take in all that that film had to say. (My escapist tendencies were already forming.) Wish I’d been a little more mature.
It seems fitting that one of my last memories of spending time with my mom includes a movie. By this time, she was having serious health problems, but sitting together watching movies was something we could still manage. That evening, it was Marilyn Monroe again, in fabulous black-and-white, in “Some Like It Hot“. The terrific dialogue (Billy Wilder, one of my all-time favorites, was one of the screenwriters) includes Marilyn lamenting, “I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.” Mom managed a soft chuckle, and that expression earned a permanent place in my vocabulary.
Mom passed away a few years ago, but as you can probably guess I think of her just about every time I’m about to enjoy a classic movie. If your mom is still with us, be sure and give her a hug on Mother’s Day and every other time you get the chance. And if you have any movie-centric memories of your own mom, dad or other family members, I’d be honored if you shared them here.
* This movie was hilarious to me when I was in kindergarten, and forty years later it still cracks me up. How many things are there in life that you can say that about? You must meet Mr. LaFong: click here.