January 26, 2016

Garbo, Beatniks and Camille

Thanks to all of you who sent me ideas for this blog.  I now have a lot to think about and, no doubt, will be writing about quite soon. This week I'm writing another reminiscence at the request of my son. Next week while I'm on vacation, my wonderful great-niece, Grace Cheney, has agreed to fill in for me. I'm sure you'll love it! 

I was once a beatnik. For a very short time, perhaps, but a beatnik none the less. Who remembers beatniks? The 1950's non-conformist generation of men and women who wore sunglasses, dressed in black, often topping their ensembles with berets. They played the bongo drums and smoked a lot. The men had little goatees and the women didn't tease their hair and wore it long. They read blank verse and listened to strange music in subterranean coffee houses.

At least that's the picture I remember. The Beat generation was about twelve years before my own teenage angst. I fell somewhere between beatniks and hippies and flower children. But, quite honestly, I was really just preppy - or as preppy as I could afford to be.

Part of this dress style (the not-a-beatnik part) was due to the fact that my mother disapproved of black and made me wear make-up. Her feeling was that since other people had to look at me it was the least I could do. The other part (not-a-flower-child part) was that I never felt comfortable in long flowing skirts. They are not attractive on ladies with Clover Butt Syndrome which afflicted me and my sisters. I did a few years later have a pair of bell-bottom jeans to which I attached a colorful trim at the hem when they shrunk, but that's about as radical as I got.

So in my dress, if not my politics, I was very conservative. Linda, my best friend, and I must have looked like fraternal twins much of the time. Pageboy haircuts (me, blond; Linda, black), Villager shirt-waist dresses, Bass Weejun loafers. We sometimes mixed things up a bit and wore A-line skirts with matching sweaters and knee socks. In no way could anyone have considered us 'out there' just by catching a glimpse.

This brings us to an afternoon at the Circle Theatre. The Circle was a wonderful movie theater. Located at 21st Street and Pennsylvania Avenue it ran old movies for the unbelievable price of $1 for a matinee and $2 for an evening show. Linda and I were frequent patrons. We loved old movies. They were great and uncensored. I mean to tell you I saw full frontal nudity for the first time when Hedy Lamarr ran through a forest in Ecstasy.

We loved the great Greta Garbo. We saw her in Grand Hotel and Mata Hari. On the afternoon in question (a strange phrase since absolutely no one has questioned me about it) Linda and I went to see Camille.

Now, remember, we were very young and not always the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. The theater was almost empty, a few people down front and one older lady sitting a couple of rows behind us. We watched the entire movie with rapt attention. As it neared the end there was silence in the auditorium except for the sniffles of the lady behind us. Greta lay dying of consumption with Robert Taylor at her side. It was dramatic. It was tragic. Then Robert spoke her name, 'Marguerite'.

Perhaps our attention was not as rapt as we thought because Linda and I were stunned. We looked at each other and said in unison and quite loudly, "Marguerite? I thought her name was Camille!" At which the poor old lady behind us hissed equally loudly, "Shhhh! Beatniks!" So there you have it, my Jack Kerouac moment.

I never did become a Beatnik, but I have become an older lady who loudly shushes chatty people in movie theaters, but I never call them Beatniks.


  1. Maynard G. Krebbs ... "Work"

  2. Oh, dear Lord. I was born in the beatnick generation, but ended up a hippy. My first introduction to it was Doby Gillis and Maynard G. Crebs (don't know about the spelling on those names). I was, however, a full-blown hippy. I do remember going to such theaters as a young man and watching the 50s horror movies. That was the Stadium theater in Torrance, CA.

    1. I was a kind of pseudo hippie. I had long straight hair, bell bottom jeans with braid sewn on the bottom, protested the war vociferously, but never really got the hang of hippi-ness. Always kind of envied the freedom they seemed to enjoy.

  3. Oh, my gawd, D.B. you nailed it. You REMEMBERED.