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Jan and I arranged ourselves before the monitor and watched the first half of Fiddler on the Roof last night. Marvelous, we were loving it, every bit of drama business, every bit of stage business worked.
Jewish traditions are established, for the sake of the goyim in the audience, then Jewish traditions are challenged, for the sake of the anarchist, the Romantic, in all of us. God’s word is law, papa’s word is law, but here come the doubters: maybe the daughters, the chattel, the suitors should have some say in the business of marriage. In any case, the wedding takes place, under a canopy, the glass is crushed under heel, here comes the music, the dancing, everything is joyous (except for the snubbed fiancé) … and I announced to Jan, “Watch out now, here come the Cossacks”.
The rabbi has been asked if he has a prayer for the Tsar, the rabbi answers, Yes, of course, may God keep the Tsar well …
away from us!
So: the Jewish fathers, and God, and the rabbi control the Jewish ghetto, but the ghetto is in Russia: and Russia, by fits and starts, is pushed this way and that, by whoever has a horse and a sword and no qualms about coercion, murder, pillage …
(Where do Jews come from? How did they get to Russia? They come from Palestine, they got pushed, further and further, from Palestine. Where do Russians come from? Scandinavia, of course, where all Vikings come from. The Russians were the Vikings who went east.)
The magistrate warns the milkman that some sort of purge is coming. Every Jew should know that, in any time and place: sunny day, sunny day, storm … The milkman and the butcher drink to the union they plan, without having heard of the tailor and the daughter or their plans. The Jews look like they have the run of the tavern until suddenly … gasp … the Russians are there! the Jews have to drink with the Russians! and now dance with them! and it’s utterly clear, even to the goyim in the audience, that the Russians can draw them and quarter them as they wish (as it would be clear to the Russians that the Lakota could draw and quarter them if somehow the tavern could be transported to Dakota in 1700. or Washington and Jefferson to Genghis’ steppe in 1200). Majorities are always right.
(I don’t always crush the anole. I sometimes let it pursue its own aims. Sometimes I go to crush it, and miss.)
Jan and I read Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. A man and woman, Jews, the woman pregnant, were walking of an evening. A gang beat them, to death. Brown shirts, SS, some damn Nazi gang. This was reported, but the report didn’t spread. The report reached the White House, the White House didn’t pass it on. Nazi officials scoffed: they didn’t deny it, they denied that it meant much. Well, we don’t randomly murder every Jew, do we? Maybe we won’t murder any Jew tomorrow. Maybe there will be an anarchist we’ll allow to continue breathing, another day.
Back to Fiddler: An emissary of government visits the magistrate. The magistrate had warned our protagonist milkman that some sort of display of power was coming, but that it wouldn’t be a pogrom, it wouldn’t be too bad. Ah, but now the emissary warns the magistrate that if local bureaucrats lag over crown policy, stomping the Christ-killers, others can be found who won’t lag! Wedding? Stomp!
But think about it. No, not Jews: Jews think too much as it is. No, think about it, us goyim. (If Christ-killers could be identified) are a few ripped bed clothes, a random fire, adequate? Shouldn’t Christians exterminate Christ-killers? every last one? (Wouldn’t it be nice if we could know our enemies, truly? First maybe we should prove capable of knowing ourselves.)
Why didn’t Roosevelt rush to Hitler’s mob’s aid in 1933? murder every last Jew on the street, especially if pregnant, then purge the buildings, then the country side?
Then who would have made our Woody Allen movies? Who would have done Norman Jewison’s work? or Lennie Bernstein’s or Jerome Robbins? How would we have Topol shaking his shoulders? (God, what a great performance! Was ever actor better born to play a role?)
Even world war didn’t kill everybody. Even two world wars! not even continuous war after War #II!
Never forget that the killers don’t stop at Jews. Queers, gypsies, fags … geniuses. Geniuses are always in season, in any culture.
I’ll return to say something about types of kleptocrat: degrees of passivity. The cripple at the crucifixion contributes to the crucifixion, though not as much as the non-cripple: and not as much as Pilat, Herod … Tiberius, or the centurion with the sponge, or the centurion with the spear …
More on Fiddler, more on random lynchings, and more on degrees of passivity may come scrapbook fashion.
Jan and I watched The Road the other night: or part of it. She bailed out early, I continued a bit further alone and intend to finish it someday. I have to emphasize, I’m impressed by Cormac McCarthy but everyone who reads or sees The Road should already know Piers Anthony’s Geodyssey climaxes.
Charlize Theron is almost as stunning near forty as she ever was decades younger. She gets a very good line: She wants to die, wants her husband to assist her in killing their helpless family, the young boy too. It’s freezing, it’s night. She taking clothes off! and going out into the dark. “Wait till morning”, he says, “You won’t be able to see”. “I don’t need to see,” she says.
One of my friends in the 1950s had been in the original cast of Fiddler but I had never seen it, neither the play nor the movie; Jan had seen the play but never the movie. Julie was in Fiddler before she was in West Side Story. Julie was the swing girl: played any roles from the general female cast, was general understudy to all.
I made not one but two show-girl friends the summer of 1957. Ethylyn played the “white” gang leader’s girl. She was the cute blond in the pony tail, the one with the ass that could speak in tongues.
One day Ethylyn showed up in Melville class without the pony tail. My face fell. “Oh”, she said: opened her purse, and voila, there was her pony tail: all washed and set and ready to wear.
It was Ethylyn who gave me tickets to see a matinee. I met her at the stage door after the show, every poor slob on the sidewalk going Glug, Duh as she appeared. “You were late!” she scolded.
Yes I was. The ushers had held me in the rear till the opening number was concluded, then showed me my seat, further forward than the other latecomers. “How could you tell?” I asked.
“I gave you Jerome Robbins’ seat,” she explained: sixth row, center.” She assured me that everyone on the stage was keenly aware of every twitch from that seat.
Every bit of stage business worked until the grave yard scene: how Jewish are ghosts? How Russian? Or was the dip in the drama a gong from my ignorance?
Of course the story abandoned verisimilitude the moment the daughter started to clue the father that she had feelings too. Humanity and business don’t mix. My business tanked totally the minute I stayed sober long enough to like being sober. The mother had betrayed preferences, but that’s different: her preferences were also all business, all dowry, all tradition.
Here Come the Cossacks
One holiday evening around 1957 my sister and I were both at Mother’s house. Beth was watching Perry Mason. I, as had been my habit all our lives, was not listening to her radio show, watching her TV show … Beth as was her habit, was paying strict attention to clues: figure out who-dun-it. I walked through the room, noticed that the camera was lingering on the mug of some unimportant witness in the courtroom. “He dun-it,” I announced.
Later, after the show’s conclusion, she wanted to know how how I, who was neither watching nor apparently listening had ID’d the guilty party, a minor character, the second he was introduced: “‘Cause they put the camera on him longer than a minor character warrants.
The information is in the stage business, in the artifact’s structure, not in the mis-directional plot. Of course the Cossacks are coming, we’ve just had too much joy.
My ’50s Brush with Broadway
2017 01 17 The other day I found publicity glossies of both my two show girl friends. I’ll scan them and put them here.
I was thinking of both girls recently but in separate contexts:
Watching Carousel the other day, already loving the songs and there adoring the dancing too especially Jacques D’Amboise, I remember the girls telling each other stories of news they’d heard from the filming of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. All those Broadway people know each other. Julie was saying how the guys had danced from sun to sun. They done so many takes, their brand new that morning sneakers had worn out, given up the ghost.
The girls told me when West Side Story was casting for the road: why didn’t I try out? I had never danced with Ethelyn or Julie, I’d never told them that I used to be good: was invited onto the stage, gave shows. Maybe they could tell just by looking. I never did try out, but I’m so proud that I was invited, by a pair of pros.
Throw stones at me if I don’t add those pix.