The theater and other diversions

Some Like It Hot; Hadestown; Gordon Parks

While filling out one of those quizzes, I realized I must be missing some other diversions. I’m not watching much television. The movies I see (primarily) get reviewed here. So what else have I been doing?

My wife and I went to the Albany Institute of History and Art and saw “Gordon Park: I, too, am America” in early February, just before the exhibit closed. I loved his work, which I remember from the pages of LIFE magazines in the 1960s. He exposed the disparity of American life with his camera. A reviewer called the installation “incomplete but still rewarding.” The description of the works in one medium-sized room and a tiny annex seems accurate.

I realized that I related to Parks as a singular figure, the only black photographer I knew of, just as Arthur Ashe was the sole black male tennis player in my awareness.


My wife and I have season tickets to musicals at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady.  The first one scheduled was Aladdin in October 2022. Unfortunately, that was the timeframe when my spouse was experiencing her leg injury.

I could have gotten the money credited to our theater account, but at that late date, Proctors wouldn’t fill those seats. Instead, I posted my issue on Facebook; I got a taker – a guy and his very enthusiastic mom – and our digital tickets could be used, which made me happy.

Thus, the first show we saw was Hairspray in January. I’d seen the original  1988 movie, written and directed by John Waters. The iteration we saw was more moving than a previous production I had seen, especially when Motormouth sings I Know Where I’ve Been.

The best part of going to a Thursday matinee at Proctors is that a few actors will come to a smaller theater and talk to the audience. They told their stories of putting on a production in the midst of COVID. One performer was cast two years earlier, while another auditioned online on a Thursday in Mississippi and was in NYC the following Monday. That first rehearsal involved practicing the exhausting finale. You Can’t Stop The Beat.

Hell, you say

In March, we saw Hadestown. The Tony winner still plays on Broadway but also has a touring show. The musical by Anaïs Mitchell tells a variation of an ancient Greek myth about Eurydice, a young woman desperate for something to eat. She ends up in “a hellish industrial version of the underworld. Her poor singer-songwriter lover Orpheus comes to attempt to rescue her.” The tour will continue through May of 2024. Well worth your time.

My wife and I saw Rent at UAlbany in March; some great performances. Ditto Sister Act at the newly refurbished Albany High School, where our daughter, home from college, joined us. Some difficulties with the sound marred both shows.

Norma Jeane

My wife and I also saw the movie Some Like It Hot (1959) at the Spectrum in Albany. While I had seen a movie ABOUT Marilyn Monroe, this was the first film I saw that she starred in.

The movie was very good. Indeed, it has been “voted one of the best films ever made in polls by the BBC, the American Film Institute, and Sight & Sound.”

Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis play two musicians on the run from the Chicago mob in 1929 who dress up as women and join an all-female band heading to Miami.  Marilyn as Sugar Kane is more than another “dumb blonde,” even though the band’s singer describes herself that way.

I had heard about her clashes with director/producer/co-writer Billy Wilder, with her demanding many retakes. Ultimately, Wilder acknowledged: “Anyone can remember lines, but it takes a real artist to come on the set and not know her lines and yet give the performance she did!”  She won a Golden Globe for Best Actress.

My wife and I thought that the lighting made Marilyn seem to be topless in a couple of nightclub scenes, though she was wearing clothing.

There is a bit of mob violence in Some Like It Hot. But fortunately, it wasn’t like seeing a Scorcese or Coppola film.

Also, I imagine that they should ban the movie in Kentucky. Lemmon and Curtis are in drag. And Joe E. Brown’s famous last line just nails that down.

Vegetable washing, poultry killing, EJ shoes, Glida Corp, and my mom

Endicott Johnson was one of the fairer employers of the period, as the title of Professor Zahavi’s 1988 book Workers, Managers, and Welfare Capitalism: The Shoemakers and Tanners of Endicott Johnson, 1890-1950, would suggest.

This is a photo of my mom, Gertrude Williams (later Green), that I have never seen before this week, behind the counter, in front of the scales to the left. My sister Marcia found it and put it on her Facebook page.

Apparently, my mom told my sisters that she worked at something called the Glida Corporation from the time she was 16 for four or five years, and this, apparently, is from there.

There is an obscured chart to the right about Endicott- Johnson, the shoe company that was huge in the Binghamton, NY area, and its sales for the 12 months ending November something, of $142,029,121.32.

So I wrote to Professor Gerald Zahavi, who is a UAlbany professor mentioned in the Wikipedia bibliography. He has written a history of the Endicott-Johnson Corporation, which is publicly available. Specifically, he compiled an appendix, which notes that the sales in 1947 match the numbers on the board. This would mean my mom would have just turned 20 in November 1947, and the picture was taken shortly thereafter, certainly in cold weather, based on the apparel.

Professor Zahavi also notes that there were E-J food markets in the area. Was this one of them, run by Glida, and subsidized by E-J? And if not, why would Glida be selling food, and noting E-J’s earnings? At this point, I have no idea.

What I found about the Glida Corporation is at a funky site called Fulton history. Glida made canvas products, such as parachutes, during WWII, and was a peacetime manufacturer of “light fabric bags and baby clothing;” it went bankrupt in the early 1950s, after making some questionably ethical decisions, if I’m reading things correctly.

On the other hand, Endicott Johnson was one of the fairer employers of the period, as the title of the professor’s 1988 book Workers, Managers, and Welfare Capitalism: The Shoemakers and Tanners of Endicott Johnson, 1890-1950, would suggest. The Wikipedia notes: “When asked why no attempt had been made to organize E-J workers, [labor organizer Samuel] Gompers said that E-J already gave workers more than unions had achieved elsewhere.”

And who took the picture? At least a couple of people in the photo (the boy to the left, the woman to the right) are aware of the photographer.

Anyone with info about the Glida Corportation or the EJ food markets, please share!

Kegs and Eggs Riot, plus one year

The solution designed by UALBANY was to have its mid-semester break, not during Presidents Day week and/or around the Christian Holy Week, but rather this past week.

Apparently, for years, there had been these “kegs and eggs” parties, although I had been blissfully unaware of them until 2011. I gather the “point” of the activity was to drink beer all night, have some eggs for breakfast, then continue to “party” through that day’s St. Patrick’s day parades and other celebrations.

Except that, in the “student ghetto” a half dozen blocks from my house, the morning marauding after breakfast turned into a riot; check out some pictures here.

Interestingly, some students objected to the term “riot” for their behavior. Let’s look at the dictionary: 1) a noisy, violent public disorder caused by a group or crowd of persons…, 2) Law. a disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons acting together in a disrupting and tumultuous manner in carrying out their private purposes. 3) violent or wild disorder or confusion. Yup, it was a riot all right. I think some rejected the term because it’s something that someone ELSE does.

In any case, the solution designed by UALBANY was to have its mid-semester break, not during Presidents Day week and/or around the Christian Holy Week, but rather this past week. Unfortunately, St. Paddy’s Day is on Saturday this year, and I have to wonder if a bit of partying stupidly by students will still be taking place tonight. Or last night, for that matter, with students crashing at the houses of townie friends.

Almost everyone in America deigns to be Irish on this day, whether they actually are or not. As it turns out, Barack Obama, back in 2007 during his initial campaign for the Presidency, found out about his Irish ancestry. “Last year, he traveled with the First Lady to pay a visit to Moneygall, the town of 300 people where his great-great-great-grandfather was born, and jokingly told a crowd there: ‘My name is Barack Obama, of the Moneygall Obamas, and I’ve come home to find the apostrophe we lost somewhere along the way.'”

Naturally, his reelection campaign has seized on the opportunity to sell T-shirts. $30? You’d think it was a rock concert. Or maybe campaigns ARE rock concerts.

Slavery by Another Name PBS documentary

When you create a class of “the other”, not just racially, but as “the criminal”, even if it were based on a vague, trumped-up charge of vagrancy, it made it easier to think of people as less than human.

My wife and I got a babysitter last Friday night so we could take the bus – MUCH easier than trying to find parking at the uptown UAlbany campus – and watch Slavery by Another Name, “a 90-minute documentary that challenges one of Americans’ most cherished assumptions: the belief that slavery in this country ended with the Emancipation Proclamation.” Though the film will be premiering on PBS, Monday, February 13 at 9pm ET / 8pm CT (check local listings), the real draw of viewing it early on a bigger screen was to be able to see the director of the film, Shelia Curran Bernard, and the writer of the book upon which the film was based, Douglas Blackmon, who I had seen before.

Narrated by actor Laurence Fishburne, “The film tells how even as chattel slavery came to an end in the South in 1865, thousands of African Americans were pulled back into forced labor with shocking force and brutality.

It was a system in which men, often guilty of no crime at all, were arrested, compelled to work without pay, repeatedly bought and sold, and coerced to do the bidding of masters. Tolerated by both the North and South, forced labor lasted well into the 20th century.” The movie notes the failure of the federal government, both after Reconstruction, and again in the early 20th century under Teddy Roosevelt, to stem the tide of forced labor.

As both the SBAN book and the movie made clear, the peonage system was, in many ways, far worse than the slavery before the Civil War. If one had slaves, one needed to protect one’s economic investment by providing some measure of food, clothing, and shelter. If one were a business, such as US Steel, leasing convicts, one could work someone nearly to death, or sometimes fatally, and then go lease someone else.

The speakers had no prepared comments but were just doing a question and answer period. Anyone who’s seen a Q&A knows that the quality of questions is all over the place. One person wanted to know why we never heard these stories before. Blackmon noted that the further away we are from it in history, the easier it is to look at it. In any case, there will be classroom material available to talk about this previously unknown, shameful part of the American postbellum past.

A question that intrigued me was, basically, how people could be so cruel to each other. The speakers noted that when you create a class of “the other”, not just racially, but as “the criminal”, even if it were based on a vague, trumped-up charge of vagrancy, it made it easier to think of people as less than human. This tied to another question about the new Jim Crow laws, which continue to incarcerate black people in disproportionate numbers; the speakers referred to Michelle Alexander’s book and other sources for further reference.

I must admit to laughing at a recent comment from the blog of SamuraiFrog “It’s Black History Month. So if you’re one of those complete idiots going on Facebook and whining about how having a Black History Month is racism against white people, please pick up a history book. And hit yourself in the head with it. Repeatedly. Until you black out.” The fact that THIS story has largely been missing from the history books makes the continued investigation of the lost black history, a/k/a American history, still relevant.

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