I Don't do Passover
I don't do passover, or indeed any other Jewish holidays. I can remember a few passive passovers of my youth, nothing special and not very festive. I wasn't even bar mitzvahed and for years I kept it a deep dark secret, too ashamed to admit it. Finally as a young adult I came out to my oldest childhood friend who of course knew this all along since we had studied for that day together with an old Rabbi who lived in our Brooklyn neighborhood and by the time i told him he had converted to Catholicism and could care less .
On holidays including Thanksgiving instead of going to the synagogue or having a family Thanksgiving dinner me and my mother would drive into the city specifically with Times Sq on our radar and minds to take in some movies and dinner. Dinner was usually at our favorite place Hector’s that great Formica covered cafeteria where the water fountains gave out with seltzer instead of just water. The place was located right under the Camel’s smoking man sign and the old Hotel Claridge where a second or third cousin had his dental practice.
In our red and white 1957 gorgeous Pontiac we would go driving down to 4th ave passing through downtown Brooklyn and the beautiful Brooklyn Paramount on our way to cross that great bridge and then along the Bowery till we reached Times Sq. and all those movie theatres. What to see was our hard choice of the day. On that particular Thanksgiving of 1958 We decided on “Party Girl” at the Loew’s State probably because it was a crime drama and the ticket prices at the State were low, children 50 cents at all times. The film starred an aging Robert Taylor who was no longer pretty and pretty much on the way out, and Cyd Charisse who also didn’t do much for either of us. Doris Day she wasn’t. Of course we had no idea who the director Nicholas Ray was, and the film’s cult following was quite a few years away.
We didn’t care for it, and our movie viewing was not satiated, so on that cool November evening we made a dash across the street to the Victoria to see “I Want To Live.” We thought about seeing “Separate Tables” at the Astor, the large beautiful billboard with portraits of the stars pulled us in and both Burt Lancaster and Rita Hayworth two favorites of both of ours were in it, but it looked dry and we wanted wet.
The last showing of “I Want To Live” was just starting and we no doubt got stares because I was probably the only 10 year old in the audience. The film seared my young brain and everything else that could possibly be seared. My mother favored tough and independent actresses like Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis and Susan Hayward who by all accounts was giving the performance of the year and her career as Barbara Graham who was allegedly part of a burglar murder spree in the early 50’s and was found guilty of murder and put to death in the California gas chamber. Not exactly the kind of film a mother would take her 10 year old son to see, but my mom was advanced in her movie and mothering ways and always said if she wanted to see a movie then I could see it also.
We had just seen Vertigo in the Spring and loved it, and I had also seen “Night of The Hunter” and “Sweet Smell Of Success” both of which shook me up, haunting and staying with me for my entire youth. But nothing prepared me for what was screening across the shabby Victoria’s screen. Hayward was brash and brassy, a troubled soul who had tried to kill herself in the early 50’s and was always strikingly good-looking, a Brooklyn born babe who sometimes gave over the top performances and we both loved her. I had never seen a film like “I Want To Live.” It was almost a documentary, grimy and gray with lurid touches throughout and with a Jazz soundtrack pounding in our ears. It gave us pins and needles. Even at 10 I could recognize a downer and this film was one big down trip. It depressed me, and even at that young age I knew all about being depressed. This kind of film acting is dead and gone and would probably be laughed at or ignored today, and on my most recent viewing of the film a few weeks ago I could see why. Hayward’s performance at times is so high pitched I’m surprised that the dogs of my hood didn’t coming bounding, barking and pounding at my door. And then there was her suit, earrings and open toe heels that she wears in the final part of the film on her way to be gassed that no doubt caused me to be sexually attracted to women who wore open toe shoes from that day on.
However the film and Hayward are still compelling and pulled me in all over again. The texture and images of the film are like broken glass on a wet floor and the last half hour or so of the film is gut retching and somber and contains the best acting that Hayward does in the movie and no doubt was a big reason why she won the Oscar that year. When the film was over, the lights came up and the audience was silent including me and my mom as we made our way out of the cigarette smoke filled theatre into the cool neon lit air of the Sq. and made our way back to Brooklyn on that Thanksgiving night so many years ago.