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At Grauman’s Egyptian

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We were coming up the aisle toward the lobby in Grauman’s Egyptian in 1954 when Father observed, “That Dan Dailey certainly loves to sing and dance, doesn’t he?”

Mother often didn’t approve of irony. “Oh I love Dan Dailey!” she cried. However, on the way to the car, I pondered Father’s tone.  He was good at these quiet, subversive insertions. Well wasn’t it true that there was no business like show business? Hadn’t singing the title song been the pleasure Mr. Dailey had made it out to be? Was it possible that the strenuous sincerity of Mother’s favorite star had actually suggested an inner state somewhat the opposite? Even at six, I began to feel conscious of a flaw in the gleaming surfaces of film, after reading my favorite pastime.

In my family, the Nebraskans liked going to the show but the Virginians loved the movies. This meant a large difference in knowingness and wit. The Midwesterners were closer to the sort of audiences Variety writers meant when they wondered how a movie would play in Peoria – in fact Mother’s family’s roots were just outside of Peoria – while the Virginians had a longer and more complicated connection to the entertainment sphere.

For her part, Mother could take or leave the movies. The theater, like other public places, was always a potential ground of shame. As a teenager, mother even had a period of hating movies and would refuse to enter the auditorium, claiming the music bothered her.  Instead she’d perch miserably on the overstuffed lobby settees under the deco fanlights beside the Correct Weight and Fortune machine and the phone booth. Here I imagine her perfecting her considerable, life-long skill at silently broadcasting distress and rage outward into space the same way the projector in its booth was sending light into the inner sanctum. Mother’s psychic rays of displeasure would find their way through the curtained doors, down the aisle, and into the dark row where her father, mother and brother sat. That no one in her family found this behavior particularly odd or worrisome, and in fact kept right on taking her along to the movies probably helps explain why Mother could never really relax into the medium enough to be swept up by it.

(from Chapter 5, “The Forty”)

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