Saturday, May 29, 2010

There’s something about Marty (and a coupla other thoughts this Memorial Day Weekend)

Well, it's Memorial Day Weekend and I don't really have any plans.  A dozen years ago I would've been up to my eyeballs in things to do, five years ago I'd be happy just for the long weekend, and now I can only wonder what's going on & if things will always be this way. 
I don't mean to sound like I'm down... I suppose introspective would better describe it.  Earlier this week, I saw that TCM was airing the unedited version of "Marty", a favorite movie of mine. (I don't think I've ever seen the full version.  When MGM initially released this, for reasons unknown they edited out certain scenes.  It's still sold that way.)  I've just finished watching it, and I admit it--there wasn't a dry eye in the house, so to speak.
For those unfortunate few who haven't seen it, Ernest Borgnine plays a lonely Bronx butcher who lives with his Italian mother, his brothers and sisters all married.  He's loved by family and friends, but has long accepted the fact that women just don't find him physically attractive, and he'll always be alone.

"Marty, please; you go to da Stardust Ballroom, it has plenty of the tomatoes!"
His mother worries that he'll die alone, and when she hears of the Stardust Ballroom (a popular gathering place for both couples and singles) from her younger newlywed son, she convinces Marty to go. 

And it is there that he meets Clara (Betsy Blair), a female counterpart to his own, plain and unassuming, who had come to the Ballroom on an arranged date, only to be rejected after arriving and is now alone.  Marty witnesses the rejection, and feeling sorry for her, asks Clara if she would like to dance.

"Clara, us dogs, we gotta stick together and look out for each other!"
They spend the rest of the evening in a small coffeeshop talking, comparing notes and offering advice to the other.  (Clara wants to take a teaching promotion but is afraid of moving far from home; Marty wants to buy his own butcher shop, but worries about a new supermarket moving into the neighborhood.)   And in those quiet hours, a romantic interest evolves, and when he takes her home she asks him if he will call on her again.  He shyly answers yes & says goodnight, walks quietly for a bit, then runs to the bus stop.  He stands at the sign, happy and surprised; he can't believe his good fortune.

After Marty leaves, Clara enters her home & knocks on her parents bedroom door to see if they're awake.  She sits on the edge of their bed and quietly tells them she met a very nice man that night, and how they spent the night talking--just talking.  And he'll be calling on her tomorrow afternoon, and he is apt to be nervous as he is a butcher, and considers himself in a lower social class, but he is a good & kind man, and a very good butcher.  She is glowing.  Her parents lie there, not saying a word.  When she says goodnight & leaves the room, her father murmurs "I hope he calls."  

Without giving away the ending, the movie ends on a hopeful note & was masterfully done.  (It received the 1955 Academy Award for Best Picture, and Ernest Borgnine won for Best Actor.)  

But who really moved me was Clara (Betsy Blair), real life wife of the legendary Gene Kelly.  She somehow managed to portray 'the plain girl' yet was poised and radiant, all at the same time.

Betsy Blair with husband Gene Kelly, they were married from 1941-1957.  She left him and moved abroad.  She later remarried & became a speech therapist.

The film also serves as wonderful time capsule of the era, considered overrated for years, then vastly underrated & now hopefully not forgotten.  Written by the brilliant Paddy Chayefsky, it's an American treasure.
When I was reading about Betsy's marriage to Gene Kelly, I found this excerpt from a 2003 interview she did with The New Yorker.  When asked why she left Gene Kelly, she said this:  “How could I have left Gene, this wonderful man, after 16 years of marriage?  This perfect husband, father, friend, protector, provider, hard worker. I loved and admired him as a brilliant actor and dancer as well as a good, good man! To this day, I can’t explain it.  I preferred freedom."
We always want most what we don't or can't have, I suppose.


  1. Ah, Doug--I checked back on the MTM book post to read your response to my comment, and ended up clicking over here, as Marty is one of my favorite all-time films. I had no idea that the woman who played Clara was married to Gene Kelly...and furthermore, that she left him after 16 years of marriage with no explanation. Wow.

    Anyways, I've spent many a long holiday weekend without plans myself. During those times I nurture and amuse myself the best I can. Sometimes having no plans has been by my own accord, as some of the meetup groups I belong to don't always have activities that interest me during the long weekends (pool party at a strange man's thanks.) Luckily and gratefully, though, I've been making new friends in my own group and have started to plan things with them outside of meetup and also joined a couple of new groups that are fun. Just know that anything can change.

  2. Hi Pam, I'm actually glad you saw this old post--I know 'Marty' is also a favorite of yours (from GoRetro) and i always meant to tell you I had a blog about it too--as for Betsy Blair (who played Clara), isn't that a trip? Her married to Gene Kelly? I still feel like there's more to that story though...

    Anyway--when I wrote this, I was just in one of those lonlier moods (which honestly, having the time to myself doesn't bother me a bit). I was kinda starting seeing someone at the time of this post though, and it wasn't going too well. But that's all water under the bridge. Anyway, I know how proactive you are about getting out there and meeting new people... good for you, I bet you're a lot of fun to hang out with! :)

  3. I agree--there's two sides to every story! Also BB ended up getting remarried a few years after her divorce to a Czech-born director after moving to I'm not quite buying her "I preferred freedom" excuse!

    I totally get it. As they say, "you're only lonely if you don't like your own company" (something like that, anyway.) Hope all has been well! I always enjoy popping in here and hope to get a new post up myself by the end of the weekend.

  4. Very interesting Pam--I knew she remarried but not so soon! Hmm.... and thanks as always, all has been well--I sure hope the same with you. And I look forward to YOUR next post on GoRetro (I always do) :)


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