“The Many Loves of Rafe McCawley” [PG-13] – 6/7

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“THE MANY LOVES OF RAFE McCAWLEY”

PART 6 – “The Girl From Fifth Avenue”

LONG ISLAND, NY; DECEMBER 1940 . . . “Danny? Are you going to say something?”
The younger man stared at his friend in pure shock. What could he say? That he found nothing unusual about Rafe’s latest revelation? How could anyone consider a sexual ménage a troi, usual? Or normal? And how could Rafe even get involved in such a relationship? 

“Okay Danny,” Rafe continued, “I realize that you’re a little pissed at me.”

Danny frowned. “Pissed at you? Why?”

“I don’t know.” Rafe shrugged. “Because I broke it off with Julie before you could get involved?”

“I wouldn’t worry if I were you, Rafe. Right now, I’m feeling grateful.”

The older man gave Danny an understanding nod. “Gotcha. At least none of my girlfriends after Julie were that odd.”

A certain blonde with green eyes popped into Danny’s consciousness. He said, “I don’t know about that. Don’t forget Claudia Kingsley.”

“Danny.” Rafe shot him a warning look.

Resentment flared within Danny. “What? Are you telling me that Claudia was normal?”

Rafe sighed. “Trust me. She was.”

“Not for you, she wasn’t.”

Impatient whirled in Rafe’s eyes. “Look, just because you didn’t like her . . .”

Danny held up his hand to silence his friend. “Hey! Rafe, forget about it. I don’t wanna talk about Claudia.”

Wistfully, Rafe added, “Still, I have to admit that she wasn’t all that bad.”

Danny merely rolled his eyes in contempt, while Rafe reminisced.

* * * *

MANHATTAN ISLAND, NY; SEPTEMBER-DECEMBER 1940 . . . . “I can’t believe it!” Anthony Fusco bemoaned. “We go through all that trouble to get this furlough and it decides to rain.” He and the other four pilots of their squad, sat inside the famous steakhouse, Angelo and Maxie’s, one Friday evening. They had just finished dinner. “Anyone have plans for the evening?”

Billy groaned out loud. “Oh God! Not again! Why do we have to go through this, every time we’re in the city?”

Rafe gave a slight cough. “Actually, I already have an idea.” He paused. “The Waldorf-Astoria.” Cries of protest filled the booth. Interrupting the others, Rafe continued, “What the hell’s wrong with the Waldorf-Astoria? Xavier Cugat’s playing there. And we’re Army officers, for crying out loud! Not a bunch of hicks who don’t know their way around town!”

“Well, being from Tennessee,” Anthony began, “you . . .”

Rafe gave the Brooklyn-born pilot a withering stare. “Don’t even start, Anthony.” The other pilot fell silent. When the rest failed to offer more objections, Rafe considered the matter closed. “Okay, the Waldorf-Astoria, it is.”

Entering the famous and elegant hotel on Park Avenue became a mind-blowing experience for the pilots. It certainly did for Rafe. One look at the lobby and well-dressed patrons inside, nearly caused him to lose his nerve for the first time in his twenty-four year existence on this Earth.

“Rafe, I wanna leave,” Red moaned in a low voice to the Tennessean. “We’ve only been here for less than five minutes and already I feel like dirt beneath their feet.”

Danny added, “I’ve gotta admit that I’m feeling a little uncomfortable, myself.”

Although Rafe shared his friends’ feelings, he refused to give in to his fears. Surrender had never been an option for him and he was not about to start now. “Look here fellas, you might be feeling a little scared right now, but remember . . . we’re officers and gentlemen. Pilots of the U.S. Army Air Corps. We don’t run off like a bunch of scared rabbits.”

“Unless we have no other choice,” Anthony muttered sardonically. Rafe decided to ignore him.

So, the five friends headed upstairs to the hotel’s lush Starlight Roof. They tried, unsuccessfully, not to gawk at the beautifully-gowned women and their well-tailored companions. Even the smartly-dressed waiters caught their attention. Best of all, there stood the famous Latin American bandleader, Xavier Cugat, leading his orchestra in a rendition of“Chica, Chica, Boom, Chic”, while singer Lina Romay provided vocals.

Billy ordered, “Okay everyone, shut your mouths. We look like chumps.”

“Speak for yourself,” Anthony shot back.

“I can’t. I think I’m in heaven.” Billy eyed a sultry-looking brunette in a strapless gown. “Rafe, you really know how to pick ’em. Holy shit! The Starlight Roof at the Waldorf-Astoria. If my folks knew I was here, they’d have a fit.”

Red added, “I’m ha. . .having one . . . right now.” He paused and pointed at the maitre’d bearing down on them. “E . . . e . . . especially wi . . . with that jo . . . jo . . . ker co . . . coming at us.”

The maitre’d halted before the five officers. His eyes regarded them as specimens in science lab. “May I help you . . . gentlemen?”

Rafe met the maitre’d’s stare with a direct one of his own. “A table for five,” he coolly ordered. He did not bother to add ‘please’ at the end. The maitre’d gave him a respectful nod and led the young pilots toward one of the large tables. Before they could reach their destination, Rafe caught sight of a pretty girl with shoulder-length blonde hair and green eyes, sitting with three other girls and a young man. Judging from the way she met his gaze, the blond seemed equally interested.

Once the song ended, a waiter appeared at the pilots’ table. The five friends only ordered drinks – a gin and tonic for Rafe. Cugat’s band commenced upon the next number, “Thanks For the Dream”. An idea – no, an urge overcame Rafe as he heard the song’s first bars. Forgetting his drink, he stood up from his chair and walked over to the table where he had spotted the green-eyed blonde and her companions.

Flashing his most charming smile, Rafe greeted, “Good evening ladies, sir.” He focused his gaze upon the blonde. “My name is Lieutenant Rafe McCawley and I wondered, miss, if you would like to dance.”

“Good God!” the tuxedoed young man snidely declared. “It’s Rhett Butler in uniform!”

The blonde regarded Rafe with admiring eyes. “Yes, but a very handsome and charming Rhett Butler in uniform. By the way, Lieutenant, I’d love to dance.” She stood and offered Rafe her hand. “My name is Claudia Kingsley.”

Rafe gave her a courtly bow. “Very nice to meet you, Claudia.”

“Hey! Wait a minute!” The young man looked outraged. “Claudia, you’re not going to dance with this Army yokel, are you?”

Claudia glared haughtily at her male companion. “Really Peter! You could learn a lesson or two from this so-called yokel.” She started toward the dance floor. Rafe flashed Peter a quick sneer and followed Claudia.

The Army pilot and the society debutante learned a little about each other, during their two-to-three minute dance. Not a lot, but enough to feel intrigued with each other. Rafe offered to escort Claudia on a night on the town for the following evening. Instead, she invited him to attend a party being held by her aunt and uncle at their Park Avenue home. Delighted that Claudia was still interested in him, Rafe accepted.

“Are you crazy?” Danny cried inside the privacy of their hotel room. He, along with Rafe and the others had gathered there for a few late night drinks. “All of us at some damn party for the muckety-muck?”

Rafe calmly corrected his friend. “They’re called Café Society, Danny. And what’s wrong with us going to one of their parties? Didn’t we just have a swell time at the Starlight Roof?”

“I always knew you were a high flyer, McCawley,” Billy declared, shaking his head. “But man! This time, you’re reaching for the moon.”

Rolling his eyes, Rafe shot back, “Hell Billy, if man was destined to stay on the ground, the airplane would have never been invented.” When his friends failed to respond, he cried out with exasperation, “Jesus fellas! Why are you so damn reluctant about this party? You sure as hell didn’t have any trouble finding girls to dance with you, tonight.” None of the other pilots could disagree with him. Not even Danny, whose own good looks had attracted numerous female attention. “Good. Then the matter is settled.”

Danny let out a long-suffering sigh. “I swear Rafe, one of these days you’re going to have your own way and it’ll turn out to be the biggest mistake you’ll ever make.”

As usual, Rafe ignored his best friend.

* * * *

The following evening found the five pilots inside a three-story limestone mansion on Fifth Avenue. Their experiences at the Waldorf-Astoria had taught them to refrain from gawking at their luxurious surrounding. Still, Rafe felt a little awed by the people around him. And he could detect his friends’ unease.

Claudia rushed forward to greet the newcomers. “Rafe! I’m so glad that you could make it.” She planted a wet kiss on Rafe’s cheek. Then she faced the others. “So, are you going to introduce me to your friends?”

Happily, Rafe introduced Claudia to Red, Anthony and Billy. Then he gestured toward his oldest friend. “And this is Danny Walker. He’s been my best friend since we were kids in Tennessee.”

Green eyes widened considerably. “Tennessee?” Claudia squealed with delight. “Oh my! Another Rhett Butler!” Danny’s face turned its usual shade of red. Something even Claudia noticed. “Oh dear. My mistake,” she added in a coy voice. “Perhaps I should have said, Ashley Wilkes.” The red coloring on Danny’s face deepened, as the other three pilots snickered.

“How many times have you seen ‘GONE WITH THE WIND’?” Rafe asked the blonde young woman.

Claudia giggled. “So many times, I cannot even keep count. Did I ever tell you that I had attended the movie’s New York premiere at the Capitol Theater? Very exciting!” She faced the pilots. “Well gentlemen, I hope that you enjoy yourselves. Plenty of refreshments for everyone.”

Red, Anthony and Billy scattered into the crowd with great enthusiasm. Only Danny remained at Rafe’s side, looking very uncomfortable. The older man glanced at his friend. “Something wrong, Danny? You look a mite uneasy.”

“It’s nothing,” Danny replied. His face turned a deeper shade of pink. “I just . . . uh, I mean . . .”

An amused smile curved Claudia’s lips, as she cooed, “Oh dear! I believe that poor Danny is shy.” She giggled, prompting a dark glance from the pilot.

“Nonsense,” Rafe quickly said in an effort to dismiss the awkward moment. “Danny ain’t . . . isn’t shy. Something is probably on his mind.”

“Perhaps the lack of a date?” Claudia added with more giggles. Then she lightly slapped Danny’s arm. “Oh gosh! I’m sorry. I was just joking.”

Danny responded with a wan smile. “Yeah. Sure. I . . . uh, I reckon I best mingle. See you later, Rafe.”

“Sure Danny.” Rafe returned his attention to Claudia, barely acknowledging his friend’s retreating back. He took the debutante’s hand and led her to the dance floor. “Would you care to dance, my lady?” he asked, giving her one of his most charming smiles.

Another burst of giggles left Claudia’s mouth. “Hmmmm! My lady. I like the sound of that. Do you know any more charming Southern euphemisms?”

“A whole barrel of them,” Rafe murmured. He drew Claudia into his arms and the pair began to glide to the tune of“Moonlight Becomes You”. At that moment, Rafe believed that tonight could not get any more perfect than this.

* * * *

“So, what did you think of her?” Rafe asked Danny, several hours later. The two friends each lay on a bed, inside the hotel room that they shared.

Danny glanced up from his glass of Cherry Coke. “Think of who?”

Rafe heaved a frustrated sigh. “Claudia. Claudia Kingsley.”

“Oh. Her.” Danny took another sip of Coke. “She’s all right, I reckon.”

A frown creased Rafe’s brow. “All right? That’s it?”

Danny shot him a quick glance. “What? Are you serious about her?”

The image of Claudia by his side, as Mrs. Rafe McCawley, flashed before the older man’s eyes. Rafe smiled dreamily. “Maybe.”

“Maybe?” Danny immediately shot up into a sitting position. He gave Rafe a hard stare. “You’re serious, ain’t you?” When Rafe failed to answer, Danny continued, “Jesus Rafe! You’ve only known her for two days! What am I saying? Less than two days! And already you’re planning your wedding?”

Rafe frowned. “What’s the matter, Danny? Haven’t you ever heard of ‘love at first sight’?”

Danny rolled his eyes and groaned. “God above! What makes you . . .? What makes you think that you and Claudia are gonna end up ‘happily ever after’? C’mon Rafe! She’s some Fifth Avenue society type, whose daddy is probably into steel or something.”

“Real estate and shipping,” Rafe corrected. “And sugar.”

“Whatever! And may I remind you that you’re just an Army pilot? Whose daddy happens to be a crop duster from Shelby, Tennessee! You gonna tell me that two people from such different backgrounds are gonna have a happy marriage?”

Despite the cold logic of Danny’s words, Rafe could have sworn he had detected a semblance of emotion in his friend’s voice. An emotion that reflected waves of negativity. He peered closely at the younger man. “You don’t like her, do you? You don’t like Claudia.”

“I never said that!” Danny protested.

Rafe shot back, “You didn’t have to. I could tell from the moment you had first laid eyes upon her!”

Heaving a sigh, Danny cried, “C’mon Rafe! You got it all wrong! I just thought that with your different backgrounds . . .”

“Fenton Marsh came from the same background as Claudia,” Rafe reminded his friend. “But that didn’t stop you from playing matchmaker.”

Danny’s mouth hung open for a moment. “But that . . . I mean . . .”

“What?” Rafe demanded.

Shaking his head, Danny mumbled, “Nothing. I guess . . . I reckon there’s nothing wrong with the idea of you and . . . Claudia.” He paused. “How do you think she’ll feel about becoming an Army wife?”

This time, Rafe found himself speechless. He remembered Fenton’s negative reaction to the idea of being an Army wife. Did Danny have a point? Would Claudia react in a similar manner? “I don’t know Danny,” he finally said. “Maybe you’re right. I just . . . I don’t know. Something inside me says I should take a chance with this girl. Maybe it won’t work out between us. But I reckon I have to give it a shot.”

Danny nodded. “I understand. I may not like it. And you’re right, I don’t like Claudia. But I understand how you feel.” But the expression on his face told Rafe otherwise.

* * * *

The romance between Rafe and his Café Society girl seemed to proceed smoothly. Every weekend, the two lovers met at Claudia’s Manhattan apartment – along with his fellow pilots and her friends.

After a brief period of drinks and music, the entire party would usually end up at a swank nightclub. On one occasion, they visited the famous Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Although Rafe had personally enjoyed himself, they never repeated the experience. Claudia and her friends had seemed . . . nervous about the ballroom’s less socially acceptable clientele.

The only other blight in Rafe’s romance, was Claudia’s relationship with Danny. Quite simply, the two could barely stand each other. Or at least one of them – namely Danny – seemed to dislike Claudia. Rafe could not understand his friend’s attitude. It seemed as if the younger man had developed some kind of vendetta against the debutante. The situation strongly reminded him of his aborted childhood romance with Mary Jo Burnett. Only this time, Danny seemed to be keeping his hostility under control.

Rafe considered confronting Danny about this hostility toward Claudia, but decided against it. He did not want to find himself being forced to choose between his best friend and his girl. Besides, Claudia did not seemed bothered by Danny’s aloofness. In fact, she seemed rather oblivious to the younger Tennessean. But on a chilly night during the Thanksgiving holiday, Rafe discovered that he had been wrong.

As usual, the pilots left their quarters at Mitchell Airfield and boarded the train for Manhattan Island. Upon reaching the borough, they checked into their usual hotel, spruced up a bit and headed toward the Waldorf-Astoria to meet Claudia and her friends. And, as usual, while the others danced to the music of Xavier Cugat’s Band, Danny sat alone at their table.

Feeling contented, Rafe closed his eyes, as he and Claudia swayed to “Acercate Mas”. He felt more than surprised when she heaved a long sigh. He opened his eyes and stared at her. “Something wrong?” he asked.

A pause followed before Claudia answered, “No. I just . . . Well, I couldn’t help but wondered if Danny was shy. He seemed to be so alone.”

“Danny? Shy?” Rafe glanced over his shoulder and noticed his friend sitting alone and nursing a drink. Even Red was enjoying a spin on the dance floor with one of Claudia’s friends. “Naw, he’s not shy. He’s uh, . . . he just broke up with this girl.”

Claudia frowned. “When? He’s been like this since I first met him.”

“It happened last summer,” Rafe quickly lied. “They’ve been together for nearly a year and Danny took the breakup, pretty hard. He’s still hasn’t recovered.”

“Hmmm. Must have been a doozy of a fight.”

Rafe replied, “No, not a fight. She uh . . . she went back home to Ohio.” Which was partly truthful, the pilot told himself. What he had failed to mention to Claudia was that Danny’s relationship with Carrie Ann Vogel had ended over two years ago, upon graduation from college. Or that since then, the younger pilot never had trouble dating other girls. Simply put, the reason why Danny usually ended upon alone was the fact that he disliked Claudia’s friends just as much he disliked Claudia. Only he did not want to be left alone during the squad’s weekend jaunts.

“Poor fellow,” Claudia cooed. “Perhaps I should do him a favor and arrange for him to meet an old friend of mine.”

Rafe considered Danny’s reaction to any matchmaking attempt by Claudia and saw disaster. “Oh . . . uh, I don’t know if that’s a good idea, honey. Danny . . . well, he don’t react too well to folks trying to match him up with someone. Hell, I got burned twice for trying.”

“But . . .”

“Don’t you worry about Danny,” Rafe continued. “He’ll get over Carrie Ann. It’s only a matter of time.”

A sigh left Claudia’s mouth. “If you insist.” She smiled at Rafe, as if the subject of Daniel Walker had been forgotten.

* * * *

Once the music ended, the couple returned to their table and discovered that their friends had joined Danny. Everyone enjoyed their supper, while Cugat’s Band continued with a rendition of “Perfido”. Upon completing his meal, Rafe excused himself for the men’s restroom. As he left minutes later, he found his path blocked by two women who had emerged from the Ladies’ Room. One of them he recognized as Claudia.

Before Rafe could approach his paramour, he heard her say, “If only I could get rid of him!”

“Get rid of whom?” the other girl said. Rafe recognized her voice. It belonged to Anthony’s date, a redhead named Gloria DeWitt. “Rafe?”

Claudia lightly slapped her friend’s wrist. “Of course not, silly! The other one. The one who barely speaks.”

“Oh! Danny!” Gloria paused. “What’s wrong with him? He seems like a dreamboat. Even if he isn’t one of our kind.”

Claudia shot back caustically, “He’s a dreamboat who happens to be cramping my style! I can’t even enjoy myself with Rafe, without that Danny character mooning about.”

“Didn’t Rafe say that he had recently broken up with someone?”

Contempt oozed from Claudia’s voice. “Oh please! I’m not an idiot! I wasn’t fooled one bit by Rafe’s story about Danny being heartbroken over some girl. I know the real truth. Which is Danny doesn’t like our crowd. Especially me. He thinks I’m all wrong for Rafe.”

“Are you sure?” a dubious Gloria asked.

Claudia retorted, “Of course I am! Can you imagine? Some lowlife yokel from Tennessee, who believes that I’m not good enough for his friend!” An exasperated sigh followed. “The nerve of him. From the moment I had first met him, I knew he would be trouble.” Rafe felt a surge of anger.

“If you have something against lowlife yokels from Tennessee,” Gloria began, “why are you dating . . .?”

“My dear Gloria,” Claudia interrupted, her voice encased in ice, “I’m not in the habit of dating yokels. Rafe McCawley may not come from any of the best families of the South, but he is no yokel. I assure you. His friend, on the other hand, strikes me as being pure white trash. Trust me, I can tell. Rafe once told me that his family had allowed Danny to live with them, after his father had died. I had Prescott, Daddy’s attorney, to check up on both Rafe and Danny’s backgrounds. It seems that Danny’s father had been a drunken reprobate who could barely support his family, before dying of a heart attack. And now his hayseed son is standing between Rafe and me.”

Gloria paused. “You’re serious about Rafe, aren’t you?”

“Of course, my dear. Aside from being extremely good-looking, Rafe is smart and very bold. With such traits, he could make something of himself.” Claudia continued, “All I have to do is convince him to leave the Army. And guide him in the right direction. That shouldn’t be much of a problem.”

“But Danny may not like the idea,” Gloria pointed out.

With great ferocity, Claudia replied, “Precisely!”

The two women walked away, unaware that their conversation had been overheard. Rafe slowly emerged from his spot, stunned by what he had just heard. He could not believe it! All this time, he had assumed that the hostility between Danny and Claudia had been one-sided – on Danny’s part. Apparently, he had been unaware that Claudia had regarded his friend as a threat. Or harbored such a low opinion of the younger man. Rafe realized that the situation between him, Danny and Claudia was not a rehash of the Mary Jo Burnett mess. Instead, this all reminded him of his troubles with one of his old high school beaus – Ellie Conway. Claudia had not been the first to label Danny as white trash.

Rafe stood rooted near the restrooms, as he allowed his disappointment to settle down. To his surprise, he felt nothing but anger at Claudia’s description of Danny. And annoyance that she would assume she could run his life. Why did he always seemed to attract such females? Claudia turned out to be the third. Or fourth. Rafe knew deep in his heart that it was time to cut the Fifth Avenue debutante out of his life.

Taking a deep breath, the pilot returned to the table. He found the others sipping their drinks and eating appetizers. All except for Claudia, who seemed to be missing. “Where’s Claudia?” he asked.

“Dancing with an old friend,” was Danny’s cryptic answer.

Rafe glanced at the dance floor. He spotted Claudia dancing with that whey-faced milksop, Peter Van Hagen. He waited for the flash of jealousy to hit him. Instead, he shrugged and said, “Oh well.” And he sat down, next to Danny.

The younger man stared at him in disbelief. “You’re not upset?”

“Over what?”

Danny replied, “Claudia is dancing with someone else. A fella you don’t particularly care for.”

Rafe reached for his glass of champagne and calmly said, “Better him than me.” The other man stared at Rafe, until realization finally gleamed in his eyes.

* * * *

Later that night, the end finally arrived for Rafe McCawley and Claudia Kingsley. After leaving the Waldorf-Astoria, Rafe separated from his fellow pilots and escorted Claudia back to her apartment. Outside her door, she gave him a coy look. “So . . . would you like to come upstairs for a drink?”

“I don’t know,” Rafe said, taking Claudia by surprise. “It’s been a long day and I’m rather tired. Maybe I should go back to the hotel.” He struggled to suppress his enjoyment of Claudia’s stunned reaction.

The debutante stared at Rafe, as if he had lost his mind. “Say that again?”

“I think we should call it a night, Claudia,” Rafe added serenely. “That’s all. What’s the problem?”

Disbelief clouded Claudia’s green eyes. “You always join me upstairs for a drink. What changed your mind, tonight?”

Heaving a loud sigh, Rafe said, “I don’t know. I guess it was hearing you describe my best friend as a . . . what did you call Danny? A lowlife yokel? White trash? It kind of took the joy out of my evening, if you know what I mean.”

Claudia’s pink mouth flapped uncontrollably – like a fish gasping for breath. “You overheard us!” she finally blurted. “I cannot believe that you would stoop so low as to eavesdrop on a private conversation! In my book, no gentleman would ever . . .”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you Claudia, but this isn’t ‘GONE WITH THE WIND’. And I’m not Rhett Butler and you sure as hell aren’t Scarlett O’Hara. So give it a rest, will ya?” The debutante sputtered briefly before Rafe continued, “I may be guilty of eavesdropping, but I don’t take kindly to folks insulting my friends. Behind my back.”

The young woman angrily shot back, “And I’m sure that your precious Daniel Walker has not hesitated to hold back an insult or two, in regard to me!”

“I think you would be surprised how restrained Danny has been!” Rafe retorted. “A hell of a lot more than you.”

Claudia took Rafe by surprise with a hard slap to his face. “You lowlife bastard! How dare you judge me, as if I’m some common reprobate!”

“Lowlife?” Rafe chuckled unpleasantly. “And to think, just a few hours ago, you had told Gloria that I had potential.”

Claudia sneered. “A serious miscalculation on my part!”

“Honey, that’s something we can both claim.”

Again, Claudia slapped his face. Without saying another word, she spun on her heels and marched toward her apartment building’s revolving door. As Rafe watched her stalked past a nervous doorman, he murmured, “Good-bye, Miss Kingsley.” Then he turned away and hailed a cab to convey him back to his hotel.

END OF PART 6

A Few Observations of “MAD MEN”: (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”

After viewing the SeasonThree episode of ”MAD MEN” called (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”, I came up with the following observations: 

 

A Few Observations of “MAD MEN”: (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”

*Ever since his affair with Suzanne Farrell began in (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”, Don Draper has been increasingly dismissive of Betty’s presence. In some ways, he seemed to be in a great hurry to get her and the kids out of the house. And that is understandable, considering that he had proposed to Suzanne, a trip to Mystic, Connecticut during Betty’s absence in order to continue their romantic interlude.

*The scene in which Betty asked Don for more money before her departure reminded me at how women were (and probably still are) regarded as children by their husband. I could not help but wonder if the $200 dollars in Betty’s bank account is regarded as nothing more than allowance by both of them.

*Annabelle Mathis seems to be the first woman since Mona Sterling who seemed to have a romantic connection to Roger. She must have hurt him a great deal when she dumped him to marry another man to run her father’s dog food company, Caldecott Farms. Some fans have suggested that Annabelle’s earlier rejection of him may have led to his cavalier attitude toward women. I have no answer in regard to that suggestion. But I could sense that the attraction between them had remained strong.

*Like many of the series’ fans and Don in (3.03) “My Kentucky Home”, Annabelle seemed dismissive of Roger’s marriage to the 20-something Jane. Whether they are right or wrong remains to be seen. Judging from his conversation with Joan Harris over her request to find additional work, it is obvious that Roger still have feelings for the red-haired former office manager. But he had rejected Annabelle’s overtures on Jane’s behalf.

*I am a little confused over the situation regarding Gene Hofstadt’s house. Correct me if I am wrong, but did he give 50/50 ownership of the house to both Betty and William? What are the exact terms regarding the inheritance? Does anyone know?

*I never had any idea that the divorce laws for New York State were so stringent that the Hofstadts’ attorney, Milton Lowell, would advise Betty to remain married to Don. Was this only the case for women? Or did men who longed for a divorce from their wives also faced difficulties?

*I find it interesting that Annabelle Mathis seemed very reluctant to follow Don and Roger’s advice about changing the brand name of her product. Are they right? After all, Caldecott Farms is one of the companies reeling from the horse meat/dog food expose. If Don had been the only one advising Annabelle to do this, I would have sympathized more with her. I might as well be honest. Don has a history of not only following this advice himself – a tactic he had used to escape from Korea – but he had advised Peggy to forget the reason why she had ended up in the hospital in November/December 1960. Perhaps Don’s past history in this particular area may have led me to be a little prejudiced against his advice. But Roger had offered the same advice. And considering that the topic is dog food, I really do not see why Annabelle would ignore such advice.

*How did Joan Harris’ husband, Greg, expect to transfer from the field of medical surgery to psychiatry so easily? Would that have required his return to school . . . even in 1963?

*After Joan’s encounter with Sally Draper in Season Two’s (2.04) “Three Sundays”, I had believed that she was not the maternal type. I changed my mind. Watching Joan help Greg practice with his job interview, I realized that she is the maternal type . . . but with grown men.

*I might as well be frank. I found nothing to cheer about Joan’s assault upon Greg. I found it childish and violent. I realize that Joan was weary of Greg’s self-pity act and childish whining. But Joan proved that she could be just as violent and childish as her husband, when she struck him on the head with that vase, out of her own frustration and anger. And Greg’s reaction to Joan’s assault was similar to Joan’s reaction to Greg’s rape. As Joan had done last season, Greg caved in and begged her forgiveness for being whiny. I found it just as disgusting, as I had found Joan’s decision to go ahead with the marriage. But what really disgusted me was how many fans had condoned Joan’s violent act.

*When the Suzanne Farrell character first appeared, I did not like her. I did not like the idea of Sally Draper’s teacher having an affair with Don. Mind you, I do not dislike Suzanne any more. Actually, I feel rather sorry for her. Despite her past experience with married man, meeting Don had led her to drop her guard and risk encountering further heartache. Watching her climb out of Don’s car and slink away from the Draper residence was rather sad.

*On the other hand, I do not feel that Jon Hamm (who portrays Don) and Abigail Spencer (who portrays Suzanne) have any screen chemistry. I simply do not see the magic. Perhaps that is the main reason I found it difficult to buy the Don/Suzanne affair.

*The expression on Don’s face when he realized that Sally, Bobby and Betty had returned from Philadelphia a lot sooner was priceless. He looked as if someone had pulled a rug from underneath him. Actually, this is exactly what Betty was about to do.

*Jon Hamm and January Jones were superb in this episode. Honestly. Both did an excellent job of conveying this moment of truth in the Draper marriage. Watching Hamm convey Don’s transformation from “Master of the Universe” Don Draper to the frightened Dick Whitman was amazing. The man not only deserves an Emmy nomination, he deserves to win the award . . . unless someone else can do better. It took me a while to get over the Emmys’ failure to nominate January Jones for a Best Actress award for last season. After her performance in this episode, it would be downright criminal if they fail to nominate her.

*There was an episode in late Season One, in which Betty was visiting her psychiatrist, Dr. Wayne. He had said something that obviously annoyed her. And she reacted by sitting up and giving him a dark look. That look told me that regardless of any personality flaws that she possessed, Betty might prove to be a formidable woman. Kicking Don out of the house at the end (2.08) “A Night to Remember” and her confrontation with him in this episode has proven me right.

*So . . . Greg upped and enlisted in the U.S. Army as a surgeon/officer. He claimed that since he will acquire the rank of captain, Joan would not have to work. Whether he is right or not, I suspect that Joan is not the type to sit around the apartment and collect Greg’s checks. Unless Matt Weiner proves otherwise. Some fans see Greg’s entry into the Army as an opportunity for his character to end up in Vietnam . . . and dead. And a widowed Joan will be able to seek solace with Roger Sterling. Hmmm. Last year, many had assumed that Joan would not go ahead with her marriage to Greg after the rape. Weiner proved them wrong. Perhaps Greg will end up dead. Then again . . . perhaps not.

*I was relieved that Don finally told Betty the truth about his background. However, I was surprised that he had described his stepfather – Uncle Mac – as being kind to him. Yet, in (1.10) “The Long Weekend”, Don had described his stepfather to Rachel Mencken in a different way:

””You told me your mother died in childbirth. Mine did too. She was a prostitute. I don’t know what my father paid her, but when she died they brought me to him, and his wife. And when I was ten years old he died. He was a drunk who got kicked in the face by a horse. She buried him and took up with some other man, and I was raised by…those two sorry people.”

Don did not have any kind words to say about his father Archie, his stepmother Abigail or his stepfather Mac. Yet in this episode, he had kind words for Mac. To whom had he told the truth – Rachel or Betty?

*Speaking of Don’s half-truths, I noticed that he had put a twist on his story about how he had left Korea. Audiences know that Dick Whitman had accidentally killed the real Don Draper by accidentally dropping a lit match into gasoline. Audiences also know that he had deliberately switched dog tags with the officer. Yet, he told Betty that that the real Draper was simply killed and that the Army had mistakenly switched their identities. Even in confession, Don Draper aka Dick Whitman cannot be completely truthful.

“OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL” (2013) Review

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“OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL” (2013) Review

I have a confession to make. I have always liked “THE WIZARD OF OZ”, the 1939 adaptation of Frank L. Baum’s 1901 novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. I used to watch it on a yearly basis as a child. But if I must be brutally frank, I have never developed a deep love for the movie. So when I learned that the Disney Studios had developed a prequel movie to the 1939 film, I did not exactly jump up and down with joy. 

I was surprised to learn that the Disney Studios’ history with Frank Baum’s fantasy world of Oz proved to be a long one. Walt Disney had wanted to create an animated film based on the 1901 story, but he and his brother Roy Disney discovered that Samuel Goldwyn had first purchased the film rights before selling it to Louis B. Mayer at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Disney managed to purchase the rights of Baum’s remaining Oz novels in 1954. And in 1985, the studio produced and released the sequel movie, “RETURN TO OZ”. However, the film proved to be a box office bomb. And the movie rights to all of Baum’s novels ended up in public domain. Twenty-seven or 28 years later, Disney tried their hand at another Oz movie. The result is the prequel to Baum’s 1901 novel and MGM’s 1939 film – “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL”. Set twenty years before the novel and the film, “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL” begins in 1906 Kansas with barnstorm and small time magician Oscar Diggs working in a traveling circus. Oscar is also something of a scam artist and ladies’ man who has no qualms with seducing the young wife of the circus’ strongman. Oscar is also in love with a young local woman, who has been encouraged by him to marry a respectable farmer. When the strongman learns of Oscar’s flirtations, the latter escapes the circus in a hot air balloon. But he is sucked into a tornado and finds himself in the “Land of Oz”.

Once in this new land, Oscar meets the first of three witches who will turn his life upside down – Theodora. She believes he is the prophesied savior who will overthrow the Wicked Witch that killed the King of Oz. While she escorts him to Emerald City to meet her sister Evanora, Theodora is seduced by Oscar, leading her to fall in love with him. The pair also meets a flying monkey named Finley, who pledges a life debt to Oscar when the latter saves him from a lion . . . at Theodora’s instigation. Upon their arrival in Emerald City, Oscar is charged by Evanora to prove that he is Oz’s prophesied savior by traveling to the Dark Forest where the Wicked Witch resides and kill the latter by destroying her wand. During Oscar and Findley’s journey to the Dark Forest, they meet China Girl, a young, living china doll whose home and family had been destroyed by the Wicked Witch. When the trio reaches the Dark Forest, they discover that the “Wicked Witch” is actually Glinda the Good Witch of the North. She tells them that Evanora is the true Wicked Witch. And when Evanora sees this with her crystal ball, she manipulates Theodora against Oscar by showing him together with Glinda, claiming he is trying to court all three witches. Evanora offers the heartbroken Theodora a magic apple, which she promises will remove the younger witch’s heartache. Theodora eats the apple and transforms into the heartless, green-skinned future Wicked Witch of the West. Oscar, Glinda, Findley, China Girl and many others soon find themselves in a war against Evanora and Theodora for control of Oz.

“OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL” earned mixed reviews upon its release, despite becoming a box office hit. Many complained that it failed to live up to the “magic” of the 1939 movie. I do not know how to respond to this complaint. After all, everyone has a right to his or her own opinion. Were there any aspects of “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL” that I disliked? Well . . . I do have one major complaint and it has to do with the relationship between Oscar and Theodora. What I disliked was Oscar’s failure to apologize to Theodora for exploiting her feelings toward him when they first met. Instead of admitting that he had been wrong to seduce her in the first place, he merely offered her the chance to live in the Emerald City in peace if she would allow goodness back into her heart. And nothing else. Instead of an apology, Oscar offered her a sanctimonious offer of redemption. What an asshole. In other words, Mitchell Kapner’s screenplay refused to allow Oscar to consider that his careless seduction of Theodora gave Evanora the opportunity to transform her into an evil and heartless witch.

Despite this unpleasant exercise of relationships gone wrong, I actually enjoyed “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL”. In fact, my feelings of the movie seemed to be the same as the 1939 film – I enjoyed it very much, but I did not love it. It was fun, entertaining in its own way. And I could see that the movie greatly benefited from Kapner’s well-paced screenplay and director Sam Rami’s twisted sense of humor. This especially seemed to be the case in Oscar’s relationship with the long-suffering Findley and one of Emerald City’s citizens, the tart-tongued herald and fanfare player, Knuck. Rami and Kapner also did a clever job of allowing the plot to mirror certain aspects of 1939’s “THE WIZARD OF OZ”. The Kansas sequences at the beginning of both movies were filmed in black-and-white, both protagonists (Dorothy Gale and Oscar Diggs) arrived in Oz via a tornado. Both acquire sidekicks during their journeys through Oz. In Oscar’s case, both Findley and China Girl become his companions on the road. After meeting Glinda, he also acquire the friendship of Knuck (sort of) and the Emerald City’s Master Tinker. And both movies end with Oscar providing gifts to most of the protagonists.

At the same time, both Rami and Kapner were wise enough to remember that “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL” is the product of early 21st century Hollywood, and not the film industry of the late 1930s. As I had stated earlier, the humor featured in the film struck me as slightly perverse at times – which I loved. And Oscar Diggs’ moral compass proved to be a lot more ambiguous than the innocent Dorothy Gale. Mind you, I disliked his handling of Theodora. But one has to remember that his character has always been something of schemer and opportunist – even in the 1939 film. Speaking of ambiguity, I was surprised to find a few hints of it in China Girl’s character – especially in her enthusiasm to seek and kill the Wicked Witch. In regard to the film’s villains, they seemed to be a different kettle of fish in compare to the Wicked Witch of the West in “THE WIZARD OF OZ”. Although Evanora proved to be evil in a one-dimensional manner, she seemed to be more subtle and manipulative in carrying out her deeds. And Theodora proved to be a real surprise. Her evil seemed to be born from a broken heart thanks to Oscar and her sister’s manipulations, making her the most sympathetic character . . . at least for me. Many reviewers – especially male reviewers – seemed confused over Theodora’s transformation from the naive young witch to the green-skinned, heartless evildoer. It almost seemed as if they did not want to acknowledge the part that Oscar played in her transformation into evil. And I find that rather sad and a little disturbing.

Speaking of the characters, they would not have worked without the first-rate cast that portrayed them. James Franco did an excellent job in conveying Oscar Diggs’ journey from the cheap and womanizing showman to the responsible civic leader that helped free the Emerald City from the evil Evanora’s grasp. Michelle Williams gave a luminous performance as Glinda the Good Witch. Although her character did not strike me as particularly complex, she managed to inject some much needed mystery into the character, making her more interesting than the 1939 counterpart. And Rachel Weisz seemed to be having a ball as the sly and manipulative Evanora. The movie also featured some solid performances from the likes of Bill Cobbs as Master Tinker, Tony Cox as the sardonic Knuck, Abigail Spencer as Oscar’s naive, yet very married Kansas assistant May; and a humorous appearance by Rami veteran Bruce Campbell as an Emerald City guard. But there were three performances that really impressed me. One came from Zach Braff, who added an expert touch of the long-suffering in his outstanding voice performance as winged monkey Findley. Another first-rate voice performance came Joey King in her portrayal of China Doll, who expertly conveyed both the character’s vulnerability and exuberant aggressiveness. And finally there was Mila Kunis, who did a stupendous job in her portrayal of Theodora, the naive young witch who became the murderous Wicked Witch of the West. I was more than impressed by Kunis, for I believe she had the difficult job of making her character’s transformation believable.

“OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL” is a beautiful movie to look at. Production designer Robert Stromberg did a solid job in bringing the land of Oz to life. Thanks to him and cinematographer Peter Deming, audiences were able to enjoy the movie’s rich and colorful look that brought back happy memories of the Technicolor featured in the 1939 movie. My only complaint are the few moments when it seemed I was looking at matte paintings instead of CGI during Oscar’s first moments in Oz. I was especially impressed by the scene that featured Theodora’s first appearance as the Wicked Witch of the West. Thanks to Rami’s direction, Deming’s photography, the make-up department’s work and the special effects team, I was more than taken aback by this frightening moment.

In the end, I really enjoyed “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL”. I did not love it. Then again, I do not love the 1939 movie. But I do believe that this new movie more than made up for the failure of 1985’s “RETURN TO OZ”. Thanks to screenwriter Mitchell Kapner, a talented cast led by James Franco and some first-rate and slightly twisted direction by Sam Rami, “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL” proved to be a surprisingly entertaining film.

HOLIDAY SALE – Button Rings and Necklaces!

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Now on sale for the holidays is a collection of button rings and necklaces that can be found on this Etsy SITE!

HOLIDAY SALE – BUTTON RINGS AND NECKLACES!

Owner Thelizabeth11 created the rings and necklaces from a collection of vintage accessories that date as far back as the Victorian Era. Costs range from the low prices of $6.00 to $15.00, along with a shipping cost.

The cost of these combinations of picture frames and illustrations range from $25.00 to $45.00, along with a shipping cost.

Don’t miss the opportunity to purchase any of these beautiful gifts for your enjoyment and as presents for the holiday season!

“The Many Loves of Rafe McCawley” [PG-13] – 5/7

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“THE MANY LOVES OF RAFE McCAWLEY”

PART 5 – “Three on a Date”

LONG ISLAND, NY; DECEMBER 1940 . . . Danny heaved a sigh and shook his head in disbelief. “What was I thinking? I can’t believe that I thought Fenton Marsh was the right girl for you.” 

“We all thought so, Danny.” Rafe slapped his friend’s back. “Hell, I even wanted to marry her.”

“At least you had doubts about her.” Once again, Danny shook his head. Then he noticed one of the nurses, a pretty redhead with glasses, staring at them. “Uh Rafe, I think we’ve rested long enough. That nurse is staring to give us the bug-eye.”

Rafe frowned at Danny. “Wha. . .?” Then he spotted the nurse. “Oh. Gee, I wonder how long she’s been staring at us?”

Danny shrugged. “Who knows? You know, she reminds me of someone. I . . .” The pilot paused, as memories of a restaurant in Manhattan came back to him. He recalled another pretty redhead, only this one had green eyes. Danny also recalled something else – Rafe’s nervous behavior whenever she was around.

The two friends walked over to the station where the red-haired nurse awaited them. “Say Rafe,” Danny began, “do you remember that girl you used to date over a year ago. What was her name? Uh, Julie . . . God, what was her name? Julie . . .”

A sigh left Rafe’s mouth. Julie Fisher. Yeah, I remember her.”

“She had seemed like a nice girl,” Danny continued. “Why did you two break up?”

Both Danny and Rafe reached Station 2, and joined the other patients in line. Danny noticed that same nervous look from the past year. “Rafe? You okay?”

“Danny, the story I am about to tell, you will find too incredible to believe. And when I finish, I don’t know if you’re going to be pissed . . . or relieved.”

* * * *

MANHATTAN ISLAND, NEW YORK; MAY TO AUGUST 1939 . . . The five pilots emerged from Grand Central Station and paused in the middle of the sidewalk. “Man-hattan!” Second Lieutenant Anthony Fusco declared with enthusiasm. “It’s good to be home!”

The fair-haired Billy Thompson rolled his eyes. “Home for you is Brooklyn, moron. So please spare us that shit-eating grin. You look like a hick.”

Oh Lord! Rafe heaved an inward sigh. Here it comes. Another fight. How could two men who were the best of friends, argue so damn much? “While you two are busy jawing over Anthony’s birthplace, why don’t we check into our hotel first, so we can find a place to eat? I’m starved.”

The pilots immediately agreed with Rafe’s suggestion and hailed two cabs that conveyed them to the St. Mark’s Hotel. After they checked in, Danny suggested that they eat dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. But the others wanted to go out on the town. Anthony suggested one of Manhattan’s most infamous restaurants – Lindy’s. “It has the best cheesecake ever,” he added. “And other stuff.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Rafe commented. “Anyone got a problem with Lindy’s?”

Billy spoke up. “I do. Isn’t Lindy’s supposed to be a hangout for gangsters?”

“Ga-ga-gansters?” Red Winkle said. He was a gangly redhead, whose nervous disposition usually expressed itself in a stammer. M-m-ma-maybe we sh-should g-g-go s-s-s-som-mmewhere else.”

Anthony dismissed Red’s concerns with a wave of his hand. “Somewhere else? Forget about it! Gangsters or no gangsters, everyone goes to Lindy’s.” The others agreed and decided to accept the dark-haired officer’s suggestion. Still dressed in their uniforms, they headed left the hotel and headed for the nearest subway.

If Lindy’s was a hangout for gangsters, Rafe did not see any signs of them – much to his relief. He really did not relish the idea of eating dinner in the company of hardened criminals. But as an officer and gentleman of the U.S. Army Air Corps, he did not feel it was appropriate for him to skulk away from danger. Even if it came in the form of thugs. The pilots found a booth near the entrance and sat down. The restaurant seemed very busy. Fortunately for the five officers, they did not have to wait very long for service. Rafe ordered grilled pork chops with mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls and coffee.

“Where do we g-go from here?” Red asked his fellow pilots. “I mean, it’s only seven fifty-four.”

Billy spoke up. “How about the ’21’ Club? Or the Stork Club?”

“Why don’t we try the ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria, while we’re at it?” Anthony retorted sarcastically. “Do you have any idea how expensive those places are? Maybe we should try the Savoy Ballroom.”

A nervous Red added, “Isn’t that in Ha-Harlem?”

“So?” Anthony stared at the redhead, who blushed profusely. “Gotta problem with that? I used to there all the time, when I was in high school and college.”

“Y-y-you mean, th-they don’t mind people like us be-be-being there?”

Anthony heaved a sigh and rolled his eyes. “If they did, do you think I would have been able to visit there in the first place? Geez Red! Think!” The other pilot’s face now matched the color of his hair.

The waiter finally returned with their dinner. Rafe enjoyed the delicious grilled pork chops, along with the conversation between him and his fellow pilots. They discussed the numerous nightspots in Manhattan, the pilot training course they were enrolled, the political calamities around the world, and the possibility of war. Rafe was among the first to finish his meal. Feeling the pressure to relieve himself, he headed for the restroom. Five minutes later, he left the Men’s Room and bumped into a couple engaged in a heated quarrel.

“The answer is no, Marty! How many times do I have to tell you?” She was a pretty woman in her mid-twenties. Lustrous red hair formed a shoulder-length bob. Her aquiline nose spared her face from the usual bland prettiness. Along with the green eyes that flashed angrily.

Marty, a brutish-looking man of medium height and obviously a low I.Q., sneered at the young woman. “C’mon Julie! Don’t play the shy young thing with me. We both know what you’re really like. Don’t we?”

“You don’t know anything about me!” the young woman named Julie retorted. “So I suggest that you let go of my arm!”

Unfortunately, Marty did not seem interested in releasing Julie. His meaty hand remained clamped around her slender wrist. Rafe, who had been raised to be a Southern gentleman, decided it was time to come to the young lady’s rescue. He stepped forward and tapped the hulk’s shoulder. “Hey buddy,” he said, “why don’t you let go of the lady’s wrist. She’s not interested.”

Both Julie and Marty slowly turned their gazes upon the Army officer. Laughter tumbled out of the young man’s mouth. “The lady? Oh brother! If you only knew!” He eyed Rafe’s uniform with derision. “Now get lost!”

Julie’s face turned pink and Rafe’s sympathy toward her increased tenfold. “I don’t care if she’s one of Polly Adler’s girls! She obviously don’t want you touching her, so let go!” Rafe glared at Julie’s tormentor.

An arrogant and smug smirk stamped on his face, Marty shot back, “Look here, Soldier Boy, I’m gonna count to three. And if you’re not gone, I’m gonna . . .”

Rafe’s fist snaked out and clipped the other man’s chin. Marty sank to the floor like a stone in water. And gave Julie the opportunity to free her wrist from his grasp. Rafe smiled at the fallen man. “Well, I reckon that’s the end of that.” He turned his smile toward Julie.

“I guess so.” Julie smiled back. “Say, do you have any plans for tonight?”

“Well, I’m with some friends at the moment. But we can’t decide where to go.”

Julie paused momentarily, giving Rafe a thoughtful look. “I know this little jazz club on 66th Street. Would you like to . . .?”

Rafe did not even give Julie a chance to finish. “That sounds swell. Let me tell the boys.” He started toward the dining room.

“Oh, wait a minute!” Julie paused. “I was thinking of us going together . . . alone.” Then she added. “If you don’t mind.”

If Rafe had to be honest with himself, he did not mind. Especially if it meant spending time alone in the company of this beauty. He shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Sure.” He started toward the dining room, with Julie close at his heels. They reached the table, where the other pilots sat. All eyes fell upon Rafe’s new companion. “Hey guys! This is Julie. Julie Fisher.” Rafe then proceeded to introduce her to Danny and the others. When he finished the introductions, Rafe continued, “If you all don’t mind, Julie and me are going out on the town. Alone.”

A sly smile creased Anthony’s mouth. “Hey, we all understand. Don’t we boys?” He glanced at the others, who nodded. Rafe tried not to pay attention to the slight disappointment on Danny’s face.

“Okay then . . . swell,” Rafe said uneasily. “I reckon I’ll see you all, later.” He shot one last glance at Danny and quickly guided Julie out of the restaurant.

* * * *

Miss Julie Fisher proved to be congenial company for Rafe. While they shared a table at a small jazz club in Soho, the couple exchanged life stories. Rafe told Julie about his Tennessee childhood, his friendship with Danny and their decision to become Army pilots. Julie talked about her childhood in upstate New York, her ambition to be a journalist, and her job at LIFE magazine.

“Which is?” Rafe asked. Sounds of Billie Holiday singing “Some Other Spring” filled the background.

Julie smiled. “Copy girl. But one of the editors think I have a chance at becoming a staff writer within a year or two. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”

Rafe then brought up the subject of Marty. He wanted to know how Julie had met him. According to the redhead, she met Marty at a dance club in the East Village. “He was . . . fun, at first. But I . . .” Her face turned red. “I guess I simply got bored with him. He turned out to be a little too boorish for my taste. If you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I reckon I got a little glimpse of his ‘charming’ personality,” Rafe said with a chuckle. Julie joined in the laughter, and the pair resumed their easy camaraderie. The evening wore on. Rafe and Julie eventually left the club and ended outside Julie’s brownstone in the Village.

The warm May air surrounded them, as Rafe impulsively leaned forward and planted a firm, but light kiss on Julie’s lips. A stunned expression appeared on her face, leaving Rafe to wonder if he had went to far. Until a bright smile stretched her lips. Still smiling, Julie leaned forward, wrapped her arms around Rafe’s neck and kissed him. Hard.

A minute or two passed before the couple finally separated for air. Breathing heavily, Julie seared Rafe with a sultry look and whispered, “So, would you like to come upstairs for a cup of coffee?”

* * * *

The following Monday morning found Rafe, Danny and their fellow squad members, striding toward the airfield at Mitchell Field. “So, how was your date with Julie? Did you have fun?” Danny’s voice radiated forced cheerfulness.

Rafe glanced at his best friend and noticed the tight expression on the latter’s face. “Yeah, uh, it was great. Swell.” He paused. “I see that you’ve finally decided to talk to me.”

Danny rolled his eyes. “Well, you know Rafe, I’m trying to forget that you had abandoned the rest of us on Friday night,” he snapped. “So, why don’t you just tell me how your date went?”

“Aw, c’mon Danny! I didn’t mean to abandon you guys! It’s just I couldn’t pass up the chance to be with a girl like Julie!”

Danny abruptly halted in his tracks, causing Rafe to collide into him. “You could have called us, Rafe! Let us know that you would be with her for the rest of the weekend. But you didn’t leave a word or nothing! Just showed up at the hotel, three hours before we were supposed to check out!”

Rafe warily eyed his friend. “Uh, Danny? Not only are you beginning to sound like a jealous lover, you’re also giving me the heebie-jeebies.”

“Goddamit Rafe!” Danny glared at the older man. “It’s not . . . I’m not like that and you know it!” He let out a big sigh. “It’s just . . . well, excuse me for being a worry wart, but you didn’t leave a message, or anything. And by the way, we were all worried.”

Nodding, Rafe said, “Okay, I understand. I won’t do that again. I swear. Besides, Julie would like to get know all of y’all the next time we have furlough.”

“Oh?” The two friends resumed their walk to the field.

Rafe added, “Yeah. We were thinking of all of us spending the day at the World’s Fair.”

“Sounds great,” Danny replied. He paused. “Does Julie know any girls?”

* * * *

Fortunately for Rafe’s fellow pilots, Julie managed to find dates for them. Two weeks had passed since their last trip to New York City. They spent a glorious day at the fair grounds in Flushing, Queens. Later that evening, the group found themselves at the Shubert Theater, which featured the “Streets of Paris” revue and the newest sensation from Brazil, Carmen Miranda. Once the show ended, Rafe and Julie bid the others good-bye and headed for her apartment for more intimate entertainment.

After they enjoyed an hour or two of vigorous lovemaking, the pair laid back on the bed, breathing heavily. A light breeze from the open window cooled their warm and damp skin. “I never said this before,” Rafe said, “but you have a very nice apartment. Sort of big for someone working as a copy girl. LIFE magazine must pay you a nice salary. I wish I could say the same about the Army.”

“Actually, I can’t really afford this place on my own,” Julie replied. She propped herself on her left side, facing Rafe. “I have a roommate.”

Rafe rose into a sitting position. The moonlight beamed through the window and onto his broad chest. “Roommate? Strange, I didn’t know you had one, the last time I was here.”

“Carrie . . . her name is Carrie Menlow . . . is out of town, right now. She’s a secretary for a steel manufacturer,” Julie explained. “She’s in Canada. Montreal, I think. She’s due back in town, next week. I think. She’s . . . very pretty.”

A sly smile plastered on his face, Rafe situated himself on his left side. “Hmm, now I can’t wait to meet her.”

“Oh you!” Giggling, Julie slapped Rafe’s arm. Then she pulled him toward her. “Come here.”

“Yes ma’am,” Rafe murmured. He then lowered his mouth upon hers.

* * * *

Rafe’s introduction to Julie’s roommate came about on the following weekend. And it happened in a manner that took him by surprise. He and Julie were in bed that Friday night, enjoying each other’s company with passionate kisses and caresses, when the bedroom door suddenly swung open.

“What’s this?” a female’s voice asked. Both Rafe and Julie ended their foreplay and stared at the figure standing in the doorway. Rafe had to admit that she was one of the most beautiful women he had ever laid eyes upon. Shoulder-length blond hair curled into a bob, creamy white skin, wide china blue eyes and full lips. And had never seen so many curves on a figure that small. “Julie,” she continued in a voice that hinted East Coast aristocracy, “aren’t you going to introduce your friend?”

Julie sat up, allowing the sheet to slide to her waist. Rafe wondered if she realized that she was baring all to her friend. “Hi Carrie, this is Rafe. Rafe McCawley. You know, the pilot I had told you about. Rafe, this is my roommate and best friend, Carrie Menlow.”

“Oh yes.” Carrie stepped forward. Her eyes roamed lavisciously over the pilot. “The one from Tennessee. I really must visit the South, one of these days. Well,” a knowing smile touched her lips, “don’t let me interrupt you two. Nice meeting you, Rafe.” The smile still fixed on her lips, Carrie closed the door behind her.

Rafe let out a gust of breath. Julie stared at him. “Something wrong?”

“No, it’s just . . .” An embarrassed Rafe paused. “Well, with her barging in like that, I feel as if my mama had caught me with my . . . you know.”

Julie giggled. Then she pecked Rafe’s cheek. “Silly boy! I’m sorry if Carrie surprised you like that. She does have this habit of barging in. But don’t let it bother you. It’s just Carrie being herself.”

* * * *

Rafe could not help but feel bothered. But he kept his misgivings to himself. And when Julie began planting kisses over his face, he soon forgot about her disturbing roommate, Carrie. Nearly two hours later, the memory of Julie’s roommate struck back with the force of a tornado. Which would be Rafe’s way of describing the impact of a second warm body pressing against his right side. A body that did not belong to Julie.

“What the . . .?” Rafe’s eyes flew open. Shock overcame him, as he noticed Carrie’s body beside his. Her naked body. Jackknifing into a sitting position, he cried out, “What the hell are you doing here?”

His outburst awaken Julie. She sat up and rubbed her tired eyes. “Something wrong?” she asked in a sleepy voice. Then she saw Carrie. “Oh.”

“Julie, honey,” Carrie oozed sweetly, “do you mind if I join you two?”

Rafe protested hotly, “I mind, dammit!” Noting her nude state for the second time, he continued, “And what the hell do you think this is? Some damn whorehouse?”

Carrie assumed a wounded expression. “What’s wrong? Don’t you like me?” She glanced at her roommate. “I thought he liked me, Julie.”

Sympathy and a touch of anxiety mingled in Julie’s green eyes. Her hand reached past Rafe’s body to touch her friend’s arm. “Of course he does, sweetie. He’s just a little surprised. Right Rafe?” Her eyes pleaded with Rafe.

No! The word hovered on Rafe’s lips, but he found himself unable to say it. Especially with Carrie’s hand caressing his inner thigh. “This is wrong!” his mind screamed. By the outcry in his head quickly died down, as Carrie’s caresses became less subtle. And Julie began to kiss his face . . . again.

“Please Rafe,” Julie murmured between kisses, “let Carrie stay.” She gave him a lingering kiss on the mouth. “You won’t regret it. I swear.” Then Julie gently forced Rafe flat on the bed and kissed him once more. A gasp left nearly left Rafe’s mouth, as Carrie’s lips replaced the hand on his thigh. Oh well, he thought, whoever said that surrender does not necessarily meant defeat, knew what he was talking about.

* * * *

“. . . date with Bianca,” Anthony was saying. He and the other members of his squad sat inside the Officers’ Mess at Mitchell Airfield, eating dinner. The Brooklyn-born pilot wore a smug smile on his face. “It seems I got a letter from her, asking me if I was available for next Saturday night.”

Billy looked up at his friend. “Lucky bastard,” he growled. “I haven’t heard from Sheila at all. I’ve left her five phone messages in the last three days and haven’t heard a peep from her. Nothing. I mean, what does she think I have? The crabs or something?”

Anthony’s smile grew even more smug. “Well, do you?” he asked, earning a glared from the blond pilot.

Rafe ignored his friends’ conversation. His mind was fixed on something else. Namely, the last three weekends with Julie and Carrie. Rafe did not know whether to feel surprised or ashamed by the fact that he had not resisted the roommates’ suggestion of a ménage a trios. Did that mean in spite of his parents’ efforts to raise a decent Southern gentleman, they had begat a pervert?

“. . . have to wor . . . worry about a . . . a date.” Red’s voice interrupted the Tennessean’s thoughts. “R-Right Rafe?”

Rafe stared at his fellow pilots with bafflement. “Huh?”

A jab into his side by Danny followed. “C’mon Rafe, wake up! Red’s talking about Julie.” He frowned at the other man. “Something wrong?”

“Huh? Oh, no! Nothing’s wrong,” Rafe protested half-heartedly.

“Are you sure? You seemed distracted.” Danny paused. “You and Julie having problems?”

If you only knew, Rafe silently responded. Instead, he shook his head. “No, uh . . . I was . . . I was thinking of something else. About today’s flight maneuvers.”

Anthony shook his head, while he regarded Rafe with admiration. “Geez McCawley! When it comes to flying, you’re all business. A real ace.” Rafe barely heard him.

While the others continued talking, Danny leaned over and whispered in Rafe’s ear. “Okay – Ace – what’s the real problem?”

“Meaning?” a self-conscious Rafe hissed back.

Danny gave the older man a knowing look and murmured, “Meaning, if you’re really thinking about today’s maneuvers, you would be gabbing away. And not keeping it to yourself.”

Rafe shot his best friend a dark look. There were times he wished that Danny did not know him so well. Like now. “Look, it’s not . . .” He paused, longing to find a way to end this conversation. Glancing out of the window, Rafe spotted a familiar figure walk by. “It’s not what you think. Uh, look Danny, can we finish this later? I have . . . there’s someone I need to see.” He stood up and walked away, ignoring the stares of the other pilots.

Outside the Officers’ Mess, Rafe rushed after the man he was looking for – one Sergeant Lynn Greiger. “Sergeant? Sergeant!” Rafe cried out.

The sergeant paused in his tracks, spotted the approaching young officer and immediately stood at attention. He was a short, wiry man in his late 30s. “Lieutenant?” Greiger’s craggy face remained impassive, as he saluted. “May I help you sir?”

Breathing heavily, Rafe returned the salute. “At ease, Sergeant.” He hesitated, as he contemplated his next words. “Uh, may I have a few moments with you? Privately?”

Greiger frowned. “Of course, sir. Shall we walk?” He indicated the direction of the base’s Administration building. The pair continued walking. “So, Lieutenant, how may I help you?”

Rafe finally asked, “Uh, Sergeant, are you married?”

After a momentary pause, Greiger warily replied, “Divorced, sir. Twice. My former wives . . . they didn’t exactly like being married into the service.”

Nodding, Rafe continued, “Do you hang out . . . I mean, I guess you’re very popular with women. Right?”

“Uh . . . yeah.” Greiger’s frown deepened. “Look Lieutenant, what’s this all about?”

Rafe found himself unable to meet the sergeant’s eyes, when he finally blurted out, “Sergeant, have you ever thought about being with . . . more than one woman? At the same time?”

Greiger’s eyes popped out in shock. He stared at Rafe for what seemed like one long moment. Then a bright smile split his craggy face. “You must have heard those stories about me, Lieutenant. I’ll tell you this . . . they’re true. Hell, not only have I thought about more than one woman, I’ve had this happened to me on several . . .” His voice faded way. Greiger seemed aware that he was speaking to an officer. “What I meant was . . . I haven’t really experienced anything like that, but . . .”

Rafe sighed with frustration. “It’s okay, Sergeant. You have my permission to reveal your deepest and darkest secrets.”

“Yes sir! Anyway, as I was saying,” Sergeant Greiger continued in a matter-of-fact tone, “I’ve experienced . . . sex . . . with more than one woman on a few occasions.” Rafe stared at him. “Okay, on several occasions.”

The young officer urged the sergeant to continue. “What happened?”

“Well sir, I met these two women who sort of introduced me to the experience. It was enjoyable for a while. But in the end . . .” Greiger shook his head. “It just didn’t last. Maintaining a relationship like that is damn difficult, sir. With three people involved, one person is bound to feel left out sometime during the . . . uh, . . . you know, act. Soon, jealousies pop up and it’s all over in one messy fight. If you’re gonna have a . . . well, be with two women at the same time, make sure it’s a one shot deal.” Greiger gives Rafe a shrewd glance. “Pardon me, Lieutenant, but are you . . . uh, involved in a . . .?”

Rafe immediately cried out, “No! I mean . . .” In a calmer voice, he added, “I mean, not yet. But my girlfriend and her roommate . . .” He broke off.

Greiger nodded. “I understand, sir. But uh, if you’re planning to get involved with two women, remember what I had said about those problems, sir. It will happen. I assure you.”

A sigh left Rafe’s mouth. “Yeah. Right. Thanks for the advice, Sergeant.” He gave Greiger a quick nod, dismissing the latter.

“Yes sir.” Greiger saluted the younger officer and walked away.

Rafe watched the older man’s back recede into the crowd. He sighed once more, as his thoughts echoed Greiger’s warning. For the first time, Rafe wondered if he had allowed himself into one hell of a fix.

* * * *

Sergeant Greiger’s warning replayed in Rafe’s mind over the next two weeks. And it played havoc with his life. The Tennessee-born officer became more distant with Danny and the other pilots in his squad. In early July barely paid attention to his flight lesson one afternoon and nearly collided with Red’s plane the following morning. The incident resulted in a chewing out by Major Doolittle, the pilots’ commanding officer. By the time the next furlough arrived, Rafe decided to break it off with both Julie and Carrie. No matter how the two women made him feel, Rafe realized that he did not have what it took to be sexually adventurous.

The day of reckoning finally arrived on a wet Friday evening in mid-August. Upon arriving at their Manhattan hotel, Rafe and his friends were surprised to find Julie, Carrie and four other girls waiting for them in the lobby. “Rafe!” Julie jumped up from her seat and rushed toward the pilot. Carrie remained behind, regarding the couple with a benevolent smile.

“Julie,” Rafe replied in a stunned voice, “uh, wha . . . what are you . . .?”

Planting a kiss, Julie said, “Carrie, myself and the rest of the girls thought we would surprise you. There’s a nightclub Carrie and I had stumbled across it, last Wednesday. We’re here to escort you there.”

Rafe summoned up a wan smile. “Sounds great.” A long pause followed.

Then Billy asked, “Who’s Carrie?” Upon mention of her name, the blond-haired woman rose from her chair and joined the group at the lobby’s desk.

Suppressing a sigh, Rafe said, “Oh, yeah. I forgot. You guys never met Carrie, did you?”

“Hi,” Julie’s roommate greeted with a smile, “I’m Carrie. Carrie Menlo. I’m Julie’s roommate.” She said to Billy, “And you are?”

Rafe introduced his four friends to Carrie. He noticed how the blond woman’s eyes roamed appreciatively over Danny. The latter’s face turned red over Carrie’s close scrutiny. “Uh, hi. I’m Danny. Lieutenant Daniel Walker. Ma’am.”

“And I’m Carrie. Nice to meet you.” She held out her hand. Danny shook it. Reluctantly.

Rafe decided to quickly step in. “Uh, listen, we need to check in and get ready. So why don’t y’all continue to wait here in the lobby?”

“And go to this nightclub?” Red asked, frowning. “Aren’t we going to eat, first?”

A sigh left Anthony’s mouth. “Yes Red,” he said in a long-suffering voice. “We’ll have dinner, first. Geez!” The last word came out as a whisper. Red overheard him, anyway.

Julie agreed to Rafe’s suggestion. “We’ll be waiting for you.” She pecked Rafe’s cheek one last time. Then she and Carrie joined the other girls in the waiting area, while the desk clerk proceeded to check in the pilots.

* * * *

The evening started on a pleasant note. The pilots, along with the five women, had dinner at a cheap, but clean restaurant in Lower Manhattan. Then Julie and Carrie led the others to a Cuban nightclub on 63rd Street. Decorated with a tropical theme, the club featured a Cuban band that performed songs like “The Peanut Vendor” and “Perfidio”.

Around one-thirty in the morning, the party finally left the nightclub, weary and slightly drunk. While the other pilots headed back to the hotel, Rafe accompanied Julie and Carrie to their apartments. The moment that the three young people entered the bedroom, Sergeant Greiger’s warnings immediately left Rafe’s mind. Instead, he allowed himself to enjoy himself with the two women, as they indulged themselves on Carrie’s large bed. But the pleasure of their early morning orgy did not last, thanks to a simple suggestion from Julie.

“Rafe?” Julie’s voice sliced through the heavy silence that surrounded the satiated trio.

The pilot heaved a slight sigh. “Yeah?” He lay between the slumbering Carrie and Julie, whom he faced.

“Carrie and I were talking, earlier this evening. About Danny.”

Rafe stiffened at the mention of his best friend’s name. “What about him?” Curiosity and suspicion mingled within him.

Julie hesitated. “Well, we were wondering if you would ask him to join us, tomorrow night. You know, as a foursome.”

“Foursome?” Rafe frowned. “You mean like a double date? I had noticed that Carrie seemed interested in Danny.”

A giggle escaped Julie’s mouth. “A double date? Well, I guess you can call it that. But Carrie and I were thinking of something different. Here at the apartment. You know, a foursome.”

Rafe finally understood. Images of him, Danny and the two roommates cavorting in the bedroom with limbs all akimbo sent him into a state of shock. He understood, all right. Julie and Carrie wanted an orgy that would involve Danny. It was the last straw. Rafe shot up into a sitting position and climbed out of bed. He snatched his pair of boxers from a nearby chair.

“What are you doing?” Julie demanded with a frown.

“Leaving,” Rafe shot back. “For good. It’s over.”

An anxious-looking Julie woke up her roommate. “Carrie! Carrie, wake up! Rafe’s leaving.”

Heavy-lidded blue eyes blinked open. “Wha . . . aa . . . at?”

“Rafe’s leaving. Now!”

The two women stared at Rafe, while he continued to dress. “What’s going on?” Carrie demanded. “Why are you leaving? It’s not even three, yet.”

Resentment tinged Julie’s voice. “It’s about his friend, Danny. Apparently, Rafe doesn’t want him to join in the . . . festivities.”

“Damn right,” Rafe added, as he knotted his tie.

Carrie sat up. “What’s the matter, Rafe?” she said in a condescending voice. “Afraid that we’ll like him better?”

Rafe reached for his jacked and put it on. “Nope. I’m afraid that Danny will like your new . . . arrangement. Or even worse, be disgusted with me. And I’m not ready to lose him as a friend.” He grabbed his cap.

A sneer formed on Julie’s lips. “I should have known. Underneath that uniform, you’re just another hick unable to handle life in the big city. Maybe you’re afraid that your friend might be different.”

Squarely facing the two nude women, Rafe coolly replied, “Trust me, Julie. Danny is as much of a hick, as I am. And I aim for both of us to stay that way. If you want an orgy that bad, why don’t you get in touch with your old friend, Marty. I’m sure he could supply you with another partner or two. Good-bye ladies.”

Rafe turned smartly on his heels and marched out of the bedroom. For the first time in over two months, he felt good about himself. Despite Julie’s cry of “Self-righteous bastard!” ringing in his ears.

END OF PART 5

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – Episode One “1842-1844” Commentary

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“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – EPISODE ONE “1842-1844” Commentary

The year nineteen eighty-two saw the publication of “North and South”, the first novel of John Jakes’ trilogy about the United States before, during and after the U.S. Civil War. This first novel, set during the United States’ Antebellum Era, was adapted into a six-part miniseries in 1985. 

This first miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I”, told the story of two families during the years before the Civil War. The Hazards are a wealthy family that owns a successful iron foundry in Lehigh Station, Pennsylvania – not far from Philadelphia. Just as wealthy are the Mains, a family from the low country of South Carolina that owns a cotton plantation (a rice plantation in the novel) called Mont Royal. George Hazard and Orry Main first meet in New York City in the summer of 1842, as both make their way to commence upon their four years as cadets at West Point, the U.S. Army Military Academy. The two become fast friends, despite regional differences, as they endure trials and tribulations during their four years at the Point and the violence of the Mexican-American War. Due to the perseverance of their friendship, George and Orry’s families also form bonds, leading to the friendship of another Hazard and Main at West Point in the 1850s and marriage between two members of the families. By the end of miniseries, George and Orry’s friendship, along with the bonds formed between their families are tested by the growing conflict between Northerners and Southerners and the outbreak of the Civil War.

Episode One of “NORTH AND SOUTH” is set between 1842 and 1844. It is more or less an introduction of the two main characters, their families and the entire saga. Although it is not my favorite episode of the miniseries, I must admit that director Richard T. Heffron, along with the series’ staff of screenwriters (that includes John Jakes), did a solid job in setting up the miniseries. I noticed that some significant differences were made from Jakes’ novel. One, the writers excluded the novel’s prologue altogether, which had introduced the Hazards and Mains’ family founders in the 1680s. Unlike the novel, the miniseries began with Orry Main’s departure from Mont Royal, the family estate; and his first meeting with his future love, New Orleans-born Madeline Fabray. Actually, what the writers did was switch the Hazard family’s introduction with the Mains, Madeline Fabray and Justin La Motte (neighbor of the Mains). Whereas Orry first met all of the Hazards in 1842 New York City in the novel, he did not meet them until his and George Hazard’s three-month furlough in 1844 in the miniseries. The character of Elkhannah Bent underwent a physical transformation. He went from an overweight and unattractive Ohio-born man in the novel to a handsome Georgia-born young man in the miniseries. But the character remained insane and maintained his hatred of both George and Orry. As it turned out, the television Bent was a combination of the literary Bent and a character from the second novel, “Love and War” called Lamar Powell. The miniseries also allowed viewers to experience the venal Justin La Motte’s courtship of Madeline during the two years between her first meeting with Orry and his 1844 furlough. Because Orry and Madeline met two years earlier than they did in the novel, the pair exchanged letters until their correspondence was secretly interrupted by Madeline’s father, Nicholas Fabray. He was determined that Madeline marry La Motte.

I also noticed that Orry’s attitude toward slavery seemed to be less conservative than it was in the novel. I suspect that the writers decided to delete the character of Cooper Main, Orry’s older brother, while incorporating some of his moderate political views into Orry. They had no problems with transferring all four Hazard siblings – George, Stanley, Virgilia and Billy – from the novel to the miniseries. Yet, they failed to do the same with the Main siblings. Only Orry, Ashton, Brett and Charles made it from the novel to the miniseries. Cooper remained missing until the third miniseries, “HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH – BOOK III”. I found this strange. Why did the screenwriters feel it was necessary to delete Cooper’s character from the miniseries?

There were some other differences that did not sit right with me. One, the episode featured George and Orry’s journey from New York City to West Point via the railroad. There was no railroad service between New York City and the West Point Academy in the 1840s. In fact, there is still no rail service between the two locations. The miniseries also featured a swordfight between the two friends’ cadet drillmaster, the insane Elkhannah Bent and Orry – with the latter defeating the older cadet. Both the novel and the miniseries made it clear that Orry struggled with his studies. Because of this, Jakes made it clear in his novel that Orry was never able to become an accomplished swordsman. Yet, Orry defeated Bent in the miniseries because he was a member of the Southern planter class. The screenwriters utilized a cliche to make Orry an accomplished swordsman. And to this day, I am still puzzled at Orry’s lack of reaction to his eight to ten year-old sister Ashton’s knowledge of overseer Salem Jones’ sexual tryst with house slave Semiramis. Surely, he would be upset that his young sister would not only know but openly discuss such a topic.

But I was impressed by how the episode revealed the political conflicts that permeated the country during the early to mid 1840s. The miniseries mentioned such topics as the country’s conflict with Mexico over Texas, Western expansion and its impact on the institution of slavery. I noticed that the Hazard family – George included – did not seem particularly concerned over the idea of Texas joining the Union as a slave state. Even more interesting was the family’s contemptuous dismissal of Virgilia Hazard’s pro-abolition stance. In one scene featuring Orry’s dinner with the Hazard family at their Leigh Station home, the male members of the family tend to ignore Virgilia’s comments altogether, until she was finally forced to raise her voice. The Hazard family’s reaction to Virgilia’s abolitionist stance seemed a true reflection of most Northerners’ cool attitude toward the abolition of slavery. Another scene that took me by surprise featured a brief mention of Oberlin College in Ohio by Elkhannah Bent. During the 1830s, it became the first college institution to integrate blacks and women into its student body. Being a bigot, Bent naturally mentioned the college with a great deal of contempt.

Anyone familiar with Jakes’ literary trilogy would probably realize that the saga’s main topic centered around American slavery and its impact upon the country’s political and social scene between the 1840s and 1860s. There were four scenes that perfectly emphasized not only the horrors of slavery, but also the growing conflict between North and South. One scene in the episode’s second half featured Orry’s return to Mont Royal during his furlough. In this scene, he comes across the plantation’s new overseer, Salem Jones, whipping a slave named Priam. Priam happened to be the older brother of Semiramis, the house slave whom Jones has coerced to be his slave mistress. Not only did the sight of the whip being cracked across actor David Harris’ back filled me revulsion, but also Jones’ reason for authorizing the whipping in the first place – to guarantee Priam’s obedience. However, a scene featuring Madeline Fabray breakfasting with Justin La Motte during a visit to the latter’s plantation, Resolute; proved to be even equally effective. In the scene, a house slave named Nancy spills coffee on Madeline’s sleeve. While the latter disappears into the office to change clothes, a tense moment ensues when La Motte punishes Nancy with a brutal slap and a warning.

The conflict between North and South first reared its ugly head in a confrontation between Orry and a Ohio-born cadet named Ned Fisk, who resented the financial competition that his father faced from Southern planters who used slave labor. But I thought there were two scenes that I believe more effectively conveyed the conflict between the two regions. One featured a scene in which Orry toured the grounds of Hazard Irons during his visit to Lehigh Station and commented rather negatively on the white immigrant labor used by the Hazard family at their foundry. His little comment nearly sparked the first argument between the two friends. But Virgilia’s confrontation with Orry during a Hazard family dinner scene not only emphasized the Hazards’ disregard toward the abolitionist movement, but also the conflict between abolition and the country’s pro-slavery faction . . . especially in regard to American politics in the 1840s.

Production wise, Episode One looked gorgeous. Archie J. Bacon did an excellent job in bringing Antebellum America to the screen – both North and South. The miniseries was shot mainly in South Carolina and Mississippi and cinematographer Stevan Larner did justice to the locations, providing scenes with sharp color and elegance. I was especially impressed by the tracking shot that not only kick-started the miniseries, but also gave viewers a sweeping view of the operations at Mont Royal. Vicki Sánchez’s costumes were beautiful to look at. I was especially impressed by the following dress worn by Lesley-Anne Down in one scene:

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The cast provided solid performances in the miniseries. Mind you, the performances by some of extras struck me as rather wooden and amateurish. But the main cast seemed to know what they were doing. Both James Read and Patrick Swayze formed a perfect screen team as the two best friends – George Hazard and Orry Main. I enjoyed Lesley-Anne Down’s portrayal of the New Orleans-born Madeline Fabray. Although she had decent chemistry with Swayze, I was never a fan of the Orry-Madeline romance. It always struck me as a bit too ideal or Harlequin Romance for my tastes. David Carradine was both smooth and menacing as neighboring planter, Justin La Motte. Andrew Stahl nicely balanced both Ned Fisk’s resentment toward the Southern planter class and wariness toward Elkhannah Bent. Olivia Cole provided solid support as the Fabrays’ free housekeeper, Maum Sally. And Lee Bergere gave a subtle performance as Madeline’s manipulative, but well meaning father, Nicholas Fabray. But the two performances that really made me sit up and notice were Philip Casnoff’s intense portrayal of the borderline insane Elkhannah Bent and Kirstie Alley’s equally intense performance as the dedicated abolitionist Virgilia Hazard.

So far, “NORTH AND SOUTH” seemed to be off to a good start. Mind you, there were a few setbacks in regard to historical accuracy and characterization. With the episode ending with Orry and Madeline’s declaration of love for one another, along with her marriage to Justin La Motte, viewers were bound to be drawn to the next episode.

“KING KONG” (2005) Review

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“KING KONG” (2005) Review

Several years ago, producer-director Peter Jackson had stated in an interview that one of movies that had inspired him to become a filmmaker was Merian C. Cooper’s 1933 hit adventure film, “KING KONG”. Sixteen to eighteen years after his first directorial effort, Jackson was finally able to pay tribute to his inspiration with a remake of the 1933 film. 

Anyone familiar with Cooper’s film should know the story of King Kong. Set during the early years of the Great Depression, an overly ambitious movie producer coerces his cast and the crew of a freighter ship to travel to mysterious Skull Island, where they encounter Kong, a giant ape who becomes immediately smitten with the producer’s financially struggling leading lady. After using his leading lady to lure Kong into a trap, the producer ships Kong back to Manhattan to be displayed to the public as the Eighth Wonder of the World. Unfortunately, Kong escapes and inflicts chaos on the city streets in search for the leading lady.

Jackson and his co-screenwriters, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens pretty much followed the 1933 movie. However, they made some changes. In the 1933 film, Carl Denham was a respected and successful filmmaker. He was a struggling filmmaker who resorted to stealing footage of his film from his financial backers in Jackson’s version. There is more backstory on the Ann Darrow character in the newer film and she is a vaudeville dancer/comedian, not simply a unemployed and starving woman. Ann remains frightened of Kong throughout the entire 1933 film (an emotion that actress Fay Wray did not share); whereas Naomi Watts’ Ann forms an emotional bond with him. The inhabitants of Skull Island are a lot more hostile in the 2005 film, and less human. Kong is portrayed as simply an animal and less of a monster. Jack Driscoll is a playwright hired as a screenwriter in this film, whereas in the ’33 film, he is the S.S. Venture’s first mate. And in Jackson’s film, the first mate is an African-American. The 2005 Captain Englehorn is at least fifteen to twenty years than his 1933 counterpart. Kong’s rampage across Manhattan was a lot more horrific than his rampage in the 2005 film. The character of actor Bruce Baxter was created as a homage to actor Bruce Cabot, one of the stars of the 1933 film. And it is he, along with Denham and some actress hired to impersonate Ann that ends up on the stage with Kong in Jackson’s film. In Cooper’s film, both Ann and Driscoll end up on stage with Denham and Kong.

So, what did I think of Jackson’s “KING KONG”? Technically and visually, it is a beautiful film. One of the first things that impressed me was Grant Major’s production designs for the movie. His work, along with the art direction team led by Dan Hannah, Hannah and Simon Bright’s set decorations and Andrew Lesnine’s photography did an excellent job in re-creating Manhattan of the early 1930s. And what I found even more amazing about their work is that all of the Manhattan sequences were filmed in New Zealand . . . even the opening montage that introduced the movie’s time period and its leading female character. Terry Ryan’s costume designs for the movie were attractive to look at. But if I must be honest, they did not particularly blow my mind. I really cannot explain why. It seemed as if her costumes – especially for the female characters – failed to achieve that early 1930s look, one hundred percent. I was also impressed by work of both the art department and the visual effects team. Their work on the Skull Island sequences struck me as impressive. But honestly, I was more impressed by their work on the Manhattan scenes . . . especially the sequence featuring King Kong’s confrontation with the U.S. Army planes. And here are two samples of their work:

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My only quibble about the visual work in the Manhattan sequences featured the S.S. Venture’s depature from Manhattan. Frankly, it looked like the work of an amateur, circa 1929. Why on earth did Jackson allowed the ship to leave New York Harbor at double speed? It looked so tacky.

Jackson, Walsh and Boyens did a pretty good job in re-creating Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace’s story. In fact, I believe they had improved on some aspects of the 1933 film. One, the Ann Darrow character was given more of a background and more screen time before the S.S. Venture’s journey to Skull Island. I could say the same for the Carl Denham character, who proved to be a more ambiguous character than his 1933 counterpart. Due to the depth given to both Ann and Denham’s characters, the setup for the S.S. Venture’s departure from Manhattan seemed more detailed and far from rushed. The movie spent a good deal of time aboard the S.S. Venture, building up suspense to the ship’s arrival at Skull Island and allowing relationships and the characters to develop – especially Ann’s romance with playwright/screenwriter Jack Driscoll. I wonder if many moviegoers had complained about the length it took the Venture to reach Skull Island. I certainly did not. The longer the movie focused on the Venture sequences, the longer it took the movie to reach Skull Island.

Because . . . honestly? I disliked the Skull Island sequences. I was able to bear it in the 1933 film. But I cannot say the same for Jackson’s film. There were some scenes in the Skull Island sequence that I liked. I enjoyed the chase sequence featured members of the Venture crew, Denham’s film production and a Venatosaurus saevidicus pack‘s hunt of Brontosaurus baxteri. I even tolerated Kong’s rescue of Ann from three Vastatosaurus rex. And I was impressed by the scene that featured Ann and Kong’s initial bonding. I found it both touching and slightly humorous. And I could see that the screenwriters, along with Naomi Watts and Fay Wray (who portrayed the original Ann) understood Kong’s feelings for the leading lady a lot better than Cooper and Wallace did. But I still disliked the Skull Island sequence – especially the scenes featuring Denham’s film crew’s encounter with the island’s natives and the visitors’ enounter with giant insects inside a large pit. The natives seemed more like Orc rejects from Middlearth with very little humanity. Despite the coconut bras and bone jewelry, the natives featured in the 1933 film struck me as a lot more human and less like savage stereotypes. As for the giant insect pit sequence . . . I usually press the fast-forward button for that scene. I not only dislike it, I find it repulsive.

Fortunately, the movie returned to Manhattan. And I noticed that for the first minutes or so, Jackson re-created Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s introduction of Kong to the people of Manhattan. I was impressed. In fact, I found this second Manhattan sequence very impressive . . . but not as much as I did the earlier one. Granted, Bruce Baxter’s quick departure from the theater following Kong’s escape provided some laughs. And Jackson handled Kong’s rampage of Manhattan rather well. I was a little disappointed that Jackson did not re-create the elevated train sequence from the first film. I was stunned by the sight of Ann searching the streets of Manhattan for Kong wearing nothing but her costume from a stage musical in the middle of winter. Hell, I was amazed that she managed to not to get pnemonia from wandering around the city with no overcoat and no sleeves for her gown. And frankly, I found Ann and Kong’s reunion in Central Park something of a bore. I truly wish that Jackson had cut that scene. As for the Empire State Building sequence, once again, Naomi Watt’s Ann did not seemed to be affected by the cold weather, while wearing nothing but a costume gown. And I noticed that Jackson plagerized Gandalf’s death in “LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING” for Kong’s final death scene. I felt nothing but a little relief because the U.S. Army Air Corp’s attempt to kill Kong seemed to last forever.

The cast of “KING KONG” seemed to fare very well, despite some of the mediocre lines written by Jackson, Walsh and Boyens. Thomas Kretschmann’s portrayal of the pragmatic and cynical Captain Englehorn struck me as very skillful and effective. Both Evan Parke and Jamie Bell provided some well-acted pathos as First Mate Ben Hayes and a young crewman named Jimmy, for whom Hayes seemed to act as mentor. Adrien Brody provided a nice balance of romance, heroics and cynicism in his portrayal of writer Jack Driscoll. Actually, I thought he made a more interesting leading man than Bruce Cabot. And Colin Hanks’ solid portrayal of Preston, Denham’s neurotic but honest personal assistant, proved to be the movie’s emotional backbone. But there were the performances that really stood out for me.

Andy Serkis, who had impressed the world with his portrayal of Gollum in the “LORD OF THE RINGS” movies, proved to be equally impressive in his motion capture performance as Kong. Not only was he solid as the S.S. Venture cook, Lumpy; he did an excellent job in providing Kong with a great deal of emotional nuances. Kyle Chandler nearly stole the film with his hilarious portryal of movie actor Bruce Baxter. Not only was Chandler’s Baxter egotistical and self-involved, he also proved to be a surprisingly pragmatic character with a talent for self-preservation. He also provided, in my opinion, one of the film’s best quotes:

“Hey, pal. Hey, wake up. Heroes don’t look like me – not in the real world. In th real world they got bad teeth, a bald spot, and a beer gut. I’m just an actor with a gun who’s lost his motivation. Be seeing you.”

Jack Black gave a superb job as movie producer Carl Denham. In fact, I believe that Black’s Denham proved to be the film’s most ambiguous character. Even though his Denham seemed manipulative, greedy and exploitive; he also managed to bring out the character’s compassionate side and enthusiam for his profession. It seemed a pity that Black never received any acclaim for his performance. Many moviegoers and critics seemed disappointed that Naomi Watts did not receive a Golden Globes or Academy Awards nomination for her excellent portryal of out-of-luck vaudevillian Ann Darrow. Frankly, I think she deserved such nominations for her work. More than any other member of the cast, she had to develop an emotional bond and work with an animated figure and at the same time, develop her own character. And she did one hell of a job. Think Bob Hoskins in 1988’s “WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?”.

“KING KONG” has become a highly regarded film over the years. It made “Empire” magazine’s 2008 list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. Do I agree with this assessment? Hmmm . . . no. Not really. It is a very entertaining film filled with plenty of action and adventure. It also featured some pretty damn good acting from a cast led by Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Andy Serkis. But the movie also possesses some pretty obvious flaws and I find it difficult to enjoy the Skull Island sequence. Like I said, Jackson created a pretty good movie. But I could never regard it as one of the greatest movies of all time.