Thursday, April 25, 2013

FUNNY GIRL and Me

The TCM Classic Film Festival kicks off later in Hollywood with the deluxe premiere of a restored classic.  A touched up Funny Girl starring Barbra Streisand hits the big screen this evening.  I wish I could be there.  Funny Girl -- one of my favorite movie musicals.
I'm a SoCal guy.  I was born and raised in Southern California.  A child of the '60s, I grew up in South Central Los Angeles.  And I loved it.  New York City had Broadway.  We had Hollywood.  For us, going to see major motion pictures was our Los Angeleno version of going to see a Broadway show.  When a big movie like My Fair Lady or Camelot played, you had to purchase reserved seats just like theatergoers do when seeing a Broadway show.  You could send in your requests to the movie theater via the mail but you always had to mark down a alternate date in case you first choice was sold out.  Those big movies would play at one theater in Hollywood for an exclusive engagement before opening wide at a local theater or drive-in near you.  I think My Fair Lady was such a hit that it played exclusively at the same theater for almost two years.  Now you can see it on TCM every other month.

I had Barbra Streisand's first albums.  I'd used my allowance to buy them when my parents went family shopping in Baldwin Hills at a store called FedCo.  I'd do my chores and homework so they would let me stay up and watch the early Barbra Streisand specials on CBS.

The first solo reserved seat I ever had to a movie was the one I had to see Funny Girl during its exclusive engagement in Hollywood.  I felt like I'd died and gone to heaven watching this new movie on a big screen in a Hollywood movie palace.  The theater was beautiful and clean.  The audience was packed.  There was an overture.  I was seated in a section called "Mezzanine."  I had a great view.




I saw Funny Girl at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. Mom drove me.


For one brief moment, I thought I'd see Funny Girl and lose my virginity the same evening.  That is, if I even knew how to lose my virginity.  Before I tell you what happened in the mezzanine, I have to reveal this to you honestly.  Early in my high school years -- well, pretty much all during my high school years -- I was a combination of these two sitcom kids:

The always positive but clueless Sue Heck on ABC's The Middle....

and the insecure, lactose intolerant Jordan on The Bernie Mac Show.


Like Jordan, I went to Catholic school.  Being in Catholic school, we really didn't hear dirty words.  We were in a Catholic cocoon.  We wouldn't know dirty words if we heard them.  We were too busy dealing with socially acceptable words we didn't even understand.  "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife."  Covet?  What's covet mean?  Did Sister St. Paul misspell that word when she wrote the 10 Commandments on the chalkboard?  Did she mean "cover"?  Thou shalt not cover thy neighbor's wife?  Naughty words relative to body parts or sexual recreation were alien to us.  I didn't hear some such words until I transferred to public school for the 4th to 6th grades.

I still recall how Dad dropped his fork onto his plate in shock one weekday evening during supper when I innocently said, "Daddy...what does 'titties' mean?  Is that like your navel?"  I was a new kid at public school.  The next evening, after Dad had given me a good talking to, I was so silent at the dinner table that I could've booked a role in Children of a Lesser God.

Dad took me with him to see Goldfinger.  James Bond was awesome.  But, when we were in the car driving home and I asked "Why did some people start laughing when the lady said her name was 'Pussy Galore'?," He said "I don't know" and "Don't ask me that anymore.  And don't ask your mother."

I still had no understanding of slang or "street-and-fence" words I heard.  Or ones I saw in some of Dad's paperback copies of Harold Robbins novels.

I had suggested a family outing.  "Why don't we all go see Funny Girl?"  Dad didn't want to be any part of that conversation.  My little sister just watched this whole interaction like it was performance art. Mom was the negotiator.  If I did my chores and homework, I could get a ticket to see the movie alone.  She would drive me to the Egyptian, go do some shopping and then pick me up when the movie was over.

I think, at that moment, Dad looked away and saw his dreams of being a grandfather roll away like a tumblewood on a deserted dirt road in a TV western.  Also, before I saw the film, I owned and had played the Funny Girl soundtrack so many times that I could lip sync every single cut on the album.  Perfectly.

The movie was thrilling.  Even better than the soundtrack.  I fell in love with Barbra Streisand.

OK, I admit it.  I fell in love with Omar Sharif too.

There was a college coed seated next to me on my right.  She let me look at her souvenir program during the overture and she smiled at me a lot.  She wore the kind of dress you'd have seen Dusty Springfield wear on American Bandstand.  It was a one-piece mini.  She was brunette and had a build that, decades later when I lived in New York, I would hear people call "zaftig."

For my early teen category, I'm pretty sure I'd integrated the audience for that showing.  Not that there was any segregation, mind you.  When I was in my seat I looked over the railing to spot any other black folks.  I saw an middle-aged couple like Mom and Dad.  No black kids my age down there or up in the mezzanine.  There was one big showshopper song we all waited for. An anthem of determination and a shout-down to people trying to block your path.  As soon as Barbra as Fanny Brice musically declared "Don't," you felt that entire audience collectively inhale with a community "Here it is!" feeling.  It was the "Don't Rain On My Parade" number....brilliantly shot, edited, orchestrated and sung.


Yes. I was the only young black kid seated alone at that showing of Funny Girl.  And I was the one who started applauding enthusiastically after La Streisand finished her final note in the song, leaving us to hear a few chugs of the tugboat before the screen read Intermission.

The coed next to me (she'd told me she was in college), said "You really liked it."  I replied, "Oh, yes!"  Then she sort of confidentially whispered, "A lot of my friends tell me I look like her."  I remember thinking Wow.  You kind of look more like Lainie Kazan but I politely said "That's cool!"

She had a little paper bag smack dab on her lap. Her hands were on her lap holding that little paper bag.   Then, with a low voice that I found to be kind of sexy, she looked at me and said, "Would you like some of my......marzipan?"

I'd never heard of marzipan.  But, the way she looked at me and the way she looked down at her lap when making the offer, I was positive that "marzipan" was Caucasian street talk for either "vagina" or "sexual intercourse."

I was confused.  I had no idea what to do.  I still had my ticket stub.  If we did leave so I could lose my innocence, could we be done before my mother came to pick me up?  More importantly, could it wait until after Barbra Streisand sang "My Man"?

I decided that watching the second half of Funny Girl was far more important than losing my virginity.  Shyly I answered, "No, thank you."

Then she reached into that sack, took a handful of its candy contents and popped it in her mouth.  Her mouth was full when she said, "I just love marzipan."

What an experience at the Egyptian Theater.  My first reserved seat at a Hollywood movie.  I led the entire mezzanine section in wild applause at the end of the "Don't Rain On My Parade Number."  And I learned that marzipan does not mean nookie.  Wow.  Knowledge is power.  And the movie experience was not over.
The "My Man" number made the coed cry.  She'd eaten all her marzipan.  We all had a great time at the movie.  I did have fun sitting next to her.  I beat Mom's eardrums as I gushed about Funny Girl all the way from Hollywood back home to Central Avenue.  In fact, I raved about it so much that, one Saturday, my mother and a friend from work went to see it.

When she got back home, Mom looked me, smiled and said "Honey, that girl can sang."  She loved it.

I bet tonight's Hollywood audience will break out into wild applause too.  One day, I actually want to see Funny Girl while having some marzipan.  Just for the heck of it.

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