Before I was ten, these abilities translated into an almost mystical power. Luckily, my mom used her dynamic supremacy like a superhero because in the hands of evil…well let’s just say not all children experience love or lead magically happy lives.
Of course as a moronic little bugger, I frequently misinterpreted her genius. So when I challenged mom’s omnipotence…I paid the price. So when I told her I lost something, (a key, a quarter or some such nonsense) she’d automatically say, “Where was it when you had it last?” Being a wise-guy at an early age I’d crack, “If I knew where I had it, when I had it last…I wouldn’t be looking for it.” After a dirty look mom would say, “Did you check the pockets of what you wore yesterday?” I’d snarl, “Yeah.” She’d snarl back, “Well check them again!” Like I said, it was almost paranormal how often she was right. Even though I profited by her wisdom, behind her back, out of frustration, I would crinkle my nose or stick out my tongue. Unbelievably, it was like her gift included having eyes in the back of her head because she’d growl, “Watch it young man.”
Yes mom knew best. I remember trying to order a meatloaf sandwich in a greasy spoon diner. Mom said, “Meatloaf is already all bread, get something else.” I wasn’t sharp enough to analyze the ingredients, but I was smart enough to withhold my opinion that if she thought meatloaf was all bread… that meant she was crazy.
Mom’s tact to end my nail biting habit had a similar theme. She’d tell me a million reasons why it was a bad idea but those pleasant explanations never “hit” home. She even said, “You love yourself, right?” It was obvious from her tone that I was being led down the Primrose Path of manipulation but how could I say no to such a loaded question. I said, “Yes.” She said, “Would you ever chew on your bones?” I pictured my skin ripped off and me gnawing on my arm bone and said, “No.” She said, “Right. Because you know, fingernails are made of the same stuff as bones…so biting your nails is the same thing as biting your bones...and chewing on your bones would harm you…and people shouldn’t harm themselves.” Again, I thought she was out of her mind because I knew nails weren’t bones. But I thought it best to avoid a war and decided to pick a better battle in the future. I bleated, “I wouldn’t want to harm myself…”
My wanton disregard for following her fingernail orders morphed mom’s intellect into physical threats, (this was a time when it wasn’t taboo for a parent to publicly beat sense into their brats), and therefore my mother’s rare smacks to my head were comparatively the act of a kindly princess. So unless you are the rebellious type, (and I wasn’t), I learned the Pavlovian response to nail biting and kicked the habit in near record time.
I remember how bad of an idea it was when I tested mom’s intelligence. I wasn’t a good student. But in Hebrew school, I was terrible. I once took home a report card with U’s for reading, writing, history and conduct. Plus, I wasn’t bright enough to see the report card’s legend was restricted to E=Excellent, G=Good, F=Fair and U=Unsatisfactory.
I knew I was going to get my head handed to me anyway, so I stupidly rolled the dice and drew little black circles around each red U.
My mother saw my awful grades and went off on me. I said, “Wait a minute, those aren’t U’s!” To bolster my cause, I had used one of the few bits that I had picked up about my culture…a circled “U” on food packages was a symbol for purity, (a good thing).
|JEWISH DIETARY LAW REQUIRES THAT ALL FOODS CONFORM TO STRICT REGULATIONS. TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THE PRODUCT HAS ANSWERED TO THIS HIGHER AUTHORITY, TWO MAIN SYMBOLS ARE USED ON FOOD LABELS; AN UPPER CASE K OR A CIRCLED U, (above).|
I used the meager knowledge I had of my ancestors when I proudly announced, “Those aren’t ‘U’s,’ they’re ‘koshers.’” Well, on that occasion, mom’s wrath didn’t take the form of a single smack in the head….so much for dynamic supremacy.
All this takes us to Brooklyn’s Nostrand Theater (movie house). The Nostrand (in Flatbush, just off Kings Highway) was a relatively new theater. It was built way after the opulent movie palaces of the depression-era that for a few pennies, helped promote escapism in the form of an all-day outing, (double feature, newsreel, serial and cartoons). And it came into being way before the idea of the tiny, cookie-cutter multiplex theaters.
I only have two memories of being in the Nostrand. Once when I was on a date in college and the other from 1964, (the date in college is completely unimportant). In 1964, my mother took me, kicking, screaming and crying to see, “MARY POPPINS.”
This was a time when few movies were made specifically for kids. The Disney studio was basically the only game in town and they weren’t cranking-out many. In fact, most of what they did produce had a limited audience, was childish or wasn’t especially clever. So with that in mind, at nine-years old, I thought something called Mary Poppins was a threat to my budding manliness.
|MOM TOLD ME THAT I WOULD LOVE THIS MOVIE BECAUSE MARY POPPINS COULD FLY. THE ONLY WAY MOM WOULD HAVE HAD A CASE...WOULD HAVE BEEN IF MARY COULD FLY WHILE WRESTLING GIANT SQUIDS.|
I wanted to see John Wayne on the silver screen or at least Kirk Douglas or Burt Lancaster. I liked the blood and guts of war movies, the chase scenes in cops and robbers dramas, the action of westerns, the scariness in horror flicks or the excitement of adventure tales…not some girlie musical crap!
|ANYTHING, EVEN A DUBBED JAPANESE DISASTER FILM NARRATED BY RAYOND BURR WOULD HAVE HAVE BEEN A MILLION TIMES BETTER THAN A MOVIE ABOUT AN ENGLISH NANNY.|
In the crowded balcony, I plopped in my chair and slunk down low. Mom realized that I was a dude with a "tude" so she switched our usual; me, dad, her and my sister seating arrangement. Like a personal prison guard, my mother sat next to me. I imagined her armed with an open hand, cocked, ready to slap me into further obedience. If ever I could have used the comfort of some nail biting…this was the time. Bad choice, the smack in my head was indeed hard and swift. I made sure that didn’t happen again. Instead my ensuing huffy protest took the form of hardcore sulking and full-blown whining, (I don’t know how she could stand THAT…I’m thrilled my son didn’t inherit those annoying genes from me).
All through the “coming attractions,” the opening credits and into the early portion of the film, I continued my nearly silent, pestering objections. Mom’s superior intellect allowed her to ignore me. But then something strange happened. Like the children in the movie who wanted no part of Mary Poppins, I started to come around. Just imagine someone you really can’t stand telling a joke. You wouldn’t want to give that person the satisfaction of seeing you laugh but if that joke was so incredibly funny…you’d be powerless not to laugh.
I tried so hard to hate the movie…but I couldn’t even be indifferent or like it just a little…I LOVED every bit of Mary Poppins. At some point mom saw me tapping my toes, sitting at the edge of my seat and laughing. She whispered, “See, I was right…” To avoid missing even a nanosecond of the show, I reversed my usual tendency by not reverting to being miserable…and spewed a quick admission that I was wrong.
When I became a father, the magical joy of Mary Poppins was repeated for my son Andrew. From when he was two until about seven, our VHS tape was worn thin by his repeated viewings. And unlike “BARNEY” I gladly watched it over and over with him.
“Mary Poppins” spoke for itself but if my son needed an extra incentive to watch, the opening scene included a Yorkie puppy named Andrew.
|THIS YORKSHIRE TERRIER PUP IS MENTIONED BY NAME IN THE OPENING PARK SCENE, (above) AND ONCE MORE LATER IN THE MOVIE. YESTERDAY, I CAUGHT MY SON OFF-GUARD AND ASKED IF HE REMEMBERED THE DOG'S NAME...AND HE DID.|
Nearly every song in the movie is memorable. So much so that when Andrew and I used the seesaw in the playground, it became our tradition to sing the, “LET’S GO FLY A KITE,” song. That song was so entertaining that even though I never flew a kite in my life, it didn’t matter.
|NOTHING SEEMED MORE BORING AND SENSELESS THAN WATCHING MY FRIENDS TRYING TO FLY A KITE. MY SKEPTICISM WAS ALWAYS PROVEN RIGHT BECAUSE ON MY STREET IN CANARSIE, THEIR KITE WOULD EITHER GET CAUGHT IN A TREE OR TANGLED IN THE ELECTRICAL WIRES.|
Now I am thrilled to say, Mary Poppins has struck again. This time, in the form of a new movie called, “SAVING MR. BANKS,” that describes the twenty years of hardship Walt Disney endured before getting the rights from author P. L. Travers, to make the movie.
Set in 1961, "Saving Mr. Banks," includes many flashbacks to the early 1900’s. Walt Disney (portrayed by Tom Hanks) had long envisioned making Mary Poppins into a classic. But (Australian born) P. L. Travers, (played by Emma Thompson) won't budge. However, this curmudgeonly spinster (living in Lindon) has lived handsomely off the royalties from her Poppins books, now sees that income dwindling.
Travers flies to Hollywood (actual Burbank). Deep down, she has no intention of relenting. She is going on this “fool’s errand” to appease her manager. Travers makes outlandish demands. Walt Disney is desperate and agrees to the most ridiculous…like NOT including the color red in any portion of the production.
Walt Disney calls her bluff. He gets his foot in the door and introduces Travers to the storyline and inner workings of the movie. Travers sees the magic that goes into film making. And like me when I was nine and slouched in my seat at the Nostrand Theater, Travers is slowly swayed by the positive energy of the movie’s potential.
To push Travers further along, Walt takes her to Disneyland. At first she is appalled by the commercialism. But again, she softens her stance, gradually becomes agreeable and borders on being enthusiastic.
I don’t want to spoil “Saving Mr. Banks” plot but a major philosophical difference erupts between Travers and Disney that results in her angrily returning to London. Walt Disney flies out on the next flight and appears at her door. The two put on invisible boxing gloves and duke-it-out. Walt rips underneath her protective layering and exposes an inner angst (the flashbacks to her youth). He mentions his rough childhood without revealing the research he did to understand hers. He says he could have sold the Mickey Mouse concept when he was struggling but didn’t because Mickey was like family and too much a part of him. Walt's sensitivities struck a chord with Travers.
Travers grudgingly sold the movie rights. Still, Disney is not convinced that she is completely “on-board” with the project. He's afraid she would ruin the pomp and circumstance of the grandiose Grauman’s Chinese Theater premiere and intentionally does not invite her.
Disney cringes that despite not being invited, Travers shows up in California on her own. To save face, Walt blames the US postal service for losing her invitation. We all know how “Saving Mr. Banks” ends because we know that “Mary Poppins” ranks as one of the greatest children’s movies of all time. But I think it’s safe to say that Travers had her trepidations about watching the finished product come alive on the big screen.
Like me at the Nostrand, she wasn’t thrilled after sitting down in Grauman's. In the early stages of the film, she felt her life’s work was being disrespected. Perhaps she was too British to cause a scene or afraid Walt Disney (sitting behind her and undoubtedly biting his fingernails) would smack her in the head.
|AT AGE 53, WALT DISNEY (1901-1966). HIS LEGACY REMAINS INCREDIBLY STRONG. DISNEY CORPORATE REVENUE IN 2010 WAS APPROXIMATELY $36 BILLION.|
Either way, Travers' patience paid off because soon, she was tapping her toes, sitting up in her seat, laughing...and crying in happiness...over the delicate care her prized possession received from the Disney staff.
Go find “Mary Poppins” and watch it with your kids. Then see, “Saving Mr. Banks” with or without your children.
|DAVID TOMLINSON,(1917-2000) WAS A CHARACTER ACTOR BEST KNOWN FOR HIS ROLES AS AN AUTHORITY FIGURE. HE WAS THE UNSUNG HERO AS MR. BANKS, IN THE ORIGINAL, "MARY POPPINS."|