Thursday, February 19, 2009

Breadlines and Champagne

Sadly, I relay the news that Marylou Whitney will not be making her customary grand entrance at the Whitney Gala this year at Saratoga, as the Whitney Gala will not be held in light of the current economic meltdown.

"It would," said husband John Hendrickson, "be in poor taste."

I beg to differ. During the 1930's, escapist fare, called "screwball comedies," about madcap heiresses who lived in mansions with a never-ending supply of servants and champagne, were enourmously popular.

For years, hundreds of onlookers have gathered at the Canfield Casino in Congress Park awaiting the grand entrance of Mrs. Whitney, whether by hot-air balloon or horse-drawn coach (suitable for the Queen) or motorcycle, to signal the start of the racing season. Would she be Glinda the Good Witch? Snow White? Little Bo Beep? We could hardly wait.

It was all, she once said, entertainment for the masses, huddled or not.

To cancel now, when we need it more than ever? Say it ain't so!

In the 1930's, during the Great Depression, Americans went almost compulsively to the movies.

"The movies offered a chance to escape the cold, the heat, and loneliness; they brought strangers together, rubbing elbows in the dark of movie palaces and fleapits, sharing in the one social event available to everyone."

--Carlos Stevens, From the Crash to the Fair, The Public Theatre

Moviegoers swooned over Clark Gable, Bette Davis, and Errol Flynn. They laughed at W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers, fell in love with Shirley Temple, delighted in Busby Berkley's choreography and thrilled to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sashaying across the screen.

It was, simply, an opportunity for normal folks to escape the harsh economic climate of the time. And to describe the current economic clime as anything but harsh would be dishonest.

Now, if Mrs. Whitney elected to respond to many people's vision of what should happen to the ridiculously rich by showing up at the Canfield Casino in a tumbrel, a la Marie Antoinette, that might be considered to be in poor taste (however apropos).

Then again, maybe she could come as Bernie Madoff.

But to deny the masses the chance to forget their everyday troubles for an hour? That is truly tasteless.

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