25 November 2008

Guilty Pleasure #1: Goodbye Columbus

 

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In the spring of 1969, when I was 14, my entire family – including aunts, uncles and cousins - descended in masse on the downtown movie theatre to see the just released movie, Goodbye Columbus, based on Philip Roth’s first novella.  Filmed mainly in Westchester County, New York – the movie tells the story of a spoiled, Jewish princess, Brenda, and her summer romance with Neil, the  poor, unambitious librarian from the Bronx.   I suppose the movie was a family event because it was about a contemporary Jewish family – which very few movies were.  Probably every Jewish family saw this film in 1969 – news of it quickly spread in our community.  I remember the older members of my family being very disappointed by the brief nudity and the wedding scene which is a basically a caricature of a vulgar, over-the-top extravaganza.    And my mother was especially turned off by the way Brenda’s father lectured her:  “You have given me a lot of nachas, a lot of joy.  For a million dollars, nobody could buy that joy.  So, when you go back to school and you’re shivering, go to the store and buy yourself a nice leather coat with a fur collar.”  Mom felt that he should have said “Pick up the telephone and call me” rather than use money to buy her love.    This was exactly 40 years ago – and I remember this conversation with my mother like it was yesterday.

                        

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The Westchester County Jewish Country Club

 

Truth be told, unlike the older relatives, I adored the movie – and so did all of my friends.  I didn’t mind the brief nudity or the scandalous story line of premarital  sex.   Instead,  I liked to imagine that maybe one morning I would wake up and be living Brenda’s privileged life.   Brenda, played by Ali McGraw in her first movie role, was gorgeous – tall, tan, and thin.  Her wardrobe was designed by The Villager, which was our Anthropologie.   The musical score was by The Association and all of us had the sound tract, which we played over and over, especially the song “Groovy Just Being Together.” Hey, this WAS the 60’s!!!!   My friends and I went back to see the movie a few more times, without our parents,  and secretly I think we all wished we were Brenda Patimkin, the athletic,  wealthy and slightly rebellious Radcliffe girl.   Although, to be sure,  none of us ever wanted Richard Benjamin - who played Neil Klugman - as a boyfriend!  We all thought Benjamin, also starring in his first starring role, was not cute enough to ever land someone as adorable as Ali McGraw!  And to this day, I still think he was terribly miscast in the role.

 

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The beautiful Ali McGraw in her debut movie performance.  Playing a freshman at Radcliffe, she was actually 30 years old at the time.

 

But, of course, as usual I had another reason than my friends why I loved the movie – the Patimkins lived in a beautiful, old, three story Colonial Revival house in Westchester County.  It was traditional, classic, and totally WASPy, not at all like the Mid Century Modern type houses that most of us lived in at that time.   No – this was the type of house that the gentiles in River Oaks lived in – not Jewish people from Meyerland!!  The fantasy of living in the multi-storied house probably intrigued me more than the movie.   The house was actually four stories – it had a basement that was fully furnished for pool-table games and shindigs.   Houston doesn’t have basements, so the Patimkin’s rec room seemed very mysterious and alluring.   The house loomed over the movie like a character.   The scenes around the dinner table were lengthy and legendary.  The entrance hall, with its gorgeous Georgian stairway, was the setting for much important dialogue.  The lush, green grounds of the property were as grand as the interiors.  And of course, Brenda’s bedroom – which the house guest, boyfriend Neil Klugman, would sneak into every night – was a teenaged girl’s dream.  

 

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Brenda’s clothes came from The Villager.  At the time, his outfit was a favorite of mine – midriff baring,  red and white striped t and white jeans.  

 

I hadn’t seen Goodbye Columbus  in years and years and years and one night it came to me that my teenage daughter might love it as much as I had – so we rented it.    She watched about 30 minutes of it  and then left to go get on her computer.   I can’t say I blamed her -  it doesn’t hold up well with time – the endless montage sequences, slow motion and out of focus,  is the dated cinematography style of the 60s and 70s.  And, the then shocking nudity is banal – more skin is seen on primetime television today.  The love story too, once so taboo – a college girl having premarital sex with her boyfriend – is today considered almost commonplace.    And although Ali McGraw still looks beautiful and is adorably dressed, forty years later, Richard Benjamin is even less attractive or desirable as the lover.

 

 

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A lot of the movie action centered around the country club – with endless montages of soft-focused underwater swimming.

 

Amazingly though, the Patimkin’s grand house, lived up to my memories.  It is still the classic, WASPy mansion that I once dreamed about.    In fact, with a few cosmetic and surface changes, I would still be very happy living there today, albiet, with my own teenaged Brenda  (as long as she wasn’t sneaking a boy - especially one as ugly as Neil ! -  into her bedroom at night.)  This is one major change that 40 years has brought – I am no longer the rebellious teenager who related to Brenda, but instead, now I am the mother worrying about her daughter’s boyfriend, just like Brenda Patimkin’s mother did.   

 

Below, enjoy a few pictures from the Patimkin’s Westchester house:

 

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The large, white, Colonial Revival house, with its bright red shutters, starred in the movie.   The wide center hall bisects the house – the dining room is on the left side, facing the back yard.   On the far left, in what looks like an addition, is the kitchen which is not seen in the movie.   On the extreme right is the covered porch, where an important scene was filmed.  Neil Klugman drives the blue convertible.    The house is actually four stories counting the attic and the finished basement. 

 

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Close up of the red front door with it’s brass knocker and lanterns.   If you look closely, you can see the Mezuzah, the religious symbol that all Jews put on their doorpost – as commanded by God.

 

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The very first glimpse into the house – the center hall features prominently in the movie.   The wallpaper is Near Eastern influenced and runs up through the second story landing and hall.  The room open on the left is the dining room.  A large brass lantern hangs in the stairway, while a crystal chandelier hangs above the front door. 

 

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The Oriental-inspired, over-sized, dining room is where two major scenes were filmed.  The walls are painted gray, with red chinoiserie wallpaper inset within the molding.  The curtains are sheers with fabric swags.  The same fabric covers the chairs which are Chippendale styled and painted chartreuse.   A large crystal chandelier is hanging here and crystal sconces are placed around room. 

 

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Mrs. Klugman, a nouveau riche snob, is not too thrilled with Brenda’s new beau – a public library worker who lives in the Bronx.  The movie’s theme deals with the struggle between the two classes of Jews.   As for the house:    Here you can see the large Chippendale cabinet, filled with oriental celadon and Rose Medallion porcelains. 

 

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On the left is a rather tacky red chinoiserie chest with gilding.  A large seltzer water bottle is set on the table.  I grew up with such a seltzer water bottle – which was always  placed on the  dinner  table, just like this!

 

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Behind Neil and Brenda is a large, carved Oriental screen that hides the door to the kitchen. 

 

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During dinner, Brenda scandalously puts her hand on Neil’s thigh, causing him to totally lose his composure!  It seems so mild by today’s standards.

 

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Brenda’s older brother and younger sister.  Here you can see the red chinoiserie wallpaper more clearly.  Why there are pink roses in this room is a mystery.

 

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With the family mostly gone from the dinner table, you can see the ornateness of the dining room more clearly – the oriental rug ties all the colors together, the marble fireplace with it’s folding, brass peacock screen (remember those!!??), the large crystal chandelier and sconces.  And lastly – there is a window AC unit behind Neil.   This fancy dining room is starkly contrasted with Neil’s own dining room in the Bronx apartment he shares with his aunt and uncle.

 

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The homey Bronx dining room where Neil is more accustomed to eating – not quite as fancy!  Love his Aunt’s apron – my own aunt used have aprons just like this.

 

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The beautiful side yard of the Patimkin’s property.   Here you can see the side covered porch that leads off the living room.

 

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The covered porch with it’s assortment of white iron furniture, covered in pink fabric – why pink, when red is the accent color?  Mrs. Patimkin is trying very hard to be cordial to the new boyfriend from the Bronx – the very same neighborhood the Patimkin's escaped from as soon as they had accumulated enough wealth.

 

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The expansive front yard with its circular drive.    A large round fountain sits right in the middle of all the cars.

 

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The front hall with its Near Eastern inspired gold and lavender colored shiny wallpaper.  The door with its fan and side lights is classically styled, as is the flooring  of white marble with black marble insets.  The furniture, though, is faux antique – heavily gilded – exactly the type of furniture one  would buy to impress.  A crystal chandelier and sconces further dress up the entry hall.  At the base of the stairway, a tall marble pedestal holds a bronze statue lighting fixture.

 

 

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The staircase is carpeted in green!  uggh!  Wood treads with a runner would be so much more attractive, but remember the 60s and 70s were the height of wall to wall carpeting.  At the top of the landing is a beautiful arched window flanked by gilded mirrors.  The large, brass lantern hangs down the three floors.

 

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The master bedroom is shown in several humorous scenes.  The room is wallpapered in a floral pattern above the chair rail.  Also in the room is a fancy white and gilded fireplace with crystal sconces and mirror.   Bronze statues on gilded sconces flank the fireplace.

 

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Oy!  The headboard is a Venetian disaster!  I love how  Mrs. Pitimkin with curlers in her hair is smoking in bed.  Hair nets and smoking in bed are really things of the past.    The purple and white sheets are covered with a green velour blanket – remember velour blankets?!?

 

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This second night – this time the blanket and sheets are blue.   The cigarette and rollers are missing tonight.  But what is with that childish pink bow?

 

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The basement “rec”room.   Knotty pine paneling, wagon wheel built- in decor, ping-pong table, leopard print, and black and white checkerboard floor.  The bar is incredibly stocked with every liquor imaginable.

 

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The overflowing, “extra” refrigerator – the excess was impossible for Neil to resist.  Notice the old design on the can of Coke and the Diet Rite Cola.  When the refrigerator opened to all that fruit – the audience gasped.

 

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The second floor landing – off the bedroom hall  You can really see the thickness of the beautiful wood banister here.  The stairs on the right lead up the third floor.  Three floors really impressed me as a young girl – I had only ever lived in a one story house.   Notice the pretty black tole sconce on the wall.  Also, all the plugs in the house are covered with brass switch plates. 

 

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A close up of the beautiful stair railing with its three styles of carved spindles.  The gold phone is priceless!

 

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Notice above Neil’s head, you can see the third floor steps – each tread is individually carved.  This stair hall is really a beautiful one with all the richness of the details:    the landings, the arched window, the turned spindles, the carved handrail.  Just the grand size of the stair hall is notable, and rarely seen in most homes, even large ones.

 

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Brenda and Neil saw two movies that summer – here Rosemary’s Baby.

 

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And next, The Odd Couple.  Ironically, soon after Jack Klugman who plays Mr. Patimkin would star in the TV series of The Odd Couple.

 

 

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The third floor, or the attic, was filled with furniture from “when we were poor” Brenda tells Neil, after a fight with her mother.  Attics like this, with windows, finished floors and headroom, have always fascinated me and this scene really made an impression on me when I first saw the movie – the hidden treasures that were waiting to be found  there! 

 

 

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Brenda’s cute 60’s style bedroom saw lots of action, of course.  After Neil is invited to be a houseguest during Brenda’s last two weeks at home – each night he sneaks into her bedroom behind her parents’ back.  By today’s standards – the parents would probably allow the boyfriend to share the room with their college aged girl.    At the time, this was such a scandalous situation – a it made my elder relatives very uncomfortable to watch.   The bedroom is wallpapered in a bright yellow and orange floral pattern.   The curtains are white with yellow trim and the sheers have a cute daisy pattern sewn into them.  Notice her “Trimline” telephone – this was the hugely popular telephone model that was introduced to the market just three years prior. 

 

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A classic shot from the movie – with Neil’s face in the vanity mirror. 

 

 

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In Brenda’s private bathroom, the gold damask wallpaper blends in with her bedroom’s wallpaper.  I love the vanity lights – the base of each bulb  appears to be some type of  chandelier or lamp part. 

 

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One more shot of Brenda’s bedroom  - here you can see the twin arches – one is her bookcase, the other is her vanity/desk.  The carpet is the original, dreaded  shag wall to wall.  Today, shag carpet is called “frieze.”    Here Brenda and Neil are fighting over the fact that Brenda’s has not been using birth control! 

 

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This is the only shot of the living area or family room with it’s mod covered sofa:  bright Kelly green with chrysanthemums.    I’ve always wished they showed more of the living room than just this one shot.

 

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The blue wallpapered guest room where Neil pretended to spend the night.   Behind Brenda’s brother are the back stairs that lead up to the attic where all the old furniture is stored.The guest room is wallpapered in a blue and white pattern.   The furniture in this room is a bedroom suite called French Provencal.   Growing up, I had a set like this – white with gilding – as did most girls I knew.    Remember bedroom suites – matching nightstands, headboards, and dressers?  Tufted fabric headboards are actually in vogue right now.  The bed has a fitted bedspread with a scalloped edged, lined with trim.  A check fabric is used for the curtains and the dust ruffle. 

 

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A scene from Brenda’s brother’s controversial wedding.  Most Jewish movie goers  were offended by the portrayal of this wedding where guests were seen stuffing their faces with food, rudely cutting in the buffet line and just acting obnoxious.  Apparently, when the head of the studio, Robert Evans (and Ali McGraw’s husband) saw an early cut of the wedding scene, he objected that it wasn’t “ethnic” enough.  The director then recut the scene – adding more offensive footage  into the movie.

 

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The scene my mother most objected to.  At the wedding reception, Mr. Patimkin lectures Brenda about being a good, moral daughter that he is very proud of:  “You have given me a lot of nachas, a lot of joy.  For a million dollars, nobody could buy that joy.  So, when you go back to school and you’re shivering, go to the store and buy yourself a nice leather coat with a fur collar.” My mother felt he should have told her to either call or come home.   Brenda, is feeling quite guilty here, knowing she’s been having sex behind her parents’ back and if her father knew, he would not be so proud of her.    Oh, the pathos!

 

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The riotous wedding reception.  Forty years later – it seems more tame, farcical, and extremely dated.  This time around, I certainly wasn’t offended watching it as no one I know acts like that at a wedding!    I don’t know where this scene was filmed, but I suspect it may be the country club, which was the setting for many scenes in the movie. 

 

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The End:  Brenda goes back to Radcliffe and leaves her birth control at home which her mother promptly discovers.  Feeling too guilty to ever bring Neil home again – she ends the relationship.   Neil, of course, doesn’t understand why she left her birth control at home and realizes Brenda did it to end the relationship proving that the privileged Westchester girl would never marry the poor Bronx boy.   Today, this class struggle – the divide between upper and lower class Jews seems comical and very unrealistic and would never be an issue today.  In fact, I’m not even sure such a class divide even exists at all.   This scene is set in what is supposed to be a sleazy motel, but the wallpaper is a charming Prince of Wales feather type and the chest looks like the most authentic antique in the entire movie!

 

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I hope you enjoyed looking back at one of my favorite movie houses from my teenaged years.  What is your favorite teenaged movie?  Is there a house in it that made it a favorite?  Did you ever see Goodbye Columbus – and if so – did you have the same positive feelings to the house as I did?