Category Archives: San Diego

PACIFIC BEACH: An unforgettable year (Part III)

Something surprising happened in January.  Months before, I’d applied to work at the San Diego Legal Aid Society, but I’d never heard back.  Now I got a phone call asking me to come downtown for an interview. When I met with the program director, Steve H, I was visibly pregnant, but Steve liked my background working in Legal Services as a lawyer for low-income clients, and he decided to hire me part-time. 

I was thrilled.  I’d completed teaching Poverty Law at USD at the end of the fall term, reading final exams and papers and handing in my grades.  Starting a great new part-time job right now would work out perfectly.  Steve loved introducing me to everyone in the office, practically beaming because he, a steadfast liberal, had hired a pregnant woman.

I discovered that I could take a convenient bus downtown.  But when I met my officemates, one of them offered to give me a ride. Mike W, a single lawyer about my age, lived near me and picked me up on a corner close to my apartment. 

Mike W was a smart guy but totally unaware of how pregnancy worked.  Almost every time he gave me a ride, he fretted that I’d give birth in his car.  I had to keep reassuring him that first babies are never born that fast.  And of course mine wasn’t.

Working in the downtown office turned out to be a terrific experience.  I enjoyed my Legal Services work, interviewing clients and doing research at the downtown city library.  During lunchtime strolls, I was also able to explore downtown San Diego.  I discovered a great used book store and still own a vintage copy of Robert Burns’s poetry I found there. 

I also browsed at the big downtown department store, Walker Scott.  It reminded me of old-line department stores in other cities, like Chicago’s Marshall Field’s.  I remember the store was at that time promoting the forthcoming film, “The Great Gatsby,” featuring life-size photos of Robert Redford and Mia Farrow on full display.

One lunchtime, I entered Walker Scott feeling a bit tired, and I happily discovered a women’s lounge where I could put my feet up.  I returned there often.  One day I noticed a new mother nursing her baby, and I remember smiling and telling her how much I admired her.  At the time, I was busily reading up on how to nurse my own baby, and it was reassuring to see a new mother handling it so well.

Before I reluctantly went on leave from my job at Legal Aid (I’ll explain why below), the women in my office surprised me with a baby shower!  It was a true surprise because I never expected any of them to spend their precious time and money on me.  I think there was one other woman lawyer, whom I barely saw because she was so busy.  The other women were either administrative staff or secretaries, and most of them didn’t appear to have an extra dollar to spend this way.  It was a joyous event, and I treasured receiving gifts from these ultra-kind women.  A stuffed teddy bear from Mari became our baby’s first toy, landing in her bassinet as soon as she arrived home.  Another gift was a baby blanket, especially endearing because it had a noticeable flaw that identified it as a remainder purchased at a bargain store.  Buying even that was probably a stretch for my beautiful co-worker, and I loved her for it.

In March, I got some bad news.  A routine urine test revealed a high number for glucose.  I had to follow up with another, more serious, glucose test, requiring that I drink a revolting liquid.  The result was a shocker:  I was diagnosed with a complication of pregnancy, “gestational diabetes.”  

I didn’t even know that this complication existed.  It was NOT a complication described in my well-thumbed paperback copy of “Pregnancy and Childbirth,” written by the noted NYC ob-gyn Alan Guttmacher.  His book listed a whole lot of complications, but nowhere did Dr. G mention gestational diabetes.  (I do remember his advice for dealing with constipation:  Just relax on the toilet with a cigarette.  Oh, yes, his book gave that advice.  Luckily, I never needed to follow it.)

Dr. Blank sent me to a local specialist, an MD who was an expert on diabetes.  This man turned out to be a horrible practitioner of the medical profession. I had no problem with modifying my diet. That was no big deal.  But this MD also ordered that I begin having insulin shots once a day, and he arrogantly announced that I had to enter a hospital overnight to learn how to give myself injections.  Further, instead of trying to cheer me up, reassuring me that everything would go well, he warned me forebodingly:  “We’ve had some losses….”  What a miserable thing to say to a vulnerable pregnant patient.

My friends Lyn and Ted once again came to my rescue, dismissing the idea of my going to the hospital.  Instead, in their dining room, they taught me how to give myself insulin shots, using an orange as the substitute for my arm.  Former nurse Lyn told me that was how nurses learned to give shots.  I felt incredibly lucky to have Lyn on my side.

Marv lovingly took over giving me my needed shots.  But I was nevertheless depressed by the prospect of six more weeks of them.  Marv tried valiantly to make me feel better by reminding me of the biggest news story of the day:  Patty Hearst’s abduction in Berkeley six weeks earlier.  The shocking story had dominated local TV news.  “The time since then has gone fast, hasn’t it?” Marv asked me.  I had to admit that he was right.  Those six weeks had flown by.  I could survive six weeks of shots.

I had become and would always be a “high-risk primapara.”  Once I learned the meaning of “primapara,” a woman giving birth for the first time, I thought about writing a journal titled “Diary of a High-Risk Primapara.”  But I never got myself organized enough to do it.

Celebrating my birthday at the end of March became a wonderful break from our worries.  My nausea had lessened a great deal by that time, so Marv and I drove to Tijuana, where we had a scrumptious Mexican lunch and shopped at the outdoor vendors’ stalls.  Marv bought me a beautiful white crocheted shawl that I cherish to this day.  We then drove back to San Diego, where we devoured a delicious dinner at a fancy rooftop restaurant, Mister A’s.  (It’s still in business.)

Marv and I didn’t want to tempt the evil eye, so we put off shopping for baby clothes and furniture until just before my due date in early May.  But we anticipated needing a rocking chair for our new baby.  In a store near our apartment, we found a great Scandinavian-designed rocking chair, made with teak wood like the rest of our good furniture.  I later used it to rock my new baby, just as we planned.  I still own and treasure it.

In April, my diabetes diagnosis compelled me to take a leave of absence from my Legal Aid job.  The reason was borderline disgusting.  Please forgive me for describing it, and feel free to skip the following paragraph.

My doctors demanded that I collect my urine for 24 hours every day so it could be analyzed for a certain substance in it.  I was given giant glass jug-like bottles in which to save the urine, and I kept them in a bathtub in our apartment.  I was so dutiful in my collecting that whenever I left home, I would carry smaller bottles in which to collect smaller amounts, later adding them to the giant bottle. Usually accompanied by Marv, I would then drive to the UCSD hospital downtown to drop off the big bottles.  The whole process was exceedingly disheartening, but the final blow came when I began to lift a completely-filled bottle out of my bathtub, and the bottom fell out, spilling an entire day-long collection.  I sadly watched it all go down the drain.

At that point, I knew that I couldn’t keep up with both my job and all the medical demands on me, and it was the job that had to go.  My desire to give birth to a healthy baby overpowered everything else.  So I said goodbye to my Legal Aid office, assuring everyone that my leave was only temporary and that I planned to see all of them again after the birth of my baby.

Although my diagnosis of gestational diabetes was disheartening, and we couldn’t be certain of the outcome of my pregnancy, I felt pretty sure that the fetus growing inside me would put up a good fight.  This baby had to be strong.  It had survived all of my energetic dives into the hotel pool we’d shared with our friend Arlyn in Westwood.  (I’ve always believed that a weaker fetus might not have survived my vigorous diving.) 

The gap in my work-life balance was soon filled by another part-time job, one I could work on at home.  I’d already begun my leave of absence from my job at Legal Aid when I was recruited to bolster the Legal Writing program at USD law school.  I’d successfully completed teaching Poverty Law at USD at the end of the fall term, reading final exams and papers and handing in my grades.  Now a faculty member eagerly recruited me for this new job.  He brought me a big pile of student papers to review and grade by the end of the spring term.  I was happy to use my experience as a Legal Writing instructor at the University of Michigan Law School, a job I’d completed just before we left Ann Arbor for San Diego.  I dug into the USD student papers with relish, marking them up with my trusty red pen.  My hope, of course, was that my revisions and comments would help these students become better lawyers.

Meanwhile, Marv and I went back and forth, trying to choose a name for our hoped-for baby.  Picking a name for a boy was easy:  Marv’s and my father had both been named David.  But a girl’s name was much more challenging.  Almost every one that I liked Marv would veto.  While we continued to consider possible names, my friend Lyn gave me some useful advice:  Choose a name your baby will like.  She confided that she and Ted had named their son Ira Robert, but he was incessantly teased by other kids:  “I’m a rabbit, I’m a rabbit.”  They finally legally changed his name to Robert Ira.

                                                To be continued….

PACIFIC BEACH: An unforgettable year (Part II)

September brought a lot of changes. 

Just about the time I began teaching, I discovered that I was pregnant.  The relentless nausea convinced me.

I needed to find a doctor, an obstetrician I could like…and trust.  My new friends, Lyn and Ted, knowledgeable about health-care professionals, came to my rescue.  Once I confided my suspicions to Lyn, she immediately recommended a couple of doctors who practiced together nearby.

Nausea propelled me to make an appointment.  After a routine test confirmed that I was pregnant, I began taking a prescribed med, but it didn’t lessen my nausea very much.  So I began to resort to other remedies.  My best discovery was…date shakes!

Happily, I could get fantastic date shakes at a shack along La Jolla Boulevard where it bordered Pacific Beach.  Not only did I revel in the flavor and texture of the date shakes, but their cold temperature also chilled my interior, dramatically lessening my nausea.  So whenever I drove that route to USD law school, I’d stop for a shake.  Once I arrived at USD, I discovered something else:  As soon as I stood in front of my class, the adrenaline that kicked in also kept my nausea at bay.

I was thrilled to be pregnant, but I didn’t relish having “morning sickness” that usually lasted all day.  First thing in the morning, I’d toast English muffins and smother them with apricot preserves. They helped me face the rest of the day.  I also had a crazy craving for club sandwiches, and I remember phoning a bunch of local restaurants to ask whether their menus included my new favorite dish.

Like every ob-gyn, Dr. Blank (his real name) prescribed daily vitamins.  When I brought his Rx to the drugstore, the pharmacist handed me a bottle whose label instructed me to take four pills a day.  But the pills were gigantic.  I couldn’t bring myself to swallow more than one or two of them a day.  I just couldn’t.  But I worried about it.  Was I neglecting my future child?  During my next doctor visit, I revealed my dilemma.  Dr. Blank was appalled. The pharmacist had read his handwriting incorrectly!  I needed only one of those monster pills a day.  Phew! 

Marv and I began haunting Mr. Frostie, a venerable soft-serve ice cream shop on Garnet Avenue.  Soft-serve ice cream wasn’t as good as a date shake, but it was cold enough to work for a while.  Later I discovered a great place for maternity clothes: The JC Penney store on Garnet.

One more purchase on Garnet:  A sewing machine I bought at the Sears Outlet, where a kindly salesman cheerfully instructed me how to use it.  I’d actually first learned to use a sewing machine in junior high in LA when I was 12.  (I bought the fabric I needed at the May Co. store on Wilshire Boulevard that’s now the site of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.)  But my skills had eroded, and I was happy to revive them.  I proceeded to make easily-sewn creations like maternity tops, ties for Marv, and baby pants in a gender-neutral fabric.

That September, America witnessed an exciting event in the sports world:  “The Battle of the Sexes.”  Because the event was important in my own world, I wrote about it after seeing the 2017 film loosely based on the big event [https://susanjustwrites.com/2017/11/20/the-battle-of-the-sexes-one-more-take-on-it/].  Here’s a chunk of what I wrote:

When Billie Jean King met Bobby Riggs on a tennis court at the Houston Astrodome on September 20, 1973, I was miles away in San Diego.  I’d just finished teaching a class of law school students about Poverty Law, and I was blissfully pregnant with my first child.

I was watching the clock, assessing how long it would take me to drive from the law school to our recently-rented apartment in La Jolla.  Waiting at home was my handsome and super-smart husband Marv, finished for the day teaching math students at UCSD.

We were both Professors Alexander that year, and I took delight in answering our phone and hearing a student ask to speak to “Professor Alexander.”  I’d respond:  “Which one?”

Marv had snacks and drinks ready for us to munch on and imbibe during the televised tennis match.  Nothing alcoholic for me.  Not because the medical profession had pronounced that alcohol was detrimental for growing fetuses.  I think that came later.  I avoided alcoholic drinks simply because I had no desire to have them during my pregnancy.

Was it instinct or just dumb luck?  When we later that year saw the film “Cinderella Liberty,” in which an often-drunk woman’s pregnancy ends in tragedy, my choice to avoid alcohol was vindicated.

I drove home with as much speed as I could safely muster, arriving in time to watch the much-hyped tennis match dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes.”  In the 2017 film, Emma Stone captures the Billie Jean King role perfectly, portraying not only King’s triumph over Riggs but also her initial uncertainty over her decision to compete against him and her continuing struggle to ensure that women’s tennis be given equal status with men’s.

Steve Carell carries off his role as Bobby Riggs in the film equally well, depicting the outrageous antics of the 55-year-old Riggs, who initiated the concept of the “Battle of the Sexes.”  But the focus has to be on Billie Jean, the Wonder-Woman-like heroine of her day.  By accepting Riggs’s challenge, and then defeating him, she became the mid-twentieth-century symbol of women’s strength and perseverance, advancing the cause of women in sports (and in American culture at large) as much as she advanced her own.  Watching the battle on TV, my hoped-for child growing inside me, I was ecstatic when Billie Jean defeated Riggs before 90 million viewers worldwide.

As my pregnancy advanced, I was frequently asked by complete strangers, “Do you want a boy or a girl?”  I’d answer “a girl” just to see the reaction on the faces of the nosey parkers who clearly expected another response.

I was in fact hoping I would give birth to a healthy child of either sex, but I knew that I would treasure having a daughter.  When my beautiful daughter was born about seven months after the Battle of the Sexes, and when her equally beautiful sister arrived three years later, Marv and I were on top of the world.

Did the endorphins circulating inside me as we watched Billie Jean triumph produce a feeling of euphoria?  Euphoria that led us to produce two Wonder-Woman-like heroines of our own?

Maybe.  Tennis, anyone?

Later that fall, thanks to an appearance by diva Beverly Sills on a late-night TV show, we discovered that San Diego had an opera company where Sills had performed, and we eagerly bought season tickets.  One evening, I shoved my nausea aside and dressed in an elegant long dress that still fit me and headed for “Le Nozze di Figaro” at a downtown theater. The performance was so thrilling that we rushed out and bought the LP the very next day.  The season was filled with four other excellent performances, but “Figaro” remained our favorite.

In November, Marv and I were invited to spend Thanksgiving in Chatsworth, a suburb of LA, with my Aunt Sade and Uncle Sam.  (I liked to call my sweet Aunt Sade my “half-great aunt” because that sounded funny, but she really was the much younger half-sister of my mother’s father.)  We drove to Chatsworth and devoured a turkey-and-trimmings feast with Sade and Sam, their son Sid, and his family.  We loved being surrounded by their warmth that day. Scrutinizing my belly, one of them bravely asked whether I was expecting.  I happily replied yes!

In December, my mother made a visit to La Jolla, a big deal because she rarely left her beloved Chicago.  Mom’s travel wardrobe featured her very first pantsuit!  After seven decades of wearing nothing but skirts, she finally gave in and bought some stylish pants.  Mom slept on the cot we had purchased for our friend Arlyn, and, like Arlyn, she swore that it was comfortable.

Mom’s visit led to a few surprises.  Everyone in the U.S. had just started pumping our own gas.  Driving Mom somewhere, I stopped at a gas station, jumped out of the driver’s seat, and began pumping.  Mom gasped.  She was startled not only to see me performing this fairly new task, but also that I was doing it while pregnant.  Shocking!

Another surprise:  When we escorted Mom to Sea World, one of San Diego’s prime attractions, she took a look at the walrus and other sea creatures and suddenly warned me: “You shouldn’t look at these ugly animals. Looking at them…it’s not good for your baby!”  What?  Mom was a savvy businesswoman who kept up with the news by reading the Chicago Sun-Times every day.  Her bizarre warning had to stem from Old World thinking she’d heard long ago from her own European-born mother.  I was startled because it was the kind of thinking I’d never heard her express before.  Securely in the 20th century, I quickly assured her that these creatures would have absolutely no impact on my fetus!

On New Year’s Eve, we celebrated by taking Mom to a charming Italian restaurant that featured singing waiters serving a festive meal.  I wore a brand-new glamorous green maternity dress for the occasion and thought I looked smashing.  But something I ate unfortunately left an ugly stain I could never get out, so my memory of that beautiful evening is somewhat tarnished.

After Mom returned to Chicago, Marv and I took off for a weekend in Ensenada, a gorgeous spot in Baja California about 80 miles from San Diego, 62 of them on a somewhat bumpy road along the coast.  We’d traveled there from LA before we got married, and I had glorious memories of that trip. 

Our return to Ensenada was blissful.  We loved the breathtaking scenery, the food, and the lively but laid-back atmosphere.  (It wasn’t yet filled with tourists arriving on cruise ships, as it is now.)  We browsed the outdoor displays of ceramic wares and bought a colorful planter for our terrace.  It never occurred to me that we’d done anything unwise. 

But when I next saw Dr. Blank and told him about our trip, he was horrified.  He told me we’d taken a big risk by traveling to a fairly remote part of Baja California, where medical resources were much more limited than those in the U.S.  I could have developed serious medical issues in a location with none of the up-to-date care I would be able to get in San Diego.  And any attempt to travel back to San Diego could have taken much too long.  I soberly realized our mistake and was immensely grateful that we’d luckily escaped a medical emergency in Ensenada.

                                                                                                                                                                             To be continued….

Pacific Beach: An unforgettable year

(Part I)

The other day, while strolling down Union Street, a charming shopping street in my neighborhood, I spotted a tall man of a certain age across the street.  I could see him well enough to notice his shirt, brightly boosting PACIFIC BEACH in large red capital letters.

I caught his eye and waved, calling out “Pacific Beach!”  He gallantly waved back, and I went on my way.

But when I returned home, I couldn’t forget his shirt, a colorful reminder of an unforgettable year, roughly spanning August to August a few decades ago, and it reawakened my memories of that remarkable year.

We landed in San Diego in early August after a cross-country road trip from Ann Arbor, Michigan.  My husband (I’ll call him Marv) had a visiting professorship lined up at the University of California in San Diego, and I’d lined up a professorship (as an adjunct) at the University of San Diego Law School.  They were totally different schools, one a branch of the University of California, the other a law school located on the beautiful campus of a Catholic university.  But those initials—UCSD and USD—were so darn close.  One of my alumni magazines got my school’s name wrong and published a blurb stating that I was teaching at UCSD’s law school.  The only problem:  UCSD didn’t have a law school.

UCSD’s campus was, and is, located on the fringes of La Jolla, a posh (then and now) suburban-style area that’s actually part of the city of San Diego—although it likes to pretend it’s a separate city.  Marv and I, ecstatic to have escaped our life in Ann Arbor, began our hunt for a place to live near Marv’s campus. He would be spending all day every day there, while my commitment to USD was far less.  In the fall semester, I taught only one class, Poverty Law, one afternoon a week.  Teaching it required substantial preparation, but I could do much of it at home.

While we apartment-hunted, we stayed in a small motel on La Jolla Boulevard, where the proprietor showed off the exquisite tropical flowers she cultivated.  And we discovered nearby Pacific Beach, which featured a delightful collection of small restaurants and shops.  An early favorite was Filippi’s, a great spot for pizza we returned to again and again.

Our apartment-hunt led to our leasing a place that seemed to be a pretty good fit.  But while we waited for the telephone installer to show up, the kitchen’s fridge emitted a loud din that filled the entire apartment.  We extracted ourselves from that lease and kept looking.

A couple of family friends who’d left Chicago were now living in a beautiful apartment development on La Jolla Boulevard, not far from Marv’s campus and downtown La Jolla but still close to Pacific Beach.  We loved everything about it, but our first attempt to rent there resulted in failure.  Our friends encouraged us to keep trying, and when we tried again, the universe smiled on us:  the perfect apartment was available!  Not only could we rent a cheerful two-bedroom apartment with a geranium-filled terrace, but the development also featured two swimming pools, a sauna, and a great outdoor parking space.  We moved in quickly and soon felt right at home.  Marv and I loved splashing in one of the pools and tried out the sauna as well.

At the pool one day, I met a charming new friend:  a newly-retired nurse (I’ll call her Lyn).  We’d chat while we splashed around together.  Later she introduced Marv and me to her husband, a semi-retired physician (I’ll call him Ted).  They went on to play an important part in our lives.

We also enjoyed spending time with our family friends, Chicago transplants Tammy and Norm.  They were fond of a nearby pub called Bully’s and enticed us to try it.  It turned out to be a great neighborhood spot where Marv and I liked to linger in one of its red vinyl booths, relishing a beer and a perfectly-grilled burger.  When Bully’s closed in 2008, it garnered a heap of online comments bemoaning the loss of a revered pub.

After our furniture arrived from Ann Arbor, Marv and I began watching the Watergate hearings on TV.  We’d earlier witnessed some of the most dramatic events during the hearings, which began before we left Ann Arbor. The testimony of John Dean and Alexander Butterfield was especially notable.  Soon we resumed watching the televised hearings in La Jolla.  Marv was busy getting to know his colleagues and preparing for the fall semester at UCSD, but I was able to watch a big chunk of the gripping hearings, which featured one Tricky Dick revelation after another.  

In Ann Arbor, we’d also learned that Harvard Law Professor Archibald Cox was sworn in as a special Watergate prosecutor.  Although I’d never taken a course with Professor Cox when I was a law student at Harvard, I viewed him as a remarkably kind person, unlike many of the other, often arrogant, members of the faculty.  Walking through the tunnels that ran under the law school buildings (used by students and faculty to avoid Cambridge weather), I would sometimes encounter Professor Cox.  I firmly believe that he intentionally nodded, smiling, acknowledging me as one of the few women students at the time.  I would of course smile back, fervently wishing that I could be a student in one of his classes.

Later that year, now in La Jolla, Marv and I followed the notorious “Saturday Night Massacre” that resulted in Cox’s outrageous “firing.”  Live TV news coverage made clear what was happening before our eyes. We weren’t shocked by anything the Nixon administration was doing or had done, but it was nevertheless absorbing to follow every despicable twist and turn.

Meanwhile, we were relishing our new life, feeling immensely lucky to be in an exciting city filled with colorful flowers and charming Spanish-style architecture, as well as glorious views of the ocean we could see all along the coastline.  We walked everywhere in the gorgeous sunshine, surrounded by the beauty of a city jam-packed with countless inspiring sites.  The contrast with Ann Arbor, where we’d faced long gray winters and hot humid summers in a city that was far too limited for us, was stunning.

We discovered the extraordinary beauty of Balboa Park, and we spent many hours exploring its museums, flower gardens, and other color-saturated spots.  We also relished shopping and eating at a variety of businesses on Garnet Street in Pacific Beach.  (La Jolla shopping was usually a bit too pricey for us.) 

I almost never did any cooking that summer.  But on one visit to a local supermarket, I came across a piece of meat that spoke to me:  a brisket of beef.  So, one afternoon, with great anticipation, I put the brisket in our oven and took off for the Fashion Valley Mall some distance away.  I figured I’d be back in plenty of time, but I spent too long searching for the perfect top to go with my new blue pantsuit.  You can probably guess what happened.  I got home much later than expected and…I burned the brisket.

I very much wanted to have my own desk in our new home, and one of our bedrooms had a corner with just enough room for one.  Strapped for funds, we found a slightly-damaged desk at a random garage sale.  We promptly bought it, soon matching it with a hideous dinette chair I bought at a bargain-priced store.

August ended with a terrific change of pace.  A wonderful law-school friend (I’ll call her Arlyn) traveled from NYC to visit us in La Jolla.  Marv and I happily showed her all around the city we already loved, including a trip to the famous San Diego Zoo (where I wore my new pantsuit with the Fashion-Valley-Mall top).  Arlyn slept in our second bedroom (usually used as Marv’s office) on a cot we purchased expressly for her visit.  She swore that it was comfortable.

The three of us then took off for LA, driving together to the city where Marv and I had met and married.  We stayed in a small hotel near our old haunts in Westwood, where I blissfully dove into the pool as many times as I could.  It was Arlyn’s first trip to LA, and we were delighted to show her many of our favorite spots.  Our great trip to LA ended when we dropped Arlyn off at the airport just before Marv and I drove back to La Jolla.

September was about to begin, and the whole month looms large in my memory.  

Just about the time I began teaching my class at USD, I began to feel nauseated.  Astoundingly nauseated.  And the nausea was relentless.  Nothing I did could make it stop.

Was I….?

I was.       

  To be continued….

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD Part III:  “Some Like It Hot”

We’re currently in the middle of a great many “hot” news stories.

But let’s step back, take a break from the news, and think about something else.

Something funny.

How about a film that’s been called “the greatest film comedy ever”?  It’s even been judged “the #1 comedy film of all time” by the American Film Institute.  And it’s one of my all-time favorites.

Countless words have been written about “Some Like It Hot” during the past six decades.  But in case you’re one of those unfortunates who’ve never seen it or haven’t seen it in a long time, I’ll highlight some of my favorite things about it.

Then I’ll tell you my own personal connection to it.

 

HIGHLIGHTS

The writing

Astoundingly clever, can’t-miss dialogue by Billy Wilder and his partner, I.A.L. Diamond, has garnered plaudits from moviegoers for the past 60 years.

The direction

Director Billy Wilder, also heralded for films like “Sunset Boulevard” and “The Apartment,” made his American directorial debut with the comedy “The Major and the Minor” (another film I have a personal connection to; I’ll save that for another day).

Wilder keeps the storyline in “Hot” moving along at an astonishingly rapid pace.  The audience has to stay on its toes to keep up with it.

The casting and plot

Perfection on both counts.

The two male leads are perfect.  Tony Curtis (playing Joe), already established as a young leading man, was cast first.  Once Wilder signed Marilyn Monroe as his female lead, he added Jack Lemmon (as Jerry).   Jack was known for his many appearances on TV, and he’d already starred in “It Should Happen to You” (1954) and “Mr. Roberts” (1955).

Wilder actually had Frank Sinatra in mind for this role, but Frank never showed up for a meeting with him, so he chose Jack Lemmon instead.  Jack turned out to be a brilliant addition to the cast, much better at outrageous comedy than Tony Curtis.

The duo zooms through the film at a breakneck pace, beginning with their desperate search for work as musicians in 1929 Chicago.  When no gigs (for male musicians) turn up, and they happen to witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre by mobsters in a Clark Street garage, they move fast.  They borrow some women’s clothes and makeup and add a couple of wigs, hoping to pass as women so they can join an all-girl band that’s about to depart for Florida.  They know the mob is searching for them (“Every hood in Chicago will be after us”) and fervently hope their disguises will keep them from being bumped off.

Marilyn Monroe (M for short) already had enough star power to get top billing over the two men.  By 1959, she had impressed moviegoers in a number of acting roles.  She had also earned her singing stripes in the film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953), featuring her dynamic performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”  She proved she could excel at comedy as well when Wilder directed her in “The Seven Year Itch” (1955).  (I keep wanting to insert a hyphen between “Seven” and “Year,” but darn it, the film’s title doesn’t have one.)

In “Hot,” she confirmed that she’d mastered both singing and comedy as well as straight acting.  (Too bad she didn’t believe that herself.  She reportedly felt terribly insecure throughout her career.)

Her entrance in this film is simply spectacular.  As Jerry and Joe (J and J for short) approach the train leaving for Florida, M whizzes by, stunning both of them. Dressed in chic black, she’s startled by a puff of steam that highlights her provocative derriere.  Jerry notes her enticing walk, famously blurting out “Look how she moves!  It’s like Jell-O on springs!” adding that “she must have some sort of built-in motor!”  Once on the train, M launches into her first song, a terrific rendition of “Running Wild.”

As Sugar Kane (born Sugar Kowalczak), M latches on to J and J, accepting them as sympathetic new girlfriends.  She confides that she’s always had problems singing with male bands, especially with unfaithful saxophone players, adding that “I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.”  (A great line.  She later repeats it when she’s alone with Joe in the train’s bathroom, where he learns of her hopes to marry a millionaire, and he wishes her “the sweet end of the lollipop.”)

Both of the men fall for her, but once they’re in Florida, it’s Joe who devises a complicated plot that leads M to meet with him, posing as a millionaire with a Cary Grant accent, on a borrowed yacht.  There he tells her that “girls leave me cold.”  M is so anxious to land a millionaire that she does everything she can to seduce him.  The lengthy seduction scene is my least favorite part of the film for a couple of reasons.  First, because M (who otherwise comes across as somewhat ditsy but not stupid) is depicted as too easily taken in by Joe’s charade, and second, because it goes on much too long.

Meanwhile, Jerry, who’s dubbed himself Daphne, has met Osgood, an eccentric (and real) millionaire.  We first see Osgood, who’s played for laughs by old-time actor Joe E. Brown, sitting on the hotel porch in a line-up of old geezers ogling the band members when they arrive in Florida.  He soon focuses on Daphne, and while Joe is on Osgood’s yacht romancing Sugar, Daphne is at a nightclub, hilariously dancing the tango until dawn with Osgood.

When J and J meet up later in their hotel room, Jerry, as Daphne, announces, “I’m engaged!”  But when Joe asks “Who’s the lucky girl?” Jerry’s answer is “I am!”

A smaller role, that of hard-boiled band leader Sweet Sue, is played admirably by Joan Shawlee.  When she tells J and J that she won’t put up with her girls getting involved with two things during working hours, liquor and men, Jerry (as Daphne) immediately responds:  “Men? We wouldn’t be caught dead with men!  Rough, hairy beasts with eight hands!”  The audience is clearly in on the joke.

Marilyn’s singing

M does a sensational job performing three 1920s-era songs: “Running Wild,” dating from 1922; “I Want to Be Loved by You,” first performed by Helen Kane in 1928 (who became known as the “Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl” and seems to have inspired M’s performance here); and “I’m Through with Love,” which actually dates from 1931.  M performs this one, a much sadder song than the others, dressed in black and appearing far more somber, as befits the song and her feelings at this point in the movie.

Costuming

First, the men’s clothes: As women, both men wear authentically designed dresses that women in the 1920s would have worn.  Demure high-necked dresses, for the most part.  These were designed for them by the renowned fashion designer, Orry-Kelly, who’s much better known for the gowns he designed for M.  In some scenes, J and J don women’s hats typical of the 1920s.  And for their appearances on the bandstand, they wear more ornate black garb, appropriate for musicians performing for an audience.

M never fails to look deliciously provocative, even in a bathrobe.  But the dazzling gowns Orry-Kelly designed for her two appearances with the band (one of which she also wears in the scene on the yacht) are jaw-dropping examples of gowns that simply shout “sex.” Even though M is almost completely covered by fabric, the fabric chosen is essentially see-through, so that much of her body appears to be nude.  The designer strategically added beads and sequins in especially revealing places, but the gowns have nevertheless left moviegoers agog.  M wears a fluffy white stole that covers the gowns whenever she’s outdoors, and that stole keeps them from being totally indecent by 1959 standards.

The light-colored dress worn on the bandstand for “I Want to be Loved by You” and on the yacht was designed for the 1959 film, but it has always reminded me of the dress M famously wore three years later.  In May 1962, M appeared at a birthday celebration held at Madison Square Garden for then-President John F. Kennedy.  There were longstanding rumors that she and JFK had been intimate, but these rumors were never proved to be true.

At the 1962 fundraising event, M wore a similarly jaw-dropping sheer-fabric bead- and rhinestone-covered dress while she breathlessly sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”  She reportedly wore nothing under the form-fitting dress, which she paid for herself, and had to be sewn into it.

Sadly, with her personal life in a steep decline, M was found dead in her home, a probable suicide, a few months later.

 

Other notable things about the film:

  • The comic depiction of the Chicago mobsters is classic. Led by bootlegger-in-chief “Spats,” played by longtime movie star George Raft, the film mocks the mobsters’ somewhat idiotic personas.  When we first see Spats in Chicago, he protests being apprehended by veteran actor Pat O’Brien, Irish cop par excellence.  O’Brien tells him, “Call your lawyer if you wanna,” and Raft responds, “These are my lawyers.”  When a few goofy guys stand up, Spats adds, “All Harvard men.”  (This line strikes me as particularly funny.)

When the mobsters later show up for a convention of “opera lovers” at the same Florida hotel where J and J are hiding out, J and J immediately pack their things to leave, but their departure is stymied by some hilarious happenings, leading to a terrific chase scene.

  • The last line has become famous. In Osgood’s motorboat, Daphne tells Osgood that s/he can’t marry him, naming one reason after another.  Osgood is OK with all of them.  Finally, Jerry (as Daphne) is so frustrated that he pulls off his wig and yells, “I’m a man!”  Osgood’s reply:  “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

It’s always hard to come up with a great finish, and the writers debated what to use as the last line.  But after some debate, this one became the last line, and it’s now a cherished part of Hollywood history.

  • The film’s original preview, held at a theater in Pacific Palisades, was something of a flop. The audience wasn’t expecting a comedy, and everyone left thinking it was a failed melodrama.  For the second preview, held at the Westwood Village Theatre, the studio wisely signaled in advance that it was a comedy.  The audience laughed from the very beginning.  (The Westwood Village Theatre is close to my heart.  Another story for another day.)

 

  • The “Florida” hotel, called the Seminole-Ritz in the film, is actually the Hotel del Coronado, a luxurious and historic beachfront hotel located across the bay from San Diego. The scenes shot there were shot first, and all went well.  Later scenes, shot at the studio, proved to be more difficult, especially for M, who sometimes needed 50-plus takes.

The Coronado is still a beautiful hotel, well worth a visit.  I was a guest at a rehearsal dinner held there in 2007, and that event was even more memorable than the wedding itself, held at a location in San Diego.

  • High heels play a role in this film. When J and J arrive at the Chicago train station, they’re both struggling with wearing high heels.  Jerry exclaims, “How do they walk in these things?”  Both actors, trained by a famous female impersonator, eventually mastered wearing heels.  But the appearance of heels on Jerry, near the end of the film, is a tip-off to the mobsters that the newly-disguised men are the witnesses the mob has been pursuing.  (A similar giveaway appears in the 1938 Hitchcock film “The Lady Vanishes,” when a fake nun is spotted wearing high heels.)

By the way, I’ve long disparaged the wearing of high heels.  [Please see the most recent blog post where I’ve argued against them:  https://susanjustwrites.wordpress.com/2017/06/28/declare-your-independence-those-high-heels-are-killers/ ]

 

MY PERSONAL CONNECTION

Whenever I see this film (and there have been countless times), I can never forget the very first time I did.

When my high-school senior prom loomed, my most pressing concern was who would be my date.  My current crush, a friend since first grade who’d metamorphosed into the man of my dreams?  (I hoped so.)  Last year’s junior prom date?  (I hoped not.)  Who would it be?

As luck would have it, an amiable and very bright classmate named Allen T. stepped forward and asked me to be his prom date.  I could finally relax on that score.

Allen and I went on a few casual dates before the prom.  On one notable date, we saw “Some Like It Hot” at a filled-to-capacity downtown Chicago movie theater, one of those huge ornate palaces on Randolph Street, where we sat in the last row of the balcony.

The film was brand-new and terrifically funny, and both Allen and I loved it.  But Allen’s delight was unfortunately cut short.  When he heard the now-famous last line, he laughed uproariously, threw his head back, and hit it–hard–on the wall behind our seats.

I felt sorry for him—that must have hurt—but I still found it pretty hard to stifle a laugh.  Luckily, Allen recovered right away.  And I don’t think it hurt his brainpower.  As I recall, he went on to enroll at MIT.

Although the bloom was off the rose by the time the prom came along, Allen and I went off happily together to dance on the ballroom floor of the downtown Knickerbocker Hotel.

But what I remember even more vividly than the prom itself is the time Allen and I shared our first viewing of “Some Like It Hot.”

 

[You can see what I wrote about my senior prom, and proms in general, in my blog post, “Proms and ‘The Twelfth of Never’”  https://susanjustwrites.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/proms-and-the-twelfth-of-never/ ]

 

The Battle of the Sexes: One more take on it

When Billie Jean King met Bobby Riggs on a tennis court at the Houston Astrodome on September 20, 1973, I was miles away in San Diego.  I’d just finished teaching a class of law school students about Poverty Law, and I was blissfully pregnant with my first child.

I was watching the clock, assessing the time it would take me to drive from the law school on the beautiful campus of the University of San Diego to our recently-rented apartment in seaside La Jolla.  Waiting at home for me was my handsome and super-smart husband Herb, finished for the day with teaching math students at UCSD, the University of California at San Diego.

We were both Professors Alexander that year, and I took delight in answering our phone and hearing a student ask to speak to “Professor Alexander.”  My somewhat amused response:  “Which one?”

Herb had snacks and drinks ready for the two of us to munch on and imbibe during the televised tennis match.  The drinks included nothing alcoholic for me.  Not because the medical profession had pronounced that alcohol was detrimental for growing fetuses.  As I recall, that came later.  I avoided alcoholic drinks simply because I had no desire to drink them during my pregnancy.

Was it instinct or just dumb luck?  When we later that year saw the film “Cinderella Liberty,” in which an often-drunk woman’s pregnancy ends in tragedy, my choice to avoid alcohol was clearly vindicated.

I drove home from USD with as much speed as I could safely muster, arriving in time to watch the much-hyped tennis match dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes.”  In the 2017 film that tells the story of the match, Emma Stone captures the Billie Jean King role perfectly.  She portrays with aplomb not only King’s triumph over Riggs in that tennis match but also her initial uncertainty over her decision to compete against him and her continuing struggle to ensure that women’s tennis be given equal status with men’s.

As one of the estimated 50 million viewers who watched King on ABC television that night, I can’t imagine any other Hollywood star assuming the role with greater success.  Emma Stone embodies Billie Jean King to perfection, and I hope her performance garners the attention of countless moviegoers, including many too young to remember  the match that took place in 1973.

Steve Carell carries off his role as Bobby Riggs in the film equally well, depicting the outrageous antics of the 55-year-old Riggs, who initiated the concept of the “Battle of the Sexes.”  But the focus here has to be on Billie Jean, the Wonder-Woman-like heroine of her day.  By accepting Riggs’s challenge, and then defeating him, she became the mid-twentieth-century symbol of women’s strength and perseverance, advancing the cause of women in sports (and in American culture at large) as much as she advanced her own.  Watching the battle on TV with my adored husband, my hoped-for child growing inside me, I was ecstatic when Billie Jean defeated Riggs before 90 million viewers worldwide.

As my pregnancy advanced, I was frequently asked by complete strangers, “Do you want a boy or a girl?”  I took pleasure in answering “a girl” just to see the reaction on the faces of the nosey parkers who clearly expected another response.

I was in fact hoping I would give birth to a healthy child of either sex, but I knew that I would treasure having a daughter.  When my beautiful daughter was born about seven months after the Battle of the Sexes, and when her equally beautiful sister arrived three years later, Herb and I were both on top of the world.

Maybe watching Billie Jean King in September of 1973 sealed our fate.  We really wanted her to win that battle.

Did the endorphins circulating inside me as we watched Billie Jean triumph produce a feeling of euphoria?  Euphoria that later led us to produce two Wonder-Woman-like heroines of our own?

Maybe.

Tennis, anyone?