Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Synchronicity: Banned in Boston

A day of coincidence with the radio,
and a word that won't go away...
More about Kate Bush soon, but for now: I've been having bizarre moments of synchronicity lately. A subject comes up that I hadn't been aware of before, and suddenly it's popping up in other parts of my life as well.

Previously I was being dogged by the "French Phone." Next it was "Madagascar." And now? "Banned in Boston," that is, a catchphrase from Boston's traditional and archaic crusades against "vice" up until the '60s.

This was a particular issue in the late 1920's, (which is why I keep running into it while reading The New Yorker). Thanks to a shockingly oppressive set of laws in the municipal books, and to the uneasy jostling between merchant's organizations and the Watch and Ward Society, the late '20s saw a spate of high-profile magazines and books get banned in the city (bans which were generally overturned in the courts).

What was one of the most vehemently banned books in Boston? You guessed it: Elmer Gantry.

So tonight I'm listening to an episode of "The Big Show" from March 18, 1951. Despite my intense dislike of Meredith Willson's music -- everything he does is simultaneously overblown and ultra-conservative -- I'm looking forward to Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, and Ella Fitzgerald later in the program.

Early on, Ethel Waters enacts a scene from "Mamba's Daughter," a play that seems better left forgotten (Waters quit the radio show "Beulah" because of its stereotypical nature, but her character in "Mamba's Daughter" doesn't seem much better). Anyway, Talullah Bankhead (the glamorous, unpredictable) banters with Ethel Waters about autobiographies. Talullah says she's working on an autobiography about her fiery romances...but she's not done it yet, and -- ha! -- she "mostly works on it at night."

Ethel says she hopes the book has a fireproof cover, and Talullah replies that she can't wait to travel around America, just to see the book being sold in every city. (Pause for effect). "But I never go to Boston anyway."

The audience loves it.

No comments: