"I reread and study Auntie Mame
like a hilarious, glamorous bible where, among other wise lessons, one learns that true sophistication and innocence are two halves of the same glittering coin."
--Charles Busch, author of The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife
and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom
is the American Alice in Wonderland
. It is also, incidentally, one of the most important books in my life. Its witty Wildean phrases ring in my mind, and its flamboyant characters still enamor me. Like Tennessee Williams, Patrick Dennis caught the boldness, vitality, and iridescent theatricality of modern American personality. In Mame’s mercurial metamorphoses we see American optimism and self-invention writ large."--Camille Paglia, author of Sexual Personae
"Mame Dennis is the grande dame
of grand dames and I, for one, am thrilled that she’s back among us. She is still hilarious, sparkling, and utterly indestructible despite the best efforts of time, neglect, and Lucille Ball."
--Joe Keenan, Emmy-Winning Writer/Producer for Frasier,
author of Blue Heaven
and Putting on the Ritz
is a unique literary achievementa brilliant novel disguised as a lightweight piece of fluff. Every page sparkles with wit, style andthough Mame would cringe at the thoughthigh moral purpose. Let’s hope Patrick Dennis is finally recognized for what he is: One of the great comedic writers of the 20th century."
--Robert Plunket, author of Love Junkie
and the Orphan Boy
It has rained all day. Not that I mind rain, but this is the day I promised to put up the screens and take my kid to the beach. I also meant to daub some giddy stencils on the composition walls of the place in the cellar which the realtor called a Rumpus Room and to start finishing what the realtor called an Unfinished Attic, Ideal for Guest Room, Game Room, Studio or Den.
Somehow I got sidetracked right after breakfast.
It all started over an old issue of the Digest. This is a magazine I rarely read. I don't have to, because I hear all of its articles discussed every morning on the seven-fifty-one and every evening on the six-oh-three. Everybody in Verdant Greens--a community of two hundred houses in four styles--swears by the Digest. In fact, they talk of nothing else.
But I find that the magazine has the same snake-bird fascination for me, too. Almost against my will, I read about the menace in our public schools; the fun of natural childbirth; how a community in Oregon put down a dope ring; and about somebody whom a famous writer--I forget which one--considers to be the Most Unforgettable Character he's ever met.
That stopped me.
Unforgettable Character? Why, that writer hasn't met anybody! He couldn't know what the word character meant unless he'd met my Auntie Mame. Nobody could. Yet there were certain parallels between his Unforgettable Character and mine. His Unforgettable Character was a sweet little New England spinster who lived in a sweet little white clapboard house and opened her sweet little green door one morning expecting to find the Hartford Courant. Instead she found a sweet little wicker basket, with a sweet little baby boy inside. The rest of the article went on to tell how that Unforgettable Character took the baby in and raised it as her own. Well, that's when I put the Digest down and got to thinking about the sweet little lady who raised me.
In 1928 my father had a slight heart attack and was confined to his bed for a few days. Along with a pain in his chest, he developed a certain cosmic consciousness and the instinct that he wasn't going to last forever. So, having nothing better to do, he telephoned his secretary, who looked like Bebe Daniels, and dictated his will. The secretary typed an original and four carbons, put on her cloche, and took a Yellow Cab from La Salle Street to the Edgewater Beach Hotel to get my father's signature.
The will was very short and very original. It read:
In case of my death, all of my worldly possessions are to be left to my only child, Patrick. If I should die before the boy is eighteen, I appoint my sister, Mame Dennis, of 3 Beekman Place, New York City, as Patrick's legal guardian.
He is to be reared as a Protestant and to be sent to conservative schools. Mame will know what I mean. All cash and securities which I leave are to be handled by the Knickerbocker Trust Company of New York City. Mame will be among the first to see the wisdom of this. However, I do not expect her to be out of pocket on account of rearing my son. She is to submit monthly bills for my son's food, lodging, clothing, education, medical expenses, etc. But the Trust Company will have every right to question any item that seems unusual or eccentric before reimbursing my sister.
I also bequeath five thousand dollars ($5,000) to our faithful servant, Norah Muldoon, so that she may retire in comfort to that place in Ireland she's always talking about .
Norah called me in from the playground and my father read his will to me in a shaky voice. He said that my Aunt Mame was a very peculiar woman and that to be left in her hands was a fate that he wouldn't wish a dog, but that beggars couldn't be choosers and Auntie Mame was my only living relative. The will was witnessed by the secretary and the room service waiter.
The following week my father had forgotten his illness and was out playing golf. A year later he dropped dead in the steam room of the Chicago Athletic Club and I was an orphan.
I don't remember much about my father's funeral except that it was very hot and there were real roses in the vases of the undertaker's Pierce-Arrow limousine. The cortege was made up of some big, hearty men who kept muttering something about getting in at least nine holes when this thing was over, and, of course, Norah and me.
Norah cried a lot. I didn't. In my whole ten years I'd hardly spoken to my father. We met only at breakfast, which for him consisted of black coffee, Bromo-Seltzer and the Chicago Tribune. If I ever said anything, he'd hold his head and say, "Pipe down, kid, the old man's hung," which I never understood until some years after his death. Every year on my birthday he'd send Norah and me to a matinee performance of some light entertainment involving Joe Cook or Fred Stone or maybe the Sells-Floto Circus. Once he took me out to dinner at a place called Casa de Alex with a pretty woman named Lucille. She called us both Honey and smelled very good. I liked her. Otherwise I rarely saw him. My life was spent at Chicago Boys' Latin School, or at Supervised Play with the other children who lived in the hotel, or messing around the suite with Norah.
After he was Laid to Rest, as Norah called it, the big, hearty men went off to the golf course and the limousine carried us back to the Edgewater Beach. Norah took off her black hat and her veil and told me I could get out of my serge suit. She said that my father's partner, Mr. Gilbert, and another gentleman were coming and that I should be around to sign some papers.
I went into my room and practiced signing my name on hotel stationery, and pretty soon Mr. Gilbert and the other man showed up. I could hear them talking to Norah, but I couldn't understand much of what they said. Norah cried a little and said something about that dear, blessed man, not cold in his grave and generous to a fault. The stranger said that his name was Babcock and he was my trustee, which I thought was very exciting because Norah and I had just seen a movie in which an honest convict was made a trusty and saved the warden's little daughter during a big prison break. Mr. Babcock said something about a very irregular will, but watertight.
Norah said she didn't know nothing much about money matters but that it sounded like a good deal of money, she was sure.
Mr. Gilbert said The Boy was to endorse this certified check in the presence of the Trust Company official and then it was to be notarized and the whole transaction would be finished and done with. It sounded faintly sinister to me. Mr. Babcock said, Um, yes, that was right.
Norah cried again and said such a big fortune for such a little boy and the trustee said yes, it was a considerable amount, but then, he'd handled people like the Wilmerdings and the Goulds who had real money.
It seemed to me that they were making a lot of fuss about nothing if all this didn't involve real money.
Then Norah came into the bedroom and told me to go out and shake hands with Mr. Gilbert and the other gentleman like a Little Man. I did. Mr. Gilbert said I was Taking It like a Regular Soldier and Mr. Babcock, the trustee, said he had a boy back in Scarsdale just my age, and he hoped we'd be Real Pals.
Mr. Gilbert picked up the telephone and asked if a Notary Public could be sent up. I signed two pieces of paper. The Notary Public mumbled some things and then stamped the paper. Mr. Gilbert said that was that and he had to step on it if he wanted to get to Winnetka. Mr. Babcock said that he was staying at the University Club and if Norah wanted anything she could reach him there. They shook hands with me again and Mr. Gilbert repeated that I was a Regular Soldier. Then they picked up their straw hats and went away.
When we were alone, Norah...