When I was in college (the second time), I fell in love with Joan Blondell. At the time I was 33 and Joan was 99. I just couldn’t help marveling at the full bodied, big eyed beauty joking around on the screen as we watched Gold Diggers of 1933 in my “Reel American History” class. Years later I discovered that she was also the cuddly looking, grey-haired waitress in the movie Grease. That’s when I realized it probably wasn’t going to work between us.
Still, I couldn’t shake the ending of Gold Diggers of 1933. The movie is your typical Busby Berkeley, showgirls-in-symmetrical-order, film. In general, it’s about girls needing a man with money to survive. But it’s also about the show within the show and, in the end, skews off on this tangent about the forgotten men. Blondell and Etta Moten Barnett sing a magical song and dance number about men at the bottom of the barrel in the country. Men in uniform march back and forth on these arches in typical Berkeley style and really create this magnificent crescendo for the movie. When it’s all said and done, you’re left with no recollection of the previous (frivolous) storyline and only with the emotional reaction you have to the Forgotten Man number.
It’s a classic example of how movies can really highlight a cultural or political element and make you either mold thoughtlessly to it’s depiction, or enjoy the moment and analyze it’s accuracy later. President Roosevelt spoke about his “New Deal” plans to the nation via radio a year before this movie. He coined the “forgotten man” phrase in his speech.
We talked about that in my college class. Meanwhile, I couldn’t take my eyes off Blondell, and Barnett’s voice on that song just served to grease the wheels of my infatuation. Movies, music, writing, visual art – what wonderful aphrodisiacs for just about any formulation of a new or greater idea. The idea of love, for example. The idea of fighting for a cause. The idea of time travel.