Friday, October 27, 2017

Just Watch Harvey

Just Watch Harvey

by Mimi Pockross

On March 2, 1970, beloved actress Helen Hayes appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to plug the revival of the play Harvey in which she and actor Jimmy Stewart were starring on Broadway.  The play had been introduced in 1944, enjoyed a record run, and had gone on to become the iconic and highly successful 1950 film in which Mr. Stewart also starred and of which snippets can still be regularly seen in more recent films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Field of Dreams, on television shows like The Simpsons, and now on YouTube.

During the interview Ms. Hayes mentioned that Harvey was a fantasy.  Said Ms. Hayes to Mr. Carson: “I believe going to see Harvey is more effective in getting children off marijuana than are the police. If you get your own sweet illusion and hold it to your heart," she said, "you don’t need outside help.”

Mrs. Chase wrote fourteen plays, three screenplays and two children’s books and in all of her works emphasized the need for imagination to counter the obstacles and fears we all face in the world as a means of remaining sane. A fierce proponent of children’s theater, the playwright Mary Coyle Chase espoused her views from Denver, Colorado where she lived all her life. 

Harvey is the story of an imaginary six foot one-half inch rabbit and his slightly tipsy middle-aged companion, Elwood P. Dowd.  Elwood’s sister wants to put him away in a sanitarium so that she can get on with her life.  The irony is that her sanity becomes a question.   Said a critic of the time during which Harvey was produced,  “(Harvey is) as much a satire of the world we have made as it is a defense of those who prefer madness to what by mere popular vote has come to be accepted as sanity.”

Mrs. Chase was well aware of the interest in mental health during the time that Harvey was written in the early 1940’s.   Sigmund Freud had recently become of interest and thus there was a focus on psychiatry.  Harvey is taken to Chumley’s Rest where treatments of hydrotherapy and a shot called Formula 977 similar to the notion of a lobotomy are considered.

Mary Chase herself struggled with the balance between illusion and reality.  She had grown up hearing Irish folk tales full of fantasy and had found solace in hearing them.  She would continue to offer imagination as a panacea for all the world’s ills.  She dwelled on creating scenarios in which laughter, love and beauty would result.

Perhaps as we deal with the opioid crisis today, we should suggest that in all the rehabilitation centers the residents “Watch Harvey.”

Mimi Pockross is currently writing a book about Mary Coyle Chase and Harvey and lives in Denver, Colorado.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Whole Gold Star Mess and Harvey Weinstein

What a week for sensational television.  Is America today any worse than the time when all the pulp magazines and muckrakers prevailed?  With the exception of the fact that we've never had a president who acts like the readers rather than rising above their sometimes petty views, probably life is as it always has been: full of events and individuals who capture our attention with their stories, particularly the sensational ones.

I was particularly captivated by two emotional interviews that I watched this week.

The first was an interview by Ari Melber on MSNBC's "The Beat" with the parents of a soldier who was recently killed in one of the areas where we're fighting.  It was heart rendering to watch the grief they were feeling.  It was so raw and so real.  It made you forget politics for a moment and just feel sad.

The second interview was conducted by Hari Sreenivasa on Public Broadcasting with a woman who had been accosted by Harvey Weinstein.  Like the soldier's parents, she was somewhat reluctant to come forth with her story but she felt she needed to do so once others were telling their stories.  She too was so real and I felt her pain so clearly.

The two incidents humbled me.  I tend to be tough and punitive and unfeeling.  Regardless of how one feels about the kerfuffle over the representative who spoke out for the soldier who was recently killed in Niger and regardless of how one feels about Harvey Weinstein's power over women and men's power over women in general, when I see real people just living their lives needing to tell us to be human, it makes me take a step back from all the news we hear today.  It's probably always gone on, but right now, I'm particularly struck by the news of this week.    

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Puerto Rico, Trump and My Mother

A couple of mornings ago President Trump threatened to take federal responders and National Guard units out of Puerto Rico because (I am paraphrasing) they are not holding up their part of the bargain.  In fact he appears to be punishing Puerto Rico for not running a perfect union.

I was raised by an authoritarian mother and I'm wondering if his allegedly authoritarian father instilled a similar trait that I had to learn to temper, "You do it my way or else."

One time when I was a young mother in an upscale suburb, several of us moms were helping put on a theatrical presentation.  I yelled at the kids to get "in line" and stop fiddling around.  The other moms were shocked that I didn't handle the kids in a more calm, nurturing manner.  They, it seems, had been raised by moms who were more supportive, more gentle, more understanding.  After that incident, I forced myself to work on being a more empathetic mom.  To this day, I still have trouble and I still have to work at it.  Whether it's gender issues, poverty issues, relationship issues, I am still more likely to blame the other if she doesn't live up to what I perceive to be the "right way" which is my way.

Well, I'm just a normal citizen and President Trump is the President of the United States.  He's supposed to represent what Americans perceive as a grounded person, someone who has had his battles but has come to be a person that is honorable and a role model we all admire.  Is this too idealistic to think that this is the bar for America?  After all, presidents in the past have had their flaws as well. Particularly Richard Nixon's troubled childhood created many dark demons that were the reason he sought to become more powerful. Of course, eventually Americans rejected him but it took an awfully long time.

We all try to learn from our mistakes, but the President of the United States must be better than the rest of us, and, if he's not, we are all in for some terrible times.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Rx: America

Yesterday I learned that a friend's twenty-nine year old grandson committed suicide.

This sad news piggy backed on the horrendous massacre of fifty-eight people in Las Vegas this week, and though, not the same as my friend's grandson's suicide, made me ask myself WHY?  Why is it that so many people today are lashing out by either killing themselves or others?

Former US Representative, now University of Michigan professor Harold Ford said on MSNBC's Morning Joe when analyzing the Las Vegas killings, that he believes we are having a public health crisis.  Something is taking place in society that is making masses of numbers of people "sick."  I prefer this analysis to coming up with all sorts of new gun legislation or pouring billions of dollars into mental health programs or providing revenue to address the opiod crisis.  This country has a serious problem that is affecting exorbitant numbers of the population and it can't be solved by stopping up holes to keep the water from pouring through.  We need a civil engineering project for our country that seriously addresses the inordinate amount of self destruction taking place.

I wish I were smart enough to come up with a comprehensive solution.  In my modest way I've thought that requiring everyone to take on the responsibility of citizenship such as the public service requirement that Israel requires for their eighteen year olds or that the UK "Gap" law requires of their citizens might result in an understanding and create a sense of pride in why we are Americans. It used to be the public education system provided an avenue for that identity.  We all said the pledge each day, studied the constitution, believed in the same history of our country.  That no longer is in play because so many people have their own conflicting ideas on how to educate our youngsters.

We are all seeking to be part of some sort of a community today.  People are anxious to be members of all kinds of group that reaffirm their beliefs and help them bond together.  Whether, it is joining the NRA or Planned Parenthood, or the KKK, everyone wants to belong some place.  It used to be that our family and our home town bound us together, but the definition of family today may not be the traditional mom and dad and two kids all of the same race.  And the town today may just be a sprawling development of homes with no Main Street where everybody knows your name.

We need something that will unite us rather than divide us, some thing that gives us a reason to be American.  I'm not against technology or big concerts or eating out every night or watching dystopian movies.  I guess that's some sort of progress.

What I object to is that we seem to have lost the core principles of what makes our country great, a collective idea of what it means to be an American.  To me being an American means creating laws that allow all the citizens of the country the opportunity to have a productive life and that gives them the tools to have that productive life and maybe even sets the bar for what is a productive life.  It means drawing on our past history to do this to better ourselves where we have made mistakes.  It means accepting that we can't go back to those idyllic Eisenhower years when I grew up, but it also means that those who weren't lucky enough to grow up that way may in the future have a chance to do so as well as those who have already been so fortunate.  It means being able to be all kinds of people with all kinds of professions.  We don't all have to be rich or famous or pious or edgy.  But we all need to be appreciative that our country offers this opportunity to be free to be you and me.  I always think of Henry Drummond (the fictitious version of the lawyer Clarence Darrow) who says in the play "Inherit the Wind," about the Scopes Monkey trial on evolution, something to the effect of, "Mister, you can have your new airplanes, but the sky will lose their wonder and the air will smell of gasoline."

We all need to move forward and really, right now especially it means, we all need to actively work towards this goal.  The public health crisis is imminent.  And we better find the right medicine.