A touch of Radical Chic on Facebook, no less

Last night I happened to Tweet:

Just watched a few minutes of West Side Story on TV. How could it ever have been seen as anything but cheesy?

And it started a short thread of empathy on Facebook. The critics supposedly liked it at the time, which just floors me. But a critic more after my own heart, Doug Nye, had this to share:

It was considered cheesy by me. When we were dating, my wife and I are saw it at a theater. We laughed about it afterwards as we recalled the many “funny” scenes. Did like the songs “Tonight” and “Maria.”

One Facebook friend, Spencer Whetstone, opting to pile onto Leonard Bernstein for foisting this mess upon us, provides … a link to the original magazine version of Radical Chic:

. . . and now, in the season of Radical Chic, the Black Panthers. That huge Panther there, the one Felicia is smiling her tango smile at, is Robert Bay, who just 41 hours ago was arrested in an altercation with the police, supposedly over a .38-caliber revolver that someone had, in a parked car in Queens at Northern Boulevard and 104th Street or some such unbelievable place, and taken to jail on a most unusual charge called “criminal facilitation.” And now he is out on bail and walking into Leonard and Felicia Bernstein’s 13-room penthouse duplex on Park Avenue. Harassment & Hassles, Guns & Pigs, Jail & Bail—they’re real, these Black Panthers. The very idea of them, these real revolutionaries, who actually put their lives on the line, runs through Lenny’s duplex like a rogue hormone. Everyone casts a glance, or stares, or tries a smile, and then sizes up the house for the somehow delicious counterpoint . . . Deny it if you want to! but one does end up making such sweet furtive comparisons in this season of Radical Chic . . . There’s Otto Preminger in the library and Jean vanden Heuvel in the hall, and Peter and Cheray Duchin in the living room, and Frank and Domna Stanton, Gail Lumet, Sheldon Harnick, Cynthia Phipps, Burton Lane, Mrs. August Heckscher, Roger Wilkins, Barbara Walters, Bob Silvers, Mrs. Richard Avedon, Mrs. Arthur Penn, Julie Belafonte, Harold Taylor, and scores more, including Charlotte Curtis, women’s news editor of the New York Times, America’s foremost chronicler of Society, a lean woman in black, with her notebook out, standing near Felicia and big Robert Bay, and talking to Cheray Duchin.

Cheray tells her: “I’ve never met a Panther—this is a first for me!” . . . never dreaming that within 48 hours her words will be on the desk of the President of the United States . . .

This is a first for me. But she is not alone in her thrill as the Black Panthers come trucking on in, into Lenny’s house, Robert Bay, Don Cox the Panthers’ Field Marshal from Oakland, Henry Miller the Harlem Panther defense captain, the Panther women—Christ, if the Panthers don’t know how to get it all together, as they say, the tight pants, the tight black turtlenecks, the leather coats, Cuban shades, Afros. But real Afros, not the ones that have been shaped and trimmed like a topiary hedge and sprayed until they have a sheen like acrylic wall-to-wall—but like funky, natural, scraggly . . . wild . . .

These are no civil-rights Negroes wearing gray suits three sizes too big—…

How delightful. A snippet from Wolfe’s heyday here on a dull, no-news day. Ahhhh… it’s refreshing. Particularly after having been subjected to “rumbles” between unself-consciously gay gangs with laughable names and Natalie Wood pretending to be Puerto Rican…

8 thoughts on “A touch of Radical Chic on Facebook, no less

  1. Brad Warthen

    Wow. I just read a little more on that link. Wolfe was… is… such a genius. The stuff he NOTICES. The stuff he REALIZES, and is able to capture. Amazing.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    I love Tom Wolfe ever since I read Bonfire, which captured the essence of my 1980s experience.

    As far as West Side Story goes, the movie was Hollywood cheese, complete with lip synching, but imagine the live theater experience, with fabulous Broadway dancers and cutting edge music. Maybe you can’t appreciate the music, but it is excellent and was certainly way innovative in its day…

  3. Brad Warthen

    I read, and appreciated, both of those books. But I have to say, I MUCH prefer his nonfiction work. There’s an element missing in his fiction that keeps me from enjoying it, and that is the complete lack of sympathetic characters. I’m a primitive reader, I want someone to root for, someone to care about.

    That’s what makes the Aubrey/Maturin books so much better to me than, say, the Flashman books. I’ve read two of the latter at Burl’s suggestion, and enjoyed them (and saw the Malcolm McDowell movie, too, which I didn’t like so much), but I get really passionately wrapped up in what happens to Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, because they are such sympathetic characters. And I need that, to get involved.

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    I also think there are those of us who like to relate to a setting and those who prefer fantasy/historical/high-falutin settings. I’d rather read a book about somewhere I know, or think I know. Others prefer more escapist fare.
    It’s all good, though.

  5. Brad Warthen

    Doug Nye adds this brutal truth:
    “Here’s the kicker to this West Side Story business.
    It won Best Picture over Judgment at Nuremberg, The Hustler, The Guns of Navarone
    and Fanny. I would have given to Judgment.
    George Chakiris (WSS) won Best Supporting Actor over the likes of Montgomery Clift,
    George C. Scott, Peter Falk and Jackie Gleason.”

  6. Kathryn Fenner

    Look, just because something is grim (and deals with the Holocaust–a great scene in Extras has Kate Winslet explaining that she only does Holocaust films for the Oscars. Otherwise everyone just needs to get over it.) doesn’t mean it ought to win an Oscar. Musicals are worthy entrants, as are comedies, but Oscar so frequently overlooks them…

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