Dirty Dancing #1: Baby, It’s You By N.H. Kleinbaum

Could there ever be a future together for Baby and Johnny?

Dirty Dancing #1

Background:  Does Dirty Dancing NEED any introduction? Well, I like this one, which really highlights the minor characters of Robbie the Evil Waiter, and Neil the Smarmy Schmuck:

 (As in Heaven Can Wait, Robbie’s copy of The Fountainhead is a sight gag that establishes him as the clear villain… but I had forgotten what a bag o’dicks Neil Kellerman was).

Maybe needing more of an introduction is the short-lived TV series, which ran for 11 episodes in the fall of 1988. The changes made to the plot were so jarring that even at the age of 10 I tuned out after the initial episode.

Definitely needing more of an introduction is the 1989 YA series based on the TV series; I am pretty sure that this is the case because the books were only published in the United Kingdom.  

The Plot: So, what we end up with is a third-generation removal from the source material, a series of books intended about Jewish Catskills resort life in the early 1960s, intended for British teens and tweens in the 1980s. That might be interesting, if the actual book wasn’t so boring.

Like the TV series, it is still 1963, but the characters and plot are substantially changed: now 18 year old Frances “Baby” Houseman is Frances “Baby” Kellerman, the daughter of the resort’s owner, who has journeyed from Long Island the summer before she starts college to work at her father’s hotel and try to repair their estranged relationship: she hasn’t seen her father in 3 years, since he left her mother for his secretary. Her older sister, Lisa (transformed from the clueless Jewish American Princess in the movie to a “free spirited” bohemian-type) is AWOL in Europe, so Baby has accepted the position of Entertainment Director at the hotel, putting her in close proximity of dance instructor Johnny Castle, who I guess is from BROOKLYN or something.

(Aside: why can’t the internet provide me with an animated GIF of Lisa doing the hula?)

Baby has some misgiving about both her assignment and reconnecting with her father:

The ‘50s was when they called her Baby, instead of Frances and she didn’t mind. Before the excitement of President Kennedy and the dramatic inspiration of Dr Martin Luther King. Before she decided that she wanted more than Kellerman’s Hotel and planned to into the Peace Corps. That was then. When she thought no one in the world was as wonderful or as perfect as her father.

Daddy, Daddy, how could you? She’d wondered how and why ever since she learned the truth. She still resented his infidelity. How he had hurt her mother who had always been there for him and everyone.

The plot has also been made more family-friendly for network TV: resort dance instructor and ex-Rockette Penny Johnson, whose pregnancy and abortion drive most of the plot of the movie, is turned into garden variety delinquent Penny Lopez (excuse me, fiery Latina delinquent); since Kellerman is no longer in need of a nephew, Neil Kellerman is transformed into hunky lifeguard (LOL WHUT) Neil Mumford. There is a comedian named Norman (played in the TV series by Paul Feig, so it at least had that going for it). Baby gets a fat, annoying cousin named Robin, who I predict will get a makeover at some later point in the series and probably hook up with Norman.

The first result of these changes is that the conflict is so low-stakes that it doesn’t make any sense. I could see why Dr. Detective Lennie Briscoe would be pretty mad about a middle-aged, greasy-haired dance instructor sleeping with his teenaged daughter to get the money to fund a backstreet abortion (spoilers: it is all a misunderstanding!); but here Baby’s father is upset about Baby… hanging around the entertainment staff that she has been hired to supervise? His outrage is all out of proportion to what we actually are reading about.

Instead we get an INSANE love-triangle plot that rapidly snowballs into some sort of love-heptadecagon when Kellerman’s hosts a party in honor of Miss Turnstiles for the month of June.  I had to make a diagram, but it is pretty much Baby likes Johnny, but Norman likes Baby, but Neil also likes Baby, but Robin likes Norman, but Baby’s Dad likes Miss Turnstiles, but Miss Turnstiles likes Johnny, but Penny ALSO likes Johnny.

Also there are many awkward descriptions of the actual Dirty Dancing:

She peered in at two young dancers, engrossed in a hot and sexy dance, one she’d never seen before.

She guessed both the guy and the girl were in their twenties, tough and sexy. They were dancing together in slow, exaggerated movements, hips curling, lost in the music. Their bodies looked sultry, yet their facial expressions were tough.

I realize that it’s probably difficult to translate something so sexy and tough into the printed word.

Anyway, Miss Turnstiles tries to seduce Johnny, who rebuffs her, so she threatens to get even with him (why?) and tells Baby’s father that he tried to seduce her. FACT! This is the exact plot of Sweet Valley High #11: Too Good To Be True.

Johnny gets fired and then unfired in time for the cliffhanger, which is that Kellerman’s ex-wife shows up. WILL COMPLICATIONS ENSUE????

Big Blog News:

I am delighted to announce that I will have three essays included in the upcoming anthology Beat Girls, Love Tribes and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture 1950 – 1980, coming this fall. You can read more about it (and even preorder it) here!


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Magazine Madness and/or Mania: 16 Magazine, August 1966

I’ve talked before about the how difficult it must have been to get the tone right when writing for teen mags. Act too much like the actual adult you are and you sound outright contemptuous about the-kids-these-days, what with their constant doing of the twist; too far in the other direction and you’re the the old person at the party, trying too hard to be cool (“No, 1991 Jane Pratt! I do not want to do drugs with you!”)

16 Cover Aug 66

(Click all to enlarge)

Personally, I think 16 got it right most of the time, enthusiastically, unironically embracing whatever teen girls were into. This is entirely due to the 20 year reign of the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Gloria Stavers, who presided over a golden age of teen fandom.

While 16 hyped its fair share of bubblegum acts and teen idols that never really caught on outside of the pages of the teen magazine world, Stavers also regularly catered to teens who had more offbeat tastes, and preferred their HUGE FULL COLOR PIN UPS to feature the likes of Leonard Nimoy, Jonathan (Barnabas Collins) Frid or Iggy Pop. Stavers also personally penned an obituary for Lenny Bruce for the magazine.

Let’s go to the headlines: Continue reading

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Love Is Like Peanuts By Betty Bates

“Who says I’m too young for love?”

Love is Like Peanuts

Just as a public service, I feel like I should warn you the metaphor gets extended to the point where you might go into anaphylactic shock.

The Plot: 14 year old Marianne Mandic goes looking for a job the summer before her freshman year of high school, so that she can chip in to pay for her ballet lessons and buy fashionable clothes that her parents can’t afford.  Her father works as a doorman in a posh Chicago high-rise, and through his connections she gets an interview for a babysitting position for the young daughter of a wealthy widower who lives in the building. Continue reading

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Bunny Hug By Elaine Harper

She was leading a double life!

Bunny Hug

Background: Is it a major holiday? You can bet that Elaine Harper and First Love From Silhouette have got us covered with another teen romance featuring bizarre gender politics, absurd plot twists and highly detailed descriptions of eating corn muffins!

This week in Blossom Valley, the local teens have forgotten about the peril at the bird sanctuary and the freshman class running a prostitution ring out of an abandoned shed because it is the most exciting time of year of all- Easter!

The Plot: Fifteen year old Robyn Rowe has been engaged to the boy next door, Charles Butler, since they were three years old. Their parents and the other residents of Gazania Street are enchanted with the young couple. Sort of to the point of an unhealthy obsession. In fact, the only thing that the grown-ass adults of Gazania Street are obsessed with more than Robyn and Charles Butler is Gazania Street. Especially at Easter: Continue reading

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The Dead Man In Indian Creek By Mary Downing Hahn

Nobody takes their story seriously. Nobody, that is, except the killer. And he takes them very seriously…

The Dead Man in Indian Creek

Another example of how YA lit makes real-life seem like such a let-down: reading this book along with Stephen King’s The Body and Richard Peck’s Dreamland Lake (possibly all in the same summer…) makes it seem like finding a dead body in the woods and then receiving many coming-of-age lessons is TOTALLY something that will happen to you by the age of 12 or 13!

Background: Mary Downing Hahn is probably best known for the deeply creepy, deeply beloved ghost story Wait Till Helen Comes, and she is skilled at balancing the more sensational aspects of the YA thriller genre (DEAD BODIES!) with the realistic aftermath of the characters’ experiences (SO MANY NIGHTMARES ABOUT DEAD BODIES!)

The Plot: 12 year old Matthew Armentrout has typical 7th grade problems: bratty younger sister, overprotective parents, a waistline that’s growing faster than his height and the fact that his crush has eyes only for his best friend. While he is rapidly losing patience with his BFF, Parker Pettengill, for poking fun at his weight and calling him by his last name (“I guess he thinks it sounds cool and sophisticated”), he admits that he doesn’t want Parker’s problems. The only child of a poor single mother, Parker has to deal with the fact his mom, Pam, has started (ewww) dating again. Continue reading

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Secrets Of The Shopping Mall By Richard Peck

Paradise Park takes them in- in more ways than one.

secrets of the shopping mall

Hiding out at the library too academic? Richard Peck takes a tip from George Romero and suggests an alternative!

The Plot: Scrappy 8th graders Teresa and Barnie attract the unwanted attention of the King Kobra street gang at their decrepit and dystopian Manhattan public school (Teresa reports that she’s not even sure which P.S. she is attending since the name has permanently been graffiti’d over with RATSO LUV CHARLEEN); when the new friends discover that they’re both practically orphans (Teresa lives with a mostly-absentee aunt, Barney in a succession of foster homes), they decide that they have nothing to lose by seeing how far they can get on a $2.00 bus fare. Continue reading

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HELP! I’m A Prisoner In The Library! By Eth Clifford

They didn’t mean to spend the night in the library!

Help! I'm a Prisoner in the Library!

Sure, suuuuure you didn’t…

The Plot: It’s hard to beat Eth Clifford’s (AKA Ethel Clifford Rosenberg) set-up for childhood wish fulfillment: tweenage Mary Rose and Jo-Beth Onetree are entrusted to the care of their absent-minded father to drive them from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis to stay with their Aunt on the eve of the birth of their new sibling. Despite sensible Mary Rose’s warnings that the gas gauge is getting low, Doofus Dad insists that he can coast for miles on fumes. When the car sputters to a stop in a ritzy neighborhood, he takes the gas can (one gets the feeling Mr. Onetree is often in this predicament) and hikes off to the nearest service station. 7 year old Jo-Beth immediately announces that she has to use the bathroom and it is an EMERGENCY. Mary Rose notices the nearby children’s library and decides it’s their best bet. Continue reading

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