Click here for information on the 2014 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature. As all of the four selected titles have filmed adaptations, we will be looking at the movie versions as we go along. This month, the August selection, Jean Kerr’s Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.)
Jean Kerr’s phenomenal best-seller of the late 1950’s might be the earliest archeological example of “Mommy Snark”- here in the future, parents are constantly baring the souls online (always with a knowing wink) about letting their kids eat Pop Tarts for dinner or concerns about how Avery or Madison is probably going to grow up to be bum or a serial killer.
I can only imagine that such confessionals had more shock value in 1957, when Kerr confessed that her “special chicken creole soup” was made by mixing together a can of Campbell’s chicken soup with a can of Campbell’s creole soup or that when none of the children will fess up to throwing the calendar in the toilet she “relies on blind instinct” in selecting the probable culprit for a spanking, shrugging off the fact that “this undoubtedly leads to an occasional injustice, but you’d be surprised how it cuts down on the plumbing bills.”
While the most enduring essays in this collection relate to Kerr and her husband (long-time New York Times theater critic Walter Kerr) raising their four sons in Larchmont, NY (including the famous line about how the ideal home would have the children’s bedroom “located some distance from the living room- say in the next county somewhere”), there is no through-plot to the book, and Kerr’s gentle satire also targets the theater, fads, and the culture of the 1950s in general.
This makes the book a fascinating time capsule (or perhaps bafflingly dated), as the reader is expected to be acquainted with references to Francois Sagan, Mickey Spillane, Mary Margaret McBride, Ana Pauker, the excessive popularity of the “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”, Red Channels, Miltown, Fred Allen, and A Streetcar Named Desire (Kerr describes an encounter with a friend’s overly-enthusiastic dog as reminding her of the line “Baby, we’ve had this date right from the beginning”).
While I laughed heartily at the idea of her 6 year old son insisting all of his friends were allowed to see the movie Baby Doll, even I have to admit that I have no idea if “Well, I see Walter Lippmann is after Dulles again” is supposed to be the set-up or the punch line.
However, two of the pieces stand out for their timelessness: “Snowflaketime”, a satirically pompous review of a grade-school Christmas pageant, because David Sedaris seems to have borrow rather freely from it for his “Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol”; the other is “Aunt Jean’s Marshmallow Fudge Diet”, a surprisingly prescient look at the madness of fad diets.
In 1960, the book was very loosely adapted into a film of the same name, starring Doris Day and David Niven as the husband and wife, here renamed Kate and Larry McKay:
The movie imposes a plot onto the structure of the book, although it does so in an episodic manner, as the Kate has to deal with a constant stream of eccentric relatives and neighbors when they become a part of the “commuter set” when the family relocates to the (fictional) town of Hooten, Connecticut, after Larry leaves academic life at Columbia University to become the drama critic for the New York Times. While Larry turns into an insufferable blow-hard in the face of his new found fame, Kate becomes involved with The Hooten Hollers, an amateur dramatics group who help Larry get his comeuppance when they stage a terrible play that he wrote as a college undergraduate.
Stray Thoughts and Observations:
The movie version loves to wink at the audience- at one point Day sings “Que Sera, Sera”, her big hit from 1956’s The Man Who Knew Too Much; at another point an exasperated Kate sarcastically tells her husband that she’s having an affair with Rock Hudson.
Say, this would make a great sitcom, wouldn’t it? A TV series ran on NBC from 1965-67.
Availability: The book is out of print, but used copies are easily obtained.
The movie is available on DVD and steaming through Amazon.