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 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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