Sunday, March 28, 2010

Meet Me In St. Louis by Sally Benson



As a classic movie fan, I fell under the spell of "Meet Me In St. Louis" long ago, its vivid jewel-bright technicolor tones and simple nostalgic wholesome-as-apple-pie plot reminded me of picture postcards depicting scenes from American life at the turn of the 20th century. So, when I happened across an anniversary reprint of the book that inspired one of my favorite films, I couldn't pass up the chance to read it; I am always curious how movies I like measure up to the books they are based on.

"Meet Me In St. Louis" originally began life as a series of short stories by Sally Benson published in The New Yorker magazine and later collected in book form. The stories, said to be somewhat autobiographical, chronicle a year in the life of the Smith family of Kensington Avenue in St. Louis. They begin in 1903 and end in 1904 with the arrival of the much awaited, highly anticipated World's Fair.

The stories are quaint and charming, showing the reader how much life has changed, like the long ago days when a long distance phone call was a big deal, and how much it stays the same, as with siblings playing practical jokes on each other and the antics of boy-crazy teenage girls. And there is a delightful chapter about Halloween before it became such a commercialized holiday and candy took centerstage.

But, I must admit the movie, which is true to the spirit of the book, far outshines it. The family members are all there--Mr. and Mrs. Smith, their son Lon, daughters Esther, Rose, Agnes, Tootie, Katie the cook, and of course Grandpa, even Lady Babbie the cat--and some situations from the stories do feature prominently in the film, such as Halloween night, the distress caused by a job promotion requiring a move to New York City, a prank involving a streetcar where a dress stuffed to look like a body is laid on the tracks, and youngest daughter Tootie's crashing her sisters' party after she is supposed to be in bed to deliver a delightful rendition of the ballad "I Was Drunk Last Night Dear Mother," but while the stories are not without charm and give the reader a generous slice of apple pie American nostalgia, it is the movie that truly sparkles, like taking an old pair of patent leather dancing slippers out of grandma's trunk in the attic and giving them a high gloss shine.

The Anniversary Edition, published to commemorate the centenary of the 1904 World's Fair is available as a trade paperback from Amazon.com




The movie, directed by Vincent Minnelli, and starring Judy Garland and child star Margaret O'Brien, is available on DVD.


2 comments:

Muse in the Fog said...

I never knew there was a book that inspired this movie! I have always loved this movie and watch it many times during the summer :)

librarypat said...

I have this movie and enjoy it. I, too, never realized it was based on a book of short stories. Thanks for the information.