Darling, Your Auntie’s Hung

It must have been 1996 or 1997 – and Suzie was at the Braddock Park condo in Boston for a holiday party. The walls then were an unabashed bordello red. A fringed lamp glowed low in a corner. Leopard-print curtains were held in place by floating gold cherubs, and a panel of purple velvet separated the red living room from the green kitchen. Over-sized Christmas ornaments hung from the ceiling, and colorful Christmas lights twinkled in the window. The atmosphere was cozy and quaint, even if it was the day after the party. I’d cleaned up the sticky floor earlier in the day – always the first task after a party, and things were finally getting back in shape. I opened up the early gift that Suzie left me – a VHS cassette of ‘Auntie Mame’ – and collapsed on the couch. The opening Technicolor glory and swelling orchestra music took me to another world.

I watched rapt – transfixed by the magic of Rosalind Russell and this over-the-top force-of-nature known as Auntie Mame – and the message of living life to the fullest, feeling not just okay with being different but embracing it, hit my heart in a way that would resonate forever after. Leave it to Suzie to find another movie that changed my life (after the darker foot-steps of ‘Harold & Maude’).

From that point on, ‘Auntie Mame’ was the movie I played before each and every holiday party, to calm the nerves and put me – and whomever else happened to be around – in a festive spirit. Mame’s exuberance and love of life was infectious – it was impossible not to be swept up in her enthusiasm. She was knocked around a bit (going broke, losing a husband) but she always buoyed back to the surface, spirits somehow held high by a supporting cast of off-beat characters that she considered family – because she had to: she only had her nephew.

Can we take a moment to pay homage to the fashion too? Auntie Mame is a thorough-bred clothes-horse. The hats/fascinators alone are a wonder to behold. The garments that go with them are just as head-turning. Even her robe – an extravagant ostrich-feather-lined (lined, not bordered – LINED!) defines luxurious lounge-wear. Velvets, silk taffeta, and crystal beading combine for one eye-popping outfit after another. With her ever-changing hairstyles and colors, she was one of the original chameleons, morphing from one look to another as her living room transformed with her current obsession. Such shape-shifting was an inspiration, but the core of who she was – a champion for the outsider – remained intact. That’s my idea of a role model.

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