BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose // By any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet, 2.2.1-2.
Back when, as I recall, I was always a lover of beautiful actresses and movie stars, those “starlets” of the ‘50s. I’m not sure that this hasn’t changed much now, as I still have tendencies toward liking beauty, and appreciating youth, and fine acting. Then, as now, I have had my favorites, but I’ve never had large pictures of posters of, say, Farrah Fawcett affixed to the ceiling above my top bunk, or of Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe pasted on the wall above my desk. [Farrah Leni Fawcett 1947– 2009), American actress, model, and artist. A four-time Emmy Award nominee and six-time Golden Globe Award nominee, Fawcett rose to international fame when she posed for her iconic red swimsuit poster–which became the best selling pin-up poster in history. She starred in the first season of the television series Charlie’s Angels (1976–1977). She was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, dying three years later at age 62.–Wikipedia.]
I did, however, have pictures inside my high school locker door, probably as a freshman or a sophomore (really? junior? senior?) Two of my favorites were Mitzi Gaynor and Kim Novak.
About Kim Novak (Marilyn Pauline Novak), the nice Bohemian girl from Chicago, my hometown: I saw as many of her movies as I could–and still consider Picnic (1955) and Man with the Golden Arm (1955) two of (my) the best films she made.
She played dual-roled Madeline/Judy in the thriller by Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo (1958), with actor Jimmy Stewart (considered a classic, but not one of my all-time favorite movies).
She was absolutely beauty and sexy as the witch in Bell, Book, and Candle (1958) (again with Jimmy Stewart). Definitely one of my favorite “I’ve-never-been-infatuated-by-Kim-Novak-movies.”
With her blond-white hair and her classy-sassy shape, she was playing the Temptress Jeanne Eagles (1957) with handsome heartthrob Jeff Chandler.
How was I so smitten? So many memoriesofatime. . .
Beyond the movies and the acting, though, the name “Kim” has no special hold on me (or does it?). Nothing was ever magical in the name, a girl’s name, short for Kimberly; or the title of a Kipling novel (Kim); or a very popular Korean name–like “Lee.”
“Mitzi,” however, has a different life, far beyond a school locker or a movie screen for me. As that young movie lover, I first saw Francesca Marlene de Czanyi von Gerber–another Chicago girl (b. 1931)–in South Pacific (1958) on the big screen of a downtown theater.
She danced (had legs!). She sang. Posed risqué (a poster girl). Was sweet, charming, mostly demure. And, could act, too. In my years of objectifying females (Y.O.O.F!), she was more than decorations inside my locker.
I bought movie magazines, scissoring out her pictures, hormoning after her (35-22-35) every time I opened my locker during the school day. But no pictures of her hidden around at home, in drawers, under mattresses, in secret places throughout the house.
I carried her with me, however, made her part of my life, when I called out “What’s in a name?” I named my first car, bought and paid for, cash deal–$75.00–a 1950 4-door Ford: My “Mitzi.” “Mitzi.” (There would be other cars, but you never forget your first.) So, what’s in a name? Why name a car? Personalization, friendship. Why is a car female? (Always?) A “she”? “She runs well.” “She is a real go-er.” “She gets good gas mileage.”
“Mitzi” and I had a good relationship for a while, from the first tank of gas in the spring of 1959 to the summer of 1960. There were some problems with her, however, early on. First, the gas gauge did not work well, was weak in calibration. I ran out of gas in Golf, Illinois, coming home, with my sister and my mother in the back seat, after I had just bought her. The good news was that I had an empty gasoline can and was near a gas station. So I prepared to exit my stalled vehicle that was off the road. The bad news is? . . . a police car, pulling up behind.
The officer of the law approached my vehicle. The usual “license and registration” while shining a light throughout the car. My sister, in her best non-quiet voice (she was out of high school then), blurted out, “Does he think we stole something?” Gulp (to utter the least)! He asked about my license plates: “Mine. They came with the car.” Wrong answer: They were not registered to me, the owner. So, “I’m giving you a citation for driving with fictitious license plates.” Which he did. Then he drove me to the gas station to fill up the can–and brought me back to my mother and sister, still laughing at the whole situation. (I had to pay the fine; I mailed it. And avoided all roads that led to Golf, Illinois, as much as possible, in later life.)
Later that year, in the Illinois winter, I was driving Mitzi, along with two high school classmates. Winter-early-evening dark, as we came home from a school activity. Bam! Bam! The engine stopped, and we coasted along a two-lane highway north of Chicago. (No car-phones back then.)
No luck starting the engine, that only knock-knocked-knocked. Fortunately, a friend came by and got us a tow-truck to another friend’s house nearby. So Mitzi sat most of the winter in a cold auto shop, being repaired
for a “thrown rod.” By spring, she was good-to-go, but was never the same.
It was rough, the repairs; she endured some serious trauma, and would never really recover. I visited her as much as I could during that winter. By summer, I knew her days with me were short. She became over heated, under pressure, then simply shut down. At times, I had to wait on a hot summer day for the Temperamental One to relax, start, and run smooth.
I sold Mitzi that following summer. She was replaced. I was so fickle, so non-comitted to her as she grew older. I was looking for a more committed relationship. When she left–or rather, when I left her, cast her off like some used, used-up, Hollywood starlet on a used car backlot–Mitzi was traded for a sleek 1954 Ford.
But never could this one replace or duplicate the first-time experiences I had with “My Mitzi.”
“Let’s see: First, she needs a new paint job, then a new 4-barrel carb, a new custom grill. Then I want to install . . .” “She’s a go-er with her V-8, and . . .” “What shall I name her?”
© JAMES F O’NEIL 21 April 2019 (Happy Birthday, 1941!)
“Hey, Hon, can I put this picture over my desk?”