New Girl in Town

This follows up on my 12/28/22 posting “Building wealth”, with its section on Princeton in 1959-60 and musical theatre (and Clark Gesner), mentioning New Girl in Town (which I learned about first from my roommate Frank (Franklyn J. Carr III), and then talked about with Clark). My old friend from those days (and still) Bonnie Campbell (Benita Bendon Campbell), also Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky’s godmother, responded to this in e-mail to me on 12/28 (quoted here with her permission):

Your poignant look back at Princeton years, especially the importance of Broadway musicals as background, carried me back there, too.

At my request, you gave me the cast album of New Girl In Town, for a birthday present in 1961. I had seen the show in New York, including Gwen Verdon and Thelma Ritter, in September of 1957, the night before I sailed to France on the Mauritania. Thus, the night before I met Ann.

The song “It’s Good To Be Alive” became a sort of mantra for me.

The Ann here is Ann Walcutt Daingerfield (later Ann Daingerfield Zwicky), who became Bonnie’s roommate during their junior year in France (1957-58); and a bit later her roommate when they were both working in Princeton. Thereafter, Bonnie was Ann’s best female friend (from among a number of such friends), until Ann’s death in the bleak midwinter, 17 January 1985. Many of the things in (as I put it in that earlier posting) “the giant album of Things I Learned at Princeton” came from Ann and Bonnie, together and separately. So: New Girl in Town, from Frank and Clark and Bonnie and Ann, over 60 years ago.

My reply to Bonnie (slightly edited):

I am now listening to New Girl in Town, having been away from it for some years. Very complex response. Frank liked the raw American brashness and crudeness (“Ain’t No Flies On Me” harks back to “Pore Jud Is Daid”). Clark admired the miracle of its simple diction (notably in “It’s Good To Be Alive”). Meanwhile, I’d totally forgotten “On the Farm”, which is, frankly, a song of familial rape. But the whole thing has a solid moral center that’s very satisfying.

And then Thelma Ritter! I was sure that somewhere in my 10,000 blog postings I’d done one on her, but no, not on LLog or AZBlog, and not sure I can find the time to mount an appreciation — life is very difficult — but I can wish.

The show. From Wikipedia:

(#1) The record I gave Bonnie in 1961

New Girl in Town is a musical [opening on Broadway in 1957 at the 46th St. Theatre] with a book by George Abbott and music and lyrics by Bob Merrill based on Eugene O’Neill’s 1921 play Anna Christie, about a prostitute who tries to live down her past. New Girl, unlike O’Neill’s play, focuses on the jealousy of the character Marthy and on love’s ability to conquer all. The musical ends far more hopefully than the play.

(#2) The cast, left to right: Ritter, Prud’homme, Verdon, Wallace — named in full in square brackets in the following synopsis from Wikipedia:

Anna [Gwen Verdon], a former streetwalker recovering from tuberculosis, returns home to live with her aging father, ex-sailor Chris Christopherson [Cameron Prud’homme], in turn-of-the-20th century New York City after plying her trade in St. Paul, Minnesota for 15 years. Unaware of her sordid past, and remembering Anna as an innocent young girl, Chris joyfully welcomes his daughter home (“Anna Lilla”). Anna initially is welcomed by Chris’s friends and seems to be finding happiness. She becomes romantically involved with a sailor, Mat Burke [George Wallace], but hides the relationship from her father. Chris is furious when Marthy [Thelma Ritter], his jealous common-law wife, drunkenly reveals the truth about Anna’s past. Anna’s sailor leaves on the next ship, and her hopes of leading a normal life seem dashed, but Anna picks up the pieces of her life, becoming a farmer in Staten Island. When Mat finally returns to port, Chris tries to keep the two lovers apart, but their reunification is inevitable – time heals all wounds, and the lovers kiss and make up.

You can listen to five numbers from the original cast recording on YouTube, here:

“Roll Your Socks Up”, H.F. Green & Chorus; “Anna Lilla”, Cameron Prud’homme; “Down on the Farm”, Gwen Verdon; “It’s good to Be Alive”, Gwen Verdon; “Look At Me”, George Wallace

Thelma Ritter. Very briefly about her, from Wikipedia:

Thelma Ritter (February 14, 1902 – February 5, 1969) was an American actress, best known for her comedic roles as working-class characters and her strong New York accent.

She had notable film roles in (among others) All About Eve (1950), The Mating Season (1951). Pickup on South Street (1953),  Rear Window (1954), Pillow Talk (1959), and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) — note the mixture of drama and comedy — and a string of appearances in tv drama series.

As an actor and singer with a very strong presence, she tended to underplay her roles, to great effect. In addition, she was a fabulous character actor, who fully inhabited the characters she played. She never played as a star, or drew attention to her acting, and that brought her a pile of awards. It’s a great pleasure to watch her work.

Here are two clips, a comic scene from Pillow Talk, with Rock Hudson, which you can watch here; and a self-reflective monologue from Pickup on South Street, which you can watch here.

So there, I’ve managed to honor her after all.

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