Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Old Enough for Remakes

 Isaac Werner had a wonderful way with words, and among his clever expressions is one that I particularly like.  Isaac had made the effort to go to St. John to hear Mary Elizabeth Lease speak on a nasty winter night that necessitated his wearing layers of clothing and a veil over his face to avoid frost bite.  He found her program "splendid from beginning to end," but he was unwilling to face the freezing temperatures to travel to his farm when her program ended.  Instead, he chose to spend the night with a former country neighbor who had moved into town.  I describe that evening in Prairie Bachelor.  

From Prairie Bachelor:  "Unwilling to face the cold in darkness, he spent the night with W.C. Betzer, a former country neighbor who had moved into St. John when he reached his sixties.  His wife Julia left the two men talking politics until after one o'clock.  Despite Isaac's eagerness to start home early the next morning, his host was still talking." From Isaac's Journal: "Finally got away from old Betzer,' Isaac wrote in his journal. '...his only fault, he needs a Westinghouse Air Brake to stop him from talking when he gets started.'"

I love Isaac's description of needing "a Westinghouse Air Brake."  Most of us have been trapped in a conversation when we were in a hurry but couldn't seem to get away from our friend in the middle of a story.  We might even have been able to identify with Betzer's wife Julia, who slipped away and left Isaac alone to listen to her longwinded husband.  

Unknown May-Dec. Couple
Those of you who follow this blog, or who have read Prairie Bachelor already know that I researched Isaac's neighbors and acquaintances as part of authenticating the story of 'Isaac Werner and the Populist Movement.'  That included William and Julia Betzer.  I found them in the 1880 Census as husband and wife, living in Clear Creek Township, William age 53 and Julia age 30.  Also in the household was William's son Frank, aged 20.  In short, husband and wife were 23 years apart in age, and Julia was closer in age to her stepson than to her husband.  In the 1885 Kansas census they had a 6-year-old son, Franklin, who must have been born soon after the 1880 Census, and Frank was still living with them.  By 1900 Julia was widowed.  Isaac's overnight stay with them was in 1889, so although there was no 1890 census to consult, we know that in February of 1889 William was still living.

It was not unusual for older men to marry much younger women.  Joseph A. Cooper, a highly respected member of the community who had served in both the Mexican American War and had advanced to the rank of a Union breveted Major General at the close of the Civil War, had married his wife Mary Jane when he was 52 and she was 22.  My own Great-grandfather Beck, who also fought for the Union in the Civil War was 19 years older than my Great-grandmother.  Even Isaac made a tentative attempt at courtship of the younger Prohibition speaker, Blanche Hazelett. 

Sometimes these younger brides were widows, although I don't have reason to know that about the three women mentioned in this blog.  In other cases, these older men have achieved some financial stability that younger suitors might not have had.  Because of the Civil War, many of these men were older when they married because their lives had been interrupted by service to their country.  Whatever the reason, it was not unusual for these May-December Weddings to happen, or as my title for this blog reads, parties to the marriage were often 'Old Enough for Remakes.'

That brings me to my own surprising recognition that I am 'old enough for remakes!'  Granted, I was young when "West Side Story" was released in 1961, but I certainly saw it at the time of its release, staring Natalie Wood as Maria, Richard Beymer as Tony, Russ Tamblyn as Riff, and Rita Moreno as Anita.  I also remember the handsome George Chakiris as Bernardo, the leader of the "Sharks."  A bit of trivia for those of us who saw the original movie: among those considered for the role of Tony were   Warren Beatty, Burt Reynolds, Richard Chamberlain, and Robert Redford.  Even Elvis Presley was considered, but his manager Colonel Tom Parker turned it down.

I confess, when I learned that "West Side Story," directed by Steven Spielberg, was being remade, it came as a shock to see that I am old enough for remakes of one of my favorite films!  I grew up in an era of blond female movie stars, so brunette Natalie Wood was my favorite movie star.  Everyone behind the scenes in the making of that movie was a giant of my youth--Leonard Bernstein's music, Stephen Sondheim's lyrics, Jerome Robbins choreography--these were the giants of my time.  Yet, so is Steven Spielberg.

The pre-release reviews were great.  I was pleased that the casting now includes more accurate ethnic casting and less tan grease paint.  Spielberg has expressed his respect for the original film, and Rita Moreno is the executive producer on the new movie and a major character, switching from the young girlfriend of Bernardo to the role of Valentina, a gender and ethnic change to play the soda shop owner   in the new film.  Given all of those things, I could hardly wait to see Spielberg's "West Side Story."  

I must admit, like those Civil War Soldiers who accepted the fact that although they had postponed marriage to serve their country, they were not too old to make a delayed life with a young wife and children born when they were in their senior years--Old Enough for Remakes--I too have accepted the fact that I am old enough for remakes, and Larry and I went to see Spielberg's West Side Story.  It was fabulous!!!

As the last credits rolled, my husband leaned over and whispered, "What did you think?"  I replied, "I never thought I would say this, but it's better than the original!"

Go see it--whether you are young or old enough for remakes.  The overhead view of the demolition of old New York to make way for Lincoln Center will pull you into the movie and never let go.  For a moment you may not like Ansel Elgort who plays Tony, but only for a moment.  He is fabulous.  He owns the movie.  Adding Rita Moreno as Doc's widow running the soda-shop is brilliant.  The dancing is better integrated to fit the plot.  For those of you old enough for remakes like me, take Kleenex!  I'm not sure if Spielberg made me cry, or if some of those tears were for the real people who made the original movie, but I certainly shed enough tears at the end of the movie for both. 


1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

I saw the musical performed live in Ukrainian. That was cool as I knew the English words to many of the songs