HOME MOVIES (1): Aladdin and His Magic Lamp
Foley & Giardino Play Productions
No need to account for remote origins, but at some point in the late 5th grade I wanted to write a play out of one of the stories I’d written earlier that school year. I wanted to turn a drawing of a space ship into a story about one, but it kept turning into 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, so I recruited Danny to help me. We talked, and twiddled pencils, and drew sketches, and kept my comic books in their drawer. Then he remembered that his father wrote a play once for some night class he took; and I said my father wrote three plays once that were supposed to be funny, but they were about lawyers, and I didn’t know where they were. Danny ran home and brought back his father’s. It was called "The Tailor Shop." It was about this man. He walks into a tailor shop downtown. This clerk comes to help him look at suits. The man tries some on. He buys one. They smile. `Thank you very much.’ `You're welcome.’ `Come back soon.’ `I will.’ `Goodbye.’ `Goodbye.’
"Mm. Kinda short."
I could just hear what some of the kids would say if we invited them over to watch a two-minute play. But we didn't have anything else. We went down the basement to act it out and see how it looked. We found wet sheets hanging on the clotheslines in front of the piano.
"Curtains!” When they were dry, of course.
We acted it out, taking turns playing clerk and customer, and trying to figure out what some of the words meant, like “blue serge.” It was when I ran upstairs to get paper to copy out all the customer’s lines that I happened to spot The Golden Goose, fallen from the stack of records in the television cabinet.
For a couple of years we had been getting records every month from the Children’s Record Guild (a Book-of-the-Month Club refuge for musicians hounded by McCarthyite blacklists, like Pete Seeger, Tom Glazer, and the CRG founder himself, Horace Grenell – Guaranteed by Good Housekeeping, by the way, and Recommended by Parents Magazine). Most of the records were folk songs but some were stories, like The Golden Goose, Sleeping Beauty (music by Tchaikovsky), and Cinderella (music by Prokofieff), but also A Midsummer Night’s Dream (music by Mendelssohn). I told Danny that to make the play longer we could act out some of the records. I hit on Aladdin (music by Rimsky-Korsakoff). He got excited, especially when I suggested he play Aladdin. I’d play the Genie. One thing led to another; we decided to do acts in between the play and Aladdin, "Like on Ed Sullivan or Jackie Gleason!" "Like on an NBC Spectacular!" My mother agreed to let us use the basement, and sheets (dry), for the show, on condition we clean it up first. We started to do that, with brooms and dustpans, when the same brainstorm struck us both, and we decided to use the living room instead, with dining room wall and easy chairs for curtains.
As we listened to Aladdin I realized we’d need more actors. More actors meant less audience. This presented problems, even if Danny and I acted out more than one part. We couldn’t keep out Kathy and Connie, the play was in their house. But we decided to keep out Danny’s little sister, Gloria, as she could be audience, and Rosemary, too, if Rosemary would come. For audience we considered the Frimls, but eliminated Iggy, then eliminated Ralph, but considered Lisa. We O.K.’d Byron Poole, Joanne and Jackie Oliver, Gloria, Susan Bond, Denise and Buddy Erickson. “Not Wessy.” “Not Abby!” Abby Appel was Wessy’s little sister, big little sister: she was a girl Wessy Appel only fatter and messier. "But y'know, we oughta ask Taffy, she'd be a good audience, she's smart. [Laugh] We gotta have somebody smart in the audience." [Laugh] Taffy Appel, whose real name was Ingrid, Wessy’s older sister; she was almost Rosemary Giardino’s age. – “Yeah but how'll we ask her without letting Wessy and Abby know? We could send an invitation but Wessy might see it." -- "Unless we give it to Mrs. Appel or Mr. Appel and tell ‘em to give it only to Taffy and make sure nobody else sees it."
"What is it?" Mr. Appel drawled, cocking an eyebrow, turning the envelope over. "A love letter?"
"Oh no no no--"
"It's an invitation to watch a play," whispering, "but we don't want Wessy to see it—"
"It's just for Taffy," Danny cut in, giving me a sharp eye. A grin was threatening on Mr. Appel's lips. "There ain't enough room for everybody. We're gonna ask Wessy and Abby to our next play, see. And then Taffy won't be able to come."
Except that Connie let Abby barge into the middle of rehearsals the very next day. We stuck her at the end of the Golden Goose line. Then Kathy had to bring in Susan Bond, to do a baton-twirling dance, so we lost her from the audience, too. We decided people with only one act had to sit in the audience for the rest of the play.
All the acts were about ready; I’d do magic tricks just before being the Genie in Aladdin; it seemed a good lead-in.
I showed Danny the invitation I wanted to send out; and added quickly,
"I say 'F & G Productions,' not cuz I mean I'm first or anything but the sound of it, it sounds better, "Efangee’ instead of 'Geeanef.’ Y'see? And it’s alphabetical, too."
He looked it over, chewing his lip.
"See what you mean." He nodded, pinching his chin. "O.K. I like that, 'F & G.’"
I stared at him. I couldn't believe my ears.
Mr. Giardino's play seemed to shrink, the more acts there were built around it. But "The Tailor Shop" was the reason we had started it all. It wasthe Play, and written by an adult too. There was some discussion about whether the audience would understand all the words. We could come out before it and explain what “blue serge” and “gabardine” (which everybody had probably heard of) and “alter” meant.
But by production time we were going to do it, period, whether anybody understood or not.
The day came. It was a Saturday afternoon, bright outside, warm. We were all nervous, peeking at the living room and clapping hands over laughs. I had to pace. I got down on my hands and knees and crawled behind the armchair — the TV armchair was our curtain — to peek at them as they watched Susan Bond do her baton-twirling dance. (She wanted to throw the baton in the air but my mother wouldn’t let her.) On the davenport Taffy Appel watched with her head thrown back on her skinny wrist, her eyes slitted with a show-me-something look and her mouth half-puckered in a smear of lipstick. But when Susan finished Taffy clapped with the rest.
I walked out. I heard my introduction from far away. I bent to the phonograph, hot from throat to eyes, and put on The Golden Goose.
But the Golden Goose limbered everybody up. We all hopped on the Golden Goose line and Abby Appel got what she came for. Pulling up the rear, she wagged her tongue and wagged her fat fanny and she tripped over Joanne Oliver's feet and fell on Byron Poole. Everybody laughed and clapped. If she wasn't a girl I'd have kicked her.
Danny stepped out from behind the dining room wall to explain the adult words in "The Tailor Shop." When he ducked back in Taffy Appel laughed.
"What's she laughing about?"
"I don't know!" he laughed. "Come on! Well! Here we go!"
We went. Two minutes later we were back.
"Said my lines too fast!" I shook my head.
"Me too! I donno! It seemed a little longer when we rehearsed it."
Then a louder laugh from Taffy Appel kicked us in the pants. I shoved Kathy out to sing her song. I saw my mother in the corner behind the dining table. She put a hand to her mouth and ducked into the kitchen. F & G doubled over squeezing their mouths shut.
Then I did my magic tricks, which worked, but nobody went Oooo!
"Anyway! Aladdin should be good."
It did not start out that way, though. Ripley's Believe It Or Not once had a sketch about some students who were so upset by their teacher Jeremy Bentham's death that they had him stuffed in a bell jar, sitting on a chair, hands crossed on a cane, and staring at them. He looked like Connie as the Princess, only his eyes were open. The Princess had provoked shout after shout from her director in rehearsal. He had thought she was making progress in the dress rehearsal. But now her big moment had come.
She sat on the desk chair that was supposed to be her tower window. She wore a yellow and blue satin dance recital dress. She just sat there, skinny and kind of hunchshouldered, kind of open-mouthed, and staring at the tip of her nose, trying not to laugh. When Aladdin started to mouth his lines her nose began to wiggle. Her nose wiggled and her chest palpitated and her teeth bit hard into her lip.
It was all the Genie could do to keep from throwing magazines at her. In terrycloth robe and towel turban he crouched behind the armchair by the front door. He made furious faces but her head bent down to her knees and the audience was giggling. When the Wicked Uncle appeared, the Princess stumbled into the dining room and hit the back porch hiccupping. The audience did not choke its laughter. Especially when they saw who the Wicked Uncle was.
In a bathrobe and turban (which did not hide her pony tail), Kathy winked and stroked mascara moustaches and pointed a crooked finger from her nose. Wicked Uncle took Aladdin to the cave. An up-ended hassock was its stone. Into the cave Aladdin crawled and huddled, then out of the Wicked Uncle burst a big pantomime laugh. To the booming of Scheherazade she sneered and hammered Aladdin's fate with her finger.
in a deep dark cavern!
a-and then I'll have him!
the old lamp
Down down down!
Down down down!"
The music plunged.
When she stole away with the lamp, cackling, the audience cheered. They called for an encore. The show stopped. The Genie hopped over to the phonograph and once again the Wicked Uncle stroked her moustaches and heaved out a big silent wicked laugh.
When the music swept the play to its end the cries for encore went up again. And when the applause swept the encore to its close the happy cast served its audience cookies and Kool-Aid and everybody voted and the best acting awards went to Aladdin and the Wicked Uncle.
The Genie, unsurprised, shrugged to himself: Well... I put it all on!
And next dayF & G were back in F's living room going through the record collection, when they pounced on "MR. TOAD'S WILD RIDE, "and immediately they commenced brainstorming plans for an even Bigger and Better EXTRAVAGANZA!
But F came down with virus pneumonia next day, picked up from a classmate, and Mr. Toad never rode.