What other character can hold a bejeweled cigarette holder, let alone a candle, to Mame Dennis Burnside?
As played by Rosalind Russell, Auntie Mame is the draggiest queen of all time. Mame is giving you life with her endless parade of outfits, each more fabulous than the last. Unbelievable, the film version did not receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design. Auntie Mame is filled with yummy eye-candy. The art direction, set designs and cinematography are rich. And those costumes; all the young contestants on Project Runway should take notes on everything Orry-Kelly created for Russell to wear.
The film is based on the novel, Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade (1955) by Edward Everett Tanner III, who wrote under the pen name Patrick Dennis. It was inspired by his real aunt, Marion Tanner. Mame in the book is a bawdier and brassier broad than the movie version. Dennis, who was gay, gave Mame a gay sensibility that somehow was embraced conservative McCarthy-era American readers. The book was huge bestseller.
The book is terrific, but the film stays closer to the stage version by gay writer Jerome Lawrence and his straight writing partner Robert E. Lee and directed by gay Morton DeCosta.
Mame instills in her young nephew Patrick an open mind, and takes him away from the provincial upbringing he was doomed to live before she came into his life.
Asians, Indians, Arabs, cross-dressers, lesbians, gay writers, nudists, cultural elites; if Mame had thrown a party like this in 2017, half those folks would have been rounded-up by ICE.
Russell originated the role of Auntie Mame on Broadway in 1956, earning a Tony Award nomination. For the film version, she won a Golden Globe Award and a fourth and final Academy Award nomination. She lost to Susan Hayward in I Want to Live! It wasn’t fair; being in a film that has a title featuring an exclamation point is a decidedly unfair advantage.
Every drag queen can learn how to throw shade from Mame. It’s a perfect gay Christmas-themed film. The Holiday scenes when Mame is flat broke and out of work show that the affection she has for Patrick, Ito and Nora (her domestic staff) is mutual. Like many LGBTQ people, Mame has a chosen family. I’ve only seen Auntie Mame 33 times.
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