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Your Turn: Mame Dennis

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Rosalind Russell, as Auntie Mame, in a kimono with cigarette holder

"Life is a banquet": Rosalind Russell (in the 1956 Broadway production of Auntie Mame) made an irresistibly puckish boho queen. Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Auntie Mame was one of the first characters you nominated when we launched In Character early this year.

We heard you — though I imagine, judging from the warmth of the memory-piece he turned in, that Bob Mondello didn't need much encouragement.

Below, I've surfaced Michael Whistler's original nomination essay, originally posted here back in January.

And you can listen to Bob's radio piece — and see clips from the film — on the story page.


— Trey Graham

From Auntie Mame. Book by Patrick Dennis
Play adapted by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
Movie directed by Morton DaCosta
Nominated by Michael Whistler

My mother deemed one movie important enough for repeated family viewing: Auntie Mame, based on the novel by Patrick Dennis and starring the unforgettable Rosalind Russell.

Mame Dennis challenges her young charge Patrick to "Live! Live! Live!," presenting a world which is filled with miracles and not obstacles, hope instead of despair. Amid the chaos she creates, she ensures that he lives in a world filled with warmth, vivacity, charm, culture, adventure and beauty.

Sitting in that living room watching the movie, I could see the world my mother tried to offer me through Mame's - one where wit trumps power, charm overcomes fear, and generosity is the greatest act of human courage. Auntie Mame taught me the simple virtue of human love: the bravest person has the most to give, the most fearful has the least of all.

In short: Auntie Mame taught me to be a man.



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Mame Dennis Burnside, familiarly known as Auntie Mame, is a character for the ages--all of them. I first encountered her when I was 12 or so in the movie starring Rosalind Russell. I loved her. I immediately read the two novels. Later, I saw her on Broadway (with Angela Lansbury) and was enchanted all over again. Even now, as I embark on senior citizenship, her siren call draws me in and makes me roar with laughter. Her signature line was simple, "Life is a banquet and half the poor suckers are starving to death." To this day, when I am feeling blue, I watch the movie and find myself howling with glee. And if I ever find myself hungry, I just go the banquet and have a nibble or two. Works like a charm!

Sent by Barbara Rubinstein | 9:09 AM | 1-25-2008

Auntie Mame, specifically Rosalind Russells interpretation in the 1958 movie, has served as my guide. Her feminine spirit is really "top drawer." Mame has a strong sense of self and an unwaivering purpose to enjoy life, no matter what the circumstances- economic downturn, loss of a spouse, dealing with taboo pregnancy. "Life is a banquet, and most fools are starving to death!"

Sent by Johnna Hobbs | 1:38 PM | 1-29-2008

I couldn't agree more. The character goes through decades without losing her
focus(to love), her passion(to laugh) and philosphy (live, live, live!). I was concerned about how to
"behave" now that I'm a mother in my 40's. Thanks for reminding me that "older" does not have to mean "starving to death!"

Sent by Sophia | 1:11 PM | 2-17-2008

I was so inspired when I first saw Rosalind Russell's Auntie Mame at the tender age of 10. Her passion and hilarity were incredibly infectious. I didn't know if I wanted an Auntie Mame of my own or if I wanted to be her. Now that I am finally an aunt, all I wish to do is feast on life's banquet with my niece and nephew. She's every child's idealized authority figure and every adult's wish to live young and with a generous heart .

Sent by BK | 3:34 PM | 8-3-2008

As a child I remember my father watching Auntie Mame. I was always eager to join him as soon as I heard the opening music. When my father passed away I decided that I would keep the tradition alive. I feel that this movie is truly timeless, I am 19 years old and it is one of my favorite movies. I feel that none of the theatrics and special effects we have today could ever compare to her character. Whenever I am asked about my favorite quote it is always, "You know what your problem is? You don't live, live live! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death." Her tenacity and charm have always had the ability to make a bad day better. The movie and book will always hold a special place in my childhood as well as my heart.

Sent by Jackie Simonson | 8:22 PM | 8-4-2008

Bob Mondello speaks of how he is now taking his nephews to see shows the way our Aunt Viv took him 40 years ago, but Bob has been doing this for a long long time. He took me to see my first plays on Broadway in my late teens and twenties and what plays they were! "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead," "A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg," and "Equus" and Bob took me to my first Sondheim musical "Sweeney Todd." Most recently we went to see Stoppard's "The Coast Of Utopia" trilogy and "Rock'n'Roll". Bob is my (very slightly older) first cousin and I am pleased to say we have been friends these many years as well. So did our Aunt Vivian take me to a musical? actually no, but she did take me to my first opera at The Met. And Vivian's Aunt Josephine (Bob's and my Great Aunt) took me to the ballet and the symphony -- and Aunt Jo was married to a millionaire. When my twenty-something niece visits NYC I take her and her husband to see shows the way Bob and our Aunts took us. Thanks Bob for reminding me of all the cool stuff you and I have done over the years and how those amazing ladies (our Aunts) have influenced both of us and how we are carrying on that tradition.

Sent by Joe Mondello | 11:54 PM | 8-9-2008

I read Auntie Mame when I was very young--having filched it from my mother. I had watched her read and chortle all the way through this strange book with the pink and black cover---and as soon as she was done, I spirited it away and read it under the covers with a flashlight. As I recall, I 'got' most of the jokes, and of course read it again and again over the years, getting more of the humor as time went on---I do pity the poor suckers who have only seen the movie or the play. The book is still on my shelf, fifty years later!

Sent by Laurie P | 3:52 PM | 8-11-2008

The Aunt Viv Bob mentions is my great aunt. Few people I know are close to their great aunts, but I was lucky like Bob to grow up with Vivian in my life.

I love the parallel worlds between art and life in this beautiful piece. I am looking foward to visiting you, Bob (AKA Cousin Bobby on this side of the family). And thanks Joe (AKA Uncle Joey) for taking us to Broadway. I am very blessed to be a part of such a wonderful and artistic family.

Sent by Kaitlin Mondello | 4:52 PM | 8-15-2008


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