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Big-Screen Memories Of A New York Adventure

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Big-Screen Memories Of A New York Adventure

Big-Screen Memories Of A New York Adventure

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Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Smith.

We've been talking a lot today about travel, and for all the hassles of getting from place to place - gas prices, security lines, traffic - the long journey also has a kind of romance.

One of our producers, Selena Simmons-Duffin, has spent years at family get-togethers hearing the story of one particular trip. It began in the Rocky Mountains, continued on the East Coast and ended up in Hollywood.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Announcer: It's a Technicolor wonder show of music and mirth with a wealth of comedy and romance.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN: If your life were made into a movie, what would the soundtrack be? Which dramatic scene would be the climax? But most important, who would play you?

My grandmother actually has an answer to that question: Betty Grable.

(Soundbite of movie, "Pin Up Girl")

(Soundbite of song, "Don't Carry Tales out of School")

Ms. BETTY GRABLE (Actress): (As Lorry Jones) (Singing) Don't carry tales out of school 'cause if you do, you're a fool.

Ms. BETTY JANE SIMMONS: We're going to backtrack, I guess. You want to hear about our adventures.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: That's my grandma, and this is the story of a trip she took in 1939 with her best friend, Dorothy. That little trip became a big-screen musical called "Pin Up Girl" starring Betty Grable. Before Dorothy died in August, she and my grandma told this story hundreds of times.

Ms. FIEDELMAN: Well, we remember a lot for old ladies, don't we?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: That was Dorothy.

Ms. FIEDELMAN: Dorothy Fiedelman. I'm a friend of Betty Jane's.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FIEDELMAN: I'm 87, is that right?

Ms. SIMMONS: You are. And I'm Betty Jane Simmons. I'm 87 years old. I'm older than Dorothy, one month older than Dorothy.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: And how long have you known each other?

Ms. FIEDELMAN: I was at her fifth birthday party.

Ms. SIMMONS: We were little girls.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: This story begins a few years later. They were 18 when they climbed aboard a train in Denver, their hometown, bound for the East Coast. They'd been invited to a formal dance called Ivy Ball in Philadelphia.

Ms. FIEDELMAN: At the dance, at the Ivy Ball, it was a big deal. We were in formals, and the boys were in tuxes.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So what kind of dancing were you doing?

Ms. FIEDELMAN: Ballroom, jitterbug.

Ms. SIMMONS: Well, since whatever, to the music.

Ms. FIEDELMAN: They do that now, still.

Ms. SIMMONS: The guy puts his arm around you. You put your head on his shoulder.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: No, not really.


Ms. FIEDELMAN: Anyway, back to Ivy Ball.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. FIEDELMAN: Frank Sinatra, who was just beginning to get famous, sang. I looked at him. We danced by him. He was so skinny he was hiding behind the microphone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FIEDELMAN: I couldn't believe that anybody would think this guy was wonderful.

(Soundbite of song, "You and I")

Mr. FRANK SINATRA (Singer): (Singing) Darling, you and I know the reason why a summer sky is blue.

Ms. SIMMONS: The girls were screaming.

Ms. FIEDELMAN: They were screaming (unintelligible).

Ms. SIMMONS: And they literally did think he was the greatest.

Ms. FIEDELMAN: Well, we got to see him.

Ms. SIMMONS: We weren't impressed.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: They weren't impressed. So Frank Sinatra was a bust.

(Soundbite of film, "Pin Up Girl")

Ms. GRABLE: (Lorry Jones) Well, that's our first thrill. Let's go look for another one.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Grandma and Dorothy went looking for a thrill in New York, at the nightclubs they'd read about for years, the elegance, the music, the celebrities.

Ms. FIEDELMAN: We didn't have any nightclubs in Denver. So Betty and I had a couple of days. We decided we wanted to see these places, but we didn't have the money. And nobody was going to take us.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: A pair of 18-year-old girls couldn't just show up at a club by themselves. They needed a date, an escort.

(Soundbite of film, "Pin Up Girl")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Bonsoir, mademoiselle.

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actress): (As character) We'd like a table, please.

Unidentified Woman #2 (Actress): (As character) Any little table will do.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) I'm sorry, Mademoiselle, It's regular table. For this evening, all tables are taken.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So they came up with a plan to get in with no money and no escort.

Ms. FIEDELMAN: We get there just before the show. My name was Bomash(ph), and it was an unusual name, so we decided to say we were looking for Mr. Bomash's party. So we'd go in just before, and we'd say, Mr. Bomash's party, please, and just then, the lights would go off, and they'd say: Well, you'll have to sit down. So we sit down, and we watch the entertainment.

Ms. SIMMONS: And stay very still.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SIMMONS: We expected to be invited out, and we got away with it.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. FIEDELMAN: So we left, and then we'd go on another place, and we'd do the same thing.

Ms. SIMMONS: We went to about three different New York nightclubs, the ultimate adventure, and I kept thinking: I can't believe this is a dream. I'm living a dream. The whole time, I'll never forget that feeling.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. FIEDELMAN: We came home, and we told her cousin Libby(ph), who wrote short stories for women's magazines, and she couldn't get over that we got away with it. We were so innocent-looking.

Ms. SIMMONS: I guess.

Ms. FIEDELMAN: We were innocent. So she said, I'm going to write a story about it, and she did. The name of it was "Imagine Us."

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: The story was a hit. The editors of Good Housekeeping called it their favorite story of the year. And two years later, Libby Black's(ph) magazine piece became a movie.

Ms. FIEDELMAN: She made a fortune out of it, and she sent us each a bottle of perfume, and I don't even like perfume.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: In the Hollywood version, the girls use the name of a war hero to get into the club. Then he shows up, there are a bunch of mix-ups, and Betty Grable ends up having to perform a big number on stage with the orchestra, which of course she pulls off flawlessly.

(Soundbite of film, "Pin Up Girl")

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) You were swell.

Ms. GRABLE: (As Lorry Jones) Oh, thank you.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) May I have this dance?

Ms. GRABLE: (As Lorry Jones) Uh-huh.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: The truth is, the movie is not actually very good. Grandma and Dorothy barely remembered what it was like. So it turns out this isn't a story about seeing your life on the big screen. The movie was just a nice footnote to the trip itself, the thrill those two girls from Colorado got from doing exactly what they wanted to do and receiving the blessing of real New Yorkers.

Ms. SIMMONS: They looked after us. They treated us like, you know, we were important, and we just loved it.

Ms. FIEDELMAN: We were little farm girls, really, to New Yorkers, and everybody always talked about how cold New York was, and everybody was for himself, and they were wonderful to us.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Grandma and Dorothy didn't fall for the war hero or become big-name stars like Betty Grable did in the movie. They got back on the train and returned to Denver to start the rest of their lives.

Ms. SIMMONS: Within six months, Dorothy and Reef(ph) were engaged and got married.

Ms. FIEDELMAN: You know, well, the war was coming. So he had enlisted. A lot of people got married then.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Did you see Denver in a different way after your trip?

Ms. FIEDELMAN: No, I didn't.


Ms. FIEDELMAN: Denver was home.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: It's far from a Hollywood ending, just two best friends who've known each other their entire lives reliving every detail of a trip they took 70 years ago.

Ms. SIMMONS: Do you remember the names of the nightclubs?

Ms. FIEDELMAN: The upstairs and the downstairs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FIEDELMAN: I forget the names of them, but they´┐Ż

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Betty Grable should have been so lucky.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: That's our producer, Selena Simmons-Duffin.

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