Our posting of a little “Beat kitsch” (only peripherally-related), a couple of weeks back, got such a good response, we’re reluctantly posting a little more. “Beatniks” and “Beat poetry” in the film world, this time, (tho’ we begin with the necessary caveat – that we’re surveying not the art and the artists but crude sociological and advertising stereotypes. As Joyce Johnson puts it, in her 1987 memoir, “Minor Characters” – “Beat Generation” sold books, sold black turtle-neck sweaters and bongos, berets and dark glasses, sold a way of life that seemed like dangerous fun thus to be either condemned or imitated”. Co-option, exploitation, humorous (or maybe not-so-humorous!) parody, from Hollywood and Madison Avenue). With that said..
Albert Zugsmith‘s 1958 “High School Confidential” features the scornful, insouciant (and actually, pretty wonderful!) Phillipa Fallon – “My Old Man was a bread-stasher all his life/ He never got fast/ He wound up with a used car,/ A seventeen-inch screen, and arthritis/ Tomorrow is a drag, man, tomorrow is a king-sized drag”.
And it was Zugsmith who produced, the following year, the eponymous “The Beat Generation” (with its shameful equation of “Beat” revolt and hoodlum violence that so incensed (and rightly so!) Beat’s progenitor, Jack Kerouac). The poet-declaimer this time was Maila Nurmi (“Vampira”), the Hollywood horror-movie host (she performs her poem with a rat on her shoulder!)
The sheer absurdity of the stereotypes. Check out the mindlessly sexist, “Wilbur, the Beatnik”,
Beatnik artist, from a 1958 episode of the t.v. detective show, Peter Gunn – [2014 update – well, this little snippet has since been pulled, but we’ll replace it with this – a compendium of Beat Kitsch to the soundtrack of Shelley Manne and His Men performing “Hank” Mancini’s (sic) “Goofin’ at the Coffee House”] – [2015 update- well that footage has been pulled too, but you get the picture!]
And, of course, such a brief survey, would not be complete without at least a quick check-in with the t.v. stereotype, Maynard B Krebs
[Bob Rosenthal (from his recent extended New York Times interview/recollections) – He (Allen) didn’t watch t.v. People would ask him, “What do you think of Dobie Gillis, Maynard G Krebs?” He would go -“Oh, Maynard G Krebs – late 1950’s stereotype of beatnik character”. He had a memorized response, but he never saw it – he wasn’t aware of it.]