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Literature / Auntie Mame

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"I'm your Auntie Mame!"

"Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!"

Auntie Mame (1955) and its sequel Around the World with Auntie Mame (1958) were comedic novels about the adventures of a young boy, orphaned by the death of his father, who is raised as the ward of his wealthy, eccentric, and impulsive aunt during The Great Depression. The author, Evan Tanner, wrote under the pseudonym of "Patrick Dennis", and used that name for the boy (who narrates as an adult).

The first novel was adapted into a 1956 play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, which debuted on Broadway with Rosalind Russell starring in the title role. This was itself adapted into a 1958 film (also starring Russell). In 1966 Jerry Herman turned the story into The Musical Mame (starring Angela Lansbury), and this version in turn was made into a 1974 film (starring Lucille Ball).

Auntie Mame and its sequel contain examples of:

  • Accidental Athlete: Auntie Mame, when she manages to stay on top of the mad horse that Sally Cato makes her ride.
  • Age Insecurity: It's a big deal when Auntie Mame begins to "admit" she's forty now and it's time to take on a more mature role, which doesn't happen until her fifties.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: Mame's Japanese valet, Ito, speaks in this manner.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Patrick and his future wife Pegeen spend pretty much of their time on page snarking at each other. It doesn't stop them in find some qualities in each other.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Sally Cato, Beau's former fiancé who would do anything to get him back. Even Murder the Hypotenuse. While pretending to be Auntie Mame's friend and the perfect Southern Belle. Also Gloria Upson and her family.
  • Blitz Evacuees: During World War II, Mame and her nephew take in a group of English children evacuated to the US. Unfortunately, they're slum children and very prone to serious misbehavior.
  • The Bore: The Upsons are an obnoxious mix of being both snobs and incredibly dull, having no interest in culture or broadening their minds, and content to stay in their upper class, antisemitic bubble. Gloria's "Ping pong ball" story says it all.
  • Cassandra Truth: Sally Cato's younger brother warns Patrick several times about his sister's true intentions towards Mame, but Patrick doesn't catch on until he overhears Sally trying to seduce Uncle Beau. He then tries to warn Mame, but she doesn't buy into it until it becomes too obvious.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Mame's eccentricity sometimes takes on the form of spaciness.
  • Executive Meddling: The sequence in Around the World where Mame and her nephew travel to 1930s-era Russia was cut from the original edition at the insistence of the editors.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: The main story is encased in a "frame" narrative, in which Patrick, now grown and married, reads an article about a nauseatingly sweet spinster who raises an orphan boy, and remembers being an orphan himself and raised by his aunt.
  • Fleeting Passionate Hobbies: Mame goes from interest to interest, all through the books.
  • A Friend in Need: If one of Mame's pals is in trouble, or needs help, Mame's right there. Of course, things don't always go as planned...
  • Funetik Aksent: Ito the Japanese butler, Norah the Irish maid and also the Mame's southern in-laws and their friends.
  • Gold Digger: Patrick's college mistress Bubbles. Also the Maddox sisters are always in hope to land a rich bachelor.
  • The Great Depression: When most of the first part takes place. Around The World takes place exclusively in the 1930s, since it's set during Patrick's gap year between high school and college.
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying?: Patrick is due to be married to Gloria Upson, whom Mame finds, along with her parents, to be boring and bigoted.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Auntie Mame and her best pal, stage star Vera Charles.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The Maddox sisters come from a wealthy Old Money family who used to lord over Maddox Island (ensue the name). They lost their wealth in the 1929 crash and in the late Useful Notes/1930s they are still not adjusted to being poor.
  • Lady Drunk: Mame and Vera (and sundry other chums of Mame's) are very fond of wetting their whistles, usually with something like a martini... or two, or three.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Sally Cato (Beau's ex-girlfriend) tricks Mame into riding a crazy horse hoping that the fall kills her, but Mame miraculously manages to stay on saddle and gains everyone's respect for it. Also the town's veterinarian comes to publicly expose her scheme, ruining her public image.
  • Maiden Aunt: Mame is very much a subversion of this. The author has a fictional (and every bit traditional) Maiden Aunt to compare.
  • Meet the In-Laws:
    • Telling that Mame is met with hostility by her mother-in-law, Mama Burnside is {[Understatement}} (she doesn't approve that her son married a Yankee and ditched Sally Cato). Things do not get better. At least she's welcomed by cousin Fan and all the other Burnside relatives.
    • Patrick gets engaged to Gloria Upson and she introduces him and Mame to her shallow, snobbish, and racist parents. With Mame's help, Patrick comes to the conclusion that Gloria is not suited for him at all.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Sally tries to arrange for Mame to die in a horse-riding accident.
  • Nephewism: The narrator, "Patrick Dennis," is Mame's nephew.
  • Nostalgic Narrator: The adult Patrick.
  • Only Sane Man: Patrick, usually, when Mame goes on one of her kicks.
  • Overly Literal Transcription: Mame hires Agnes to transcribe her thoughts for her book. Agnes does it so well she even transcribes people asking Agnes why she's writing so fast.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Auntie Mame's idea of going incognito (as when visiting her nephew at school) makes her more conspicuous than she would be normally.
  • The Roaring '20s: The story starts a few years before the Great Crash of 1929, and Mame is riding high on stock profits.
  • The Show Must Go Wrong: At one point after the 1929 Crash, Mame's finances are so low that she has to take a minor part in one of Vera Charles' stage plays. It doesn't work out well, although the reasons differ between the book and the stage versions.
  • Smug Snake: After Mame's wealthy husband dies unexpectedly, she is courted by a somewhat-younger poet named Brian O'Banion, who is pretentious, untalented, lecherous, indolent, and too self-satisfied by half.
  • Southern Belle: Sally Cato, of the evil variety. Also Auntie Mame briefly attempts acting as it, but decides to drop it when she meets her in-laws.
  • Southern Gentleman: Beau fits the trope to a T.
  • Stacy's Mom: When Patrick gets to college, there are several of his peers who flirt with Mame, much to her delight since she's in her forties at this point.
  • Uncle Pennybags: Beau Burnside, Mame's filthy rich and extremely generous husband. And Auntie Mame herself once Beau unexpectedly dies and leaves her the 9th richest widow of the USA.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Gloria Upson, who talks constantly about friends with names like P.J. and Bunny and Franny.
    • The Maddox sisters are unbelievably so. They're unbearably snobbish, have delusions of grandeur, and are completely useless in anything else.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds:
    • Mame and Vera are great friends, who nonetheless snap at each other and quarrel very often.
    • This dynamic applies between Mame and another of her old friends, whom she runs into in Venice.

The 1950s adaptations provide examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: When Gloria compliments Vera on her latest performance in Mary of Scotland, Vera points out that was Helen Hayes.
  • Black Comedy: Beau's death, falling off the Matterhorn while taking Mame's picture.
  • Camera Fiend: Beau shows a few signs of this, given that most of his scenes involve him taking at least one picture.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: Doris Upson serves seafood with peanut butter, and her husband prepares overly sweet daiquiris with honey.
  • Foreign Queasine: At one point, Mame serves the Upsons pickled rattlesnake. Though they actually liked it before she told them what it was.
  • Here We Go Again!: The end scene of the 1958 movie has this vibe, with Auntie Mame dramatically declaring her plans to broaden her great-nephew's horizons.
  • Hollywood Costuming: The first film had the characters dressed in styles much closer to then-current ('50s) dress than the '20s and '30s.
  • Idiosyncratic Wipe: The 1958 movie uses stage-like scene transitions. As a scene ends, all the lights fade except for a spotlight which is left on Mame.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: The reaction of Mame and her friends to Gloria's anecdotes is to grab something strong from the bar. After the ping pong story, Vera even hands Mame a new drink like she was reloading an artillery gun.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Babcock's right in that a school where one class involves the kids all being naked and apparently re-enacting fish mating probably isn't a suitable place for Patrick... or any child... ever. Mame's pause after Patrick finishes explaining "Fish Family" implies even she wasn't prepared for that response.
  • Order Versus Chaos: A major theme of the movie and the play is the contrast between the chaos represented by Mame and the order represented by Babcock. In the end, Patrick manages to find a happy medium.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: On top of all their other faults, the Upsons are anti-Semites, to the point of getting outraged at the thought of a shelter for refugee Jewish children being built near their housenote 
  • Pretty in Mink: Several furs are worn, such as Mame loaning Agnes a brown mink wrap, and Gloria Upson wearing a sheared fur jacket in her first scene and later a white mink stole.
  • Pun: The Upsons' property is called Upson Downs (ups and downs).
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Mame's mousy secretary Agnes Gooch looked rather fetching in the black velvet evening dress Mame has her wear.
  • Sleep Mask: Auntie Mame is wearing one when Patrick bursts into her room to show her his new toy airplane.
  • Southern Gentleman: Beau is a somewhat more open, personal variant.
  • T-Word Euphemism: In the 1958 film.
    "What's that, Auntie Mame?"
    "That's a B, dear. The first letter in a seven-letter word that means your late father."