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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 being raised as the ward of his eccentric, impulsive, wealthy aunt. The author, Evan Tanner, wrote under the pseudonym of "Patrick Dennis", and used that name for his narrator.

The first novel was adapted into a 1956 play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee, which appeared 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 made her ride on.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: Mame's Japanese valet, Ito, speaks in this manner.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Sally Cato, Beau's former fiance 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.
  • 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.
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  • 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
  • Gold Digger: Patrick's college mistress Bubbles.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Auntie Mame and her best pal, stage star Vera Charles.
  • 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.
  • Maiden Aunt: Mame is very much a subversion of this.
  • Moody Mount: Sally saddles Mame with one of these, Lightning Rod. In the movie, he is much more unfittingly named "Meditation".
  • 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.
  • Only Sane Man: Patrick, usually, when Mame goes on one of her kicks.
  • 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.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Gloria Upson, who talks constantly about friends with names like P.J. and Bunny and Franny.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds:
    • Mame and Vera are great friends, who nonetheless snap at each other and quarrel repeatedly.
    • This dynamic applies between Mame and another of her old friends, whom she runs into in Venice.

The various adaptations provide examples of:

  • Beautiful All Along: The 1974 film has Mame and Vera give Agnes a makeover.
  • 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.
  • Christmas Creep: In the song "We Need a Little Christmas" from the musical Mame, the lyric "But, Auntie Mame, it's one week past Thanksgiving Day now!" implies that it's far too early to be starting the Christmas season. These days that lyric is often changed to "one week from (or 'til) Thanksgiving Day", as even most critics of Christmas Creep would not consider any time post-Thanksgiving to be too early by modern standards.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: Doris Upson serves seafood with peanut butter.
  • Dreaming of a White Christmas: Immediately after the "We Need a Little Christmas" number in the 1974 film, it starts snowing. (Not entirely unheard-of for New York in November, but still...)
  • Foreign Queasine: At one point Mame serves the Upsons pickled rattlesnake.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The movie is full of it.
  • 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.
  • 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 house.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Timeshifted Actor: Patrick
  • 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."


Example of: