March 14, 1949 [Little Women]

Best-laid plans came to naught, and I found myself alone in the theater watching Little Women--my wife and daughters abandoning me to Louisa May Alcott.

Lucky for me I was by myself: I found myself getting teary-eyed--ridiculous, sentimental sucker, I wanted to scold myself, silly little girl--but the feeling had arrived so unexpectedly and hit me so strongly I rejected the cause: It had to be something more than June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Leigh, Mary Astor (although their faces alone, in happiness or sorrow, are difficult to resist)--and that sneaky gremlin Margaret O’Brien, who’d blindsided me a few years ago in Meet Me in St. Louis--and it wasn’t just her Christmas tears and the snow-family murder scene, but her devilish glee at Halloween, eager to derail streetcars, dismantle private property, ruin lives: one of most authentic movie-portrayals of a child since Spanky went bug-huntin’ back in the early ‘30s.

I resisted these little women--but again: I felt a warm hole open in my chest, a sense of loss--of lost time, and opportunity, and happiness. Was it simply nostalgia for their imaginary past? I’ll admit I am a fool for that particular dream, drowsing in front of the fire, the book resting on my lap, the small house quiet: the “homely virtues,” as the British put it. The feeling, though, was too strong--harsh, even bitter.

I had been “lucky” enough to see Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman last month. Lee J. Cobb wore us down until we could not move--burning woods or not. And when he shouted, “A man is not a piece of fruit!” we knew better--after all, he had already told us: We are discarded peels, used-up oranges, lost in the past.

This was the opposite of nostalgia--no: its comeuppance. How dare we remake the past--let alone try to drag it into the present? It will rebel, and open that hole in our chest, and make everything spill out, nothing now but regrets. Willy Loman had managed to join the Little Women and turn toward me--in pity and even love, I’m sure--but also with a warning scowl, bred in the Depression, frozen on our faces. I need to clear my head, or the movies will end up being no fun at all.


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