Gwen Verdon, rehearsing on Broadway
George Abbott and Douglass Wallop (writers, based on the novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglass Wallop), Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (music and lyrics) Damn Yankees / New York, 46th Street Theatre, May 5, 1955
About twice every summer, Howard and I watch the 1958 movie version of the American hit musical Damn Yankees. In 1995, moreover, we saw the Broadway revival of that musical with Bebe Neuwirth as Lola and Jerry Lewis as Mr. Applegate.
It was only the other night, however, that I realized that this work—which I believe I first witnessed at a community theater production as a child in Cedar Rapids, Iowa—metaphorically expresses the tribulations of those I have described throughout my critical memoirs as the American boy-men: adult males who, through their obsession with their memories of childhood activities, particularly sports, appear unable to cope when faced with their older selves.
I am sure women also have a parallel phenomenon (perhaps in the form of the eternal “beauty queen”), but I have particularly noticed this painful condition in American males when they reach what is generally described as “mid-life crises,” of which the character at the center of Damn Yankees, Joe Boyd, “the most devoted fan of the Washington Senators,” is a perfect example. Six months out of every year, he literally abandons his wife as his attention turns to sports, particularly baseball. But this year, more than ever, he is furious with the Yankees, and is willing to sell his soul for “one long ball hitter.”
But then Joe has the advantage of looking unlike his previous self, and it is likely that, having him rent a room in her house, Joe’s wife, Meg, feels some vague sexual excitement herself.
Two lost sheep, in the wilds of the hills
Far from the other Jacks and Jills, we wandered away and went astray
But we ain't fussin'
Cuz we've got "us'n"
We're two lost souls on the highway of life
And there's no one with
whom we would ruther
Say, "Ain't it just great, ain't it just grand?"
We've got each other!
—speaks of their estrangement from life. Enraged by Lola’s betrayal, Applegate transforms Lola back into an ugly hag, and, as Joe reaches for a catch at the end of the final game, changes him back into the middle-aged misfit he was at the beginning of the movie. Suddenly, they do not even have that lamentable friendship.
A man doesn't know what he has until he loses it,
When a man has the love of a woman he abuses it,
I didn't know what I had when I had my old love,
I didn't know what I had 'til I said, "Goodbye, old love!"
Yes, a man doesn't know what he has 'til it is no longer around
But the happy thought is
Whatever it is he's lost, may some day once again be found!
So ends Douglass Wallop’s and George Abbott’s fable about mid-life male infidelity in the “Age of Anxiety.” Would that all such suffering men could so clearly perceive their inevitable fates.
Los Angeles, August 16, 2008