Monday, August 10, 2015

Dear Jodie - 84 Charing Cross Road

Dear Jodie,

I am so happy you enjoyed 84 Charing Cross Road! When I mentioned it to you, I had just seen it again for the first time in a decade and immediately thought of you. Yes, for the reasons you mention in that the story is quite similar in ways to ours.

Just as importantly, I know of your love of relationship movies and thought you might enjoy it. I've recommended this movie two other times; both people hated it asking, "what's the big deal." Both times I said, "it's about friendship, and that's a very big deal to me." One shrugged. The other said, "I suppose so." Bless their hearts, it wasn't that they didn't value friendship, they do. They both were and still are friends of mine. It's just that they preferred a little more action in their movies. The Mission Impossible movies would be more to their liking.

Damn, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

What made this movie extra special to me was that this is a true story. As much fiction as I read and write I still have to pinch myself as a reminder that these events really happened, much of it in my own lifetime.

There was a Helene Hanff, pictured above, (1916 - 1997) who turned to FPD (Frank Percy Doel) and Marks & Co. in London for books she could not obtain in New York. There was a Frank Doel (1908 - 1968) pictured below with his family whose only job after completing his education was with Marks & Co.

Anne Bancroft was marvelous as the cigarette smoking, gin and tonic drinking writer (martinis in real life) and lover of non-fiction books. "I love 'I was there' stories."  The irony here is that her scripts were fiction! What a lovely Helene Hanff Bancroft created on the screen.

Anthony Hopkins shined as the family man, English football loving book buyer who found time to visit a ill colleague in the hospital, and take his young daughter's suggestion for a Christmas tree decoration, and who would always compliment his wife's dinner as, "Very nice. Very tasty."

One of my favorite supporting performances was Maurice Denham as the elderly George Martin. His lonely smile as he prepared his share of the food that Helene sent to the shop really touched me ... especially when we realized he would share it with his cat. Animal lovers always go to my heart. I would like to have known George Martin.

I would have loved to have visited him in that hospital where he was alone in a crowd.

We got a glimpse of the lives of a number of the staff as well.  Cecily Farr making a cake for her children. Bill Humphries bringing a smile to his great aunt's face with the ham. Frank and Nora having a coronation get-together with friends.

Beautiful moments, small moments that really make a difference in the course of a human life.

All of this, Jodie, because a woman in New York had a thirst for English Literature, and a book buyer in London went to great lengths to satisfy it.

What a glorious movie this is!

I would be remiss if I didn't say that Anne Bancroft's real life husband, Mel Brooks, he of Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein and so many other off-the-wall comedies, produced 84 Charing Cross Road.

I wish I had told you of this movie sooner so that you could have gone to the address while you were in London. Or maybe not. Had you gone there, you would have been able to see a plaque commemorating the address. True. Helene Hanff's memoir (1971), and the subsequent play and the movie, did make the address famous. You also would have been able to order a Big Mac for lunch. The building is still there, but the occupant of that address is a McDonalds.

Still, I want to go back to London. When I do, one visit I will make will be to 84 Charing Cross Road, even if I have to buy a Big Mac rather than Donne or Pepys!

Funny, I'm an American who has never been to New York City! London, yes.  Upstate New York, yes. But not New York City.  I'm going there, too. The apartment building where Helene Hanff lived at 305 E. 72nd Street has been named "Charing Cross House" in her honor. A bronze plaque next to the front door commemorates her residence and authorship of the book.

Yeah.  I want to see that, too!

Like you, I give this movie a solid 8 out of 10!

P. S. In real life, when Helene was in London, she did meet Nora Doel and Sheila, and a number of the former staff. They remained friends, and I hope Nora learned to pronounce Helene's first name!