I found myself sucked into a nostalgic vortex this afternoon when Turner Classic Movies showed The Tender Trap. Not, as you might assume, a 1950s nostalgia trip, but a 1980s one. I was transported back to one summer, round about 1982 I think, when my family relocated to northern Virginia and my step-dad’s company put us up in one of those apartment hotels until we found a house.
The place had a pool and a soda machine down the hall, but what it mostly had was cable. Up til then my childhood had been mostly cable deprived. I had not one but two sets of parents who were all about strict rationing of TV time. Summers were not about sitting inside all afternoon watching the boob tube. We generally found ourselves kicked out of the house around 9 and encouraged to not come home until dinner or dark or someone invited us over to spend the night.
It was the South. 98 degrees in the shade, full of mosquitoes and ticks; cricks full of frogs, minnows and the eternal threat of water moccasins; banks of poison ivy and oak. However in my parents view, none of those things were even remotely as dangerous as the threat of vegging out in front of the television.
That summer was different though. My mom & step-dad were busy working new jobs and trying to find a house. The hotel was located at a busy intersection surrounded by office towers. Even if they shooed us outside, there was no place for us to go.
So I got to watch cable. Lots and lots of cable. Two movies were in heavy rotation on HBO that summer: Bachelor Party and The Tender Trap. I conservatively estimate that I saw each one at least 36 times that summer. My only other really dramatic moment I remember from that summer was attempting my first bikini wax. I learned the hard way why one should apply those wax strips one at a time. The excruciating pain I experienced after ripping off the first one was only magnified by the knowledge that I then had to rip off the other. I’ve never waxed since.
The Tender Trap stars Frank Sinatra as a swinging bachelor with an endless train of beautiful women courting him, feeding him, cleaning up after him and lighting his cigarettes. Enter stage left Debbie Reynolds as the young ingénue who is on a strict schedule to find herself a husband so that she can retire (at the age of 22) to Scarsdale to raise the three children also on her schedule.
Providing able backup are David Wayne as Frankie’s happily married best pal visiting from Indiana and Celeste Holm as Frank’s long suffering number one girlfriend who, after indulging his Casanova ways, now finds herself staring down the 1950s version of middle aged (she’s 33). You might remember David Wayne as the nebbish-y accountant who wins Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire. Celeste Holm you should remember from everywhere. Any time there’s a sassy spunky gal pal in a 1950s movie destined not to get the guy, you will find Celeste.
I loved The Tender Trap when I was 13. It was the first time I actually got what the fuss over that Frank Sinatra dude was. I admit I was enchanted by the story of the wily skirt hound won over by the serious good girl who lays down the law. I loved the clothes, and the vision of single adulthood as being one evening of dinner, drinks and dancing after another. Heavy sigh.
I confess, the movie looks a little different from the other side of 30. I’m now older than Celeste Holm’s character who, despite being impeccably beautiful, is clearly being sold as past her expiration date. Debbie Reynolds’s character quickly wears thin with her Bataan death march to the alter. I've taken that whole "let's reform a bad boy" trip for real now with less entertaining results. Somewhere along the way I grew up into Celeste instead of Debbie and am grateful for it. But still, there are the clothes, and the style, and the dinner, drinks and dancing, all of which make me feel like I was born too late.
And, of course, there’s Frank. Those laughing eyes…I’m sighing sighs…then snap.