Modernism Week: Our Town

Modernism week in Palm Springs is considered the holy grail of modernist design celebrating mid-century architecture and culture from 1946 to 1973.

d. king

With a plethora of all kinds of events taking place all over town, people enjoy swanky home tours, themed parties, fashion, art, film and talks.  Something for everyone.

Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint

I happen to be a film/music/classics lover so took in a legendary screening of a once-upon-a-time live television show called “Our Town” which was filmed very much like a play. The presentation was shown at the intimate Annenberg Theatre, located inside the Palm Springs Art Museum.  I chose it after learning how extremely careful they had to be to re-master this 1955 musical about a small New Hampshire town in the early 20th century where change comes slowly.  Starring Frank Sinatra , Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint. Followed by a panel discussion about Sinatra’s greatest decade in music and film.  

For me, you guessed it – Sinatra was the main draw.  Just seeing him in his prime singing songs both familiar and forgotten was worth checking out.  But I never realized how great an actress Eva Marie Saint was. Now 98 years old, Saint played a very convincing17 year old, even though she was in her early 30’s at the time. No wonder she won an Academy Award in 1954 for best supporting actress for “On the Waterfront.” The very same year that Sinatra won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “From Here to Eternity.”  

So is everything old, new again?  Not necessarily.  Considered a lost treasure, this musical with a very poignant message, was telecast a few times in the past at the Museum of Broadcasting in Manhattan. 

This episode was a musical adaption of Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play “Our Town,” (later made into a movie) with songs by Jimmy van Heusen and Sammy Cahn. Based on the play, the story shares the idea that we live life without really appreciating what it has to offer. Once we die, and are able to see what we had, it is really too late. Major themes of the play include mortality, appreciating life, companionship and marriage, love, and the circle of life.  As the subject matter suggests: there is something eternal in all of us.

Perhaps I’m feeling nostalgic even though this was before my time – more my parents time. Maybe I’m trying to relive a bit of their past. A much simpler, old-fashioned more glamorous era that I’d prefer to have been a part of; except for the fact that I might not be around now.  A time when milk and newspapers got delivered every morning and nobody locked their front doors. Sadly, a bygone era.

Immediately following the screening there was an interesting panel discussion with filmmaker Jim Burns, Sinatra’s granddaughter Amanda Erlinger (Nancy’s daughter) and Executive Producer, Brook Babcock. Erlinger was kind enough to share archival photos from her fascinating personal collection along with stories about her famous grandfather.  We had an insider’s glimpse into his life.  One  thing for sure is that he appreciated his fellow musicians and went to great measures to make sure they got treated fairly.

Some fun facts about the show:

37 million viewers tuned in for the show which was filmed in one take and in 3 parts, very much like a play itself.  Speaking of theatre in general, we wonder why it is that Sinatra never ended up doing a Broadway play or musical during his long career.

“Our Town” is the only time Paul Newman and Sinatra headlined together in a narrative production. Newman and Eva Marie Saint would subsequently lead the cast of Exodus together in 1960.

All episodes of this Producers’ Showcase were broadcast in full color although only black and white *kinescopes remain for most of the shows, including “Our Town” as well as a 90-minute version of “The Petrified Forest” starring Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall. 

A bit of cinematic history:

A few years ago at the Palm Springs Film Festival (PSIFF), I really loved the documentary “Sinatra in Palm Springs: the Place he Called Home.” 

*kinescopes were used to make records of live television programs before videotape recording was practical. They were in common use in the late 1940s, and were replaced in the 1950s by videotape. 

If you’re interested here is the original movie of “Our Town” starring another Palm Springs local – the late William Holden.

Tickets for other events (while they last):