Friday, July 20, 2007

Rally Round the Flag, Boys -- Max Shulman

Fifty years ago, I wanted to be Max Shulman. I'd read the Dobie Gillis stories and thought they were hilarious. Then I read Rally Round the Flag, Boys and thought it was also a humor classic. This was the kind of book I wanted to write when I grew up. The other day when I needed some cheering up, I picked up the paperback and read it again. I'm happy to report that it was almost as funny as I remembered.

It's about a suburban community that becomes the site of a Nike missile base. Ah, the Nike missile. That kind of dates things right there, doesn't it. You probably know already some of the targets of Shulman's satire: the army, the suburban families with their commuting husbands, their wives who spend their time going to endless civic meetings, the Little League, small-town businessmen, and so on. Throw in some would-be juvenile delinquents and a hillbilly singer, and you've covered all the bases.

Some people might think its satire is dated. They'd be right in some cases. On the other hand, some things never change. You tell me if this is dated: "Grady was a member of the new school of juvenile delinquency, the You-Too-Can-Be-a-Rebel-School. The headmasters were Elvis Presley and the spook of Jimmy Dean, and the entrance requirements were completely democratic. A boy was no longer excluded from the glamorous ranks of delinquency simply because he had the rotten luck not to be born in a slum; all he had to do was look as though he had. If he would wear his hair in a duck-tail cut and his sideburns at nostril level, forsake grammar, dress in black khaki trousers with the cuffs narrowed to fourteen inches, never do his homework, and spit a lot, his origins, no matter how respectable, would not be held against him."

Seems to me that the names and fashions might change, that's all. I feel the same way about Shulman's comments on Little League, sex ed, television, and a couple of other things. I could be wrong, though. I often am, but my conclusion is that I'd still like to be Max Shulman.


Anonymous said...

I liked it a lot too, Bill. And wasn't there a movie version with Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward?

*warms up geezer bus*

Unknown said...

The movie is sitting on my coffee table even now, from Netflix. I re-read the book when I ordered up the movie. I'll report on the movie soon.

DGB said...

Shulman was still writing his column for college newspapers when I attended North Texas State in the late '60s. Of course I knew Dobie Gillis from TV (I still half-yelp, half-hiccup "Work!" whenever my wife hints that the yard could use a little barbering), but I really fell in love with "Barefoot Boy With Cheek" and I'm attracted to its anarchy still.

Unknown said...

Great stuff, all right. I can still re-read it with pleasure.