Hearts at Work
A Column by James Tipton
I want you to faint.
Well, the holidays are upon us, and mistletoe (with all of those easy but reserved kisses) still hangs in the memories of most Americans and Canadians here at Lakeside, not to mention those New Year’s Eve parties that not so long ago provided a once-a-year open license (alas usually for less than a minute) to kiss—with what we then considered abandon—the pert lips of the neighbor lady or the sensuous and slightly parted lips of the lawyer’s wife that one had been surreptitiously studying for the past twelve months.
At those New Year’s Eve celebrations, all of the men, at least this one, at the stroke of midnight, wanted to be like Clark Gable, remembering those famous lines he uttered to Scarlett in Gone with the Wind following the most famous kiss in movie history: “I want you to faint. That’s what you were meant for. None of those fools you’ve ever known have kissed you like this, have they?”
I used to do a lot of kissing in movie theatres back in the 50’s and early 60’s, sitting in the dark with a reasonably eager date, in the popular last row, practicing the lessons those celluloid lovers so casually offered us. Who doesn’t remember those passionate kisses between Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)? And who can forget that beach scene in From Here to Eternity (1953) as Burt Lancaster (damn him) kissed (more delicious because illicit) the delectable Deborah Kerr, the woman I, with the hormones of puberty running high, was already in love with. I saw that film for the first time at a drive-in about 1960, and I remember later that night trying to convince my date–a short, dark-haired girl with glasses—and myself that she looked just like Deborah Kerr.
Or what about A Place in the Sun (1951), where Montgomery Clift, playing a poor boy, kisses Elizabeth Taylor, playing a rich girl…satisfying for the moment the multiple fantasies of many of us. And we got to see those incredibly sensual lips of Elizabeth Taylor really close up. (That’s when I decided there really is a God.) And then there was Grace Kelly seducing Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief (1955), encouraging him to enjoy the beauty of her diamonds (imitation) and her breasts (certainly not imitations), as she said, in classic double entendre, “Even in this light I can tell where your eyes are looking.”
Cary Grant really got the kisses. Another woman I was in love with was Ingrid Bergman, and as I watched re-runs of Notorious (1946) I had to tolerate Grant enjoying the lips of the lovely (my lovely) Ingrid for more than three minutes, some say the longest kiss in film history at the time of production. (I planned that my first words to Ingrid Bergman–just after she told me she would be mine forever–were going to be, “I forgive you for that kiss you gave Cary Grant in Notorious, and that kiss you gave Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca (1942), and that kiss you gave Gary Cooper in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)…and…and…I forgive you for all of those kisses…as long as you assure me you weren’t using your tongue.” (Her response most likely would have been, “But Jim, a kiss is just a kiss.”)
When cable became popular, with lots of uncut re-runs of old classics, I was able to see some classics, like Don Juan (1926), in which John Barrymore, playing a roguish Casanova, set the record (which I understand still holds), for the most kisses in a single film: he gave Mary Astor 127 kisses, and other females in the film 191 kisses. The first open-mouth kiss was also that same year, Flesh and the Devil (1926), with screen siren Gretta Garbo (playing the sultry and insatiable Felicitas von Kletzingk) kissing her real-life-love-at-the-time, John Gilbert. That was also the first film with a horizontal-position kiss.
And so to all of you wonderful ladies here at Lakeside, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. This column (consider it a kiss) is for you.