Sweet Nostalgia

How many Saturdays have found me curled up on the sofa, daintily sipping a glass of iced coffee, watching “K-9”, awwwwing Jerry Lee (the dog) and secretly lusting after Jim Belushi? And how many times have I stopped mid-enjoyment to think, This movie is from 1989, so there’s no way Jerry Lee is still alive. Even if he were only like two years old when this movie was made, there’s really no way. The dog’s dead.
So of course for the next 15 minutes or so I’m obsessed with the fact that the dog that I’m admiring and awwwing and cheering is now dead, and probably has been dead for some time. And then I tell myself to stop thinking about it, which means that I obsess further.
This happens every time I watch a movie that is old enough for most of the people appearing in it to be dead by now. Last weekend I watched “The Women”, and found myself thinking, “Sixty-three years ago. All of these actresses: dead. That horse Paulette Goddard’s straddling (lucky horse): dead. Norma Shearer’s two dogs: dead. Yep, everyone’s dead, with the possible exception of that obnoxious little snip who plays Little Mary. Just say she was 12 when the movie was made … that’d make her 75 today. She may still be alive!” (A mandatory mad dash back to this room, mid-movie, to consult imdb.com proved otherwise; the actress died in 1968 of a heart attack at the age of 42.)
I don’t know why I do this, and I don’t really care. But it is eerie, indeed, to think, as I’m watching something really old, that everyone on the screen is dead. And that everyone else is dead too, all the way from the director down to the key grip (whatever that is).
What I don’t realize, while I’m doing all of the age calculations in my head and lamenting the passing of some pretty good actors, is that the actors I’m suddenly mourning actually lived off-screen after the movie ended and, in many cases, had successful careers that continued beyond the filming of the movie I’m watching. I forget that the actress may have been in her 20s when she made the movie, and that she could have lived well into her 70s. I just picture her dying at whatever age she was in the movie … falling dead away, in beautiful dramatic black and white, her final words uttered with perfect diction in that old-fashioned finishing school accent a la Elizabeth Taylor or Katharine Hepburn.
But lest you think I’m morose (and I am, but so what?) or obsessed with death, well, I can switch it off almost immediately by concentrating on something else that compels me to make yet another mad dash back to this room for more information. And that is this: the Consumer Price Index. Because just as quickly as I’m mired in thinking that, hey, that dog is dead, and Joan Crawford is dead, and the costume designer is dead, I can immediately pull myself out of the bog by wondering how much that peignoir set that went for $250 in 1939 would cost today.
By the way … take a guess. (And no fair doing the calculations on a “tool” you find on the internet.)