Over the weekend I was reminded about Julie Andrews’ song “Thoroughly Modern Millie”, from the film of the same name.
In case you don’t know, the film “Thoroughly Modern Millie” is the story of a country ingénue back in the 1920s who comes to the big city determined to live life as a modern woman, rather than being trapped for evermore in her small town life.
The big city is an impossibly heady proposition for young Millie who has probably been thinking and dreaming about the moment she steps off the train in Grand Central Station…or some such place…since she was a little girl. After dreaming about living the fabulously glamorous big city life since she was a little girl, Millie had finally arrived in the big city she’d always dreamed of.
Of course, this was the 1920s, so our small town girl’s view of what life was like in the big city wasn’t as well developed as it might be for the Instagram generation.
She trains as a stenographer to find a job…very daring for a woman in the 1920s…so she can track down a boss who might be the eligible bachelor she always imagined would fall in love with her.
Not being as sophisticated as her big city sisters, misunderstanding piles upon misunderstanding in the course of her search for suitable husband material, with amusing, if slightly predictable, results.
“Thoroughly Modern Millie” also responsible for a magical cinema moment…at least for people like me who enjoy that sort of thing…where Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore have to tap dance in the elevator of their apartment block to make it go up to the 12th floor.
I’m no mechanic, but of all the things that are likely to propel an elevator upwards inside a skyscraper, two women tap dancing in it is almost certainly not one of them.
It is, however, a fantastic excuse for some nice film moments when Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore’s heads rise up from the bottom of the screen and tap dancing legs disappear off the top of the screen as the elevator slowly rises towards its destination. (This clip gives you the flavour… https://youtu.be/aQCx1TL7yyM )
But more than anything I enjoy “Thoroughly Modern Millie” for its title song, performed, naturally enough, by Julie Andrews.
Although they didn’t write the rest of the film’s music or lyrics, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” was written by the superstar songwriting partnership of Jimmy van Heusen and Sammy Cahn.
Sammy Cahn is one of my favourite lyricists. Who else could write a lyric like this…
What we think is chic, unique and quite adorable
They think is odd and Sodom-and-Gomorrah-ble
The way those lyrics float off the tongue, and even the very idea of making up an expression like “Sodom-and-Gomorrah-ble”, is the work of a genius.
It’s no wonder Sammy Cahn and Jimmy van Heusen, were among Frank Sinatra’s favourite songwriters. Between them, they wrote classic Sinatra songs such as “Come Fly With Me”, “(Love Is) The Tender Trap” and “Call Me Irresponsible”.
Sammy Cahn won four Best Song Oscars…three with Jimmy Van Heusen, the other with Julie Styne. Jimmy Van Heusen also won four Best Song Oscars…the three with Sammy Cahn, of course, and another with Johnny Burke.
Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen also won countless Emmys, were nominated for dozens of Oscars and won a truckload of other awards between them.
However you look at this, it’s a pretty impressive showing even for two songwriters at the very top of their craft. And although both had success with other writing partners, it is the songs that Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn wrote together that we still sing today, 60 or 70 years after they were written.
Of course, the world has changed since then…or has it…?
Everything today is thoroughly modern
Check your personality
Everything today makes yesterday slow
Better face reality
It’s not insanity
Says “Vanity Fair”
In fact it’s stylish to
Raise your skirts and bob your hair
Funny how every new generation thinks the generation before them were stuck in the dark ages.
I think I first saw “Thoroughly Modern Millie” was some time in the early-to-mid 1980s. The film itself had been released in 1967…which already seemed a lifetime ago to a young person in the 1980s, even before taking account of the film’s subject matter of life in the far-off 1920s.
Looking back now, of course, the 1980s looks quaint even to those of us who lived through it…those hairstyles…the clothes…the bizarre early music videos on MTV.
And I suppose that’s the way of the world. If I think that, I’m pretty sure my kids would be much more dismissive of the 1980s than I’ve been. When I talk about something that happened in the 1980s, it might as well be the 1920s to them, for all the connection they feel to those times.
The world was a much simpler place when scandalous behaviour looked like this…
Have you seen the way they kiss in the movies
Isn’t it delectable?
Painting lips and pencil lining your brow
Now is quite respectable
That’s the story of human evolution. What once was forbidden, becomes, if not advisable, at least acceptable, before continuing its journey towards respectability. Before you know where you are, everybody’s doing it.
Many of the changes in society since the 1920s have been for the better.
But some developments haven’t been quite so positive — for example, I’m yet to be convinced that the level of mutual outrage often seen in public discourse nowadays has been a positive benefit for society as a whole.
That behaviour, once considered unacceptable in polite society, has also been through the cycle of change and it’s now acceptable…if probably not quite respectable yet…for political leaders to be very unpleasant to one another in public.
Like Julie Andrews, they’ve cast off the “good behaviour” cloak and are giving free rein to their baser instincts…or as she puts it…
Goodbye, good goody girl
I’m changing and how
So beat the drum
’Cause here comes
Thoroughly Modern Millie now
But let’s put aside our modern woes for a moment and take ourselves back nearly 100 years to the Roaring 20s. It’s time to don your Flapper dress and pearls, get your hair bobbed and your tap shoes on…
With music by Jimmy Van Heusen and lyrics by Sammy Cahn, here’s the impeccable phrasing and diction that only Julie Andrew brings to a song…it’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie”…
If you’ve read this far, thank you for your time and attention. I know you could have spent your time doing something else, so I’m very grateful that you’ve spent it in the company of one of my favourite songs.
The video is below, but if you prefer to listen to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/1LVykVKC5nVdsK9RjSOGsy