The story of Bye Bye Birdie is satire on
American life in the late 1950s, and was originally titled Let’s Go
Steady! Elvis Presley’s draft notice in 1957 was the incident that
inspired the story, and the character of Conrad Birdie was loosely based on
Presley. (When Presley was inducted into the army, to serve in Germany, his
handlers staged “one last kiss”, but with a WAC, not a teenager.)
The name Conrad Birdie is a word play on the name Conway Twitty, best
remembered as a country star, although he was one of Presley’s rockabilly
rivals in the early 1950s.
I, 1 Office of Almaelou, New York
Arpège is a perfume introduced in 1927 by Lanvin, and, with Chanel
#5 and Patou’s Joy, is one of the three best-known
perfumes in the world. One story is that when the creators presented the
fragrance to Jeanne Lanvin, she asked her thirteen-year-old daughter to name
it. She suggested arpège, the French equivalent of the Italian arpeggio,
meaning “in the manner of a harp”, referring to a chord sounded
note by note, ascending or descending, rather than all notes sounded at
once. Most perfumes contain multiple “notes”, or groups of scents.
The most prominent notes in Arpège are rose, jasmine, and orange blossom,
but there are 80 others! The perfume was reformulated and reintroduced in
1993. “Promise her anything, but give her Arpège”
was one of the best-known advertising slogans of the 1950s.
A silver bullet, in folklore, is supposed to be the only bullet
effective for killing werewolves, witches, and some kinds of monsters. In
American folklore, the Lone Ranger carried silver bullets, but it is not
clear if he ever used them in his guns, or merely as his “calling
card” and a symbol of justice. Today, a silver bullet is used to mean
either a special cure not to be wasted, or a magical cure to a difficult
New York University (NYU)
is a major private research university located in New York City. The main
campus is in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, and there are five other
locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Founded in 1831, NYU ranks as one of
the top 50 universities in the world.
Little Women is a novel by American author Louisa May Alcott,
telling the story of the four March sisters growing up in Concord,
Massachusetts. It was first published in two volumes, in 1868 and 1869. The
story was made into a Broadway musical in 2005, and presented in Manhattan
Beach in 2010.
Queens is the easternmost of the five boroughs that comprise New
York City. It is the largest borough in area (109 sq. mi.), and
second-largest in population (2000 census: 2,230,722). It is coextensive
with Queens County, New York. Much of the eastern portion has a suburban
feel and look, but the western part, nearest Manhattan, is quite urban.
Phi Beta Kappa is an academic honor society founded in 1776 at the
College of William and Mary. It is the oldest Greek-letter society in the
United States. Phi Beta Kappa (ΦΒΚ)
stands for Φιλοσοφία
Κυβερνήτης = Philosophia
biou kybernētēs, which translates to “Love of
learning is the guide of life”.
CApitol 7-8820 is a phone number from the 1950s, when most American
phone numbers had a two-letter prefix, followed by five more digits.
Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d’Arc) was a peasant girl from Lorraine
who reported to have visions that led her to seek the Dauphin, soon to be
King Charles VII of France, when it looked certain that the English would
succeed in conquering the country. She persuaded Charles to give her an army
to raise the siege of Orleans in 1430, and then led him to his coronation at
Rheims. But she was captured by the Burgundians, allies of the English, who
then sold her to the English. She was put on trial for heresy. Although she
defended herself well at the trial, she was convicted and burned.
However there was a feeling on both sides that they had burned a saint. (The
pope finally proclaimed her a saint in 1922.) The French were eventually
successful in driving the English from France by 1453.
Was Conrad Birdie actually a car thief?
A dentifrice is a substance used to maintain oral hygiene: tooth
powder, toothpaste, or mouthwash. The French word dentifrice means
I, 4 Penn Station, New York
Pennsylvania Station, which is commonly known as Penn Station,
in New York is one of the busiest rail terminals in the world, and the
busiest transportation facility in the United States. The station was
completed in 1910, and was built in conjunction with tunnels under the
Hudson River and East River. Today, the station is a shadow of its former
glory. The original station was built in a grand style: the waiting room was
built in a style inspired by the ancient Roman Baths of Caracalla, and in
size approximated the nave of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But by the 1950s,
passenger rail travel had declined, and the Pennsylvania Railroad was in
financial difficulty. So PRR optioned the air rights above the station, and
the above-ground structures were demolished beginning in 1963, to be
replaced with the new (4th) Madison Square Garden, and two office towers.
There was a great outcry at the loss of what many considered to be one of
New York’s architectural treasures that the preservation movement was
strengthened. When Penn Central (the successor to PRR) announced plans to
demolish Grand Central Terminal, the city’s landmarks preservation act prevented
them, an action upheld in court. Comparing the new and the old Penn Station,
renowned Yale architectural historian Vincent
Scully once wrote, “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in
now like a rat.” This feeling, shared by many New Yorkers, has led to
movements for a new Penn Station that could somehow atone for the loss of an
architectural treasure. Today all Amtrak trains terminate at Penn Station,
as well as a large number of commuter trains and buses.
The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) was one of the two most important
railroads in the northeast, the other being the New York Central (NYC). Their
premier train was the Broadway Limited, operating between New
York’s Penn Station and Chicago’s Union Station, which could be the train that Albert, Rosie, and Conrad took on their trip to Ohio. At
one time, PRR called itself the “Standard Railroad of the
World.” But after World War II, they were slow to adapt to the
changes that were happening in the country. They spent over ten years to
merge with NYC, and the new Penn Central went bankrupt after two years.
Passenger train travel in the United States peaked during World War
II, when almost everybody who traveled went by rail. After that, people
preferred to travel by automobile, or, increasingly, by air. When
intercity passenger jet service was inaugurated in 1958, most business
travel that was not already by air made the switch. Passenger trains
carried most of the mail from the 1840s to the 1960s. After World War II
some trains only made money because of the mail. But as trains were
discontinued, more mail contracts were not renewed, causing more trains
to be discontinued. Since 1971, Amtrak, a quasi-government
corporation has handled almost all intercity passenger rail traffic in
the United States.
All-clear is a signal used by military or civil defense authorities
to inform others that some imminent physical danger has passed. It was first
used in World War I when poison gas was used on the battlefields. During the
1950s and 1960s there were civil defense drills to prepare for nuclear
The I.R.T. was originally a private company, the Interborough Rapid
Transit Company, which built the first subway still in operation in New York
City. It was acquired by the city in 1940. Today it constitutes the “A”
Division (or IRT Division) of the New York Subway system, which consists of
the numbered lines, 1 through 7, and also the 42nd Street Shuttle. “A”
Division cars are narrower, shorter, and lighter than those of the “B” Division. Lines 1,
2, and 3 serve Penn Station.
Jerry is a British term referring to a German, from the name
Gerald. The Germans devised an improved gasoline can, which they tried
to keep secret in World War II, but the British were able to copy it, and it
became known as a “jerry can”.
The term Indo-China at one time referred to all the countries
between India and China, namely, Burma, Thailand (formerly Siam), Vietnam,
Laos, and Cambodia. But in the 20th century the term referred specifically
to French Indo-China, the last three of these countries. In 1960, American
involvement was increasing, but not yet including combat troops.
I, 6 Sweet Apple Court House Steps
Pride and Prejudice is the most popular of Jane Austen’s novels.
The plot concerns the problems of finding husbands for the five Bennet
The phrase pomp and circumstance comes from Shakespeare’s Othello,
Act III, Scene 3 (spoken by Othello himself):
Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th’ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner,
and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!
Here “pomp” refers to the show of military pageantry, and “circumstance” the drabness, terror, and violence of actual
warfare. The title “Pomp and Circumstance” is given to five
marches by Sir Edward Elgar, the first four of which were written before
World War I. (A sixth march was written in 2005 from sketches of Elgar.) The
first march, composed in 1901, is the best known. The trio section has been
set to the words of the anthem “Land of Hope and Glory.” A version
of this was used in the coronation ode for the 1902 coronation of Edward
VII. In 1905, Elgar received an honorary doctorate from Yale University. At
the proceedings, works of Elgar were performed, and the trio of Pomp and
Circumstance #1 was used as the recessional march. Ever since, this march
has been played at almost every high school graduation, either as
processional or recessional, in the United States.
I, 7 Outside the MacAfee House, Sweet Apple
It takes approximately 12 seconds to sing the Birdie song, which is
five times a minute. Thus to sing the song ten thousand times it would take
2000 minutes, or 33-1/3 hours: 1 day, 9 hours, 20 minutes. (This assumes
that they sing at the rate of five times a minute, covering for each other
if one needs to take a break, to eat, or whatever.) The girls are said to
sing 4723 times, which would take 945 minutes, which is 15 hours and 45
The harpies were winged spirits in Greek mythology (from Greek harpyia
to the word for “snatch”). They were sent to punish Phineus [Φινεύς], a
king of Thrace [Θρᾴκη], who was set on an island with a table of food, which he was
never allowed to eat, for the harpies were sent to snatch most of the food
and foul the rest before he could eat. Dante has the harpies tormenting
suicides in the seventh circle of the inferno.
The Ed Sullivan show was a CBS television variety show (originally
titled “The Toast of the Town”) that ran from 1948 to 1971. From 1955 to 1971 it was on every Sunday
evening from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. In the 1950s it was so popular that an appearance on the show could make or break a performer.
I, 8 Backstage at the Central Movie Theater, Sweet Apple
The Trailways Bus System was founded in 1936. In the 1920s and 1930s the Greyhound Lines had grown so rapidly that the Interstate
Commerce Commission encouraged the formation of a competitor. Unlike Greyhound, which was centrally owned, Trailways is an
association of independent companies.
Forgive them; they know not what they do, is a reference to Luke
23:34, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” the first of
Jesus’ seven words from the cross.
Shangri-La is a fictional mysterious, isolated valley somewhere in the Himalayas described in James
Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon. It has come to refer to any earthly paradise, but particularly one in the Himalayas.
The story was made into a film by Frank Capra in 1937, in which the actress Margo
(original name: María Marguerita Guadalupe Teresa Estela Bolado Castilla y
O’Donnell) played the part of Maria, who has been in Shangri-La a very
long time, but appears quite youthful. When she leaves Shangri-La, she is no
longer under its magic, and she reverts to her true age and suddenly dies.
Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin (Russian: Григорий Ефимович Распутин) was a Russian mystic who is reputed to have had a great
deal of influence on the Tsar’s family, particularly Tsarina Alexandra, in the last days of the Russian Empire.
The touch system refers to typing a typewriter keyboard by
assigning keys to eight fingers and the right thumb on the space bar. (The
most frequently named alternative is “hunt and peck”, using only
I, 9 On Stage at the Movie Theater
Color slides were transparencies, usually 35 mm.
Kodak was the trade name of a simple camera invented by George
Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company, which practically began
amateur photography. The name Kodak became synonymous with the company and
their types of film. In the digital age, they have moved into manufacture
and marketing of digital cameras and digital printing.
II, 1 Kim’s Bedroom
Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965) had three brilliant careers, as
organist, theologian, and finally medical missionary. He was born in 1875 in
Alsace, then part of the German Empire. (It was retroceded to France in
1919.) He first became famous as an organist and scholar of the music of J.
S. Bach, launching the organ reform movement of the early 20th century. At
the same time he studied theology, culminating in his work Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung, titled in
English The Quest for the Historical Jesus. In it he rejected the
secular historical-critical view of Jesus, which had been developing for the
previous hundred years, but also the orthodox Christian view. In 1905 he
answered a call for medical missionaries in French West Africa. He
established his clinic at Lambaréné, Gabon, French West Africa.
Benedict Arnold (1741–1801) was a general during the American
Revolutionary War. Born in Connecticut, he joined the Continental Army
around Boston when the war broke out in 1775. He distinguished himself at
the battles of Ticonderoga and at Saratoga. Despite his successes (or
perhaps because of them) he was passed over for promotion, while others
claimed credit for his success, and accused him of malfeasance. Although
acquitted, he became bitter and frustrated, and decided to defect to the
British Army and surrender West Point. The plot was discovered, but he
served in the British Army till the end of the war. His name has become synonymous
with “traitor” in American lore.
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini (1883–1945) was dictator of
Italy from 1921 to 1945. His father was an ardent socialist and named him
Benito for Mexican reformist Benito Juárez, and Amilcare and Andrea for
from Italian socialists Andrea
Costa and Amilcare
Cipriani. Mussolini joined the socialist party in Italy, but was
expelled in 1914, and he founded the Fascist party, which emphasized
nationalism and downplayed class warfare. In 1922, the Fascists staged the “March on Rome”, and King Victor Emmanuel III appointed him prime
minister. As he began to become more of a dictator, he called himself Il
Duce, the leader. In 1940, he led Italy into World War II by attacking
France, after the French were essentially defeated by Nazi Germany. But in
1943, the Italians were weary of both the war and Mussolini, and he was
overthrown and imprisoned. But Hitler had his paratroopers spring him, and
set him up as the dictator of the Italian Socialist Republic, where he ruled
from Salò. In 1945, he was again in the hands of Italian partisans, and was
Terramycin is a brand name for the drug tetracycline, an
antibiotic used to treat several bacterial infections.
Defrocked means deprived of ecclesiastical status of someone in
holy orders. By extension, it is applied to deprivation of the status of
other professions, such as an English teacher.
To drain deep the dregs and sip full hearty the brimming cup sounds
like a text from the Qur’ān (or Koran), the Muslim holy book.
Mr Luce is Henry Luce, the publisher of several magazines,
including Time, Life, Fortune, and Sports
Illustrated. He also produced The March of Time for radio and
newsreels. By the mid-1960s he was the biggest magazine publisher in
Lady of Spain is a popular song frequently played on the accordion.
This was the theme song of Myron
Floren, the accordionist on The
Lawrence Welk Show. The song is sung and played in the show Forever
Plaid during the Ed Sullivan Show skit.
II, 3 Streets of Sweet Apple
(1910-87) was one of the most famous American band leaders of the Swing Era.
He was born Samuel Zarnocay, Jr, and he was also a songwriter. His tag line
was “Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye”. Thus the reference in Bye
Bye Birdie is to swing dancing.
II, 4 Maude’s Roadside Retreat
Siboney is a town in Cuba, near Daiquirí.
It is also the name of a classic Cuban song written in 1929.
An enchilada is a corn tortilla rolled around a filling and
covered with a chili sauce (misspelled “enchillada” in the
original script). It is popular in Mexico, Central America, and the southwestern U.S.
Tequila is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the blue agave
plant, primarily in the vicinity of the city of Tequila, in the Mexican
state of Jalisco. By Mexican law, any beverage labeled Tequila must be
produced in Jalisco and portions of four neighboring states. (The name
is misspelled “tequilla” in the script.) In Mexico, Tequila is
most often drunk straight. In the U.S., margaritas are popular. (This
reference is not included in the revised script.)
Granada is a 1932 Mexican song about the Spanish city of Granada.
A bodega is Spanish word for a storehouse; specifically a wine
cellar; by extension it also can mean a winery. The word was taken into
English to mean a store specializing in Hispanic groceries; in New York
City, it can mean a convenience store. (The word is derived from Latin apotheca
[storehouse] and ultimately from Greek αποθήκη
[storehouse]. The Greek and Latin words later came to mean “pharmacy”, and were borrowed into Spanish as apoteca, now
archaic for “pharmacy”, and also botica, “pharmacy”. Another related word is boutique, meaning a
small shop, is from French.)
A hacienda is an estate. In the colonial era, a hacienda was
self-sufficient in all things except some luxuries. It was owned by a hacendado
or patrón, and worked by peones (unlanded peasants) and campesinos
(pesants who owed a portion of their income to the patrón). There
were usually mounted ranch hands, called vaqueros or gauchos
(in southern South America).
is a cocktail made of rum, fresh lime juice, and sugar syrup, stirred
or shaken, often with fruit and ice, served in a chilled cocktail glass. It
is named for the town of Daiquirí near the original Bacardí distillery
near Santiago in eastern Cuba. (Since the communists took over Cuba,
Bacardí has moved to Puerto Rico.) There is a legend that Theodore
Roosevelt and the Rough Riders first encountered the drink when they landed
near the town. But it was first popularized by Ernest Hemingway in the 1920s
in Havana. A frozen daiquiri is made in a blender with the above ingredients
and 8 oz ice and poured into a chilled wine glass. Another variation is the
banana daiquiri. A whisky sour and its variations can be considered
variations on the daiquiri.
Flamenco refers to a style of music, song, and dance,
rather than to a specific dance.
Espagnol is the French spelling of español, meaning “Spanish”, both the adjective and the language. (This
reference is not included in the revised script.)
Abbe Lane (born in 1932 as Abigail Francine Lassman of a Jewish
family in Brooklyn, NY) is an American singer and actress. She was described
in 1963 as “the swingingest sexpot in show business”. From 1952 to 1964, she
was married to Xavier Cugat, and her singing favored Latin styles. The most successful of her records was a 1958 album collaboration with Tito Puente titled
Be Mine Tonight. (This reference is not included in the revised
version of the song.)
The line “wild Spanish rose”/“The wickedest flower that
grows” is a
paraphrase of “My wild Irish rose/The sweetest flower that grows.”
II, 5 Private Dining Room at Maude’s
A dervish is a Sufi Muslim holy man, living an aesthetic way of
poverty and austerity. In this they are similar to Christian mendicant
friars. In Turkey, some orders of dervishes practice a whirling dance
in order to experience a religious ecstasy. The secular government at one
time frowned on the practice, but it has become a tourist attraction.
(officially Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine [A.A.O.N.M.S.];
the initials are probably an anagram of “A MASON”) is a
organization founded in 1872. All members are master masons.
They wear the fez, and their
chapters are called temples.
They also operate the Shriners’ Hospitals.
II, 6 At the Back Door of Maude’s
Postum was a roasted grain beverage sold from 1895 to 2007 as a
substitute for coffee. It was created by C. W. Post, a student of Dr John
Harvey Kellogg, a Seventh-Day Adventist, and founder of Kellogg cereals.
Post, also an Adventist, founded Post cereals. Both Post and Kellogg
believed that coffee was unhealthy. During World War II, Postum
had a surge in popularity because coffee was rationed. Postum was also
popular among Mormons, who are not supposed to drink caffeine. (I remember
seeing diner menus in the 1950s offering “Coffee, Tea, Sanka, Postum.”)
Croup is a severe infection of the upper respiratory tract. It is
frequent in young children and rare in teenagers and adults.
Bumble Bee is a brand of canned seafood and chicken. It started as
an association of salmon canners in the Columbia River region. Their
headquarters is now in San Diego, but the firm is now British owned.
Peter Lawford (originally Peter Sydney Ernest Aylen: 1923-84) was
an English-American actor. He was a member of the Rat Pack until he and
Frank Sinatra had a falling out. From 1954 to 1966 he was brother-in-law to
Senator, and then President, John F. Kennedy.
The head of the F. B. I. was J. Edgar Hoover from its founding in
1935 to his death in 1972. He was appointed to head the predecessor
organization, the Bureau of Investigation, in 1924, and was instrumental in
the organization of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F. B. I.) in 1935.
During his long tenure he is credited with building the F. B. I. into a
large, modern, and efficient crime-fighting organization. But he was also
accused of abusing his power against his political opponents.
Flying Down to Rio is a 1933 film noted as the first pairing of
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. However, top billing went to Gene
Raymond and Dolores del Río. The score
is by Max Steiner. The songs were composed by Vincent Youmans to lyrics by
Gus Kahn and Edward Eliscu. This is the only film in which screen veteran Ginger Rogers was billed above famed Broadway dancer Fred Astaire.
Gene Raymond (1908–98) was an American film, television,
and stage actor of the 1930s and 1940s. In addition to acting,
Raymond was also a composer, writer, director, producer, and decorated
Dolores del Río (1905–83) was a Mexican film actress. She was a star of Hollywood films during the silent era and in the Golden Age of Hollywood. She later became a prominent actress in Mexican films. She was considered one of the most beautiful actresses of her time and was the first Latin American movie star to have international success.
Greed is a 1924 American silent film. Originally over ten hours
long, it was edited to about two and a half hours, against the wishes of
director Erich von Stroheim. The director’s long version is now lost. (Greed
is also one of the seven capital sins, according to Christian
doctrine, the others being Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Gluttony, and Lechery.
Frequently these are called the “seven deadly sins”, but all sins
are deadly! It is extremely unlikely that the films Flying Down to
Rio and Greed would be billed together as a double
feature, but it does serve to distract Mr MacAfee!)
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is the federal and
national police force of the Dominion of Canada, and provides police
services on a national, federal, and provincial level (for all provinces
except Ontario and Quebec), as well as more than 190 municipalities, 184
aboriginal communities, and three international airports. Its predecessors
were the Dominion Police (founded 1868, one year after confederation) and
the North-West Mounted Police (founded 1873; received the Royal prefix in
1904, to become the Royal Northwest Mounted Police). The two were merged in
1924 to become the RCMP. They still maintain the mythos of a frontier police
Mr Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons was a radio drama that ran from
1937 to 1955. The stories concerned the kindly Mr Keen and his faithful
assistant, Mike Clancy in a series of detective stories. With 1690
nationwide broadcasts, Mr Keen was the most resilient private
detective on a radio drama in a namesake role. The nearest competitors were Nick
Carter, Master Detective (726 broadcasts), The
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (657) and The
Adventures of the Falcon (473).
The Shadow is the protagonist in a series of pulp dramas, and
then on the radio, and finally in film. He is a crime fighter with psychic
powers. The character’s real name was Kent Allard, who fought for the French
in World War I. After the war, he assumed the identity of The Shadow, and
had several alternate identities, including Lamont Cranston, a “wealthy young man about town.” The introduction to the radio show
is well known: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The
Shadow knows!” followed by ominous laughter.
II, 7 Ice House
Murad, a brand of cigarettes made from Turkish tobacco marketed by
Lorillard, was advertised to women especially around the time of World War
I. The name Murad is an Arabic given name for men. It is also the name of
four Ottoman Sultans. (It is interesting to note that Ottoman Sultan Murad
IV, 1623-40, was one of the first rulers to attempt to ban smoking in his
dominions!) In Shakespeare’s Henry
V, Prince Harry refers to Murad as “Amurath” in 2 Henry V,
Act V, Scene 2, when he succeeds his father, King Henry IV, in 1412:
Good morrow, and God save your majesty!
King Henry V.
This new and gorgeous garment, majesty,
Sits not so easy on me as you think.
Brothers, you mix your sadness with some fear:
This is the English, not the Turkish court;
Not Amurath an Amurath succeeds,
But Harry Harry!
Connubian: probably Kim is trying
to say connubial, meaning “having to do with marriage”; pre-marrial:
probably premarital, meaning “before marriage”, often in
the phrase “premarital sex”; jailbait is a girl below the
age of consent (18 in most states) with whom sex is considered statutory
A mantilla is
a silk or lace veil worn over the head and shoulders by women, especially in
Spain, and usually over a high comb (called a peineta).
It is especially worn during Holy Week, at weddings, and at bullfights.
Yiddish is a language that was spoken by the Jews of eastern
Europe. It is a variant of High German, and emerged in the 9th century. At
the time of the crusades, most Jews were expelled from Germany, or found
living there difficult, and so emigrated to eastern Europe. There, being cut
of from the language of Germany, the Jewish language diverged from High
II, 8 Sweet Apple Railroad Station
A rose is a rose is a rose is probably the most famous quote of Gertrude