A pretty teenager, Joan MacDonald, lies across a table-top, squealing as her elder sister, Anne, repeatedly slaps her on the bottom.
It’s an attractive sight, but it’s not technically a spanking scene – and not only because of the principle that it’s not a proper spanking if it isn’t OTK.
The Egg and I was originally a comic memoir by Betty MacDonald telling of how she and her family were uprooted from their suburban existence in Seattle in the hope of making their fortune as chicken farmers up in the mountainous wilds of Washington State. First published in 1945, it became a movie in 1947 and was the subject of several lawsuits by people who felt they had been portrayed unflatteringly in the book. That helps to explain the lapse of time before it was dramatized by Anna Coulter Martens in a version for performance by high school classes: that only happened in 1958. But it went strong for half a century and more: the most recent production I know of was in 2011.
Anne and Joan are the daughters of the family. One of Joan’s problems is a belief that the third of her ‘vital statistics’ has a few more inches than she would like. This is the more pressing in that she now has a selection of boyfriends, among them a lackadaisical youth known as JJ. She has found a weight loss method in a magazine, but she needs some sisterly help with it. Here’s what happens:
ANNE: Forget about the rain and assume the position.
ANNE (moving toward her): If you want me to give you that treatment before JJ comes.
(Anne opens magazine and puts it on left end of kitchen table.)
(Joan throws herself across table, face down, and inches along until she rests on her elbows near magazine.)
ANNE: Okay, now read me the directions.
(Anne is standing upstage of table.)
JOAN (reading): ‘Pommel briskly on protruding areas.’
ANNE: Is that all?
JOAN: ‘Pound your pounds away,’ it says. ‘Keep this up every day for a week, and your friends will soon start calling you Snake-Hips.’
ANNE: That’s a compliment?
JOAN: Tessie used to go to a regular beauty salon for treatments like this.
ANNE: Dear little Thermometer Tessie!
JOAN: Are you going to pommel, or gab?
ANNE: You asked for it! (Begins a light pommeling with her fists on Joan.)
Then the girls’ mother, Betty, comes in.
BETTY: What in the name of sanity are you doing?
JOAN: What it says in the magazine.
ANNE: Pound off the pounds. (Pommels a little harder.)
There is more unrelated banter…
(Joan is squirming and Anne gives her a whack.)
ANNE: Lie still!
Yet more unrelated banter. Anne ‘pommels harder and faster as she talks’, until…
JOAN (yelling at same time): Ouch! Stop it! Take it easy!
Whereupon Joan gets up and starts to do some exercises.
Now, that’s obviously a massage scene, not a spanking scene, and for at least some of the time the assault on Joan’s ‘protruding area’ is done by Anne’s fists or as ‘karate chops’.
But on the other hand, the scene still contains an underlying allusion to the spanking that isn’t happening. The playwright, Anna Coulter Martens, was well attuned to the everyday dangers of being a teenage girl in the middle of the last century: one of the perils faced by Penny Pringle, the arty teenage heroine of her earlier play, A Lucky Penny (1947), is a spanking from her grandmother’s hairbrush. So in starting the massage with Joan being told to ‘assume the position’, Martens was being consciously witty. The only thing missing is Anne saying it will hurt her more than it hurts Joan.
So no, there isn’t a spanking scene in The Egg and I – but there is an extended visual and conceptual pun on a spanking scene.
And of course, it’s all for Joan’s own good!
Acknowledgement: The first photo in this article, from Springdale High School, Arizona, was discovered by Richard Windsor, who has graciously allowed me to use it here.