There isn’t a Spanking Scene in… Lullaby

Johnny Horton is about 40, and completely dominated by his mother. When, one day, he meets a girl in a Pennsylvania nightclub and marries her on impulse, one of the first things he does – while his bride is changing into her pink negligee for the wedding night – is ring his mom to let her know that he won’t be home tonight. He’s also very reluctant to tell her the reason, to the extent of lying that he has been out on the town with a mate called Dave. But he makes the mistake of telling her the name of the hotel he’s staying at. In the morning, the elder Mrs Horton turns up and learns to her dismay that ‘Dave’ is actually a pretty blonde whom she takes to be a woman of easy virtue and insists on calling ‘Bubbles’, though her name is actually Eadie. She is even more distraught to discover that ‘Bubbles’ has just become the younger Mrs Horton.

Don Appell’s comedy Lullaby premiered at the Lyceum, New York, on February 3, 1954, with Jack Warden as Johnny and Kay Medford as Eadie, and closed March 13 after 45 performances. It went on to two decades of revivals, including a television production in 1960 with Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, and a 1962 production in Chicago with Rita Moreno, then best known for playing Anita, the sister of Natalie Wood’s Maria in the 1961 film version of West Side Story, and best known around here for The Vagabond King five years before that:

Not that that has anything much to do with Lullaby, either on Broadway or in Chicago.

It’s a comedy about the interfering mother-in-law from hell, or looked at another way, the difficulty of cutting apron strings. There’s an uncomplicated frankness about its acknowledgement that sex is a big part of the newlywed experience, and there’s a moment early in the second act when, soon after Johnny and Eadie have moved into his mother’s New York apartment, ‘he pats her backside playfully’. But after the honeymoon the sexual charge drains away because Johnny feels inhibited with his mother in the next room.

The story pivots on two blazing rows. After the first, Johnny decides to buy a house on Long Island so that they can move out. But that isn’t enough for Eadie: she doesn’t want his mother continually dropping by, and insists that he stand up to her. ‘I want proof you’re a man!’ she demands – which she gets, but only in the form she wanted, Sonny Boy confronting Mom, and not involving any kind of less playful encounter between her backside and his hand.

But when the play was produced at Keuka College, New York, in July 1960, here’s what Stillman Mostovoy did to 18-year-old player Ardys Voorhis at the publicity session for the press photographer:

It’s one of those publicity images that works as a symbol for a play rather than a literal representation of what happens in it, and it’s especially clever because it can be taken two ways. Is Johnny being encouraged to do it by his mother (Susan Donnell), making it an emblem of her dominance in the troubled three-way relationship? Or is Johnny in charge, finally proving that he wears the pants in the marriage, in spite of the powerless frustration of his fist-shaking mom? Only two things are reasonably certain: that Eadie’s at the lowest point of the domestic power triangle; and that Ardys Voorhis wasn’t spanked in the play itself – unless of course they did some pretty major rewrites!

Photographer of the Week: Mike Allebach

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‘Every human life is worth photographing and worth living,’ says Mike Allebach, who shoots portraits and couples, wedding and boudoir, in North Wales, Pennsylvania.

One of his most admirable qualities, as a photographer and as a man, is his active recognition of the value of human diversity, and the need to accept and celebrate tastes that may be marginalized or disliked by ‘straight’ society. In particular, one of his big themes is tattoos.

He styles himself a ‘tattooed bride’ photographer, standing up for tatt lovers’ right to be themselves even on solemn and formal occasions.

And he believes in the power of photography to boost self-esteem by creating positive imagery. ‘Connect with your inner badass,’ he urges his clients.

And connect they do – often in couples portraits that celebrate loving relationships, balance tottering ones and reignite fading ones.

If photography can ever be said to be a public good, Mike Allebach’s photography is just that. And it’s beautiful too.

And even when an ass cannot be said to be bad, boudoir pictures may from time to time involve a partner making joyous contact with it.

It seems there’s a helluva lot of spanking going on in the boudoirs of Pennsylvania.

And we can only say: hurrah for that!

If you are interested in Mike Allebach’s work, and especially if you are in Pennsylvania and would like to get on his waiting list, please visit his website.

Bad, Bad… Dog?

In and around Sydney, somewhere between cosplay and clubbing, between performance art and party, you’ll find Bad Dog.

They’re a group who put visual artists and sound wizards and DJs together to create unique nightlife experiences outside the mainstream of clubland, with parties on themes ranging from bugs to beach life to bees (and the flowers they fertilize).

As you can see, there are pretty girls in imaginative and often abbreviated attire.

What do you think of it so far?

Rate it? Better have a closer look, then.

Many of these pictures are not from the dance floor but the photobooth, which is sometimes equipped with somewhere to sit down.

Yes, that’s one possibility. But here’s a better one:

One of the 2009 parties had an especially promising theme: ‘Playgroup’. Result: some came dressed as adults and some as naughty ‘little girls’. Here’s one of the latter with her ‘daddy’:

And her ‘teacher’:

And that begs the question, who’s going to be the disciplinarian?

By the looks of it… both of them!

Kiss Me Kate: 1974

Program covers are among the keynotes for Kiss Me Kate in 1974: some productions commissioned new and unique artwork, while others made do with found images in the way that has become ever more familiar in the days of the internet. A case in point of the latter phenomenon is the production by Scarborough Amateur Operatic Society, which ran April 13-20 and featured the following program cover:

Here’s an ‘after-effects’ shot from the production at Hermitage High School in Richmond, Virginia, showing Lilli (Leslie Hawkins) having great difficulty sitting down while Fred (Steve Boshen) ‘gloats over his accomplishments’, as the yearbook caption puts it:

We don’t have a precise date for the production at Bellingham High School, Washington, but we do have a photo of Greg Pitsch spanking Cindy Eiriksson:

More ‘found art’ graced the advertisement for the May 15-18 production at Otterbein College, Ohio, with Jerry Confer as Fred and Dee Hoty as Lilli:

Here are Jerry and Dee in the show, looking not very much like Robert Wright and Frances McCann, the actors originally represented in the the drawing:

And here are the moments leading up to the spanking:

What a pity the photographer seems to have stopped snapping there!

The touring Kenley Players contributed a significant number of productions to the musical’s midwest stage history during the Sixties and Seventies. Their summer 1974 stars were John Raitt and Patrice Munsel, and the production was notable for its splendid program cover:

The Tulane Summer Lyric Theater staged the musical in New Orleans July 11-14, with Marc Embree and Rita Lovett:

On July 26, Richard Kennedy spanked Hilda Carr at Ulster County Community College, Kingston, New York:

Still in New York, North Syracuse High School was the venue for Angela Davern’s  spanking at the hands of David Gere in a production that ran August 8-10:

October 25 saw the opening of a production by Somerset Valley Players in Somerville, New Jersey, in which Charles Roessler spanked Phyllis Cohon:

Pennsylvania Players staged the musical November 7-16, with Peter A. McLaughlin and Anne Louise Egler:

In Irving, Texas, a production opened November 8 with Bob Turbiville and Judy Noack, which got a bit of press coverage. Judy told reporters that she had to slap Bob twelve times:

‘The slaps have to be real. There’s no faking them. But we’ve worked out a deal. After our fight scene, Bob has to take me across his lap and spank me. And we’ve both agreed, if I don’t slap him too hard, he won’t spank me too hard.’

But according to Bob:

‘Judy is beginning to slap harder and harder as rehearsals progress. But I have a chance to get back during the spanking scene.’

Here he is doing just that:

Back in England, the December 3-7 production by the Cavendish Players, Lingfield, starring Peter Wall and Beth Sharman, had another striking piece of program cover artwork:

And finally, the St Albans Operatic Society in England also staged KMK this year, but their program borrowed a Shrew book cover. (You can see the original here.)

And that’s it for 1974!

Photographer of the Week: Patrick Nguyen

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In the gap between fine art and graphic design, California-based Patrick Nguyen takes his imaginative photographs, drawing from both disciplines to create his striking and unusual imagery.

He combines a sense of glamor with an eye for the unusual,

and some of his work teeters intriguingly on the edge of abstract art:

On the other hand, there’s nothing very abstract about a jolly good smacked bottom:

Nor, for that matter, about the sterner treatment Michelle Vanity got from Brissa Breezy in front of Patrick’s camera:

If you are interested in Patrick Nguyen’s work, please visit his website.

Daring

Meet Edith, the eponymous heroine of The Lonely Doll (1957) and its nine sequels (1958-81), beloved of a past generation of children and now considered by many modern parents to be one of the most disturbing of all children’s books.

I guess a lot of that sense of creepiness comes from Edith’s slightly sinister face, with its wide-set eyes and pinched mouth. But a lot of it also comes from the fact that Edith often gets spanked. And that’s something that, in the context of this site, either needs to be sedulously ignored or studiously thought about.

I think of the Lonely Doll books as fundamentally a variant of the ‘secret life of toys’ trope, best known nowadays from Toy Story. Edith lives by herself until two teddy bears come into her life and the three of them set up home together and have some gentle adventures.

And in the course of those adventures it is sometimes necessary for the senior bear to take stern measures.

Technically these aren’t human characters at all: Edith is not a child, she’s a doll, not a figure of any erotic interest but not a victim of any kind of abuse either; a doll who exists in her own distinct world with its own norms and practices. If I wanted to press the point, I’d draw your attention to her hoop earrings, which you certainly wouldn’t see being worn by a little girl – but which you will shortly see adorning someone else.

Both the popularity and the problem lie in the fact that this separate Edith world reflects or refracts aspects of our own: otherwise there’d be nothing for the books’ young readers to relate to, even though it’s a world rooted in and speaking to the attitudes and experiences of the children of 1957, which includes some things, such as spanking, that were once normal but are now widely considered to be wrong. But that’s not the whole story.

The books and their photographic illustrations were the work of Dare Wright (1914-2001), a striking Canadian who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Edith was originally one of her childhood playthings in the 1920s.

As well as a photographer and author, she was a fashion model and actress with a haunting, slightly stand-offish beauty.

And you may have noticed a certain similarity between her and Edith, including the doll’s blonde ponytailed hair and, yes, those hoop earrings. Here they are together in 1957, the year the first book came out.

And that puts a new twist on scenes like this:

Modern adult readers aren’t recoiling only from the way the books treat as normal a child discipline practice that is now outmoded, making them a cultural Trojan Horse from what we smugly think of as a less civilized past. They may also be picking up on a latent psychosexual dimension based on the implied identification between Dare Wright and her creation.

It’s true that there is something strange about these books, but it takes a big leap of reasoning to infer that their intermittent preoccupation with spanking reflects a possibly unconscious desire in Dare Wright herself, even if it weren’t a leap into an area that isn’t really any of our business. Some argue that it’s purely and simply a reflection of childhood as it then was, when most girls were spanked from time to time and spanked their dolls in turn, and when, very occasionally, the dolls came to life in stories and spanked them back:

And there must be a grain of truth in that view, since the first Lonely Doll spanking scene was originally inspired, at least in part, by a photo session Dare and Edith did in 1955 with a young friend, which included this impromptu moment:

But if that’s all there is to it, what are we to make of the way the subject of spanking keeps on coming up? (There are scenes in three of the ten books.)

For those whose attitude to spanking is partly irrational, whether it be enthusiasm or aversion, it simplifies matters to put it all back into childhood: we can treat it as just baggage of the dead past not to be handed over to our children, and certainly with nothing to appeal to or worry us in any sexual way. And yet that ‘decision to ignore’ itself ignores the edgy, powerful way the books cross boundaries and weirdly conflate the adult and the juvenile, the innocent and the erotic, without which I wouldn’t be writing about the subject to begin with.

In more recent times, a number of photographers have brought out this curious quality in their attempts to recreate the Lonely Doll spankings using models.

Well, yes, but also with this kind of model:

Here’s their take on the spanking scene:

And here’s a stunning alternative interpretation:

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And for those modern adult readers who stress (and, boy, do they stress!) about how Edith is always showing her panties…

I have to say that I’d much rather see a picture in which the one being spanked was Dare Wright herself and not her plastic alter ego. But these modern versions are surely the next best thing!

The Schooling of the Shrew, Part 1: Not the Beginning

It will come as little surprise that it is no easy matter to document the early history of spanking in high school productions of The Taming of the Shrew. At the time of writing, the earliest known photograph is this execrable reproduction of a newspaper report of an April 1950 production at Abilene South High School, Texas, in which Frank Gatlin spanked Judy Jarrett:

The article is worth reproducing in its entirety, because of the lines it gives us to read between. It refers casually to ‘the spanking scene from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew‘, suggesting that this is nothing out of the ordinary, just a routine part of the play. In effect, it’s assumed that every production of The Taming of the Shrew will contain ‘the spanking scene’, and though that may not really have been the case, it at least allows the inference that a lot of them did, including those put on by high schools.

At this time, there was no necessary aversion to spanking scenes in high school plays: by the dawn of 1950, there were at least thirty-one plays specifically written for school performance in which a female character, most often a teenage girl, is spanked onstage, from Sweet Sixteen (1932)…

to Taming the Brat (1949):

1950 saw the addition of Spring Journey to the repertory, and Men are Like Streetcars was just around the corner. The Taming of the Shrew, with spanking, was simply a more ‘classical’ alternative option.

But even so, spanking scenes weren’t photographed and published nearly as often as they were in the 1950s. It’s telling that the only picture I can show you of Taming the Brat comes from a production of 1958. In fact, I know of only 42 spanking photographs from school plays of the 1940s (and none at all from the 1930s or earlier), though with any luck more will be discovered in time. Ten of those 42 were all from one play, A Mind of Her Own (1943),  in which the spanking scene obviously caught a lot of imaginations, but many others went completely undocumented. So we shouldn’t be surprised that there are no known school Shrew spanking pictures from before 1950, but equally we shouldn’t imagine that school Kates only started getting spanked halfway through the 20th century simply because that’s when we start to see the evidence.

And that evidence remains patchy even then, partly because the play could be just as well represented by shots like this one from Moline High School, Illinois, in 1953:

The next known spanking photograph is from 1956, when Jack Jerome spanked Judy Wilson at Greely High School, Colorado:

1957 saw a production at Van High School, Texas, with Ronald Tankersley and Carolyn Hamman:

Shrew 1957 Van HS Texas

But it wasn’t till the Sixties that school Shrew spanking started to be better represented in the high school yearbooks. Very much better, in fact, to judge by this superb 1962 rehearsal shot from New Trier High School, Illinois, in which Pete Coffield is spanking Charli Loewenherz:

Also in 1962, at Thomas Jefferson High School:

1963 saw this spanking on May 25 at Madison High School, Portland, Oregon, with Chuck Green and Emily Jane Manning:

In 1964, the year of Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary, Peggy Slocum got a Bardic birthday spanking from Jerry Johnson at Central Union High School in El Centro, California. Here’s a rehearsal shot:

And on the other side of America, at Page High School, Greensboro, North Carolina, Starr Lawson spanked Chris Connelly, a picture that’s striking because he’s in period costume and she isn’t:

So as we reach the mid-point of the 1960s, there’s a real sense of momentum building up – which we shall see continued in the second part of this series.