Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Who is Phil Vaughn and Why Does Shirley Temple Dig Him?

In Honeymoon (1947), Shirley Temple, age 19, is in Mexico and unable to find her fiancee, a GI who was supposed to meet her at the train station. With nowhere to go, she runs to the American embassy and runs into diplomat (and suave older man) Franchot Tone, who, in the tradition of the romantic comedy, winds up spending time with her to help her find her man. I’m still watching it, so Shirley and Franchot haven’t fallen in love yet, but the level of jokes so far hasn’t led me to suspect any surprises. (When the two of them wound up on a Mexican river barge, I said, “I just know this scene will end with one or both of them falling into the water.” Yep!)

But what’s been distracting me—even as I hammer the final nails into the coffin of this one-day-late, unspeakably sloppy crossword book—is a scene where Franchot and Shirley wind up dancing. During the dance, they have the following conversation:

Franchot: I’m a little too old for this type of dancing.

Shirley: Oh, don’t be self-conscious. You look fine. You know, all the girls really go for the Walter Pidgeon type.

Franchot: If the girls are all fond of the Walter Pidgeon type, how come they always wind up marrying the Phil Vaughn type?

Shirley: Maybe it’s because the Walter Pidgeon type always winds up marrying the Myrna Loy type.

What fun! Because as an old-movie lover, I know that in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (as I noted earlier), Shirley and Myrna Loy vie for the affections of Walter -Pidgeon-aged Cary Grant (and, per Shirley’s assertion, Myrna wins). Similarly, Walter Pidgeon and Myrna Loy hook up in at least four films, from 1928's Turn Back the Hours to the 1959 TV version of Meet Me in St. Louis. So both those statements track.

But there’s a flaw. The first is that Shirley Temple and Walter Pidgeon were never actually in any movies together, much less trading sparks. In fact, there’s no indication that Walter Pidgeon was ever the love interest for younger women—unlike Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, or Gary Cooper, all of whom might have been better examples in the above dialogue. Instead, Walter Pidgeon kept getting wed, in movie after movie (seven in all), to the age-appropriate Greer Garson. (And here’s a weird factoid for everyone who’s ever thrilled to his resonant voice: he sang baritone, not bass!)

But the second problem is more vexing. I don’t know who the hell Phil Vaughn is. There’s no mention anywhere of a forties-era “Phil Vaughan” in IMDB or on (And I’ve tried Vaughan, Vaughn, Vaghn, and Von). Can someone help?

LATER: Turns out that they were saying "Phil Bowen." And Phil Bowen is the name of the character played by the soldier/wannabe husband. I discovered this in the wedding sequence at the very end where Shirley, after being distracted by Franchot, winds up with the Phil Bowen type after all. But not before three more people also tumble into swimming pools, each one less hilarious than the last. Oy.

By the way, the very next movie on TCM turns out to be That Hagen Girl, a famously bad film starring Shirley Temple and Ronald Reagan---and although Reagan went on to greater fame in politics, here on the screen there's no question which of the two is Madam President. It's not a great role, but she does a pretty good job, considering the script contains lines like, "Hey, baby, don't be stolid---be solid!" and enough people saying "Gee, that's swell!" to support an entire drinking game.

And this seems as good a time as ever to point out that, between this movie and Honeymoon, I think I'm over Shirley Temple now, and have moved on to Myrna Loy, who, as IMDB notes, was a "feminist and lifelong Democrat." What a shame she was never ambassador to anything. I'd have totally voted for her.


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