Persuasions #4, 1982                                                                                                                                            Page 8






Walter Kerr

(We thought the following excerpt from Mr. Kerr’s column – printed with his permission – would amuse our readers.)

I don’t understand why Bernard Slade believes he is, willingly or unwillingly, coming under the direct influence of Jane Austen. Mr. Slade is, of course, the chap who wrote the enormously popular Same Time, Next Year and thereafter provided Jack Lemmon with a vehicle called Tribute. In neither of these was there any reference that I can recall to a Mr. Darcy or a Mr. Knightley or a Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Mr. Slade made up his own characters. He was, you might say, his own man.

This season, however, he came visiting with a play called Special Occasions, in which Suzanne Pleshette and Richard Mulligan appeared as a divorced couple who kept meeting at weddings and school graduations and funerals …. What I was about to tell you was that Miss Pleshette, after one bout of idle banter, suddenly exclaimed, “Jesus! I sound like Jane Austen!” Naturally, I was alerted by this and swiftly began backtracking to see if I could remember what it was that had apparently resembled one of the more elegant ironies of Emma. I think I remember the line, all right. It had been tossed off to her former husband, and I believe it ran like this, “Don’t call me ‘Toots,’ it makes us sound too intimate.”

Now I don’t know. Does that have the old Austen resonance for you? I honestly believe it might prove a bit misleading as a sample of what a beginning reader should expect from Sense and Sensibility.

Actually, Miss Pleshette’s exclamation at first seemed so unlikely that I thought perhaps I’d misunderstood her and that she’d said, “Jean Arthur,” instead. In fact, once I thought of it, I hoped she’d said “Jean Arthur.” … No use inventing excuses or alibis, though. It wasn’t all that long before Miss Pleshette and Mr. Mulligan got to chatting about family affairs, and I’ll be hanged if Miss Pleshette wasn’t up to her tricks again. “We have three children,” her husband quoted her as saying, “in whom we take great pride – and prejudice.”

You can see what’s going to happen. Any minute now the universities are going to be turning out scholarly dissertations labeled “The Social Structures of Jane Austen as Echoed in the Work of Bernard Slade to a Contemporary Understanding of Jane Austen.”

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