". . . (Auntie Mame) was enchanted to see a huge bouquet from Cesar Ritz himself waiting in her sitting room.
'Ah, dear old M. Ritz,' she said wistfully. 'He never forgets me.'
'Few do,' I said, casing the Louis Seize splendor of the room."
In 1955, Patrick Dennis (pseudonym of author Edward Everett Tanner III) delighted the reading public with his wickedly funny novel Auntie Mame. The book, a hilarious account of Patrick’s adventures growing up in his eccentric aunt’s household, quickly reached bestseller status. From it came equally successful Broadway and movie adaptations, starring Rosalind Russell as Mame. Miss Russell was so suited to the role that it’s now hard to imagine anyone else in the part, with the possible exception of Angela Lansbury in the 1966 musical version.
The success of Auntie Mame made it almost inevitable that a sequel would follow. Tanner obliged his audience, and Around the World with Auntie Mame appeared in 1958. This novel is that rare phenomenon, a sequel that’s as good or perhaps better than its precursor. Some of the terms and situations are a bit dated now, but the humor and wit have survived the years just fine.
Around the World with Auntie Mame takes up the story shortly after the end of the original novel. Patrick and his wife Pegeen are anxious about the fate of their young son, Michael. It seems the boy has gone off on a "little trip around the world" with Auntie Mame, and there hasn’t been any word of the pair for months now. Naturally, Patrick’s not really worried about their son, but Pegeen has just about had enough of waiting for news.
To console her, and keep peace in the family, Patrick tries to reassure Pegeen that a trip with Auntie Mame is not the dangerous undertaking she suspects it is. He attempts this by recounting, chapter by chapter, a madcap 1937 trip around the world with his aunt. Of course, what Patrick tells his wife, and what actually happened, are sometimes two different stories . . .
And now, let’s go Around the World with Auntie Mame:
Auntie Mame and the City of Light: The tour starts off in Paris, naturally. They are joined there by Mame’s oldest and dearest friend, "The First Lady of the American Theatre", Vera Charles. As Patrick describes her:
"Vera Charles needs no introduction to anyone who ever went to the theater between the Civil and Korean wars. She was a fabulous clothes horse, an absolute star, and is said to have killed off more producers than alcohol, heart disease, and suicide put together."
It’s all fun and games until they encounter Patrick’s financial trustee, the staid Mr. Dwight Babcock, who’s taken the unprecedented step (for him) of vacationing in Paris with his family. Auntie Mame and Patrick have to put on a respectable front, and they do, until an episode at the Folies Bergère leads to high kicks and high confusion all around.
Auntie Mame in Court Circles: Auntie Mame and Patrick, with Vera in tow, move on to London, where Mame declares her intention to be presented at the Court of St. James. To that end, she enlists the services of Lady Gravell-Pitt, a pretentious old dame who assures Mame that she can make the proper arrangements. Lady Gravell-Pitt moves in and takes over, all the better to prepare Mame for 'moving in Court circles'. But when weeks pass with no presentation in sight, Patrick and Vera take matters into their own hands – with some unintended results.
Auntie Mame and the Fortune-Hunter
. It’s on to Biarritz
, where Mame, now with her recently acquired beau
Captain Basil Fitz-Hugh, finds Vera hopelessly smitten with an oily South American gigolo
. Never one to let a friend down in her hour of need, Mame concocts a plan to rescue Vera. The plan succeeds just a bit too well, though, and while Vera escapes the clutches of the fortune hunter
, Mame loses something she might’ve wanted to hold on to.
Auntie Mame and a Family Affair
. In Venice
, Mame literally bumps into an old friend from her youth in Buffalo
. Mame becomes the toast of Venetian society until her late husband’s Cousin Elmore arrives from Georgia
. He’s a man who put the obnoxious in obnoxious
, and alienates all of Mame’s friends with his off-color jokes and loud mouth. Every plan Mame concocts to get rid of him backfires, and it’s up to Patrick to "do something" before she winds up a social pariah
– and married to Cousin Elmore!
Auntie Mame in her Mountain Retreat. Mame and Patrick move on to Austria, where a chance meeting with young Baron von Hodenlohern turns into something a bit more serious. Not only does Mame become infatuated with the Baron, but she buys his entire castle, Schloss Stinkenbach, planning to turn it into a quaint mountain retreat. Later, in the midst of a village celebration, Vera makes an unexpected reappearance:
"Then the laughing stopped and there was utter silence for a couple of seconds, interrupted only by that phony, mellifluous voice so dear to the hearts of theatergoers everywhere. 'Jesus,' the voice rang out, 'do we have to be dragged all the way to Shangri-La for one lousy, goddamned gallon of gas?'"
After a happy (and loud) reunion, Mame shows Vera around 'her' castle and 'her' village. Despite Vera’s misgivings, and Patrick’s disgust with the entire plan, Mame carries on with her mountain retreat scheme. But all is not quite as it seems with the Baron and his old-world family.
Auntie Mame and the Middle Eastern Powder Keg. After a bit too much sun and sand near Cairo, Mame retreats, with Patrick, to a villa in 'the real Egypt'. There, she’s swept up into the goings-on at the European Union Club and has to contend with not one, but two pompous society matrons, both determined to ingratiate Mame into their rigid, well-controlled social whirl. Mame, however, decides to have a bit of fun and plays one off the other, and manages to find some time to smooth the course of true love.
Auntie Mame and the Long Voyage Home. It appears Mame and Patrick will be stuck in Port Said until the next boat for New York arrives in a week. Then, Patrick meets a missionary and his attractive young daughter, who invite him and his aunt to join them on their voyage back to America. Once aboard, Mame and Patrick discover the 'nice boat' is actually a hot, nasty fishing boat with a Greek crew that can barely speak English. A few more discoveries result in a meeting with the Imperial Japanese Fleet, and a trip home aboard an American light cruiser!
Auntie Mame and Home-coming. Patrick finishes his reminiscences just as the doorbell rings. Of course it’s Auntie Mame and Michael, returned at last from their trip. But will Pegeen ever find out just what they did during their travels?
If you haven’t met Auntie Mame yet, you’re missing out. Both books are at last back in print, and are perfect for those times when you want to curl up with the proverbial good book.
A submission for The Bookworm Turns: An Everything Literary Quest.