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The International Writers Magazine:Memories

Patrick Swayze
James Skinner

‘When my daughter visited us a few months back, as my wife and I were watching a video of ‘Dirty Dancing’ her first remark was, ‘aren’t you a bit old for that kind of movie?’ I didn’t know whether to burst out laughing, cry or simply tell her to go fly a kite. Typical remark from an offspring that has no idea what their parent’s life is or was all about, I thought.

All I could utter was ‘yes’, and continued watching one of my favourite musicals for the umpteenth time since it was first released in video (DVD’s weren’t around yet). How could I explain to her that the time period of the film was part of my own life during my mid-twenties? Not only the music, the dancing and the ‘puppy love’ theme that eats into your heart at such a tender age, but the whole scenario and time period reminded me of my youth. Kellerman’s holiday camp to start with brought back memories of the days when Butlin’s holiday camps in the United Kingdom where most English young studs would spent a couple of weeks chasing the ‘birds’ was no different to the ‘goings on’ of similar guys in the movie. Then there was the mention of the ‘Peace Corps’ that young ‘Baby’ was hell bent on joining.

I remember a colleague of mine during my stint in the USA in the mid-eighties who had spent three years with one of John F. Kennedy’s brainchild organizations in Central America. There was no doubt that his attitude to life was quite different to the rest of us ‘hard core’ executives trying to set targets and goals in an emerging cut-throat competitive business world. He was calmer, cooler and certainly ‘spot on’ in dealing with the ‘locals’ as we tried to break into the Latin American scene with our products.

How about old man Kellerman’s parting words in the final dance scene, ‘This isn’t what the kids want today! It’s trips to Europe!’ How true! Doing the mambo and the cha-cha-cha died as soon as Elvis Presley was born and Rock and Roll was here to stay. But fortunately Johnny Castle’s music and ‘dirty dancing’ was a preview of the future and we can thank our lucky stars that it is still around to remind us of those magnificent sixties. Hey, hold on, am I going to fast? Maybe you readers don’t even know what I’m talking about. Maybe you’ve never heard of Dirty Dancing or even what the movie was all about and why I’m so chocked up at this moment in time. OK; back to the beginning.

Here’s the storyline.
It’s the early sixties of the last century. A middle aged couple from the Bing Crosby era with two young daughters take a holiday in what was a typical ‘all inclusive’ holiday resort in the New York mountain area known as Catskill. The father is tired, the wife is complacent and whilst the eldest daughter is ready for fun, the younger is simply bored stiff. But fate is ready to change her life. She meets the head of the music entertainment section and falls in love.

It’s a pretty simple love story with exceptional music except for one thing. Like ‘Casablanca’ it’s a work of cinematic art where everything fits. All the actors and dancers, the score, the dance scenes, the plot, the ‘boy-meets-girl-but-dad-doesn’t-approve’ script and above all the two main characters, ‘Baby’ (Jennifer Gray who happens to be the daughter of Joel Gray who played the Master of Ceremonies in ‘Cabaret’) and Johnny (Patrick Swayze) are perfect. Tears flow as you watch the final reconciliation scene between family and boyfriend after a fantastic musical number. No wonder it has become a classic. But the tears didn’t stop at the fiction. It’s turned into a real life drama.

In March 2008, Patrick Swayze, whose whole career took a flying leap after the film, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. At age 55 he is now suffering from the worst type of this evil illness that has and affects millions of beings of the human race. When the news broke out I just could not believe it. I forgot about Dirty Dancing and began to reminisce about some of the other great films in which he took part such as Ghost (within the best 20 love stories every produced on film) and To Wong Foo thanks for everything, Julie Newmar, all about three drag queens who get stranded in a small town in the middle of nowhere. I also recall an interview on CNN with commentator Richard Quest who brought us viewers into his home and his horse raising farm and showed us the simple and satisfied lifestyle of one of Hollywood’s most respectable stars. I recall how he said during the interview that he ‘just loved dancing’. It was a whole part of his life.
There is not much more to say except that this small tribute goes out to assist him in his fight against time, plus a prayer for him and Lisa Niemi, his wife of thirty years.
Patrick, Jennifer and Dirty Dancing all have a place in my private movie ‘Hall of Fame’.
© James G. Skinner. June 2008.

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