The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
The City That Doesn’t Sleep
These days, everyone’s got a streaming service offering original programming, the titans being Netflix and Amazon Prime, with more on the way. It’s difficult to pick and choose which service you want to spend your hard-earned cash on, and what shows to watch. I don’t have too much time to commit to watching a series, and the few shows I do watch take up more time than I would care to admit (part of me is almost happy that Netflix cancelled most of their Marvel lineup). There’s one relatively new streaming service that produces a particular program that has occupied most of my time. Despite having only one show I’m interested in watching, I have a monthly subscription to CBS All Access, and the show in question is Star Trek: Discovery. Friends who have known me for most of my life know that I’m a huge Trek fan (a “Trekkie”, if you will). I’ve seen every episode of every incarnation of the franchise, and all of the movies. Multiple times, I might add.
But maybe I’m not as big of a Trekkie as I think I am, since I’ve never once been remotely interested in attending any of its conventions, or dressing up as any of the characters (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s just not my thing). The other night, however, I found myself standing in the freezing cold in front of The Paris Theater in midtown Manhattan, hoping to get a glimpse of the cast of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I belong to a Facebook group of fans of the show, and someone found out where they were holding the (secret) Season 2 Premiere red carpet event. I had just come from shopping in that area, and was getting settled in at home when I saw the Facebook post, announcing the location. When I saw it, I felt a sudden urge to get back down there. I forgot about dinner (despite being famished), and high-tailed it back to Manhattan, from my home in Queens. While standing on the frigid sidewalk, hoping some generous soul would ask me to accompany them inside, I pondered my actions of the last forty-five minutes. Why was I there? When I first started (belatedly) watching the Amazon hit series, I had already begun to question myself as to why I found it so… I guess “engrossing” best describes how I feel about it. Like how did I get here, and get here so fast? You see, I’m one of those unfortunate souls who wastes precious time trying to figure out why I do and like certain things, especially things that don’t quite seem to match up with other things I may like or do. But I’m done with this particular chapter of my pointless and tortuous self-analysing. I think I finally have it figured out.
I was born in a hospital that no longer exists, that was once located in midtown Manhattan, but I grew up in Staten Island. Though part of the five boroughs that make up New York City, it’s so distant, it might as well be its own state. I suppose that distance is what makes it culturally distinct from the rest of New York, i.e. less cosmopolitan, more rural. Fortunately, my paternal grandmother (whom we affectionately called “Nana”) insisted that my parents make sure we knew something about the world beyond our small neighborhood. Whether by bus, train, plane, or dad’s Dodge Dart, she and my parents took us up and down the east coast, and we twice visited my mother’s home in St. Croix (U.S. Virgin Islands). While I enjoyed those trips, and had a great childhood in Staten Island, nothing seemed to fascinate me more than Manhattan. The lights, the crowds, the buildings the sights and sounds, all of it entranced my young mind! The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel takes place long before I was born, but during my childhood, there was still so much of the old New York to see. Some of the trolley rails were still visible in certain areas, the Third Avenue El was still in service in the Bronx, and the World Trade Center (which I hated as a kid, but now miss dearly) had yet to be built. Some of the older car models were still on the road, Nedicks, Woolworth (better known as the Five and Dime), and OTB (Off-Track Betting, the smoke-filled, betting ticket littered floors which my father frequented) were still a thing, and you could smoke a cigarette pretty much anywhere you pleased. What attracted me most to Manhattan, was the architecture. Those grand, ancient structures were the work of giants, in my young mind. Not giants in stature, but giants in creativity and vision.
Nana took us all over Manhattan; we went to Broadway shows, movies, museums, and concerts. She took us shopping at Gimbels, Macy’s, and Alexander’s. What I didn’t experience first-hand, I learned of from eavesdropping on the adults; about the smoky jazz clubs, and underground comedy venues (much like the Gaslight, I would assume). Before halal carts and bodegas, New York had hot dog stands and delis. The smell of hot pretzels, chestnuts, knishes, and hot dogs were everywhere you went. When I watch TMMM, it reminds me of all of this.
There’s another connection between the show and my grandmother that I’d like to mention, and that is the character of Zelda, the housekeeper played by Matilda Szydagis.
My grandmother arrived in New York from Greenwood, South Carolina in 1938. She held two long-term jobs that I know of. Her second job (from which she would retire in 1979) was that of an elevator operator at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx (a job Midge failed to procure at B. Altman, if you recall), her first being a live-in maid for a Jewish family in New Rochelle. She was a fantastic cook, but she learned to prepare “northern” dishes, and kosher meals during her time working for this family. When I watch Zelda on TMMM, for me, it’s like a small glimpse into a part of my Nana’s past.
The character of Moishe Maisel is one that is familiar to me. My grandmother loved her furs and and her jewels, and she trusted no one but Jewish business men to provide her these things. They loved my grandmother, and were kind to my siblings and I. I’ve always had a thing for languages, but you’d be surprised to learn that I didn’t learn Yiddish from these vendors, but from my father. It never occurred to me to ask why he sometimes spoke it, though it may have something to do with the young Jewish nurse he was cheating on my mother with, and would eventually leave her for. My therapist (himself Jewish) tells me the younger generations don’t care for Yiddish these days, which is really a shame, I think. It is one of the most colorful languages I’ve ever heard, and TMMM offers so much nostalgia in that regard.
The beauty of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, is that you don’t have to have lived in New York, or during that particular era to enjoy the show. What I’ve written here is miles apart from what I’m used to writing. I began writing it the week of the beginning of the second season. It was all stream of consciousness, that I (foolishly) tried to make into a proper article (it’s why it took so long for me to publish, if fact). This was personal for me, as is TMMM. I’m pleased that so many have embraced Amy Sherman-Palladino’s New York in the 1950’s. New York was always a magical city, it seems, and despite all that has changed, it still is.
Oh! Just in case you’re one of the nonbelievers (or maybe you’re just curious), follow this link and have a look at one of televisions greatest shows.