YA literature of the 1950’s and ‘60’s knew what girls wanted. I think of it as the three F’s: Friendship, Freedom, and Fun. Some of my favorite authors of the time period, including Jane Trahey (The Trouble With Angels), Mary Rogers (Freaky Friday), and Beverly Cleary (Ramona books) covered the three F’s so well that their books and movie adaptations will always be timeless. Such is the case with this week’s film, based on the novel by Nora Johnson, The World of Henry Orient (Disc/Download).
In many ways, this movie displays a fairy-tale version of Manhattan. Two teenage girls roam freely through Central Park, leaping over sidewalk trash cans, having grand and glorious adventures under the shadow of skyscrapers and brownstones without fear of being raped, murdered, or mugged. Marian and Viv are like charming characters from a Wes Anderson film (down to the fur coat worn by disaffected Viv); more concerned with meeting heartthrob pianist Henry Orient (played by Peter Sellers) than they are with their parents’ divorces. In fact, it’s only when Viv’s adulterous mother (played by a sexxxxxxy Angela Lansbury) has an affair with Orient that the adult world starts to seep into their halcyon afternoons. They’re suddenly forced to grow up, to realize that the people who are supposed to protect them aren’t doing such a good job of it. Maybe all a girl can really count on is her BFF. And, a cuddly Tom Bosley.
The Peter Sellers character Henry Orient is a strange bird. He spends most of his time having affairs and playing piano very, very badly. His name gives rise to some Asian-influenced style choices by the girls, including one scene with conical hats, and his apartment is very red and very lacquered. He also sounds like he hails from either Italy or New Jersey, depending on the scene and the sentence. Truly, a man of mystery. While watching The World of Henry Orient, I suggest drinking this Red Lotus cocktail
1.5 oz Vodka
1.5 oz Hana Lychee Sake
1.5 oz Cranberry juice
1.5 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Grenadine
Combine ingredients in a shaker filled with ice, shake until chilled, then strain into a martini glass.
There’s something about these vintage teen girl stories which resonates even stronger with me than the YA literature we know today. In discovering The World of Henry Orient as an adult, I’ve found a tale that feels like a cool wind whipping through the leaves of Central Park. It allows me to imagine an innocent place where precocious girls giggle, whisper, and “adventure” long after the sun has set, experiencing the heady rush of true freedom. Cheers!