Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Name of This Blog

I named this blog after the title of John D MacDonald's short story, published in the April 1960 issue of Ladies Home Journal. One of JDM's very best, it was considered worthy of inclusion in his first short story collection End of the Tiger and Other Stories in 1966. Running 22,000 words, the Journal advertised it on their cover as a "condensed novel". In 1967 it was adapted for television as part of an ambitious anthology series titled ABC Stage 67 (the episode ran on January 4, 1967), and starred Cliff Robertson, Dina Merrill and a not-yet-famous Dustin Hoffman.

"The Trap of Solid Gold" is MacDonald in Cheever country, without any of Cheever's moral ambiguities. It's a simple story of an ambitious young corporate executive and his family, and how the demands of keeping up appearances in order to impress the boss slowly eat away at the family's finances and, concurrently, the fabric of the marriage. Ben Weldon needs an expensive house in the suburbs, a country club membership, the ability and willingness to entertain frequently in his home, because that is what is expected in order to advance in the company. Already in debt, the Weldon's find that any crisis out of the ordinary locks them further and further into a "trap" they can never escape from. As MacDonald colorfully put it, "it's like being pecked to death by sparrows." It is a brutally realistic tale, marred by only one major flaw in logic, and the reader comes away with an admiration of MacDonald for the challenge he set for himself in making a riveting story out of such mundane subject matter. It also proved that JDM could step outside of the mystery and science fiction box and compete in the world of contemporary fiction, although this was certainly not the first time he did this.

The ABC Stage 67 dramatization has never been officially released for home viewing or rebroadcast, to my knowledge. There was a rumor floating around once that ABC had erased the original masters (all 26 episodes were shot, for the most part, on videotape) and all that survived were black and white dupes housed in The Museum of Television and Radio. This doesn't jibe with the fact that the show's most famous episode, Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory," was rebroadcast several years ago by A&E, and in color. I've seen unlicensed copies of episodes for sale on the Internet purporting to be in color, including "Trap," but I've never tried to order a copy. Hopefully the series will be re-released one day. Musical Theater lovers especially should be storming the castle to get these things out, as no fewer than five original musicals were produced for the series, composed by the likes of Stephen Sondheim, Bacharach & David, Bock & Harnick, Richard Adler and Julie Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

So what does all this have to do with the title to this blog? Nothing, really, except for the fact that I really like this story and the title has a wonderful ring to it. I could go into how it's also a metaphor for the the works of John D MacDonald and the effect those works have on the fans of this author, but that would be veering into zones of pretension that MacDonald so eschewed.

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