And among those old movies that rank up there as some of my favorites are The Andy Hardy movies that starred Mickey Rooney as the impetuous, excitable youth learning about life, love, family and friendship in his small town of Carvel in the 1930s and ‘40s.
From his ‘man to man’ talks with his father, Carvel Judge James Hardy, to his active involvement in the school and its social scene, to walking down the sidewalks of a quaint Main Street full of grocers, mechanics, druggists and any other essential store, manned by a smiling face tha knows everyone in town, to gliding beside the white picket fences that adorned the houses of people who lived beside each other, laughed with each other and looked out for each other, the Andy Hardy movies provide life as an optimistic, we’re in this together, looking out for your fellow man journey to being a better person, even if you get into a scrape along the way.
It defines that ideal that we look back on thanks to those movies (and later, TV shows) of life during those years of perfection. Of Americana.
Oh, how I wish it was, but deep down, I know it’s not.
The films, set in the fictional town of Carvel (somewhere, never named, in the Midwest) were sentimental comedies that celebrated ordinary American life as if it walked off the cover of a Norman Rockwell cover to the Saturday Evening Post. The people in Carvel were generally pious, patriotic, generous and tolerant.
But it was not real. Not even for the time.
The town of Carvel was a representation of what MGM movie mogul Louis B. Mayer wanted his adoptive country of America to be. It was an idealized vision.
As writer Victoria Balloon points out in a 2011 Matinee at The Bijou Blog post brilliantly dissecting the Andy Hardy film series, Louis B. Mayer was not looking to reflect what America was at the time. He was instead looking to instill an idea of what he, as the son of Jewish-Russian immigrants, wanted America to be. Rooney himself referred to it as “part of L.B. Mayer’s master plan to reinvent America….He wanted values to be instilled in the country and knew how influential films could be…”
I know this. Every time I watch one of these movies I know this, and yet, it makes no difference in my longing to find such a place for my son (and soon to be children) grow up.
We love our little house, purchased right before we got married. Our next door neighbor’s are always there with a helping hand and watchful eye when we need it, families across and down the road that are a pleasure to see and chat with, and up until a few years ago, we had two WWII vets (one next to us and one across from us) also among our daily cast of characters. Both have since passed away.
But I’m fooling myself if I didn’t admit that with our family expanding, we continue to be on the lookout for something a little bigger, something with a little more space. While our street itself is relatively calm (with a few exceptions), it’s becoming apparent to me that the surrounding area as a whole is not faring as well, be it crime, drugs, or other issues. Maybe it’s a residual effect of working in news and having the press releases constantly stream across your desk, making you realize what’s going on in your tiny village, but it of course has me concerned how long things can hold.
But when we do, even casually, look outward, I find myself constantly shrugging my shoulders at potential locations.
Because it’s not Carvel.
Maybe not Carvel specifically, but it’s because in the back of my mind, even if it’s not conscious, I am looking for Carvel. And it doesn’t exist.
It never did.
If I could just convince my subconscious mind of that…