September 29, 2006

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

’60s film recalls the tensions in prejudice

Recently, after a busy day, I turned on the television to check Turner Classic Movies, one of the few TV stations that I watch for good films. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner had just begun.

Because neither my husband nor I had ever seen it, we decided to have dinner in front of the TV. Paul set up tray tables and served the “crab gumbo” that I had kept simmering in a crock pot for most of the day. It is very rare for us to do this because we believe dining and TV do not mix well, but the movie was that important to us.

For those unfamiliar with this Academy Award-winning film, let me explain that it deals with racial issues. A wealthy white couple, played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, have their values challenged when their daughter brings home her fiancé, who is black. The idea was considered shocking at the time.

Paul and I have never understood that kind of prejudice, and do not believe that a difference in skin color or ethnic back-ground or religion should be an issue in relationships. Fortunately, we passed on this openness to our daughters.

For readers not familiar with the 1967 film, I highly recommend searching for a copy of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Paul and I and some of our friends have since had good conversations about it.

It has been interesting learning that Spencer Tracy was deathly ill while filming his role as the father, yet I would not have guessed that from his acting. It was his last film. Katharine Hepburn, the mother in the film, was in love with Spencer Tracy in real life.

I was delighted to find Cecil Kellway portraying the Catholic monsignor, whose comfortable demeanor, attitude and words of wisdom reflect the teaching of the Catholic Church.

I’m a longtime fan of Sidney Poitier, too, and he played the fiancé who was a doctor to Katharine Houghton’s role as the wealthy couple’s daughter. The fiancé’s parents were Roy Glenn and Beah Richards, and the housekeeper-maid was played by Isabel Sanders. All are superb in their roles. The film is not without production flaws, but I consider it a classic.

After the film ended, I remembered the following poem that I wrote for a friend whose daughter has a successful interracial marriage. For those in similar relationships, I dedicate it to all of you:


Youthful romance, black and white:
sunshine on a sable night,
moonbeams on a midnight day,
mellowing what others say.
Silent yearning—whispered, dear—
crystallizing passions clear—
warning shunned, caution fleet,
knowing love is bittersweet.
Hearts retreating from the hate,
souls entreating gentle fate,
union bright in graying light,
vital force—not black, not white.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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