Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!

Rosalind Russell and Jan Handzlik

Auntie Mame (1958)

Auntie Mame – both the movie and the character – is a vibrant splash of color, energy, and excitement. The film takes place over several years but there is never a dull moment in the action, just as in Mame’s own life, and it is an eye-catching joy to watch, right from the kaleidoscopey opening sequence to the heartwarming end. As for the titular character, who changes her home décor as often as she changes her clothes, and flits from one trendy hobby to another, one could easily dismiss Mame as a carefree, scatter-brained, capricious socialite. But her compassion and her humanity belie her outward demeanor, making her a person of depth and substance: a person worth knowing… and loving.

Rosalind Russell steals the show as Mame Dennis, a woman who brings new meaning to the phrase “carpe diem”. She is whimsical, quixotic, and urbane. She is warm, loving, and fiercely loyal. When her recently orphaned nephew Patrick walks into her life, she welcomes him with open arms and drops him headfirst into her pool of hipster friends and cocktail parties, talking a mile a minute and having him write down all the words he doesn’t know. Though unconventional, life with Auntie Mame is hardly a difficult existence for the young boy, who comes to find himself even more loved and appreciated than he ever was with his late father. Mame’s ultimate goal is to expand Patrick’s cultural horizons and open doors for him – “doors [he] never even knew existed.” She sends him to an avant-garde nudist school (where they play a game called Fish Families and have yogurt time), teaches him to tend bar properly (“stir, never shake – it bruises the gin”), and adores him as if he were her own child.

Jan Handzlik

Following a series of events, Patrick is sadly shipped off to an uptight boarding school and Mame is forced to get a job… or better yet, a series of amusingly bumbling attempts at professionalism (my favorite scene is Mame as the telephone operator at the tongue-twisting legal offices of Widdecombe, Gutterman, Applewhite, Bibberman, and Black). Throughout it all, Patrick and Mame are each other’s rock, picking the other up when they are down, always knowing what to say or do to make the other feel better. Christmas during the Depression is an especially hard time for Mame, who absolutely shines in a touching scene where she manages to buy presents for her staff despite having been fired. Her staff pools their own money together to pay off her bills, and she and Patrick share a ‘Gift of the Magi’ moment where each has pawned their prized possessions to get the other one a present. Overall, it’s a very touching scene that demonstrates how close these characters are, how they are more like family to one another than friends or employees, and how kindhearted and generous Mame must be during the rest of the year that these people feel a need to repay her in such a big way.

Just when she thinks she’s scraping the bottom of the barrel, Mame is swept off her feet by a new beau: southern gentleman and do-gooder Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside of Peckerwood (yet another delightful tongue-twister). He happens to be in oil, which is not affected by the stock market crash (“It just keeps on gushing, and not much I can do about it”), takes a liking to Mame, and brings her home to meet his folks. While there, she is accosted by his crotchety old mother, as well as a scheming southern belle who is a rival for Beau’s affections, and a demon horse that keeps trying to buck her. However, she sails through like a champ, prompting Beau to propose marriage, and the two take off to explore the world together.

While Mame and her beau Beau (ha!) are trekking through the Swiss Alps, Patrick has allowed himself to be influenced by his preppy college friends and has grown up to be a self-righteous asshat. He brings his snooty, upper-crust girlfriend home to meet Auntie Mame, but makes it clear that he is ashamed of his aunt’s non-traditional behavior and begs her to “try and act like a normal human being for five minutes”. Though hurt, Mame quickly helps Patrick realize what a douchenozzle he is being, and is courteous enough to entertain not only his girlfriend but her gaudy, anti-Semitic parents as well. Knowing the young couple are not a good match, Mame orchestrates an eccentric, over-the-top party to scare them off for good, complete with pickled rattlesnake, flaming cocktails, and adjustable chairs. In attendance at the party are all of Mame and Patrick’s old pals (as well as my favorite character, Agnes Gooch, who appears to be the inspiration for many a Saturday Night Live sketch), on hand to remind Patrick of his happy childhood with Mame and the good life he lived, compared to how dull and boring his potential in-laws are.

Full of vim and vigor, Mame is brave enough to live her life to the fullest, and encourages others to do the same (often to humorous effect). Her vivacious passion and energy allow her to pursue one dream after another, while never losing sight of the important things in life. She is a daring adventurer, yearning to see the world but also to have someone to share its splendor and mystery with. She is a chic social butterfly with a strong maternal streak, taking in Patrick and “the Gooch” out of the kindness of her heart and making her employees feel like family. She is open-minded and big-hearted, witty and inspiring. Best of all, she knows how to throw a good party!

Cocktails #1 & 2: Set Changes (a.k.a. What I Found Whilst Traipsing Down The Aisles Of My Local Asian Market)

We need a few fun, easy-drinking, exotic little numbers to kick us off. Inspired by the awesome dragon door knocker with smoke-blowing nostrils and peephole eyes from Mame’s Asian-themed apartment decor.

  • 1 & 1/2 oz lemongrass infused vodka (I did a quick infusion in an ISI cream whipper, but you could always take the time and do it right, as the lemongrass flavor is very subtle)
  • 3 oz roasted coconut juice
  • 3/4 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz simple syrup or juice from can of lychees
  • splash of soda water (I used coconut flavored)

Build in a highball glass and stir with ice. Garnish with a stalk of lemongrass, a pineapple wedge, and a paper umbrella. Optional: add some chewy coconut jelly cubes and a big fat boba straw 🙂

cocktail ingredients

Step One: make lychee lemonade mixture in a blender with 2 parts canned lychee and 1 part fresh lemon juice, reserving a few whole lychees for garnish

  • 2 oz lychee lemonade mixture (above)
  • 1 oz white rum or Malibu coconut rum
  • 3/4 oz simple syrup or juice from canned lychees
  • garnish: lychee

Stir in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into an old fashioned glass with crushed ice and add garnish.

Cocktail #3: Oh, golly, short pants at last!

In celebration of summer! From Heavy Table.

  • 1 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz elderflower liqueur
  • 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
  • 2 oz spicy ginger ale
  • Bittermen’s Hellfire bitters
  • garnish: carambola slice

Stir all ingredients (except ginger ale) in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a highball glass, top with ginger ale, and add garnish.

cocktail ingredients

Cocktail #4: Passion Fruit Caipirinha

Fresh and fruity, with lovely delicious crunchiness from the passion fruit seeds. I loooove it. Make sure to keep stirring as you sip, to balance the cachaca with all that unmelted sugar. From Cynthia Presser.

  • seeds of 1 small passion fruit
  • 3 tbl sugar
  • 1 & 1/2 oz cachaca

Muddle passion fruit seeds and sugar in an old fashioned glass. Stir with cachaca and crushed ice.

Cocktail #5: Flaming Mame

CineMixers’ last-minute take on the Burnt Orange, a delicious cocktail we had the pleasure of trying at Todd English’s bluezoo in Walt Disney World. “The trick is to drink them up fast before all the alcohol burns away.” You thought we were only gonna make two cocktails for this movie? Heck no! Life is a banquet, my friends, and most poor suckers are starving to death!

Step One: puree 1 large peach with 1 tsp honey, reserving 1 slice of peach for the garnish

  • 2 & 1/2 oz peach puree (above)
  • 1/2 oz mezcal
  • 1/2 oz brandy
  • 3/4 oz Cointreau
  • garnish: peach slice

Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. For the garnish, generously coat the peach slice in sugar. Caramelize the sugar with a brulee torch or lighter. Dip the peach slice briefly in high proof alcohol such as Everclear or Bacardi 151. Skewer atop glass and light on fire. My garnish burned very briefly as I only had a bit of alcohol for it to feed on – you can see just the tip of the baby flames in the picture above.

cocktail ingredients

For comparison, here’s the description of the original bluezoo drink: “Herradura Blanco infused with bruleed orange and muddled with agave nectar, grand marnier, and orange juice. Topped with a flaming orange.” Although I enjoyed the smokiness of the mezcal here, I’d love to try making this drink again once I get my hands on some herradura, and I’ll also try soaking the orange slice in alcohol for a while to get a good burn on. Ain’t it a beaut? And just for fun, here’s some extra credit reading from Serious Eats on cognac vs. brandy, and curacao vs. triple sec. Happy drinking, y’all!

Rosalind Russell