Some of the most endearing characters on Saturday Night Live! in the late seventies and into the eighties were Gilda Radner’s creations. My favorite was Judy Miller and her ‘showtime.’ Dressed in her GSA Brownie uniform, Gilda/Judy hosted and performed some of her ‘shows’ in the privacy of her own pink frilly bedroom. She crashed into closet doors, leaped on the bed, rolled around, and ran through a dizzying series of story lines until she landed, exhausted on the floor. The performances amounted to what appeared to be a great catharsis or at least an escape from a too real world. So many of us miss Gilda’s magic. I miss Judy, too, but I can watch her now on YouTube.
Long before SNL! arrived on the NBC network and changed television programming forever, I was a teenager in suburban Chicago. Lucky to have a bedroom to myself nine months of the year, I passed a lot of time in front of the mirror attached to my bedroom door. There, I staged my own American Bandstand as 45-rpm discs turned on my little record player. My shows ended every summer when our L.A. grandmother took over my sister’s room and forced her to share mine. Until then I was the star and host of a very secret—I thought—show.
It all started in eighth grade when, and who knows why, my homeroom teacher arranged our class’s visit to WGN-TV and the Bandstand Matinee show. My classmates and I danced to a string of songs until the host Jim Lounsbury announced a dance contest. Little Anthony and the Imperials’ “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” began and one of the cutest boys in the class, determined to win, asked me to partner. I knew all the right moves, and Ray wasn’t so bad himself. We won. I still have the prize, a 78-rpm record of that song, which Little Anthony himself handed to me.
My bedroom mirror extravaganzas were one way to imagine myself as Queen of the Hop. I knew I social-danced well and I couldn’t get enough of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Slow dances were boring. Rock was fun, at least through high school.
And I sang, too—in Senior Choir, Mixed Ensemble, the Holiday singers, in Student Stunts, and in the Music Department’s Annual (or were they biennial?) musicals. When I went away to college, the Season of Susan Shows ended. There was no time.
Here comes the Reveal: I still dance by myself to recorded music, either in front of the bathroom mirror or, lately, in my kitchen. Time to feed the cat? Open the can, put on WXRT, and rock until my kitty finishes his portion—or maybe a little bit longer. Time to fix dinner? Chop a little, bop a little. I have found a couple of radio stations that play the music of my generation or thereabouts, and the old moves carry me back to a time of endless imagining and anticipation. While dancing, I recall the pleasure of shaping space and claiming it for myself, even if I’m doing a very modest lindy hop. The great, if brief, escape, the moves are part of some private narrative at work. I think those early performances in front of my bedroom mirror were a prelude to my careers in puppetry, museum interpretive services/education, and now full-time writing. Isn’t it all about story-telling?
Gilda Radner’s frenzied but authentic Judy Miller skits resonate with me. I thought about them last week as I worked out some steps to something by the Rolling Stones just before adding some ingredients to a recipe. I nearly ruined the sauce by adding too much of one thing and too little of another. Note to self: be mindful. Grateful I can still move with some grace, I think I will need to choreograph now with caution if I prep anything more complicated than a sandwich.