Does anybody not love Dirty Dancing? At least for the many of us who were the darling Frances "Baby" Houseman, the idealistic, embryonic 60's activist, Daddy's girl for her brains, not her looks, the film is a misty, wonderful time capsule. And so, it may be, in essence, a women's film - so romantic and sexy in a new-at-sex kind of way. But it wouldn't have worked without the sweet, gifted Patrick Swayze, who died today. Although as Johnny Castle he gave us a young man who tried to present a weary, streetwise persona, he also brought us a man as idealistic as the rich girl who fell for him. The perfect first lover. Swayze, with grace and generosity, was all that and more.
This was a class story and coming-of-age story and a Times They Are A-Changin' story, evocative in ways that are difficult to express. Baby, like us, was riding the cusp between the 50's end of the 60's and the Sixties that were to come. Her relationship with Johnny was the bridge between those times, and so he meant even more than his lovely self. I've always thought Swayze underestimated anyway but as I decided to write this I began to realize just how underestimated. Without the right Johnny, Frances would not have mattered.
I, at least, could look at her and know her future. Because it was mine. Like Baby I never hated my parents. Most of what I did that they wouldn't have liked, I hid. Defiance was never a goal because I loved my parents and they loved me. We just didn't see things like love and sex the same way so I decided just not to tell them. There were many other things we saw differently too, but they changed their minds because they listened to us as often as we changed ours by listening to them. We respected each other.
So I did all my overnight disappearing on campus and kept my mouth shut about it. And went home as the Cindy they knew -- more political and determined, but with no desire to blow up the neighborhood or leave the people I'd loved -- and still loved -- behind. Like Frances, I responded to the Civil Rights movement and President Kennedy and longed to be part of what was to come. Like Frances I had a "Johnny" though mine didn't dance.
Of course, Swayze went on to make Ghost, which I think was at least as successful and even more of a fairy tale. He appeared in gritty films like Road House and, as a tribute to his fellow dancers, many of whom died of AIDS, in drag in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. And which role we choose to remember most probably depends on gender, and even more on age.
But for me, gratitude for the gift of memory, of the same sense of romance, in a way, that Twilight offers another generation, that's tough to beat. And the gift, the reminder of the girl I remember and the hopes and dreams she took with her to college, that gift was from Patrick Swayze too.