Harvey

All things come to those who wait…sometimes.

Just before the pandemic, Jackie and I bought two tickets to the Ojai Art Center’s local production of Harvey. Shortly after that purchase, the Center and every other building in Ojai went dark and remained that way for more than two years. Harvey would have to wait.

I squirreled away the tickets, hoping that the pandemic would end before I did, the Art Center would brighten up, reconstitute Harvey, and honor our tickets before they yellowed with age, turned to dust, and blew away in the wind. 

The play was written by Mary Chase in 1944 and won a Pulitzer Prize for drama. It ran on Broadway for nearly five years and spawned a film version in 1950 when I was only eleven. It attests to its continuing popularity today with live performances that delight us even after nearly 80 years.

I’ve seen the film many times. Starring Jimmy Stewart as Elwood Dowd, he wanders through the film accompanied by an invisible to us six foot, three-and-one-half inch rabbit named Harvey. The film is no On the Waterfront or Streetcar Named Desire. And Stewart is no Marlon Brando.

But Stewart engages us with a warmth that Brando would find unattainable. Stewart’s presence offers us a glimpse of who we’d like to be, and who we really are. Like his role in It’s a Wonderful Life, Stewart’s screen presence is enough.

His character is largely restricted to accepting people as they are, thanking them for things that would turn-off the rest of us, and displaying a willingness to recognize the good in everything. Surrounded by an array of bumbling characters, Stewart seems the only sane person despite his fondness for the reclusive Harvey.

Retired from an undisclosed profession, Stewart has little to do with his time other than visit friends at the local bar and drink martinis. He invariably invites characters who wander into the film to share his drinking penchant; a clear violation of today’s caution about displaying alcoholism in a positive light. Yet, we seem to excuse this behavior, perhaps because he might lose his loving character without it.

Like a philosophical rapid-fire ATM, Stewart delivers homilies and witticisms to make his point. The listener still absorbing one, when the next appears.

I have a favorite that comes about half-way through the film:

Years ago, my mother used to say to me, she’d say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be” – she always called me Elwood – “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.

Given the number of times I’ve seen the film, the scenes are all memorable, but that quote always defies my ability to repeat it verbatim during casual conversations with friends and strangers. I often fumble, sometimes substituting clever for smart, or nice for pleasant. But that doesn’t do it justice. For example, this doesn’t cut it:

Well, for years I was clever, I recommend nice.

Lacking the right words, it loses the essence of what Stewart meant. It has no staying power. So, I always look forward to seeing the movie, waiting for that moment, hearing the carefully chosen words, and then feeling renewed.

Perhaps it’s my mantra, something that reminds me of who I want to be. Harvey refreshes my mantra and pushes me in the right direction. I regularly fail and regret it. I often succeed and congratulate myself. But the mantra regularly flashes before me, and I wish Harvey was there.

I had never seen the live stage play and looked forward to it. The performance, which cast local talent, had been moved from the Art Center to Matilija Middle School to accommodate the crowd. But, after a two-year delay, I was to miss it because I was ill. I felt crappy, and the audience would not have appreciated my hacking and sneezing.

I was sure she would enjoy the play, so I pushed Jackie out the door. Then I laid back on the couch and watched the film on Netflix while she mingled with the crowd and saw my primary care physician, Dr. Halverson, play Elwood. I wondered how much the film would differ from the live performance. Lacking a warm body to cuddle with, I pretended that Jackie was seeing the exact same scene that I was.

Jackie came home around four and spoke glowingly about the two-hour play. She thought that Dr. Halverson was perfect. I asked her if she remembered hearing Stewart’s line about being pleasant. She didn’t. Maybe they dropped it. Maybe she forgot.

I can always watch the film again, or maybe I should just write down the mantra. But that would remove the challenge. And, after all, isn’t that part of it?

2 Responses to “Harvey”


  1. 1 jackielakshmi April 8, 2022 at 3:12 pm

    I loved the play , but missed having you next to me😔
    You are so romantic watching the movie while I was watching the play and hopefully seeing the same scenes together💕
    By the way, you are both smart and pleasant 😍

    Like

  2. 2 Christine Youngman April 8, 2022 at 6:18 pm

    Love this Fred. I hope you are feeling better!

    Like


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