THOUGHTS ON CLEOPATRA’S SALAD DAYS
On October 3, Julian Slade died. Slade is the man who wrote the music for “Salad Days,” a show which began in the 1950s and was the longest running musical in England until Oliver. I saw the production in London in the early 1960s and “Oliver” not long after it. I loved both plays and though “Oliver” was based on Charles Dickens’ novel, “Oliver Twist,” I have no idea what “Salad Days” was based on. It had a wild and weird plot about two college graduates who secretly marry and decide they will take the first job offered. As it happens, a hobo comes by and agrees to pay them a measly fee if they will babysit his portable piano. They accept his offer and after the hobo disappears, the couple discovers the piano is magical. Whenever it is played those within its hearing are compelled to dance.
The musical is a delightful and funny story about the carefree days of youth. As I was in my early twenties at the time, the plot resonated. The title comes from Cleopatra’s line in Shakespeare’s “Anthony and Cleopatra” when she thinks wistfully of “My salad days, when I was green in judgment…” (Act 1, scene v).
While I was saddened to learn of Julian Slade’s death, I couldn’t ignore the little irony that presented itself two weeks later. The time was early morning and I was returning from my walk in the park to discover a movie company had temporarily moved into the neighborhood. A young man was standing before a newly built condominium holding a cell phone which, by his expression, he expected to ring at any moment. As he was not in conversation, I struck one up with him. An indie film was in the works he told me and he introduced himself as the producer. He was not more than twenty-five, wearing jeans, a tee shirt and a denim jacket — standard uniform for someone his age.
We talked amiably for a few minutes and eventually I asked what the film was to be called. He answered, “Salad Days.” Then he peered at me with a wry smile and asked if I knew what the phrase meant. I nodded that I did but as I said nothing more, he felt prompted to ask: “Can you define it?”
Inwardly, I chuckled at his boldness. Poor callow youth, how could I politely explain I’d known about salad days before his father was in puberty?
I gave him my answer and was rewarded to see his jaw drop. “Y-You’re the first person who’s known what it meant.” He couldn’t have looked more surprised if I’d provided him with the secret formula for Coca Cola.
The time was right for me to exit and I confess to feeling a trifle smug as I left him standing on the pavement with his phone still silent. Of course, I envied him too. Oh, for the salad days when I was green in judgment.