Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. As regular readers of this blog know, I grew up in Sullivan County, New York, in the foothills of the Catskills, an area also known as the Borsht Belt. Until the late 1960s, Borsht Belt hotels and resorts catered to Jewish families from New York City and provided venues for dozens of standup comics who later went on to national and international fame. If you’re watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel you can get a pretty accurate glimpse of what that era was like in episodes in the second season. Sadly, as the ease of air travel increased, the Catskills declined in popularity. None of those once famous vacation spots have survived. The last of the ruins at the best know resort, Grossinger’s, were demolished only a couple of years ago, incidentally providing me with a place to hide the body in the third book in my Deadly Edits series, A Fatal Fiction.
But I digress. The real reason for today’s blog topic is to admit that I was wrong about another depiction of summer in the Borsht Belt. For years—1987, when it first came out, until a few weeks ago—I steadfastly refused to watch the movie Dirty Dancing (as does my sleuth, Mikki Lincoln) because the bits and pieces of it I’d seen didn’t look at all like my memories of that time (1963, when I was 15) and place. I was a townie, not a tourist, and I never worked a summer job in one of the hotels. I’m pretty sure the fact that I was raised Presbyterian isn’t as significant. I come from a long line of farm/boardinghouse-keepers, so I wasn’t a stranger to tourism. In fact, every summer until my grandfather came to live with us when I was ten, we rented out the spare room to a Mr. Lazar from New York City.
In the course of my research for the Deadly Edits series, I found myself becoming increasingly curious about the screenplay because of a woman named Jackie Horner. I never met her, but she was the source of many of the details in the movie because she was a dance instructor at Grossinger’s for decades. You can read more about her here. Then, after a recent exchange on Facebook between two of my high school classmates, both big fans of Dirty Dancing, I gave in to temptation and shelled out a whopping $1.99 to rent the movie on Amazon Prime.
At the ripe old age of 74, after watching Dirty Dancing for the first time, I finally get why so many people love the film. The acting and dancing are superb. The script is extremely well written. And within the closed society of the resort hotel, the “feel” of the mid-1960s is pretty darn accurate. To be political for a moment—people need to remember how horrible the consequences could be before abortion was legalized.
I do still have one small quibble. I’m sure there were sound financial reasons for the decision to film in South Carolina and Virginia, but I can’t help but wish they’d used real Catskills locations. The brief scene of driving up from The City looked pretty close to part of Rt. 17, but when it came to the hotel used as “Kellermans” the architecture just didn’t match any Borscht Belt structure I’m familiar with. And the staff cabins looked awfully luxurious. I suspect the Mrs. Maisel episode was closer to reality, but since I have no firsthand knowledge, I can’t say for sure. What I do know is that Grossinger’s, the inspiration for Kellerman’s, was still open when the movie was filmed, so it’s a pity the producers didn’t go to the source. And, of course, if they had, since Grossinger’s was located in my hometown of Liberty, New York, perhaps the characters might have been shown passing through downtown on their way to practice dancing in the woods.
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others, including several children’s books. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Her most recent publications are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (a collection of three short stories and a novella, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries (written as Kathy). She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.