This blog is dedicated to the great and wonderful author, Mary Rodgers, in honor of her visit six years ago to the Hasbrouck Heights Library in honor of the 40th Anniversary of her best-selling book, “Freaky Friday” on July 13th, 2012. This was one of the best Special Events programs that I ever ran outside “Parent’s Weekend” my senior year at Michigan State University. It was a big thrill for me to meet an author whom not only I had grown up with but whose books and movies I enjoyed not just then but even now. The original ‘Freaky Friday’ I saw as a kid when it first came out in 1977 and I still enjoy it today.
I had founded the Junior Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library in 2011 on the premise that there should be more for kids to enjoy at the library other than “Mommie & Me” classes, teen book clubs and arts and crafts for kids. As a child I hated all that ‘baby stuff’ preferring ‘Nanny & the Professor’, ‘The Lucy Show’ and ‘That Girl’ over shows like ‘Sesame Street’ and ‘Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood’. I thought the shows were for ‘little kids’ as early as six. When it came time for movies, I enjoyed ‘On a Clear Day you can see Forever’ and ‘What’s Up Doc?’ to any of the kiddie fare they make kids watch at that age.
When Disney films like ‘Escape to Witch Mountain’, ‘Freaky Friday’ and ‘The Bad News Bears’ came out it really showed how kids behaved back then and the independence our parent’s generation gave us as children. They expected not ‘little adults’ but kids to be mature, have responsibility and respect for the people around them as well as be our own person. We were the generation to mature at our own pace and probably the last.
I wanted to share this experience with kids who were like minded, who wanted more than just the run of the mill activities. Plus I was patterning the organization on some of the groups catering to kids in the city at the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Forum, bringing the city to the kids of Hasbrouck Heights with sophisticated programming that including classic and independent films, celebrity visits and contemporary activities. The year 2012 was the leap year for the organization with goal of innovative programming and special guests.
I put my game plan of ideas together and came up with a “Freaky Friday” night at the library on Friday the 13th and because of the way Friday the 13th landed that year, July 13th that year was around the opening of the library’s Summer Reading Program. So the Junior Friends would tie their event around that. I never thought in a million years Mary Rodgers would come. I knew nothing about her whereabouts or her life. This is why I love Google.
One late night I was Googling her and did not realize that she had been the President of the Richard Rodgers Foundation and at the bottom of the screen there was a comments section. I went to it and wrote that the library was having a 40th Anniversary of her book, “Freaky Friday” and we wanted her to be our guest. Would she consider coming to the library to read the book? I could not believe it when she said yes the next day!
Thus started the plans for her visit. We bought copies of the novel, organized a small reception and had an area set up in the early afternoon for the reading. We would show the original 1977 film first in the private meeting room across the hall to be followed by the 2003 remake. We had planned something a little more elaborate but I could not get anyone to agree to it.
I had long emails for the next three weeks back and forth with her assistant, Ruschika, getting everything organized. It was like planning D-Day with all the conversations on a two hour visit. The way I was understanding it was that I was dealing with a very frail woman but when I met her she could have been nothing further from the truth. She was a spunky big kid who could not have been more engaging to both the adults and the kids. I knew that when I first introduced myself.
I kept saying Mrs. Rodgers this and Mrs. Rodgers that and she finally said to me “Justin, after all this just call me ‘Mary'”. I knew she was cool even at 83. She could not have been more engaging and openly friendly with everyone there and the kids loved her. Most of these kids were two generations ahead of her, she being the R.K. Rowling of her time. You could not have asked for a bigger author of kids books with comparison to Maurice Sendak, Norton Juster and Judy Bloom. For my generation, she was huge! (It would be years later that I would discover that she had been suffering from terminal cancer at the time of the visit and she died just a few months before my dad in 2014).
Author Mary Rodgers reading her book “Freaky Friday”
It could not have been a better afternoon as the weather cooperated and because it was early traffic, she arrived over an hour early so she was able to settle in and talk with all the patrons on a personal basis. It really was a magical afternoon.
Mary talked to the audience of about 40 patrons about growing up as Richard Rodgers daughter and living in the shadow of fame while carving her own career out of it. She talked about growing up in a musical family, writing stories with her sister and time creating such shows as “Once Upon a Mattress” and “A to Z”. I even remembered when she worked on “Free to be you and Me” that Marlo Thomas had created in the 70’s for kids.
The best part of the program is when she talked about growing up and said, “Annebelle is me! I was a tough kid when I was growing up and had my own opinions.” She and her mother had obviously butted heads when she was growing up and based the book on her early childhood growing up in New York.
She then talked about working with Disney Studios to adapt the book into a movie and writing the screenplay. She told us of having to write a sexy secretary into the script to please one of the studio heads. She talked about the rewrites and finally how proud she was when the movie came out. She admitted though when asked whether she liked the original film or the 2003 remake, she admitted to us “I thought the remake was more true to the theme of the book.”
After a long discussion, we made our presentations to her. I made her the first ‘Honorary Member of the Junior Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library and the Mayor of Hasbrouck Heights at the time, Mrs. Rose Heck, read a proclamation declaring it ‘Mary Rodgers Day’ in Hasbrouck Heights. We even had the electric board out front of the Municipal Building read “Welcome Mary Rodgers”. We then had the book signing and she continued the discussion with many of the patrons and kids.
Mayor Rose Heck presents Mary Rodgers with our version of the ‘Key’ to Hasbrouck Heights
After that she joined for a bit for the reception and then headed back into the City before rush hour began. We did keep in touch for bit writing to one another and me sending out press clippings and pictures from the event. (Years later after she passed away, Mayor Heck had told me she had just sent her a birthday card. Even the two of them had kept in touch long after the event).
After she left, we watched the original 1977 film with Jody Foster and Barbara Harris, then we stopped for intermission and had a pizza and brownie dinner and then showed the 2003 film with Lindsey Lohan and Jamie Lee-Curtis. The original film was a big hit with the kids many of whom had never seen it before. We ended up being at the library for over four hours and the last of the patrons walked out at 9:15pm with everyone raving about the event.
All these years later when older members of the organization get together, we still talk about the wonderful afternoon we had when Mary Rodgers visited us.
So on this Friday the 13th, six years to the date of the original event on July 13th, 2012, I dedicate this blog to a true New Yorker, Mary Rodgers-Guettel and the wonderful afternoon we had sharing stories, reading the book and watching her films. The kids may not known who she was when they came but they sure knew who she was when she left.
In Memory to the very first ‘Honorary Member of the Junior Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library and one of my literary idols, Mary Rodgers-Guettel January 1931-June 2014.
Special Note: I was very proud to discover in 2014 that BCCLS, the governing body Bergen County Cooperative Library System for all libraries in Bergen County, New Jersey, honored the Junior Friends of the Library for our 2013 programming and the organization itself. It was nice to see that someone noticed!
Some articles that were posted online of the event:
Patch.com October 2012:
Proclamation from the Borough of Hasbrouck Heights, NJ:
The Gazette Newspaper: