During a recent breakfast with my aunt, Anne Cooper, I learned of one of my mother’s favorite movies, “Top Hat,” starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin.
One day during its movie debut, 1935, my mother, Elizabeth Ferguson, returned home with a girl friend simply roaring with laughter about one of Astaire’s lyrics. They saw him in top hat, white tie and tails before an entourage of over twenty similarly attired men, all sporting the walking cane dancing and singing about “dudein up” his shirt front, “puttin’ in the shirt studs, polishin [his] nails.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fizrfcAI13A)
But, according to my aunt, one line sent my mother and her girlfriend, both probably twenty years old and in college, into gales of laughter was the following: “I’m steppin’ out, my dear To breath an atmosphere that simply reeks with class. . . “
My mother loved that line about breathing in an “atmosphere that simply reeks with class.”
What did it mean to her, I wondered? What represented “class” to her in 1935?
Surely, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. FDR? Her father, the famous scientist? Her mother? Douglas Fairbanks?
Nancy and I wondered what we meant by that word and she offered this definition: “Some one with class has a personal style, is self-confident and performs with humility and without arrogance.” Others have noted that to have class means to be very respectful of all others and to have “an innate sense of appropriateness” in social situations.
I usually think of someone with class, like Astaire and Rogers, as performers on the grand stage of life, but surely one doesn’t need to be famous to have class.
We then considered who amongst us, past and present had class.
Here’s a brief list:
Jean Arthur in any of her splendid movies
Admiral Richard E. Byrd treated me upon first meeting him when I was a young teen-ager and in awe of him as a member of his family. He definitely had class. See Quest for Antarctica.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Former Senator from Nebraska Chuck Hagel
Former Senator from New Jersey, Bill Bradley
Former Congressman from Bridgeport, CT, Christopher Shays
Senator from Illinois Richard Lugar
President Barack Obama
Physicists Isidore I. Rabi and Richard Feynman
Astronomer Carl Sagan
All the Tuskegee Airmen
Joe DiMaggio, even on that one occasion when he kicked up some dirt at missing a home run. And, of course, Yogi.
Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics
Walt “Clyde” Frazier of the NY Knicks
Connecticut women’s basketball team (of 90 straight victories) coach Gino Auriemma after recently losing to Stanford, “I think they played an unbelievably good game.” Had to.
Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga who, on 3 June 2010, pitched a perfect game only to have the last out nullified by umpire Jim Joyce, who admitted he blew the call. Galarraga treated this terrible disappointment with class, no thumping around ranting and raving about “I was robbed.” A true gentleman and sportsman.
And who doesn’t have class, you ask? Any of the sports figures who feels it important to “hot dog” after making a routine play on the field—sacking the quarterback, scoring a touchdown or hitting a home run. Strutting around pointing to themselves, thumping their manly chests, all to their own greater glory.
Of course, I would also nominate Elizabeth Ferguson Barell, for courage during the darker days of her life. Simply reeked with class.
Whom do you nominate as a person who has or had class?