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Chicken Little

Posted by Jim Botticelli  September 24, 2013 01:59 PM

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Bostonians appear unphased as Scollay Square crashes around them in 1962
Photo from with a special thanks to Mr. David Kruh

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Eric Segal, author of Love Story, wrote a fictional story of the Harvard University Class of 1958 in 1985's The Class. Was he inspired by George Orwell's reversal of 1948, the year he began to write 1984? Segal's character, Andrew Elliot, along with his scholarly chums, visits the Old Howard Theater in Scollay Square  to see Irma the Body.  Irma in actuality is the dancer who was filmed by the BPD Vice Squad and that film spelled the downfall of the Howard, and some would argue, the end of Scollay Square. It was closed from that moment on. Although Segal's protagonist's diary was off by a year (the theater was kaput when the fictional entry was written on September 21, 1954) we share the author's words for posterity.

"My roomates and I celebrated our first night at Harvard by not eating there. We elected, instead to go into Boston, have a quick meal at The Union Oyster House, and then move on to Scollay Square, the sole oasis of sleaze in the city's desert of Puritanical decency. Here we attended the edifying spectacle of the Old Howard. This venerable burlesque theater has housed the legendary strippers of the age, not the least of whom was tonight's attraction, Irma the Body. After the performance (if that's the word for it) we all dared one another to go backstage and invite the leading lady to join us sophisticates for a drop of champagne. First we thought of composing an elegant epistle ("Dear Miss Body...") but then decided a live emissary would be more effective. At this point there were huge piles of braggadocio being hurled back and forth. Each of us showed our tremendous latent courage by pretending to be on our way in. Yet no one took more than two steps toward that stage door. I came up with a brilliant solution: "Hey, why don't we all go?" We all eyed each other to see who'd be the first to respond. But no one did. Then, in a sudden fit of inexplicable conscientiousness, we unanimously decided that discretion bade us get some sleep to prepare us for the rigors of a Harvard education. The spirit, we reasoned, must take precedence over the flesh. Alas poor Irma, you don't know what you missed."

Now, suppose they had chosen Joe and Nemo's!
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About the author

Jim Botticelli, a 1976 Northeastern University graduate, is a retired Boston Public Schools teacher. In college, he drove a cab and learned the city's cow paths. An avid collector of More »

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