Friday, August 5, 2011
Donna Parker and the Mystery of Arawak (1962)
GUYS! Donna Parker is THE COOLEST! If I'm lyin', I'm flyin'. Behold her girl adventurer life
in all its Kennedy Camelot perfection. Dear Donna, let me be like you! Today, we're bringing you Donna Parker and the Mystery of Arawak, a vintage 1962 girl power guilty pleasure mine and I hope, shortly, of yours.
You might remember my mentioning Miss Parker in passing a couple of months ago, right here, at this very blog location. I made her acquaintance while sidling past two gabbin' ladies digging through a box of discarded books at McKays' (way more gabbing that digging on their parts, which is how I sharked the vintage young adult titles I did end up getting). As I clasped a few musty titles bearing her name to my clavicle, while balancing others from the genre at the knee, while still passing more back to Babu, who was swiftly disappearing under a stack of similar goods, I thought, "Now, I know I know that name from somewhere."
Being just short of a thrift store/rummage sale book HOARDER, slightly more on the collector side but not by much, I've come across my fair share of the forties' through the sixties', plasticized cardboard teen book titles with promisingly colorful covers and yellowed, smudge-inked illustrations every half chapter or so. Needless to say, I love them. What is not to love? Uncle Atom did a great post on these back in January, where I spotted THIS, the exact copy of The Munsters' The Last Resort I left on top of a twelve foot high, home-welded slide at my grandmother's house, in the rain, in the fourth grade, after my mom had specifically told me to be careful with it because the book was old. How I remember that particular book! However dampened my Munster mania by this inadvertent act of destruction and its consequences, I still get a little thrill when I see the stocky shape of one of these type books peeking out of a Goodwill bin or a dusty dresser top at an estate sale. As for Donna Parker and the Mystery of the Arawak-- now, there's a humdinger of one!
Though she never had a TV show, Donna Parker was the star of a seven book run of young adult series titles, published between 1957 and 1964. Author Marcia Martin (real name Marcia Levin... I swear to goodness I need go ahead and get my pseudonym ready... what if fame comes a-knockin?) dragged our dark haired, dark-eyed heroine through many a pint-sized caper, while still managing to be one of the most popular girls at Summerfield Junior High.
Take a look at some of the chapter headings, and tell me you don't think you'd be in for a treat at the onset of this book.
"Midget-sized problems" is especially intriguing. Let's see how the plot unfolds!
Prior to our story, Donna spent the summer, with her best friend Frederica "Ricky" West, as a girls' counselor at Camp Cherrydale (see Donna Parker at Cherrydale, 1957). With Cherrydale fully staffed, and just back from a glamorous summer adventure in Hollywood (see Donna Parker in Hollywood, 1961), the beginning of The Mystery of Arawak has one unhappy junior counselor making the best of things at Camp Arawak. To the left, you can see Donna introduced to the kiddlings by Helene, the senior counselor, "a tall, slender girl with deep set grey eyes, thick black eyebrows, and beautiful wavy black hair." How jealous I used to be of girls in young adult books just based on their Elizabeth Taylor-like descriptions! And she's not even real! At right, Estelle, the saucy camp cookmaster, a little like Audrey Meadows in Pillow Talk in comportment. Top marks.
Sadly, Donna is Ricky-less on this trip. However, we do have distraction in the form of heartthrob Teddy Bair from the boys camp across the lake. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Teddy Bair. Let's let the man himself explain:
"You see, my real name is Thornton, and my last name is Bair. But who would call me Thornton Bair, when Teddy Bair is so much easier to remember? Anyhow, it's kind of got a swing to it... Teddy...Bair..." he said to himself.
Real card, that Teddy character. But I AM stupidly in love with the idea of Teddy as a first name. At left, older girl Kathi (at a time in which that was probably a cute, edgy spelling of that name, before we're just overrun by non-standard lettering) puts on her best cheongsam-inspired dress for a special program put on by the Midgets (which turns out to be the name of the campers group of which Donna is in charge). I'm not going to lie to you, I mainly read the text to find out what's going on in the illustration, and breeze on by, but something went on where older, glamorous Kathi bawled Donna out for not having the kids learn their dramatic league parts on time, or something, and Donna ends up sobbing with shame at her ineffectuality, but gets to stay on anyway. I told you, the illustrations are the main attraction here.
Sidenote1 : Isn't Ricky a cute, cute, cute nickname for a girl? Up there with Frankie as another of my favorite gender bender fifties girl names.
Sidenote 2: Whenever I hear the name Ricky, I immediately think of Amy Sedaris's "imaginary boyfriend Ricky" (always referred to by all three descriptors), and I want to be her. Plain and simple.
At right, Donna's family. Are we seeing the resemblance to Mr. and Mrs. Richard Nixon? Also, note kid brother Jimmy's colored, bunched up socks and sneakers. I want to cop this look. At left, you see Miss Tessie, who runs the camp. I love how even as an adult she has a pinafore with the camp named stitched into it! When I was a Girl Scout counselor, all we had were matching tie-dyed t-shirts we had to wear on certain days. For shame, Camp Sycamore. How perky I could have looked! How much like the much admired Helene!
Exclamations like "Yeeks!" and "Golly!" pepper every other page or so. At one point, someone warns Donna, "That Teddy is poison!", which, did nothing but reduce me to a hysterical fit in reminisce of the Bel Biv Devoe song. Oh, I cannot be contained. Some rustic atmosphere at the small, neighboring town's diner, in the right hand illustration (fly strip! Ew! Ew!), and some kind of camp activity on the left, building sets for the drama thing I was telling you all about earlier.
At left, fellow boy camper Scott looks like he's about 57 years old. At right, my favorite illustration in the book. Doesn't it look the hilt of 1962? There's one guy at the dance named Hascoe Helfenbower, which I found just fascinating. Donna takes a moment of devilry to remark: "Amy's date is sort of short to have such a long name!" Ah, Donna, you sly thing you. Serena and Francine are two other names I noted. I mean, just the living end, right? I love how solid the names sound.
Co-counselor strife, as Helene (who, neither in this illustration nor the other one, really lives up to her Ava Gardner description) angrily packs her things. Turned out she lied on her application and said she was 18, when she was really fifteen. Monstrous! She is SO disqualified as senior counselor! The other photo shows how woefully inept the boys camp is at putting on a decent stage production (though, honestly, I got a good laugh out of it, and what else can you expect from an audience?)
At the costume ball as Alice in wonderland (now, whoever heard of a dark haired Alice? But I guess full-immersion in character wasn't an option) and a scuba diver. Which, is totally what I want to go as this Halloween. If not the Grady twins from The Shining (I was only recently made aware of being in existence when looking for a Shining themed screen print dress... look at this! Now if only I had a twin...), then definitely both Bab and me as scuba men. At right, Donna gives Teddy a piece of her mind. And how!
Hope you liked the Donna experience! Do you have any favorite 60's, teen age book selections I need to keep an eye out for? Lemme hear from you!
Donna Parker website with more info, beautifully laid out, HERE, and I'll leave you with Mr. Valens having a word or two to say about our lovely leading lady. Til next time!