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Monday, December 29, 2008

Robbie Gould's Philosophy

The movie Dirty Dancing takes place during the 1963 summer vacation of the Houseman family at a Borscht Belt resort hotel that caters to Jewish families. The Houseman family consisted of the parents, Doctor Jake Houseman and Marjorie Houseman, and two daughters, Lisa and Baby (Frances).

The family regularly ate in the hotel dining room, where they were served by a waiter named Robbie Gould. He himself had grown up in a family that visited this resort hotel. Since he began to attend college, he has worked during his summer vacations as a waiter in this resort hotel. By the summer of 1963 he has been accepted into Yale Medical School.

When the movie’s story begins, the Housemans already are acquainted with Robbie Gould, although the reason is not explained. Perhaps Robbie’s father was a medical colleague of Doctor Houseman. Perhaps the two families had met at the resort hotel in a previous summer. Perhaps Robbie had served the Houseman family as a waiter during a previous summer.

During the first days of the Housemans’ stay at the resort hotel, Robbie began to court the older sister Lisa. The basic romance between Robbie and Lisa was not kept secret from the hotel resort’s owners or from the rest of the Houseman family. The hotel resort’s owner has encouraged the waiters – all of whom are Jewish and successful college students – to flirt with the Jewish families’ daughters of marriageable age.

In one of the very first days of the Housemans’ vacation, the Houseman mother Marjorie and her two daughters were participating together in a group activity of trying on wigs and cosmetics. Robbie approached Lisa, who was sitting near Marjorie and Baby, and joked to Lisa: “Ask not what your waiter can do for you, but what you can do for your waiter” – an allusion to President John Kennedy, who was in office during that summer of 1963. Robbie remarked also to Lisa that he was saving his tips to buy an Alfa Romero automobile, and Lisa immediately exclaimed: “That’s my favorite car.”

Robbie and Lisa were flirting publicly, and neither her mother Marjorie nor her sister Baby paid attention although the flirting was taking place in their presence. After Lisa and Robbie talked quietly some more, Lisa confided to Baby that she intended to go that night with Robbie to spend some time together secretly on the golf course. Lisa asked Baby to lie to their parents about her whereabouts if the parents asked. Baby agreed to tell a lie if asked.

Robbie’s public flirting and Lisa’s confidential request about their intended secret meeting that night were overheard by Penny Johnson, who was serving as an activity leader, helping the female guests try on wigs and cosmetics.

Penny Johnson’s main employment at the resort hotel was to dance. She and her dance partner Johnny Castle performed for the guests and taught the guests how to dance. Since Baby already had seen Penny dance and admired Penny’s beauty and dance skills, she approached Penny to compliment Penny during the moments when Penny was angrily watching Robbie flirt and plan with Lisa. Penny was so angry at Robbie that she responded to Baby’s compliments rudely.

That night, when Robbie and Lisa sneaked away to the golf course, Penny ran away into the woods and disappeared. Apparently Penny had become emotionally distraught when she saw Robbie and Lisa leave together, and so she ran away. In the movie’s original script, there was a rather long scene where Baby secretly organized several people to search for Penny in the woods, but this scene eventually was cut out of the movie’s final version.

The movie does show, however, that Baby noticed Robbie and Lisa walking together out of the woods. Lisa’s hair and clothing were disordered, and they were arguing because Robbie had become too aggressive in his seduction efforts and because Lisa had refused to submit completely.
Lisa: Robbie, I don’t hear an apology.
Robbie: Go back to Mommy and Daddy and listen. Maybe you’ll hear one [an apology] in your dreams.
Eventually Baby found Penny hiding and crying in the resort hotel’s kitchen. Baby then accompanied Penny to Penny’s cabin and learned that Penny had become pregnant by Robbie. The dialogue never reveals when the relationship between Robbie and Penny had begun. Robbie and Penny both have worked at the resort hotel in previous summers. Perhaps their relationship began in a previous summer, perhaps it began earlier this same summer. In any case, Penny had become sexually involved with Robbie because she really loved him and hoped to marry him.

Penny told Robbie about her pregnancy, but he refused to acknowledge any responsibility and he accused her of sleeping with lots of other men, any one of whom might be the father. In fact, Penny has been faithful to Robbie during their relationship and knows for sure that she became was impregnated by him. Robbie broke off his relationship with Penny and refused to help her with her pregnancy or an abortion. Penny decided to have an abortion, but did not have the $250 (1963 dollars) to pay for it.

When Baby Houseman was told about this situation, she immediately exclaimed: “But if it’s Robbie, there’s no problem. I know he has the money.”

In the next scene, Baby confronted Robbie in the resort hotel’s dining room and asked him to give Penny the $250 for the abortion. Robbie refused, saying “some people count and some people don’t.” Robbie then handed Baby an obviously much-read paperback copy of The Fountainhead and recommended that she read it: “Read it. I think you’ll enjoy it, but return it; I have notes in there.”

Baby was immediately offended by the suggestion that she read this novel. She refused to take the book, angrily poured a pitcher of water on his pants (he was dressed in his waiter’s uniform and preparing the dining room’s tables for a meal) and rebuked him: “You make me sick. Stay away from me, and stay away from my sister, or I’ll have you fired.” Then she walked out angrily.


The novel The Fountainhead was written by Ayn Rand. She was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in 1905 and grew up as the eldest of three daughters in a family that was ethnically Jewish but agnostic and non-observant. Her father was a chemist who had developed a pharmacy business. After the Communists seized power in 1917, they nationalized her father’s business. Ayn attended the University of Petrograd (her native city’s new name) and graduated with a degree in Social Pedagogy (with emphases in history, philology and law) at the age of 19 in 1924. She then attended the State Institute for Cinema Arts until early 1926, when she obtained a visa to visit some relatives in the United States. She never returned to Russia from that trip, and eventually she became a US citizen.

Rand moved to Hollywood and worked in a variety of jobs in the movie industry. During the 1930s she wrote a variety of works – screenplays, plays, novellas – that had some, but not great success. Her first huge writing success was the novel The Fountainhead, which she published in 1943. More than six million copies of this novel have been sold, and about 100,000 copies are still sold every year.


The Fountainhead’s major characters is a man named Howard Roark, who strove to work as an architect. Since his architectural designs were unconventional and creative, however, he suffered difficulties in developing a successful career. He was expelled from the school where he studied architecture, and so he apprenticed himself to another unconventional, creative architect who suffered various business problems.

Roark could not succeed professionally in this situation, so he quit and went to work instead as a stone cutter in a granite quarry. The quarry’s owner had a daughter named Dominique Francon, who became infatuated while watching Roark work in the quarry. She tried to arrange situations where she could be in Roark’s presence. Eventually she arranged for him to replace a broken stone in a fireplace in her home. Three days later Roark sneaked into Francon’s bedroom, raped her and left. As the rape was happening, she felt that Roark was “a master taking shameful, contemptuous possession of a slave.” The rape dismayed her, but she did not report the rape to anyone.

Later Roark was awarded a contract to design a monument. His design featured a huge statue of Dominique Francon nude.

This design caused a public outrage, and so contractor sued to cancel the contract. The dispute eventually was settled in a trial, in which Francon testified in Roark’s favor. Roark nevertheless lost the lawsuit, and so the contract was canceled and Roark again found himself impoverished.

After the trial, Dominique Francon married a mediocre architect who had testified against Howard Roark in the trial. As the mediocre architect’s wife, Francon persuaded a series of potential clients to hire her husband instead of Roark for various architectural projects. As part of these efforts to attract potential clients, Francon had sex with a wealthy man, who was so pleased with Francon that he paid her and her mediocre-architect husband to divorce so that he could marry her.

While married to the wealthy man, Francon secretly helped Roark to develop Roark’s own architectural business where he could exercise his own creativity fully and autonomously. Francon then divorced the wealthy man and married Roark, who after he has become a famous and successful architect. At the end of the novel, Roark was building a unique skyscraper with the wealthy man’s money but free from the wealthy man’s ideas or interference.


The Fountainhead is a novel that praises the efforts of an extraordinary creative genius to conduct his life focused completely on his own professional goals. If such a genius refuses to compromise professionally and personally, then eventually he might achieve extraordinary professional success and personal happiness.

Ayn Rand provides a female perspective on the lives of such creative geniuses through the novel’s main female character Dominique Francon. This character believed that she herself is unusually intelligent and capable and that practically all the men around her were mediocre and unworthy marriage partners. The one extraordinary male she ever found was Howard Roark, but he confounded her when he raped her. Still infatuated with Roark but unable to understand his attitude and impulsiveness, she resigned herself to marry two other men in turn who lacked Roark’s creative genius.

As Dominque Francon lived with her two husbands and continued to observe Howard Roark’s creative genius from afar, she continued to fall more deeply in love with him. When Roark designed a monument that featured a huge nude statue of her, she accepted this grand, creative gesture as an extraordinary compensation to her for the rape. She reasoned that an extraordinarily intelligent woman such as herself should grant a special understanding, appreciation and indulgence for the sexual desires of such an extraordinarily creative and superior man as Howard Roark.


Ayn Rand wrote a second famous novel, Atlas Shrugged, which was published in 1957. Atlas Shrugged likewise praised the extraordinary contributions of extraordinary individuals to economic and social development.

Atlas Shrugged likewise elaborated Rand’s opinions about sexual morality, praising sex that expresses intellectual and spiritual compatibility. In the novel, the mediocre characters experience mediocre sex with other mediocre characters, and the extraordinary characters enjoy extraordinary sex with other extraordinary characters.

After writing Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand devoted herself to developing a philosophy that she called Objectivism. One of Objectivism’s major elements was its contempt for altruism. Rand argued that altruism is a misdirected and ineffective motivation for economic and social development. A much more effective motivation is the desire of geniuses to create innovative systems and technology for the sheer joy of creating and achieving. Altruistic people who try to help disadvantaged societies accomplish far less improvement than creative people who simply love to build and develop wherever they can.

With regard to sexual relations, Rand believed that men and women should be treated as intellectually and socially equal but also that their physiological differences caused significant psychological differences. Men act aggressively, and women respond. Rand taught that “the essence of femininity is hero-worship — the desire to look up to man." Rand said that no woman ever should serve as US President because any woman would be damaged psychologically in such a position.

Jenny Turner, a biographer of Rand, wrote:
The sex in Rand’s novels is extraordinarily violent and fetishistic. In The Fountainhead, the first coupling of the heroes, heralded by whips and rock drills and horseback riding and cracks in marble, is ‘an act of scorn ... not as love, but as defilement’ —- in other words, a rape... In Atlas Shrugged, erotic tension is cleverly increased by having one heroine bound into a plot with lots of spectacularly cruel and handsome men.

A movie was made of The Fountainhead in 1949. The role of Howard Roark was played by Gary Cooper, and the role of Dominique Francon was played by Patricia Neal – both of whom were famous stars. Millions of people who never read the book saw the movie during the 1950s, so the story and its ideas were well known. The rape scene was not depicted explicitly in the movie, but the novel’s rape scene was notorious among the general public, even among people who had not read the novel.

By the early 1960s Ayn Rand had reached the apex of her fame and influence. After the social welfare programs of the Depression, the military teamwork of World War Two and the Korean War, and the social conformity of the Eisenhower Presidency, Rand’s praise of extraordinary, creative, nonconformist individuals struck a fresh chord among much of the population.

Men who read The Fountainhead imagined themselves to be like the heroic individualist Howard Roark who had to work as a stone cutter in quarry but who eventually designed and built the world’s greatest skyscraper. Male readers were intrigued that the female author depicted the main female character, the beautiful Dominique Francon, as tolerating a rape by Howard Roark and as nevertheless continuing to admire Roark as a hero, as being complimented when Roark proposed to create a huge nude statue of herself, and as eventually leaving a wealthy husband to marry Roark.

The Fountainhead was popular among female readers too. During an era when women were supposed to try or at least pretend to try to preserve their virginity until marriage, pre-marital sexual relations between an engaged couple often included a private drama in which heavy petting between the forceful male and reluctant female culminated in a quasi-rape. Thus the woman’s virginity itself was not preserved, but her principled intention and effort to preserve her virginity were preserved. In that era of supposed pre-marital virginity, the rape fantasy provoked by The Fountainhead struck a subconscious chord that was shocking but enjoyable among female as well as male readers.

In that era, the overwhelming majority of women also saw their lives as revolving primarily or even entirely around marriage and family and as dependent on their husbands’ professional success. During a marriage, the husband was supposed to achieve and earn in the economic world, and the wife was supposed to nurture the husband and the children in the domestic world. Ayn Rand’s thinking about sexual relations was rooted firmly in the first six decades of the twentieth century.

Attitudes about sexual relations began to change in the early 1960s. Betty Friedan’s book The Feminist Mystique was published in 1963, and the expression “women’s liberation” began to appear in public discourse in 1964. In the following decades, women in modern societies developed significantly new attitudes about their own life achievements and about their attitudes toward men.


Dirty Dancing, which takes place in 1963, depicts two sisters with significantly different attitudes about their own future achievements and marriages.

The older sister Lisa Houseman is interested primarily in fashion, romance and marriage. She is frivolous and lacks any interest in global problems. For her performance in the talent show she is deciding whether to sing “I Feel Pretty” or “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” She eventually will sing a silly Hawaiian song.

The younger sister Baby Houseman intends to begin attending Mount Holyoke College, an excellent women’s college in Massachusetts. She intends to major in the economics of underdeveloped countries and after graduation intends to serve in the Peace Corps. She intends to defer her marriage until at least her mid-twenties and probably intends also to continue to develop an intellectual career during her marriage.


Baby was insulted when Robbie recommended that she read The Fountainhead. Even if she never had read any of Rand’s writings, she as an educated and socially aware young woman in 1963 knew enough about Ayn Rand and this novel that she expected it’s message to be, as Robbie himself remarked to her, “some people count and some people don’t.” Baby perceived that the novel’s philosophy and Robbie’s philosophy excused supposedly extraordinary individuals from common concerns and morality. An extraordinary male should be excused even if he raped a woman, and the woman should be satisfied to hope that she still might marry him in the far future. And altruism was a bad motivation!

Baby refused to take the book that Robbie tried to lend her. She poured a pitcher of water onto Robbie and rebuked him: “You make me sick. Stay away from me. Stay away from my sister, or I’ll have you fired.”

Baby’s threat to have Robbie fired was an empty threat. She herself had heard the resort hotel’s owner tell the waiters to flirt with the young female guests. Furthermore, she herself had heard the owner tell the male dance instructor Johnny Castle not to become involved with the young female guests. Baby was in no position to try to have Robbie fired. If she tried to cause trouble, the employee most likely to be fired was Johnny.

Despite Baby’s threat, Robbie continued his involvement with Lisa. Even after Lisa told Baby she intended to have sex with Robbie, Baby did not take any action to have Robbie fired.


When Baby confronted Robbie to provide the money for the abortion, Robbie was dressed in his waiter uniform and preparing tables for the next meal in the resort hotel’s dining room. As she talked with him about Penny’s situation, Baby walked alongside Robbie from table to table and poured ice water into the glasses as Robbie set the tables.

During this conversation, Robbie pulled his much-read paperback copy of The Fountainhead out of his uniform pocket and tried to give it to Baby to read. Why was Robbie carrying this novel in his uniform as he set the tables for the next meal? He could not have expected Baby to confront him in this situation, so he could not have brought the novel with the intention of giving it to Baby.

Apparently, Robbie had brought the novel into the dining room with the intention of giving it not to Baby, but rather to Lisa, whom he expected to serve as a waiter at the imminent meal. He and Lisa had quarreled the previous night when he had become sexually aggressive at the golf course. Lisa had refused to submit to him, and he had refused to apologize. Robbie had not given up in his efforts to seduce Lisa, however, and he intended to lend Lisa The Fountainhead as his next step.

If Lisa would only read The Fountainhead, then Lisa would understand and appreciate Robbie better. The novel was written by a famous female author with a female perspective that Lisa should share. Lisa should understand that Robbie Gould was similar to the novel’s hero Howard Roark. Robbie Gould was working now only as a waiter, but Howard Roark had worked for a long time only as a stone cutter in a quarry. Eventually, however, Robbie Gould would become the world’s greatest medical genius, just as Howard Roark became the world’s greatest architectural genius. And Lisa should identify with novel’s beautiful and intelligent heroine, Dominique Francon:
  • Lisa Houseman should adore the genius Robbie Gould just as Dominque Francon adored the genius Howard Roark.
  • Lisa Houseman should submit to and then forgive Robbie Gould’s sexual aggression just as Dominique Francon had done submitted to and forgiven Howard Roark’s rape.
  • Lisa Houseman should feel flattered that Robbie Gould would adore her nude body, just as Howard Roark had designed a huge monument to Dominique Francon’s nude body.
  • Lisa Houseman should be willing to wait patiently until Robbie Gould was ready to marry her, just as Dominque Francon had waited – even through two marriages to other, mediocre men – until Howard Roark was ready to marry.
We don’t know whether Lisa actually read The Fountainhead. It’s a long (750 pages) and high-minded novel. Perhaps she just started and then asked Robbie to tell her the story. Robbie certainly pointed out the sexy parts – the scene where Dominique was raped and the scene where the married Dominique had sex with the wealthy man who then was so pleased that he paid Dominique’s husband to agree to a divorce so that Dominique could marry the wealthy man and the scene where Dominique left the wealthy man and reunited with Howard Roark, who had raped her many years ago.

We do know, however, that by the end of the vacation stay Lisa had decided to have sex with Robbie. She intended to surprise Robbie. She made herself up as beautiful as she could, and she went to his cabin in the early evening. As it turned out, however, Lisa found Robbie having sex with Vivian Pressman, and so she left and did not have sex with him after all.

If, however, Lisa had found Robbie in the cabin alone, she certainly did not intend to declare abruptly that she had decided to have sex with him. I think she intended the consummation to happen in a different manner. She would engage him in some kissing and petting, and then as Robbie became more aggressive, she would make a show of resisting but eventually would submit to him. She would enable Robbie to experience his rape fantasy, and so he would fall in love with her and propose marriage. She would get pregnant, and Robbie would married her immediately, and then on their tenth anniversary they would come back to this resort hotel, which would let them stay for a vacation for free.

That’s how Lisa misunderstood The Fountainhead. She understood only that the hero raped the heroine but then they got married and lived happily ever after. Lisa did not understand that the hero did not marry until he achieved extraordinary professional success, because marriage impeded his professional efforts in the meantime. Lisa did not understand that the heroine was supposed to satisfy herself with a couple of marriages to other, mediocre men in the meantime. The hero had time to satisfy his own sexual desires only with an occasional rape in the meantime.

Perhaps Robbie Gould previously had used this same seduction technique – The Fountainhead – on Penny Johnson. If she was overpowered by Robbie when they had sex, then maybe that is why she was not able to prevent her pregnancy.


A day or so before Lisa told Baby that she intended to have sex with Robbie, there was another confrontation between Robbie and Baby.

The situation is that Baby and Johnny had become sexually involved, but Baby still had not told her father that she even considered Johnny to be her boyfriend. Johnny felt insulted that Baby apparently was ashamed to admit that she was involved with such an uneducated, low-class man as Johnny. Baby and Johnny had quarreled about her reluctance to tell her father about Johnny, and so Baby had gone to the employees’ cabins to find Johnny to discuss their quarrel some more.

Baby found Johnny in Penny’s cabin, in a serious discussion. Johnny then left Penny in the cabin and walked out onto the cabin’s porch to talk with Baby. Before they began talking, Johnny and Baby embraced briefly on the porch.

At that moment, Robbie walked past the cabin porch and noticed Johnny and Baby embracing, and joked insultingly: “Looks like I picked the wrong sister. That’s okay, Baby, I went slumming too.”

The joke’s idea was that Robbie perceived that Baby was more on his intellectual and cultural level than Lisa was. Baby would have been a better sexual partner for Robbie. Lisa still was refusing to have sex with Robbie, but Baby apparently had begun already to have sex with Johnny.

Robbie had picked the wrong sister to seduce when the Housemans had arrived for their family vacation. Baby was the sister who read books and could understand The Fountainhead and understand the Objectivism philosophy. Baby was the sister who was willing to have sex without a marriage commitment. Instead of picking Baby for a brief sexual affair, Robbie had made a mistake and went slumming with the intellectually and culturally inferior sister Lisa.

Robbie told Baby that Baby had made a similar mistake. Baby actually was like Dominique Francon, but she had gone slumming with the intellectually and culturally inferior Johnny instead of submitting herself sexually to and spending her vacation time with Robbie the Roark-like genius.

As this confrontation turned out, though, Johnny jumped off the course and beat Robbie up. And then Johnny told Robbie, “Get out of here. You’re not worth it.”


The role of Robbie Gould was played by an actor named Max Cantor. He was born in 1959, and so he was about 27 years old when Dirty Dancing was filmed. He grew up in a theatrical family (his father produced more than 100 plays) and graduated from Harvard University. He played the piano superbly, and he played classical music for Dirty Dancing’s cast during breaks in the filming.

Dirty Dancing was released in 1987 and four years later, in 1991, Cantor died of a heroin overdose.


Added on April 27, 2017:
Many reader comments below are critical of my above article. I respond to those criticisms in this article.

Disconnected Women - Penny Johnson, Vivian Pressman and Marjorie Houseman

The movie Dirty Dancing begins with a doctor’s younger daughter exclaiming: “I thought I’d never find a guy as great as my Dad!” In the story that follows, this younger daughter Baby lost much of her ability to communicate with her father and transfered her main affection to a young man who worked as a dance instructor. Meanwhile the older daughter Lisa, who had been infatuated with a young man who was a medical student, began to talk much more with the father and then broke off her relationship with her medical-student boyfriend.

For each of these two daughters, their father Dr. Jake Houseman was a safe harbor. Each daughter could transfer her own affection and communication from the father to a young man, but if the relationship with the young man failed, then the daughter eventually could return to her father as a safe emotional haven.

Besides these two daughters, the story features three female characters – 1) Penny Johnson, a dance instructor, 2) Vivian Pressman, an adulterous married woman and 3) Marjorie Houseman, the doctor’s wife and the daughters’ mother. The first two of these women are disconnected, frustrated and angry throughout the story. The third is disconnected and frustrated, but not apparently angry.


Penny Johnson, the female dance instructor, was kicked out of her home when she was 16 years old by her mother. There is no mention of her father. We can speculate that Penny was the child of an unplanned pregnancy, and we can suppose that she was an extremely rebellious teenager, beyond the control of her unmarried mother.

Penny told Baby what happened after she had been kicked out of her home by her mother:
Penny: I’ve been dancing ever since. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do anyway.

Baby: I envy you.
Of course, what Baby envied was Penny’s beauty and dancing. Baby was oblivious to Penny’s deprivations and insecurities.

In a conversation with Johnny Castle’s cousin Billy Kostecki, Baby learned that Penny and Johnny were only a platonic, dancing couple now, but that they had been a romantic couple long ago, when they were still “kids”.
Baby: They look great together.

Billy: Yeah. You’d think they were a couple, wouldn’t you.

Baby: Aren’t they?

Billy: No, not since we were kids.
The movie’s dialogue provides several clues about this previous romantic relationship. We already know that Penny had always wanted to dance, that she had been thrown out of her home when she was 16 years old, and that she began working as a professional dancer immediately after she was thrown out of her home. One business that employs dancers is the Arthur Murray company, which teaches ballroom dancing. The movie’s author Eleanor Bergstein worked her way through college by teaching dance in this business. It seems, therefore, that Bergstein created her character Penny Johnson as a young woman who likewise began earning her living, while still a teenager, as a dance instructor in an Arthur Murray business.

(With regard to Penny’s being kicked out of her home, remember that both of Eleanor Bergstein’s parents died when she was in early twenties and that she therefore had to leave her own family home and go live with another family.)

The movie does not describe how Penny Johnson began working as a professional dancer, but it does mention how Johnny Castle was recruited to work as a dance instructor for the Arthur Murray company. When Baby asked Johnny where he had learned to be a dancer, Johnny answered:

Well, this guy came into this luncheonette one day, and we were all sitting around doing nothing. And he said that Arthur Murray was giving a test for instructors. So, if you passed, they teach you different dances, show you how to break them down, teach them.
Apparently, Johnny had been sitting in a luncheonette with a group of people who already knew how to dance well. A recruiter for the Arthur Murray company came into the luncheonette to recruit dance instructors (not dance students). We therefore can speculate that Penny already was working as an Arthur Murray dance instructor and that she knew that Johnny (with whom she had been in a romantic couple when they were still “kids”) and his friends had the dancing ability to become instructors too, and so Penny recommended to her supervisors at Arthur Murray that they go to the luncheonette and recruit Johnny and his friends.

We know from the dialogue that Penny had worked for a while as a Rockette dancer at some time before the story, but apparently she still was working with Johnny as an Arthur Murray dance instructor when the movie’s story takes place.

Based on all these clues, we can speculate further that Penny was thrown out of her home by her mother because of Penny’s relationship with Johnny – when they were still “kids.” Apparently, this relationship was sexual, because a mother does not throw her 16-year-old daughter out of her home because of a puppy-love relationship.

By the time of the movie’s story, however, the relationship between Johnny and Penny had become only platonic. They still worked together as a couple, performing and teaching dance, in the resort hotel. Johnny now was extremely promiscuous, having brief sexual affairs with several of the resort hotel’s female guests every week. And Penny now had fallen in love with Robbie Gould, a medical student who worked as a summer waiter in the resort hotel’s restaurant. Furthermore, Penny has become pregnant from Robbie, and Robbie has abandoned her and has refused to pay for her abortion. Johnny knew about Penny’s predicament and tried to help her as a friend.

Throughout the movie, Penny Johnson usually spoke angrily. In her first conversations with Baby, when Baby was just trying to express her own admiration toward her or to offer helpful suggestions, Penny responded with sarcasm and hostility. At one point, Penny hissed:
Baby? Is that your name? You know what, Baby, you don’t know shit about my problems. …. Go back to your playpen, Baby.
Gradually, however, after Baby provided the money for the abortion and offered to substitute for Penny in a scheduled performance at the other, Sheldrake resort hotel, Penny became civil and then candid with Baby. Penny also helped Johnny teach Baby how to dance.

In one scene, Penny was helping Baby were alone in a locker room as Baby was trying on Penny’s dress that Baby would wear in the performance at the Sheldrake. Baby said was afraid that she would forget her dance moves and techniques during the performance, but Penny reassured her and reminded her to let Johnny lead her.

At that moment, Penny had a lot on her mind, because she would go to the abortionist later that day. Then she said:
Thanks, Baby. I just want you to know that I don’t sleep around, whatever Robbie might have told you. I thought that he loved me. I thought it was something special. Anyway, I just wanted to know that. …. I’m scared. I’m so scared, Baby.
Later, after Dr. Houseman has treated Penny for her abortion complications, Baby and Johnny came to visit Penny, who was lying in bed.

In this conversation Penny spoke nicely to Baby, and then Baby left the room, leaving Penny and Johnny to talk together alone. By this time, Penny has recognized that Johnny and Baby have begun to have a sexual relationship, and so Penny and Johnny said to each other:
Penny (angrily): What are you doing? How many times have you told me, never get mixed up with them?

Johnny: I know what I’m doing.

Penny (angrily): You listen to me. You’ve got to stop it now.
In this conversation, Penny and Johnny are talking about the resort hotel’s rule that employees of their status were forbidden to become involved in intimate relationships with the guests. As dance instructors, Penny and Johnny were the two employees most likely to become involved in such relationships, so the prohibition was especially significant to them. Johnny nevertheless did become involved very promiscuously. He felt he could get away with violating the rule, because “I know what I’m doing,” but he frequently nagged Penny to obey the rule.

This conversation raises two questions.

The first question is what possible relationships had provoked Johnny to nag Penny in the past. It is possible that Penny had involved herself intimately with guests, but the only relationship we know about from the story is Robbie Gould, who at the time of the story was a medical student who worked as a waiter in the resort hotel during that summer. Perhaps Penny and Robbie had begun their relationship in a previous summer when Robbie was still just a guest visiting the resort hotel with his family.

The second question is why Penny objected so strongly to Johnny’s intimate relationship with Baby, when Penny surely knew by now that Johnny promiscuously involved himself with brief affairs with many female guests. What was it about Johnny’s relationship with Baby that caused Penny to warn Johnny so sharply? Perhaps the reason was simply Baby’s young age, perhaps it was that the hotel owners’ attention eventually might be attracted to the situation because of Penny’s abortion or because Baby had replaced Penny at the Sheldrake performance.

In any case , Johnny initially agreed that Penny’s warning was right. Immediately after he left that conversation with Penny, he encountered Baby and indicated to her that he was ending their affair. That resolve did not last long, but it was real for a while.

At the end of the story, Penny was professionally and romantically alone. Her dance partner Johnny had been fired by the hotel’s owner because of Johnny’s relationship with Baby, and Johnny had fallen in love with Baby and had declared his love publicly. Penny’s own future employment was endangered, and even her platonic friendship with Johnny was endangered.

In the meantime, Baby was now Johnny’s dance partner and romantic. Baby would begin attending college in a few weeks, and perhaps she could earn some money by working in her free time as a dance instructor, with Johnny, for an Arthur Murray business near her college. And then in the summers she and Johnny could work as dance instructors at some other resort hotel in the Borscht Belt (as the movie’s author Eleanor Bergstein had worked during her own college years).

Penny herself soon would resume working full-time as a dance instructor for an Arthur Murray business. If there was a shortage of male instructors, then she could suggest some good place, perhaps a luncheonette, where an Arthur Murray recruiter might find some young men who danced well enough to learn how to teach dance. But Penny herself was not getting any younger.

Penny still wanted to get married and start a family. After Dr. Houseman had treated the complications from her abortion, she was very relieved when he told her she still would be able to have children. At the end of the movie, Penny was angry that she still had no prospective husband in sight.


Vivian Pressman was a middle-aged married woman. The resort hotel’s owner Max Kellerman described her to Jake and Marjorie Houseman as follows:

That’s Vivian Pressman, one of the bungalow bunnies. That’s what we call the women who stay here all week. The husbands only come up on weekends. Moe Pressman’s a big card player; he’ll join our game. He’s away a lot, I know. It’s a hardship.
While staying at the resort hotel during the week, Vivian Pressman paid Johnny Castle for dance lessons and also paid extra for sexual sessions. Johnny said that he had sexual relations with many female guests. At one point Johnny even remarked to Baby that “women are stuffing diamonds in my pockets.”

On the second-to-last night, the night before the talent show, Vivian walked up to Johnny, who was preparing for the talent show, and whispered: “This is our last night together, lover. I’ve got something worked out for us.”

A short time later, Johnny walked by a table where a group of men were playing cards. One of the men, Vivian’s husband Moe Pressman, gave Johnny $100 and said, “I’ve been playing cards all weekend, and I’ve got an all-night game tonight. Why don’t you give my wife some extra dance lessons?”

Obviously Vivian understood that her husband Moe preferred to play cards all night, so she had asked him to pay for dance lessons so that she could have some fun of her own. It’s not clear whether Moe knew and did not care that Vivian was having a sexual affair with Johnny or whether he simply was inattentive and oblivious about her adultery.

By this time, however, Johnny had decided that he wanted to stop his own sexual promiscuity and so he declined to take Moe’s money, saying: I’m sorry, Mr. Pressman, but I’m booked up for the whole weekend with the show. I won’t have time for anything else. I don’t think it’d be fair to take the money.”

Vivian was standing nearby and heard Johnny reject her husband’s money and indicate that he would be too busy preparing the talent show to give any dance lessons. Thus Vivian understood angrily that Johnny would not have another sexual session with her.

Vivian Pressman then arranged to have sex with Robbie Gould instead, and they were seen together in bed by Lisa Houseman when she herself went to Robbie’s cabin to have sex with him for the first time. Lisa was upset and left, leaving Robbie and Vivian alone in the cabin to continue their sexual session. This happened in the early evening. (Eleanor Bergstein mentioned in her running commentary that the scene was filmed “at dusk.”)

Early the next morning as Vivian Pressman was leaving Robbie Gould’s cabin, she saw Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman coming out of Johnny’s cabin. Johnny and Baby kissed, and so Vivian understood that Johnny had declined Vivian’s arrangements because he preferred to spend the night having sex with Baby.

Later that day, the resort hotel’s owner Max Kellerman fired Johnny for stealing Moe Pressman’s wallet. Kellerman explained that Moe’s wallet had disappeared while he had been playing cards all night. Moe was certain that he still had his wallet at 1:30 a.m., when the wallet was in his jacket that he hung from the back of his chair. Then at 3:45 a.m. Moe found that his wallet was missing from his jacket. Later, after Moe Pressman had reported the disappearance to Max Kellerman, Vivian Pressman told Kellerman that she had seen Johnny Castle walk close by the jacket during that night. Max Kellerman then accused Johnny Castle of the theft and fired him.

This sequence of events has some gaps that we can fill in. During the afternoon, Vivian Pressman had arranged for her husband to offer $100 to Johnny Castle for dance lessons, but Johnny refused the money and thus refused the sex session with Vivian. Then Lisa Houseman saw Vivian Pressman having sex with Robbie Gould in Robbie’s cabin at dusk, and so Lisa left. In the middle of the night, Vivian must have left Robbie’s cabin and gone to make a public appearance in the place where her husband Moe was playing cards.

Vivian would have made a public appearance at the gambling table for several reasons: 1) to make sure that Moe still intended to play cards all night, 2) to tell Moe that she was going to their hotel room to sleep, and 3) to get from Moe’s wallet the $100 that Johnny had rejected. Vivian then took the $100 back to Robbie’s room, gave him the money and spent the rest of the night in Robbie’s room. At dawn, she left Robbie’s room and saw Johnny and Baby kissing as they exited Johnny’s cabin.

Later that morning, when Moe told Vivian that his wallet was missing, Vivian responded that she had seen Johnny standing near the jacket, which was hanging from Moe’s chair. Therefore, Johnny was accused of the theft. This all happened before breakfast, because Max Kellerman told the Housemans during breakfast that he intended to fire Johnny for the theft.

Practically the entire audience of the movie assumes that Vivian incriminated Johnny in order to get revenge because Johnny had preferred to spend the night with Baby. I think, however, that a kinder explanation can be proposed. It’s hard for me to believe that Vivian really was so deliberately vindictive toward Johnny.

I think that when Vivian went to see Moe at the gambling table at 1:30 a .m., she did not steal the $100 from Moe’s wallet, but rather simply asked Moe openly for the money. Vivian told Moe that Johnny had found time after all, after the talent-show rehearsal, to give Vivian a dancing lesson after midnight. The lesson had just finished, and so she wanted to pay Johnny the promised $100 and then go alone to their hotel room to sleep. Vivian then returned to Robbie’s room and gave the money to Robbie.

Later, when Vivian was discussing the missing wallet with Moe, Vivian confirmed to him that she had seen the wallet in his possession at 1:30 a.m., when he had given her the $100 for Johnny. In order to strengthen her story, she even assured Moe that Johnny too had been with her right there near Moe’s chair, even though Moe had not noticed him. Later when Max Kellerman heard Vivian’s story, he concluded falsely that Johnny had stolen the wallet. But Vivian never had intended for anyone to blame Johnny. Vivian Pressman was not such an evil person. Rather she was a person whose dissatisfaction had led her into adulterous activities that eventually would cause problems for herself or for people around her.

The wallet was stolen by the Schumachers, an old couple who regularly visited resort hotels and stealing wallets from other guests. They must watched the card game very attentively and seen Moe Pressman give Vivian Pressman the $100, put his wallet into his jacket, and hang his jacket from his chair. Sometime after that time, 1:30 a.m., and 3:45 a.m., they stole the wallet from the jacket.

The Schumachers eventually were caught because Baby previously had noticed two wallets fall out of Ms. Schumacher’s purse and also had noticed the Schumachers at the Sheldrake resort hotel, where several wallets had been stolen. Based on this new information from Baby, Max Kellerman gave the police two drinking glasses that the Schumachers had used. The police took fingerprints from the drinking glasses and found that warrants had been issued for the arrest of the Schumachers for stealing from guests at resort hotels in Florida and Arizona.

We can suppose that Doctor Houseman pressured Max Kellerman to continue the investigation of the theft based on Baby’s new information. Max Kellerman already had made up his mind that Johnny Castle was guilty. Since, however, Doctor Houseman had saved Kellerman’s life when Kellerman had become sick with high blood pressure during a previous summer, Kellerman felt morally obligated to comply with Houseman’s insistence that Baby’s information be taken seriously. Doctor Houseman himself took Baby’s information seriously because he recognized how embarrassed she had been to admit to him, her father, that she had spent the night with Johnny.

Thus, toward the end of the movie, Vivian Pressman set dramatic, consequential events into motion when she asked her husband Moe Pressman for $100. At the beginning of the story, Baby Houseman had likewise set dramatic, consequential events into motion when she had asked her father Doctor Houseman for $250. These two incidents when women asked for money – once from a father and later from a husband – for secret, illegitimate activities provide a parallel and balanced structure to the story.

At the end of the movie, during the talent show, when Johnny took Baby up onto the stage to perform their dance, Vivian Pressman is seen in a front row sitting alone. Next to her is an empty chair, where her husband should be sitting. (Probably he has learned that she lied about Johnny Castle being at the gambling table and receiving the $100.) Vivian looks morose and angry, although all the surrounding audience, sitting as couples and families, looks happy.


Marjorie Houseman, the wife of Dr. Jake Houseman and the mother of Lisa and Baby, plays a small role in the story. Jake Houseman keeps secret from her all the events and considerations involving Baby, the abortion money and the abortion complications. Jake even orders Baby to wipe the makeup off her face before her mother sees it. Marjorie also seems to be completely unaware of Baby’s romance with Johnny and of Lisa’s romance with Robbie.

Perhaps the original script included a larger role for Marjorie. Many scenes were cut because the movie was becoming too long. In addition, the actress who originally was supposed to play Marjorie became sick during the first week of filming after, so various changes had to be made unexpectedly. Kelly Bishop, the actress who was supposed to play Vivian Pressman was moved into the role of Marjorie Houseman, and Miranda Garrison, an assistant choreographer, replaced Bishop as Vivian Pressman. Perhaps some of Marjorie Houseman's role was diminished in these changes.

Marjorie Houseman is a homemaker who has raised two daughters. She always has hoped that her daughters will be able to fulfill themselves in ambitions careers. She named her younger daughter (Baby) Frances, after Frances Perkins, the first woman member of a Presidential Cabinet; the Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Roosevelt was Frances Perkins. (In the author 's own real family, Eleanor Bergstein was named after Eleanor Roosevelt and her sister Frances was named after Frances Perkins.)

In the movie's story, the oldest daughter already is attending college, and the younger daughter will enroll as a college freshman right after this summer vacation. Marjorie’s husband is a doctor who is wealthy enough to give his daughter $250 (1963 dollars) for no explained reason. Marjorie therefore will not have to get a job. Marjorie is entering a new period of her life in which she will have to re-define her own purposes and activities.

Perhaps Marjorie Houseman will become frustrated and angry. Perhaps her own marriage will become like the alienated hostile marriage between Vivian and Moe Pressman. Early in the movie, we see an entertainment show for the resort hotel’s guests. A male comedian tells a joke: “I finally met a girl, exactly like my mother – dresses like her, acts like her – so I brought her home. My father doesn’t like her!”

Later in the movie, Marjorie and Jake are putting golf balls, and Jake jokes to Baby: “If your mother ever leaves me, it’ll be for Arnold Palmer.” Apparently, Jake already senses some alienation and dissatisfaction in Marjorie.

In the original script, the scene was supposed to show Marjorie as the better golfer, and she was supposed to give Jake tips about improving his putting. Since, however, the actor playing Jake sank an amazing put, the scene was redone so that he gave her the tips. In that context Jake’s joke about Marjorie leaving him for Arnold Palmer made much more sense.

Perhaps the best expression of Marjorie Houseman's personality occurs in the last scene, when Johnny Castle has invaded the talent show and had grabbed Baby and was leading her to the stage to perform their dance. At that moment, Jake Houseman stood up to stop Baby, but Marjorie grabbed Jake and made him sit back down. Then when Baby began to dance brilliantly with Johnny on the stage, an admiring Marjorie says to Jake, "I think she gets this from me."

At this moment we can appreciate that Marjorie is much more relaxed than Jake about Baby's efforts. Marjorie is willing to watch Baby take some risks in her personal life. She seems to accept calmly the revelation that Baby has become personally involved with the dance instructor and become his dance partner. Marjorie genuinely admires Baby's dancing but feels that she herself possesses similar talents and spirit. When she sees Baby's accomplishment, she can honestly boast, "I think she gets this from me."

For Marjorie, the story ends very happily. She feels confident about her daughters' future accomplishments and probably also about her own.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Houseman Family's Moral Concerns

The movie Dirty Dancing begins with a view inside an automobile, as the Houseman family was traveling to a three-week summer vacation at a resort-hotel in the Borscht Belt. The father was driving, and the mother was sitting idle in the passenger seat. In the back, the younger daughter Baby was sitting behind the father and reading a book about the economics of peasant society, and the older daughter Lisa was sitting behind the mother and looking in a mirror and rearranging her hair style.

Then Baby put down her book and happily threw her arms around her father’s neck, causing her father to smile happily. Then Baby spoke as a narrator from the future:

That was the summer of 1963, when everybody still called me “Baby” and it didn’t occur to me to mind. That was before President Kennedy was shot, before the Beatles came, when I couldn’t wait to join the Peace Corps, and I thought I’d never find a guy as great as my Dad.

The car radio played the song Big Girls Don’t Cry. The story that would follow was a family drama involving the father and his two daughters. Both daughters wanted to find a guy as great as their Dad, a medical doctor. As the daughters actually became involved intimately with young men, however, their relationships with their father were ruptured. The older daughter Lisa already had become so self-involved in her efforts to attract a young man that she and her father had difficulty with talking with each other seriously and candidly. The younger daughter Baby, however, intended to defer her romantic efforts until some still far future year, after she would graduate from college and then serve in the Peace Corps. Therefore Baby and her father still talked with each other seriously and candidly, uninhibited by any secrets involving sexual desires and activities with young men.

The story would not involve the mother significantly but would, as a minor theme, depict the exclusion, alienation and frustration of middle-age women.


The revolves around the younger daughter falling in love with a young man and therefore losing her ability to talk seriously and candidly with her father. The rupture in communications between this daughter and father began with a moral conflict involving Baby’s request to her father for $250 to pay for an illegal abortion for a young woman who was a stranger to their family. Although this moral conflict was initiated by Baby, this conflict troubled mostly Dr. Houseman – as a doctor and as a father.

The story never addresses the questions of whether abortion itself is moral and should be legal, whether the fetus is a life that should be protected. Rather, the story depicts the problems caused by the secrecy surrounding abortion. The situation compelled Doctor Houseman to maintain several secrets for professional and family reasons, and this secrecy prevented him from asking questions that might clarify the situation, prevent misunderstandings and focus his moral judgments accurately.

For Doctor Houseman, the secrecy surrounding the unexpected abortion was a precursor to the secrecy surrounding his daughters’ new sexual desires and activities. All these secret situations crippled the father’s ability to communicate effectively with his daughters and wife. For Baby, this summer eventually would turn out to be a joyous time, celebrated by the movie’s theme song The Time of Your Life. For her father, however, the summer would be a time of continuous moral conflict, criticism and confusion.


Baby asked her father for $250 (in 1963 that amount was much more significant than it is now) to pay for an illegal abortion for the dance instructor Penny Johnson. When he asked what the money was for and whether it was for something illegal, Baby responded only that she needed the money to help someone and that it was not for something illegal. He then gave her the money without asking any further questions.

Although Baby had been told that the abortion would be performed by a real doctor, she surely knew that it was illegal. As it turned out, the abortionist was not a real doctor, and he botched the abortion and caused Penny to suffer painful and dangerous complications. Therefore Baby had to ask her father to treat Penny, and so he learned the truth about how his money was used.

This situation posed several serious problems for Dr. Houseman. His money had been used to pay for an illegal abortion, which endangered the woman’s life. The woman then refused to go to a hospital because she was afraid the police would be notified. Therefore Dr. Houseman had to provide medical treatment to her secretly in her employee cabin at a resort hotel where she worked. Furthermore, Dr. Houseman was a friend of the resort hotel’s owner, who employed the woman and owned the cabin.

After Dr. Houseman finished treating Penny and left the cabin, Baby tried to apologize and explain. However, Dr. Houseman interrupted Baby’s explanation and forbade her to continue any more associations with the resort hotel’s employees. At this point, because he did refuse to hear Baby’s explanation, the moral fault in the developing situation shifts from Baby to Dr. Houseman.

In addition to preventing Baby’s explanation, Dr. Houseman decided not to tell his wife about the situation. He angrily told Baby: “I won't tell your mother about this. Right now I'm going to bed. And take that stuff [cosmetics] off your face before your mother sees you!”

Dr. Houseman returned to his hotel room, where his wife was sleeping. When his wife asked him, “Is everything all right, Jake?”, he responded, “It's all right, Marjorie. Go back to sleep.”

Later in the movie, several remarks in the dialogue indicated that Dr. Houseman gave Baby “the silent treatment” during the days following the abortion, refusing to talk with her about anything. His refusal enabled Baby to continue to conceal additional secrets – related to herself and to Lisa – that were related to the abortion. Even if Dr. Houseman had talked with Baby, she might have continued to reveal these family secrets, but now her father’s own refusal to talk gave Baby a convenient excuse to remain silent about them.


Dr. Houseman believed mistakenly that Penny Johnson had been impregnated by her fellow dance instructor Johnny Castle, but Baby knew that the culprit was Robbie Gould, a medical student who worked as a waiter in the hotel resort during the summer. Furthermore, Baby knew that this same Robbie Gould and her older sister Lisa now were becoming involved in a romantic relationship that Lisa was concealing from her parents. During one of the first evenings of the family’s stay at the resort hotel, Lisa and Robbie had gone together to the golf course in order to make out, and Lisa had asked Baby to tell their parents a false story about Lisa’s whereabouts.

Later that night Baby saw Robbie and Lisa coming out of the woods. Lisa’s hair and dress were disordered, and her slip was showing. Lisa was demanding an apology from Robbie, who was telling Lisa to “go back to Mommy and Daddy” and joking that Lisa would hear an apology from him only in her dreams. Baby saw this incident before she learned that Penny had become pregnant and that Robbie was the culprit.

The movie’s author Eleanor Bergstein explained in her running commentary about the movie that a long scene was removed from this part of the movie. In the removed scene, Penny saw Lisa and Robbie coming out of the woods, and so she herself became upset at Robbie’s behavior and so she herself ran away into the woods. Baby saw all these events and so assembled a few people to go into the woods to find Penny. During this search, Baby used some navigation and orientation techniques that she learned in the Girl Scouts, thus depicting Baby’s intelligence and resourcefulness.

This search through the dark forest was filmed with great difficulty. Since, however, the scene lasted several minutes and because the film’s editors thought the movie was too long, the editors recommendation that this entire search scene be cut from the film. Bergstein resisted this recommendation but eventually relented. The scene was eliminated, and Bergstein eventually came to feel that this cut improved the movie. In the film’s final version, Baby simply found Penny hiding and crying in the resort hotel’s kitchen. Although Bergstein agreed to cut the search through the woods, we can suppose that she felt that this cut scene had given the audience some important understandings.

The cut scene helped the audience understand that Baby initially had focused her attention primarily on Penny Johnson, not on Johnny Castle. Before this search scene, Baby had seen Penny and Johnny dance twice –once in the resort hotel’s ballroom and once in a warehouse where the employees were dirty-dancing. Baby watched both dancers with obvious fascination. The audience might assume that Baby focused her fascination primarily on Johnny, but at first she was intimidated by him and focused her fascination primarily on Penny.

On the day following the dirty-dancing scene, Baby even approached Penny to flatter her, saying she admired her and envied her talent. Penny dismissed Baby’s remarks, and Baby’s feelings were hurt. Later, that night, Baby was dismayed to see that when Penny saw Robbie and Lisa came out of the woods together, Penny became upset and ran into the woods. Baby’s admiration and concern for Penny motivated her to organize a group effort to search for Penny in the woods.

Since the search scene was removed from the movie, the audience lost much of the author’s intended understanding that Baby at that time was focusing her attention primarily on Penny. Baby wanted to flatter and help Penny already before she knew anything at all about Penny’s pregnancy. The audience lost also much of the author’s intended understanding that this early situation caused Baby to develop anger toward her sister Lisa. Although Baby still did not understand that Penny was pregnant from Robbie, Baby did understand that something about the relationship between Robbie and Lisa upset Penny terribly.

When Doctor Houseman’s own anger caused him to stop talking with Baby, he prevented her from explaining Lisa’s secret involvement in the abortion situation – that Lisa was becoming involved romantically with Robbie, who had made Penny pregnant.


Doctor Houseman’s refusal to talk with Baby prevented her also from explaining her own secret involvement with the abortion situation. Doctor Houseman concluded mistakenly that Penny had become pregnant from Johnny. By the time Doctor Houseman made this false conclusion, Baby already had spent a lot of time receiving dance instructions secretly from Johnny and even had performed a dance with him at the other resort hotel.

After Doctor Houseman finished treating Penny’s complications from the abortion, he ordered Baby to cease any further associations with any of the employees. However, on the very next day, Baby went to Johnny’s cabin to apologize for her father’s mistaken and insulting accusations against Johnny. During this visit, Baby and Johnny had sex for the first time, and so now Baby’s moral problems became even more serious. Now she had disobeyed her father’s order to cease associations with any of the employees, now she was having sex with the very employee who her father thought had caused Penny’s pregnancy, and now she herself was in danger of becoming pregnant and eventually needing an abortion.


I speculate that Doctor Houseman’s fury at Baby for using his money to pay for an illegal abortion was compounded by his own feelings and experiences related to illegal abortions. When Baby had asked him for $250 to help someone but would not explain the circumstances, the thought must have occurred to him that the money might be for an illegal abortion. He asked Baby whether the money was for something illegal, and when she said it was not, he immediately apologized, saying: “That was a stupid thing to ask. Forgive me.”

Of course, his question whether his money would be used for something illegal was not “a stupid thing to ask.” If, however, he believed that abortions should be available to women even though abortions were illegal, then perhaps he indeed felt that he should not ask such aggressive questions if the money indeed was for an abortion.

Later, when Baby ran to tell her father that there was a problem caused by an abortion, his first question was whether the victim was Lisa. After Doctor Houseman learned that the victim was Penny and after he finished treating Penny, he expressed his anger to Baby with the words: “You're not the person I thought you were. I'm not sure who you are.”

I speculate that Doctor Houseman was making these two statements to a great extent about himself too. If he himself had performed illegal abortions, then perhaps those past experiences caused him to feel that he was not the person he thought he himself was and that he himself was not sure who he himself was.

Perhaps he was thinking also that if Baby had told him from the beginning that Penny needed an abortion, then he might have provided some advice or direction that would have avoided her complications. He might have recommended a real doctor who would have perform the abortion or might have performed the abortion himself.

Penny said she refused to go to a hospital because she feared that the hospital would inform the police. Since Dr. Houseman himself did not call the police after he learned about the situation, he apparently did not believe fully that all illegal abortions should be reported to the police.

All these considerations would have caused Dr. Houseman great moral conflict that impeded him from discussing the situation with Baby fully and candidly. With regard to abortions, he had various secrets of his own to conceal from his family, including from his wife.


Doctor Houseman’s inability to talk effectively about the abortion decision involved also his attitude toward the ordinary employees of the resort hotel. He generally viewed them with benign condescension, which turned into contemptuous disgust at the particular employees he perceived to be directly involved with the illegitimate pregnancy and illegal abortion.

When Dr. Houseman came into the cabin to provide medical treatment to Penny, he asked who was responsible for Penny. Johnny Castle responded that he was responsible, meaning that he would pay for any further medical costs. Doctor Houseman misconstrued Johnny’s assumption of financial responsibility to mean instead, however, that Johnny had made Penny pregnant.

Afterwards, Dr. Houseman refused to talk with any of the ordinary employees, especially with Johnny, who tried several times to explain himself. The only non-management employee Dr. Houseman would talk with was the waiter Robbie Gould, the medical student who actually had made Penny Johnson pregnant.


During one first nights that the Houseman family spent at the resort hotel, Lisa and Robbie went together to the golf course. Apparently they engaged in some heavy petting, but Lisa stopped Robbie from going too far, and so they quarreled and walked back through the woods to the resort hotel. Baby and Penny saw Lisa and Robbie coming out of the woods still arguing about Robbie’s seduction attempt. After Baby saw how much this incident upset Penny, Baby developed a growing anger toward Lisa.

Baby’s anger was compounded when she learned that Robbie had made Penny pregnant, abandoned Penny, and refused to pay for Penny’s abortion. Baby’s anger was compounded even more as she sat in the resort hotel’s dining room every day and saw Robbie, serving the family as a waiter, ingratiate himself with her parents. Furthermore, while Doctor Houseman stopped talking with Baby, he became more and more talkative with Lisa. Baby stopped talking with Lisa and so decided not to tell Lisa about Penny’s abortion and Robbie’s role.

Then on one of the last nights of the family’s stay at the resort hotel, however, Lisa and Baby were lying in their beds in their hotel room, and Lisa happily informed Baby that she had “decided to go all the way with Robbie.” Lisa expected that her decision eventually would result in a marriage and even wondered aloud whether the resort hotel might allow her and Robbie to stay for free if they returned for their ten-year anniversary.

The sisters’ conversation in the bedroom progressed as follows:

Lisa: I’ve decided to go all the way with Robbie.

Baby: No, not with someone like him.

Lisa: Do you think if we [Lisa and Robbie] came back for a ten-year anniversary, it [another stay in the resort hotel] would be free?

Baby: It's just wrong this way. It should be with someone, with someone that you sort of love.

Lisa: Come on. You don't care about me. You wouldn't care if I humped the entire army, as long as we were on the right side of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. What you care about is that you're not Daddy's girl anymore. He listens when I talk now. You hate that.

Lisa’s last statement expresses her own fury toward Baby. Lisa perceived that Baby was interested only in politics and that Baby considered Lisa to be promiscuous. Furthermore, Lisa pointedly mocked Baby for losing her, Baby’s, status as their father’s favorite daughter.

Since Baby continued to conceal her knowledge of Robbie’s bad character, Lisa later did go to Robbie’s cabin with the intention of having sex with him. She stopped at the most moment only because she saw that he already was having sex with an older female guest.

Later in the story, however, the two sisters reconciled. This happened after Lisa saw Robbie having sex with an older woman and after Johnny Castle was fired by the resort hotel’s owner. Only after both sisters had lost their boyfriends did the reconciliation become possible. The reconciliation was depicted toward the end of the movie, in short scene where the sisters were sitting together in their bedroom and Lisa offered to restyle Baby’s hair. Baby seemed to respond reluctantly to Lisa’s offer, but then in the final scene Baby appeared with a different hair style.

(As I described in a previous article, the movie’s author Eleanor Bergstein scrambled the roles that she and her real sister played in their real family. Her real sister Francis was more serious, becoming a mathematics professor who tried to remain faithful in her relationships, as she was depicted in Bergstein’s other movie It’s My Turn. When Eleanor Bergstein herself was a young woman, one of her own major activities was competing in dirty-dancing contests. Surely Eleanor was the much more sexually promiscuous of the two real sisters.)


Late in the story, Baby attempted to reconcile also with her father. He was sitting sad and alone on a deck overlooking the lake behind the resort hotel. He had just learned that Baby has been sleeping with Johnny. Then Baby approached him on this deck, and they had their first conversation since he had treated Penny’s abortion complications. Baby too was unhappy, because she has just learned that Johnny has been fired and is preparing to leave. Therefore she herself now has lost any reasons to continue to conceal from her father any remaining secrets of her own.

Baby initiated this conversation with her father by apologizing for lying to him. Then immediately, however, she attacked her father for lying to her. He had pretended to be egalitarian, but the recent events had revealed how he looked down on the hotel’s ordinary employees, such as Johnny Castle. Baby’s concluding words in this conversation:

I'm not proud of myself, but I'm in this family too. You can't keep giving me the silent treatment. There are a lot of things about me that aren't what you thought, but if you love me, you have to love all the things about me. And I love you. I'm sorry I let you down. I'm so sorry, Daddy, but you let me down too.

Although Dr. Houseman and Baby at least resumed talking with each other again, this conversation did not end with a complete reconciliation and clarifying discussion of their conflict. He continued to believe mistakenly that Johnny Castle had made Penny Johnson pregnant. Doctor Houseman was still so angry that decided to punish Baby by making the family leave the resort hotel on the next day.

Since the family vacation was supposed to last several more days and conclude after the talent show on the final night, however, the family protested against the father’s rash decision to leave early. He relented and the family stayed. Fortunately, Dr. Houseman’s attendance at the talent show on the final evening provided an opportunity for him to clarify his essential misunderstanding of the abortion situation. When Doctor Houseman tried to give an envelope full of money to Robbie Gould as a final tip for his waiter service, Robbie Gould inadvertently revealed that he, not Johnny Caste, had made Penny Johnson pregnant. This fortuitous revelation of the key facts then enabled Doctor Houseman to recognize fully his own moral faults in this entire situation. And so he apologized to Johnny Castle for his false accusations and began to accept Johnny Castle as a social peer.

Eleanor Bergstein and Five Female Characters

Eleanor Bergstein, the author of Dirty Dancing, based the story on her own experiences. Like the movie’s main character, she grew up in a family that visited resort hotels in the Borscht Belt regularly during summer vacations.

Bergstein was born in 1938 and therefore was 17 years old in about 1955. The movie’s main character was 17 years old in the year 1963 and so would have been born in about 1946. The movie was issued in 1987 and told a story that took place in 1963, so the initial audience was looking back about 24 years.

Why didn’t Bergstein set the movie’s time in about 1955, when she herself was about 17?

Bergstein did not address that question in her running commentary about the movie, but she did say that she worked at such a resort hotel in her summers during her college years and also that she worked as an Arthur Murray dance instructor during her college years. If we estimate that she attended college as an undergraduate from about 1956 through 1959 and further attended as a graduate student from about 1960 to 1963, then we can suppose that her last summer working at the camp might have been in about 1963, which is the summer when the story takes place.

This suggests that Bergstein based two of the movie’s characters on herself:

  • the 17-year-old girl visiting the resort hotel with her family

  • the 25-year-old woman teaching dance at the resort hotel.

The movie does not specify the two dance instructors’ ages, but I read somewhere that Patrick Swayze was 35 years old when he played the movie’s dance-instructor, who was supposed to be 25 years old. (Likewise Jennifer Grey was 27 years old when she played the 17-year-old girl.) If the male instructor indeed was supposed to be 25 years old, then we can suppose that the female dance instructor was about the same age.


In the movie, the female dance instructor, named Penny Johnson, had a platonic friendship with the male instructor, named Johnny Castle. Meanwhile she had fallen in love and become pregnant with a college student, named Robbie Gould, who had just been accepted into medical school. We can suppose that he was finishing his undergraduate studies and therefore was about 21 years old.

When Penny Johnson learned that Robbie Gould does not want to marry her, she decided to have an abortion, which could be done only on one particular night when she was supposed to perform a dance with the Johnny Castle. Therefore, the 17-year-old female guest agreed to learn the dance and then pretend to be Penny Johnson on that night. The 17-year-old female guest thus became the 24-year-old dance instructor in the story. Therefore we should appreciate that Eleanor Bergstein in her story perceived herself as both female characters, the younger one eventually becoming the older one.

There is a scene in the movie where the dance instructor danced behind and guided the girl as the girl began to learn to dance. There is another scene where the dance instructor and the girl were mirroring each other's movements. In both scenes we might say that the girl became the dance instructor.

Since Eleanor Bergstein’s own father was a doctor and her family life was happy, we can suppose that she herself as a young woman would have idealized a husband who would have been a doctor. She therefore could have imagined herself as easily seduced by a medical student. Perhaps she even had such an experience.

The dance instructor’s name is Johnny Castle, and the father’s name is Jake Houseman. Both their first names – Johnny and Jake – are nicknames for the proper Biblical name Jonathan.


Both of Eleanor Bergstein's parents died when she was in her early twenties. She was affected most profoundly by the death of her mother, about which she later wrote: “Losing my mother was so frightening. I had an almost total absence of hope, and I closed myself off, unable to face the grief and the pain.”

After both her parents died, Eleanor went to live with another family that had many relatives who had died in the Holocaust. This new family talked about these murdered relatives almost every day, which made Bergstein even more depressed.

She tried to continue making a living a dancer as a professional dancer but then gr1adually became a novelist and then a screenwriter. She married a man who became a professor of poetry at Princeton University. Many of her stories, novels and screenplays included dancing as a story element.

In 1980 a movie based on one of her screenplays was issued. The movie was titled It’s My Turn and starred Jill Clayburgh, who played a mathematics professor, and Michael Douglas, who played a former professional baseball player who had to retire early because of an injury. Each of these two characters had lost a parent through death, and the surviving parents fell in love and married. The two characters met at the wedding of their parents and then fell in love themselves, even though they now were step-sister and step-brother. The script included a scene where the two characters dance, which then leads to their first sexual experience together. The dance scene was removed from the movie’s final version, however, which dismayed Bergstein.

The removal of this dance scene from It’s My Turn decisively motivated Bergstein to write the movie Dirty Dancing, in which dancing is the main theme.


Eleanor Bergstein was named after Eleanor Roosevelt, but she was called Baby by her family and friends through her teenage years. She had an older sister named Frances, who was named after Frances Perkins, who was President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945.

In the movie Dirty Dancing, the central family’s name is Houseman, its older daughter is called Lisa, and its younger, 17-year-old daughter is called Baby. After Baby became intimate with Johnny Castle, he asked her what her real name was, and she told him that it was Frances, because her parents had named her after the first female member of the US Cabinet.

In the movie, the older sister Lisa was frivolous, and her main interest was beauty and fashion. She thought she might have a successful career in show business and she gladly participated in the resort hotel’s talent show. The audience sees her rehearsing for her talent-show performance, and it is obvious that she had no performance talent and would never succeed in show business.

In the movie, the younger sister Baby (Frances) was very serious and intended to major in international economic development when she began her studies soon at Mount Holyoke College, a prestigious women’s college. At the beginning of the movie, she was already reading a textbook about the economics of peasant societies. She had a plain appearance and she dressed drably (during the first half of the movie). On one occasion Lisa suggested to Baby that she restyle her (Baby’s) hair in a more attractive appearance, but Baby is not interested. When the hotel owner’s grandson flirted with Baby, she tried to avoid him.

In real life, the older sister Frances was the unemotional, serious, intellectually ambitious sister. Frances eventually became a mathematics professor and served as the basis for the character played by Jill Clayburgh in Bergstein’s movie It’s My Turn.

In real life, the younger sister Eleanor was the frivolous, entertaining sister, always called Baby by everyone who knew her. Eleanor worked as a professional dancer, married a poet, lived a Bohemian life, strove to break into show business, and eventually made a career as writer and producer of chick flicks.

Thus we should appreciate that Eleanor Bergman saw herself in three of the movie’s main female roles, as

  • Baby Houseman,

  • Penny Johnson,

  • Lisa Houseman.

The third role is an inside joke for people who know Eleanor Bergman’s real family and who recognize that the two sister’s names and personalities have been switched. Whenever the movie makes fun of the older sister Lisa as a frivolous nitwit who, for example, obviously never will achieve her fantasy of succeeding as a dancer in show business, the movie really is making fun of Eleanor Bergstein herself. And when the movie depicts Baby Houseman as a serious young intellectual, the movie is attributing the real older sister Frances’s most admirable characteristics to the real younger sister Eleanor.


In general, the movie scrambles the two sisters Lisa and Baby and the female dance instructor Penny Johnson. As I have already pointed out, Baby eventually became Penny Johnson. Furthermore, Lisa and Penny fell in love and had sex with the same medical student Robbie Gould. Meanwhile Baby fell in love and has sex with the male dance instructor Johnny Castle, who initially seemed to be the lover and impregnator of Penny. While writing her script, the author Eleanor Bergstein apparently saw herself in each of these three female characters and in each of their situations.


The family’s mother, Marjorie Houseman, plays a role in the film, but because of an unexpected fluke, her role was altered significantly. In real life, Eleanor Bergstein’s real mother, who was a doctor’s wife and a homemaker, had enough money and time to become a superb golfer. On the other hand, Eleanor Bergstein’s real father, who was a busy doctor, always remained a mediocre golfer. Therefore Eleanor Bergstein wrote into the script a scene where both parents are practicing on a putting green. The scene was supposed to display the mother’s competence and give her an opportunity to instruct her husband.

When the scene was filmed, however, the actor playing the father (Jerry Orbach) happened to sink two long puts in a nonchalant manner. Furthermore, the second put swirled around the hole three or four times before it fell in. Since the director Emile Ardonlino enforced a strict rule that all actors must continue to play their roles seriously, even if something unexpected happened, the actor maintained a straight face even though he was supposed to miss both puts.

This unexpected feat, all caught perfectly on film, was so hilarious that Eleanor Bergstein immediately rewrote the dialogue so that the father subsequently instructed the mother condescendingly about her golf technique. One dialogue line that did remain was the father’s remark that if he ever died, the mother probably would immediately marry Arnold Palmer (the most famous professional golfer of that time).

During her running commentary about the film, Eleanor Bergstein told this story about the change of dialogue in the putting scene and apologized to her deceased mother for demeaning her well-deserved reputation as a superb golfer.

Some of the mother’s dialogue might have been removed from the film because the actress who began to play the mother while the movie was being filmed became sick after several days and was replaced. (In one of the first scenes, when all the guests are arriving and unloading their cars, the mother is a blonde, but during the rest of the movie she is a brunette.)

In the scenes where we do see the mother acting, she is restraining the father’s angry reactions to Baby’s actions. For example, in the last scene when Johnny Castle barges into the talent show and grabs Baby and leads her toward the stage, the father rises from his chair to interfere, but the mother grabs the father and pulls him back into his chair.

Thus Eleanor Bergstein intended to present the mother as a strong and capable mother who encouraged her daughters to succeed as independent women. The movie states explicitly, for example, that the younger daughter had been named after the first woman to serve in the US Cabinet (although in the real family the older sister was so named) and was sending this daughter to attend a prestigious women’s college. Thus we should appreciate that the movie’s author Eleanor Bergstein intended to identify the mother with the daughter. This was a mother who wanted to realize her own frustrated professional ambitions through her intellectual, studious, ambitious daughter Frances (the older daughter in the real family).

Thus the author Eleanor Bergstein identifies herself with four of the movie’s female characters:

  • the younger daughter Baby Houseman,

  • the dance instructor Penny Johnson,

  • the older daughter Lisa Houseman,

  • the mother Marjorie Houseman,


The movie features a fifth female character, named Vivian Pressman. She was a middle-aged female guest, married to a man who spent much of his time at the hotel resort gambling. She took dance lessons from Johnny Castle and had a sexual affair with him. Thus she resembled Baby Houseman, who likewise took dance lessons from and had a sexual affair with Johnny Castle.

(When the actress who was supposed to play the mother had to drop out of the movie because of an illness, she was replaced by the actress, Kelly Bishop, who was supposed originally to play Vivian Presssman. In turn, the role of Vivian Pressman was filled by an assistant choreographer, Miranda Garrison, who had helped train the female “dirty dancers” in the cast. The unexpected but perfect placement of dirty-dancer, sluttish Garrison into the Pressman role is irrefutable proof that the production of the movie Dirty Dancing was inspired, favored and guided miraculously by Mankind’s Loving and Omnipotent God.)

Another similarity is that both Vivian Pressman and Baby Houseman gave money to Johnny Castle for sexual reasons. Vivian Pressman arranged for her gambler husband to give $100 to Johnny Castle for dance lessons, although it is apparent that Vivian Pressman hoped that this monetary payment would enable her own sexual affair with Johnny Castle. On the other hand, Baby Houseman arranged for her father to give $250 to Johnny Castle for Penny Johnson’s abortion.

Eventually, Vivian Pressman was rejected by Johnny Castle and so had a sexual affair instead with the medical student Robbie Gould. The older sister Lisa Houseman intended to have a sexual affair with this same Robbie Gould, but this intention was interrupted when she found Gould and Pressman in the act of sexual intercourse.

Thus, we should appreciate that Eleanor Bergstein identified herself finally with this fifth female role too. This was an older, predatory female that the younger, idealistic females might become. Vivian Pressman competed with the younger sister Baby Houseman for a sexual affair with Johnny Castle and then competed with the older sister Lisa Houseman for a sexual affair with Robby Gould. Although Baby Houseman defeated Vivian Pressman in the competition for Johnny Castle, Pressman subsequently accused Castle of stealing money from her husband and so caused the hotel resort owner Max Kellerman to fire Castle, which seemed to ruin Baby Houseman’s relationships with Castle and with her father.

Vivian Pressman is the movie’s main villain, but the author Eleanor Bergstein identifies with her too. When Bergstein finished writing Dirty Dancing in about 1984, she herself was in her mid-forties, about the same age as the Vivian Pressman character. Vivian Pressman represents the middle-aged Eleanor Bergstein’s enduring, competitive, wicked lust for sexual adventures and experiences with attractive young men.

Thus we should appreciate that Eleanor Bergstein herself identified with the movie’s five main female characters:

  • the 17-year-old idealistic younger daughter Baby Houseman,

  • the 25-year-old talented dance instructor Penny Johnson,

  • the 19-year-old frivolous older daughter Lisa Houseman,

  • the admirable, faithful middle-aged wife and mother Marjorie Houseman,

  • the contemptible, adulterous middle-aged wife Vivian Pressman,

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Resort Hotel's Employees

None of Dirty Dancing’s dialogue mentions that anyone is or is not Jewish or addresses any particular Jewish concern. The overwhelming majority of the people who have watched this movie have not perceived that it takes place in particular Jewish cultural institution or that it has anything at all to do with Jews or Jewish concerns.

In fact, that very absence of Jewish concern is a major reason that the Borscht Belt disappeared. By the mid-1960s the Jewish population of New York had assimilated and prospered into American society. They could go to any resort and enjoy real upper-class life, not just a Jewish imitation. Every Jewish family had a television and could watch successful Jewish performers every day. Even the families that still did visit the Borscht Belt did so more as a familiar, family tradition that had become devoid of Jewish consciousness. Jewish families still preferred that their children eventually marry other Jews, but they also preferred that their children finish their higher educations first, so the Jewish parents’ mingling of their Jewish teenage children during summer vacations had lost its urgency.

A major irony of the Dirty Dancing story is that the main character, a 17-year-old girl in a prosperous family that is visiting such a resort hotel, prefers to spend her time and energy socializing with the employees who live in cabins behind the hotel and who dance in a vulgar, “dirty” manner in a dilapidated warehouse or in a remote forest, meadow and even a lake. For this girl, the cultural enrichment she acquires during her vacation is her encounter not with upper-class WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant) society, but rather with a lower-class society comprising Irish (e.g. Johnny Castle), Puerto Rican, Negro and various mongrel dregs.

The resort hotel where the movie takes place is called Kellerman’s, and it is owned by a man named Max Kellerman, played by a 63-year-old actor (Jack Weston). He apparently owns two such hotels, the other one being called The Sheldrake. Max Kellerman is assisted by his grandson, Neil Kellerman, who intends to enroll soon in the Cornell School of Hotel Management and who appears to be about 20 years old. This grandson Neil indicates in a remark that he already considers himself to be the owner of the two hotels, foreseeing that his grandfather will retire when he himself graduates from Cornell.


The hotel employs a big-band orchestra, which seems to comprise mostly Cubans of African ancestry. We can assume that this orchestra alternates evenings between the two hotels and that the orchestra members do not do any work at the hotels besides playing music.

When the producers were selecting a resort as a location for the movie, they looked for a resort with a swimming pool, because the movie was supposed to show that the swimming pool was racially integrated. The author Eleanor Bergstein in her running commentary mentioned that the Jewish-owned resorts racially integrated their swimming pools before the other resorts did so, so apparently her original script included a reference to that fact. However, the producers could not find an available resort with a swimming pool (we do see guests swimming in a lake). Therefore none of the movie’s dialogue refers to the racial integration of the swimming pool, although the dialogue refers several times to the Civil Rights movement that was developing in the South in the early 1960s. We can suppose that the African-Americans in the planned swimming-pool scene would have been the orchestra members, who were idle during the days.

Several of the employees who live in the cabins and who dirty-dance in the warehouse are African Americans, but they probably are not orchestra members, who are older and are busy playing their music in the evenings while the young employees are dirty-dancing.

The orchestra conductor is about Max Kellerman’s age, and Max Kellerman seems to treat him as a social peer. We should understand that the orchestra members are an upper and distinct social class of the hotel’s employees. The orchestra members are older and are professionally established, and they rest during the mornings and days and work during the evenings and nights.


Another category of employees works in positions that interact directly with the guests. For example, the movie dialogue mentions explicitly that the restaurant waiters are college students who work in the hotel during their summer vacations. We can suppose that this employee category includes also receptionists, social-activity leaders, life guards, and so forth. Most such employees were former guests who had visited the resort in younger years with their families.

In a scene that follows soon afterward, Mr. Kellerman is instructing the restaurant waiters about their conduct rules during their employment. He tells them:

You waiters are all college guys, and I went to Harvard and Yale to hire you. And why did I do that? Why? I shouldn't have to remind you. This is a family place. That means you keep your fingers out of the water, hair out of the soup, and show the goddamn daughters a good time -- all the daughters, even the dogs. Schlepp 'em out to the terrace, romance 'em any way you want. Got that, guys?

Although these employees are only waiters at the hotel, they are university students and also (although not stated in the dialogue) Jews who might be appropriate marriage candidates for the young women among the guests. Furthermore, the Jewish parents might even welcome romantic interest from such employees toward their daughters. One of the waiters, named Robbie Gould, is a medical student, and so he is treated very warmly by the family father, who himself is a doctor. It is apparent that the father considers this medical student to be a good romantic prospect for either of his two daughters.


As Mr. Kellerman is completing his instructions to his waiters, another group of male employees walks through the restaurant, and Mr. Kellerman instructs them differently:

Well, if it isn't the entertainment staff. Listen, wise ass, you got your own rules. Dance with the daughters. Teach 'em the mambo, the cha-cha, anything they pay for, but that's it, that's where it ends. No funny business, no conversations, and keep you hands off.

This second group of male employees is dressed in matching shirts and is carrying guitars in cases, so it is apparent that they are a musical band. One of this group is dressed differently than the others, and he is the one who Kellerman addresses as “wise ass” and instructs about how to conduct himself with the guest families’ daughters.

Mr. Kellerman addresses this second group as “the entertainment staff” but later in the movie we see some of them doing ordinary jobs on the hotel grounds. We can suppose that some of them cook and wash dishes in the kitchen, clean floors, mow the grass and do other such jobs. In fact, they might not be paid at all by the hotel for playing music as a band. They play in the band only for tips and for the opportunity to acquire some public exposure as a band. Probably they can use the stage on the evenings when the orchestra plays at the other hotel. Their exposure provides them with some possibilities that some families might hire them later to play at Bar Mitzvah, wedding and anniversary parties. Apparently there is also a shortage of male guests at the dance classes for the guests, and so these band members fill in only as needed to correct the male-female ratio for partner dancing but are not supposed to socialize further with the female guests.

(We never see this band play in the movie. The DVD’s commentaries and interviews inform us that the producers had great difficulty convincing Patrick Swayze to accept the role of Johnny Castle, and furthermore Swayze’s own agent advised him against accepting the role. Eleanor Bergstein, the movie’s author, in her running commentary, reminisces about how, before the filming began, Swayze gave her a tape recording of a song, titled She’s Like the Wind, that Swayze had written and performed with a band that he headed in his real life. Therefore I speculate that in order to convince Swayze to accept the role, the producers agreed to provisionally include a scene where Swayze would perform his song with his band. Apparently the scene was removed from the movie’s final version, but the earlier scene where the band encountered Mr. Kellerman remained. As a consolation to Swayze, his song was included in the soundtrack.)


Such a hotel would hire also a lot of female employees to work as housekeepers to clean the rooms. We never see Mr. Kellerman address them, but we do see them hanging around in and around the cabins and dancing in the warehouse.

These ordinary male and female employees – who cook and wash dishes in the kitchen, who clean the floors and do repairs, who mow the grass, who clean the rooms, etc. – were not supposed to socialize with the guests. A major reason for this restriction is that these employees were not Jewish, a fact that is obvious from their appearances – many are African-American or Hispanics.


Two of the employees – Johnny Castle and Penny Johnson – are professional dancers, and they comprise an employee category of their own. They work as professional dancers only during the summers at the resort hotel. Johnny Castle, for example, works primarily as a house painter during the rest of the year. Their employment at the resort hotel comprises several elements:

  • They performed special dances for the hotel guests while the orchestra played. They did so at both hotels.

  • Then they encouraged the hotel guests to dance while the orchestra played. They were available to give special dance lessons to guests who were willing to pay for such lessons.

  • They organized and conducted a talent show that was performed on the final night. Hotel employees were required to participate in the talent show and guests were encouraged to participate.

  • They taught the employees to do group dances that were part of the talent show.

An early scene shows Johnny Castle and Penny Johnson dancing together spectacularly during a ballroom dance on the new guests' first evening at the hotel. Neil Kellerman remarked (to Baby Houseman) that they should stop dancing with each other and start dancing with the guests, because they would not sell dance lessons if they danced only with each other. Thus it seems that the hotel received a cut from the dance lessons that the professional dance instructors sold.

Since these dance-instructor jobs involved much socialization with the guests, the hotel owners would have preferred to hire Jews for these positions, but there simply was a shortage of Jews who could dance so expertly. Therefore non-Jews were hired, but they were supervised closely.

The movie includes several instances of such close supervision by Max Kellerman or by his grandson Neil Kellerman. In one instance, Max Kellerman motioned angrily to the two professional dancers that they should stop their dance performance and begin encouraging the guests to dance. In another instance, Neil Kellerman intruded without knocking into a room where Johnny Castle was giving a private dance lesson to the 17-year-old female guest. Neil Kellerman remarked that the dance lesson must last exactly as long as the time that the guest has paid for and also insisted that the talent show’s group dance by the employees be done in a dance style that Johnny Castle had rejected.

The two dance instructors have non-Jewish names – Johnny Castle and Penny Johnson – and they have personal appearances that are far from Jewish stereotypes.

When Penny Johnson became pregnant after an affair with the waiter Robbie Gould, she and Johnny Castle feared that they might be fired by the Kellermans as a consequence. One reason, which is not stated, was that the Kellermans valued the Jewish medical student Robbie Gould more as an employee than they valued the non-Jewish professional dancer Penny Johnson. If the pregnancy became known, then there would not be enough room on the hotel staff for both Gould and Johnson, and so Johnson would have to go. Gould came from a Jewish family that had been regular customers of the hotel for many years, and now he was attractive to Jewish families who had daughters who were entering a marriageable age.

Another problem caused by Johnson’s pregnancy was that she would not be available to dance in the hotel’s special performances. The pregnancy itself eventually might have prevented such performances, but the problem that developed in the movie was that she decided to have an abortion that had to be performed on a particular night when such a performance was scheduled. This situation led to a decision that the 17-year-old guest would learn the dance sufficiently well to substitute for Johnson on that one night. Many employees were young females, but none of them are available to learn the dance because they all were too busy cleaning the rooms during the days and preparing for the talent show during the evenings.

Since Penny Johnson was a couple months pregnant and since the story took place at the end of the summer, she apparently became romantically involved with Robbie Gould at the beginning of the summer or even during a previous summer while they were both working at the hotel. Penny Johnson sincerely loved Robbie Gould and expected to marry him, especially after she became pregnant. She was an extraordinarily beautiful and talented woman, but Robbie Gould could not consider marrying her, because she had not even graduated from high school and (although not stated) she was not Jewish.

Although Penny Johnson's status on the hotel resort's staff was much higher than the status of the female employees who worked as housekeepers and other such ordinary positions, she was subject to the same sexual rules probably applied to her and to all such female employees. They were forbidden to involve themselves in personal relationships with the male guests or20even with the Jewish male college students who worked as waiters, and any scandals were grounds for immediate firing.

The producers originally had selected an Italian-American actor to play the role of the male professional dancer. The producers soon decided that this first actor would not be able to dance as well as they expected, so they eventually replaced that actor with Patrick Swayze. The author Eleanor Bergstein indicated in her running commentary that this character thus ceased being an Italian-American character and instead became an Irish-American character. None of the dialogue indicates that this character is Irish-American, and the name Johnny Castle is not distinctively Irish, but perhaps this point was made by some dialogue that did not survive into the movie’s final version.


One of the movie’s characters is Johnny Castle’s young cousin, Billy Kostecki, whose name is Polish (indicating the employees’ mongrel pedigrees). In some previous summer, Johnny Castle had convinced Max Kellerman to hire Castle’s cousin Billy Kostecki to do odd jobs at the hotel. Kostecki was about the same age as the 17-year-old female guest and apparently had began a platonic friendship with her during a previous summer when they both were quite young.

Billy Kostecki plays what the author Eleanor Bergstein describes as an "expository role" in the screenplay. At various moments, he explained the developing situation to the young female guest and thus to the audience. In particular, he told her that Penny Johnson had become pregnant and then later that the pregnancy was caused by an affair with the medical student Robbie Gould. In some other moments, Kostecki's explanations advanced and clarified the story conveniently for the audience.

Billy Kostecki also serves as a means to bring the young female guest into the employees' secret world. Kostecki was supposed to carry three watermelons from the kitchen to the remote warehouse where the employees were supposed to be practicing dances for the talent show. He was not able to carry all three watermelons safely, however, so when he noticed the young female guest, he asked her to help him by carrying one of the watermelons. Thus she accompanied him to the warehouse, where she saw and joined the employees, who have been doing their own dirty dancing instead of practicing for the talent show. Without Kostecki's role, the young female guest never would have gone into that warehouse and become involved with the other employees.