“Cookalein” in Dirty Dancing?


While I was reading the rest of A Contract With God, I was struck by the similarities between “Cookalein” and the movie Dirty Dancing.  I thought maybe I was just crazy and stricken with love for Patrick Swayze after the intense Just Dance 4 game I played this weekend that features the song “Time of My Life.”  However, after reading the story again, I realized I might not be as crazy as I thought.  The similarities between the movie and the story are rather uncanny.  Of course, the most generic similarity between the two is plot of the story—people leaving their “normal” lives to retreat to resorts for the entirety of the summer.  However, it goes much deeper than that.

vivian 3Look at the character of Miss Minks in “Cookalein”, an older woman who thoroughly enjoys engaging in sexual relations with someone much younger than her.  Now look at the character of Vivian Pressman, the older woman in Dirty Dancing who dances with Johnny and pays him for more “dance lessons”.  See any similarities?

Now let’s look at the characters of Robbie from Dirty Dancing and Benny from “Cookalein”.  Robbie is a waiter in the movie who plans on attending medical school.  While engaged in a relationship with Baby’s sister, he rapes the lead female dance instructor and does nothing about it because “some people count, some people don’t.”  It can be inferred that Robbie was with Baby’s sister as a way to gain good credentials from their father, a well-known and successful doctor.  Then there was Benny, who did not work in the camp, but came to the camp looking for a woman that he could marry so he could gain power and wealth.  When he meets Goldie and thinks she has money, everything is hunky dory.  Then he finds out that she is just as poor as he is, and he rapes her and moves on to seducing a woman whose father is very successful and wealthy.  Again, sound somewhat familiar?

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There are many characters and plots that can be examined and crossed between the story and the movie; however, the stark difference between the two is the treatment of love.  Dirty Dancing is, in essence, a love story.  Baby and Johnny, two people from very different social statuses, fall wildly in love and in the end, their love prevails.  Typical Hollywood.  “Cookalein” has a much harsher view on life, and the outcome is not all rainbows and butterflies.  The motive of almost every character in this story is to attain wealth or power by marriage and falsifying emotions of love.  The characters are driven by lust for wealth and lust for the warmth of a body that they are not married to, like Sam and his mistress. The story of Sam and his wife Fannie is not unlike a situation that some may be faced with in life—knowing that there is no love within a marriage anymore, but staying together for the sake of their children.

Not everything about “Cookalein” was (totally) morbid and had a tragic ending, though.  Willie became a man, albeit with a married woman much older than himself.  Goldie found herself a doctor to marry, even if he wasn’t as handsome as she had hoped.  Benny miraculously ended up with the daughter of a diamond merchant, and Sam kept his mistress.  The events that led up to these “happy” endings is what intrigued me the most about the story, other than the fact that it was eerily similar to Dirty Dancing.  It shows a much more realistic depiction of what life can be like by using characters who aren’t just filthy rich and bored, making the characters in Eisner’s story somewhat more easy to relate to.

All this being said, according to the author of Dirty Dancing, much of the movie was based off of her own life.  But I feel like either her life was the basis of “Cookalein”, or  Eleanor Bergstein pulled some of her story from Eisner.

Image Credit:  “Vivian

  5 comments for ““Cookalein” in Dirty Dancing?

  1. penguinxrox
    January 31, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    It is very weird noticing similarities between books/comic and movies! I, myself, have not seen Dirty Dancing in years (I was forced to watch it years ago), so I am not totally sure about the similarities. However, while I was reading Cookalein, it sounded eerily familiar. I have yet to put my finger on what or where I remember the story from, but it definitely created a bookish dejah vu.

    As a quick side comment, I love how Just Dance 4 made you think of that! Wonderful game.

    • bleuskeyes
      January 31, 2013 at 7:05 pm

      I think I found it most odd because I saw all these similarities and then when I went online to look up the author of Dirty Dancing, she had said it was based off of her life. So that makes me question whether or not it was truly formed from her own personal experiences, or if she pulled from Eisner. Of course, maybe summer getaways with cougars were a normal thing back then, who knows…

  2. aallen13
    January 31, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    I enjoyed reading your post! I didn’t even think about Cookalein having similarities to another story or movie. I haven’t seen the movie in a while but as I was reading the example comparisons between the two,scenes from the movie flashed in my head.Hmmm,I wounder if the author of Dirty Dancing knows about these similarities? Probably not… I tried to look for other movies with somewhat similar plot but found nothing.Maybe I was looking in the wrong place or maybe Dirty Dancing is the only movie resembling Cookalein’s plot.

    • bleuskeyes
      February 8, 2013 at 9:53 am

      Thank you! I think I picked up on the similarities so quickly because I absolutely love Dirty Dancing. So of course I had to write about it.

  3. junewalker
    February 7, 2013 at 2:08 am

    I am so glad you posted this! I noticed the same similarities while I was reading “Cookalein,” having just watched Dirty Dancing for the first time over winter break. I, too, question whether Eleanor Bergstein actually based Dirty Dancing entirely on her life or if it was embellished (or perhaps innocently confused with) “Cookalein.” After doing some admittedly quick Wikipedia based research, I found that Bergstein, like Eisner, was born (and presumably raised) in Brooklyn. I also found that while there is a pretty big age gap between the two, A Contract With God and therefore “Cookalein” was published less than ten years before Dirty Dancing came out. Maybe I’m just a skeptic, but these circumstances and the amount of the similarities sound pretty fishy to me.

    That being said, the ways in which Benny and Herbie’s financial situations are reversed in Dirty Dancing is really interesting to me. They’re still pretty much the same characters in Robbie and Johnny, respectively, except that in Dirty Dancing they actually end up having just as much money as it seems like they do at first, though Robbie is also randomly a waiter in addition to a spoiled rich kid. Plus, in the movie, there are two girls instead of just one. Penny’s plotline (the female dance instructor) seemed to me when I watched the movie to be somewhat gratuitous. The only purpose it really served was to further show what a great guy Johnny was and the dangers of sketchy abortions. Given the context of “Cookalein,” though, her plot line is essential to relating it back to Eisner’s story. The character of Goldie is split between Penny and Baby, and pretty unfairly too—everything bad happens to Penny, who is poor, and Baby gets the guy and the dancing and finally her rich parents’ approval. Yet in “Cookalein,” though Goldie’s experiences may be split equally between traumatic and ecstatic, the story as a whole is pretty dark. Penny’s experience in Dirty Dancing brings just enough of that darkness to the movie to make the (mostly) happy ending more satisfying…even though it’s technically not based on “Cookalein.”

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