Column: A Toast to Uncle Jack And the Dreamgirls

By Susan Parker
Tuesday January 23, 2007

My mother and I went to see Dreamgirls on Dec. 25, the day it opened in theaters across the country. It was the first time Mom had gone to a movie on Christmas day, the first time she’d experienced a sold-out theater and had to wait two hours for the next showing, and the first time she’d thought about The Supremes since spring, 1968.  

That was the year I turned 16 and my parents took me to see the wildly popular all-girl group. Back then, The Supremes were appearing at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a supposedly Mafia run joint located across the highway from the Garden State Racetrack. 

It wasn’t really a casino. Legal gambling wasn’t permitted, but the exterior and interior looked exactly like the clubs depicted in the movie: the Dreamgirls performing on a shimmering blood-red stage, in front of an all-white audience seated at small round tables, adults drinking highballs and smoking cigarettes, accompanied by teenage girls sipping Shirley Temples made to look like just like the real thing. 

My father, who had gone with us to see The Supremes, refused to join us for Dreamgirls. He had an important TV date with the Philadelphia Eagles that could not be broken. “Besides,” he said. “I’ve seen the Supremes.”  

“Thirty-eight years ago,” I reminded him.  

“Exactly,” said Dad. 

Mom and I, like everyone else in the crowded theater, loved the movie. “Fabulous,” she said when the lights came up and the room began to empty. “Was that Diana Ross playing herself?”  

We went home. The Eagles had won so Dad was in a celebratory mood. “Make us a cocktail,” demanded Mom. “We’ve just returned from a trip down memory lane.” 

“What do you remember about seeing The Supremes?” I asked Dad as he mixed our drinks.  

“The guy in the parking lot in charge of telling people where to park.”  

“The guy in the parking lot?” 

“Of course,” said Dad, as if recalling a car jockey from four decades ago was a normal recollection. “He was big and burley and his nose was punched in like a prize fighter, and he made me park way in the back, while other people in newer model Cadillacs got to park up front.” 

“I remember what you wore,” said Mom, looking at me over the top of her martini glass. “A skirt that was too short, hair teased too high, and black mascara that was applied far too thick. You looked like a floozie.” 

“Susan always looked like a floozie back then,” said Dad. “Thank God that stage has passed.” 

“What else do you remember,” I asked, ignoring the floozie comments. I’ve heard them before.  

“I tried to get tickets two weeks in advance,” said Mom. “But it was sold-out. I couldn’t believe it. At the time I’d never heard of The Supremes, had you, Dewey?” 

“No,” said Dad. “Never. So we called my Uncle Jack. You remember Uncle Jack, don’t you? He was a police chief and he had, how should I put this? Connections. I said, ‘Jack, can you get us into the Latin Casino to see The Supremes and he said no problem,’ but the next day he called back and said ‘Who the hell are the Supremes?” 

“He got the tickets,” said Mom. 

“He got the tickets,” agreed Dad, “and so we went, and it was a good time, and those girls could really sing.” He paused, took another sip of his drink, and added “But I hated that parking lot attendant.”  

“What else do you remember?” I asked. 

“The opening act,” said Dad. 

“The opening act?” asked Mom, “I don’t— 

“You don’t remember the opening act?” asked Dad. “The guy in the cowboy hat who— 

“The Supremes opened with a cowboy?” I asked. 

“A cowboy,” confirmed Dad. “Not like any cowboy I’d ever seen. He was dressed all in white, and wore a fur coat and — 

“You mean he was dressed like a pimp? I asked. 

“Well,” said Dad, frowning. “I was trying to be polite but — 

“Let’s have a toast,” said Mom, holding up her glass.  

“To The Dreamgirls and the Supremes,” I said. 

“To the Philadelphia Eagles,” said Dad. 

“To baby Jesus and Diana Ross,” said Mom. “Is she still alive?”