By Judith Katz
We meet Alex Borstein’s character, the tough little coffee house manager, Susie Myerson, in the first 10 minutes of the first episode of Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Unlike her soon to be client, Midge Maisel, who is Jewish, trim, perfectly coifed, smart mouthed, and high femme, Susie is a little zaftig, tough talking, also smart mouthed, also Jewish, and physically exactly the opposite.
In her leather jacket, jeans, suspenders, fisherman’s cap, and tee shirt, Susie is often mistaken for a man. But I recognized her right away for what is never spoken but clearly intended: Susie Myerson, crabby, savvy, and a little bit sad looks a lot the way I looked once in the late ’60’s and early ‘70’s. She may not know it or own it yet, and her creator, Amy Sherman-Paladino, may not want to admit it for her, but Susie Myerson is a butch Jewish dyke as sure as I’m writing this down.
Granted, she’s a single one, and though we see her waiting glumly in her pathetic one room, er…room for Midge to make her 10 o’clock appointment at the start of a subsequent episode, Susie is hot to make Midge Maisel the standup comedy star she knows she can be, not to jump her bones.
While trying to convince Midge that she needs to pursue a stand up career, Susie plaintively lets us in on her own self-image and a common misconception about the fate of lesbians in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s:
I know I’m right about this. Just like I know that unless I somehow get
rich enough to hire some German broad to walk me around the park twice a
day in my old age I’m gonna spend my entire life alone… I don’t mind bein’
alone—I just don’t wanna be insignificant….do you?
This telling little soliloquy from the pilot reveals so much! Susie Myerson cracks wise, but she’s ultimately on her own. If this TV show were made 40 years ago, she’d be played by Eve Arden or Rose Marie (though Susie plays more like Morrie Amsterdam’s “Buddy” from The Dick Van Dyke Show) as the tough talking cheerleader for the aspiring gal with the can do spirit (no naked breasts please, it’s early ‘60’s TV!). Susie is poor, she is mannish and withholding (Midge has to poke and pry to get her to open up even a little bit about her family), she has no girlfriend and if she has any community at all it’s made up of the guys who work the comedy scene in Greenwich Village. In short, the only woman friend Susie seems to have is Midge.
I’m not sure we’ll ever get to see Susie Myerson protesting with Rita Mae Brown or any of the other Lavender Menace girls in future episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. We likely won’t see her throwing a brick at a cop car during the Stonewall Riots, or marching down Fifth Avenue under a banner that says DYKE! even though Susie’s character is ripe for such activities. I can see it now – Susie and Midge inadvertently get caught up in the first Gay Pride March – how to explain to hubby Joel and parents Abe and Rose? Hilarity ensues!
I’ll admit it – back in my own crabbier lesbian days, I’d likely take offense at how the Sherman-Paladinos refuse to openly state what is obvious about Susie Myerson’s character. But though as of Season One of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, it dares not speak its name – IT’S OBVIOUS! And having been around the block a few times, I also know that what may be obvious to us, the viewers (and to the Sherman-Paladinos) may not actually be obvious to Susie herself.
In the words of my sweet cousin, Tzippy when asked in 1969 by me if she was gay: “I don’t know if I’m a lesbian, Judy (Groucho Marx eyebrows), but I know I like women.”