You're So Vain (you probably think this crossword's about you)
"Midrash" by Ellen Ross / Edited by George Barany (November 2014)


GB: On the puzzle's main page, its co-constructor is identified only as 79-Across, but for this midrash, we're letting you know her true identity. As most of you are aware, I frequently help family and friends celebrate special life occasions within the confines of a well-clued grid, but this is the first time that the puzzle's honoree was so actively involved in researching the theme and driving the cluing [Hint: she likes to come up with particularly challenging clues]. [Hence the title, evocative of this 1972 Carly Simon hit.] From the construction point of view, there are quite a few features of which I am rather proud, but that's not why we're here. Ladies and gentlemen, I turn over the midrash to the birthday girl.

ER: I know that George likes to do "tribute" puzzles, and as a joke, since my birthday was coming up, I suggested that we do a salute to all the famous people who were born on November 14th. I may have suggested in jest, but he was listening in earnest. And this is the result.

IÕve always loved history. So as a kid, naturally, I was curious to find out who was born on my birthday. Imagine my disappointment—in those pre-internet days—when the best I could turn up was Prince CHARLES, ROBERT_FULTON, and Mamie Eisenhower. Pretty slim pickings for this birthday girl. But George found me some new and delightful cronies with whom to celebrate.

Because I am a movie buff, this puzzle is heavy on the film references. One quick note, though, about the birth dates in this puzzle. I notice that George has included all of the years for the other celebrants. My official D.O.B. is 11/14/none of your business, and I appreciate George's tact in keeping it that way.

Now here is some color commentary on some of the answer words and clues. We thought you might enjoy them. [These will not be as comprehensive as George’s usual scholarly efforts because this is my party and I won't link if I don't want to.]

  • 1-Across: Ah, the inimitable CLAUDE Rains in the incomparable Casablanca. From the first word to the last, the perfect movie. Louie, this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship. [GB adds: Ellen originally wanted to clue this to Madame CLAUDE, a high-end hostess/procurer in the world's oldest profession, but our crackerjack beta testers convinced her that this would be too tough a start to the puzzle. And yes, Casablanca is one of my two or three favorite movies too, and one day we'll share with you a puzzle on this theme.]
  • 17-Across: This was an opportunity to share Paul Newman's famous portrayal of hunky hero ARI Ben Canaan in the blockbuster movie hit of 1960, Exodus. This film won the Oscar for "Best Music," but what made it stand out for me was the fact that Newman had never played anything other than a WASP before.
  • 18-Across is, to me, the most meaningful clue in the whole puzzle. Who knew that VERONICA_LAKE and I shared the same birthday? She—of the long languid looks and locks—and heroine of one of my all-time favorite movies, Preston Sturges's brilliant Sullivan's Travels. This movie is a touchstone of mine—and of everyone who tries to be funny for a living. What a tribute to the healing power of laughter. (With a little sex in it.) BTW, her character's official name in the movie credits is "The Girl." This clue deserves two clips: here's the first and here's the second. [GB adds: Let's add one more clip!]
  • 24-Across celebrates Holiday INN, a great musical by Irving Berlin. And, in the movie version, starring two immortals, Fred Astaire, and "Der Bingle," Bing Crosby. Click here as Bing warbles "White Christmas;" the rest is cinema—and music—history.
  • 29-Across refers to Agatha Christie's legendary Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Although David Suchet is now indelibly linked with the character, courtesy of Masterpiece Mystery, I love Albert FinneyÕs grand take in Murder on The Orient Express. "SACRE Bleu!" indeed!
  • 41-Across refers to PERI Gilpin, who plays the role of Roz on the TV show Frasier. Click here for an amusing clip.
  • 45-Across refers to Bruce "The Boss" Springsteen's rock anthem "Born in the USA."
  • 67-Across: Although Fred EBB wrote brilliant lyrics for all manners of hits for the Broadway musical stage, we ask you to take a look at the Academy Award-winning movie version of, what else, Chicago.
  • 85-Across: ROOKIE was clued as "new kid on the block." [GB adds: I refer you to Rookie of the Year, an fascinating blogpost that explains Ellen's interest in, and mastery of, all sorts of arcane trivia.]
  • 3-Down: Here's a treat: AARON_COPLAND (introduced by Leonard Bernstein) conducting his own "Fanfare for the Common Man."
  • 7-Down. Click here to hear Pauline "Popo" Phillips, aka DEAR_ABBY, talking to Larry King about how she and her twin sister, Eppie Lederer, got started in the advice biz. [Maybe she should have given Larry some marriage counseling?] [GB adds: This crossword puzzle, co-constructed with my friend Arthur Rothstein, is most apropos.]
  • 10-Down: YOKUM was the family name of Li'l Abner. Click here for a cartoon short called "KickapooJuice" (for all you teetotallers, that's Al Capp-speak for "moonshine").
  • 23-Down references the genius SVEN Nykvist, Ingmar Bergman's brilliant cinematographer. Through A Glass Darkly, The Virgin Spring, Persona ... all masterpieces. But it was Cries and Whispers that won him an Academy Award. I was cuh-razy for his disturbingly sensual period piece set in New Orleans, Pretty Baby.
  • 34-Down is the legendary silent film star, LOUISE_BROOKS. In Pandora's Box, directed by G.W. Pabst, her Lulu was a flapper with a bob haircut that rocked the world [click here for a 10-minute clip from the film].
  • 39-Down: The Seduction of Joe TYNAN was supposed to be (crossword-friendly) Alan Alda's big movie break, but I will always remember it as the first time I became aware of a little known-actress, Meryl Streep [click here for a trailer for her latest film]. Heretofore, I had only known her as Mary Louise Streep, my cousin Joanie's roommate and best friend from Vassar. Was I surprised when my cousin's friend started winning Academy Awards ... [GB note added in proof: and even a Presidential Medal of Freedom!]
  • 70-Down. Aaahhh. Last but not definitely not least, is my favorite film noir of all time, LAURA. The devastatingly beautiful Gene Tierney as the doomed (almost) heroine enchanted me from the moment I met her. Take a look at the original trailer, and youÕll know why. Never was there a beauty so perfect for the title role. In support, Clifton Webb was incredible as Waldo Lydecker. Dana Andrews, Dame Judith Evans, Vincent Price ... all terrific. Mix in David RaskinÕs haunting theme song, and you have eternal movie magic.

If you want to tell others about this particular page, refer them to

Back to top

View My Stats