Disclaimer no. 1: Yes, I know I’m late. The episode I’m talking about here, the 7th episode of the fourth season of the Amazon Prime Video series, was released in March, but hey, there are so many shows to see, so little time!
Disclaimer no. 2: Total Croatia News is a serious site, bringing you the most important news about Croatia in the English language. However, please keep in mind that my biggest (potentially only?) claim to fame is the fact that my article from a long time ago is still cited on a Wikipedia page for a TV show that has since won 9 Emmys, and is currently nominated for 25. Don’t believe me? See for yourself, it’s reference no. 89 in the article!)
So, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a TV show about a newly divorced lady from New York, who decides to pursue a career in stand-up comedy – in the late 1950s and the early 1960s! It has had a very successful run of 4 seasons thus far, created by Amy Sherman-Palladino (of the Gilmore Girls fame), and starring the amazing Rachel Brosnahan as the title character, Midge Maisel.
In the aforementioned episode seven of season four, Midge has a conversation with Susie, her manager (played marvellously, pun intended, by Alex Borstein). Previously in the season, Midge has decided she doesn’t want to open for anyone else, under any circumstances, and that she only wants to do shows where she’d be the headliner. Susie brings her the good news:
Now, don’t get me wrong: I get the point, I get the joke! But, many of my online friends have asked me, and I’ve since found out that there’ve been discussions about the mention of Croatia in this context. Important point: we know exactly when this episode is taking place, as it includes a long scene of Midge doing a performance at one of John F. Kennedy’s campaign events. And as we know, he was elected to become the US President in November of 1960, so we can timestamp the episode as “during 1960”.
So, let’s go point by point, and untangle this mess:
- Was there a ‘Republic of Croatia’ in 1960? Well, that’s a “yes” and a “no” at the same time. The People’s Republic of Croatia was a part of the Federal National Republic of Yugoslavia between 1945 and 1963, when the new constitution was instituted (after 1963, it was the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Socialist Republic of Croatia”. Constitutions are complicated, obviously, but would anyone say that they were going to Croatia in 1960? Not very likely, unless they had close ties to the country. Would you say you were going to Montana now, if anyone asked you? Probably not, you’d say you’re going to the USA, and then the next question might be about the state where you’re going to.
- Was Zagreb the capital of Croatia then? Yes, absolutely. It has been the capital of Croatia (at least!) since 1918, when it joined the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croatians and Slovenians (later to be renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia), although the Croatian Parliament has been seated in Zagreb since 1825. So, nothing wrong there, Zagreb was the capital.
- Is there any link whatsoever between Croatia and Pennsylvania? Actually, yes. There is a huge Croatian community in Pittsburgh (and the rest of Pennsylvania), and that’s where the Croatian Fraternal Union was established.
- Was there a thousand-seat theater in Zagreb in 1960? No, not really. The Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall was the first such venue in Zagreb. It was decided that it would be built in 1957, the works on it started in 1961 and it wasn’t finished until late 1973. Before that, except for a football stadium, there were no venues in the city of Zagreb with such a capacity.
- Does “Make Laugh Showing Teeth” mean anything to anyone in Croatia, when translated? Absolutely not. I would love to know how and where the scriptwriters got the idea to give that name to their imaginary venue. No matter how you translate that to Croatian, there has never been a place called anything similar to that.
- Were there electricity problems in Croatia in the 1960s? Also, that’s a resounding “No!” The former Yugoslavia, and therefore, Croatia, was very stable during that period. Stuck in a position best described as “no-man’s land” during the Cold War, the Tito government was borderline pampered by both the Soviets and the Western powers in that period. Croatia was experiencing a cultural and economic boom in that period, as stated by the historians Tvrtko Jakovina and Dušan Bilandžić in their piece you can access here (.pdf, in Croatian). The economy was doing OK, and there were cultural breakthroughs that made Zagreb one of the centres of culture in Europe during that period (Modern Arts Gallery, International Festival of the Student Theatre, Animated Film Festival, Ivo Robić and his international hit “Morgen”* all happened at the time). The country has seen electricity rationing, but it happened 20 years later – in the period after 1983, the electricity was rationed in Zagreb (the so-called “redukcije”, that this author is old enough to remember) and in other major towns in the former Yugoslavia. However, even when those happened, it was not “one night of electricity, six nights without”, rather – we didn’t have electricity twice a week. If my memory serves, it was on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So, there would be no reason for Midge to travel in and out of the country each week, she could’ve had 7 shows a week in the sixties, and 4 or 5 shows a week even during the worst period of austerity before the Homeland War.
- What about those freakin’ shots? I’m not sure. Honestly, there’s only so much research one can do for a piece such as this one. I don’t know, and can’t easily find out which vaccines the USA citizens needed in 1960 to go to the former Yugoslavia and get back (and honestly, I doubt that the screenwriters did any more research than I did). However, there are two points I’d like to make regarding the vaccinations mentioned:
- as anyone who’s recently stepped on a nail or was bitten on the chin by their dog can tell you, the tetanus vaccination is a normal thing we should all take when needed, and it’s not ‘excruciatingly painful’;
- there was a smallpox outbreak in the former Yugoslavia in 1972, it’s well-documented and written about. There’s even an amazing movie about the outbreak, and you should watch it if you haven’t already. However, that’s more than a decade after the events of the episode we’re talking about, and the smallpox threat was not considered to be high, so I’m not convinced that US citizens would need to be vaccinated against the disease for travel. I do know that the children in the former Yugoslavia were vaccinated against smallpox almost until the end of the seventies, to make sure that we don’t have another outbreak.
So, not having lived in Zagreb in 1960, what do I think, would it be the worst thing in the world for the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to perform here? No, I honestly don’t. There was electricity, there were people who’d be interested in seeing her perform, but unfortunately, there wasn’t a thousand-seat theatre for her to perform in, especially not one called “Make Laugh Showing Teeth” or any version of that name.
* – featured in another international TV hit this year, Natasha Lyonne’s second season of Russian Doll, as shown below:
WTF RUSSIAN DOLL LOL pic.twitter.com/Wj2danfi2f
— ušesluh (@usesluh) April 21, 2022