In memory of Wendie Jo Sperber
I deliberately watched “I wanna hold your hand again” so I could mourn the passing of Wendie Jo Sperber.
A 12 year old boy about to turn 13 when the Beatles played The Ed Sullivan Show in February, the 1978 film brought me back in time better than even the Back to the Future” series in which Sperber also starred.
In truth, Sperber’s character became an old friend, someone who became symbolic of my own upbringing and an insane period of time that love of the Beatles helped us to survive.
While those that know me knew I was always a John Lennon fan from the start, I knew many Paul people, fans who thought Paul should have been as popular as Jesus Christ.
Although I know very little about Sperber, Rosie became a great friend, making me feel a little like Eddie Deezen’s character, the nerd in the hotel room collecting Beatles trivia, and Sperber’s dying young pained me partly because it severed an important connection to the past.
I guess most film fans hope that some aspect of the actor comes through the character they play, but I owe Sperber for helping to create some of the most important artificial realities into which I frequently wander. What she is “really” like mattered less than the characters she played, and so she in these various guised became a regular in a fantasy network that would not be exactly with same without her.
While the “Back to the Future” series remains among my favorite films of all time, she played too insignificant a role in them for me to travel back in time to wish her good-bye. Even in 1941, she was mostly lost in the chaos.
But in “I wanna hold your hand,” she took center stage, her character so much apart of that time period and the people I knew back then, that I learned to love the character she played and to appreciate the passion this character felt about The Beatles.
Like girls I knew, Sperber played a love-sick Paul girl, marked by her ability to throw coins at a pay phone and get at least one into the slot, and among whose skills was the ability to dial a rotary telephone while wearing red woolen gloves.
Sperber and the film became the missing link in my film collection between “Back Beat” and “Hard Day’s Night,” giving us a perspective missing from most other films that of the fanatic fan.
Sperber’s character, like me, came from Northern New Jersey, making the connection even more solid. Although the opening was set in a record store in Maplewood (I hung out in a Sam Goodie in Maywood), one of the characters was seeking to take pictures for a newspaper for which I once worked.
Like the four girls at the beginning of the film, my friends and I had frequently met in the Sam Goodies plotting our own magical mystery tours of New York.
The girls eventually lured an unsuspecting boy into “borrowing” his father’s limo for the drive.
Although she was among a cast of characters in the film, Sperber played a character with the purest motives, a fan whose exuded love of the Beatles while around her other acted in more selfish plots. For this reason, who character took on remarkable dimensions for me, reflecting the most innocent aspects of what people would later call “The Sixties.”
Sperber played one of four girls who plotted to see the Beatles in The Plaza (which was still a luxury hotel then) on the day of the performance. While the four girls seemed to reflect the various personalities of the Beatles, it is difficult to say which girl matched precisely with which Beatle. One girl was engaged like John was. One girl had a passion for causes like Gorge. One girl carried around a camera in much the same way Ringo did in Hard Days Night.
Sperber in her role as Rosie rushed around in a frantic effort to meet the Beatles (especially Paul) very reminiscent of the Keystone Kop like chases from Hard Days Night.
So in returning to the film, I found myself in love again, with the character, with the time, with the Beatles, and somewhere in the insanity of that two hours, I realized the Sperber like John and George, would remain a live forever because of the magic she had managed to convey – not just for me, but in reflecting a time period and feeling that I was treasure for ever. Sperber’s passing is tragic in that she won’t be able to shape any new fictional worlds for me, yet I owe her big time for those who already created, and for the feelings she brings out in me each time I revisit them, especially in “I wanna hold your hand.”
Thanks Wendie, may you find peace in the next world.