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Fair nights and carnival scenes

Another Jackson County Fair folds its rides and tents after today’s final whirl.

The carnivals and fairs I’ve known have been generous and fun, though always with a sinister personality clash between the midway and exhibit buildings — of carnies and quilts, tilt-a-whirls and tomatoes. Both have allure, unless you’re standing beneath the Zipper.

As I write this, I’ve taken a gander at the heat index for the next few days, and even a night visit to the fair appears foreboding for this thermophobe. I may settle into reverse hibernation mode and watch movies with great carnival scenes instead.

After all, “It’s a grand night for singing!” Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews crooned in the 1945 version of "State Fair" — the movie so nice they made it thrice — first in ’33 and again in ’62, with the unusual pairing of Ann Margaret and Pat Boone. Crain and Andrews flew through caramel corn-scented air on a ride at the Iowa State Fair. They were also falling in love and singing about that. Ah, fair rides, love and summer go together like swine and misters.

Again this year I seized the opportunity to judge the Jackson County 4-H creative writing competition. I feel honored that these special young people allow me entrance into their private thoughts and creative ideas. It’s satisfying to view their stories and poems hanging there, hoping I played a small part in encouraging a young writer. Small successes may increase confidence to try bigger things.

But as the A/C clicks to a low hum, and reviving cool air makes its path to my face just before a sweat bead appears, back to memorable fair scenes. How about that great Hitchcock film, “Strangers on a Train,” with a psychopathic Robert Walker as Bruno Anthony stalking the character, Miriam Haines, ever onward through the darkly backlit kaleidoscope of rides and amusements with a purposeful intent to kill. Only one small boy and his balloon sidetrack him. Pop. And then there’s the carousel scene.

If you’re an Elvis fan, I won’t tell. The King takes a job as a carny after wrecking his motorcycle in the 1964 movie “Roustabout,” with no fewer than a dozen carnival-related songs in the package. Although the movie received a lukewarm reception, the soundtrack album found great success. But if Elvis is your man, this may not be a wise choice on a hot day.

On the jocular side, the Marx Brothers spent an entire day of buffoonery “At the Circus” (OK, it’s a circus, not a fair) in 1939, an anointed movie year if ever there was one. This is the one where Groucho straps on magnetic boots and gets chased all over the ceiling by a female circus performer. Margaret Dumont is on hand to lend class amid the sawdust and exhibit a properly horrified expression at the trio’s antics.

One of my favorite pairs, Ma and Pa Kettle, played by Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride, had their day “At the Fair” in 1952. In those days one could, according to the script, send a child to college by winning the jam and bread-baking contests at the county fair. What Pa lacked in industry, Ma made up for in the kitchen. The Kettles’ oldest son, Tom, was already on his way to college since Ma’s winning quilt paved the way in a previous fair. Now their daughter, Rosie, needs Ma to get busy and obtain funds for her education. Ah, for the simpler, yet imaginary life when quality stitchery and peach preserves opened the doors to academia.

There’s nothing like the real article. If you missed the JCF, makings for the Josephine County Fair are right around the bend Aug. 16-19. Meanwhile, I’ll pop myself some corn, slather mustard on a corn dog, and settle back for a summer movie.

— Peggy Dover is a freelance writer. Email her at pcdover@hotmail.com.