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Patty Cake amused adults in the '30s

Mary Phillips Published: June 28, 2013

It’s hard to imagine grown adults playing the nursery game patty cake with other adults, but in the 1930s it was apparently the fad.

Perhaps it made them laugh and forget the troubles that were brewing overseas.

This column by Edith Johnson, venerable editorial columnist, was first published on July 25, 1939:

“All through the east gilded youth and gilded middle-age is patty-caking with enthusiasm. And that means countless men, women and young people who wear far less gilt than they do are going to follow suit. Playboys and playgirls in California may fall into line, and who knows, we may be patty-caking here in the southwest by the time the leaves begin to fall.”

“Playing patty-cake started last May at the opening of the super-swank St. Regis roof in New York. Society took it up with avidity. Illustrated magazines have abounded in pictures of socialites patty-caking as delightedly as when they were mere infants or very small boys and girls. Even the John Jacob Astors with gray on their temples have been caught by the candid camera in the act of playing that infantile game.

“Somebody wrote a version of the old nursery rhythm, beginning:

‘Patty-cake, patty-cake baker’s man.

Make me a cake as fast as you can.’

to run this way:

‘Patty-cake, patty-cake, bakerman,

Mix your music in a rhythm pan.

Give it all the heat you can,

Serve it right away,

Start the band to play

Patty-cake, patty-cake, bakerman.’

“Let them patty-cake all they want to, for they could not find a more innocent or harmless way of releasing their emotions on an infantile level. If they get joy out of it, and of course they do, they are so much the better for it.

“Playing so foolish a little game brings laughter — who could patty-cake and be solemn about it? — and laughter is an ideal method for getting rid of one’s emotional poisons. Laughing people slough off their useless fears and rages, the worries that do them no good and get them nowhere, their bitternesses, their envies and their hatreds.

“Too many people regard humor and laughter as nothing more important than pleasant by-play, when as a matter of fact, it has healing in it. He who laughs gives play to his expansive emotions, and in that process relaxes.

“Laughing people are social people. Others are attracted to them. Many a joke, followed by a good laugh unites people in fellowship …

“Perhaps it is the sheer foolery of patty-caking that has made it so tremendously popular in a time of national strain. If that is what it does for people, let it prosper. Seldom within the past half century and more have people had so great a need of wholesome laughter as they have today …”

I think it reminds us that laughter, wherever you find it, even in a childhood game, is the best medicine.


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