“I carried a watermelon,” says Baby in Dirty Dancing and we cringe, cover our faces, mortified for her. These are the first words she speaks to Johnny. His response is perfectly shaming (turns & walks away with that look on his face like, “really?”) and she is suitably embarrassed (repeats the line again with a question mark at the end, “I carried a watermelon?”).
So what was the writer thinking? Eleanor Bergstein, who wrote Dirty Dancing and had a heck of a time getting anybody to take it on,has been interviewed by various feminist, movie, and fan blogs about her childhood family vacations in the Catskills, her choice to write in an illegal abortion that plays a key role in necessitating Baby’s motivation to learn to dance, thereby falling in love with Johnny & vice versa, and the political/historical backdrop of 1964. But what I really want to know is, where did that line, “I carried a watermelon,” come from? Because it’s perfect.
The moment when Baby & Johnny first interact is called, in romance & cinematic lingo, “The Meet-Cute,” which makes it sound like an official strategy, or a conscientious choice the writer makes to bring the hero & heroine together in an adorably awkward scene.
I’m willing to bet, though, that most “meet-cutes” or “cute meets” happen because the writer gets to a point where it is no longer possible to keep the hero & heroine apart. You know who your characters are, you know what they are supposed to do once they are interacting, but you have no idea how to bring them together and so you just splash a little pickle juice on the tile floor, the heroine slips and is caught by the hero, or meets him in the hospital as she recovers from a concussion, et voila!
What’s different about the watermelon scene though, is that Baby has already seen Johnny (first dancing, then when he was reprimanded by the boss for being late) and her visit to the resort’s underbelly isn’t accidental. She has strong-armed her way into an exclusive party by way of Johnny’s cousin, who is a prime example of how to capitalize on secondary characters, and she has made herself useful by taking from him a watermelon.
Useful. That’s Baby, all the way. She gets the money for the procedure; she learns the dance & performs at the Sheldrake; she gets her father when the coat-hanger operation goes bad; she redeems Johnny’s name… but before she does any of that… she carries a watermelon.
Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. It’s an all access backstage pass to any party. The no-fuss best dish to take to a potluck. A self-contained punch bowl spiked with vodka for last minute party crashing. Can’t get past the velvet rope into that hot club off the pier? Next time, carry a watermelon. If anything, you can accidentally on purpose drop it on the bouncer’s shiny shoes.