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If you are entertaining vegetarians this season — or anytime during the year — this onion tart might be a pleasing suggestion for the cook who is unsure of what to prepare.
The tart is unctuous without being too creamy. Furthermore, it is not an onion quiche. My better half and I first had this at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, several years ago at a formal dinner. Since then, I have been figuring out how the college chef made it. This is the closest adaptation at which I can arrive.
In fact, the word ‘dariole’ or ‘dariol’ is an Old English word which has its origins in France. It refers not only to the mould itself but to the dish therein, which can be made of any ingredients — savoury or sweet.
(Photo credit: Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod)
1/ For a tart which serves four, proportions for which are below, I use a metal pie tin which is 8″ (20.32 cm) in diameter.
2/ Try to use two or three different types of onion for more complex flavour. A leek will also go well as one of the main ingredients. ‘Tater’ onions (green onions or scallions with a large bulb) are also excellent.
Creamy onion tart
(prep time: 15-50 minutes [15 if you have a piecrust ready]; baking time 25-30 minutes [15-20 for an individual tart]; serves four as a main course)
1 blind-baked pie crust (recipe at link)
1 medium to large onion, peeled and sliced in quarters
2 tater onions or 1 bunch of green onions (scallions), thinly sliced halfway up the green portion
1 – 1 1/2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
1 – 2 shallots, peeled and sliced
1 – 2 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1 – 2 tbsp flour
1 – 2 tbsp double (heavy) cream
1/ Have a cooled blind-baked pie crust ready, if possible.
2/ Pre-heat a conventional oven to 180° C (350°F). Fan oven temperature is 170° C (325°F).
3/ Melt 1 tbsp butter in a skillet. Add the sliced onions, leeks and shallots. Season now; salt will help speed cooking time. Sauté gently on medium heat until transparent. Add the second tablespoon of butter if necessary. Try not to burn the onion, leek and shallot pieces.
4/ Add one tbsp of flour to the sauté mix and stir well. Allow the flour to cook for a few minutes. The slices should have a dry appearance with the flour taking on the colour of the vegetables. If the mix looks too greasy — as if it is sitting in butter — add another tablespoon of flour and cook through for a few more minutes.
5/ Add 1 tbsp of double (heavy) cream and incorporate it thoroughly. Add a second, then, if necessary, a third because you’ll want a little bit of extra cream in the tart. It will blend together with the onion mix as it bakes. Adjust salt and pepper, if necessary.
6/ Spoon the mix carefully into the blind-baked pie crust and gently even it out before placing in the oven to bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown, rotating, if necessary, halfway through. An individual tart will take between 15 and 20 minutes.
7/ Remove from the oven, slice and serve immediately. For an individual tart, reverse the mould carefully onto a plate and gently turn the tart right side up onto a dinner plate.
8/ Serve with green beans, peas, carrots or a salad.
Are you roasting a turkey or goose for the first time? Are you nervous?
You needn’t be.
Below are a few of my tips on both big birds along with a few commonsense suggestions from Food Network’s Ina Garten and Nigella Lawson on turkey.
(Photo credit: Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod.)
What size to buy?
A ten-pound goose (4.5 kg) will serve eight to ten people. Therefore, operate on a pound-per-person basis. That does not mean, incidentally, that each person will be receiving a pound of goose! You have the weight of the carcass to consider, and there really isn’t much meat on a goose. However, what the goose lacks in meat it more than makes up for in flavour.
A ten-pound turkey (4.5 kg) will serve 18 to 20 people. So, don’t go overboard in buying a 22-pound (10 kg) turkey when you have what you need in a bird half that size. Turkeys have a lot of meat, which no doubt accounts for their popularity. They are value for money.
Save and use whatever you receive with the bird of your choice.
When you carve, have a large pot ready for your discarded bones. They make excellent stock which you can use in your gravy or to make soup. You can also steam or boil any type of vegetable with it. Start saving litre / quart bottles — glass or plastic — with the lids so that you can store the stock in the refrigerator. Most stock, refrigerated, will last at least a fortnight, possibly three weeks as long as you do not add vermouth or herbs to it. N.B.: Often, a small bit of fat will float to the top once the stock has been refrigerated. This does not normally spoil the stock and will pour out easily. A milligram of fat will not do any dish harm; in fact, it is a flavour enhancer.
If you are serving a boiled ham which you have prepared yourself (British bacon collar is outstanding), save the cooking liquid and put your spare turkey or goose bones in it for an exceptional final result. Words cannot express how flavoursome this is!
Save the liver to sauté later for a starter (appetiser) for one or two people (see Step 1 under Method in this post on duck). Turkey liver is every bit as good as duck or goose liver.
Use the giblets, heart and neck for dressing or in stock. This year, instead of boiling them with the bones for stock and adding to the dressing for the next day, I thinly sliced the giblets and heart along with easily-cut neck pieces and sautéed them quickly to add to the dressing. They were much more tender and flavoursome than when I used to boil them to death. What was left on the neck, I added to the meat bones for stock after carving the bird.
Save the skin and the fat for later use. Crispy, fat skin can be served on the side for those who like it; good free-range turkey skin from the neck is a revelation. Even thin skin can be reserved to help to protect the meat when reheating the next day. Pour turkey fat into a bowl to save for sautéeing onions or other vegetables (e.g. bell peppers, leeks) on another occasion. Left refrigerated and uncovered, it will keep for a few weeks at least. The same is true for goose fat, of which there will be a lot: nothing makes better roast potatoes, oven fries or Yorkshire pudding. You need only a tablespoon or two in the roasting pan or divided evenly among six deep Yorkshire pudding tins. Refrigerated goose fat — uncovered — should keep for a few months.
With regard to stuffing — always cook it first before putting it in the bird. It will come out moist and, for those who like it, crunchy on top near the open part of the carcass.
Both Ina Garten and Nigella Lawson (Food Network) say that you can roast the turkey to finish an hour or so before sitting down to dinner. You can let it rest on a carving tray for that time before carving. It will still be warm.
The same holds true for goose, although I would halve the time to 30 minutes.
Why would you want to do this? In order to have some time for yourself in preparing for guests. Have a restorative bath. Alternatively, take your time laying the table, adding a few last-minute elegant holiday touches. Or just chill out alone with a few Christmas carols for a while. By this time, you will need a few moments to yourself so that you can be bright-eyed and sparkling for your guests.
Now for the nitty-gritty regarding carving. Before you start, have nearby a large empty pot for bones, a carving platter and another platter or large plate. You will also need a large carving knife and possibly a smaller one for more intricate areas of the bird.
(N.B.: Please be careful when carving. Working with knives is not the time to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.)
Ina Garten’s programmes reveal that Americans carve turkeys differently to the British. Choose whatever is easiest for you.
Combining the British and American ways is easier for me, which — for either turkey or goose — is to:
1/ Remove the wings by getting as close to the base of the breast as you can (British). You will find a joint which meets the base of the breast near the neck. Cut one wing away from the carcass, remove any meat (this applies more to turkey than to goose), place the meat on one side of the carving tray, then place the wing bones in the stock pot. Perform the same operation on the other side.
2/ Remove the legs / drumsticks in the same manner (British, see Step 1). Even goose legs have meat on them, despite what professional chefs (but not Ina or Nigella) tell you on cooking shows.
3/ Cut the breasts off the bird in one piece, carefully carving them as close to the bone as you can (American — thanks, Ina!). This is where the spare platter or large plate comes in handy. Place the breasts on the platter or plate and leave them there for the moment.
4/ Examine the nearly-bare carcass. Tip it to the underside to reveal what are known as the ‘oysters’ or ‘eyes’. These are two succulent chunks of meat on every bird — including chicken and guinea fowl — which are facial cheek sized. A surprising number of people will look for these on the plate, so reserve these for the foodies or the special person at your table!
5/ Place the carcass — broken in half, if necessary — into the stock pot along with the wings and leg bones. Fill the pot with water — or add to water in which you have boiled a collar of bacon (unparallelled!) — add a generous splash of port and place on the stove on medium heat. Stock is ready to come off the heat when the mix is close to boiling, normally after 45 minutes to an hour. At that point — no doubt when you are ready for your second course or dessert — turn the heat off and leave the pan on the stove for at least a few, if not several, hours — depending on the temperature in your kitchen — in order for the flavours to marry. Add a generous amount of salt and some pepper when you turn the heat off. These flavours will blend in with the very hot water — there is no need to stir.
6/ Return the breasts to the carving tray and carefully carve into thin, attractive slices lengthwise (British). Arrange these, along with the dark meat, onto plates in an appetising way. Regardless of how tired you are, remember that, for your family and friends, ‘It’s Christmas!!’
7/ If you experience a delay, wrap the meat up in aluminium foil and keep it in a warm oven for 10 or 15 minutes. You can finish the gravy during this time.
8/ Serve your stuffing, potatoes, vegetables and gravy in an equally pleasing manner alongside the meat.
9/ Another British tradition is to serve chipolatas (what Americans know as ‘porkies’ or slim pork sausages) and/or ham along with their Christmas turkey or goose. That also extends the length that the main star of the show — turkey or goose — will go around the table. Everyone ends up feeling as if they’ve had a bit of everything.
Your dishing everything up in the kitchen will save on washing up later with a houseful of guests. Just make sure to take orders beforehand for light and dark meat preferences.
Every home cook — whether 13 or 83 — loves a selection of special ingredients he or she cannot readily obtain.
When you’re stuck for gift ideas for foodies, get them something they will appreciate — and use.
I would much rather that my friends went to the supermarket and chose small, lightweight products I have a hard time finding than forking out, as it were, on a single more expensive item.
A giftwrapped box full of individually wrapped ingredients and baking products will be a cook’s treasure for the year to come — possibly longer.
Any links cited below are for reference purposes; I have no commercial connection with any of them. Please note that not all suggestions will be available in every country or continent.
Here are some gift ideas certain to please foodies in your circle:
- Truffle paste: You can get small jars or tubes of black (winter) or white (summer) truffle paste for approximately £6. They look small but you can get a lot of mileage out of them. One jar will take care of two or three dinner parties. Each has about 20 to 30 servings, which are really a tip of a teaspoon per person. Mix a bit into a gravy or sauce — start with a teaspoon (it is strong stuff) or carefully sprinkle a small dab onto nearly everything from macaroni and cheese to prawns to roast goose. The only things that don’t seem to go too well are salmon and lamb. Other than that, truffle paste will open up a new world of flavour for family and friends. N.B.: Once opened, they will last from two (white) to three (black) weeks in the refrigerator.
- Truffle oil: The same caveats and wonder of truffle paste apply here. A drop or two will do. N.B.: Keep stored in a cupboard away from the light.
- Old Bay: This versatile seasoning will be especially appreciated by cooks who live outside of the United States. Whilst it is in every American supermarket nowadays, those of us living abroad have a hard time finding it.
- Umami paste: The Japanese describe umami as the fifth taste, after sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Umami paste tastes like a combination of anchovies, tomatoes and olives. Some people prefer to use a combination of those instead, but instead of having three tubes or jars, why not just use one? This is the ingredient to use in soups and stews when they ‘need a little something’.
- Bisto: Every British cook knows how Bisto adds body with a slight bit of thickening to any homemade sauce reduction, what we in the UK call gravy. Make the cook in your life happy with this marvellous shortcut to great meat sauces. It’s simply magic. You only need to use a spoonful or two to obtain a restaurant-perfect sauce once your meat juices and water (or stock) are reduced and still hot. No flour or corn starch needed.
- Silpat or Teflon baking liner mat: You can use these for cookies, tuiles and macarons. They come in a box the same size as that of aluminium foil. I have a thin Teflon liner mat which, like a Silpat sheet, goes flat onto a baking tray. No grease or flour is needed. My macarons lifted off the liner perfectly. Just wash them off by sponging them lightly with a touch of washing-up liquid (e.g. Dawn, Fairy) and water. Carefully towel dry flat to avoid making creases and they’re good to go for the next batch of baked delicacies. They roll up and fit back into the box beautifully.
- Miniature baking tins or silicone moulds: These are great for the budding or even experienced home cook. Some are a marquise shape, others are rectangular and there are always moulds for small cakes such as madeleines.
- A good pepper mill: Need I say more? Every kitchen needs one and even the most reliable one will go kaput after several years of regular use. See next item.
- Mixed — rainbow — peppercorns: See ‘A good pepper mill’ above. Just as every kitchen needs a good pepper mill, there is also the need for mixed, or rainbow, peppercorns to fill it. I cannot tell you how flavour-enhancing they are and how much they add to a savoury dish. Since I’ve started using mixed peppercorns, I’ve been using much more pepper and have received more compliments on my starters (appetizers) and main courses.
- Fleur de sel: This is carefully harvested sea salt, taken from the choicest top of the salt mounds. Not only does fleur de sel — ‘flower of salt’ — taste less salty than granulated table salt, it dissolves quickly in sauces or on food to give the finest saltiness. And because it contains sea minerals, it’s very good nutritionally. It comes not only from France but also many other countries around the world. Go for a container with a cork lid which will last a very long time, indeed.
- Formaticum: This special, French-manufactured paper for the eponymous Brooklyn, NY, company allows you to wrap and store cheese the way it was meant to be done. Get a boxed roll (same size as one for aluminium foil) or buy several sheets of it. This paper is the business for cheese; it extends fridge life by several days to a fortnight. A friend of mine got me several sheets for Christmas last year and there’s nothing better.
- Cheese of the Month Club: And, speaking of cheese, why not consider giving a foodie friend or relative a subscription to Cheese of the Month Club which will bring a small selection of cheeses from around the world to their door all year round. Any macaroni and cheese aficionado knows that you need three different types of cheese to make a good one!
- Lemon zester: This is an invaluable little tool which prevents the cook’s knuckles from being scraped by a box grater. I use mine quite a lot. This one by Oxo has a larger hole on the side for long spirals of zest to put in cocktails or add a dramatic look to a syllabub or mousse.
- Miniature cookbooks: The same friend who sent me the Formaticum (see above) also gives me one or two miniature cookbooks every year. These are inexpensive items which are handy for people who don’t have much space. A small box of these can provide a library’s worth of recipes. This Amish-Mennonite series has one each for cookies, breads and meat.
Gift giving doesn’t have to cost the earth and, in these straitened times, we want to spend as wisely as we can.
So, make a foodie happy by thinking outside the box!
Yesterday’s post has a reminder about the Advent resources on this blog.
There are also a number of Christmas-related posts, which are on my Christianity / Apologetics page all year round. They are helpful for those new to the faith as well as children.
These are as follows:
The Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel (hermeneutics)
The Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel (hermeneutics)
Happy Christmas, one and all! (John 1:1-17)
Compliments of the season to all my readers! (features Dr Paul Copan on the manger scene)
Angel imagery in Christmas carols (Dr Paul Copan on how the Bible portrays them)
Famous Christmas carols
My new subscribers might be unaware that there are several Advent posts.
They are always available on my Christianity / Apologetics page. Search for ‘The Church Year’ one-quarter of the way down the page. They are the first listings in that category.
These are helpful for those new to the faith and good for children:
Continuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.
Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Apostles
1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. 4And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.
As Luke 9 opens, Jesus wanted to send out the twelve Apostles for what we today would call an internship.
John MacArthur says that at that time He had only 18 months before He would be crucified. After His Resurrection, He would be on earth for only 40 more days. Therefore, time was short.
However, Jesus also wanted to maximise the number of Jews who could hear His message and experience His mercy, even if it were via his chosen Twelve.
This passage is also in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. Differences are highlighted below.
First, Mark 6:7-13:
Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Apostles
7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.
Second, Matthew 10:5-15:
Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Apostles
5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, 10no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12As you enter the house, greet it. 13And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
From these passages — particularly Matthew’s — we see that Jesus wanted them to minister only to the Jews, announce that the Kingdom was at hand (indicating a call to repentance), heal and raise the dead as He did, search for a worthy house in which to stay the duration and greet the house with peace. Should the house be unworthy, they were to let their greeting of peace return to them. Where people did not listen to their message, they were to adopt the ancient Jewish custom of shaking the dust of those people or towns from their feet. Finally, Jesus said that those who rejected His message which the Twelve carried would be eternally condemned — to the extent that such a place would wish they had been Sodom and Gomorrah, because their damnation would be much worse.
The first verse of Luke’s account announces the start of this internship. This would be the first time when the Apostles worked as a unit and, more importantly, imbued with Jesus’s divine grace. He gave them the authority to preach His message and the power to heal the afflicted (verse 2).
Jesus’s instruction about taking nothing extra (verse 3) implies that they were to trust that He would ensure that their basic needs were met. Imagine being told today that you were to go on a short trip lasting a few days or a fortnight and you couldn’t take a change of clothes or money with you. You were to trust that the Lord would provide. That would be pretty difficult, wouldn’t it? A lot of ‘what ifs’ would pop into my mind. Yet, the Apostles were to set forth trusting that all would go well, as if Jesus were with them in person.
He told them to find a house in which to reside and to be content to stay there (verse 4). That meant being satisfied with modest, perhaps poor, surroundings if that’s where they happened to be.
Where they were not received, they were to shake off the dirt they accumulated in that place (verse 5). It was a type of judgment. Matthew Henry describes it this way (emphases in bold mine):
They must put on authority, and speak warning to those who refused them as well as comfort to those that received them, Luke 9:5. “If there be any place that will not entertain you, if the magistrates deny you admission and threaten to treat you as vagrants, leave them, do not force yourselves upon them, nor run yourselves into danger among them, but at the same time bind them over to the judgment of God for it shake off the dust of your feet for a testimony against them.“ This will, as it were, be produced in evidence against them, that the messengers of the gospel had been among them, to make them a fair offer of grace and peace, for this dust they left behind there so that when they perish at last in their infidelity this will lay and leave their blood upon their own heads. Shake off the dust of your feet, as much as to say you abandon their city, and will have no more to do with them.
With nothing except the clothes on their back, they set off to preach, teach and heal (verse 6).
They were to accomplish this with compassion. When our Lord cured the sick and raised the dead He was performing acts of mercy. Pagan writers in the years following His Ascension into heaven said that He was a magician. This persists today; read or listen to any atheist. If what they say were the case, He would have transformed things or Himself into another being, e.g. an animal. Yet, Jesus did none of these things. He fully restored the health and wellbeing of those to whom He ministered. He knew their spiritual condition. Where He healed and told them their sins were forgive or to go and sin no more, He knew that their affliction was a punishment for sin. This wasn’t always the case, however, where it was, He made it clear that their slate was clean, so to speak.
MacArthur says that it is also important to realise that hands-on miracles were for a limited time:
Once the apostles’ doctrine was written down, and the New Testament was finished, all those miracles go away. They go away when the apostles go away. Even when you come to the end of the book of Acts, miracles have diminished to the point where they’re almost non-existent.
You might wonder how the Apostles’ internship turned out. In Luke 22:35 at the conclusion of the Last Supper, Jesus asked them about this period in time:
35And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.”
This passage informs the general custom of pastors living modestly. We know of charlatans who live sumptuously, however, they are false teachers. Unlike the Twelve, Paul worked for a living as a tentmaker, no doubt an occupation in demand wherever he went. However, the point is for clergy to deliver the Gospel and administer the sacraments faithfully in accordance with the New Testament. Clergy are to trust in Christ Jesus for their upkeep (difficult though it might be at times, especially for independent pastors) and their next assignments. Those in their town or city might receive them well or reject them outright. It must be difficult, especially with a wife and family, to trust in the Lord wholeheartedly in times when they have to leave a church and move somewhere new. It must be equally challenging to convince one’s wife and children that all will be well when temporal life appears quite dark, indeed. This is something for us laymen to consider. So often we look at the man in the pulpit; many think he works but one day a week. Nothing could be further from the truth. The phone rings frequently. People knock at his door, some of them strangers. The life of a clergyman is a 24-hour job, 365 days a year.
Careful readers might wonder about the staff. Luke’s and Matthew’s accounts say to take no staff whereas Mark’s says to take one. MacArthur explains this:
The obvious solution to the dilemma is take no more than one. Don’t take an extra staff, is what He means. It would be easy for a stick to break and it would be pretty typical to have a walking stick and then maybe put another stick through a bag. Sometimes they use a shorter stick as well for weapons against robbers and things. He says don’t take any extra stick, just a mere staff.
Others might wonder what would be wrong with taking a bag, such as a knapsack, or a satchel. MacArthur tells us:
There’s some interesting historical documents about traveling itinerant teachers who carried what was called beggar bags and… they could keep stuffing in the money that they got from the people as they went. You’re not going to be collecting any money as you go, you don’t need a bag.
Now on to another question. I wondered about the chronology in Luke’s and Mark’s accounts. If you read last week’s post, you’ll recall that it concerned Jesus’s miraculous healing of Jairus’s daughter. Yet, Mark’s Gospel puts the Apostles’ brief ministry after Jesus was rejected by his hometown Nazareth. Luke addressed this much earlier (Luke 4:16-30) and tells us that they were so angry that they tried to throw Him off a cliff.
MacArthur says that the visit to the synagogue in Nazareth that Mark describes is a return visit. Unfortunately, the result is the same as the first visit which Luke recounts:
Mark says that Jesus then returned to Nazareth, that knowing the Galilean ministry was coming to an end very soon, Jesus wanted to make one more visit to His hometown. He wanted to go back to that place where He was a prophet without honor. He wanted to go back to that same place, His own hometown to the same synagogue where He had first gone to preach. And in response, you remember, the people tried to throw Him off a cliff and kill Him because they so hated His message. He wanted to go back to Nazareth. And by the way, that was the synagogue where He was raised, the synagogue attended by His family, the synagogue He attended by His relatives, by His friends, by His neighbors His whole life. He went back then one more time to Nazareth. And Mark chapter 6, the opening six verses, tell us He had the exact same reception this time that He had the first time. Mark 6:6 says, “They took offense at Him.” Nobody ever denied His miracles. They didn’t deny His power over demons, disease, death, His power over nature. Nobody ever denied that supernatural power. But what they hated about Him, in spite of the proof that He was Messiah, was His message about their spiritual condition. They hated the diagnosis that they were spiritually bankrupt, that they were spiritual prisoners, that they were spiritually under guilt and shame, oppressed by the weight and the burden of that guilt. They hated the message that they were blind to spiritual reality. They hated His diagnosis that they were sinful and separated from God and it was for that diagnosis, in spite of His miracles, in spite of the proof that He was Messiah, that they were offended at Him. And so He went back one more time, Mark says, and they treated Him exactly the same way.
So, Mark says in chapter 6 again, “He left Nazareth after being rejected and was going around the villages teaching by Himself.” Rejected at Nazareth, He then begins to migrate like He has through all this time in the Galilean ministry of months and months, all by Himself going from village to village, giving the already hardened hearts of the people of Galilee one more opportunity to hear His message, to see His miracles and to believe. Then, Mark says, He summoned up the Twelve. He realized as He is going alone and time is running out, that He’s got to have some help if He’s going to take one more swipe, as it were, at exposing all of Galilee, hard-hearted Galilee, to the gospel. And so Mark says He summoned the Twelve, and that’s where we pick up Luke’s narrative, verse 1, “He called the Twelve together.”
Finally, it seems apposite to once again review what the Gospels are telling us. It is essential to know that they are not a precursor to 19th century socialism. They are not a call to legalism. They are not a call to Mosaic Law, which He fulfilled by dying for our sins. They are, however, a call to repentance and turning our lives around — pursuing a life in Christ with a view towards eternity.
You know, I was telling the seminary students this week, it’s amazing to me that we’re still trying to get evangelical Christians to preach THE true message of salvation … I figured when I came out of seminary, you know, we’d have to fight against the liberals who attacked the authority of Scripture and we’d have to battle away with paradigms of sanctification that are unbiblical that the Charismatics introduced, or second work of grace kind of things, perfectionism, those issues would always be there to bring the Word of God to bear. There would be some battles that we’d fight in ecclesiology, trying to define what the church should be. There would always be debates about eschatology, the doctrine of last things because there are a lot of opinions. And, you know, you sort of figure, “Well, when I go into my ministry, these will be where the battles are.” But I tell you one I never expected, I never expected to spend my whole life trying to protect the gospel from evangelicals corrupting it. But that’s been the primary work of my life outside my normal pastoral ministry …
Jesus took these men and for 18 months they listened to Him preach the gospel. And then He said, “Just go do it.” And they went out, and you know what they did? They went out and preached that men should repent. And there are all kinds of people today who don’t think that’s really an appropriate part of the gospel at all. You never…I never ever seem to be able to get to the end of the dilemmas that keep being raised about the gospel. You turn around, look another direction, turn back and there’s a new spin on the gospel. Now there’s a big wave, the New Paradigm [Perspective - NT Wright's] of Paul, it’s called, which wants to say he never did teach imputation and substitutionary atonement and undo that. Just never ends.
I despair when I read of laymen picking up all sorts of ‘new’ theology and buying so many volumes from their Christian bookstore or some salesman who goes to their church to give a lecture. Really. We should take care what we read and hear about Scripture. May we be like the Bereans and study the New Testament carefully. It says what it says. It means what it means. It’s meant to last as it stands until the world comes to an end.
Next time: Luke 9:7-9
There is something about It’s a Wonderful Life (IAWL) and its story of overcoming adversity.
So often, George Bailey’s near-tragic conflict has parallels in real life.
The link at the top of this post gives those who haven’t yet seen it more about the story. Yesterday’s post looked at parallels between Frank Capra’s and George Bailey’s lives with regard to dreams and ambitions.
Zuzu is the little Bailey daughter who so famously says at the end of the film:
Look, Daddy! Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.
IMDb has a great page with all sorts of trivia about IAWL, including the origin of Zuzu’s name:
According to an interview with Karolyn Grimes, the actress who played Zuzu, the name Zuzu comes from Zu Zu Ginger Snaps. George makes reference to this near the end of the movie when he says to Zu Zu at the top of the stairs, “Zuzu my little Ginger Snap!”
In 2011, Karolyn Grimes told the Telegraph‘s Sophie de Rosée a bit more about her IAWL experience. First came the audition:
During the Second World War my mother was afraid my father was going to be drafted, and she didn’t think she could live on the military pay so she decided to put me to work and took me to see Lola Moore, the only agent for child actors.
For It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra hand-picked each person, including the 2,000 extras, but by this point I had already been in four films so I was an old hand at the auditions. He just said, ‘Now, show me how you would look if you had just lost your dog.’ I had to show him this expression and then a happy face and that was it. I was paid $75 a day for three weeks, which was a lot of money back then.
Jimmy Stewart was just a delightful person. He was 6ft 4in and very skinny. To build a little chemistry between us he spent a lot of time with me, talking and playing. I once messed up a line and he said, ‘Th-th-that’s OK, Karol, you’ll get it right next time.’ And I did.
Grimes had bit parts in 17 films between 1945 and 1952. However, IAWL (1946) meant a lot to her for a variety of reasons:
On set in California the fake snow was a fascination for me because I was born and raised in Hollywood and I’d never seen snow before. Everybody joined in throwing snowballs. I still have a bauble from the Christmas tree in the film that’s in my museum at home. I have all kinds of memorabilia, but mainly from It’s a Wonderful Life …
I’ve probably seen it three or four hundred times. It always makes me tear up a little bit. It’s just so beautiful how everyone comes together at the end.
However, Grimes never saw the film until 1979. A fortnight before she did the Telegraph interview — she was in London to help publicise the 65th anniversary DVD box set of the film – she spoke with the Washington Post (emphases mine):
“I never saw the movie before,” said Karolyn Grimes, 71, remembering living near Kansas City, Mo., in December 1979 and catching out of the corner of her eye flickering images on the television of familiar faces and places from long ago.
Working full time and raising seven children, the 39-year-old Grimes had no time to spare, much less to sit around watching television. But something tugged at her as she saw snatches of snow-clogged streets of small-town America and people she thought she knew.
“Then it hit me,” said Grimes. “I was in that movie. I was Zuzu.”
Though she had never seen it before 1979, her kids and everyone else seemed to be familiar with the sentimental chestnut from filmmaker Frank Capra. When the copyright lapsed in 1974, television stations worldwide began looping the movie into their schedules. It was free programming, a cash gusher with no royalties paid to its creators, and the widespread exposure informed the imagination of generations of families huddled around the television over the holidays.
“I never saw movies I was in because my mom told me that would be prideful, being stuck on yourself,” said Grimes.
I read elsewhere that children with bit parts appear on set, say their few lines and go. And, of course, get paid. You’ll see from her list of appearances that Grimes was not always credited; that depends on the director. Therefore, it is not altogether surprising that bit part child actors don’t even know the plot, never mind have a yen to see the full film. It’s a job. Where’s the next audition?
It is unclear whether her father was drafted to serve in the Second World War. She told the Post that her father managed a local Safeway and that her mother was a homemaker before suffering from early-onset Alzheimers. She understood that the money she earned was meant to help her parents:
she remembers being paid $75 a week — about $830 in today’s money — or nearly $10,000 over the 12-week shoot of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Despite family obligations, she was not alone in pursuing bit parts, nor did she mind:
It was just a job. All the kids in my neighborhood went over to the studios, Jimmy and Larry, and Carol and me. We walked over or were taken over by our moms, trying for crowd scenes or other work to make a little money.
Then, tragedy struck. When she was 12, her mother died. (Early-onset Alzheimers patients often die within a few years of diagnosis.) As if that weren’t bad enough — and now we enter the downward trajectory that George Bailey experienced in IAWL — her father died in a car crash when she was 15.
Things got worse. The court appointed an aunt and uncle in Missouri to be her legal guardians. They were fundamentalist Protestants who frowned on any amusement or entertainment. Sadly:
Her aunt cut all connections she had with friends and studio contacts.
However, like George Bailey, she had friends:
So with a lot of help from my high school teachers, I went to college and became a medical tech at a clinic outside Kansas City.
However, her trials were far from over. It wasn’t long before she was married with two daughters. However, her happiness was short lived. She and her husband were divorced, and he died not long after in a hunting accident.
Before his death, however, happiness returned as Grimes remarried. She had a daughter and a son with her second husband. She raised his three children from a previous marriage in addition to her two daughters from hers.
However, her son committed suicide when he was 18. Then, three years later, after her silver wedding anniversary, her husband died of cancer. She had devoted her time to taking care of him at home. After that, two of her daughters became mothers and lived at home, so she had grandchildren for whom to care.
It’s all very George Baileyesque except that her trials — punctuated by the joys of her children and grandchildren — lasted for much of a lifetime and involved five deaths. She was an orphan and then a widow. It must also be heartbreaking to lose a child through suicide.
It just shows how many people around the world can appreciate the sequence of events in IAWL. Little did Grimes — ‘Zuzu’ — know how much she would experience the same.
- Her move as an orphan from Hollywood to Missouri:
I started a completely new life as if I had never lived in California.
- The death of her first husband:
I was not allowed to grieve since we were divorced. We had both remarried but were friends. His death was very difficult to grieve without the support of others.
- Advice to other survivors of family deaths:
People have to go through the steps of grief to survive it. They have to feel the pain. There are no shortcuts. They have to experience the pain in order to heal.
The main secret I have learned for myself is that I have to give of myself to others to help them and to heal for myself. To give of myself gives me power to go on. Whether it is through volunteer work, talks with friends, or through my professional work, I listen to others and let them benefit from an empathic listener. I answer many letters either because people know about my experiences or through my movie work.
Incidentally, Grimes included her contact details at the top of her essay for the conference.
Since the 1990s, Grimes has been rebuilding her life — also see the recent photo — by creating an IAWL-derived cookbook, with all sorts of family-oriented recipes. The book includes photos and trivia from the film. Grimes hopes it inspires more families to cook and to share meals together:
Our lives are going so fast, so many things are going on! A family meal, at least once a day, is a time everyone can share their experiences and learn something about the other person. Even if it’s just breakfast — we’re together and we’re talking. It’s a good time to fasten the foundations of the family.
I hope that the rest of her life spent touring the country, giving talks and selling books is filled with many blessings and much happiness. She richly deserves them.
As for faith in adversity, she told the Washington Post how IAWL fits in to life:
“My life has never been wonderful,” she offered quietly. “Maybe when I was a child, but not after age 15.”
“And maybe that’s what makes the film so important for me and a lot of other people,” she continued. “The Jimmy Stewart George is suffering terribly in the movie — you can just see it. He’s in Martini’s café and saying to himself, ‘God, I’m not a praying man, but please show me the way.’ ”
“Gosh, it makes me cry,” she said.
“It’s not a Christmas movie, not a movie about Jesus or Bethlehem or anything religious like that,” she insisted. “It’s about how we have to face life with a lot of uncertainty, and even though nobody hears it, most of us ask God to show us the way when things get really hard.
“That was part of Capra’s genius,” she said. “Everybody has some sorrow, worry, and everybody asks God for help. One way or the other, we all do, and it can be in Martini’s, not a church on Christmas.”
As for her IAWL siblings, the other ‘Bailey’ kids:
After “It’s a Wonderful Life,” [Jimmy] Hawkins, whose father was an original Keystone Kop in the old Mack Sennett silent movie series, built a life in show business as Tagg, Annie Oakley’s kid brother in the popular 1950s television series, and had prominent roles in “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” “Petticoat Junction,” “The Ruggles” and other long-gone television series. He even played in two Elvis musicals, “Girl Happy” and “Spinout.”
[Carol] Coombs, who declined several interview requests, is a mother and retired schoolteacher, Grimes said, and [Larry] Simms grew up to became an aeronautical engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
Once, “Carol and Jimmy and I were in Portland visiting Target stores and we learned that Larry was living at his brother’s place in the country,” said Grimes. “We got a limo and some pretty ‘Target girls’ and drove way out in the sticks.
“Larry was living in a camper in his brother’s barn,” she recalled. “He didn’t want to have anything to do with promoting the movie but was happy to see all of us ‘kids.’ ”
“That’s the last we saw of him. I think he’s living in Thailand, but he doesn’t want to be bothered again.
“That’s okay,” said Grimes. “We’re just artifacts, leftovers from a great movie that will probably live forever. In a few years, when we’re gone, all you’ll have is the film.”
How true. Let’s hope that IAWL continues for generations to come. It’s a timeless story.
It contains a few items that even frequent viewers of the film might not know — including Capra’s original ending, which involved Potter.
Today’s entry looks more at Frank Capra’s life. Don’t think for a minute that Capra was a saccharine film maker. His own experience and faith no doubt informed IAWL.
Before I get to Capra, however, let’s look at what happened when IAWL was released in December 1946.
What the critics thought — not such great ‘BO’
IAWL opened to mixed reviews and a loss at the box office, what Variety has referred to for years as ‘BO’.
On a personal note, I never actually saw IAWL until I moved to the UK. Amazing, considering that I lived in the United States at a time when the film was shown up to six times a day every day in any given metropolitan area during December. This was because its copyright hadn’t been renewed. What a blessing for television stations looking for free programming. Anyway, my mother said of IAWL, ‘Oh, that. I wouldn’t bother.’ I doubt she ever saw it, possibly because of what she read or heard back in the postwar 1940s.
The following quotes come from IAWL‘s Wikipedia page. Although Time‘s critic was impressed:
It has only one formidable rival (Goldwyn’s The Best Years of Our Lives) as Hollywood’s best picture of the year. Director Capra’s inventiveness, humor and affection for human beings keep it glowing with life and excitement.
The New York Times‘s verdict was more representative — and typical of the paper:
the weakness of this picture, from this reviewer’s point of view, is the sentimentality of it—its illusory concept of life. Mr. Capra’s nice people are charming, his small town is a quite beguiling place and his pattern for solving problems is most optimistic and facile. But somehow they all resemble theatrical attitudes rather than average realities.
The FBI didn’t like it, either (emphases mine):
With regard to the picture “It’s a Wonderful Life”, [redacted] stated in substance that the film represented rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists. [In] addition, [redacted] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters.
It’s pretty clear that the heartless Potter character also reflects the WASP bias of the time of not trusting anyone whose ‘name ends in a vowel’. He calls the Italian customers of the Bailey Savings and Loan ‘garlic eaters’. Was Capra trying to say something here?
Interesting Ideas sums the film up for 21st century viewers:
Far from being the feel-good movie of 1947, It’s a Wonderful Life is in fact one of Capra’s most relentlessly depressing works.
it was perceived as a fairly downbeat view of small-town life.
Hindsight says that had the film been released a year later, it probably would have picked up an Oscar for Best Picture. Competition would have been less intense with Miracle on 34th Street being its nearest rival. As it was, The Best Years of Our Lives was the motion picture of the year, winning four out of six major Oscars. Its theme dealt with Second World War soldiers settling back into civilian life, more relevant to the American mindset at that time.
IAWL, however, did win an Oscar for Technical Achievement, which was the snow in Bedford Falls. Wikipedia explains:
Before It’s a Wonderful Life, fake movie snow was mostly made from cornflakes painted white. And it was so loud when stepped on that any snow filled scenes with dialogue had to be re-dubbed afterwards. RKO studio’s head of special effects, Russell Sherman, developed a new compound, utilizing water, soap flakes, foamite and sugar.
However, Capra did win Best Director in the Golden Globe Awards.
As for box office takings,
The film, which went into general release on January 7, 1947, placed 26th ($3.3 million) in box office revenues for 1947 (out of more than 400 features released) …
The film recorded a loss of $525,000 at the box office for RKO.
Film buffs speculate that Capra — whose films won over audiences of the Depression — was losing his grip with regard to the postwar zeitgeist. He was still creating films around the ‘poor little guy’ theme, when the American mindset had moved on to coping with a new reality.
From Sicily via steerage
Frank Capra was born the year my paternal grandmother was — 1897. Philip Van Doren Stern, the author of the story which inspired IAWL was born in 1900. Walt Disney was born in 1901. They all, Grandma included, had a certain way of looking at life with optimism in the face of adversity.
Capra was born in a village outside of Palermo, Sicily. He was christened Francesco Rosario but, years later, when he became a naturalised American citizen in 1920, he took the names Frank Russell.
Capra’s biographer Joseph McBride explains that the family name came from the word for ‘she-goat’. It expresses several of that animal’s characteristics which could also apply to the director himself: capriciousness, skittishness, emotionalism and obstinacy.
Capra’s father Salvatore was a fruit grower. He and his wife Sarah had seven children; Frank was the youngest. They decided to emigrate to the United States in 1903 when Frank was six.
Later, Capra described the crossing in steerage as follows:
You’re all together – you have no privacy. You have a cot. Very few people have trunks or anything that takes up space. They have just what they can carry in their hands or in a bag. Nobody takes their clothes off. There’s no ventilation, and it stinks like hell. They’re all miserable. It’s the most degrading place you could ever be.
Still, once they came in sight of New York and Ellis Island, where they would be processed, his father exclaimed when seeing the torch on the Statue of Liberty:
Look at that! That’s the greatest light since the star of Bethlehem! That’s the light of freedom! Remember that. Freedom.
Capra did remember — for the rest of his life.
The family made their way coast-to-coast to Los Angeles. Goodness knows how long that must have taken, especially with seven children in tow.
Parallels between Frank Capra and George Bailey
Aspects of Capra’s life parallel those of George Bailey’s. One wonders whether he was resolving some inner and familial conflicts through the IAWL protagonist’s:
- Once in Los Angeles, the family lived in a poor Italian neighbourhood. Capra’s father picked fruit. Capra himself sold newspapers for a decade. His siblings also worked to help support the family. Recall IAWL‘s Italian family who purchase a house, thanks to being able to bank at the Bailey Savings and Loan in Bedford Falls. George and Mary Bailey (James Stewart and Donna Reed) personally welcome them to their new home with Italian bread and wine, symbols of life and happiness. Perhaps Capra wished that the WASP population of Los Angeles had been as gracious. Instead, they might have met with more who were like Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore), who called them ‘garlic eaters’.
- After Frank finished high school, he wanted to go to college. His parents, probably seeing the example of his siblings who were working, discouraged him. Consider George Bailey wanting to travel the world, attend university and become a worldbeating architect. Capra enrolled anyway. He attended the California Institute of Technology and worked after class in any job he could get. He graduated with a degree in chemical engineering in 1918.
- Of his university experience, he later said that it:
changed his whole viewpoint on life from the viewpoint of an alley rat to the viewpoint of a cultured person.
- Of living in an impoverished ethnic neighbourhood, he said that he:
hated being a peasant, being a scrounging new kid trapped in the Sicilian ghetto of Los Angeles … All I had was cockiness – and let me tell you that gets you a long way.
This is not dramatically different from George Bailey who says:
I just feel like if I didn’t get away, I’d bust.
Unemployment and depression
Unfortunately, a bachelor’s degree didn’t get Capra too far in the years immediately following the Great War.
The tension must have been great in his household when he, with the highest level of academic achievement in the family, could not get a job.
Things had started all right. Capra had been in ROTC in college and was stationed at Fort Scott, San Francisco, as a second lieutenant in the Army. There he taught mathematics to artillerymen.
Then, two things happened. First, his father died in an accident in 1919. Second, Capra caught Spanish flu, the strain of influenza which caused many fatalities that year; my grandmother remembered it well. Discharged from the Army, he had no choice but to return home to recuperate.
He looked on desparingly as his siblings were busy going to work every day. He became depressed, although that was not a clinical diagnosis at the time. Thank goodness, otherwise, he might have been pampered and put on psychotropes for the rest of his life. He also suffered from abdominal pain, which turned out to be a ruptured appendix. Oh, the pain — both mental and physical.
Once recovered, he left home and lived a hobo’s life along the West Coast. Once again, he took any job going. However, in leaner times, he didn’t hesitate to hop freight trains or sleep in flop houses. I bet his mother didn’t know that at the time.
Finally, when he was 25, he got a job selling books door to door.
Still scraping by, he found an advert in a San Francisco paper for job openings at a film studio there. He embellished his credentials, saying he had just moved to the area from Hollywood. As he said, all he had was the cockiness which got him a long way.
Capra’s first job at the studio, amazingly, was to direct a one-reel silent film which he did with the help of a more experienced cameraman.
Afterward, he worked at another San Francisco studio and eventually moved back to Los Angeles where he got a job with Harry Cohn’s studio — the future Columbia Pictures — and learned more about every aspect of film making.
I won’t go into a comprehensive study of Capra’s film career, however, a few aspects stood out during this time.
First, his knowledge of engineering helped him to adapt quickly to making films with sound. Cinema technology was moving quickly and sound washed many out of the industry. Some silent stars couldn’t really act other than with facial expressions. Technicians who understood how to edit silent films with dialogue frames had problems when it came to soundtracks imprinted into the film.
Second, Capra’s understanding of sound got him more directing jobs with Harry Cohn. He was forever grateful to Cohn for employing him at such a crucial time, for him and the industry.
Third, Capra was able to collaborate with the screenwriters in sharpening scripts with one-liners.
Fourth, Capra understood what was involved in directing films and could advise the cameramen on better ways or angles of shooting scenes.
Capra’s pivotal film of this period was the ‘talkie’ The Younger Generation (1929). Although Capra denied that the Jewish immigrant’s experience of America was far removed from his own, biographer Joseph McBride thinks the young director must have identified with some of the scenes:
Capra “obviously felt a strong identification with the story of a Jewish immigrant who grows up in the ghetto of New York… and feels he has to deny his ethnic origins to rise to success in America.”
… the “devastatingly painful climactic scene”, where the young social-climbing son, embarrassed when his wealthy new friends first meet his parents, passes his mother and father off as house servants. That scene, notes McBride, “echoes the shame Capra admitted feeling toward his own family as he rose in social status.”
The Depression Era and Capra’s messages
Capra hit it big with the comedy It Happened One Night (1934), starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert — a must-see road movie with the two sharing a cabin. Colbert, a young socialite, leaves home and meets a worldly reporter (Gable) along the way. Penniless, she has no choice but to depend on him for everything.
It has its provocative moments and, shortly afterward, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) began enforcing stricter codes with regard to what could be seen in mainstream cinema.
Capra must have been flabbergasted at the Academy Awards ceremony. The picture was the first to win five Oscars. That has happened only twice since with One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Silence of the Lambs (1991).
After Broadway Bill, also made in 1934, Capra began thinking seriously about what he was filming and changed tack:
My films must let every man, woman, and child know that God loves them, that I love them, and that peace and salvation will become a reality only when they all learn to love each other.
About Mr Deeds Goes to Town, made two years later, Alistair Cooke (yes, that one!) wrote that Capra was:
starting to make movies about themes instead of people.
Capra’s films cropped up every year for Oscar nominations in the 1930s. He won Best Director three times and Best Picture once again with You Can’t Take it with You (1938). He also hosted the 1938 Academy Awards ceremony.
In addition to Christian values, Capra was also intent on portraying the virtues of patriotism. He also wanted to show that the good could overcome the corrupt. In 1939, he made Mr Smith Goes to Washington, which starred James Stewart.
Capra stated his reasons:
The more uncertain are the people of the world, the more their hard-won freedoms are scattered and lost in the winds of chance, the more they need a ringing statement of America’s democratic ideals. The soul of our film would be anchored in Lincoln. Our Jefferson Smith would be a young Abe Lincoln, tailored to the rail-splitter’s simplicity, compassion, ideals, humor, and unswerving moral courage under pressure.
This occurred around the advent of the Second World War. Capra took in world events:
And panic hit me. Japan was slicing up the colossus of China piece by piece. Nazi panzers had rolled into Austria and Czechoslovakia; their thunder echoed over Europe. England and France shuddered. The Russian bear growled ominously in the Kremlin. The black cloud of war hung over the chancelleries of the world. Official Washington from the President down, was in the process of making hard, torturing decisions. “And here was I, in the process of making a satire about government officials; … Wasn’t this the most untimely time for me to make a film about Washington?
Joseph P Kennedy, American ambassador to Great Britain and early financier of RKO Studios, thought so. He wrote to Capra’s boss Harry Cohn at what was by then Columbia Pictures:
Please do not play this picture in Europe.
Kennedy feared that the film would portray Washington as corrupt and weaken America’s position in wartime, even if the United States was not yet directly involved.
Cohn and Capra went ahead to release the film. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards but won only one — Best Original Story. It was up against The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. Enough said.
It’s interesting that Mr Smith Goes to Washington was the film the French most wanted to see that year. They said it gave them hope for the future:
perseverance of democracy and the American way.
The Second World War years
Capra helped the war effort by directing and co-directing a series of films for the American forces helping them to understand what they were fighting for.
The US government and army provided the content for the films, so they were not ‘propaganda’ but salient facts.
They were so good that the government had them shown in American cinemas. They were then translated into several European and Asian languages for export. Winston Churchill was so impressed that he ordered they be shown in British cinemas.
They are still used in the present day as a teaching aid and sometimes appear on television.
Frank Capra was at this time promoted to Colonel in the US Army. His Why We Fight series won an Academy Award.
Postwar endeavours and disillusionment
After IAWL in 1946, Capra’s last important film, those which followed never had the acclaim or box office takings of his earlier work.
America was recovering spectacularly from the Second World War and a new mood of prosperity was in the air. Cinema-goers were no longer interested in the good-versus-evil themes the way Capra portrayed them.
Hollywood stars were also becoming more important than the films in which they featured. This jarred with Capra’s philosophy about film making.
Nonetheless, a few events stand out from this period.
First, Capra still had clout as a director. The US Ambassador to India asked him to attend the International Film Festival in that country in 1952. The ambassador was concerned about Marxist and Communist politics encroaching in Asia.
Capra was stunned to find many of the speeches given at the festival favoured political and government control of film. He summarised his message to 15 Indian film directors:
they must preserve freedom as artists, and that any government control would hinder that freedom. A totalitarian system – and they would become nothing but publicity men for the party in power.
… Even intellectuals have no great understanding of liberty and freedom … Democracy only a theory to them. They have no idea of service to others, of service to the poor. The poor are despised, in a sense.
The ambassador was pleased with the result and Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave Capra a commendation for his sterling efforts in persuading the Indian film industry to remain independent of political parties.
Second, the aftermath of the McCarthy hearings on un-American activities, in which many in the film industry were implicated, bothered Capra. Although Capra was not called to testify, he knew many who lost their careers as a result. His feelings were mixed.
Third, he could see that the nature of American film was changing. In 1971, he wrote, rather bluntly, in his autobiography:
The hedonists, the homosexuals, the hemophilic bleeding hearts, the God-haters, the quick-buck artists who substituted shock for talent, all cried: “Shake ‘em! Rattle ‘em! God is dead. Long live pleasure! Nudity? Yea! Wife-swapping? Yea! Liberate the world from prudery. Emancipate our films from morality!”…. Kill for thrill – shock! Shock! To hell with the good in man, Dredge up his evil – shock! Shock!
And so it continues today, so many decades later.
By 1952, Capra retired from making mainstream films and went back to school, in a sense, by making scientific films for Caltech, the new name for his alma mater.
He also produced four science-based specials for television, sponsored by Bell Laboratories.
Looking back, today’s viewers might wonder if Capra’s America really existed or if it was purely his vision.
His tight editing and superb pacing carry us along through morality tales involving ordinary Americans against the forces of corruption and evil.
Although the movies often have a dark period of conflict and impossible odds, in the end, everything comes right.
Capra’s techniques and outlook have influenced subsequent directors, even if they might disagree with him philosophically. Among those who have borrowed from Capra in some way include Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, David Lynch and François Truffaut.
Perhaps thanks to the frequent showings of IAWL, Capra retrospectives attract good audiences, particularly among younger film buffs.
Capra, if he were still alive — he died on September 3, 1991 — would have been delighted.
A conservative Republican, he had railed against Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his tenure as governor of New York State, and opposed his presidency during the years of the Depression. Capra stood against government intervention and assistance during the national economic crisis. A man that had come up the hard way, overcoming the disadvantages of an immigrant background, Capra saw no reason why others could not accomplish success through hard work and perseverance.
As he demonstrated in his own life and in IAWL.
And, this passage from his 1971 autobiography, The Name above the Title, indicates what he might have said about movements such as 2011′s Occupy versus the working man:
Forgotten among the hue-and criers were the hard-working stiffs that came home too tired to shout or demonstrate in streets … and prayed they’d have enough left over to keep their kids in college, despite their knowing that some were pot-smoking, parasitic parent-haters.
Thank you, Frank Capra. Who in Hollywood would say that today?
Tomorrow’s post looks at what happened to Karolyn Grimes who played Zuzu in IAWL.
SpouseMouse bought us the Hal Roach colourised version from the 1980s when we were married. For those interested, I prefer it to the black and white original. I would like to address this first, so, if you prefer, please feel free to skip to the existentialist section which follows.
Colourisation in general
Colourisation of old black-and-white films has become no less contentious over the years.
Ted Turner is often held responsible for IAWL’s transformation from black and white. However, Turner does not own or control this film. Therefore, he cannot be held responsible for any colourised version of IAWL.
In fact, when Colorization Inc. turned Topper (starring Cary Grant) into a colour film, the result was well received. Colorization then took 10 minutes’ worth of IAWL film, turned it into colour and showed it to its director, Frank Capra. Impressed, Capra agreed to pay half the $260,000 of the tinting costs and share any profits resulting from its release. He also agreed in principle that the company could colourise two of his other films, Meet John Doe and Lady for a Day. However, because of a legal loophole (carelessness, really, in not renewing copyright) which saw IAWL repeated across the United States sometimes several times a day during the Christmas season in the 1970s and 1980s, the film was considered to be in the public domain. Colorization refunded Capra his money.
Hal Roach Studios were the first to successfully colourise all of IAWL in 1986. It is pleasing to watch as each frame looks like a colour photograph of the period. It appears that they might have been, as photographs were, washed in sepia then lightly tinted.
Subsequently, other versions appeared. Republic Pictures, the owner of IAWL, produced theirs in 1989. Capra and James Stewart, IAWL‘s main star, objected to the process. However, in 2007, Legend Films, with the agreement of Capra’s estate, produced a third version.
People say that colourised classics look like Norman Rockwell paintings: too much of a good thing can be bad. I’ve not seen that many, but IAWL benefits from colour, at least in the Hal Roach one. Small towns can look drab in black and white. IAWL’s Bedford Falls looks lovely when you can see what the ladies look like all dolled up. The street landscape also comes across much better.
The most existentialist small town film ever?
People who haven’t seen Frank Capra films — and, for many years, I was among them — have the impression that he was a maker of happy, sappy motion pictures.
It is unclear how this impression started, but, because his films are often morality tales based on everyday good-versus-evil, they are quite clear-cut in their messages. This is certainly not characteristic of post-modernism. Furthermore, there is not much for the intellectual critical theorist to discuss for hours on end arriving at ‘it’s what you want it to be’.
In short, George Bailey (James Stewart) is a young man from Bedford Falls who longs to escape his home town. His father owns a savings and loan; his customers are average middle- and working-class people who want to buy a house and raise a family with a minimum of financial worries.
The Bailey family’s arch enemy is Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore) who, unfortunately, is the rich, greedy majority shareholder in their savings and loan association. He also has his own bank. He has no empathy for the ‘little guy’ and wants to acquire the savings and loan.
George Bailey is just about to leave for a summer in Europe followed by university when he feels duty bound to help the board of directors repel Potter’s call for the institution to stop lending to their modest customers. The board agree — provided George takes over the savings and loan.
George — describing himself as a young man ‘with a hatful of dreams’ — gives his tuition money to his younger brother Harry, who has just graduated from high school. The agreement is that Harry attends college in George’s place and, upon completion, will work at the savings and loan so that George can realise his own aspirations.
Unfortunately, things go from bad to worse for George, and he is never able to realise his dreams of travelling the world, attending university and becoming an architect. At one point, when his Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) misplaces $8,000 — $90,000 in today’s money — to deposit in the savings and loan account at Potter’s bank, Potter spots the money and takes it. He wants to call in the banking authorities and have the savings and loan shut down for malfeasance.
This can only mean one thing for George — a permanently ruined reputation, no job prospects and a realistic possibility of prison. Yes, back then, bankers went to prison; ask anyone who is over the age of 80 and they are likely to know of a local banking scandal which took place during the Depression.
George, by then, a husband to Mary (Donna Reed) and father of four, decides that his life isn’t worth living anymore. On Christmas Eve, having had enough, he wishes he had never lived. A trainee angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), comes down from heaven to fulfil that existential wish in order to teach him a lesson. If Clarence does a heavenly job, he will finally receive his wings — a century or so after his death!
At once, George finds his world of Bedford Falls turned upside down in a harrowing and sad way. The town is called Pottersville. It’s full of raucous night clubs and clip joints. The men are hostile and violent, the women cold and withdrawn. His neighbours and customers — all friends — no longer know him. His mother (Beulah Bondi) gives him an indescribably cold stare. Mary is a librarian who has no social life.
Stewart plays George with the sense of terror and hysteria that sometimes attacks honest men when they are broken. His facial expressions are priceless — most effective.
This is a 20-minute sequence which will rip most people’s hearts out. Up to this point, Capra has shown us the strong friendships which George has forged as well throughout his life as well as the respect which people show him for his kindness and integrity. (See the full synopsis.) It’s because of him that Bedford Falls works as a town with responsible, loving citizens helping each other. Capra makes the Pottersville contrast startling and frightening.
People contemplating suicide wonder if anyone would miss them. Yes, they certainly would. Everyone makes a difference in this world — nearly all of them for the better.
This is a film that despondent people should see. Just don’t tell them the plot line ahead of time. Let them experience it the way Capra intended.
And have a box of tissues at the ready. I defy anyone not to well up.
IAWL becomes life-affirming once again as George begs Clarence to undo his foolish wish and bring him back to life. Capra begins by showing us how much simple pleasures mean. George, who has been walking around with a few petals from a rose his daughter Zuzu (Karolyn Grimes) won at school (he’s meant to ‘glue’ them back on), discovers them with glee. (They had vanished during his wish because he had never lived.)
When he gets back home — worried about the loss of Uncle Billy’s deposit money — he finds his living room filled with his customers, friends and family who have had a whip-round and made up — thanks mostly to George’s friend who works out of town in plastics — over $25,000, enabling the savings and loan to stay open.
But George, having seen what his town would look like had he not lived, as well as being anxious about going to prison, still looks hysterical. Indeed, we see the police and the bank examiner among the crowd.
In the final moments (emphases mine):
Harry also arrives to support his brother, and toasts George as “The richest man in town”. In the pile of donated funds, George finds a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer inscribed, “Dear George: Remember no man is a failure who has friends. P.S. Thanks for the wings! Love, Clarence.” A bell on the Christmas tree rings, and his daughter Zuzu remembers aloud that it means an angel has earned his wings. George realizes that he truly has a wonderful life.
It’s A Wonderful Life is a wonderful movie and one of the most popular and endearing films ever made by director Frank Capra. Frank Capra considered this film his own personal favorite — as did James Stewart.
The inspiration for IAWL came from a 4,000-word story called ‘The Greatest Gift’, written by the historian, author and book editor, Philip Van Doren Stern.
Initially unable to find a publisher, he had it printed himself in a palm-sized format which fit into Christmas cards for his friends. By December 1944, the story was published as a proper book with illustrations by Rafaello Busoni. That same month Stern sold the story to Reader’s Scope and Good Housekeeping. The latter published it in their January 1945 edition as ‘The Man Who Was Never Born’.
One of the original palm-sized editions found its way to RKO Pictures producer David Hempstead. He, in turn, showed to Cary Grant, who expressed interest in playing the protagonist. RKO bought the rights for $10,000 in 1944 and assigned several screenwriters to adapt it for cinema.
In 1945, Frank Capra’s production company purchased the rights from RKO for $10,000 and the film made its premiere in December 1946.
James Stewart later wrote Stern about the story, calling it
an inspiration to everyone concerned with the picture … the fundamental story was so sound and right.
Stern died in 1984 at the age of 83. However, his story lives on. Another small-format edition was published in 1996. More recently, Tom Glazer, the grandson of one of Stern’s colleagues from Simon and Schuster, found one of the original Christmas card copies and asked the author’s daughter if he could republish it. Glazer republished it through his own company, Graphic Image Inc. in 2011.
As his daughter Marguerite Stern Robinson describes it as she remembers when her father first sent out his small editions:
My father, who was himself from a mixed religious background, explained to me that while this story takes place at Christmas time, and that we were sending it as a Christmas card to our friends, it is a universal story for all people in all times.
References from the period
Some will wonder how Capra and his writers arrived at some of the film’s content to interest the audience eyeing the film listings deciding whether to see it.
A reader of PJ Media — buzzsawmonkey — reveals insights to the terminology of the day. Quotes below are his.
While the title is bitterly ironic—it’s a play on the old bravado line, “It’s a great life, if you don’t weaken,” which got people cynically through the Depression—it is a celebration of the unsung heroes of any civilized society.
What it has to say:
it is, in effect, a re-telling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with Clarence the would-be angel filling in for all three Christmas ghosts. It is a celebration—as Mr. Roberts also was—of the more quiet heroism of the people who do not get a chance to be the war heroes or the Big Successes, but who shoulder responsibilities they did not ask for or want and persevere.
It’s a Wonderful Life shows that the world is not fair; that people get stuck with responsibilities they do not want; that misfortune or error will often harm the worthy and advantage the wealthy—but that it is possible, with personal kindness and responsibility, to ameliorate these things.
Why ‘George Bailey’?
“George Bailey” is a symbolic name. There used to be a phrase, back when the movie was made; “Let George do it,” which basically meant “let someone else take on the job.” George Bailey is the “George” who gets stuck with the task of saving the entire town; Mr. Bailey is the town’s bailee, a legal term which means someone who is the unpaid keeper, the holder of responsibility.
Frank Capra’s intentions
Capra had an additional message to convey with the film.
However, before we get to that, many of us who have seen the film will wonder if he had an inspiration for Bedford Falls. Salon reader JohnPotter gives us a possible insight:
It is interesting to me that Frank Capra and I grew up in the same small town, Sierra Madre, California. Aside from the warmer weather, palm trees, and no river running through it, it could have been a model for Bedford Falls. One movie theatre, one bank, one bar (The Buccaneer) no dance halls, no boxing arena, and, you guessed it, one Yellow Cab. Yikes! I grew up in Bedford Falls and didn’t realize it!
The name of Bedford Falls was combined from Bedford Hills, in Westchester County, New York, and Seneca Falls, a small town midway between Rochester and Syracuse. The town of Elmira, mentioned by the bank examiner, is a real town in New York, not that far from the actual Seneca Falls.
In 1946, following the film’s release, Capra, a Roman Catholic:
described the film’s theme as “the individual’s belief in himself” and that he made it “to combat a modern trend toward atheism“.
In 2012, Dan Seitz at Uproxx revealed that Capra had an alternative scene with Clarence the angel-in-waiting. This will settle much speculation:
It’s widely held that the entire reason Mr. Potter gets away with stealing all that money in the final movie is that in the original script, he didn’t.
No, in the original script, Clarence, the good-hearted, kindly old man of an angel shows up to scold Potter and, according to rumor, talks Mr. Potter into a freaking heart attack before leaving him to die knowing exactly what’ll happen to him in hell.
Not that anybody would feel bad for Potter, one of the single most hated villains in film history, but Capra wound up deciding that was too dark.
I, along with many other viewers (even agnostics), would rather Capra had included that. The ending — with no payback for Potter (and most of us hoped that divine retribution would be dealt!) — is the subject of lengthy conversation every Christmas.
In 1947, an FBI analyst submitted, without comment, an addition to a running memo on “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” recording the opinion of an industry source who said that the film’s “obvious” attempt to discredit bankers “is a common trick used by Communists.”
It’s really at this point you wonder about Capra’s relationship with his religion, since the guy was a devout Catholic.
The movie softens the blow, obviously: We’ve all seen the finale. Still, no matter how many times you see this movie, it’s still incredibly jolting that something so profoundly bleak made its way to the screen. The reason for that is Capra basically paid for it out of his own pocket.
Not that this makes it any less of a classic, of course. If anything it improves it because George really does earn that happy ending. Still, the next time somebody tells you it’s sugary, you might want to point them towards the scary parts; sweet it may be, but saccharine it is not.
1) George Bailey doesn’t contemplate suicide as a way to end his troubles. He contemplates it only because he has a life insurance policy that is worth much more if he’s dead. The insurance money would pay off the shortfall at the savings and loan and support his family for several years.
George Bailey is, if nothing else, a responsible man. He values his responsibility to his family and his depositors more than his own life.
2) The crisis is caused because Potter STEALS the S&L’s deposit money. He knows where the money came from, and that Bailey’s uncle simply misplaced it for a moment. Yet Potter is willing to send innocent men to jail and keep their money in order to eliminate competition and insure a stranglehold on the town.
3) George Bailey does not “give up everything”. He chooses to marry Mary because he loves her, she loves him, and they want to build a life together. (What a concept!) He takes on that enormous responsibility, and others, at the cost of his dreams of world travel and such.
4) Potter isn’t just greedy. He wants power, and is also a racist (note his dismissal of the town’s Italians as “garlic eaters”).
Potter was the villain then. Today he’d be the hero.
6) Bert is the tall policeman, Ernie is the short cab driver. That these names were reused for Sesame Street characters cannot be a coincidence.
If you haven’t seen the film before, be sure to watch it — if possible — with someone else or, failing that, discuss it with a friend.
I’ll have more on IAWL tomorrow with a few other aspects to explore.
Mary Poppins is a staple of British televsion programming at Christmas.
I remember seeing the film shortly after it was first released. As with so many Disney films (e.g. Fantasia) it was way too long and, frankly, somewhat boring. I fell asleep through part of it as I had done when going to several of his other productions.
Disney’s treatment of PL Travers’s Mary Poppins is far from her novel. According to English television presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell — daughter of the late Alan Coren who wrote for Punch and wife of comic actor David Mitchell — this children’s story is punctuated by episodes of uncertainty and fear. She has written about it in the latest edition of the Radio Times (30 November – 6 December 2013, pp. 20-22).
For centuries, children’s stories — oral and written — have introduced peril, myth, morality and loss to young people. Through them, we become acquainted with good and evil as well as what we can expect from life itself — endless uncertainty in a fallen world.
On this point, PL Travers’s book does not disappoint, Mitchell says. She read it as a child.
Also in this week’s Radio Times is an interview with actor Tom Hanks (pp. 24-27), who stars with Emma Thompson in Saving Mr Banks, the story of Travers and Walt Disney bringing Mary Poppins to celluloid.
What follows are aspects of the film as well the lives of Travers and Disney which are less well known. Saving Mr Banks explores some of them, although I have not seen the film.
As far as Mary Poppins is concerned, Travers objected to Disney’s sugarcoating the film by making the nanny a cheery, happy character.
Helen Lyndon Goff was born in 1899 to a bank employee and niece of a Premier of Queensland, Boyd Dunlop Morehead. Travers Robert Goff — originally from Deptford (London, England) moved his family from Maryborough to Allora — another town in that Australian state — in 1905. He died of influenza in 1907. His widow, Margaret, and three daughters moved to neighbouring New South Wales. Helen attended boarding school in Sydney during the years of the Great War.
Helen was known by family and friends as Lyndon. She wrote stories for her sisters as well as poetry. She also became interested in acting and toured with a Shakespeare company as Pamela Lyndon Travers. The troupe ended up in England in 1924, where Travers settled and became a writer. She and a friend Madge Burnand eventually moved to Sussex, where Travers began writing Mary Poppins in 1933.
Once in England, she made connections in the literary world. Her first publisher was the inspiration for Peter Pan, JM Barrie’s adopted son Peter Llewellyn Davies. She also visited Ireland and made friends with writers such as WB Yeats and a number of poets. They introduced her to mythology. An American publisher acquainted with that circle, Jane Heap, got Travers interested in Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way, a good works-based ‘universal brotherhood’ combining various religious traditions with gnosticism and mysticism.
Travers never married and is said to have had romantic relationships with both men and women.
At the age of 40, on one of her trips to Ireland, she visited the home of Joseph Hone, the first biographer of WB Yeats. He and his wife Vera had seven grandchildren living with them. Two of them were twin baby boys — Anthony and Camillus. Taking an astrologer’s advice, she adopted Camillus.
At the age of 17, it appears that Anthony discovered his twin was living in London. He went to Travers’s house there. Camillus tried to cope with this surprise discovery but, four years later, was in Stafford Prison, serving a six-month sentence for drink driving. He died in London in 2011.
Travers was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1977. She also earned royalties from Disney’s film Mary Poppins.
Travers died in London in 1996. Her ashes were scattered in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin in Twickenham (west London). (This should not be construed necessarily as a conversion to Christianity; it is traditional for authors and actors — regardless of belief — to have a funeral and/or ‘resting place’ at Anglican churches.)
It is interesting that, during the Second World War, Travers worked in Manhattan for the British Ministry of Information. It was at that time that Roy Disney — Walt’s brother — contacted her about adapting the Mary Poppins books for film. After the war ended, she spent two summers travelling the American Southwest studying Indian tribes. She was also Writer-in-Residence at Radcliffe, Harvard and Smith before returning to England.
There are two versions of Walt Disney‘s origins.
The official one is that he was born in 1901 in the Kelvyn Grove (now Hermosa) area on the Northwest Side of Chicago.
His ancestor Robert d’Isigny was thought to have gone to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. (It is probable that he was from Normandy or La Manche. There are two towns in northwestern France which carry the name: Isigny-sur-Mer and Isigny-le-Buat.) The anglicised version of the name is Disney. Robert’s descendants were thought to have settled in Norton Disney, Lincolnshire. Walt’s branch later moved to Ireland before sailing to Ontario. In the 19th century, they relocated to Ellis, Kansas, where they bought a farm.
Disney’s father Elias was a gold prospector in California before returning to the farm. With the advance of the railroads, he worked for the Union Pacific, a principal railway company until the late 20th century when a number of mergers put paid to most of them.
It was during his time on the Union Pacific that Elias fell in love with Walt’s mother Flora (née Call). They married on New Year’s Day 1888 in Acron, Florida, 40 miles from Walt Disney World.
Elias Disney and his family moved back and forth between Chicago and Missouri at the turn of the century. Elias’s brother, Robert, lived in Chicago and helped them financially. In 1906, when Walt was four, Elias and his family moved to Marceline, Missouri, where another brother Roy had a farm. In 1911, they moved to Kansas City, where one of Walt’s classmates Walter Pfeiffer introduced him to cinema and vaudeville. Walt and Walter became firm friends, the former clearly intrigued by the Pfeiffer family’s entertainment interests and the arts in general. Walt took courses at the Kansas City Art Institute.
In 1917, Elias bought shares in a Chicago jelly company O-Zell and moved the family back to Illinois. Once back in Chicago — then an exciting city of commerce and culture, remaining so until the 1980s — young Walt continued supplementing his state school education with courses at the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the world’s best museums in its category.
As this was during the Great War, it is not surprising that Walt was absorbed not only by events in Europe but also America’s place in the world. He and a friend decided to join the Red Cross. However, Walt was initially refused because he lacked a birth certificate. I’ve highlighted that, because we’ll return to it below. Suffice it to say that it was not unusual for births to have gone unregistered. Women often gave birth at home with the help of midwives and it wasn’t until after that war that hospitals became a more mainstream, albeit not yet universal, place for an expectant mother to deliver a child. The state was also not as encroaching then as it is now, therefore, other records (e.g. school and work) could help to reasonably verify a person’s age.
Walt never did finish high school. However, he and his friend did drive ambulances for the Red Cross in France, after the Armistice in 1918.
Once he returned to the United States, he was certain about pursuing a career in illustrating. He moved back to Kansas City to work for an art studio and the rest is history.
The unofficial story of Walt’s early life is quite different — and contentious. I read it in Le Monde in 2001 and was shocked.
The Guardian also carried the story — nearly 12 years ago to the day now. Citations and references below are from the article.
Two American authors — Marc Eliot (celebrity biographer) and Christopher Jones (son of a Disney press agent) — were unearthing evidence which they claimed (separately) to prove that Walt Disney was actually born in Mojacar, Spain. He was purported to be the son of two local lovers, Walt’s putative mother eventually emigrating to the United States where she offered her son up for adoption and the Disneys supposedly taking the boy in as their own.
Indeed, Mojacar — a village of 5,000 people in Andalucia along the southeast coast — claims Disney as a son. However, their Wikipedia entry does not include this bit of information.
This story dates back to 1940, thanks to an article which appeared in a Spanish movie magazine Primer Plano.
Marc Eliot picked up on this article and the Mojacar connection in his 1993 biography Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince. The author claims that the entertainment company mogul was an FBI informer under J Edgar Hoover. The Disney family
hired William Webster, FBI director under George Bush Sr, to refute that and other claims about his role as a prized FBI informer.
If true — and it is difficult to find any follow-up online — Walt’s interest in his birth came about in 1917 when he asked his mother Flora for his birth certificate in order to apply as a Red Cross volunteer in Europe for the war effort. Flora signed an affadavit swearing that he was born in Chicago:
The fact that it concerned him seems to have been confirmed by Hoover himself. In a declassified FBI document, Hoover pledged to help Disney. “I am indeed pleased that we can be of service to you in affording you a means of absolute identity through your lifetime,” he wrote.
Eliot alleged that Flora signed a second affadavit in 1934 concerning Walt’s birth. This was two years before she died.
Eliot received over 600 pages of documentation from the FBI in 1992 relating to Walt Disney.
Recall that Walt’s brother Roy met PL Travers when the latter was in New York working for the British Ministry of Information during the Second World War.
The Mojacar connection started, according to the townspeople, in 1940 when, at the end of the Spanish Civil War, two Americans arrived. They were smartly dressed and, naturally, had suitcases.
Their arrival took the residents by surprise. Mojacar had fallen on hard times after the closure of local copper and iron mines. The village must have appeared primitive to the two visitors. There were no basic conveniences of the 20th century, including electricity. Women collected water from wells which they carried home on their heads. The people’s faith, whilst notionally Catholic, was syncretic, recalling Moorish (Muslim) occupation centuries before. The women wore veils which they held between their teeth when they were busy with their hands.
The Americans asked to see the village priest, the Revd Federico Acosta. Acosta’s nephew was visiting at the time from Madrid where, you will be interested to know, Snow White had just made its premiere. The nephew, Jose Acosta — a journalist and lawyer — was 71 in 2001. He remembered the encounter between his uncle and the Americans as follows (emphases mine):
“He told us that some gentlemen from the US had come to find the birth certificate of one Jose Guirao. They were shown the page in the register. Later, when he looked again, the page had been ripped out,” he recalls.
“He told me they had come not to find Jose Guirao’s birth certificate, but to destroy it,” says Acosta.
Jacinto Alarcon also saw the Americans in town. He later became Mojacar’s mayor. Although he died before 2001, author Christopher Jones was able to speak with him in his final years. Jacinto’s son Juan said at the time of the Millennium:
Jones has a taped interview with him in which he tells the story, agreeing on the basic facts with Acosta. “Virtually everybody is convinced he was born here. Only the Americans don’t want to admit it,” explains Jacinto’s son Juan, who now owns Mojacar’s tobacconists.
Even today, Mojacar families know the story of little Jose Guirao. It is not quite straightforward, as two men are involved. A poor young woman Isabel Zamora is acknowledged as the mother. A similarly poor man’s name appears on Jose’s birth certificate; we know only that his surname is Guirao and that he worked as a miner. However, people surmise that the child’s real father was the local physician, Gines Carrillo. Because he was a doctor, Carrillo was one of the few men parents allowed their daughters to see unaccompanied.
Mojacar residents viewed Carrillo benignly. Not only was he a doctor who lived in a magnificent villa — Torreon, by name. He was also profoundly interested in the arts and aesthetics. He added a Venetian-style theatre to the town and held rehearsals for plays at Torreon. The town’s children learned how to play musical instruments at his estate. Residents could also admire his collection of exotic birds.
Carrillo also constructed a beach house in Mojacar. Although his descendants had it razed, it bore similarities to Disney’s castle which features so prominently in the title sequence of his television programme and at his parks. Carrillo’s was:
a fantasy creation of his own, topped with towers. Its eccentric aspect adds extra weight, in villagers’ minds, to the idea that this man must have spawned Walt Disney.
In 2001, Torreon was a private guest house. The lady who owns it, Charo Lopez, told The Guardian:
“Disney certainly wasn’t born in this house. But this is where he was conceived,” she states. “This is like the existence of God. Either you believe he was born in Mojacar, or you don’t.”
Carrillo had a son, Diego, who is also a doctor. He told The Guardian that he did not wish to give an interview. He says that Carrillo would have gone along with the story as a good joke. He added:
If you think my father and Walt Disney look alike, you should see pictures of my uncle. He looks even more like Disney – and he did like the ladies.
One of the uncle’s grandsons — Diego’s nephew, also a physician — told the paper:
“Mojacar was a boring place then. My grandfather died when I was young but he was a lecher, a ‘ viejo verde ‘, in his old age and interested in the occult. The whole thing was cooked up by Jacinto [the aforementioned mayor] and him when those journalists arrived from the film magazine.”
Other variations of the Mojacar connection exist. One says that Walt Disney personally wrote the parish priest in 1925 asking for his birth certificate — that of Jose Guirao Zamora — when he was preparing to marry Lillian Bounds, his wife of 41 years. Another story says that Isabel Zamora worked for the Disney family and had an affair with Walt’s father Elias. Yet another has two Franciscans requesting the birth certificate in the 1950s.
The surviving Carrillos told The Guardian that they would be happy to take DNA tests to prove the veracity or otherwise of the Mojacar connection. However, it appears that the Disney family — perhaps rightly, under the circumstances — preferred to put this story behind them. The Guardian article does acknowledge that much of Mojacar’s younger generation thinks it is either gossip and doesn’t really care.
As for the other popular criticisms of Disney — anti-Semitism and insensitivity because of his father’s treatment of him — I have a few comments.
First, there were anti-American forces at work in the entertainment world at the time. This is why the McCarthy investigations were so criticised by far-left elements and why McCarthy continues to be vilified. Disney is long gone, although, unfortunately, lefty media types are still with us. He refused unionisation in his company, no doubt because he could see socialist or communist infiltration at work. His wasn’t the only animation or film studio in town. Dissatisfied animators and other employees sought employment elsewhere.
Second, I surmise that what the Left interprets as pure anti-Semitism was probably anti-Communism. It is a coincidence that these organisers for unionisation happened to be Jewish — and secular Jews at that. If Walt Disney were really so inclined, it seems highly unlikely that he would have befriended Walter Pfeiffer as a boy, especially as he spent more time at the Pfeiffer house than at home.
Third, Disney critics say he was hard-hearted and that this is because his father Elias beat him. Well, the reality is that nearly every child was beaten then by parents, teachers or nannies; that’s just they were brought up at the turn of the century. I also find it interesting that they mention that Elias was an ‘Evangelical’, as if, in and of itself, that were necessarily a bad thing. That’s every bit as bad as anti-Semitism. I’m also not clear how they arrive at this as being a certainty. If the Mojacar story has any veracity, Isabel Zamora might well have chosen a Catholic adoption agency in the United States, meaning that one or both of the Disney parents would probably have been Catholic. Catholic agencies then dealt with Catholics, not with all-comers.
Fourth, men of Disney’s generation were not touchy-feely postmodern types. You can read biographies of Fabians, Communists and other leftists of the period to find that they, too, were emotionally distant. However, because the Left control most of the media messages, you’ll be less likely to readily discover such facts.
In closing, Walt Disney was no better or no worse than many other men. He ran, with his brother Roy, a globally successful company. He was a husband and father of two daughters.
He brought a lot of people much happiness. Nearly every Westerner today remembers seeing their first Disney production, whether a cartoon or film. Millions have also visited Disneyland and Walt Disney World as well as his park outside of Paris.
Perhaps that is all that remains to be said.