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Those who miss the Paralympics are in luck: Sochi’s 2014 Winter Paralympic Games are on this week.
Britain’s Channel 4 and sister channel More4 are broadcasting them throughout the day with a half-hour highlights recap in the evenings at 7:30 (GMT).
As in 2012, Paralympian Ade Adepitan is hosting the coverage. He is accompanied by Olympians and Paralympians alike to walk us through the strategies and finer points of the events. I learn more about sport watching the Paralympics than I do the Olympics; that’s how good the coverage is.
I enjoyed watching today’s curling and downhill skiing events. Having fallen behind at one point, Team GB beat the Koreans 8 – 4 in the curling. The American Tatyana McFadden came second in the women’s skiing event which was broadcast after the curling finished. One of her American counterparts won.
I hadn’t realised that McFadden also competes in skiing. Up to now, I thought she was exclusively a wheelchair racer during the summer months. Her abilities in both seasons’ events are remarkable. This short YouTube video features her discussing health issues and a love of sport:
She and her younger sister Hannah — from Russia and Albania, respectively — were rescued and adopted by Deborah McFadden, on a trip there as part of her work as a commissioner of disabilities for the US Health Department under President Clinton. Mrs McFadden and her husband adopted Tatyana first. They adopted Hannah not long afterward, once she was located in another orphanage.
On McFadden’s Wikipedia talk page, we find this comment. Those of us who followed the 2012 Paralympics will know that:
For me, the Paralympians are the real heroes of the summer and winter Games. Some, like McFadden, were born disabled. Others, like Adepitan (who contracted polio as an infant in Nigeria), suffered accidents or childhood illnesses which left them handicapped. Yet others were injured in recent wars, e.g. Afghanistan.
They never gave up. They were determined to not sit at home feeling sorry for themselves, which, admittedly, I probably would have done — for a while, anyway.
It’s interesting to listen to interviews with parents of disabled children who became Paralympians. All said, ‘They got treated the same as their brothers and sisters — through good and bad.’ Yes, it was difficult for the parents. Yes, the parents still worry. However, they gave these competitors a good upbringing in challenging circumstances.
I wish all the teams, GB in particular, all the very best. No matter who wins, their medals are well deserved.
To any American clergy — and there are a few (but not regular readers of this site) — who say that Christians in the United States are not persecuted, I would kindly ask them to read the comments following the NBC News article, ‘Federal Judge Strikes Down Texas Gay Marriage Ban’.
The dozens of bile-filled comments are testament to what is happening today in the United States. A decade ago, such opprobrium would have been unthinkable.
Detractors often say, ‘Well, no one would ever say those things in person’. To which I would respond, ‘No, because such hostility indicates what really is going on in that mindset.’
I happened to see the article only because a commenter mentioned my post on Harry Truman’s discourse on the American Founding Fathers taking their inspiration for the nation from the Bible. My thanks go to L_Robinson for mentioning the piece and for having the mettle to defend his position.
L_Robinson was rounded on in a vulgar fashion as were others who oppose same sex marriage on biblical or natural law grounds.
One of them wrote:
Read through the posts. 90% of the name-calling comes from the fans of same-sex marriage. This same-sex marriage concept was recently created to motivate atheistic useful idiots… to get them to the polls, call people names and create animosity.
It has worked perfectly…divide and conquer the Alinsky way.
If you believe in a multi-gender definition of marriage, they’ll call you a ‘bigot’. The useful idiots have been trained to believe their own mother is a hateful bigot.
Joseph Goebbels would be proud.
So would Stalin.
Someone replied with this:
You know something very good must be happening when all the bigots, Christofascists and [Tea Party supporters] are [te]ed off.
So now we’re ‘Christofascists’? Hmm.
Clergymen who say that there is no persecution of Christians occurring in the United States are woefully misguided — even if their confessional theology is highly sound.
If I were they, I would try to be a bit more aware of what laymen are enduring when they defend the family and the Bible online. It won’t take long for this to escalate into physical violence.
Gosh, I was in secondary school in 1973.
Abortion was a frequent subject in our Ethics class a few years later.
David Fischler, a frequent contributor to the Episcopalian / Anglican site Stand Firm had a thought-provoking piece on this legislation last week:
Fischler examined the congratulatory White House statement on this anniversary, which began:
Today, as we reflect on the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, we recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health.
It also had this statement:
Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.
An average of approximately 1.3m foetuses per year in the United States alone have lost that chance of freedom and opportunity since 1973.
Fischler has sharp observations. Here are but a few:
Abortion is not health care, except in very rare cases. It is virtually always about taking a healthy, growing human being and killing it because its life would complicate its parent(s) lives.
“Reproductive freedom” is the kind of euphemism that George Orwell was talking about when he wrote his seminal essay “Politics and the English Language.” Notice that the word “abortion” doesn’t appear in the statement. Heaven forfend the White House should actually mention the barbaric practice that they are so invested in defending.
Apparently the White House has a rather limited definition of “all our children,” since a million a year are not welcomed into “safe and healthy communities,” but instead are thrown out like so much trash for the garbage collector to haul off.
This is what the Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5). If this was true for him, surely it must be true for everyone (emphases mine):
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.
Because the Old Testament has many other verses on the creation of human life, among them:
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13)
Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands. (Psalm 119:73)
And for those who doubt God’s sovereignty:
This is what the LORD says– your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, the Maker of all things, who stretches out the heavens, who spreads out the earth by myself (Isaiah 44:24)
As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. (Ecclesiastes 11:5)
It is alarming and tragic that abortion is being used as a method of birth control in so many countries around the world.
I remember the arguments from abortion proponents at the time: ‘It’s to ensure women don’t die in the back streets from an illegal and unsafe procedure’, ‘Very few women will seek an abortion’ and ‘It will only be used in emergencies when women’s lives are in danger’.
Really? Look how well that turned out. It was and is a lie.
Most people reading the recent news that the ban on polygamy in Utah might be unconstitutional will cite consequences of family breakdown and changing tax advantages for married couples.
Whilst those outcomes are certainly true, if this legal opinion is upheld and polygamy becomes legal, it sends only one message, which has not been mentioned. I might be wrong on this, and I hope I am.
Europeans already know what that message is.
Now Americans might discover it for themselves at some point in the future — not immediately.
Should this come to pass, my commiserations.
This case will likely now go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver [Colorado].
Let us pray — and hope — that wisdom prevails.
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.
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.
Finally, I’ve been able to put together a few concluding thoughts on the Vietnam War, which ended 40 years ago this year.
- The Cold War demanded American intervention. The United States viewed the conflicts in Indochina, beginning with the Korean War, as Communist expansionism. Eisenhower’s administration put forward the domino theory which posited that once a nation fell to Communism, so would its nearby neighbours.
- The Republican and Democrat administrations of the day viewed intervention in different ways. Eisenhower, a Republican, was careful to send in several hundred ‘advisers’ instead of installing troops. His administration was also willing to see a unified Vietnam under the Communists provided that both North and South Vietnam held democratic elections to arrive at this result; the Soviets rejected the offer of this free and fair election. Eisenhower also warned Kennedy about Vietnam and Laos, but the new Democrat president vowed to ‘pay any price, bear any burden’ in the region. Kennedy believed the Green Berets could put out what he called a ‘brush fire’ war. Under the Johnson administration, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964 allowed a regular — and increased — installation of troops which rose from 2,000 in 1961 to 16,500 in 1964. Johnson also adopted a policy of ‘minimum candour’ in communicating military operations to the media. It was Nixon (Republican), who, in his second term, ended the war in 1973 — 40 years ago this year.
- Despite his ending of the war, Nixon — prior to Watergate (1974) — was criticised by both sides. This was partly because of Henry Kissinger’s policies. Kissinger, incidentally, was an adviser to Hubert Humphrey’s 1968 presidential campaign until he saw that Nixon was likely to win. My reader Michael J McFadden, who was following the progression of the war and politics, sent me this comment recently. It sums up the complexity of Nixon’s situation (I’ve left out the references to Watergate, because that came to light later):
Nixon was vilified for other things more so than for “ending the war.” He tried to save himself by carrying through on the war-ending pledge, but it wasn’t enough, while at the same time it lost him some of the support he had from the conservative hawk-minded population. Nixon was vilified because he’d run against the “peace” candidates (Humphrey and McGovern) …
And yes, it was partly because he didn’t end it fast enough, but he was walking a very tricky road, trying to end it without an outright perception that we’d “lost.” Kissinger was vilified because he liked things like the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) doctrine and the anti-nuke people (and most sane people) agreed that it was indeed a MAD policy.
- The Vietnam War was a class-defined war as, although conscription was still in place, a number of deferments were available for middle- and upper-class young men. The Kennedy administration established a number of them which were devised to preserve social cohesion (e.g. a male presence at home and in the education system). Few middle-class parents, especially, mothers wanted their sons to be drafted; this war was for ‘other people’. As a result — later exacerbated by the middle-class anti-war movement — Americans began to view complying with law as optional. My reader undergroundpewster put it this way:
That they got away with it is what I believe to be the legacy. The fact of the matter is, that once you learn that you can skirt authority, you become as one with those who openly defy authority. The breakdown of authority in the U.S. extends to all sorts of institutions, not just governmental ones.
- Those young men who did not serve in Vietnam shaped the nation whilst lower and working class men fought overseas. Therefore, the former have the impression that the latter were somehow stupid. This continues today, four decades later. By way of illustration, this is what James Fallows, the Harvard-educated journalist for the Atlantic, wrote about his draft assessment in Boston (emphases mine):
… It was, initially, a generalized shame at having gotten away with my deception, but it came into sharper focus later in the day. Even as the last of the Cambridge contingent was throwing its urine and deliberately failing its color-blindness tests, buses from the next board began to arrive. These bore the boys from Chelsea, thick, dark-haired young men, the white proles of Boston. Most of them were younger than us, since they had just left high school, and it had clearly never occurred to them that there might be a way around the draft ...
We returned to Cambridge that afternoon, not in government buses but as free individuals, liberated and victorious. The talk was high-spirited, but … We knew now who would be killed.
- The media shaped the public perception of the war. They continue to shape our perception of politics, particularly where conservatism is concerned. And, of course, a number of these opinion formers did not see active duty in Vietnam or, if they were there as reporters, had already decided to promote the anti-war agenda, ignoring what they saw. This was also the first war fought and decided on the television screen. The media-driven ‘Vietnam syndrome’ was the logical outcome. As the British-American journalist Robert Elegant — who was there — wrote (more at the link):
After each other, correspondents wrote to win the approbation of their editors, who controlled their professional lives and who were closely linked with the intellectual community at home ...
Reporting Viet Nam became a closed, self-generating system sustained largely by the acclaim the participants lavished on each other in almost equal measure to the opprobrium they heaped on “the Establishment,” a fashionable and very vulnerable target …
For some journalists, perhaps most, a moment of truth through self-examination was never to come. The farther they were from the real conflict, the more smugly self-approving they now remain as commentators who led the public to expect a brave new world when the North Vietnamese finally “liberated” South Viet Nam. Even those correspondents who today gingerly confess to some errors or distortions usually insist that the true fault was not theirs at all, but Washington’s. The enormity of having helped in one way or another to bring tens of millions under grinding totalitarian rule—and having tilted the global balance of power—appears too great to acknowledge. It is easier to absolve one’s self by blaming exclusively Johnson, Nixon, and Kissinger …
Any searching analysis of fundamental premises has remained as unthinkable to “the critics” as it was during the fighting. They have remained committed to the proposition that the American role in Indochina was totally reprehensible and inexcusable, while the North Vietnamese role—and, by extension, the roles of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Pathet Lao in Laos—was righteous, magnanimous, and just.
At any given moment, a million images were available to the camera’s lens in Saigon alone—and hundreds of million throughout Indochina. But TV crews naturally preferred the most dramatic. That, after all, was their business—show business. It was not news to film farmers peacefully tilling their rice fields …
The initial inclination to look upon Hanoi as a fount of pure truth was intelligently fostered by the Communists, who selectively rewarded “critics of the American war” with visas to North Viet Nam …
The legacy is that the media has continued moving further leftward. Certainly, Watergate helped to drive this, but, that, too, took place 40 years ago next year and much water has passed under the dam since.
And although the US has had Republican presidents post-Nixon (Ford, Reagan and the Bushes), with the Clinton administration, the media began to overlook and rationalise every shady act from the Democrats. This was in full flow by 2008.
The media — part of the new left-wing Establishment — tell us that the Left is good and the Right is bad. What makes them worse than the Establishment of the 1960s is that they allow no opposing viewpoints.
That makes their brand of ‘democracy’ particularly dangerous.
That is the legacy of the Vietnam War. The totalitarianism the media and intelligentsia so loved then is at our doorstep not only in the United States but elsewhere in the West today. A ‘soft’ totalitarianism possibly, but a controlling one nonetheless.
Thanksgiving, sadly, has undergone revisionism over the past few decades.
Some of my past posts for the day have explored the historical significance as many Americans know it: British Calvinists and American Indians together, George Washington’s First Thanksgiving Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Thanksgiving, a biblical perspective with a call for personal priorities and, lest we forget, a USMC chaplain’s poem remembering the troops who are serving the United States at this time. War zones do not recognise holidays; it must be indescribably difficult to be so far away from home on such a family-centred national day.
Besides the iconic feast at Plymouth, other American regions (e.g. Virginia and Florida) also had feasts of Thanksgiving which took place but none have captured the imagination or spirit of the holiday as vividly as that in Massachusetts in 1621.
National Geographic has a fascinating report on the history of Thanksgiving, including the feasts which took place in other early American settlements.
Excerpts follow, emphases mine.
Note the mention of a Calvinist fast beforehand:
Everything we know about the three-day Plimoth gathering comes from a description in a letter written in 1621 by Edward Winslow, leader of the Plimoth Colony. The letter had been lost for 200 years and was rediscovered in the 1800s.
In 1841 Boston publisher Alexander Young printed Winslow’s brief account of the feast and added his own twist, dubbing the 1621 feast the “First Thanksgiving,” though the letter describes a one-time event that was more harvest celebration than thanksgiving, which in the 17th century would have actually included fasting.
But after its mid-1800s appearance, Young’s designation caught on—to say the least. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in 1863. He was probably swayed in part by magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale—the author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”—who had suggested Thanksgiving become a holiday, historians say.
In 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt established the current date for observance, the fourth Thursday in November.
As for turkey:
Pilgrims had been familiar with turkeys before they landed in the Americas. That’s because early European explorers of the New World had returned to Europe with turkeys in tow after encountering them at Native American settlements. Native Americans had domesticated the birds centuries before European contact.
A century later Ben Franklin famously made known his preference that the turkey, rather than the bald eagle, should be the official U.S. bird, explaining in a letter to his daughter that it was “a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America.”
But Franklin might have been shocked when, by the 1930s, hunting had so decimated North American wild turkey populations that their numbers had dwindled to the tens of thousands, from a peak of at least tens of millions.
Today, thanks to hunting regulations and reintroduction efforts, “rafters” and “gangs” (never “flocks”) of wild turkeys are back in abundance. (Watch a video of wild turkeys.)
Some seven million wild turkeys are thriving across the U.S., and many of them have adapted easily to the suburbs—their speed presumably an asset on ever encroaching roads.
Wild turkeys can run some 10 to 20 miles (16 to 32 kilometers) an hour and fly in bursts at 55 miles (89 kilometers) an hour. Domesticated turkeys can’t fly at all.
When they’re not being the center of a Thanksgiving feast, turkeys enjoy quite a diverse spread themselves. The omnivore birds eat everything from nuts and berries to insects and snakes.
Turkeys digest this diet with what becomes a prize portion for many a human feast—the gizzard. The gizzard is the muscle that enables turkeys to crush and chew their food, helped along by small stones the birds swallow.
What was served at the first feast at Plimoth (original spelling of ‘Plymouth’) Plantation?
“We don’t have a lot of information about what was actually on that table,” said Kathleen Wall, culinarian at Plimoth Plantation.
We do know that the Wampanoag killed five deer for the feast, and that the colonists shot various types of wild fowl such as turkey, geese, ducks, quail, or passenger pigeons—which darkened the skies in the millions before going extinct a century ago. Some form, or forms, of Indian corn were also served. “This maize was a new product for them, and they were just learning how to use it,” Wall explained. “They cooked it into porridges much like modern grits.”
Wall said the feasters ate seasonally and likely supplemented their venison and birds with fish, mussels, eels, shorebirds, and nuts, as well as vegetables such as pumpkins, squash, carrots, and peas.
Like many modern holidaymakers confronting a groaning sideboard, the pilgrims were surprised by the amount and variety of food confronting them.
And what about sport? Enjoying some sort of competition on the day dates back to the very beginning:
During the Plimoth Thanksgiving—which was not one giant meal but three full days of feasting, Wall explained—sporting events were part of the celebration. Target shooting figured prominently among the male-dominated crowd. And teams took to the field to compete in stool ball. “There are several different versions” of stool ball, Wall explained, “but it’s kind of a proto-cricket where teams throw a ball around and try to keep a stool safe.”
Wherever you are enjoying your Thanksgiving feast today, have a delightful and safe holiday.