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Monday, March 03, 2003

Where Are the Shows of Yesteryear?

On Friday morning I caught the tail end of a Red Skelton movie on TCM, which the listings say was Panama Hattie, from 1942. This is based on a popular Cole Porter play first produced in 1940. By the time the movie was made, the US was at war, and the plot reflected this (I've had a hard time determining this for certain, but the song "The Son of a Gun Who Picks on Uncle Sam" was not in the original Broadway play).

Just before the end of the movie, Red proposes to a woman (not the eponymous Hattie, but probably Leila Tree, played by Marsha Hunt), and says that on their honeymoon, after the war, they can see the world. They can visit the Phillipines, China, India, and "I'll even show you where Japan used to be." Then the whole cast sings a song (whose name I don't know---it's not "Son of a Gun...") promising to to "slap the Japs right off of the map".

I'm torn about this. On the one hand, I don't think our civilization is poorer for a dearth of songs threatening (even somewhat humorously) to wipe out entire countries; on the other hand, it sure is different to see entertainers act as if the US is on the side of Right. (Oh, but Right is such an outmoded concept, don't you think? Unless it involves equating Bush with Hitler.)

Many commentators (like Victor Davis Hanson) have compared today's anti-war marchers with yesterday's leftists who also protested war until the Nazis turned on the Soviets. Few people remembered them, however, until the present crisis.

Let me be clear: I'm all for people airing their views, even if I think they're idiots. I'm just wondering how they got to be idiots. In 1941, one could have made a case that we'd just been hassling the poor Japanese, and that they struck back in natural frustration. That they'd attacked Pearl Harbor so that we couldn't attack them, and so if we just absorbed the blow and kept our heads down, it would be OK, because they'd know we weren't threatening them. I mean, they know they couldn't possibly conquer us, so it's not like we really had to fear them. And besides, we were just after China's oil, anyway.

But did any actors or musicians express those views? Would anyone had paid attention to them if they had? Would they have worked again?

What's different this time?

While you're pondering that, take a peek at these two web sites. One shows a picture of Lena Horne, who had an uncredited role as a night club singer. The picture at bottom right shows her in the ping pong ball-bedecked skirt she wore in the final number. She doesn't have anything to do with my point, I just like her.

The other, for you broadband, flash-enabled types, is a fantastic WWII museum, offering recordings of old news reports, speeches, and songs of the war. "The Sun of a Gun Who Picks on Uncle Sam" is there (rather reminiscent of Charlie Daniels's "In America" in content, if not in style). Listen to the patriotic (often politically-incorrect) songs. Hear the cheers and whistles in FDR's "Day of Infamy" speech.

Wonder what's different today.