The French Quarter Festival is this weekend. It used to be a favorite of mine but has gotten more crowded and touristy as the years have gone by. Bigger is not always better but that’s the mentality that drives events in New Orleans in 2017. So it goes.
Allergy season continues apace, exacerbated by the wind. There’s flying pollen in the air. The good news is that I haven’t seen any Buckmoth Caterpillars blowing in the wind. They’re nasty little buggers that will sting the hell out of you given half a chance. In fact, a friend of mine was cutting her grass and learned that even if you cut a Buckmoth, they can still sting you. It’s another reason to avoid yard work. Nature is dirty and stingy.
This week’s windy theme song was written by Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew. It was first recorded in 1957 by R&B legend Roy Brown who had his sole cross over hit with Let The Four Winds Blow. The Fat Man cut his version in 1961. We’ll go in chronological order.
Windiness is nothing new for this feature. Neither is a pounding piano or honking sax.
It’s baseball season, which means hope springs eternal for last year’s also-rans. My Giants lost on opening day but star pitcher Madison Bumgarner hit two homers. Pitchers rarely do that in the NL and never in the AL because of the accursed DH rule.
The Insult Comedian dodged throwing out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals home opener. I guess he was afraid the boos would drown out any cheers. All Presidents receive both at sporting events. Still, it would have been amusing to see Trump in action. He once claimed to be the best high school ballplayer in New York. It’s another whopper: Hall of Famers Jim Palmer and Rod Carew played high school ball at the same time. Sorry, Donald.
Speaking of putting on a show:
Baseball & Vaudeville: There’s a swell article at the Atlantic about how sports and show business intermingled in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Playing baseball was not a lucrative profession back then so some players took to the stage. One of them was New York Giants outfielder Turkey Mike Donlin who brought his manager, John McGraw along for the ride:
I also learned that there’s a vaudeville archive at the University of Arizona. I wonder if they have any gag props?
Elizabeth Yuko has the details in her appropriately entitled article, When Baseball Players Were Vaudeville Stars.
Let’s move on to a more serious segment. April 6th marked the 100th Anniversary of United States entry into the Great War.
The Forgotten War: The Korean conflict is often called that but-thanks to M*A*S*H in particular-it’s still more remembered in America than World War I. The Great War was an important event in world history but, in show business terms, World War II had better villains and bigger explosions. There are so many books and films about that conflict that it won’t be forgotten.
There are two articles about America and the Great War that I’d like to bring to your attention:
- Former Bush speechwriter and Never Trump conservative David Frum has an excellent piece at the Atlantic, What If the Allies Had Lost World War I? It’s from 2015 but it’s still pertinent.
- There’s a fine piece by David Smith at the Guardian that ponders the question I posed at the beginning of this segment, The First World War Helped Shape Modern America, Why Is It So Forgotten?
The short answer is that Americans have short memories when it comes to our own history. It’s one reason the Insult Comedian is watching teevee at the White House instead of Trump Tower.
Hopefully, a new American Experience documentary will revive interest in the forgotten war. It premiers on April 1oth.
Also forgotten are some Hollywood movies produced at the end of the Hoover administration. In the face of a passive laissez-faire Presidency, some Americans wanted a strong man and the movies reflected that desire.
The Dictator Craze: As part of an outstanding series about Fascism, Slate published an excerpt from a book by Thomas Doherty. The piece deals with Hollywood’s brief fascination with authoritarian jerks, When Fascist Heroes Took Over The Movies. The best of these movies was:
The Power and the Glory (1933) embodied the hankering for a superman in title, sentiment, and central character. Directed by William K. Howard from a screenplay by Preston Sturges, the film is often considered a precursor to Citizen Kane (1941) because of its pioneering use of voice-over narration. The Power and the Glory resurrects the deceased and unmourned railroad tycoon Tom Garner (Spencer Tracy) for a meditation of the price of greatness. Personally flawed but professionally flawless, Garner rises Horatio Alger–fashion from pauper to plutocrat.
Hollywood’s Fascist flirtation faded with the election of Franklin Roosevelt and the revival of what his cousin TR called a more “muscular government.” The reason FDR is atop my President’s list is that he saved the country from dictatorship. He would be appalled by Donald Trump but also confident that we can move past this disaster.
Speaking of Fascism and the movies, there’s an interesting piece about a Nazi era movie star in the Guardian:
The Nazi Marilyn Monroe: Hitler and Goebbels wanted Marlene Dietrich to be the Nazi’s pin-up. Marlene wanted nothing to with their murderous regime and remained in splendid exile in Hollywood. They had to make do with Kristina Söderbaum who was more of a blond bombshell than a blond venus like Dietrich.
We drove to Horw, near Lucerne, to interview Söderbaum, star of many films, most of them directed by her husband, Veit Harlan. These included Jud Süß, widely regarded as the most antisemitic film ever, and the ridiculous epic Kolberg, about the Napoleonic siege of the Prussian city. Söderbaum was so often drowned in her films that she became known as the Reichswasserleiche, the official State Water Corpse.
Söderbaum claimed Joseph Goebbels, head of Nazi propaganda, didn’t much like her. His taste – apart from his wife, Magda – ran to dark-haired actresses. “He told me I was not sexy but erotic,” said Söderbaum. Still, she added, “terribly many people fell in love with me. But whether that made me a sex symbol or not, I don’t know.” For her part, she found that: “Goebbels had very nice eyes but,” she added with a laugh, “he was a devil!” She said Adolf Hitler, on the other hand, was always very pleasant to her – and Harlan would often remark on his amazing eyes. She was not unimpressed by Hitler’s eyes herself.
Söderbaum could be described as the archetypical feminists’ nightmare. A beautiful woman, a very convincing actress, totally obedient and devoted to her forceful husband, she told me she had lived “in a gilded cage” and “went everywhere in a limo”. But I saw no signs of curiosity about life beyond the bars. In her autobiography, she seemed surprised by the postwar hostility towards Harlan, astonished that their children were taunted as Nazis at school in Sweden.
In a word: clueless. If she were around today, she might have been one of the Insult Comedian’s wives.
Documentary Of The Week: Söderbaum’s director/husband Veit Harlan is the subject of a 2008 documentary, Harlan-In The Shadow Of Jew Suss. He, too, was baffled by the controversy his work stirred up and maintained that Goebbels made him do Jew Suss. There’s nothing to support his story.
The film features extensive interviews with members of Harlan’s family; most of whom take a dim view of his movies. An interesting filmic footnote: Harlan’s niece Christiane was married to Stanley Kubrick for 41 years until his death in 1999.
It’s trailer time:
Harlan-In The Shadow Of Jew Suss is currently streaming at Amazon Prime. I give it 3 stars, an Adrastos Grade of B, and an Ebertian thumbs-up.
This has been a somewhat sombre edition of Odds & Sods so it’s time to lighten things up before we go.
Tweet Of The Week: This tweet proves that even ladies in fur coats dislike the Trumps:
I wonder if she cranked up this Stones song whilst sipping her vino:
That’s it for this week. The last word goes to silent film superstar Buster Keaton in an image from his 1927 comedy College: