It’s crawfish season in New Orleans. I’m talking about eating, not catching them. I leave that to the experts. We went to our longtime boiled crawfish restaurant, Frankie & Johnny’s, with some friends from Richmond this week. Several of them were uncertain they’d like the mudbugs but they did. It may be hard work peeling them but it’s worth it. Mmm, berled crawfish.
We’re attending a benefit crawfish boil tomorrow. It’s in support of Team Gleason, a group dedicated to helping ALS patients and their families. It was founded by former Saints player Steve Gleason who has ALS but keeps on fighting the good fight. He’s a remarkable man and it’s a worthy cause. Plus, there’s crawfish and beer involved.
I’m in a swing mood this week so it’s time to break out some Glenn Miller. We have two versions for your musical amusement: Glenn Miller and his orchestra in the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade and the Brian Setzer Orchestra’s Gettin’ In The Mood with lyrics by Mike Himmelstein. The tune is the same. Oh yeah.
Now that I’ve got you Lindy Hopping, it’s time to jump to the break but try to do it on the beat.
We begin our second act with a piece about a 1933 movie that’s depressingly relevant to the 2018 political scene. Let’s start with the poster.
I hadn’t thought of this move for years but Jeff Greenfield nails its relevance in Politico Magazine. It’s the tale of a political hack who becomes an American fascist in response to the exigencies of the Great Depression and a rather Capraesque plot device.
But one night, driving back to the White House at excessive speed, Hammond crashes the car; as he lies near death, the curtains of his bedroom riffle while mysterious music plays. Soon he rises from his bed, with fire in his eyes, driven by divine intervention. (We never see it, but later, his secretary and mistress intuits that “the angel Gabriel“ has entered the body of the president.)
Confronted by a million-man march of the unemployed—drawn from the real life “Bonus Army” of 1932—he rejects his Cabinet’s plan to crush them and instead promises to turn them into a government-financed “Army of Reconstruction.” When Congress, appalled by his outlandish idea, threatens impeachment, he marches into the halls of the Capitol, assails their fecklessness and tells them he will “rule by martial law.” In a series of radio speeches, he declares an end to mortgage foreclosures, announces a plan to shore up the banks and farms and repeals Prohibition by fiat. He organizes a secret army to round up the crime kingpins, try them in courts-martial and execute them by firing squad as the Statue of Liberty looms in the background. He summons the leaders of the world, threatens them with a super-weapon and then pressures them into universal disarmament. With that, the divine force leaves his body and he dies.
I first saw Gabriel Over The White House eons ago at an oddball revival theatre in Berkeley, CA: The Telegraph. It was an eccentric multiplex located in a converted drug store, which may have made more of an impact on me than the movie. I’ve since seen it on TCM. I give it 3 stars and an Adrastos Grade of B.
It’s probably a good thing that Gabriel Over The White House isn’t easily available for streaming because we wouldn’t want it giving the Current Occupant any ideas.
Hammond—the president in the film—argues that his seizure of power is a patriotic move, true to the core traditions of America. He rails that he believes in democracy “as Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln” did, and says, “If what I plan to do makes me a dictator, then it is dictatorship based on Jefferson’s definition of democracy, a government for the greatest good for the greatest number.” This is inherent in the appeals of autocrats, who embrace the “blood and soil” idea that true patriotism lies in restoring some lost “greatness,” even if it means eroding an independent judiciary, banning candidates from the ballot or jailing or exiling “traitorous” opponents.
Of course, Trump’s brain is where ideas go to die. Perhaps they’re smothered by the dead nutria pelt atop his head. Besides, I doubt that he could sit still for 86 minutes to watch a black and white movie.
One more personal note before moving on: I briefly dated director Gregory La Cava’s granddaughter. She preferred his film My Man Godfrey to Gabriel Over The White House or me.
Since we’re on the subject of Gabriels, here are my two favorites: Frank Langella’s character on The Americans and Peter Gabriel who needs no introduction but gets one anyway.
We move from a fictional presidency to one of the great what ifs of 20th Century history: what if Hubert Humphrey had defeated Richard Nixon in 1968?
Timing is everything in life. Hubert Humphrey’s 1968 campaign was poorly timed. HHH had been a liberal hero for most of his career, until, that is, he became Lyndon Johnson’s Vice-President. He had served as the bridge between the cantankerous LBJ and liberal senators so he knew what he was getting into. To say that Johnson was high maintenance was an understatement but Humphrey knew that he had a heart problem, which could land him in the Oval Office. Instead, he suffered four years of indignity.
Humphrey tried to convince Johnson that his 1964 landslide victory as the peace candidate gave him the power to leave Vietnam:
On Feb. 17, 1965, Vice President Hubert Humphrey sent President Lyndon B. Johnson a memorandum stating the United States must begin an exit strategy in Vietnam: “It is always hard to cut losses. But the Johnson administration is in a stronger position to do so now than any administration in this century.” Johnson had trounced Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election — and thus, no longer had to prove he was tough on Communism — and the conflict had not developed into a full-blown war. “Nineteen sixty-five is the year of minimum political risk,” Humphrey wrote.
Humphrey gave Johnson the opportunity to change the course of history: By pulling out of Vietnam, he could have avoided opposition from his own party and seeing his vision for the Great Society jeopardized by a foreign war and his aspirations for nuclear disarmament between the Soviet Union and the United States thwarted.
Johnson ignored Humphrey’s advice. In fact, he was described as infuriated with the vice president; the day after receiving the memo, Johnson told his national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, that Humphrey should “stay out of the peacekeeping and negotiating field” on Vietnam.
The president went further, and more or less banned him from the Oval Office for the remainder of 1965. Humphrey lost his responsibilities in the administration on civil rights — the subject that elevated him to the Senate in 1948, when he told the Democrats at their national convention they needed to “get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”
The Veep eventually got on board the LBJ war train but only to regain access to the president. It would have been far better if he had rejected the Vice-Presidency in 1964 and remained free to speak his mind. One of the ironies of history is that his Senate colleague Eugene McCarthy was the runner-up in LBJ’s veepstakes. He got to be a hero of the anti-war movement while Hubert became their bete noire. Humphrey might have become president if he’d said no to Johnson.
In an excerpt from his upcoming book, The Price of Loyalty: Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson and the Struggle for American Liberalism, Michael Brenes has the details at the Failing New York Times.
Let’s move on a fascinating piece about the intersection of race and sports.
Bill Curry played in the NFL for ten years and later coached in the collegiate ranks for many years. He played college ball at Georgia Tech and started his pro career with Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers. It changed this Southern boy’s life:
And I walk in the [Packers’] locker room where the guy is definitely not Southern, plus he’s a Yankee, plus he’s a Catholic … and it was just foreign to me. He was all of those things that we weren’t supposed to like. I was put off by his manner and his profanity and by the screaming and yelling and all that. But that was not my biggest problem.
My biggest problem was I had never been in the huddle with an African-American person. There were teams in the league that had quotas, or they had no African-American players, and they bragged about it. In the Packers’ training camp, if you said one racist sentence, you were cut immediately. That was the talk in the locker room. On a 40-man roster we had 10 African-American players, and [Lombardi] would have had 40 because he didn’t care about the color of your skin. He cared a lot if you could play football, and he cared a lot if you were a good human being. He had a gift for selecting all of the above and blending all of those various qualities.
I knew very little about Bill Curry’s politics before reading the great interview he did with Andrew Maraniss at the Undefeated but I was not surprised to hear about the impact Vince Lombardi had on his life. It’s what Vince did. Btw, Andrew Maraniss is the son of David who wrote the brilliant book, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life Of Vince Lombardi.
Let’s move on to our favorite stolen feature.
Separated At Birth: It’s time for our first cross-racial SAB: the blues singer Mississippi John Hurt and actor Ray Collins of Perry Mason and Mercury Theatre fame.
I stole the idea from Orange Crate Art. I think it works quite well. Thank you, sir.
By all accounts, both men were famous for being nice even if Collins played crooked Boss Jim Gettys in Citizen Kane:
It’s a pity that Lt. Arthur Tragg wasn’t there to drag himself off to Sing Sing, Gettys, Sing Sing. When one of our cats misbehaves, I threaten them with Sing Sing, Gettys, Sing Sing. Of course, I’m obsessed with Citizen Kane. The kitties are not.
Since I gave Ray a clip, it’s only fair to post one of John’s best-loved tunes:
Benign Earworm Of The Week: All the talk of crawfish at the top of the post put a tune by NOLA’s own Radiators in my head.
Saturday GIF Horse: I don’t know about you but when I see the Insult Comedian on teevee, I wonder what would happen if the Three Stooges were there to slap some sense into him.
Now that Moe, Larry, and Curly have done their thing, let’s shut things down with some music.
Saturday Classic: Dr. A and I bought our current abode in the summer of 2000. Brian Setzer’s Vavoom was the soundtrack to our move.
That’s it for this week. The closing bat meme could be entitled Two Veeps From Minnesota. Hubert is long dead but Fritz Mondale turned 90 on January, 5.