By the way, despite this clip appearing to be almost nine minutes, it's not. There is a ponderous opening minute added on (you can jump past it), and another minute-and-a-half or more tacked on at the end.
Continuing our celebration of the 200th anniversary today of Illinois being admitted the Union, we have an appropriate video for the Land of Lincoln. Here's a wonderful clip from the classic film, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play by Robert Sherwood (who co-adapted his play for the screen). This is a six-minute monologue by Raymond Massey, who recreated his starring from from the Broadway production, during the Lincoln-Douglas debates. (Historical note: those debates were not from when both men ran against one another for the presidency, but rather earlier when they competed for the U.S. Senate.)
By the way, despite this clip appearing to be almost nine minutes, it's not. There is a ponderous opening minute added on (you can jump past it), and another minute-and-a-half or more tacked on at the end.
We interrupt the Holiday Music Fest currently in progress so that we my bring you this special posting. The Holiday Music Fest will return soon. This morning, though, we honor the State of Illinois on the 200th anniversary of it being admitted to the Union. Huzzah!
In honor of it as the true birthplace of America, or at least me, we do have music, so those of you who miss the latest installment of holiday songs at least have something to hold on to. It's the state song, "Illinois," quite an aptly-named title, I must say. It's also often know as "By Thy Rivers Gently Flowing," the song's first line, which adds a bit of grace to something otherwise more perfunctory. What it also tends to do is get people to sing the song (on those rare occasions when they do sing it) as if it was a religious hymn. Or, often, a dirge. For all I know, that's what they songwriters intended, rather than something to rouse the spirits -- or not. Hymn-like does make it lovely, albeit interminable. I have a feeling that it's all because of the word "Thy." When you put "Thy" in a song, people are going to sing it like a hymn. And if you give people a hymn and make it long-enough, there's a reasonable chance they'll turn it into a dirge.
(Not to worry, if you stick around, we'll rectify that in a moment...)
For now, here is that state song, with words by C.H. Chamberlain and music by Archibald Johnston, written sometime in the 1880s and adopted officially in 1925. (While one source says it was written in the 1890s, that seems unlikely since the composer died in 1887.) Although this version below is long and slow, it actually is a particularly-beautiful arrangement and lovingly sung. For reasons unknown, though, they acknowledge changing the order of the verses. Long and slow and out-of-order (and admittedly lovely) as it is, I'm including this video here for one reason only: because they put together an especially-good montage of images of the State of Illinois to run with it.
Why on earth this video says, "Illinois, Worth Fighting For," I have zero idea. I wasn't aware it was under attack. Not when the song was written, not in the intervening years and not now. (Unless you count by people from Wisconsin driving down on tractors wearing their cheeseheads. But that usually isn't legally considered an act of war.) But for those of you who want to sing along, I posted the lyrics below -- which I've matched to fit this group's inexplicably-changed order. And remember, after this at the end, I have another video that's worth sticking around for.
By thy rivers gently flowing, Illinois, Illinois,
O’er the prairies verdant growing, Illinois, Illinois,
Comes an echo o’er the breeze.
Rustling through the leafy trees,
And its mellow tones are these, Illinois, Illinois,
And its mellow tones are these, Illinois.
Not without thy wondrous story, Illinois, Illinois,
Can be writ the nation’s glory, Illinois, Illinois,
On the record of thy years, Abraham Lincoln’s name appears,
Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois, Illinois,
Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois.
Eighteen-eighteen saw your founding, Illinois, Illinois,
And your progress is unbounding, Illinois, Illinois,
Pioneers once cleared the lands,
Where great industries now stand.
World renown you do command, Illinois, Illinois,
World renown you do command, Illinois.
Let us pledge in final chorus, Illinois, Illinois
That in struggles still before us, Illinois, Illinois
To our heroes we’ll be true,
As their vision we pursue.
In abiding love for you, Illinois, Illinois.
In abiding love for you, Illinois.
And now the good news! After all the long, slow and hymn-and-dirge like versions of the song, here is a significantly shorter, 1-minute orchestral, rousing version played like a state's anthem should be played!
For those who've wanted to listen to Rachel Maddow's terrific seven-part podcast series, Bag Man, but haven't been able to access it online, here's our continuation of it. The podcast tells the detailed, fascinating story behind former Vice President Spiro Agnew's resignation -- and notes its similarities to how the Trump administration is handling its own legal challenges.
If you've missed any of the earlier episodes and want to catch up, here's Part 1 and Part 2.
Episode 3: Hang In There, Baby
With the criminal investigation of him now public, Vice President Spiro Agnew launches a bold counter-attack to survive. An unprecedented assault... on his own Justice Department that's investigating him. And the reporters now covering his case. And Agnew gets back-up in that effort from his legion of hardcore supporters across the country and in Congress.
A few weeks ago, Rachel Maddow began a seven-part podcast called Bag Man. It's extremely well-done and wonderfully produced -- and even has uncovered some new material that has surprised the investigators involved in the original event.
That original is the story behind the resignation of former Nixon Vice-President Spiro Agnew. It provides much more depth to the public story that is know and, as I said, has come up with some new material. They also have been able to draw some fascinating similarities to the Mueller investigation of Trump, including (but not limited to) the ways the White House attempted to discredit the judiciary and press).
I figured I'd post the series here, over the next seven weeks in case any folks here were interested but it's fallen through the cracks. Each episode runs about 30 minutes.
Here's Maddow production's description of what's to come --
Episode 1: An Unsettling Secret
He was brash. Politically incorrect. An “outsider” political candidate who rose to the White House, out of nowhere, with a reputation as a “counter-puncher.” But Vice President Spiro Agnew was also something else… an active criminal whose secrets were about to be exposed. What happens when a “counter-puncher” in the White House suddenly sees his political future directly threatened by investigators inside his own Justice Department?
The other day I went to the Chicago History Museum. I'd been there once before, many years earlier when they had a tremendous anniversary tribute to Burr Tillstrom and Kukla, Fran and Ollie, which had broadcast its legendary show out of Chicago. The place seems to have changed quite a bit since then, and for the better, much more expansive than before.
One thing I particularly loved was, of all things, their floor. After you entered the main museum and headed towards the back, the floor was designed as a massive map of the Chicago area with highlights of the city's history and landmarks marked all over wherever you walked.
Not everything at the museum was consistent in the detail of how it was presented, though among the secondary displays there was a fairly interesting exhibit on Abraham Lincoln. But the standout section was the museum's centerpiece, the Crossroads of America section on...well, the history of Chicago.
It's a massive, well-woven area with the history overlapping in a wide range of areas -- early Chicago TV, merchandising from the founding days of Sears and Montgomery Wards, sports, theater, blues music, architecture (that dealt with innovators like Frank Lloyd Wright, Burnham & Root who developed the first skyscrapers, Danmark Adler & Louis Sullivan, and more), manufacturing on a large scale like George Pullman inventing the Pullman train sleeping cars and Cyrus McCormick creating the first wheat thrasher, as well as smaller, individual items but with much personal impact like the Kraft company developing its macaroni & cheese, Sunbeam coffee makers, early Zenith radios and more. Also, race relations, social programs such as Jane Addams' Hull House, Margaret Sanger's efforts that lead to the local Abbott Labs development of The Pill, and the scientific efforts of Enrico Fermi and his team researching the first atomic bomb at the University of Chicago. And this being Chicago, needless-to-say politics, with a focus on the 1968 Democratic convention and the ensuing riots and police brutality.
Most of the Crossroads of America vast space was wonderfully done. I was disappointed that the sports section covering the Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, Amos Alonzo Stagg, the women's baseball league (that started in Chicago by Cubs owner William Wrigley during WW II and was the theme of the movie, A League of Their Own) and more was exceedingly thin and cursory, though at least they touched on all these. But only touched and with few artifacts on display.
I also wished there was much more on Tillstrom and Kukla, Fran and Ollie. I'm definitely biased there, but considering that he donated his full archives to the museum they had so much to work with. But happily there was attention paid to it, and to the early days of Garroway at Large (Dave Garroway's show which lead to the creation of the Today show which he hosted), and Stud's Place with Studs Terkel, among others. Too little, for my taste, and almost nothing on radio, especially since Chicago was probably the center of the early days of radio. But I did enjoy what they did present.
It will come as no shock that I loved that they had the first Chicago street car -- Car No. 1 -- the only existing one from the era, which you could walk through, along with having a good display on that era and its development.
Perhaps the most detailed and therefore interesting sections was on disasters throughout the city's history. The Haymarket Riots, the sinking of the Eastland just barely off the coast in Lake Michigan, (two years before the Titanic, where 848 people died), a 1919 race riot and the previously-mentioned 1968 Democratic Convention riot.
There was a deeply-detailed timeline of the city's history alongside a model and map of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Though what leaped out to me at that exhibit was a street sign that should have meaning, as well, to longtime readers of these pages --
Jo Baskin Minow is the mother of the oft-mentioned here Nell Minow, and wife of Newton Minow, FCC chairman under JFK. She's on the board of directors of the museum, and it was a nice honor to see.
More on that in a moment. But first we'll get to a wonderful special exhibit they had on blues music in Chicago (separate from the much smaller one they had in the permanent Crossroads display). Not only was it full of rich detail, covering people like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, but there was also a great of hands-on material. For instance, they had areas with an electric guitar display where you could jam along with piped-in music, a recording studio mixing board to play around with, a room where you could design an album cover and even a room that along with artifacts on the walls had two musicians sitting around playing guitar and blues harmonica.
I note this, as well, to bring us full circle to the point I made before. This particular blues exhibit was held in a wing which you got to off of a central balcony --
Yes, there she is again. The Minow Parade continues.
(You can't read it on the plaque off to the side, unless you have incredible eyesight, but our pal Nell even gets mentioned there. Okay, not by name but the description of "three daughters" counts...)
By the way, as much as I very much enjoyed the Chicago History Museum, I almost didn't make it very far into the place. It was a case of bad timing (and honestly, bad management). Which brings us to the reason why in a vent.
When I arrived, there were three or four school groups visiting, mostly with little kids, and it was like being at Wrigley Field during a Cubs game. And I'm not exaggerating much. After all, keep in mind that sound reverberates off the marble walls and stone floors, especially in a closed environment. It was sort of hellish. Just as an example, I had to return a phone call, and it was so incredibly loud that I wasn't able to do it, I simply couldn't hear. I needed to wander around to find a corner nook where it was at least somewhat quiet enough so that I could hear marginally reasonably. (Again, remember that this wasn't at Wrigley Field, but inside a museum.) I understand and even love the enthusiasm of kids discovering things at a museum, but this seemed to transcend that and was separate on a different level. It was your basic yelling and often just running around, not from excitement at the exhibits. And not occasional bursts with pockets of quiet, but non-stop screaming for about an hour. That's great for a playground and at a school assembly and even a field trip to an outdoor venue -- but not in a museum. While I was surprised that there was no effort by teachers to control their students, I was almost more surprised that there was no effort by museum staff to do so. After all, they know there are a lot of other patrons there visiting, trying to read the displays and focus on the material. And I know the museum staff was bothered by the noise themselves, since they commented wearily on it later. So, it wasn't a case of just me thinking something was out of order. I have no idea if this was a daily occurrence, or just a rare event -- but I do know it was bad enough that I almost left. But I figured the groups would leave soon enough, and most of them did within the hour. When there was one school left, they were a bit older, and things from that point on for the next 2-1/2 hours were fine.
Actually, better than fine -- an extremely nice place.
I love reading books on current events -- but I love it when the books were written years before, even decades. It gives them a perspective when reading them today that wouldn't have existed at the time, and without the filter of the present. For instance I recall reading a book several years ago about Washington that have been written 25 years earlier, and it had some noble quotes from a Congressman about the responsibility the White House has in dealing truthfully with the public. The then-Congressman was Dick Cheney. Last year, I was reading a book about golf that had been written 10-15 years ago. One of the golfers was talking about a couple pro-am tournaments he'd been in with a public figure, and he was scathing in his comments about his amateur partner, who was Donald Trump. Those words couldn't be dismissed for any political bias -- they were said a long time before, when Trump was a relatively minor figure.
Such things occasionally happen in the world of fiction, though it's of course a totally different matter. But sometimes you do read a passage written long ago that has spot-on resonance to today.
I'm almost finished reading a novel by James Michener, conveniently titled, The Novel, one of his later works written in 1991. Over the weekend, I read this passage that was written 27 years ago. One of the main characters from the Pennsylvania Dutch country is traveling in Greece with a British literary scholar. As they visit the ancient location of Sparta, the professor talks about how powerful the Spartans had been. "All decisions were made by military juntas. Best armies in the world, conquerors of everything. And in the end the dictatorship strangled itself, because free men can always best a tyranny -- not defeat it, outlast it." The two men then wander around, exploring the area, coming upon the ruins of buildings, none of them showing the grandeur of Greece or even the successes of the Spartan military. Just the destroyed remains. And then the professor made a further observation --
"When I was in the United States I had the mournful feeling that eighty percent of your people would welcome a Spartan dictatorship if it promised to improve the schools, discipline the minorities, put women back in their place, install a religious supremacy and terminate the silliness of the Bill of Rights. Many modern Americans would leap at such an offer, it seemed to me, which is why I wanted you to see Sparta. Because what you see here is what such a choice always leads to."
Fortunately, Michener had his percentage wrong. Unfortunately, he was uncannily and eerily spot on about the rest, including his subsequent observation of "Many" Americans today.
And anyone who questions the description of the Trump administration as being Fascist, the words he describes of a military dictatorship are precisely that. And are difficult to separate what the White House is promoting.
Yes, it's fiction. Written by a man who wrote about history -- in both fiction and non-fiction -- for half a century. And understood it very well.
Earlier today, May 11, the following tweet was posted with a brief footnote to history and its connection with subsequent advances in technology.
That brought about the following reply from Garry Kasparov, the outspoken Russian exile and political activist who is chairman of the Human Rights Foundation. I burst out laughing the moment I saw it.
You see, among his many accomplishments...he was the World Chess Champion in 1997.
Oh, okay, we can't go through his 312th birthday without a song from 1776, for goodness sake. Here's Howard DaSilva, William Daniels and Ken Howard -- all of whom I saw in the original Broadway production (on my first-ever trip to New York, by the way. In fact, the first stage musical I ever saw on Broadway. Not a bad start, eh?) -- in "The Egg."
And as a bonus for good measure, in honor of Franklin's scientific achievements...what the heck, here is "Let's Go Fly a Kite," from Mary Poppins.
The good fellow was born on this day, January 17, 1706. So, he'd have been a frisky 312 today, if it wasn't for that darned gout.
While I know it would most leap out to have some songs about Franklin for the musical 1776, instead I'm going with another Broadway musical, Ben Franklin in Paris. The show starred none other than Robert Preston and, though not successful still had a solid run of 215 performances, about half a year. It tells the story of Franklin going to France to try and raise money for the American Revolution. The musical opened in 1964 and has a score by Sidney Michaels and March Sandrich Jr. The songs are just fair overall, though there are several which are quite nice -- two of which I'll post here. (When the show was out of town, Jerry Herman was brought in to work on it, and added two songs, neither of which are these below.)
The first is my favorite, and happily there's video of it. "Half the Battle."
The second number actually had a little bit of a life outside the show, with several recordings, including one by Robert Goulet. "Look for Small Pleasures," sung by Preston and the female lead Ulla Sallert.
The only week when Trump was getting into his snit-fit was Gold Star widow Myeshia Johnson, some people on social media were posting video clips of lawyer Joseph Welch during the famous climax of the Army-McCarthy Hearings calling out Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) with his "At long last, sir, have you no sense of decency" speech. Welch was special counsel for the Army. With the hearings broadcast on television during the early days of the medium, the moment was widely viewed and seen as one of the several turning points in helping end the period of McCarthyism.
That clip most-likely exists today for its use in the wonderful documentary, Point of Order, by Emile de Antonio and Daniel Talbot, about those Senate hearings. So, I thought it would be worthwhile to post the full, riveting film here, which I suspect most people haven't seen.
It was made in 1964, a decade after the hearings themselves. Several versions of the documentary exist, since it was edited a few times for different purposes, including showing on television, but this is the original. It runs about 90 minutes.
I am generally loathe to post full movies here, but there are qualifications. In this case, though a DVD does exist of the film, it's not only incredibly difficult to find, but the prices I've seen for it are in the hundreds of dollars, $264 is one that stands out. And from that, I suspect that the purchase price is not going to the rights holders, but just some individual trying to sell his used copy. The original DVD may well be out-of-print at this point, so posting it here is the only way to see the film.
This particular video is captioned for the hard of hearing, and unfortunately there's no way to turn that off, so it might be a bit distracting, but the film is well-worth it.
One final...er, point of order is that when you see McCarthy's venal lawyer, Roy Cohn, sitting on the committee, know that later in his life he was one of Trump's early political mentors. During his last years when he was dying of AIDS and had other troubles, he reached out for assistance from Trump and was ignored. He died in 1986 and I believe is currently rotting in hell, awaiting arrival of his prize pupil.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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