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Saturday, November 26, 2016

HOLLYWOOD AND THE WORLD WAR II YEARS

Would you believe that during World War II Hollywood matinee idol Clark Gable flew several B-17 missions to acquire film footage? How about leading man Jimmy Stewart flying B-17s and B-24s in raids over Germany?

It’s true and as a veteran, Stewart was highly decorated for his bravery while rising to the rank of Brigadier General. Gable flew many missions and rose to the rank of Captain. These are just two examples of how Hollywood got immersed in the war effort during those perilous times between 1941 and 1945.

Seventy-five years ago this month on December 7, 1941, “A date which will live in infamy,” the Japanese attacked the American base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii thrusting the United States into World War II. By June of 1942 the Office of War Information was established and one of its duties was to advise Hollywood about what they thought were appropriate films to depict the war. Various themes were used like glorification of the war, attempts at showing a balanced point of view, morale builders, and some “Let’s mow ‘em down" flicks.

Clark Gable in a B-17 during WWII
Some of the efforts in the 1942-1943 era were not only considered good “war” movies  but are remembered as great films in general  as they have withstood the test of time. “Guadacanal Diary” (1943),“Wake Island” (1942), and “Objective, Burma!” (1945) are good examples. They were based on real events insofar as they concerned themselves with actual places and combat initiatives, but another purpose was to pump up the audience as much as to present information. By doing so, they usually depicted an ethnically mixed group of US soldiers drawn together despite their differences by their patriotism, while illustrating their hatred of a common enemy. 

After dismal early failures, the war pendulum began to swing back toward the allies in 1943 and 1944. At that time Hollywood began producing more films aimed at depicting life on the home front. Movies like “Tender Comrades” (1943) and “Since You Went Away” (1944) showed moviegoers how the families of servicemen coped with the war while they were gone.

Many upbeat musicals were made during wartime with some of them slipping in negative remarks about the enemy and praising the American point of view.  Patriotism was “in” and great support was given to activities like scrap metal drives and “victory gardens” to help offset rationing and support the war effort. Films like Jimmy Cagney’s award winning “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942) exemplified those feelings.

Other musicals like “Stage Door Canteen” (1943) and Hollywood Canteen” (1944) were star studded favorites that dealt more directly with the current war effort.  In these films various Hollywood stars would perform in a USO Club setting while serving food and drinks and mingling with servicemen, mostly enlisted.

There were also song and dance extravaganzas like “Holiday Inn” (1942) with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire that made no mention of the war but were produced to serve as enjoyable reminders of American life and what our veteran servicemen were fighting for. “Christmas in Connecticut” with Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan was released after the war in 1945 and dealt with a Navy veteran returning home to post war America.

Besides the many films made about World War II, Hollywood also went on the road as screen stars traveled far and wide on USO tours to entertain the veteran troops. The USO (United Service Organizations) was established in 1941 and by 1944 had 3,000 clubs operating. These clubs went a long way to provide entertainment and a touch of home for troops worldwide.

While many stars were involved with entertaining the troops, none were more famous than Bob Hope.  His first show was at March Field in California in March of 1941. Hope did his show before the United States was even involved with World War II. He then traveled tirelessly throughout the war with his litany of military jokes entertaining thousands of troops at the front. Hope wasn’t alone as songwriter Irving Berlin, character actor Reginald Gardner, harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler, singer Frances Langford, comedian Jack Benny, and actress Marlene Dietrich were among many others who visited the troops.

Other stars like pinup girl Betty Grable, Bette Davis, Greer Garson, and Rita Hayworth stayed on the home front and were instrumental in raising support for war bonds and other war related causes like scrap drives. Hayworth even contributed the bumpers off her personal car.

This activity by the stars showed the American people that if the movie stars could deprive themselves of certain niceties, it certainly would be all right for Mary and John Q. Public to do likewise.

The era of World War II was a time of unity in the United States when our people pitched in together toward the war effort.  It also was a time when Hollywood was there to do its part.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

REMEMBERING GENERAL McDOWELL ON VETERAN'S DAY

If you have lived in the Scottsdale area very long, you are probably familiar with how many items carry the name “McDowell.” You can observe the McDowell Mountains, gamble at Fort McDowell, visit McDowell Mountain Park or buy a car on McDowell Road. One would think this guy McDowell must have been quite a guy. In his own way, he was.

General Irvin McDowell (1818-1885) 
(National Archives)
In his early career beginning in the late 1830’s, Irvin McDowell held his own with guys like Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee. He graduated from West Point in 1838 at age 20 where he received his commission as a second lieutenant.  By 1856, he had fought in the Mexican War and had been promoted to the rank of major.

After his promotion to brigadier general during the Civil War in 1861, he fell into the trap of the Peter Principle as he was routed by Southern troops in the first and second battles of Bull Run in Virginia. After those embarrassments, he was considered an ineffective field general and was assigned to the lesser duty of being commander of the Department of the Pacific. Supposedly, during this duty he became familiar with the West and Arizona.  However, some historians claim that he never set foot in Arizona.

Regardless, in 1872 McDowell was promoted to major general in spite of his war record. He had served his country faithfully such as during his service in the West which included building a railroad bridge for the Southern Pacific over the Colorado River at Yuma in 1877. That bridge was important to western expansion.

In 1882, McDowell retired from the Army at age 64 having served for 44 years. He became a park commissioner for San Francisco and remained in that position until he died on May 4, 1885.

There will never be a movement to list General McDowell with guys like Eisenhower, Patton, Grant, and MacArthur as one of our greatest generals but his 44 years of military service are an accomplishment that should be noted. It would be a fitting gesture if some year on November's Veteran's Day, if you live in Arizona and are watching the sun shine on the McDowell Mountains, to give a nod, and maybe even a salute, and say, “Happy Birthday, Irvin and thanks for your 44 years of service to your country.”

Sunday, October 02, 2016

TEN ADVANTAGES OF WINTERING IN ARIZONA

It is now the first week in October, 2016 in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area.  In most parts of the country October means thoughts of chilly nights and preparation for the onset of winter which is just around the corner.  

Ah, winter; I remember it well during my days in Cincinnati and Missouri.  Once it arrived with its ice, snow, and cold it was as though it would never leave.  In Arizona we love the winters with the sunny 70 degree days especially when we play golf on a January day while the northerners are shoveling snow.

Like practically everything in life, however, there is a bit of a payback for the northerners as we Arizonans have to endure 100 plus degree days practically every day from June into September and sometimes beyond.  Neither situation is perfect but since I have lived in Arizona since 1987, I obviously prefer the situation here.  There is something about ice cold car seats and heaters that don’t really work well in the extreme cold that makes me glad I have to search for a parking space with shade in the summer in Arizona.

So, while those living in the northern climes are piling on the firewood and warming up the car for fifteen minutes in the morning hoping the heater works, here are a few advantages for Arizonans as they prepare for winter as listed by Scott Craven of AZCENTRAL.COM.

1.  You can now launder the smelly shirt you have kept in the back seat of your car all summer for sweat emergencies.
2.  You can now fire up the stove and enjoy food that doesn’t have to fit in a toaster oven.
3.  You can walk the dog without having to set the alarm clock at 3:00 a.m.
4.  Prepare smug Facebook weather posts for comparisons with your East Coast friends.
5.  You can now enjoy the post-dryer warmth of bed sheets straight out of the dryer.
6.  You can now open the blinds and allow sunlight to shine on areas not illuminated since May!
7.  Two words:  Patio dining. 
8.  Prepare your cold weather gear as temperatures could plummet into the 60’s before you know it!
9.  Answer the usual “What do you want to do this weekend?” question without starting, “We’ll head north….
10.  Breathe deep the rich scent of manure as your neighbors prep their lawns for winter seeding.

Would you prefer to be the guy below or play golf in Arizona like pro champion Kirk Triplett?  DUH!

BRRRRRRRRR!

BRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

 

Saturday, September 03, 2016

COLIN KAEPERNICK

Quote from San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick:  "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.  To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." 

I don’t see any place where he said he will refuse to take his large salary from a white managed NFL team in order to reinforce his beliefs about the poor treatment of blacks in our society.  So far all he has done is refuse to stand for National Anthem of the country that has allowed him to become rich and famous.

·    Note to Colin:  Hey, Colin!  If you really want to impress us, walk away from your high paying job in the NFL and get yourself down and dirty in the neighborhoods where you feel that black people are getting a bad deal and physically help them out of their quagmire of a life.  However, before you do that you may wish to know that in 2015 police killings of blacks accounted for approximately 4 percent of homicides of blacks.  Police killings of unarmed blacks accounted for approximately 0.6 percent of homicides of blacks.  The overwhelming majority of black homicide victims (93 percent from 1980 to 2008) were performed by blacks.  (from American Renaissance)
While Kaepernick tries to impress us that blacks are getting a bad deal because of unfairness in the United States, he may be partially correct although not the way he would wish to be.  The above numbers show that blacks are more likely to kill each other and that those bodies in the streets that he mentions may probably have nothing to do with  police brutality.  Maybe he should check the facts closer before insulting his country unnecessarily. Although I think the guy means well, he may have had his bell rung a few times too many on the football field. 
It’s a shame when these situations occur.  I have always enjoyed watching the guy play for the 49ers even though I am not a fan of that or any other NFL team.  He has always impressed me with his running ability when it appears he may be thrown for a significant loss.  Unfortunately, it appears that he may be cut regardless of any skills he had or currently has.  He has been around a few years and the NFL has a way of slowing guys down simply because of the attrition of age and injury.  Kaepernick is now 28 and has had a lot of physical punishment for the last six years.  Maybe he has lost a step.

I don’t particularly care what he does as I don’t follow the NFL very much anymore.  However, I feel the wrong people have advised him in this situation.  A lot of players in the league are not happy that he has trashed the American flag and the National Anthem. Like most Americans, they don’t like that he is abusing the country that has made him famous and awarded him with a lot of money. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

EVERY GUY REMEMBERS HIS FIRST CAR

A friend and I were reminiscing the other day about the first cars we ever owned.  I doubt if there is any guy who can’t fondly recall in detail his first “heap” and I am no exception.

Mine was a 1954 Ford “Mainline” two door business coupe.  I loved that car; it was a “stick shift” with a 6 cylinder engine and because it was a business coupe, it had no bells and whistles.  It was designed to get salesmen from A to B with no frills. 

I was 16 and the thought of luxuries like whitewall tires, a radio, or an automatic transmission were unheard of on the Mainline model.  The driver was the only one who got an armrest, an outside rear view mirror, and a sun visor.  As far as a radio, I had to get a cheap AM from Sears after I saved the few bucks to afford it. Those were the days before cars had FM radio so it was only AM and didn’t even have push buttons to find the stations.  I had to dial them in.  As far as air conditioning, Cadillacs were about the only cars that had it then.  I used the 260 form:  2 windows open and going 60 miles an hour. 

Electric windshield wipers were unheard of then also.  They were vacuum operated which meant that every time you pressed on the gas pedal, they would stop!  If nothing else they forced you to drive VERY carefully when it was raining!

My heap looked like this only without the side chrome strip
There were 50,000 miles on that Ford in an era when cars were pretty much used up if they made it to 80 or 90 thousand miles.  But, with only $600 saved up and borrowed from my parents, I wasn’t expecting the world.  Besides, I now had wheels, which was a lot nicer than hitch hiking or walking.

My parents made it clear that they wanted their loan paid back ASAP.  It was the 1950’s and the term “work ethic” meant something.  If you borrowed money under the terms of an agreement you were expected to pay off that loan per the agreement.  There were no special dispensations for family members in most cases as integrity meant something then.  Hence, I got a summer job doing delivery work throughout my hometown Cincinnati area.  It paid $60 a week and gave me the opportunity to learn my way around the metro area.  When school resumed, I worked part time in a grocery store.  I still remember my last payment on that Ford and my receiving the title free and clear.  I felt like a big shot!

The 1950’s seem like a million years ago now.  In most homes, dad was the bread winner and mom ran the house.  When kids came home from school mom was there to greet them while dad usually rode the bus to and from his job.  Many vacations involved family trips to the seashore or the mountains in the family car for a brief respite from the typical workdays. 

The mandatory military draft was also in effect so when boys tuned 18 they had to get a “draft card” which meant that they eventually would have to serve in the military.  They could wait until they were called or voluntarily join but either way, there was usually no way to avoid serving.  The military did a lot of guys a lot of good whether it offered them a career or taught them some valuable lessons about life which with many cases I see today, are sadly lacking.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

LIVING THE ARIZONA LIFESTYLE

(Arizona joke:  It was so hot I saw a coyote chasing a jackrabbit and they were both walking!)

Those of us who have lived in Arizona for a reasonable amount of time understand what the place is all about with regards to lifestyle and the effect that weather has on it.

My wife and I have been permanent residents of Scottsdale and Phoenix for the last 27 years.  Before that we were mid-westerners having grown up in Cincinnati and later living in the Kansas City area for 20 years.  We knew all about seasonal changes like ice and snow, humid summers, and raking leaves.  Corn fields were a common sight as were lush green lawns plus we had daylight savings time.

Living in Arizona is a whole new ball game.  As described by local writer S. E. Schlosser in a hilarious recent column about the differences between Arizona and the more northern climes, we always carry our own water with us.  Most of the time, especially in the summer, almost everyone will be holding a bottle of water, usually the large economy size.  It’s what one does when the temperatures start going up around March to a steady diet of 100+ degree days.  The record for March is 102 degrees set in 1988.  As I write this in June, I still remember June of 1990 when it hit 122 degrees.  Carrying your own H2O makes a lot of sense under those conditions.

Winter in Scottsdale (usually)
Here are a few more observations from Ms Schlosser concerning the summer Arizona lifestyle:  1. Do not expect cold water to come out of the cold water tap (see above listed temperatures as why that is so).  2.  Arizonans consider 90 degree weather as representing a cooling trend.  People take certain jobs because covered parking is a perk.  (Caution: do not touch a dashboard that has been exposed to the sun for a long period!) 3. Outdoor activities start at about 5:00 a.m. and end about 8:00 a.m.4. You run INTO the rain instead of out of it (That is assuming that there IS any rain!). 5.Umbrellas are used on sunny days, not rainy ones.  6. You are happy to see a lizard in your yard because it proves that something is alive.  7. The local weather report is a looped tape.  8. You would rather get a letter from the IRS than have to open your utility bill. 9. You’re an expert on ceiling fans because you have one in every room constantly in use.  10. You buy sunscreen in quart size containers.

So, why would anyone want to live in such a place?  A lot of residents flee in the summer to the northern climes because of the above mentioned items.  In the winter there is the opposite:  People flood back to their winter homes in Arizona because of the nice sunny days and temperatures in the 70 to 80 degree range.  The golf courses are reseeded so they are green during the winter.  Of course green fees rise also but if one can afford to live in Arizona in the winter, so what.  In short, it is a nice lifestyle that I wouldn’t trade for anywhere else.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

A MEMORIAL DAY SALUTE TO THOSE WHO HAVE SERVED

With the conclusion of the month of May, we have Memorial Day.  It was originally called Decoration Day as it was a time when surviving members of the families of fallen Union soldiers from the Civil War decorated the graves of their relatives who died in that war.   Later on, the meaning and the name was changed to Memorial Day to include all soldiers who had fallen in various other wars.

As a veteran of the United States Air Force (1961-1965), Memorial Day is special.  I was fortunate enough to serve during peace time but the end of May was still a time when my buddies and I took time to show special respect to the guys who preceded us and had physically fought to keep America great.

As an Airman 2nd Class, 1964
I must admit that when I was a kid, I looked at Memorial Day as a day off from school and that is about it. When I turned 18 and got my draft card, I began to have a different outlook.  With that card in my pocket I suddenly faced the fact that I was going to have to serve my country in the Armed Forces whether I liked it or not.  By age 20 I had not been called but knowing it was inevitable, I joined the United States Air Force and was sent to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas for basic training.

It was a case of getting a “baptism of fire” as I was quickly transformed from a kid living at home eating Mom’s cooking to living in a barracks with 70 other guys from 70 different towns and eating in “chow halls.”  Along with that, I had two sergeants constantly telling me and the other guys what a bunch of losers we were and that we better “Shape up!”

It was a classic case of the military using their methods to transform boys into men.  For most of us, it worked as we settled into the program and became troopers.  For about ten guys who couldn’t adjust, they were sent home with the chore ahead of them of explaining to their friends how they couldn’t “cut it.”

After five weeks of basic training, some of us were sent to various tech schools to learn specific jobs.  In my case I was sent to Amarillo Air Force Base in Texas to attend Supply School.   After three months I was assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri where I spent the rest of my four years except for temporary duty in Germany from June to October of 1963. On September 10, 1965, I was discharged.


In retrospect, it was a great four years.  I did a lot of growing up and met a lot of people from both ends of the spectrum.  In 1973, the government discontinued the draft which I think was a gigantic mistake.  A lot of guys did some serious growing up by serving their country.  It’s a quality sadly missing from many today.