Gene Tierney, Superluminous in Mist

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The full moon fades now, ebbing from wild brilliance into the any-old-night ordinaries whose luster won’t trouble our dreams.

But at its height it sure was fine, sharply-edged, superluminous: like nothing else. A gift from the gods, here and then gone.

Gene Tierney appeared that way in Hollywood, rising fast with a face so perfectly chiseled that no door was ever closed to her.

Even while every other door—ones that mattered even more to Tierney than stellar perfection– slammed hard on her.

Indeed, the face that launched a thousand movie projects never could find harbor or safe passage outside of Hollywood’s house of mirrors.

Which leads me to ask: If beauty is the purest ticket to Hollywood stardom, how much is the price of passage?

Born in 1920, Gene Eliza Tierney inherited her mother Belle’s good looks, but in the strange alchemy of appearance something new was born with her, or something so classic that to look upon the child one knew an angel had come into being: High cheekbones, a wide-set face, lustrous red-brown hair. From her father Howard—an Irishman of New World means—she received eyes so emerald green they seemed to burn with everything deemed holy in Eire. Her parents called her Princess.

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Gene adored her Daddy, but Howard was a domineering man and fought frequently with her mother. Gene suffered from nightmares and turned to a fantasy world to escape, writing poetry and acting out scenes from a safer, imaginary world.

Born rich, raised well, attending the best private schools in the world, Gene could have entered debutante society like a jewel crafted for the wealthiest of marriages. But when visiting Hollywood at 18 and touring MGM Studios, she caught the eye of director Anatole Litvak. He was so taken by her that he hastily arranged a screen test. Even though she had no formal training in acting, she so impressed studio execs she was offered a contract to her, which she declined. (She could do nothing without her father’s approval.)

Later she would say, “Everyone should see Hollywood once, I think, through the eyes of a teenage girl who has just passed a screen test.” Isn’t that the whole fantasy of celebrity adoration? To have arrived at Hollywood’s front door and found it wide open, to thunderous applause?

Back East, Gene began to take acting roles in the safer, closer, sanctioned haven of the theaters of New York. No matter how small the role or faulty the play, when Gene Tierney walked onstage everything changed for that moment.  Writing about her  first bit part in What A Life! (1938), where she carried a bucket of water across the stage, a Variety critic declared, “Miss Tierney is certainly the most beautiful water carrier I’ve ever seen.”

A titanic force, those looks, a Supermoon-tide. Before long Gene was back in Hollywood, on contract with 20th Century Fox. The roles came easily and she rose quickly through the ranks.

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Gene Tierney in “Sundown”

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Tierney was smart and hard-working, but her talent for acting never could quite catch up with the megawattage of her looks. She studied hard. She took up smoking to lower her voice—she thought she sounded like Minnie Mouse on steroids—and dieted incessantly after a cameraman told her that a thin face projected better on the silver screen.

She was flawless up there. Technicolor made her green eyes blaze.  Her gowns always seemed like they belonged on Athena (or Aphrodite, as in The Shanghai Gesture, one of Tierney’s singularly torrid roles).  When David Raskin was writing the haunting melody that would become the score of Laura, he said he’d look at Tierney and find himself diving down deeper into the mystery of the movie about a man who falls in love with a ghost.

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Tierney with Vincent Price in “Laura” (1944).

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Driven to distraction—that’s what Gene Tierney could do. Vincent Price once said, “Now maybe they’ll understand why scriptwriters have me go off the deep end every time I’m in the same picture as her.” The wealthiest men, the most stylish men, the most powerful men sought her, for Gene Tierney was the pearl among all other women. The designer Oleg Cassini sought the most perfect model and married her. Howard Hughes desired to win her over. Prince Ali Khan wooed her. She had a brief romance with John F. Kennedy.

Tierney’s face was everywhere—on magazine covers, movie posters, in fashion magazines, in ads. A favorite pinup during WWII, she was a reason to come home. Angel, Princess, Goddess, Girl Next Door: What American man’s heart did not break with gratitude and joy knowing that a Gene Tierney was smiling our way?

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Yet ruination of the life ran in exact proportion to the perfection of Tierney’s facial art. Her father, whom she adored, betrayed her, taking all of her savings when his insurance business failed. Her first husband Oleg Cassini struggled for a career outside of her golden shadow and strayed. Gene made one appearance at the Hollywood Canteen in 1943 to support the troops and contracted rubella from an adoring GI/fan who had broken out of quarantine to come see her favorite star. Gene was pregnant at the time and her daughter Darla was born blind and severely mentally handicapped.

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“Leave Her To Heaven” (1945).

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Weirdly, she got the best roles, and they told everything about her personal life. Laura is a noir film about a woman so beautiful no one believes she could also be a murderer, especially not the detective who also falls in love with her.  In Leave it To Heaven she plays a woman so jealous of other people who get her husband’s attention that she’s willing to kill to get him to herself. In the The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, she plays a woman whose true love is only a ghost.

No doubt Gene Tierney could act. The scene in Leave It To Heaven where she watches a handicapped boy drown (ridding herself of a perceived rival) is riveting (she would get a Best Actress nomination for the role, though Joan Crawford would win the Oscar for Mildred Pierce). Yet there’s a weird disconnect between the image and the voice (Tierney’s never has quite enough authority), and especially between the actress and many of the roles.  (Joseph Schenck, a 20th Century Fox exec, once told her, “I really believe you have a future, because you are the only girl I know who could survive so many bad pictures.”

As the betrayals from life added up, Gene Tierney’s mind began to go. She was a smart gal, and her observations about encounters with mental illness seem from some healthy vantage, as if she was well aware of her difficulties. She once likened the manic-depressive illness that resulted in four hospitalizations as akin to falling down a manhole without any grip or purchase.

When you think about it, Tierney’s fame was truly a man-hole for her, a sum of men’s desires that could only end up in wards and on window ledges looking down on the end of things.

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Tierney was married to designer Oleg Cassini, engaged to Prince Ali Khan and wooed by Howard Hughes. To name a few.

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By 40, Tierney’s career was over. She recovered from numerous shock treatments and successive hospitalizations and found a modicum of normality (she would marry a Texas oilman and live out her years as a happy socialite).

“Wealth, beauty and fame are transient,” she once said. “When those are gone, little is left except the need to be useful.”

Tierney died at age 70 from emphysema, another bad result of a career move (taking up smoking to lower her voice).

When I walked out to my car this morning for my daily commute to work, I saw a three-quarters full Supermoon to the west, and marked how bright it still was. Not fierce like it was at full, perched at the apex of the night sky, but resonant of that greatness.

Images of Gene Tierney echo the same way.

How can you not hear “Laura” and wonder where she ever came from, and on what island she has disappeared forever to?

– David Cohea

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Audrey Hepburn, timeless beauty

 

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Audrey Hepburn is a timeless symbol of both inner and outer beauty. She remains one of the greatest screen legends in American cinema and is among the most notable fashion icons of all time. She was also a devoted humanitarian and a Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF.

Hepburn was born on May 4, 1929 in Ixelles, Brussels, to a disarranged yet well-educated family. She was sent to boarding in England at age five, and this is where she first developed a passion for dance and theater. In 1939, at the onset of World War II, her father abandoned the family and her mother requested Audrey’s return.

Audrey Hepburn with her mother, Barronness Ella Van Heemstra (l940s).

Audrey Hepburn with her mother, Barronness Ella Van Heemstra (l940s).

Audrey stayed with her mother and maternal grandparents in Arnhem in the Netherlands during the war. Audrey continued to practice ballet, her heart set on the lofty title of prima ballerina. The Germans’ 1944 blockade of Dutch imports, however, resulted in a nationwide famine that left Audrey malnourished, placing her dreams definitively out of reach.

She then turned her focus to acting. She cut her teeth as a London chorus girl and soon found herself performing in small film roles. In 1951, in a stroke of good luck, she was spotted by French novelist Colette, who recruited Audrey to star in the Broadway play Gigi.

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Audrey attained her first starring role in the 1953 film Roman Holiday and enjoyed success as a leading actress for over a decade. Popular films during this time included War and Peace, Funny Face, Sabrina and The Nun’s Story.

In 1961, she accepted the role of Holly Golightly in the renowned film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Audrey later commented that playing Holly, an extroverted society girl, was “the hardest thing I ever did.”

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Audrey remained involved in entertainment until her passing; other popular films included My Fair Lady, Charade and How to Steal a Million.

Her truest devotion, however, was in helping the world’s most impoverished children. A multilinguist and relentless traveler, her efforts took her to Ethiopia, Turkey, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Somalia, among others.

Hepburn on a  goodwill mission to Vietnam in 1990.

Hepburn on a goodwill mission to Vietnam in 1990.

Audrey succumbed to inoperable colon cancer in January 1993. In her wake, she left two sons and an extensive range of awards and recognitions, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

– Ali Datko

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Hepburn with first husband Mel Ferrer.

Hepburn with first husband Mel Ferrer.

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Hepburn with son Sean.

Hepburn with son Sean.

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Audrey Hepburn was perhaps the most fashionable beauty of her time.

Audrey Hepburn was perhaps the most fashionable beauty of her time.

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Vintage Vanity: Insane Beauty Treatments Down the Years

 

Freckle freezer, 1930s.

Freckle freezer, 1930s.

Women have been chasing the ideal image of femininity for thousands of years. The search inherently depends on unattainability—weight gain during times of malnourishment, weight loss during eras of excess, tan skin during the winter and so forth—and therefore has no foreseeable end in sight. Beauty “guidelines” vary by generation and culture, and require differing amounts of time, money and physical or mental sacrifice. Ironically, they rarely reflect the preferences of the opposite gender, who don’t give a hoot about hair highlights or pressed-on nails; instead, they arise more often from marketing campaigns designed fuel our own insecurities. Here’s a look at a few of the most grimace-inducing examples of the last century.

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The Permanent Wave Machine allowed straight-haired gals to attain the coveted appearance of naturally curly locks. The original model, designed in 1906 by inventor Karl Nessler, utilized chemicals and electricity to steam damp hair into permanent waves. Less desirable effects included brittle hair and burns from the extreme heat, which reached over 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Thankfully, the process was improved by the time it reached popular use in salons by the 1930s.

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The Beauty Calibrator, also known as the beauty micrometer, was concocted by beautician Max Factor in the early 1930s. It was intended for use in Hollywood — no, not as a prop in a slasher film, but as a tool for makeup artists to identify actresses’ facial “flaws.” Its adjustable metal strips and screws provided precise measurements; if any imperfections were detected, they would be remedied with makeup. Astonishingly, this procedure never gained widespread appeal, and only one Calibrator is known to have actually been created.

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Ironized Yeast — a “scientific formula” designed to help you gain 10 to 25 “normally attractive” pounds, new pep and new charm.” Though the concept of attractive pounds may seem oxymoronic in today’s diet-obsessed society, these tablets gained popularity during the tail end of the Great Depression, when malnourishment was a legitimate concern. However, some shady pill-pushing ads also promised dates, popularity clear skin and even a “healthy color.” The special free offer advertised here included a book on health entitled “New Facts About Your Body”  by a “well-known” (yet anonymous) authority.

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Mrs. D. M. Ackerman of Hollywood, CA discovered the secret to a beautiful complexion: enclosing your face in a bag that essentially robs you of oxygen. Her “glamour bonnet,” which lowered atmospheric pressure around the wearer’s head and stimulated blood circulation, supposedly mimicked the feel of climbing a mountain or flying “high in a plane.” Even better, the bonnet included a transparent screen that allowed the wearer to read in leisure while presumably drifting in and out of consciousness.

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Nose Shaper: Who could ignore a beauty campaign that claimed to affect “the failure or success of your whole life” and “your ultimate destiny?” In 1930, series of ads from a New York “face specialist” promised to improve readers’ appearances with the patented Model 25 Nose Shaper, a nifty contraption that “remodel[ed] the cartilage and fleshy parts” of the nose. Though the specialist’s 1921 patent explained how “more or less continuous pressure” could reshape nose abnormalities, an ad guaranteed a “painless” experience — or your money back.

– Ali Datko

 

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Only Skin Deep, But Still A Lot of Work

Savage Lipstick ad, 1936.

Savage Lipstick ad, 1936.

The pursuit of beauty is eternal, and every age has its own unique standard. But while that standard may be in the eyes of the beholder, it frequently needs a little outside help. Here’s a look at some beauty trends of the past few decades and the tools that helped set them.

The '50s:  Debbie Reynolds, Sandra Dee

The ’50s: Debbie Reynolds, Sandra Dee

“Naïve and innocent” was the prevailing style for young women in the ’50s: peaches and cream complexions, red or pink lips, and blue and green eye shadows, with tresses softly curled or teased into a pompadour. While high schoolers pulled their ponytails up with scarves (think Kathleen Turner in Peggy Sue Got Married), their mothers emerged from weekly salon visits with bouffants requiring liberal doses of Aqua Net to hold their set. But looking good isn’t everything…one should also smell good, and antiperspirants such as ARRID, with its signature ingredient Perstop, or Gleem toothpaste, “for people who can’t brush after every meal,” helped avoid giving offense in that quarter.

The '60s: MIa Farrow and Maureen "Marcia Brady" McCormick.

The ’60s: MIa Farrow and Maureen “Marcia Brady” McCormick.

Things were heating up by the ’60s, and not just on the social front. Heavy, spiked eyelashes (thanks, Twiggy!) accompanied dark eye shadows and matte red lips. Towering lacquered ‘dos of the fifties still made an appearance, but by the middle of the decade pixie cuts like those sported by Mia Farrow and Edie Sedgwick were increasingly popular, before giving way to the long and sleek Marsha Brady look.

The '70s: Ali McGraw, Farrah Fawcett

The ’70s: Ali McGraw, Farrah Fawcett

The back-to-nature movement of the ’70s extended, unsurprisingly, to cosmetics. In other words, the point of makeup was to look like you weren’t wearing any. Foundations were nude, powders and blushers translucent, and freshness was the order of the day. “Can you pass the healthy-looking skin test?” queried a commercial for Ivory soap, which touted the “99 and 44/100ths %  pure” bar as vital to an enviable complexion as sleep and good nutrition.

The '80s: Brooke Shields and Linda Evans

The ’80s: Brooke Shields and Linda Evans

Anyone who lived through the ’80s knows the decade can be largely summed up in three words: Bigger is Better, and not just when it came to houses and cars.  Faces were painted on in a bold palette, and even fingertips were a status symbol: as one nail polish marketing representative put it, “It was the ‘Dynasty’ era, and long nails went along with that excess.”  Self-tanners brought the sun-kissed look to those who didn’t live near the beach or a pool, and what teen wanted to drop a lot of precious cash on professional highlights when she could pick up a bottle of Sun-In at the corner drugstore – even if some brunettes did complain their locks turned orange?

Of course, in any decade, a few trends that turned heads eventually turn stomachs, but the question of what constitutes ideal beauty will never die. Will body hair make a comeback?  Or wrinkles be considered a greater turn-on than dewy youth? One consultant believes the smart ones in his field will “talk about ‘making the best of who you are’ rather than trying to make you become someone different.” For most of us, that’s probably just the ticket.

— Lucie Winborne

Retro-futuristic beauty of the '50s.

Retro-futuristic beauty of the ’50s.

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Beauty Parade

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All I really know about beauty is that my wife is beautiful to me.

I know nothing about the arts by which she achieves that beauty, though I suspect additional tweaks are required beyond simply waking up. I’ve seen rollers and warpaint and colognes around her dressing table, but their uses to me are ineffable.

There’s no keeping up with her, but I do groom. However, the standard of masculine good looks is far beyond the meager things I do to attend hair, teeth and physique.

It’s not that I’m unaware of beauty. I’m know the extraordinary lengths men will go to get even a peek at beauty. And the media I grew up with shouts of the extraordinary measures women take to heighten that appreciation.

With these caveats—and the assistance of other contributors who are far more attuned to this stuff—The next issue of ReMIND Magazine is devoted to Beauty. In it, we’ll see how standards of beauty have changed over the decades, get a look at the women and men who have best embodied it, and observe some the strange things that people are willing to pay for in the name of beauty;

As the poet John Keats wrote, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever; its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.”  Images of great beauties from yesterday increase in magnitude long after the women (and men) attached to them have gone.  Surely it is here—in the ReMIND vault of our shared history—that those images perpetually shine.

As for my wife, she grows more beautiful every year.

– David Cohea, ReMIND editor

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Every one stand for “The Star Spangled Banner”

The Battle for Ft. McHenry, Sept. 13, 1814. The British fleet hit the American fort with everything they had, but failed to force their way through.

The Battle for Ft. McHenry, Sept. 13, 1814. The British fleet hit the American fort with everything they had, but failed to force their way through.

 

By Ali Datko

Long before pop culture’s fascination with celebrity-inspired patriotism, before Whitney Houston made the national anthem a Billboard-ranking vocal marvel, before Christina Aguilera’s highly-publicized botched version of the song, there was a flagmaker.

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Flagmaker Mary Pickersgill and her creation. Pickersgill actually made 2 flags for Ft. McHenry, one sized 17x25 feet that was flying when the bombardment began, and  a much larger 30x42 foot flag that was hoisted up the flagpoll come dawn's early light.

Flagmaker Mary Pickersgill and her creation. Pickersgill actually made 2 flags for Ft. McHenry, one sized 17×25 feet that was flying when the bombardment began, and a much larger 30×42 foot flag that was hoisted up the flagpoll come dawn’s early light.

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In 1813, Mary Pickersgill, a socially outspoken resident of Baltimore, was commissioned by Major George Armistead to make a flag for Fort McHenry. This flag, which measured 30 by 42 feet, was the original Star-Spangled Banner that inspired the lines of Francis Scott Key’s renowned poem, later to become America’s national anthem.

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"By Dawn's Early Light" by Edward Percy Moran, 1912.

“By Dawn’s Early Light” by Edward Percy Moran, 1912.

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On September 13, 1814, two years since the onset of the War of 1812, a fleet of British Royal Navy vessels lingered in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Lawyer Francis Scott Key was aboard Britain’s HMS Tonnant, negotiating the release of a group of American prisoners. Key, who was prohibited from exiting the vessel until morning due to the imminent bombardment of Fort McHenry, witnessed the battle from the ship. At dawn on September 14, Key rose to the sight of Pickersgill’s flag, waving gloriously from the shore.

Welling with nationalistic pride, Key penned a poem titled “Defence of Fort M’Henry,” and set the lines to the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a popular drinking song. The poem had four stanzas, although today many Americans only know the first.

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Francis Scott Key's draft of "Defense of Fort M'Henry"

Francis Scott Key’s draft of “Defense of Fort M’Henry”

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A few days after its creation, the poem was published in both The Baltimore Patriot and The American. The poem became popular among readers, and within weeks it was printed in numerous publications along the east coast. In October 1814, actor Ferdinand Durang performed the first known musical version of the poem in a Baltimore tavern.

Throughout the next century, the song was lauded and even amended by some of America’s historical elite. Author Washington Irving reprinted it in Philadelphia’s The Analectic Magazine in November 1814. In 1861, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. created a fifth stanza to reflect the events of the Civil War. In 1889, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy signed a General Order requiring the song to be played during the raising of the flag. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that it be played during other special occasions.

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Ever hear these guys perform the song?

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Though the song was first played at military events, it later became a staple at sporting events — particularly baseball games. The first documented performance of the song at a baseball game was during the 1918 World Series.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was officially adopted as the national anthem by President Herbert Hoover in 1931, two years after Ripley’s Believe it or Not! cartoonist Robert Ripley pointed out that “America has no national anthem.”

Notable celebrity renditions include Marvin Gaye’s 1983 NBA All-Star Game performance, Jimi Hendrix’s instrumental version at Woodstock in 1969, Whitney Houston’s 1991 Super Bowl XXV performance and, of course, Christina Aguilera’s headline-grabbing lyrical flub at the 2011 Super Bowl XLVIII.

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A failure to launch: Notoriously bad performances of "The Star Spangled Banner" have been rendered by Christine Aguilera, Roseanne Barr and Steve Tyler.

A failure to launch: Notoriously bad performances of “The Star Spangled Banner” have been rendered by Christine Aguilera, Roseanne Barr and Steve Tyler.

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Notoriously difficult to perform, the song has a history of both astounding successes and cringe-worthy failures; yet, the opportunity to belt it out in front of a crowd remains a sought-after honor. Home of the brave, indeed.

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Whitney Houston’s performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” for Super Bowl XXV in 1991 is considered one of the all-time best.

 

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Yankee Doodle Patriot

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George M. Cohan and The Movie That Inspired a Nation

By Lucie M. Winborne

It’s one of Hollywood’s most beloved musicals, as American as apple pie and as irrepressible as the Spirit of ’76.

Warner Bros.’ 1942 smash hit Yankee Doodle Dandy recounts the life of singer, dancer, composer, playwright, actor and producer George Michael Cohan, aka “The Man Who Owned Broadway.” James Cagney, a fellow Irish-American who also began his career in song and dance, stars as the writer of such unforgettable tunes as “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” along with many others.

Told mostly in anecdotal flashbacks, the story opens at the White House in the early days of World War II. Summoned by President Roosevelt, Cohan recalls some of the highlights following his birth on July 4, 1878: childhood performances with parents Jeremiah and Helen and sister Josephine in the vaudeville act “The Four Cohans,” his first Broadway success, marriage, and patriotic activities in World War I (during which he wrote the combat’s unofficial anthem, “Over There”), up to an attempt at retirement and finally a triumphant Broadway comeback in Rodgers & Hart’s “I’d Rather Be Right” – playing, of all things, Roosevelt himself. While the script took liberties with dates (Cohan was actually born on July 3) and other facts, omitting Cohan’s divorce and remarriage as well his “intense hatred” of FDR, from whom he received a Congressional medal for his contribution to patriotic morale, one reviewer noted, “Who the heck cares?  Dandy has song, dance, pathos, pageantry, uproarious comedy, and, best of all, James Cagney at his Oscar-winning best.” It was exactly the sort of feature wartime America was hungry for, earning over six million dollars in rentals for Warner Bros. – the company’s biggest box office success to that time.

To some, Cagney, best known for his gangster roles of the 1930s, must have seemed an unlikely choice to play Cohan, a part Fred Astaire turned down. Neither a great singer or dancer, the actor nonetheless threw himself into the role with so much enthusiasm that it hardly mattered.  As critic Edwin Jahiel put it, “He acts so vigorously that it creates an illusion.” Cohan served as a consultant on the film, although in a limited capacity, as he was already suffering from the abdominal cancer that would end his life shortly after Yankee’s release. Of Cagney’s portrayal, Cohan famously remarked to his son, George M. Jr., “My God, what an act to follow!”

An enduring myth claims that Cagney took the role to avoid being blacklisted for Communist sympathies. But while the actor actually was accused of being a Communist in a 1940 California grand jury trial, no whiff of scandal prevented the picture from earning three Oscars and five additional nominations. Re-released in 1996 by Ted Turner as the first computer-colorized film, it was also selected in 1993 by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Much like Mr. Cohan himself.

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The real George M Cohan.

The real George M Cohan.

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Premiere of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in 1942.

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Colorized promotional still of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" featuring James Cagney.

Colorized promotional still of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” featuring James Cagney.

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Sheet music for "Over There" a George M. Cohan song that was a hit during WW-1.

Sheet music for “Over There” a George M. Cohan song that was a hit during WW-I.

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A statue in honor of George M. Cohan stands in Times Square in New York

A statue in honor of George M. Cohan stands in Times Square in New York

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