05. August 2006 · Comments Off on Vino, Veritas and Lucky · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, History, Pajama Game, Stupidity, Wild Blue Yonder

Unaccustomed as I am to giving a good goddamn about the blatherings of movie stars and other reality-challenged morons in the entertainment industry— we pay these people inordinately large salaries to dress up and pretend to be other people for our amusement, and I have always just tried to think of them as a breed of well-trained performing monkeys— I am a little surprised to find myself even considering a blog-post about Mel Gibson’s drunk-driving arrest and his subsequent widely publicized anti-Semitic outburst, recorded apparently in its very ugly entirety. It’s been all over the entertainment industry media, to which I never (well hardly ever) pay attention, but Blondie does – and if her reaction to the whole thing is anything typical, the very photogenic Mr. Gibson may have a big-post rehab problem. She was honestly revolted by the whole nasty diatribe, will probably not see whatever his next movie is, and is even put off by the thought of watching any of the old Mad Max movies again. In vino, veritas, you see, truth at the bottom the wineglass; she and I have been around long enough to know that an over-sufficiency of alcohol doesn’t really change a person. It just loosens inhibitions, and their grip on whatever façade they maintain over their true personality. Everyone knows people who are kind, funny and amusing sober, and even more so when smashed – and conversely, at least one individual who only appears to be kind, funny and amusing, when sober. When that kind gets a skin-full, the real underlying person comes out, and it is usually a memorably nasty piece of work. So, while drunk on his ass, a movie star who has a public persona of being a rather genial, fairly devout sort of family man is revealed to be – well, something rather less genial, to put it kindly. And since he is in the entertainment business, this has implications for more than just his family, circle of friends and therapist.

It’s enough to make one madly nostalgic for the old studio morality clauses, actually. On the whole and over the long run, we rather prefer our entertainers to have a private life pretty much be congruent with what they play on the screen, assuming that we have to know anything about their personal lives at all. Frankly I’d rather see someone like Meryl Streep or Judi Dench spend three decades or more playing a great many different and interesting characters, and living a dull and blameless personal life out in the suburbs between movie shoots. Or even a Robert Mitchum, who seems to have in real life been pretty much the same kind of two-fisted, hard-drinking brawler he often played. I’m fairly sure that Rock Hudson would never have been as big a movie star as he was, if everyone had known that in real life he played for the other team, although we can now appreciate him being a much better actor than we thought back then, playing all those love scenes with women. If he had been outed in the 1950ies, Rock would have been dropped – er, like a hot rock. What he was in real life, was just not congruent with the roles he played, and the public personality he appeared to be. I get the giggles myself, picturing him in a passionate movie cinch with Doris Day, knowing what I know now. So, how many people will giggle cynically when they see Mel playing a regular guy?

As I wrote here last month, anti-Semitism in the US never quite has attained the virulence that it has in Europe, for a number of likely reasons. Not to say it anti-Semitism never appeared in the American cultural or political body politic; there are plenty of examples to the contrary. But set against that are even more accounts of how in a lot of places, and on a lot of occasions, it was something that, to use an English expression, was just not done, being neither condoned or approved of, and on one famous occasion, it brought down a bigger hero than a movie actor, a man whose credentials for being an American hero were somewhat more substantial than being able to recite lines in front of a camera; Charles Lindbergh, the Lone Eagle, Lucky Lindy himself, who by 1941 had spent nearly two decades in the public eye, after his epic crossing of the Atlantic, solo and non-stop in a single-engine and the ghastly kidnapping and death of his first child and the resulting investigation and trial. Aviator, writer, scientist and traveler, he had become a passionate speaker, and one of the leading lights in the America First Committee, a group formed to oppose any American involvement in what would become the Second World War. Many of the founding members- intellectuals, businessmen, and politicians alike- were honorable, and passionate patriots, who were convinced that the war in Europe was none of our affair, and that involvement in it would not end well or to American advantage, and had the example of the first war to go on. Conventional wisdom of that time had it that America had been suckered into participating in World War One by an unholy cabal of slick politicians and greedy arms merchants, and as war broke out in Europe in 1939, Americans very rightfully felt they’d better not get fooled again. But there were other, less honorable motivations motivating members of America First, traditional dislike of Britain’s imperial and financial powers, admiration for or fear of Germany, deep dislike of President Roosevelt – and as historian David Gardner wrote “Anti-Semitism was the most inflammatory issue in the isolationist debate. Jews had good reason to hate Hitler… Jewish interventionists could therefore be motivated only by a desire to help co-religionists in Europe. To save them, Jews appeared willing to sacrifice American lives. The fact that interventionist sentiment was strongest in the traditionally conservative south and southwest, areas of small Jewish population, had done little to change popular belief that Jews were leading the drive for war.”
And by the fall of 1941, events had skidded way beyond anyone’s control, least of all the passionate anti-interventionalists of America First. Rooseveldt had won re-election the year before, a military draft had been instituted, Lend-Lease aid and volunteers flowed towards Britian, along with considerable American sympathy. After a U-boat fired on an American destroyer, President Rooseveldt authorized the US Navy to shoot back. Passions ran high, as events converged, and Lindbergh addressed an America First rally in De Moines, saying “The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration. Behind these groups, but of lesser importance, are a number of capitalists, Anglophiles, and intellectuals who believe that their future, and the future of mankind, depends upon the domination of the British Empire … These war agitators comprise only a small minority of our people; but they control a tremendous influence … it is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany … But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy, both for us and for them. Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way, for they will be among the first to feel its consequences� Their greatest danger to this country is in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government…”
Lindbergh had long been a hero to most Americans, even as he had become so deeply involved in America First, and certainly viewed by many, especially in the Rooseveldt administration as an admirer of Hitler, and the Nazi Party, but this speech— described as intemperate and inflammatory — brought down a storm on his head. The America First Committee, fractured and was made irrelevant by Pearl Harbor, and Lindbergh himself was all but made a political outcast by the opprobrium that descended upon him.
Curiously, the speech that killed his political career was made on September 11th.
(More fascinating stuff about America First Committee… much of which seems curiously relevant, these days)

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