Tagged: John Ford

Mindy Newell’s Post-Election Blues


I used to play the guitar. I never had any really talent for it, and soon put it away. But there was one song that I did learn. I did a pretty good job with it, too.

This land is your land, this land is my land

From California to the New York Island,

From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters,

This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking that ribbon of highway

And saw above me that endless skyway,

And saw below me the golden valley, I said:

This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and rambled and followed my footsteps

To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts,

And all around me, a voice was sounding:

This land was made for you and me.

Legendary folk artist and social commentator Woody Guthrie wrote This Land Is Your Land in 1940, reacting to Kate Smith’s recording of Irving Berlin’s God Bless America, which was played everywhere and constantly during during the Great Depression; he thought it purposely complacent about the terrible injustices being suffered by most of the American public which he had witnessed first-hand after leaving his native Oklahoma to travel the rails across America, eventually ending up in California, where the Dust Bowl refugees – “Okies” – who had migrated hoping to find a better life, and instead finding only more suffering and cruelty – see John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath, or, even better, read the book by John Steinbeck – while the government did nothing

Why do I bring up this up? Because, when Guthrie recorded it in 1944 for Moe Asch at Folkways Records in New York City, Asch left out one particular lyric:

Was a high wall there that tried to stop me

A sign was painted said: Private Property,

But on the back side it didn’t say nothing –

This land was made for you and me.

Which, of course, made me think of our President-Elect.

And then, while doing a bit of research for this column, I found this from the New York Times, written on January 25 of this year by reporter Thomas Kaplan:

More than a half-century ago, the folk singer Woody Guthrie signed a lease in an apartment complex in Brooklyn. He soon had bitter words for his landlord: Donald J. Trump’s father, Fred C. Trump.

Mr. Guthrie, in writings uncovered by a scholar working on a book, invoked ‘Old Man Trump’ while suggesting that blacks were unwelcome as tenants in the Trump apartment complex, near Coney Island.

 “‘He thought that Fred Trump was one who stirs up racial hate, and implicitly profits from it,’ the scholar, Will Kaufman, a professor of American literature and culture at the University of Central Lancashire in Britain, said in an interview…[who] about his findings … for The Conversation, a news website.

“In December 1950, Mr. Guthrie signed a lease at the Beach Haven apartment complex, Mr. Kaufman wrote in his piece. Soon, Mr. Guthrie was ‘lamenting the bigotry that pervaded his new, lily-white neighborhood,’ [Mr. Kaufman] wrote, with words like these:

‘I suppose / Old Man Trump knows / Just how much / Racial Hate / he stirred up / In the bloodpot of human hearts / When he drawed / That color line / Here at his / Eighteen hundred family project’

“Mr. Guthrie even reworked his song ‘I Ain’t Got No Home’ into a critique of Fred Trump, according to Mr. Kaufman:

‘Beach Haven ain’t my home! / I just can’t pay this rent! / My money’s down the drain! / And my soul is badly bent! / Beach Haven looks like heaven / Where no black ones come to roam! / No, no, no! Old Man Trump! / Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!’

Mr. Guthrie died in 1967, and in the 1970s, the Justice Department sued the Trumps, accusing them of discriminating against blacks. (A settlement was eventually reached; at the time, Trump Management noted the agreement did not constitute an admission of guilt)…

Mr. Kaufman, the author of ‘Woody Guthrie, American Radical,’ said Mr. Guthrie would be repulsed by the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. He pointed to Mr. Trump’s comments about Mexicans and Muslims, and contrasted the candidate’s sentiments to those of Mr. Guthrie in his song ‘Deportee,’ written about a plane crash that killed Mexican farm workers…

“‘Woody was always championing those who didn’t have a voice, who didn’t have any money, who didn’t have any power,’ Mr. Kaufman said. ‘There’s no doubt that he would have had maximum contempt for Donald Trump, even without the issue of race.’”


What now?

As someone posted on Facebook, maybe Superman can start fighting the Klu Klux Klan again.

This land was made for you and me.


John Ostrander: Walking Tall On the Small Screen

I was not always a big fan of Westerns. My knowledge/memory of them were largely drawn from TV shows of my childhood – and not always the best ones. They were dominated by The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry (although I was never a big Autry fan) and shows like them. Westerns dominated TV in those days in ways that I don’t think any genre dominates any more.

It was my late wife, Kimberly Yale, who really schooled me in movie Westerns and the difference between a John Ford Western, ones by Howard Hawks, and Budd Boetticher’s Westerns. I finally learned and grasped what powerful movies they were, Just a few years ago, I got to see John Ford’s masterpiece The Searchers on the big screen and it was only then that I really understood how powerful it was and why its star, John Wayne, was such an icon. In the close-ups, where Wayne’s face is two stories high, he seems like a figure off Mount Rushmore. And the famous final shot, where his character is framed by a closing door, is haunting. It’s also interesting to note that both here and in Howard Hawks’ Red River he plays something of a bastard.

It’s only been in recent years that I’ve returned to some of the Western TV shows and rediscovered them. What I discovered was some very good writing and acting, especially in the half hour shows. Have Gun, Will Travel, starring Richard Boone, featured him as a traveling gunslinger, Paladin, and a memorable and haunting title song. Wanted: Dead or Alive starred a young Steve McQueen right around the time that he broke out in films in The Magnificent Seven.

Of all of them, my favorite discovery has been The Rifleman starring Chuck Connors. Connors was a 6’6” former athlete, playing basketball for the Celtics and baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs. In the show he played Lucas McCain, a homesteader who was fast with a special rapid fire Winchester. McCain was a widower although he had a son, played by Johnny Crawford. His best friend was the Marshall of the town of North Fork, Micah Torrance, played by Paul Fix. (Trivia note: Mary and I so liked the name “Micah” that we gave it to one of our cats.)

The show was also a proving ground for actors, writers, and directors who would later go on to other things. Sam Peckinpah directed several episodes and wrote a few, too. Budd Boetticher directed an episode, as did Ida Lupino. Richard Donner, who would later direct the first Superman movie with Christopher Reeve, directed seven episodes.

A number of famous (or to be famous later) actors also appeared – Agnes Moorehead did a turn, as did Martin Landau, Buddy Hackett, and Harry Dean Stanton. Sammy David Jr. acted in the series twice, once as a gunslinger. There was a time that I would have questioned the probability of that but my later researches into the history of the West revealed that there were a number of black gunslingers in the Wild West.

Connors was a better actor than I remembered and the stories were varied and almost always interesting. His Lucas McCain was a stern father but a loving one and usually reluctant to be drawn into a fight. The stories weren’t the simple good/bad confrontations I knew from shows like Roy Rogers. The characters were more complex which made the stories more interesting.

You can catch the shows on DVD and I would guess on Netflix or Hulu. They’re worth a shot. So to speak.