The Truth about the Movie 1776

It’s a masterpiece I say! They will cheer every word, every letter!

from “The Egg”
Adams, Franklin, Jefferson waiting for the chirp, chirp, chirp of an eaglet being born. Photo from Columbia Pictures.

Yep, the movie is full of historical inaccuracies. But as the Columbia Companion to American Film says, “few are very troubling.” The musical 1776 was produced in 1969, during the Vietnam War and the Nixon administration, although it wasn’t especially anti-war or preachy. (Other than the song “Cool Considerate Men,” which was clearly aimed at Republicans, or at least Nixon thought so because he pressured the producer, his friend Jack Warner, to cut it from the cinema version. Warner tried to have the negative destroyed, but someone saved it, and you can see them minuet ever to the right in the restored version. And the anti-slavery part… Anyway…)

The movie was politely applauded at the time, and now it has a cult following. We watch it every year for the holiday. The original musical was more enthusiastically greeted, as it won the Tony for Best Musical, even though the idea of staging the story of Congressional debate over the wording of a political document seemed foolhardy. Where was the romance? Where was the action?

It comes from the moment John Adams bangs open the door to Independence Hall and yells at his colleagues: I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace, that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress! To which they respond:

Sit down, John
Sit down, John
For God’s sake, John
Sit down!

Samuel Chase:
Someone ought to open up a window!

It’s dramatic, it’s bold, it’s operatic, with Congressmen singing back and forth at each other, immediately debating hotly whether or not to let in the flies. Is that historically accurate? Surely, it must be! That’s the beauty of the film. Even if there isn’t proof for every single thing that happens–from Hopkins bullying the aide McNair to bring him rum or the delegates rushing outside when a fire wagon goes by or the stiff argument over about “unalienable” vs. “inalienable” –surely, most of these things happened.

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Man of 600 Roles and Counting

Quick–who’s your favorite Asian American actor? How about who’s your favorite Chinese-Minnesotan actor? This dude, I’ll bet.

Photo by 20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock James Hong Big Trouble In Little China – 1986

James Hong turned 93 this year, and he’s been acting since before the Korean War. In honor of Asian American & Pacific Islander month, it seemed only fitting to celebrate a gentleman who has had to play That Chinese Guy for seven decades. He only just got the star he deserved.

Number One Son

Hong was born in Minnesota in 1929. His father owned a restaurant. James spent a few of his early years in Hong Kong but came back home and completed high school in the land of golden gophers, making pies and serving coffee at dad’s business. Apparently, he hung out with the drill team helping with their sets and props. While he studied civil engineering at USC initially, his interest was more in their acting school.

I must interject to point out that my mother was born in 1930 in the Midwest and also went to high school less than a hundred miles away. She was a cheerleader before she got a Ph.D. in American Studies. Maybe they saw each other across the football field! Cheerleading and being part of the drill team were clearly handled by different cliques by the time I was in high school.

James finished the engineering degree, which sounds more like his parents’ idea than his, and worked as a road engineer in LA, acting on the weekends. He then went into the army during the Korean War (my father, same age, was sent to Germany during the Cold War). While he was in basic training, the army assigned him to Special Services, the entertainment division. They realized, as he did, that the Korean troops would likely shoot at him in a U.S. uniform, and that his own troops might as well. Better to have him tell jokes, do skits. Something tells me he always played the hapless Korean.

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We All Become our Mothers (Mother’s Day 2022)

American Studies professor and champion cake baker. Making the world a better place.

My mother was a Force of Nature, whose personality was so strong that I still feel myself peeking out from her shadow. Even though she’s been gone for 25 years, I’m still not happy about it. Then I feel guilty.

Because that’s how mothers are. No matter how nurturing, no matter how much they represent your Past and your Home, mothers always make you feel guilty. And there is always something that your mother did well that you still can’t do.

Mom with my 1-year-old brother. About to get her doctorate, she was 8 months pregnant with me.

My mother was a larger-than-life character. When she was in her sixties, she had her picture taken posing as Eleanor Roosevelt in a famous photo. Of course, she then gave us large framed copies as a Christmas present. I thought it was really pretentious, but then she actually did meet Eleanor Roosevelt, as a college student on the committee to support the United Nations in 1950.

Eleanor Roosevelt and students for the UN, @1950. Mom with her back to photo.

She wrote her Master’s thesis on the propaganda in the speeches of Joseph McCarthy. This was in 1955, when McCarthy was still in power. I wonder what the university thought of that. She could have been black-balled from future jobs. Did they tell her to tone it down? Just don’t publish it anywhere? She was a rabble-rouser, in an every day way.

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