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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Ambling through Bakersfield

Yesterday we passed by Bakersfield High, Home of the Drillers. At 8 pm, it was 97 degrees outside. Seems like there ought to be a better name. Home of the Scorchers? Home of the Heat Waves?

First stop on our tour of Bakersfield, the Drillers! Photo from Bakersfield HS website.

Heading Out for Adventure

We are on a road trip once more, a real one that involves more than just driving up to Seattle to see my brother. We took the big car, the “fun car,” the one that holds lots of crap and still likes to go up hills. Her name is Scarlett O’Hara, but we always call her Fun Car. And we did load it up, cramming things under the seats and behind the suitcases. There are so many bottles of water that the car sloshes when we brake hard.

One minor casualty occurred ten minutes from the house. I pulled my favorite sunglasses out of their spot in the car and… tragedy!

Not even duct tape would work!

But I rather believe that small bad luck leads to a good trip overall, so bon voyage us! Down we swoop through Central California, which is baking or marinating or searing, depending on which chef metaphor you want to use for drought and climate change. Far more dead orchards than I can remember in my youth. Lots of signs blaming the governor for stealing water and dumping it in the ocean. MORE DAMS! scream the signs. As if somehow damming the water further, because the water in the existing dams is low, would solve everything.

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Medal Counts & Manifest Destiny

The first U.S. Olympic team—a ragtag group of fourteen men, mostly Ivey Leaguers, with little support from the country—stood at the top of the podium for an amazing eleven events at the inaugural modern Games in 1896. Their unexpected triumphs caused a swell of national pride and paved the way for generations of U.S. Olympians.

Jacket copy from Igniting the Flame: America’s First Olymic Team

America has always positioned itself as the underdog, even at the Olympics, even when it earns medals by the fistful. Why is that? What is it about our national psyche that caused our athletic leaders to ask the International Olympic Committee in 1908 to establish a “point system,” so we can tell who wins?

Want to find out? Join me in a class this August...

The very first TEAM USA, 1896, Athens.

American Olympic athletes have dazzled the world, starting with the very first games in Athens, 1896. But their performances have always had a subtext. It might be validating capitalism, promoting democracy, or even confirming American exceptionalism. We will explore these subtexts, the history behind the history, starting with how an upstart nation sought a foothold with Europeans in the sporting world and to prove itself as a world power.

Medal Counts & Manifest Destiny:
Team USA at the Olympics

I’ll be teaching this end-of-summer class, Thursday afternoons in August, online through OLLI at Cal State East Bay.

OLLI (scholarolli.com) stands for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. That’s shorthand for no papers, no exams, no homework. All the interesting bits of your favorite history class, without the outside work that causes all the stress.

OLLI classes are discounted for seniors, but this program allows all ages to participate. And because it’s online, you don’t have to live in northern California.

If you’re interested, or if you know someone who might be interested, check out the link to sign up for the class here.

And here’s a PDF you can download that will tell you more:

Hope to see you there! But don’t delay–the class may only be available for sign-up for a few more weeks.

Zeus is waiting!

Statue of Zeus at Olympia, one of the original ancient wonders.
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