History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"Private Buckaroo" w/ Shemp Howard: a WWII pep talk

I saw "Private Buckaroo" on TV many years ago and sensed something surreal about it. I wasn't able to immediately grasp it. I felt at first this was a boilerplate WWII movie with the typical wooden personalities. It was made contemporaneously with the war.
There it was in its black and white glory: "Private Buckaroo."
Certainly the movie was harmless, but what was to explain that surreal quality? It haunted a little. Then the realization: This flick was propaganda. In the next breath I'll say it was benevolent propaganda. It was an effort to sell the war cause. You would think Pearl Harbor had done that by itself.
We have this popular notion that everyone in America joined hands on the day after the "Jap" attack. We still needed conscription (the draft). Undoubtedly there were young men who looked for ways out from military commitment. There were war profiteers. Those dubious elements certainly were not for public consumption, hence we needed the entertainment industry - the "dream factory" - to do some glossing over with their immense skills. Say what you want about Hollywood, it gives us illusions.
"Private Buckaroo" was filmed to get young men fired up about getting on board with the military. We associate propaganda with Moscow. But our Hollywood is fully capable of fueling whatever meme. Surely we had to beat the Axis powers.
Alternate history
What if we had simply decided not to fight? What if we hadn't concentrated so much of our Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor? By the same token, what if U.S. corporate interests hadn't been so concentrated in, and symbolized by, those "twin towers" in New York City, making for a prime target for 9/11?
The Nazis in fact had a hard time holding their regime together. This is why the top leaders had to dispatch the notorious "SS" (secret service). Regular military men who saw reality would have been happy to capitulate at a certain point. The "SS" men were opportunistic and delusional souls who went on a fool's (or devil's) mission. History suggests that such corrupt forces do not last.
The Japanese? We have forgotten how controversial and tragic our "island-hopping" campaign was. Oh yes, there was intense controversy within the U.S. cause about the need for such an excruciating effort. In researching about Jim Peterson of Morris (still alive, hooray), who was at Iwo Jima, I learned there was a strong argument at the time that the obscure island wasn't necessary to secure. Other smaller islands could have worked for emergency landings by U.S. aircraft.
Military causes can drift from logic or what's pragmatic. Look at the disturbing propaganda campaign that the George W. Bush administration orchestrated leading up to Iraq. I view Dick Cheney as nothing short of Darth Vader. Think of the lives lost or scarred.
Once the U.S. entered WWII, any dissenting voices faded readily into the background. The "America Firsters" (with Charles Lindbergh) shut up. I see merit in isolationism. America's best strategy is self-sufficiency. The "sustainable" ideas promoted by our University of Minnesota-Morris are right in line. I don't care what the loony libertarians say.
"Shemp" promotes war effort
"Private Buckaroo" was a 1942 musical film. It's quite the window into the early 1940s, featuring the Andrews Sisters, Harry James and Shemp Howard.
Shemp Howard? Wasn't he one of the Three Stooges? Most certainly. He picked up the torch when "Curly" could no longer carry it, due to health issues. Shemp in the movie comes off like the Shemp we came to know in the Stooges. But he's alone, without his stumbling Stooge compatriots. Is this why I thought the movie had that surreal quality? Oliver Hardy too appeared in a movie without his usual partner Stan Laurel. That movie was "The Kentuckian" where we see Oliver in his typical persona. He didn't depart. Neither did Shemp.
Shemp is endeared to us as "the trooper" who was really very talented, but just couldn't fill the unique "Curly's" shoes. Curly had that energetic man-child persona. The very physical nature of the Stooges' comedy has been cited as hindering their health and shortening their lifespans. Shemp died in the year I was born: 1955. He was in a cab after a boxing match, lighting a cigar when he suddenly slumped over. He had just told a joke. Friend Al Winston was beside him and felt at first Shemp was pulling some sort of gag. Many of us would say that "when your time comes" it would be nice to go the way Shemp did: a sudden heart attack. As a Stooge he was a laid-back dimwit in comparison to Curly's screen-grabbing presence.
Shemp was known for his high-pitched "bee-bee-bee" sound, a soft screech done by inhaling. He was born Samuel Horwitz. He came to be called "Shemp" because that's how his name came out in his mother's thick "Litvak" accent. He was enlisted for the Stooges two years after WWII ended.
In 1942's "Private Buckaroo," Shemp plays "Sergeant Snavely." One critic said he steals the movie, at least when Harry James and the Andrews Sisters aren't performing.
Wild, unconventional musical finale
Shemp clowns onstage with the Andrews Sisters during the musical finale: "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree."
Curiously, the song as presented in the movie departs from its intended message and sentimentality. I'd suggest the message and sentimentality were a given. This was a signature tune for the Andrews Sisters, a household tune, and the sisters might have become bigger stars if they could act!
"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" was about a soldier at war wanting the faithfulness of his girlfriend back home. As a song and dance number in "Private Buckaroo," the climax of the film, it has been described as "the most bizarre piece of melodic madness ever captured on film."
The song takes place in a USO show for the troops who are about to be shipped off. Indeed, watching the movie makes you think being a soldier mostly consisted of hanging out at a canteen with live entertainment. The service had to be made attractive, so to build up the wartime effort. We had to beat back those "Japs" and "Krauts." What a time.
The Andrews Sisters appear onstage in military outfits, pulling at a rope which is attached to something in the wings. Their lively harmony accompanies the pulling. We discover a big cardboard apple tree at rope's end. The sisters fall back, Patty literally landing on her rear end. Maxene and LaVerne help her up and Patty rubs her backside. The sisters lock arms and dance around the stage. Another surprise emerges with Shemp! They do not welcome this surprise in the form of this clumsy Stooge-to-be.
Shemp gets slapped in the face and tossed off the stage. The singing never stops! What a routine! Undeterred, the sisters lock arms and dance. Shemp is also undeterred. He joins them. This time Shemp gets punched in the jaw! The singing continues. They go into a wild "jitterbug" dance and collide with each other, ending up on the floor, buried by a shower of apples! The band members scoop up the apples.
Surely this musical number ought to be embraced as a patriotic jewel. Lively and festive as this all was, it certainly didn't reflect the grim and gruesome nature of the conflict awaiting the recruits hanging around the canteen. Ah, propaganda. If Harry James and his band can join the military service, it must be the thing to do.
Virtuoso trumpeter James finds he cannot handle a simple bugle routine. I had to laugh at that. Professional entertainers are stylists and have trouble handling routine things that junior high musicians might be able to play.
Ever wonder why James had such a pronounced "tremolo" with his horn? It was parodied in the 1950s by the tune "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" (Prez Prado). Brass players developed the pronounced tremolo in the years when recording quality was crude, so as to stand out. In later years it seemed a little misplaced. BTW the song "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" was reprised in the 1970s by Enoch Light (and the Light Brigade). That's how I got familiar with it.
BTW No. 2: "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" was sung repeatedly by Robert Mitchum in the war movie "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" (about the serviceman and nun stranded on the island until help came).
Dehumanizing the enemy
"Private Buckaroo" was nothing if not loud and boisterous. I guess this movie even presented the goal of "fighting the monkey men in Tokyo." Ah, for the sake of propaganda: dehumanizing the enemy. Well, who bombed Pearl Harbor? Well, I would say the Japaneses government did it. The young men just follow what their government asks of them.
Do you feel the German people are inherently evil? There apparently is a "Prussian" strain that has always liked fighting, unless this is an unaccepted stereotype. The Germans sure caused trouble in the first half of the 20th Century.
Crooner Dick Foran in "Private Buckaroo" is at first a conceited pain, but he learns to be a team player. He shows humility by singing a Negro spiritual. (There are no Negroes in the Army.) Harry James seeks to learn his bugle calls under instruction from . . .Huntz Hall! (yes, of "The Bowery Boys")
The Andrews Sisters were top-billed for the movie but they came across more as guest stars.
"The Joker is Wild"
I am making a belated reference to Joe E. Lewis in this post. He was a nightclub comic with a fascinating background. People my age might not be familiar with him were it not for the movie "The Joker is Wild." The movie starring Frank Sinatra was on TV as we were growing up. It included a scene that I think is one of the greatest in movie history.
Let's explain first that Lewis started out as a crooner but was hurt in a mafia assault, so bad he couldn't sing any more. Career over? Lewis discovered sort of by accident that he could be funny. A new career was born as comic. Sophie Tucker gives him his big break. She plays herself in "The Joker is Wild." Yes, he makes a new career, but he has a self-destructive streak that leads him to question his way of living and what his life has become.
The classic scene I cite has Sinatra as Lewis walking backstage one evening when a young crooner is out performing for an adoring audience. Sinatra pauses. He looks at that silhouetted figure of the crooner through a screen. It appears like a shadow. Sinatra looks longingly, pondering the obvious "what might have been." Was he really happier as a comic? We were left to wonder.
"Private Buckaroo" was one of only two movies in which Lewis appeared. The other was "Lady in Cement," the 1967 flick with Sinatra. "The Joker is Wild" was based on a book of the same name by Art Cohn. Sinatra read the book, was taken by the story and bought rights to the book.
I really like that Sinatra, who has a huge fan in Morris MN in Wally McCollar, insisted that all musical scenes and songs be recorded live on set! Thus we might get a hint of background sounds like coughing and chairs scraping. It was said that Sinatra "captured the bitter inner restlessness almost too well, alternately sympathetic and pathetic."
Lewis was reported to have said to Sinatra: "You had more fun playing my life than I had living it."
Certainly the actors/singers in "Private Buckaroo" had substantially more fun (with "apples") than the troops would have confronting the enemy (those "monkey men").
"Private Buckaroo" seemed very dated after the war. It picked up nostalgic value. "You come away wondering how we won the war," one critic said.
Shemp Howard had a productive post-WWII entertainment career. He was a great talent despite being overshadowed by his Stooge predecessor. Remember the Stooges' piece in which Shemp had to get married by a certain time to gain a big inheritance? When he was a musical instructor to a wailing female pupil who he ends up marrying? When other women desperately clawed at seeking his charms only because they knew he was coming into money? My late friend Glen Helberg would understand. "Money talks and bulls--t walks," Glen always said.
"Private Buckaroo" can leave you feeling a little taken aback the first time you see it. "This movie is trying to tell us something," you'll conclude. And it is: "Let's go after those 'monkey men' (and 'Krauts')." It's nice that such days are behind us. Let us learn from history.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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