Friday, July 29, 2011

Forgotten Man

I don't like getting political on my blog--or, really, at all in public, believing that politics, religion, and sex shouldn't be discussed in polite company, but if you must pick one, pick sex every time. Yet, the current crisis of budget and debt permeates our discussion here in the good ol' USofA, and one quietly occurring change is to the pension plans for US military members. This hasn't gotten a lot of press, but additional cuts may be cropping up in the future.

Which made me think about the past, naturally.

In the 1930s, with the hardships of the Depression bearing down on the nation, the veterans of WWI were pretty unhappy. Many were out of work, which they felt was poor repayment of their services, and their desperation culminated in the 1932 Bonus March, in which they demanded early payment on their delayed-bonus certificates (which were not due to mature until 1945, more than a decade and another World War later).

Though the Bonus March gets most of the press about veterans and WWI, perhaps it's fair to say that payment of the bonuses was the rallying issue rather than the only problem. This is, recall, before the GI Bill that promises education and loan benefits to veterans, and many Depression-era WWI veterans felt abandoned as they drifted without finding work.

Which brings us to Joan Blondell.

In the musical film Gold Diggers of 1933, the director makes an interesting choice--the final stage number of the story is, rather than a mere flashy song-and-dance scene, a tribute to those downtrodden vets, with a piece entitled "Forgotten Man."

Busby Berkeley, choreographer extraordinaire, said that he was inspired by the Bonus March in creating this number, which impressed producers so much they insisted it switch to the final scene and displace another musical number. He made another interesting choice in this sequence--the inclusion of Etta Moten, an African-American singer, alongside Blondell. In an era when black performers were often not included at all, or relegated to comedic bit parts, the front-and-center performance by a black woman is remarkably progressive. Berkeley also included people of color in another number in the show, "Pettin' in the Park."

The more we change, the more we stay the same, it seems...except our current political issues are rarely eloquently expressed through musical numbers. Which is, I think, quite a shame.

1 comment:

Connie Keller said...

As always, fascinating. Thanks.