Mr. Rogers, Rand, Carnegie and Pittsburgh

Read my article “Bridging Ayn Rand and Pittsburgh” in the winter edition of Pittsburgh Quarterly, currently on sale at certain newsstands in the city of bridges. I bought a copy at a downtown Pittsburgh shop during a recent visit over Thanksgiving (more on the trip below). It’s an account, and I think perhaps the first in publication, of the philosopher who described herself as a radical for capitalism and what contends as the foremost city of the Industrial Revolution. I pitched a few ideas to my editor and publisher and this is the byproduct of the one he thought best serves the magazine’s readers.

In the piece, which may become available online, I focus on the Forties, when Rand wrote her observations of Pittsburgh in her journal, corresponded with an admiring book critic for a Pittsburgh newspaper and prepared for the movie adaptation of her 1943 novel The Fountainhead. All of these tie into each other and relate to an interesting comment by Objectivist scholar Greg Salmieri, whom I interviewed for the article. Dr. Salmieri, who’s editing the University of Pittsburgh Press series of books studying Rand’s philosophy, gives his opinions on Rand’s ideas and how they’ve been interpreted within the context of today’s false left-right political dichotomy.

I am delighted that publication of the first article about Rand and my hometown coincides with the first reprinting of my article about Andrew Carnegie in Capitalism Magazine (read it here). Carnegie is one of my first heroes. I became fascinated with him as a boy. As with Ayn Rand, the more I learn and know about this man, the more I admire him. I wrote this piece several years ago as a sidebar to an article I’d been asked to write for a magazine.

Having just visited the city of Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and, yes, Carnegie Hall (not the one portrayed in Green Book), I can happily say that I think you’ll find this profile of Andrew Carnegie worth reading. I won’t be surprised if you discover that you’ve learned something new and admirable, even exciting, about this amazing man, whose birthday I celebrated while I was in Pittsburgh.

One of the things I love about Pittsburgh is that its residents have real awareness, knowledge and appreciation, even admiration, for capitalists and captains of industry. Wherever I went on Carnegie’s birthday while visiting Pittsburgh, everyone with whom I discussed the man was instantly interested, engaged and aware of his legacy, his stature, his greatness. I’ve written about Pittsburgh on this blog several times, and will write more soon about this year’s Thanksgiving trip, but I find that I am often surprised by this city’s unique ability to wall off the world’s spreading religion of hatred of moneymaking. There’s real reverence for it here, however unpolished or weary it may be. The city of steel, in this sense, can spark like that.

This is one reason it was wonderful to see the new movie about Pittsburgh’s pioneering child development host, Mr. Rogers, with my family in Pittsburgh. It’s a warm, thought-provoking film that holds your interest as an individual, challenging you to introspect, engaging you with silence, not screaming, blaring, sensory-driven assault. Yet it comes together as a whole, respecting the uniqueness of each individual and his choices, even when those choices deviate from traditional notions of family, holidays and what constitutes a proper gathering. See A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers by yourself, alone and in solitude or with a friend. Or with your chosen family as I did. Read my movie review on the cover of the New Romanticist here.

Look for more posts — on its theater, culture, hospitality, downtown and sports — about this fall’s trip to Pittsburgh soon.

 

Fall Roundup

This fall, I’m focused on writing new fiction as often as possible while working with my existing customers. I am also researching topics in sports, history and the arts for new magazine assignments, so stay tuned. I recently interviewed literature scholar Shoshana Milgram about Victor Hugo for an article which is coming soon. Also, stand by for a link to an article about Pittsburgh and Ayn Rand in this winter’s edition of Pittsburgh Quarterly.

Meanwhile, I’ve added a couple of movie-themed article links to the site archives. My review of John Ford’s 1960 motion picture about a Negro soldier accused of raping a white woman, Sergeant Rutledge, which is truly heroic unlike the heavily hyped Black Panther, can be read here. This week, the World Series ended, so I’ve included my 70th anniversary review of The Stratton Story, starring June Allyson and James Stewart. This inspiring, romantic movie is a simple and heroic baseball tale; read my review here.

My recent viewing of Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix moved me to finally see Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976). While I notice certain similarities, it’s the differences with that year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Rocky, that really caught my attention. My analysis found both a flaw and much to appreciate. Look for a new review soon. Meanwhile, read my newest classic movie breakdown of another Academy Award-winning Best Picture, David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962), which I recently watched in Hollywood’s historic Cinerama Dome, on The New Romanticist here and Aurora’s classic movie site, Once Upon a Screen, here. My theme about this exceptional movie is that its value lies in its depiction of one man’s intransigent pursuit of a heroic life.

New movies I’m planning to see and may review include the new Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, Black Nativity) picture about one of my earliest heroes, Harriet Tubman, Harriet, featuring her husband Vondie Curtis-Hall (Chicago Hope) and son as well as Janelle Monae (Moonlight, Hidden Figures). I’m also planning to see the new movie about Fred Rogers starring Tom Hanks, probably while I’m on assignment in Pittsburgh among fellow Pittsburghers who knew Mr. Rogers best. Time permitting, I also want to see The Current War, Judy and Motherless Brooklyn. Later this year, I plan to preview my writing for the new year, including my adult educational media and writing courses and other new writings. Wishing you a happy Halloween until then.

 

Hatred, Thought and Mass Murder as Crime

The newest cluster of mass shootings finally shows a ray of light. I’ve stopped writing about these premeditated acts of mass murder with my summer of 2017 post about what I call the hush of Charlottesville. I think the status quo on mass shootings is wrong and the level and quality of discourse is low to none and getting worse fast.

Nevertheless, when FBI agent Christopher Combs described the Odessa, Texas, shooter, Seth Ator, as one who’d reached out to police in advance of his attack and rambled about his “perceived life’s tragedies” adding that the 36-year-old “was on a long spiral of going down”, I saw a spark of intelligence in the currently prevalent approach to mass American murder.

“[The mass murderer] was on a long spiral of going down,” the FBI agent had said. It’s a crucial statement. His judgment bears repeating, thinking about and contemplating, even examining. Combs went on about Ator’s act of evil: “He didn’t wake up Saturday morning and go into his company and then it happened. He went to that company in trouble and had probably been in trouble for a while.”

As someone who has conducted a kind of cultural study of these mass murders since a mentally disturbed woman went on a shooting rampage on Chicago’s North Shore in the late 1980s, after having been in and out of mental health institutions and the judiciary for crimes against her husband for decades, with the complicity of many in the health care and judicial systems but especially her parents, I’ve come to the conclusion that the predominant voices on mass shootings are fundamentally wrong. With the current atmosphere so highly charged, it’s nearly impossible to have a reasonable discussion of these events.

Combs makes progress, however, by emphasizing — really stressing — the shooter’s death spiral. The policeman is, as America’s president has been trying to do, shifting the focus from residual or secondary issues such as access to guns, safety precautions, etc., to more fundamental issues such as mental health. In the case in Chicagoland, the murderess Laurie Dann could have been prevented from slaughtering and maiming the innocent including her children victims had her parents and others held Dann to account for her mental illness, crime and wrongdoing. Policeman Combs is saying the same thing about the Odessa, Texas, killer.

In fact, nearly every act of mass American murder in recent years, from the Islamic terrorists who gunned down gays in Orlando and athletes in Boston to the gambler who gunned down concert-goers in Las Vegas, sent multiple messages in advance of each siege. In some cases, such as the Boston and Orlando jihadist assaults, police had been warned in advance by the family or intelligence. In others, such as the Las Vegas massacre, women knew something was wrong in advance. But in each case, clear signs of evil, mental distress or impending breakdown were demonstrated, often in repetition. Yet warnings and signs went ignored, denied or evaded.

Why? I’ll leave that to historians and scholars. It’s clear to me, however, that the nation’s in a mass delusion about the philosophical rot eroding us from within, which is why the FBI agent’s comment is somewhat encouraging in today’s context. Few are able or want to acknowledge the reality that bad ideas, such as altruism, also collectivism, are accepted and practiced with consistency in these murderous attacks. These are at least contributing causal factors in most of these mass shootings. It’s not just white men doing the killing. From the Beltway sniper and his partner in crime at the turn of the century to foreigners, women such as Dann, Susan Smith and lesbians driving off cliffs with their children, among others in Santa Barbara and Virginia Tech, the rot spreads and claims countless lives. No one should be shocked to find that those who accept our era’s basic thesis that selfishness is a vice practice this rotten ideal.

Will Americans ever learn that those trained to seek to annihilate themselves are more likely to annihilate others? The ethics of selflessness breeds mass death, damage and disability.

As Fred Rogers once said:

“Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.”

For all their professions of civility, compassion, nuance, intelligence and decency, those who consider themselves to be liberal in my experience are often the most damaged, deficient and disabled in this regard. Again, what the FBI agent says about the spiraling down of the man who shot police and civilians in Texas is that he needed help for himself, cried out and sought help to some extent and ended up going down without help. People should pay more attention to the disaffected, the dejected, the maligned — anyone who’s being ridiculed, persecuted and confused by living in the divisive, strident, hostile society America has become. Especially, though not exclusively, the white male.

Twenty years ago, I wrote an op-ed for newspapers arguing that so-called hate crime legislation pushed by religious conservatives and leftists alike would lead to total suppression of speech, more hatred and total contempt and disregard for thought, as such, as a crime. Read my essay, reprinted in publications such as the Los Angeles Daily News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Casper Star-Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle, here.

Hate crimes became law anyway and, sadly, my forecast became reality. Hate crimes, which are tantamount to thought crimes, evoking Orwell’s dystopian literature, led to the asinine, anti-conceptual term hate speech, which poisons American society with suppression of thought, ideas and civil discourse. With now-daily mass murder coupled with calls for total government control of speech, media, guns, medicine and life, as the troubled individual about whom the FBI’s Christopher Combs spoke sacrifices himself as instructed, each American should challenge and reject the idea that hatred is bad, wrong and toxic.

After 20 years of nonstop, incessant preaching against hate, as such, distorting a perfectly legitimate emotion by extrapolating it universally as inherently and always wrong, bad and evil, the nation is utterly consumed by Americans’ hatred of one another. The hatred manifests in mass death as lonely, troubled people lash out against anyone who seems responsible for the nation’s or their real or perceived downward spiral.

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not preclude steps toward laws governing guns, as Trump and some in Congress support.

But America’s epidemic of daily mass murder can only be causally mitigated by listening, not sniveling, to others. The snide, hostile, vitriolic quips, memes and digs substituting for discourse destroy one’s ability to project a better, happier future. Every time a leftist, an anarchist or a conservative hurls invective, the otherwise decent human is dehumanized, demoralized and more susceptible to bad ideals, especially self-abnegation as an alleviating solution to his — or her — pain, suffering and agony.

This is compounded by the confusion, experienced as causeless among generations taught not to think but instead to go scoreless, refuse to judge and instead prattle slogans to reduce, conserve and recycle or just blank out, feel, gaze at one’s navel and go toward God, “the light” and whatever rave, idiotic video challenge or drug-induced mania is trending. Self-denial and confusion are a volatile mix for mass death.

The solution? Listening, really listening, and speaking in turn but with civility, strength, purpose, benevolence and, above all, rationality. This means knowing, understanding and loving the First, before the Second, Amendment. And this means hating — really having contempt for — those who seek to wipe it out and replace it with government control.

 

Children of Hollywood

The granddaughter of Melvyn Douglas appeared this spring in the room where the first Academy Awards were held to moderate a discussion with Cary Grant’s, Charlton Heston’s and Ruby Dee’s adult children on being a child of Hollywood. It happened at the classic movies festival.

Douglas, Grant, Muhammad and Heston at TCMFF 2019

I wrote about the insightful panel discussion, dubbed ‘the descendants’ by Turner Classic Movies for their 10th annual TCM Classic Film Festival, for Flicker Alley’s online classic film journal. The Hollywood-based company, which creates, distributes and sponsors top caliber movie restorations and releases, kindly announced that “[o]ur Flicker Alley Team attended the TCM Film Festival in April, where we met the talented Scott Holleran who graciously shares his experience in this month’s blog.”

Read my article about surviving Hollywood parents — besides Melvyn Douglas, these include Dyan Cannon, Ossie Davis, Charlton Heston, Ruby Dee and Cary Grant — here.

 

Joe Buck, Scarlett O’Hara, Doris Day and the Movies

Joe Buck, Scarlett O’Hara, Doris Day and the Movies

Read my writing on David O. Selznick’s Gone With the Wind (1939) which I wrote after seeing the movie at Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood this spring during TCM’s annual movie festival.

In the essay, which includes an extended section on my personal context for seeing the film and reading the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell, which won a Pulitzer Prize for literature, I examine its treatment of slavery, romance, women, history and war. This includes my analysis of its most famous line, which I think is misunderstood, overestimated or underestimated, and a new discovery about the character Prissy.

Read my analysis of Gone With the Wind on New Romanticist here.

Another movie I had seen before, long ago, but never reviewed, is Samson and Delilah, Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 Bible epic. This, too, I saw at TCM’s festival. This, too, contains certain aspects that I think today’s audiences (to the degree they’re aware of these movies) may miss. Read my guest review for a classic movies blog of this movie about sex between man and woman here.

Though I had never seen Winchester ’73, a Western starring James Stewart and Shelley Winters, I knew about its anti-Western or modern reputation. I think I detected an aspect about the 1950 film which other analysts may have missed, which I write about in my review. You can read my guest review of Winchester ’73 here.

Each new review includes a short postscript on the screening including my thoughts on TCM’s presentation. Additionally, I reported on TCM’s tribute to the 20th Century Fox studio founded by a Hungarian immigrant named William Fox, which like Marvel Comics has been consumed by Disney, for one of the Internet’s best classic movies sites, Once Upon a Screen. Read the appreciation of Fox here, where I also share other classic movies posts, including my roundup of TCM’s 10th annual Classic Film Festival.

One of the TCM event’s best features included a program with the child of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, as well as Charlton Heston’s son and Cary Grant’s kid with Dyan Cannon. An article about this discussion, moderated by the granddaughter of Melvyn Douglas (Ninotchka, Hud, The Candidate), will be posted soon.

In the meantime, I’ve also conducted a thorough examination of the 1969 Academy Award-winning Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy, which turns 50 years old this year. I had never seen the movie, which is curiously forgotten, ignored or rarely discussed yet widely heralded as a masterpiece, an assertion which I dispute in my analysis. Read my thoughts on this bleak and miserable gay-themed film, which debuted in the same year as the hippies’ music festival near Woodstock, Charles Manson’s mass murderous hippies in Los Angeles and America’s landing a man on the moon, here.

Recalling the opposite of Midnight Cowboy‘s extremely depraved and influential sensibility, today’s the date that Turner Classic Movies airs its movie marathon in memory of the late Doris Day, who died last month in California. I was moved to write a tribute to this wonderfully American star which I hope you choose to read. Turner Classic Movies features the article, “America Needs Doris Day”, here.

Three Reviews

I added three movie reviews to the archives this week. The first, my review of 2018’s Avengers film, is timed for next month’s heavily-hyped new Avengers movie. In this article, posted elsewhere last year, I question making mass death and nihilism entertaining or ‘fun’, which is the 2018 film’s essence. I point out that these comics movies depict the superhero’s superpower in widening disproportion to the individual’s vanishing power, due to government control, over his life. I think it’s an interesting contrast.

Is it possible these preposterous movies are popular for this reason? Read my review of Avengers: Infinity War here.

Two analyses of movies by screenwriter and director Robert Benton, whom I interviewed last spring in Hollywood, also appear on the site archives. The movies had been selected by Turner Classic Movies for presentation during last year’s classic movies festival where I interviewed Mr. Benton. We discussed both movies in great detail during the interview. It was a rare opportunity to delve into the motion picture arts with a marvelous storyteller (I plan to make the interview available to a wider audience).

I wanted to see the two pictures again before conducting the interview, which took place at the site of the first Academy Awards. Fittingly, both films won prestigious Oscars. This is not my primary concern, however, and I think the movies’ merits stand apart from Oscar recognition, awards which are rapidly becoming less meaningful. That said, I wanted to write an extensive review analyzing both films before the interview was conducted and published. I’ve made them available here for the first time.

The first article takes a serious look at Robert Benton’s adaptation of Avery Corman’s novel, Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979). This is an outstanding motion picture and not just as a character study of the modern man. Incidentally, besides Robert Redford‘s adaptation of Judith Guest’s novel of Chicago’s suburban North Shore, Ordinary People, it’s probably one of the last heroic movies to win Oscar’s Best Picture award to depict a wholly fictional story with style, depth and artistry.

Forty years after its release, Kramer Vs. Kramer remains relevant and compelling. I’m still thinking about the movie as I write this. I saw it as a boy in the movie theater upon its release and I was astonished. Today, Kramer Vs. Kramer exists as a testament that movies can be great, large and wonderful about heroic beings without being loud, brash and sniveling like today’s onslaught of Marvel or death premise pictures. I doubt whether Kramer Vs. Kramer would get a hearing amid today’s Me, Too orthodoxy. I think it would be deemed too pro-man, too white or too male or not abiding today’s collectivism. Read my breakdown of Kramer Vs. Kramer.

Benton made Places in the Heart five years later. It’s a bleaker film than Kramer, though in a way it is more challenging, epic and universal. Gone are the parks, brownstones and hurry of New York City’s Upper East Side in Kramer. Here, come the fields, rooms and quiet of faraway Texas. Celebrating its 35th anniversary, the picture that won an Oscar for Sally Field shows real insight about a range of serious issues, including what it means to be marginalized or minimized by others, but especially what it means to make your own home, family and life without regard to blood, tribe and the irrational.

Robert Benton is religious. He comes from Texas. Places in the Heart reflects his faith and background, especially in its final frames. But it also depicts with serenity and clarity the hardship of being different in a world going bad and I think it offers a salve, a coolant and grace for forging one’s own way when nothing seems possible. I have seen and enjoyed most of Robert Benton’s movies, including those I’ve had the pleasure to interview him about, such as The Human Stain with its similar strains and Feast of Love with its blissful sense of life. Places in the Heart depicts that human strength begins with a commitment to care for yourself. This alone sets it far and above most movies now or upon its release. Read my review here.