This month’s major political conventions will be historic. Nationalist Donald Trump, presumptive nominee of the philosophically bankrupt Republican Party, and welfare-statist Hillary Clinton, presumptive nominee of the New Left-dominated Democratic Party, are the most untrusted and, incidentally, unpopular presidential candidates in modern history. Clinton, exonerated this week by the Obama administration under a cloud of suspicion after the attorney general met with her spouse, the ex-president Bill Clinton, will be the first woman nominated for the presidency by a major party. Trump, generating controversy as always and this time by re-posting a Star of David superimposed on a pile of money via social media, will be the first non-Republican and explicit anti-capitalist nominated by the party which once advocated some degree of capitalism and individual rights. Both will be nominated in American states which were once great industrial centers; Clinton in America’s first capital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Trump in Cleveland, Ohio.
Look for what today’s digital public relations, marketing and social media types call optics at the GOP (July 18-21) and Democratic (July 25-28) conventions. Halting, hair-splitting, cackling Clinton may try to come off as softer, less harsh and hostile and more easygoing as a leader; the safer choice. Spewing, ear-splitting, rambling Trump may try to pass himself off as essentially charismatic and strong, less harsh and hostile and more decisive as a leader; the stronger choice. He will try to be a man of the people, an unapologetic village crier and throwback to pre-Obama days, undoing Obama’s legacy by throwing up tougher, state-sponsored fixes at the strongman’s sole discretion. She will try to appear as a woman of the people, a servant carrying on the Obama presidency’s New Left agenda while silently signalling that the age of statism and egalitarianism—policy dictates defining one’s identity by race, sex or culture—has just begun. The next few weeks will be heavy on optics for two power-lusting frauds in American politics.
Look closer for signs of propaganda, however. Whether at the statist’s or the nationalist’s convention, despite whatever riots, anarchy and attack may be carried out, the coming conventions and 2016 will be filled with symbolism and signs of what’s to come. Trump is a master of this—Clinton is not—as he demonstrates by tagging media personalities, streams and channels to generate greater exposure and attract new followers (read my post on The Circus Cycle). Though Trump polls as a loser, polls have been wrong for years, from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s upset loss to this summer’s Brexit victory. I suspect the Trump voter conceals his planned vote from others. Watch for propaganda to foreshadow (unless Libertarian Gary Johnson is elected president) the new presidency.
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Propaganda, as shown at a recent exhibit at the Richard Riordan Central Library in Downtown Los Angeles, has the power to push a civilized nation to dictatorship. Through visual manipulation, such as digital memes, cartoons and posters, especially in today’s increasingly anti-conceptual, perceptual-level culture, the public can more easily be persuaded of certain assertions. National Socialist propaganda, including promotions for Hitler’s Mein Kampf (which translates as My Struggle), was thoroughly premeditated. Read Leonard Peikoff’s The Cause of Hitler’s Germany for a fundamental explanation of Nazi Germany.
As displayed in “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda”, which runs at the Downtown LA library through August 21 (read about the traveling exhibition here), the Fuhrer (“leader”) and his top Nazis clearly grasped the importance of graphic arts in disseminating their philosophy of duty to the state and submission of the individual to serving others, i.e., altruism, in the name of the god-state-people-race. In certain cases, graphics and images glorify the upshot of National Socialism in practice: mass death and total government control of the individual’s life.
The exhibition, produced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, shows how “the Nazis used propaganda to win broad voter support in Germany, implement radical programs, and justify war and mass murder”. The exhibit continues in Texas and Louisiana (see the schedule here).
Nazi propaganda posters, movies, art and designs also illustrate attacks on Jews, capitalism and profit. There are other lessons, too. Note the cult of personality employed to foster worship of the charismatic leader. Observe similarities to recent U.S. campaign themes, such as Obama’s “hope and change” paraphernalia, the controversial “Ready for Hillary” capital H with its arrow, and, of course, Trump’s chronic emphasis on himself as the charismatic leader for nationalism, bellowing against others—illegal immigrants, Moslems, Apple, businesses that trade with China—as causing America’s downfall. Clinton, and especially Sanders, target others, too—businesses, Apple, traders on Wall Street, the wealthy—and both sides explicitly target the individual for persecution.
What is so alarming about the 2016 presidential election, and what makes National Socialist propaganda particularly relevant, is the erosion of freedom of speech in America. Obama’s administration attacks free speech, from censoring news to censoring movies and intimidating Americans who would exercise free speech (read Obama Vs. Free Speech). Clinton, who once proposed outlawing divorce for couples with children, has been a part of Obama’s assault on the First Amendment and she sought to evade public and press scrutiny during her entire four years as secretary of state while denouncing an American film as the cause of an Islamic terrorist act of war on the United States. Trump, who cuts off microphones at press conferences, proposes eliminating free speech by weakening libel law and jokes, then says he means it seriously, about having journalists targeted for state-sponsored death.
These are explicit policy ideas, plans and actions. Insidious state sponsorship of media and the arts, like something emanating from the Nazi flow chart pictured here, includes quasi government control of the Oscars (Michelle Obama Ruins the Oscars) and arts and technology conferences (SXSW).
As the free press, too, diminishes with the spread of quasi-government control of industry, subsidizing state-favored cable TV monopolies like Time Warner and Comcast which own and operate major media (CNN, HBO, Warner Bros. Pictures, MSNBC, NBC, Universal Studios), coupled with the dumbing down of American education and culture, it becomes both easier and less apparent for the state to impose controls, cronyism and influence, i.e., blacklists. Only this summer did Tribune Publishing, which owns the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun, change its name to the term “tronc” (without the quotation marks but with the bad punctuation), an amalgamation of “Tribune online content” in what appears to be a bid to seem modern, generic and anti-conceptual.
Convergence of today’s aggregated, dumbed down media with secretive, oppressive censorship cannot be far behind.
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, whom the world lost last week, lived his entire life warning of the danger of staying silent while ominous government insidiously gains the power to destroy life. As the summer of ’16—with Clinton, tronc and Trump—goes down shoveling propaganda in conventions and toward a darker history, this is the moment to stay tuned, call statist and nationalist propaganda what it is and speak out.
Last night’s Cowboy Cookout and Ranch Tour at movie star Joel McCrea’s ranch in Southern California was perfect. The air was a bit chilly. But, with everyone helping to make the annual Joel and Frances McCrea Ranch Foundation fundraiser a success, from bus driver Pete and ranch staff to the poet, the band and McCrea’s grandson Wyatt, who lives there, the place was warm, relaxed and rooted in Western culture. Guests added Hollywood glamour.
You’ve probably seen Joel McCrea’s movies. Whether romancing Claudette Colbert in Preston Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story or Veronica Lake in Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels or leading as handsome, freethinking young Dr. Kildare or in Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent, he was a commanding presence on screen. But the underrated, underappreciated actor—who was 6’4 in height—was most comfortable in Westerns, appearing with his wife Frances Dee in Wells Fargo, Cecil B. DeMille’s Union Pacific opposite Barbara Stanwyck, Wichita, as Bat Masterson in The Gunfight at Dodge City, opposite Randolph Scott in Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country, usually as lead and hero of the motion picture. I’d recently seen him as the title character in The Virginian, the 1946 Western. After that, McCrea appeared in mostly Westerns, including his last picture, 1976’s Mustang Country.
Apparently, the Golden Age-era movie star made the Western part of his life. Encouraged by his mentor, humorist Will Rogers, McCrea bought the first thousand acres of private ranch property in Ventura County—what’s now northern Thousand Oaks, California—in the early Hollywood years and made ranching a labor of love. Eventually, Joel McCrea would buy a sprawling ranch where he lived with his wife of 57 years and raised three sons, Jody, David and Peter. Today, a small portion of the original McCrea Ranch in the Santa Rosa valley is left, including the main house McCrea had built and remaining outbuildings, such as the bunkhouse, chicken coop and milk house.
Yesterday, foundation docents and park staff showed the grounds. There’s a road leading up to the house, with a large kitchen and original appliances—including the elevated refrigerator to accommodate McCrea’s height—master bedroom, reading or sun room, Mrs. McCrea’s writing room, living room and the boys’ rooms above the garage. It’s a stone’s throw from the avocado-shaped swimming pool and the trees and vegetation Mr. and Mrs. McCrea planted. The 1,400-square foot visitor’s center has photographs and films on McCrea and his family in movies and at the ranch. Being there, it’s easy to imagine Joel McCrea riding horses and milking cows (he did both). After he died in 1990, Frances moved into the bunkhouse. Mrs. McCrea never lived in the main house again.
The house he’d had designed and built is filled with fireplaces, books—Frances McCrea was an avid reader and Joel McCrea, whose forefather signed the Declaration of Independence, was a serious student of American history—and portraits of Lincoln and Washington. This is a modest, family home, which is not open to the public. So, while the property meets the foundation’s goal to conserve the region’s history and lifestyle, and South Pasadena native McCrea is the embodiment of the healthy, tanned, good-looking, hardworking outdoorsman with which one associates Southern California, the rustic ranch evokes the man and his chosen values. It is here that the movie star lived, worked and enjoyed privacy. The place exudes McCrea’s unique ability to shuttle between relaxed, easygoing charm and hard-driving loyalty to one’s personal code.
Donors attending last night’s Cowboy Cookout—including Western artists and intellectuals such as Eric Heisner, William Wellman, Jr., whose father directed McCrea in The Great Man’s Lady and Buffalo Bill, and Bruce Boxleitner (Contagion, Tron, CBS’s Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Gods and Generals, ABC’s How the West Was Won)—joined Wyatt McCrea in toasting McCrea Ranch as a place worth preserving as it once was. So do I, especially to study, experience and honor McCrea Ranch as home and land where Joel McCrea cashed in on what he’d earned—as an example of where a man once lived the honest, productive life he’d portrayed in the movies.
Spending my youth in the suburbs north of Chicago often made me curious about its origins. There were exotic American Indian names, mysterious trails, woods and tales of corruption, scandal and murder amid the lush, green bluffs and flat, fertile soil, not to mention the lakefront, the railroad and the industry. I know I’m scratching the surface, but I’m enjoying writing about the towns, villages and enclaves north of Chicago in a newspaper history series I conceived and developed with my editor, David Sweet, earlier this year.
The theme is capitalism—the entrepreneurial spirit—on Chicagoland’s North Shore.
Glencoe, Illinois waiting station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
Talking with local and regional historians, curators and scholars, my research yields new takes on local myths and legends, facts about iconic names, dates and places and, above all, clarity about the men who forged new paths, pioneered Northern Illinois, fought for the Union during the Civil War and settled some of the nation’s most creative, productive and wealthiest towns. These men were largely men of vision and reason and they were farmers, frontiersmen, traders, industrialists and, mostly, individualists. Telling their stories, including notorious facts in the history of these towns, is more rewarding than I had thought possible when I first offered to write the articles.
These front page and cover story articles, which include bits on America’s first recorded serial killer, the only bridge ever designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright and the invention of Christmas bubble lights, Girl Scout cookies and Frenchmens’, Indians’ and religionists’ plans for the area near and along Lake Michigan north of Chicago, are currently available online for free. Read about Glenview, Wilmette and Glencoe. Know that there are more stories to come.
The Sower (photo by Scott Holleran, may not be reproduced without permission)
During a recent visit to the Sunshine state, I discovered the former home of Albin Polasek (1879 – 1965) one of America’s foremost 20th century sculptors. The home is located on a small lake in central Florida in a town called Winter Park. The modest waterfront home, adjacent chapel and property have been turned into a museum and gardens showcasing his remarkable work.
Polasek (pronounced by the tour guide as Pull-ah-chek), a Czech-born immigrant to America who adopted the representational art method of sculpture, created “figurative works of sound composition based upon the true structure of nature”, according to the museum, which explains on its Web site that
His goal was to show the essential unity of head or figure and the beauty of ‘movement,’ the flow of one mass into another. He felt that movement made the difference between a work exuding life and something inanimate.
The museum is set far enough back from the busy avenue to provide a placid atmosphere for a leisurely visit. The $5 admission includes a general video introduction to Polasek’s ideas, life and work and a tour through much of the home and chapel, which he had built for his private religious purposes. Though he was Catholic—he followed his brother, who was a priest, to America—it’s clear from his work that his views do not align with Catholic Church doctrine.
For example, I was informed that Polasek sculpted one of his most famous works, Victorious Christ, which depicts a strong and exalted Jesus Christ on the cross, because Polasek did not approve of depictions of pain and suffering (the original is in a cathedral in Omaha, Nebraska). Though much of Polasek’s over 400 works are religious, many include essentially secular or distinctly non-Catholic themes, such as his Man Carving His Own Destiny (another version appearing elsewhere on the grounds as Evolution). Polasek sculpted and carved in stone, bronze, plaster and wood. He painted, too.
Eternal Moment (photo by Scott Holleran, may not be reproduced without permission)
Born in 1879 in Moravia (now Czech Republic), Albin Polasek apprenticed as a woodcarver in Vienna before immigrating to the United States in 1901 at the age of 22, according to the museum. After working as a woodcarver, he began formal art training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where he learned classical sculpting techniques and first created Man Carving His Own Destiny (1907) and Eternal Moment (1909). Polasek became an American citizen in 1909.
While in Rome on an arts fellowship, his Sower (pictured above and below) earned critical praise and he returned to America and established a studio in New York City until, in 1916, at the age of 37, Polasek was asked to head the Sculpture Department at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he remained for nearly 30 years.
The museum bio says that Albin Polasek retired to Winter Park, Florida, in January 1950, at the age of 70, designing the home and having it built on Lake Osceola. It is there that he had a stroke, which left him partly paralyzed, and married his close friend and former student Ruth Sherwood, the first marriage for both. Polasek was 71 and Sherwood was 61. When she died 18 months later, he married a second time to a woman named Emily who is credited with encouraging his work.
Victory of Moral Law (photo by Scott Holleran, may not be reproduced without permission)
Despite his condition, Polasek was able to work with his right hand – my tour guide told me that an assistant would help and added that, at one point, someone who’d worked on Mount Rushmore aided in the creation of at least one work – and Polasek completed 18 major works, including the anti-Communist Victory of Moral Law (1957) as a response to the Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union. The serpent slithering around the world of the sculpture (pictured here) represents Communism.
Polasek had the chapel built on the property because, I was told, he did not like to attend church services and he sought solitude and serenity in prayer. A priest occasionally though not often came to the Polasek chapel for a mass. The chapel is the last part of the tour before the gardens, where guests are welcome to continue self-guided along the lakefront path and examine works such as Eternal Moment and others. The docent was courteous and knowledgeable, though not scholarly.
After the tour, I circled the gardens, took my time and came back into the house on the other side. The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens are a modest property, located close to the Winter Park Public Library, Rollins College and the Alfond Hotel, which is owned and operated by the college. I ended my visit in the gift shop, having toured the house, where Polasek worked, the chapel, where Polasek’s Catholic Stations of the Cross are on display, and the gardens. The Sower and Man Carving His Own Destiny are located in the front of the house. I was first to arrive for the tour and last to leave. The whole visit took a couple of hours. I think most people stayed for an hour, maybe a bit longer.
The Sower (photo by Scott Holleran, may not be reproduced without permission)
Of course, Victory of Moral Law and Man Carving His Own Destiny are thematically appealing to me and their execution in various forms (Polasek kept creating and improving) is something to behold. Everything he made, even a statue of Woodrow Wilson he was commissioned to create and woodcarvings for an epic nativity scene he made as a boy in Europe, expresses something meaningful. The male and female nudes are beautiful. A child’s face depicts pure joy. The Sower, from a story in the Bible, sows seeds of good will throughout the world. All of these and the sum total of the experience made the trip to the Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens very nourishing.
But learning more about the artist, who is buried beside his first wife with his own 12th Station of the Cross (c. 1939) in Winter Park’s cemetery, is an unexpected highlight.
Polasek left Europe for America, settled in the Midwest, carved in wood, changed his mind, went to school, learned, sculpted, earned awards and fellowship in Rome, returned to Chicago, led the Art Institute’s sculpture department for 30 years, moved south to a town founded by a Chicago businessman, survived a stroke, continued to make sculpture and married for the first time at the age of 71, marrying once more when he’d lost the one he’d loved. He appeared to have lived in pursuit of happiness and I think it shows in his best work. Crucially, he understood what the freedom to create means to the creator; he did not take liberty for granted.
Man Carving His Own Destiny (photo by Scott Holleran, may not be reproduced without permission)
As Albin Polasek wrote:
I am like a piece of rock which has been broken off of the Carpathian Mountains in the heart of Czechoslovakia. Later this crude stone was transported to the Land of the Free: the United States of America. This block of stone was myself. Through the opportunities that this country gave me, I started to carve out my destiny…”
Olivia Newton-John’s first Las Vegas residency, inside the Donny & Marie Showroom at Caesar Entertainment’s Flamingo Hotel and Casino, is an intimate, poignant show she calls “Summer Nights”. The 20-plus song production premiered this week. I’ve met and written about Olivia over the years at various stages of her extraordinary career and, in Vegas for a conference, I wanted to see her new show before the grand opening.
The iconic star emerged looking and sounding fabulous. Stepping out in black and white, framed by the venue’s familiar pink, her understated stage presence is as relaxed, seasoned and elegant as the themes of her earliest hit records. After decades of recording, filming and touring, Olivia is a masterful artist, who, like Doris Day, never really gets the serious credit she deserves. With a refreshing emphasis on music, Olivia sang her most popular and audience-friendly songs and a few cover tunes. Her 45-date engagement runs through August.
In perfect tune on every song from “Physical” to “Have You Never Been Mellow”, Olivia clearly takes care of herself. Her voice, which still expresses her unique blend of struggle, strength and sweetness, achieves clarity in every song and clarity defines her superior vocal style. She moves with ease in simple, playful choreography that wisely lets the spotlight stay centered on the 65-year-old pop star. The skilled eight-piece band and spot-on backup singers play against a black and white stage design, which complements ONJ’s pronounced style. She kept banter light and humorous.
Xanadu soundtrack songs include the hits “Magic” and “Suddenly” and the show features luminous images from the 1980 picture, from movie publicity stills to clips of her film character, Kira, dancing with co-star Gene Kelly. “Summer Nights” includes themed segments for Grease (1978) songs (“We Go Together”, “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee (reprise)”, “Hopelessly Devoted to You”, “Summer Nights” and “You’re the One That I Want”) and a medley of Olivia’s early country recordings and hits, including “Country Roads”, “If You Love Me Let Me Know”, “Please Mr. Please” and “Let Me Be There”. The show’s title number, the boy-girl, tell-me-more ensemble duet from Grease, is a crowd pleaser. When the audience added its own pathetic attempt at the heavy sigh that was originally John Travolta‘s oh at the climax of the story in song, Olivia hilariously broke character and turned to the audience in mock horror, a brief moment of self-awareness which made the finale all the more satisfying for everyone in the room. “Summer Nights” employs a jovial, even raucous, sense of life. It’s hard not to have a blast when she’s singing about “good, Kentucky whiskey”, getting animal and a place where nobody dared to go.
Though this longtime fan missed hearing Olivia perform songs from Two of a Kind, Back with a Heart, Soul Kiss, Grace and Gratitude and The Rumour, the show is a musical journey from “I Honestly Love You” (1974) to ONJ’s Brazilian-influenced Gaia anthem “Not Gonna Give Into It” (1994) and more, so it is understandable why certain songs didn’t make the final set list. Whatever one’s favorite moment or song from the remarkable career of Olivia Newton-John, some of the most powerful performances in “Summer Nights” are her covers of “Cry Me a River”, “Over the Rainbow” and the stirring rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s layered “Send in the Clowns” from the 1973 musical A Little Night Music. The mystery of what moves us in music is of course enormously complicated, so each member of the audience will be touched in some unique way by Olivia’s incredible range in theme, technique and life experience. But you will never think of Olivia as a mere pleasant voice or source for fun pop diversion from the past again. Here, she delivers a rewarding sample of why she is the best.
The impeccable performance – expect stark staging, not glitz ala Cher or Celine Dion – stems from ONJ’s status as a true pop music diva who has earned every dollar; she was an opening act for Charlie Rich at the Las Vegas Hilton in the summer of 1974, worked with Don Rickles, Eddie Rabbit and other Vegas acts, so Olivia knows the boulevard’s demands and strikes the proper tone for a show that combines glamor and ability. Her 40th year return to performing in Las Vegas, this time in headline residency, is a triumph.
The fact that Olivia recently lost her sister, Rona, to cancer, makes the charitable part of this production especially meaningful. In 1992, Olivia was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her personal thriving led her to create a partnership with the Austin Health and the creation of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre (ONJCWC) in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia. Olivia donates a portion of the $68-$249 ticket price to the ONJCWC, which provides comprehensive services for cancer treatment, education, training and research as well as a dedicated wellness center.
The first cafe to serve cappuccino in America, Cafe Reggio, established in 1927 and featured in 1970s movies such as Shaft, Serpico and The Godfather Part II, is among the scads of trivia in the always enjoyable if not comprehensive I Never Knew That About New York by Christopher Winn, whose I Never Knew That… series is also nicely illustrated by his wife, Mai Osawa. The book goes on sale today.
For first-time visitors, longtime residents or those like me in between who have had an on-again, off-again relationship with America’s greatest city, this $16 paperback packs facts, stories and information into its pages. Lord & Taylor was the first store to introduce Christmas window displays, for instance, which one learns in an entry on Fifth Avenue. Most bits are included as stand alone paragraphs, though the book is separated by geography and includes essays, sidebars and longer but still short histories such as the bit on the New York Public Library.
I Never Knew That About New York contains morsels that may inform even the lifelong New Yorker. Did you know, for instance, that the Statue of Liberty’s real name is “Liberty Enlightening the World” and that Statue of Liberty is a nickname? You may know that Columbus Circle is the point from which all official distances to and from New York are measured, as Winn writes here, but do you know that the world’s first cinema opened in New York inside a converted shoe store? Among my favorites is a listing with online and physical addresses of places that are open to the public, from the J.P. Morgan Library and Columbia University to the New York Federal Reserve Bank and the Empire State Building. Neither encyclopedia nor travel guide, this hybrid of condensed histories is useful and interesting to everyone who loves New York