IRVING BERLIN

In some ways, Irving Berlin’s life epitomized what America is all about. His story was literally, a “rags to riches” saga. To describe Berlin as a songwriter would be akin to describing Babe Ruth as a “baseball player” or Michael Jordan as a “basketball player.” Technically true, but it doesn’t do him justice. In the words of Walter Cronkite (“Uncle Walter”) Berlin “helped write the story of this country, capturing the best of who we are and the dreams that shape our lives.” Strong words, but read on and see if you don’t agree.

Israel Bellin was born on May 23,1888 somewhere in Russia. He was one of eight children. His father was a cantor in a local synagogue. (His precise birthplace is not known for sure. It could have been in a small, nondescript village in present-day Belarus, or, perhaps, somewhere in Siberia.) According to Berlin’s biographer, Laurence Bergreen, Berlin, himself, didn’t know. By his own admission, the only memory he had of the first five years of his life was of “lying on a blanket on the side of the road watching his house burn to the ground,” presumably as the result of one of the many pogroms that were all too frequent at that time throughout eastern Europe.

When Israel was five his father brought the Bellin family to America. They settled in NYC on the Lower Eastside. At some point, Bellin became Berlin, and Israel became Irving.

As was typical for immigrant families of that era, everyone worked to provide for the family. For example, his father, unable to find employment as a cantor, worked in a kosher meat market and gave Hebrew lessons; his mother became a midwife; his sisters worked in a cigar factory, wrapping cigars; and one of his brothers worked in a shirt factory. Beginning at the age of eight, Irving “hawked” newspapers. Everyone, turned over all of their earnings to the mother, who would ceremoniously collect the coins in her apron. Sadly, Irving’s father died when Irving was only 13, which greatly exacerbated the family’s financial woes.

One of the areas in which Berlin sold his newspapers was the Bowery. At that time, the Bowery was a rather unsavory section of lower Manhattan known for its many saloons and restaurants. Berlin would often hear music and songs emanating from these establishments, and he began to sing these songs while working. Sometimes, listeners would toss him a coin or two, which he used to supplement his oncome. His big ambition was to become a singing waiter in one those establishments.

At the age of 14 Berlin decided to leave home and strike out on his own. He lived in the Bowery in quarters he later described as “Dickensian in their meanness, filth and insensitivity to ordinary human beings.” At age 18 Berlin did, in fact, land a job as a singing waiter at a café in Chinatown. In his spare time, he wrote songs and taught himself to play the piano. During this time, one of his friends was another struggling, up and comer, named George M. Cohan, who eventually became a famous songwriter and performer in Vaudeville and on Broadway (“Yankee Doodle Boy,” “Over There”). Cohan would refer to him as “Irvie.”

For you trivia buffs, the first song Berlin sold was “Marie from Sunny Italy” for which he earned a whopping 33 cents in royalties. His first big success was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (1911). It became an international hit and ushered in a dance craze. After that, the hits came with regularity – one after the other.

During his long career, Berlin wrote some 1,500 songs, many of which have become household tunes. When I name some of them, even casual music fans will think “Oh yeah, I know that one. He wrote it?”

Perhaps, the best known and most enduring ones include “God Bless America,” “White Christmas,” “Blue Skies,” “Easter Parade,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” “God Bless America” has become a virtual second national anthem. Berlin wrote it in 1938 to mark the 20th anniversary of Armistice Day, as the end of WW1 was then called. The most famous version was performed by Kate Smith and became the unofficial “good luck” anthem at Philadelphia Flyers’ hockey games. Berlin’s daughter has disclosed that the song was “very personal” for Berlin. He had written it as a tribute to America for taking in a penniless immigrant and “allowing” him to become a successful songwriter.

Berlin won the Academy Award for “White Christmas,” and the Bing Crosby version has sold in excess of 50 million copies, the most of any record. At the ceremony, Berlin was the presenter for his own Oscar, the only time that has ever occurred.

He also wrote the score for some 20 Broadway shows, among them “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Ziegfeld Follies,” “Top Hat,” and “This is the Army.” Film scores include such as “Top Hat,” featuring Fred Astaire (a then little-known performer) and Ginger Rogers, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” and Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” ASCAP’s records reveal that 25 of Berlin’s songs reached the “top of the charts.” Some of the famous singers that have recorded and re-recorded his works are Kate Smith, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, and Doris Day.

Berlin’s personal life was a mixed bag. His first wife, Dorothy Goetz, died on their honeymoon from typhoid fever. His second marriage to the former Ellin Mackay, however, lasted some 60 years and produced four children. They had to elope, since Ellin’s father, who was one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, strongly disapproved of Berlin (disparaging him as merely a singing waiter) and actually disowned his daughter over the marriage. Incidentally, it did not end well for the elder Mackay. He lost most of his money in the Great Depression.

CONCLUSION

Berlin got the last laugh on his father-in-law. He went on to become arguably the most famous, successful and influential songwriter of the 20th Century. For example:

1. Composer George Gershwin characterized him as “the greatest songwriter that has ever lived.”

2. Composer Jerome Kern went even further stating Berlin has no place in American music. [H]e is American music.”

3. In his obituary “The New York Times” played him the ultimate tribute, writing “Irving Berlin set the tone and tempo for the tunes America played and sang and danced to for much of the 20th century.”

4. In addition to the one aforementioned Oscar, Berlin was nominated for seven others. He also won a “Tony,” a “Grammy,” and many other awards.

5. He has a “star” on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Berlin died on September 22, 1989 at the age of 101. The little boy who did not even know where he was born, whose only childhood memory was of watching helplessly while his family’s home burned to the ground, who came to America with nothing but his wits, his talent, and his ambition, had become an enduring icon. He is gone, but his work will last forever.

PS: For those of you who may be interested in learning more about Irving Berlin I recommend the one-man show about his life currently playing at the 59th Street theatre starring Hershey Felder. You will enjoy it, and you will leave humming one of Berlin’s tunes.

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IRVING BERLIN

In some ways, Irving Berlin’s life epitomized what America is all about. His story was literally, a “rags to riches” saga. To describe Berlin as a songwriter would be akin to describing Babe Ruth as a “baseball player” or Michael Jordan as a “basketball player.” Technically true, but it doesn’t do him justice. In the words of Walter Cronkite (“Uncle Walter”) Berlin “helped write the story of this country, capturing the best of who we are and the dreams that shape our lives.” Strong words, but read on and see if you don’t agree.

Israel Bellin was born on May 23,1888 somewhere in Russia. He was one of eight children. His father was a cantor in a local synagogue. (His precise birthplace is not known for sure. It could have been in a small, nondescript village in present-day Belarus, or, perhaps, somewhere in Siberia.) According to Berlin’s biographer, Laurence Bergreen, Berlin, himself, didn’t know. By his own admission, the only memory he had of the first five years of his life was of “lying on a blanket on the side of the road watching his house burn to the ground,” presumably as the result of one of the many pogroms that were all too frequent at that time throughout eastern Europe.

When Israel was five his father brought the Bellin family to America. They settled in NYC on the Lower Eastside. At some point, Bellin became Berlin, and Israel became Irving.

As was typical for immigrant families of that era, everyone worked to provide for the family. For example, his father, unable to find employment as a cantor, worked in a kosher meat market and gave Hebrew lessons; his mother became a midwife; his sisters worked in a cigar factory, wrapping cigars; and one of his brothers worked in a shirt factory. Beginning at the age of eight, Irving “hawked” newspapers. Everyone, turned over all of their earnings to the mother, who would ceremoniously collect the coins in her apron. Sadly, Irving’s father died when Irving was only 13, which greatly exacerbated the family’s financial woes.

One of the areas in which Berlin sold his newspapers was the Bowery. At that time, the Bowery was a rather unsavory section of lower Manhattan known for its many saloons and restaurants. Berlin would often hear music and songs emanating from these establishments, and he began to sing these songs while working. Sometimes, listeners would toss him a coin or two, which he used to supplement his oncome. His big ambition was to become a singing waiter in one those establishments.

At the age of 14 Berlin decided to leave home and strike out on his own. He lived in the Bowery in quarters he later described as “Dickensian in their meanness, filth and insensitivity to ordinary human beings.” At age 18 Berlin did, in fact, land a job as a singing waiter at a café in Chinatown. In his spare time, he wrote songs and taught himself to play the piano. During this time, one of his friends was another struggling, up and comer, named George M. Cohan, who eventually became a famous songwriter and performer in Vaudeville and on Broadway (“Yankee Doodle Boy,” “Over There”). Cohan would refer to him as “Irvie.”

For you trivia buffs, the first song Berlin sold was “Marie from Sunny Italy” for which he earned a whopping 33 cents in royalties. His first big success was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (1911). It became an international hit and ushered in a dance craze. After that, the hits came with regularity – one after the other.

During his long career, Berlin wrote some 1,500 songs, many of which have become household tunes. When I name some of them, even casual music fans will think “Oh yeah, I know that one. He wrote it?”

Perhaps, the best known and most enduring ones include “God Bless America,” “White Christmas,” “Blue Skies,” “Easter Parade,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” “God Bless America” has become a virtual second national anthem. Berlin wrote it in 1938 to mark the 20th anniversary of Armistice Day, as the end of WW1 was then called. The most famous version was performed by Kate Smith and became the unofficial “good luck” anthem at Philadelphia Flyers’ hockey games. Berlin’s daughter has disclosed that the song was “very personal” for Berlin. He had written it as a tribute to America for taking in a penniless immigrant and “allowing” him to become a successful songwriter.

Berlin won the Academy Award for “White Christmas,” and the Bing Crosby version has sold in excess of 50 million copies, the most of any record. At the ceremony, Berlin was the presenter for his own Oscar, the only time that has ever occurred.

He also wrote the score for some 20 Broadway shows, among them “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Ziegfeld Follies,” “Top Hat,” and “This is the Army.” Film scores include such as “Top Hat,” featuring Fred Astaire (a then little-known performer) and Ginger Rogers, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” and Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” ASCAP’s records reveal that 25 of Berlin’s songs reached the “top of the charts.” Some of the famous singers that have recorded and re-recorded his works are Kate Smith, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, and Doris Day.

Berlin’s personal life was a mixed bag. His first wife, Dorothy Goetz, died on their honeymoon from typhoid fever. His second marriage to the former Ellin Mackay, however, lasted some 60 years and produced four children. They had to elope, since Ellin’s father, who was one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, strongly disapproved of Berlin (disparaging him as merely a singing waiter) and actually disowned his daughter over the marriage. Incidentally, it did not end well for the elder Mackay. He lost most of his money in the Great Depression.

CONCLUSION

Berlin got the last laugh on his father-in-law. He went on to become arguably the most famous, successful and influential songwriter of the 20th Century. For example:

1. Composer George Gershwin characterized him as “the greatest songwriter that has ever lived.”

2. Composer Jerome Kern went even further stating Berlin has no place in American music. [H]e is American music.”

3. In his obituary “The New York Times” played him the ultimate tribute, writing “Irving Berlin set the tone and tempo for the tunes America played and sang and danced to for much of the 20th century.”

4. In addition to the one aforementioned Oscar, Berlin was nominated for seven others. He also won a “Tony,” a “Grammy,” and many other awards.

5. He has a “star” on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Berlin died on September 22, 1989 at the age of 101. The little boy who did not even know where he was born, whose only childhood memory was of watching helplessly while his family’s home burned to the ground, who came to America with nothing but his wits, his talent, and his ambition, had become an enduring icon. He is gone, but his work will last forever.

PS: For those of you who may be interested in learning more about Irving Berlin I recommend the one-man show about his life currently playing at the 59th Street theatre starring Hershey Felder. You will enjoy it, and you will leave humming one of Berlin’s tunes.

9/11 REMEMBRANCE

Tomorrow is September 11, a date that will always have special meaning for all Americans, indeed for all decent people worldwide. Like December 7 and November 22, September 11 is a date that will, in the words of President FDR, “live in infamy.”

Tomorrow, as on every 9/11, the names of every 9/11 victim will be read out loud on tv. This is a particularly poignant scene as the readers are typically the spouses, children and/or grandchildren of the victims. In my opinion, these readings of the names of the victims is a fantastic idea as it helps us to remember the horrific and cowardly terrorists attacks and continue to pay tribute to the victims.

On September 11, 2001 at 8:46 a.m. ET, Americans’ safe and secure lives changed forever. Like the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and the JFK assassination, undoubtedly, most everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard of the attack. At that moment, the first hijackers’ plane crashed into the north tower of the WTC. This was followed quickly by a second plane crashing into the south tower, and, later, a third one crashing into the Pentagon. Incredibly and inexplicably, by 10:28 both towers had collapsed. Later in the day, a fourth plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, PA. It is believed that this fourth plane was bound for a target in Washington, D.C., perhaps, the White House or the Capitol, and it would have succeeded but for the heroism of some of the passengers on board.

Tomorrow, marks the 17th anniversary of those horrific attacks. They resulted in just under 3,000 deaths. Most of those were workers who were trapped in their offices and consumed by fire or smoke/chemical inhalation. They could not escape because most of the stairwells were blocked. Many victims have only been identified due to their DNA, in some cases many years later.

Compounding the tragedy was the fact that NYC’s 911 operators were not as well informed as they should have been. Thus, they were advising callers from inside the towers not to descend the stairs on their own. Some of them proceeded to the roof hoping to be rescued by helicopter. Unfortunately, helicopters could not land on the roofs due to the heat and thick smoke. Many of us who were watching on tv witnessed the awful sight of people jumping to their deaths (in some cases, actually holding hands with others for support) rather than awaiting their fates from the fire.

The horror of the attacks, themselves, was amplified by the fact that the victims were not soldiers but innocent civilians who were merely working at their jobs. This was the deadliest attack on US soil ever. By comparison, the shocking Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which, as I said, President FDR characterized as “a date that will live in infamy” resulted in “only” 2,400 deaths, and they were mostly military personnel.

In addition to the deaths there was significant damage to the economy of NYC and the US as a whole. The entire Wall Street area, including the financial markets, was closed until September 17. Air travel was disrupted. Americans’ psyche was severely damaged. The cleanup of the WTC area was not completed until May 2002. All in all, it took 3.1 million man-hours to clean up 1.8 million tons of debris at a cost of $750 million. Internationally, countries were generally horrified and supportive, although some of the people in some Muslim countries, such as Iraq, were seen to be celebrating.

Fifteen of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, with the others having originated from Egypt, Lebanon and the UAE. The terrorist group, Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, quickly claimed responsibility. Bin Laden had declared a holy war on the US and had issued a fatwa calling for the killing of Americans. Following 9/11, bin Laden became public enemy number 1. Eventually, the US exacted revenge, hunting him down and killing him.

In addition, to the thousands of civilians, police officers, firemen and EMS workers that were killed in the attacks, themselves, thousands more volunteer workers and even people who lived or worked in the vicinity ended up contracting various illnesses from inhaling the various carcinogens in the air and dying subsequently, in some cases many years later. Seventeen years later, people are still contracting diseases and dying.

Horrifying as it may seem, some doctors have predicted that eventually these victims will exceed the 3,000 killed on 9/11. Many of us know or know of someone, such as, for example, Jamie, a dear friend of my family, who suffered this fate. The shame of it is they went out of their way to volunteer their services and paid for it with their lives.

The primary illnesses are cancer, respiratory disorders, asthma, COPD and gastroesophageal reflux disorder. In addition, health workers have noted a significant increase in anxiety, depression and PTSD. As I said, many of the above have manifested themselves years later. Even now, new cases are being presented. The number of documented cancer cases, alone, has tripled in the past few years. The physical, mental and emotional toll has been astounding. An estimated 18,000 people have contracted illnesses from the toxic dust. Moreover, there is speculation that 9/11 has caused health issues in babies whose mothers were pregnant at the time of the attacks, such as premature birth, respiratory problems, below average weight, and increased neo-natal requirements.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Americans wanted to know how our intelligence agencies had failed to anticipate them. Who had “dropped the ball?” Amid many investigations and finger-pointing it became obvious that the major factor was failure to communicate and share intelligence and information. For example:

l. The CIA had intelligence reports that a terrorist attack was forthcoming, but it was expecting it to be in Israel, not the US.

2. The CIA knew that two known terrorists had slipped into the US.

3. The FBI had information of certain anomalies at some US flight schools.

4. The Justice Department policies advocated very limited intelligence sharing, even with other agencies.

5. The CIA and NSA were reluctant to reveal sources of information and their methods of attaining it.

6. None of these agencies reported their information to each other or to the White House.

7. In 2004 Attorney General John Ashcroft testified to the “9/11 Commission” that the “single greatest structural cause…. was the wall that segregated or separated criminal investigators and intelligence agents.”

I hope that the coordination and information-sharing among these agencies have been enhanced since 9/11, but I have my doubts. As time has gone on, I sense that we have grown more and more complacent and the various alphabet agencies have resumed “guarding their own turf” rather than sharing intelligence and information for the greater good.

CONCLUSION

Americans’ lives have changed considerably since 9/11. Many believe that not all of these changes are good or even necessary. For instance:

1. The US created the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate and oversee intelligence activities and security. In addition, it passed the USA Patriot Act. These agencies have improved our readiness and security but at the price of certain civil liberties. There is, and should be, a balance between security and liberty, and depending on one’s political point of view the pendulum may have swung too far, or not enough, towards security.

2. Enhanced security at airports and train and bus terminals has made travel more complicated, time-consuming, and nerve-wracking. Some people have curtailed or ceased their travel entirely, particularly internationally.

3. Parents are apprehensive, if not paranoid, about letting their children go outside to play or ride their bicycles in the neighborhood. Also, they accompany their children to the school or school bus stop and pick them up at the end of the day. The various terrorist attacks in schools in recent years have done little to assuage these fears and concerns. Schools have ramped up security protocols. Some have even hired armed guards.

4. Many Americans have become very focused on enforcing immigration laws strictly to protect our borders, which has led to conflicts with those who view such an approach as “racist” and favor looser, or even open, borders.

5. On the plus side, there has been a significant increase in patriotism and gratitude toward veterans.

In my opinion, parents should make a concerted effort to educate their children on the tragedy of 9/11, what happened, how it happened and what it means. According to Wikipedia roughly 88 million of the country’s 327 million population are under the age of 21 and, therefore, have little or no recollection or knowledge of this event. The danger is that as time passes the populace will forget, and we should never allow that to happen.

I encourage everyone to find the time to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in lower Manhattan. Take the time to stroll around the beautiful fountain area. Take one of the many tours. Yes, it is tragic to be reminded of the horror of that day, but, on the other hand, it is uplifting to be reminded of the heroism of many first responders and ordinary citizens and to experience the healing that has occurred. Remember, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

BURT REYNOLDS

He was, to some extent, an “accidental actor.” By that I mean he never intended to be an actor or, for that matter, in any way connected to the entertainment business. What he intended to be was a football player, and until he suffered a series of injuries, he was pretty good at it. He was a first team All-State fullback in high school and went to Florida State on a football scholarship. He was doing well until the aforementioned injuries derailed his career. Incidentally, those of you who are sports fans would be interested in knowing that one of his college roommates was Lee Corso, who has gone on to become a college football announcer and analyst of some renown.

Burton Leon Reynolds, Jr. was born on February 11, 1936 in Lansing, MI. His father served in the Army and later became Chief of Police in Riviera Beach, FL. He had true American melting pot ancestry – Dutch, English, Scotch, Irish and, perhaps, a sprinkling of Cherokee Indian.

Following the untimely end of his football career he left FSU. He was uncertain of what to do with his life. He considered becoming either a police officer or a parole officer.

Eventually, he enrolled in some courses at a local junior college. It was there that fate intervened. His English teacher, Watson Duncan, III was producing a play, and he convinced Burt to try out. Burt figured, “why not?” After all, it was considerably less taxing than other summer job possibilities, such as construction.

He got the part and won the Florida State Drama Award for his performance. That award included a scholarship to a summer stock theatre in Hyde Park, NY. Following that gig Burt enrolled in acting classes in NYC, along with notables such as Frank Gifford, Joanne Woodward, Carol Lawrence, Aaron Chwatt and Murray Janofsky. Who?? The latter, you can deduce was aka, Jan Murray. You’re probably not familiar with the name, Aaron Chwatt. Read on for his stage name. Burt considered Duncan to be his “mentor and the most influential person in his life.”

Burt’s first memorable role was on “Gunsmoke,” where he played Quint Asper, a “halfbreed” blacksmith. His first starring role was on the short-lived tv show “Dan August.” Burt played the title role. He once summarized his opinion of the character to Johnny Carson as having “two forms of expression: mean and meaner.”

All actors can point to famous roles that they turned down for one reason or another. Burt was no exception. At one point, James Bond producer, Albert Broccoli, wanted him to play the title role. Reynolds declined. It was his opinion that “an American can’t play ‘James Bond.’ It just can’t be done.” Many actors have played the role, some better than others. I must confess, I cannot picture Reynolds as “James Bond.”

1972 was a very big year for Burt. First of all, he starred in the hit movie, “Deliverance.” In addition, he was featured on the cover of April edition of Cosmopolitan Magazine – in the nude. To me, that was the peak of his movie career. He acted in a series of largely forgettable movies, such as “Boogie Nights” (for which he received an Oscar nomination), “Smokey and the Bandit,” “White Lightning” and “The Longest Yard,” which I thought, at least, was entertaining. His best role on tv was in “Evening Shade.” Burt was a frequent guest on late night talk shows. He was funny and entertaining, but I would classify his acting career as rather pedestrian.

CONCLUSION

Some other interesting facets of Burt’s life:

1. He co-authored a children’s book, “Barkley Unleashed: A Pirate’s Tail.”
2. His extravagant lifestyle and poor investments led to personal bankruptcy in 1996.
3. In the mid-1980s he was a minority owner of the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL.
4. He was co-owner of a NASCAR Winston Cup team.
5. He owned a private theater that specialized in training young performers attempting to break into the entertainment business.

In recent years, Burt had some health issues. For example, he underwent back surgery in 2009; he became addicted to painkillers; and he underwent quintuple coronary artery surgery in 2010. Nevertheless, his niece, Nancy Lee Hess, told the media that Burt’s death was “totally unexpected.”

Rest in peace, Burt. You were popular and entertaining, and you will be sorely missed.

Aaron Chwatt’s stage name was Red Buttons.

LABOR DAY

Yesterday, September 3, we celebrated Labor Day (“LD”). As we all know, the holiday has traditionally been celebrated on the first Monday of September. It is celebrated in various forms and at various dates in approximately 80 countries.

To most Americans LD merely symbolizes the unofficial end of summer and the impending beginning of the school year. They enjoy the day off from work. They spend the day with family and/or friends. They enjoy picnics, parades, vacations, shopping, baseball games and other sports activities, and barbecues. They lament, but grudgingly accept, holiday traffic and long lines at airports. Also, it is the reason why summer always seems to be so short. In our minds, we transfer the approximately three post-Labor Day weeks of the season to Autumn. But, what is the meaning and purpose of LD? Why do we celebrate it? How did it come about? Good questions. Read on for the answers.

As the name implies, the purpose of LD is to celebrate the accomplishments of the American Labor movement. Whatever one’s political views and affiliations, I think it is important and appropriate to understand Labor’s contributions to the growth and development of the US. For one thing, cheap labor was an integral component of the Industrial Revolution. When all was said and done, someone had to build all the roads, railroads, and cars, and operate all the factories and steel mills. In addition, the labor activism of the late 1800s and early 1900s was largely responsible for the relatively high wages and extensive benefits that are enjoyed by today’s US labor force.

The history of LD began in the 1870s in Canada. Labor Unions were illegal in Canada, and 26 members of the Toronto Typographical Union had been imprisoned for striking for a nine-hour work day. That action led to demonstrations and rallies and raising the profile of labor unrest in both Canada and the US. Two of the most outspoken leaders were Peter McGuire, founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and an official of the AF of L, and Matthew Maguire, Secretary of the Central Labor Union in NY. Historical accounts differ, but one or both of these men are credited with being the first to propose a holiday to celebrate labor. In any event, the CLU planned and organized the first LD celebration in NYC on September 5, 1885. Approximately, 20,000 workers and their families participated. The concept spread. In 1887 Oregon became the first state to sanction the holiday.

The Pullman Labor Strike in 1893 provided the final impetus for a national labor holiday. The Pullman Company had been founded and was run by George Pullman. Pullman, IL, where the company operated, was a classic company town. All the workers lived there and paid rent to the company, which was automatically deducted from their paychecks. Workers’ housing was segregated according to their jobs; everyone shopped at the Company Store. Many viewed such an arrangement as a form of slavery, because workers were, in actuality, trapped due to their omnipresent debt to the Company. (Think of the song “Sixteen Tons.”) In 1893 the country was in the midst of a recession, and the company laid off hundreds of workers and reduced the wages of the others. Of course, living expenses remained constant. These actions led to a strike. President Cleveland declared the strike to be illegal and broke it with Federal troops. Some striking workers were killed in the ensuing violence. This incensed many Americans, and 1894 was an election year. So, Congress expeditiously passed a bill establishing LD as a national holiday, and the President promptly signed it into law. This entire process took only six days, so you can imagine the extent of the public outcry. Incidentally, this action failed to save President Cleveland’s political career; he was defeated anyway.

Eventually, the government settled on the first Monday in September as the official date. Many countries celebrate it on May 1 in conjunction with International Workers’ Day, but the Federal government did not want the association with that date for obvious reasons.

CONCLUSION

One of the supreme ironies of LD is that because it is such a big shopping day, many workers, especially retailers, are required to work. LD is considered to be one of the biggest retail sales days of the year. Some people use the day as a benchmark to change over their summer clothes to fall clothes. Fashion-minded people claim it the latest day when one should wear white clothes (although “winter white,” whatever that is, is still permissible.)

Like other holidays, LD should be a time for all of us to come together and reflect on what makes America, despite its flaws, the greatest country in the world. People in other countries may like to criticize us for our real and perceived flaws, but yet they still want to come here, in some cases, desperately. In essence, many of them are “voting with their feet.”

Despite what you may see on tv or read in newspapers or social media, most Americans are decent, hard-working, caring persons. Whenever disaster or tragedy strikes we unite to help those in distress. Many have donated their time and/or money without being asked and without expecting any payback or even recognition. If you doubt me, just look at the outpouring of kindness and empathy being shown by “average” Americans toward the victims of the catastrophic events in recent years, such as superstorm Sandy and hurricanes Katrina and Harvey. To me, those people, not the destructive thugs and professional agitators one sees on the tv news destroying property, attacking the police, and beating up those with whom they disagree, are the “real” Americans. It is the proverbial “silver lining” in a very dark cloud.

I hope you all enjoyed your Labor Day holiday. Now, for most of us, it’s back to school or work. Feel free to tell me what you did.

NEIL SIMON

For the past week or so, many Americans have been focused on the deaths of two giants – John McCain and Aretha Franklyn – and justifiably so. But,on August 26 we lost another giant, and his death went somewhat under the radar, except for devotees of the theatre.

Marvin Neil Simon was one of, if not the, most accomplished playwrights and screenwriters of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He was born on July 4, 1927 in New York City. He had one older brother. He was a child of the Great Depression, and his childhood was characterized by financial hardship and turmoil. His father was a garment salesman, who had difficulty providing for his family and was often absent from the home. At times, circumstances forced Neil and his brother to live with relatives, and Neil’s mother often had to take on boarders to make ends meet. When his father was home, his parents often fought. It was an unhappy family situation exacerbated by financial hardship. Later, Simon would tell one interviewer [that as a child] he could never figure out the reasons for all the fighting and turmoil, but it fueled his desire to become a successful writer, so he could escape all the turmoil and support himself.

As a boy, Simon took refuge in movies, especially comedies. Some of his favorite stars were comedians Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. He recalled how he “appreciated their ability to make people laugh.” Moreover, he recalled being “constantly dragged out of movies for laughing too loud[ly].” At an early age, he realized “I was never going to be an athlete or a doctor.” Writing comedy was his ticket to success.

He began writing comedy while still in high school. After a stint in the military he began writing comedy for tv shows, such as Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” and “The Phil Silvers’ Show,” both of which were long-running hit shows in the early and mid 1950s. Simon always said that the former boasted “the most talented group of writers that up until that time had ever been assembled together,” such as Caesar, Woody Allen, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, among others. One can only imagine the plethora of jokes that flew around the writers’ room in those days.

It took Simon three years to write his first Broadway play, “Come Blow Your Horn,” and he claimed he rewrote it some 20 times before he was satisfied. But it was a rousing success. It ran for 678 performances, and his career was launched. Hit followed hit, too many to name all of them here. Overall, he received 17 “Tony” nominations and won three. Furthermore, he won a “Pulitzer” for “Lost in Yonkers,” and in 1966 he had four hit shows running on Broadway simultaneously. (For those of you who are not Broadway savants, they were “Barefoot in the Park,” “Sweet Charity,” “The Odd Couple,” and “The Star=Spangled Girl.”)

In addition, Simon wrote screenplays for more than 20 films. Many of them were adaptations of his successful plays, but one of my favorites – “The Out-of- Towners” – was an original. He was box office “gold.”

Like most writers, Simon wrote about his own experiences and what he knew. Many of his plays were set in NY, often in working class neighborhoods, such as the one in which he was raised. Many of the characters are imperfect, but likeable and decent. The audience likes them and roots for them, despite their imperfections. Furthermore, the conventional wisdom is that the Brighton Beach trilogy is largely autobiographical. Matthew Broderick, who played the lead in “Memoirs” unabashedly claims “I owe him [my] career.” Hyperbole? Perhaps. But, that role did establish him as a Broadway star. Furthermore, although he was superb in that particular role, I wouldn’t exactly label him a “mega-talent.”

CONCLUSION

Simon was the only playwright to have a theatre named after him while still alive. In addition to the awards I mentioned above he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1983.

Neil Simon passed away on August 26 at the age of 91. Although the official cause of death was complications from pneumonia, he had also been diagnosed with renal failure and Alzheimer’s. He is gone, but his work will live forever, as it should.

What are your favorite Neil Simon plays/movies? There are so many to choose from. For me, there are three – “The Odd Couple,” “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” and “The Goodbye Girl.”

JOHN MCCAIN

I didn’t always agree with his politics, but, in my opinion, John McCain was a true American hero. Although he made some mistakes in his life (as we all do), I believe that, for the most part, he acted sincerely and in what he thought was in the best interests of the country.

John Sidney McCain III was born on August 29, 1936 at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone, where his father was stationed at the time, and which was considered part of the US at the time. He was the middle of three children, with an older sister and a younger brother.

McCain came from a military family with deep roots in America. Both his father and paternal grandfather were four-star Admirals, and an ancestor of his actually fought in the Continental Army under George Washington.

Like a lot of boys, McCain was an indifferent student. He applied himself to subjects that interested him, such as literature and history, but barely scraped by in those that did not, such as math. He did not always obey all the rules. He liked to party. At the Naval Academy, for example, he apparently did just enough to get by, graduating with a rank of 894 out of 899.

Somehow, he got into flight school, but he did not exactly distinguish himself there either. He developed a reputation as a subpar pilot who liked to “push the envelope.” At times, he could be careless, or even reckless. For example, on two occasions he crashed and on a third he collided with a power line. Miraculously, he was not hurt seriously any of those times. Although his piloting skills improved over time and he graduated, quite possibly, he benefitted from whom his family connections.

In any event, he was assigned to the aircraft carrier, USS Forrestal in the Gulf of Tonkin. During his time there the ship suffered a serious fire that killed 134 sailors and took 36 hours to put out. McCain escaped from his burning jet and while helping another pilot he was injured, but not seriously. Around that time McCain was one of a group of pilots who chafed under what they considered “micromanagement” of civilian policymakers from Washington labelling them “complete idiots who didn’t have the least notion of what it took to win the war.” Strong words, but as things turned out, prescient.

In October 1967 while on a routine bombing run over Hanoi McCain’s plane was shot down by a missile. He managed to parachute into a lake, but he was badly injured. Both arms and one leg were fractured, and he was badly beaten by the North Vietnamese who recovered him.

Eventually, the NV took him to the so-called “Hanoi Hilton,” where he was beaten and tortured repeatedly. Moreover, his wounds were not treated properly. Safe to say, the Geneva Convention protocols were not followed in the least.

At some point, the NV ascertained his father’s rank and importance and broadcast his bed-bound picture all over the world. Then, they offered to release him. McCain famously refused, for two reasons. Firstly, he correctly surmised such a release would have been solely for propaganda purposes. Secondly, the US military Code of Conduct stipulated that prisoners were only to be released in the order in which they had been captured. As accountants like to say – FIFO, or first in, first out. McCain remained a prisoner for some 5 1/2 years. He was finally released on March 14, 1973. His injuries never healed fully. For example, he was never again able to lift his arms over his head.

During his incarceration his wife, Carol, had suffered serious injury in an automobile accident. Soon after his return and while separated from his wife McCain began a relationship with Cindy Lou Hensley, a Phoenix school teacher whose father was a very wealthy and influential Anheuser-Busch beer distributor. He petitioned Carol for a divorce, which was granted in February 1980. John and Cindy married that April. John and Cindy had three children, one of which is Meghan McCain, a political commentator of some note.

Soon after his return McCain had retired from the Navy. In 1982 he decided to run for Congress as a Republican, and he won. He served in the House until 1986 when he ran for and won a seat in the Senate. He served six terms in the Senate, for the most part with great distinction. His forte was military matters and he rose to the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee. During his career McCain became known affectionately as a “maverick.” That is, on occasion he did not “toe” the party line. He seemed to relish the occasional prospect of challenging the GOP leadership. For example, he led the fight to reform what he saw as the corrupting influence of large campaign contributions by wealthy and influential donors, especially so-called “soft money.” Along with Democratic Senator Ross Feingold he co-sponsored a bill to place limits on these contributions. Additionally, he broke with the party leadership over gun legislation, climate control, HMO reform, and the Bush tax cuts.

McCain probably had two reasonably good chances to become President. In 2000 he was a serious challenger to George Bush. He won the New Hampshire primary handily over Bush, 49%-30%, aided, in large part by independents who were able to vote in the primary. His campaign suffered a fatal blow in South Carolina, however, a significantly more conservative state with a sizeable evangelical constituency. Bush beat him 53%-42%, and that was that.

Then, in 2008 he won the GOP nomination and ran against Barack Obama. In the early stages the race was close and McCain had a reasonable chance to win. After all, he was a war hero and had a huge edge in experience with a reputation for being able to “reach across the aisle” to get things done. In the minds of many, including me, his fatal error was selecting little-known Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, as his running mate. Her introduction to the media and the public was severely mishandled. Furthermore, it became obvious that her vetting had been inadequate. Palin demonstrated an alarming lack of knowledge of the issues and committed several “gaffes” in interviews. Also, McCain’s health was an issue, and to many, the prospect of Palin ascending to the presidency was too scary to contemplate. McCain lost and returned to the Senate, where he remained until his death.

CONCLUSION

To be fair and balanced, I feel compelled to denote the following four negative events in which he was involved:

1. His involvement with Charles Keating in the Savings and Loan scandal in the late 1980s. Keating, who was at the epicenter of the multi-billion dollar S & L scandals, was a large donor of McCain’s. Eventually, McCain was cleared of any illegality, but cited for exercising “poor judgment.”

2. His inexplicable choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate, which, as I said, I believe sunk his campaign. To me, that showed very poor judgment and a lack of control over his own campaign.

3. Despite his promise to support the 2016 GOP nominee, whoever it was, he did not support Donald Trump. In fact, he tried to undermine him at every opportunity both during the campaign and after his election.

4. He left a hospital bed to cast the deciding vote to kill the bill that would have reformed the ACA for no reason I can discern except spite.

That said, as I stated above McCain was a legitimate war hero. How he was able to withstand 5+ years of physical, emotional and mental torture by the NV I will never know. Most of us cannot conceive of what he went through. Moreover, he served in the Congress for some 36 years with great distinction. He deserves all the accolades that have come pouring in during the last few days.

In July he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Last week, he and his family directed doctors to cease treatment. After that, it was just a matter of days.

John McCain passed away on August 25. Rest in peace John. You were truly an American hero and you will be sorely missed.

THE QUEEN OF SOUL

The Queen of Soul. Any serious music fan of the past 50 years would instantly know to whom that moniker applies. Actually, referring to her as the “Queen of Soul” sells her short. In point of fact, as you will see below, she was one of the true giants of her generation in the fields of soul, pop, and gospel, and even branched out into opera. Also, she was a strong advocate and role model for women, minorities, and the downtrodden, in general. Furthermore, she was one of the few individuals who was instantly recognizable by merely her first name.

Aretha Louise Franklyn was born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, TN. Her father was a Baptist minister and a “circuit preacher,” that is, he travelled throughout the region to preach to congregations who did not have their own minister. It was from her mother, an accomplished vocalist and piano player, that Aretha inherited her musical talent.

Aretha did not have a happy childhood. Her father was a notorious philanderer, doubtlessly facilitated by his frequent absences from home on the “circuit.” Moreover, both of her parents had children with other than their respective spouses. By 1948, her parents had separated. Her mother had relocated to Buffalo with part of the family, and Aretha had gone with her father to Detroit. She saw her mother infrequently, and then when Aretha was nine, she died from a coronary.

Aretha demonstrated an affinity for music at an early age. By age six she was singing solos in church. By age 12 she was accompanying her father on his “gospel caravan” tours. At some point,, she met the renowned singer, Sam Cooke, who was to become a significant influence on her career. At 16 she went on tour with Martin Luther King and even sang at his funeral. As I said above, throughout her career she was a strong inspiration and advocate for women, minorities and the generally downtrodden. These attitudes were often reflected in her songs and served to enhance her popularity. For example, “Respect” became a symbol of empowerment for both women and African Americans, especially during the turbulent ’60s.

At the age of 18, aspiring to try a career in pop music, like Sam Cooke, she moved to NY and signed with Columbia Records. In 1966, not satisfied with her progress, she switched to Atlantic Records. From that point on, her career took off. She produced a series of “hits, including classics such as “Respect,” (perhaps, her signature “hit”), “Chain of Fools”, “Natural Woman,” “Think,” and “Spanish Harlem.”

Her versatility was astounding. She was the most charted female recording artist in Billboard’s history. She sold some 75 million records worldwide, making her one of the most prolific musical artists ever. She recorded in excess of 100 charted singles hits in both pop and R & B including 17 top-ten pop singles, and 20 R & B number one singles. Additionally, she won 18 Grammys.

Her personal life was, to put it kindly, complicated. She had her first son at the age of 12. The father was a classmate. She bore a second child at the age 14. Aretha was very reluctant to discuss this aspect of her life with the public, but it is known that they were raised primarily by her grandmother and a sister while Aretha concentrated on her career.

Aretha was married twice and had two additional children. In the mid 1970s she relocated again, this time to California. Then, in 1982 she moved back to Detroit to be with her ailing father and siblings.
During her career Aretha suffered from various health issues. For example, she was considerably overweight; she had a strong fear of flying, which limited her international appearances,; and from time to time she had to cancel performances due to “undisclosed medical problems.” Finally, earlier this month she was reported to be seriously ill with pancreatic cancer. She died on August 16 at the age of 76.

CONCLUSION

Aretha left behind a very strong legacy:
1. I already discussed her civil rights activism, particularly as reflected in many of her songs.
2. In 1987 she became the first female performer to be inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.
3. In 2005 she was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame.
4. In 2012 she was inducted into the GMA Gospel Hall of Fame.
5. Rolling Stone Magazine has included her as one of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time as well as 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
6. Michigan has declared her a “natural resource” of the state.
7. She was the recipient of honorary degrees from various prestigious universities, such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton.
Various tributes have come rolling in. Below please find a sample:
1. Rolling Stone Magazine called her “not only the definitive female soul singer of the sixties, [but also] one of the most influential and important voices in pop history.”
2. Elton John – “We were witnessing the greatest soul artist of all time.”
3. Barbra Streisand – Not only was she a uniquely brilliant singer, but her commitment to civil rights made an indelible impact on the world.”
4. Billy Joel – “We have lost the greatest singer of our time.
Rest in peace, Aretha. You were not only a fabulous performer, but a unique individual and will be sorely missed.

SOCIALISM IN AMERICA

Who doesn’t like free stuff?  The short answer is “no one.”  (By the way, is there a greater word in the English language than “stuff?”  Very descriptive.  It can mean whatever one wants it to.)  Anyway, we all like freebies, especially if the other guy is paying for it.

That, my friends, is the essence of socialism.  Share and share alike.  You should not keep more than you really need, and you should give some to me.  You’re ambitious and work hard; I’m not and take it easy; and we both share in the proceeds.  As Wikipedia puts it, individuals don’t own property; everything is owned by the collective group, and the government controls production, distribution and virtually everything else.  To me, it is akin to communism.  (Think how things worked in the former Soviet Union.)

To take this point further, the philosophy is that any success you, as an individual, may have had is attributable, not to your hard work, intelligence, ingenuity, and determination, but to the government and the system.  Remember President Obama’s proclamation that “you didn’t build it.”  (As many of you know, his odd statement became the inspiration for the title of my blog.)   Under socialism, in essence, the “haves’ pay for and support the “have nots.”  Paradoxically, despite ample evidence that socialism has never been successful in any country, ever, its popularity is spreading, even to the US.  Ah, the lure of “freebies.”  More on that later.

The roots of socialism, with its basic tenant of common ownership of property, can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece and the philosophers Plato and Aristotle.  Socialism in America can trace its lineage to the early 19th century and utopian experiments, such as the New Harmony, the Shakers, Brook Farm and the Oneida Community, among others.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the movement was influenced by the philosophy of such as Karl Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.

The Soviet Union was the biggest socialism/communism experiment.  As those who follow history know, eventually, its economy imploded.  More recently, socialism has failed in Cuba, Venezuela, and elsewhere.  As we have seen time and again, inevitably a system that relies on common ownership and government controls while stifling free enterprise and individual incentives is doomed to failure.  Inevitably the government runs out of money to pay for all the services it provides.

Additionally, the claim of share and share alike is bogus.  In socialist countries a very small elite class always develops, which garners the lion’s share of resources, and the vast majority of the people are plagued by severe shortages of food and other necessities.  For example, according to Wikipedia, the food shortage in Venezuela is so acute that some 80% of the people claim they are unable to afford sufficient food to sustain themselves.  Those who have been to Cuba will note the desperate living conditions of the non-privileged, especially those residing outside the areas normally seen by tourists.

Some people point to the Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden and Denmark as socialist success stories, but that is misleading and premature.  Firstly, their open border policies have resulted in a flood of immigrants, which will, inevitably place a severe, and possibly fatal, burden on their social and economic structure and potentially bankrupt the government.  Secondly, given the high volume of immigrants relative to the size of the native population of these countries there is a real concern that their traditional cultural and social identities will be drastically altered, and not for the better.  There is ample evidence that this is already occurring, especially in Sweden, which is being plagued by increases in violent crimes, such as murder, rape and anti-Semitism.  Thirdly, they spend very little on the military.  Norway maintains armed forces of about 25,000; Sweden maintains around 20,000, including reserves; and Denmark only 5,000 when fully mobilized.  They rely on the US and NATO for defense.  Obviously, the US’s military needs are considerably greater and more expensive.

Furthermore, most of Western Europe has been turning increasingly socialist, in varying degrees and with varying results, mostly bad.  Those who have been following the news in France, Germany, Italy and the UK in recent years are cognizant of this.  The empirical evidence of the negative impact of socialism and open borders in these countries is plain to see for anyone who cares to look.  This is very instructive to Americans as the Democratic Party moves further to the left toward outright socialism and open borders.  Bernie Sanders, who admits to being a Socialist, almost won the Democratic nomination in 2016 (and probably would have if the “fix” had not been in for Hillary).  Don’t be fooled by the term, “progressive.”  In this case it is a misnomer, a more acceptable description of the Dems’ brand of socialism.

Do you doubt me?  Listen to the parade of speakers at the recent Netroots Nation conclave in New Orleans.  If you’ve never heard of Netroots, I suggest you research it.  I think they are very radical and dangerous.  They espouse programs like open borders, abolishing ICE, deposing President Trump (via impeachment or violence), universal free education pre-K through college, universal healthcare, and other similar nanny-state programs.  Sounds good, but they have no conception of how to pay for these goodies.  If you do the math you will quickly ascertain that there is no way to do so.  They don’t care.  They aim to entice voters with the prospect of freebies, and there is evidence that it is working.

In 2015 a Gallop poll disclosed that 47% of Americans would support a socialist candidate for president.  The movement seems to be particularly enticing to young people.  A November 2017 YouGov poll disclosed that a majority of Americans aged 21-29 prefer socialism to capitalism and believe that capitalism works against them.  I believe that many, if not most, of the Americans who support socialism don’t have the foggiest notion of what it is, its track record, or what it would mean for America.  But, their votes would still count.

If you think these people are a radical fringe outside the mainstream of the Democratic Party, think again.  The speakers at the Netroots convention who supported these ideas included Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Cynthia Nixon, and Alexandria Ocasio-Nixon, each of whom has expressed ambitions for political office, up to and including president.  Moreover, many of these same programs have been supported, or at least not contradicted, by Dem leaders such as Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, and Maxine Waters.

CONCLUSION

Not only has the Dem Party been moving sharply to the left, many of its leaders have been advocating violence against those who disagree with them.  For example, Maxine Waters has been advocating confronting Trump supporters wherever you find them.  People have been accosted in restaurants, movie theatres and at a Congressional softball game.   Antifa thugs have routinely attacked speakers or peaceful demonstrators at rallies supporting moderate and conservative ideas.  To me, this is excessive and dangerous.  One Congressman has already been shot.  Eventually, someone who is minding his own business is going to be killed.  I understand that some people are unhappy with the direction of the country.  However, the American way to seek change is at the polls, not through name-calling and violence.

The socialist new left no longer seems open to dialogue or debate.  If you disagree with them you are branded as evil and racist, a misogynist, or a white supremist.  The “Nazi” label has been used so routinely that it does a real disservice to those who were murdered in the Holocaust by real Nazis.

In my view, the fact that moderate, responsible Dem leaders, such as Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have not spoken out as voices of reason is most disconcerting.  Do they support these ideas, or are they afraid of hurting their political standing, or perhaps, a little of both?  Time for real leaders to stand up, guys.

Most of the media has chosen to ignore or downplay the aforementioned developments.   Consequently, many voters are unaware of what is happening and the consequences.  If left unchecked we could easily follow down the path of Western Europe.

Hopefully, these far left, socialist candidates will be roundly rejected at the polls.  If not, the country will be heading for trouble.

US HISTORY QUIZ

The following is another in a series of fun quizzes.  As always, no peeking at the internet, and no asking “Alexa.”

  1. Who was the first US vice president?

(a) Thomas Jefferson, (b) Aaron Burr, (c)  John Adams, (d) Alexander Hamilton

2.  Who was the only person to serve as both president and vice president without having been elected to either office?

(a) Gerald Ford, (b) Herbert Hoover, (c) James Madison, (d) John Quincy Adams

3.  Who was the only president to serve two terms, non-consecutively?

(a) Rutherford B. Hayes, (b) Grover Cleveland, (c) James K. Polk, (d) William McKinley

4.  The Battle of New Orleans was a pivotal battle in which war?

(a) French and Indian War, (b) Revolutionary War, (c) War of 1812, (d) Civil War,

5. What is the capital of Kentucky?

(a) Louisville, (b) Lexington, Nashville, (d) Frankfurt

6. How many presidents have died in office?

(a) 5, (b) 6, (c) 7, (d) 8

7. Which president served the shortest term?

(a) William Henry Harrison, (b) Zachary Taylor, (c) James K. Polk, (d) JFK

8. Which was the last of the 48 contiguous states to gain statehood?

(a) New Mexico, (b) Hawaii, (c) Arizona, (d) Colorado

9.  Donald Trump is the 45th president of the US.  How many vice presidents have there been?

(a) 45, (b) 46, (c) 47, (d) 48

10.  How many vice presidents have later become president?

(a) 10, (b) 14, (c) 16, (d) 25

11.  How many of them immediately succeeded the president due to death, disability or other reasons?

(a) 4, (b) 6, (c) 9, (d) 10

12.  Which state was NOT part of the Louisiana Purchase?

(a) Texas, (b) Wyoming, (c) Missouri, (d) Wisconsin

13.  What is the capital of Ohio?

(a) Columbus, (b) Oxford, (c) Cleveland, (d) Cincinnati

14.  Which of these states was part of the Gadsden Purchase?

(a) Oregon, (b) New Mexico, (c) North Dakota, (d) Texas

15.  How many vice presidents served under FDR?

(a) (a) 1, (b) 2, (c) 3, (d) 4

16.  Who was president when the US defeated the Barbary Pirates?

(a)  George Washington, (b) Thomas Jefferson, (c) Andrew Jackson (d) Dwight Eisenhower

17.  Which president is credited with ending the “Cold War” with the Soviet Union?

(a)  Jimmy Carter, (b) Harry Truman, (c) Ronald Reagan, (d) George W. Bush

18.  From which country did the US purchase Alaska?

(a) Canada; (b) England, (c) Mexico, (d) Russia

19.  Which famous Indian leader defeated General Custer at the Little Bighorn?

(a) Crazy Horse, (b) Cochese, (c) Geronimo, (d) Pocahontas

20.  Which President issued a “doctrine” warning European powers basically to “butt out” of the New World?

(a)  George Washington, (b) Thomas Jefferson, (c) James Madison, (d) James Monroe

Answers: 1. c;  2. a;  3. b;  4. c;  5. d;  6. d [William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, Franklyn D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy];  7. a;  8. c;  9. d;  10. b;  11. c [John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester A. Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry S Truman, LBJ, and Gerald Ford];  12. d;  13. a;  14. b; 15. c; 16. b; 17. c;  18. d; 19. a; 20. d.

Well, that wasn’t too bad.  How did you do?