What is your favorite birthday memory of all time?
Was it a special trip or maybe something you had hoped for all year? I don’t remember the year that I first got my favorite birthday present, but I do remember what is was. It was the year I found out that I shared the same birthday as Jimmy Stewart. Yep, that Jimmy Stewart. Brigadier General James Maitland Stewart if you please. Hero of World War 2 and Vietnam War veteran.
I can’t think of many things I could ever not like about Jimmy (we share the same birthday so I can call him that). He was born in 1908 in Indiana Pennsylvania to parents of good hearty Scottish stock – Presbyterians to boot. That was back in the day when there were real Presbyterians who read the King James and only worshipped one Trinity. He attended Mercersburg Academy and planned on entering the Naval Academy. Fate and his Father intervened and he ended up at Princeton instead.
Like many in his generation, Jimmy answered the call to serve months before Pearl Harbor. He was rejected due to his weight, but he enlisted in the Army as a private. It wasn’t long though before he was off on a lifelong career of service in the air, first as a flyer in the Army Air Corps and later in the Air Force itself. He could have taken the easy road of a Hollywood star but instead forced himself into the role of a combat pilot winning the Distinguished Flying Cross and many more individual and group recognitions.
His career was filled with many successes and some near misses as well. The most famous movie that gave him recognition for the ages was that classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The box office and critics initially panned the movie but it was the leader in something that has since been titled “Going Viral”. The movie, the characters, the message, have all grown into something that couldn’t have been planned by the original producers.
One of Jimmies greatest movies was filmed before he went off to free Europe from the Nazis. That movie was the classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”.
This 1939 movie was Frank Capra’s treatment about what could happen when one man goes to Washington and tries to change politics. Mr. Smith is selected by an “old boy network” to replace a Senator who suddenly passed away. Jimmy is picked not because of his brilliance or ability but because he might be easily manipulated by the powers that be. The movie becomes a showcase of the corruption of powerful people in Congress, the insatiable appetite of the press to destroy anything they don’t understand to get higher ratings, and the ease with which the public can be swayed.
When you think about the world as it was in 1939, you can understand how much those same powers that were being portrayed tried to keep it from being shown. From Wikipedia:
“In January 1938, both Paramount Pictures and MGM had submitted Foster’s story to the censors at the Hays Office, probably indicating that both studios had interest in the project before Columbia purchased it. Joseph Breen, the head of that office, warned the studios:
"[W]e would urge most earnestly that you take serious counsel before embarking on the production of any motion picture based on this story. It looks to us like one that might well be loaded with dynamite, both for the motion picture industry, and for the country at large."
Breen specifically objected to
"the generally unflattering portrayal of our system of Government, which might well lead to such a picture being considered, both here, and more particularly abroad, as a covert attack on the Democratic form of government."
and warned that the film should make clear that
"the Senate is made up of a group of fine, upstanding citizens, who labor long and tirelessly for the best interests of the nation…"
Breen later reversed course and allowed the movie to proceed.
At the initial screening, it was widely criticized by the Washington press, many members of Congress, and politicians of all stripes who said its portrayal of Congress as a corrupt institution was anti-American and even pro-communist. The Democratic Senate Majority Leader called the film “silly and stupid” and said it made them all seem like “a bunch of crooks”.
The movie ended up being banned in some areas and widely supported in others. In the many years since, it has become increasingly more obvious that there is not much difference in the existing group of good old boys (and rarely occasional girls) in the Senate.
It was for that reason alone that many of us applauded the recent defeats of some of the longest standing members of that cozy nook of self adoration and public trough feeding. I hope its just the beginning…
I wonder if Jimmy would have been part of the Tea Party? I suspect he would have been. He spent his real life holding people accountable both in the service and in his later life as a staunch conservative.
The best birthday present I could ask for him today (and for all of us as well) is that out of the chaotic process that lies ahead of us, maybe we will get a real Mr. Smith. Maybe, just maybe, there is a man or woman of principle who will go to Washington and not become corrupted by that cesspool. Maybe there will be a whole group of them that are willing to go there and stand up to the people who have been there so long they have lost touch with the country they were sent to lead.
Fire them all. I think Jimmy would approve.
(Oh, and you can take the main stream media with ya when ya go fellas… anyone who spends that much time swilling at the trough of power with the crooks have become as crooked as the thieves they are protecting.)
Do you know what would make it “A Wonderful Life” for most of us? If the Republicans who keep calling my house for money would spend just as much time finding more Mr. Smith’s to actually send to Washington. I get really bored with hearing how we have to beat Democrats and then find out they have no real idea what to do once they have done so.