by Barney Rosenzweig
To some it may have appeared that I had lost interest or, that somehow in this pandemic age, I found a means of staging a getaway to some exotic/Covid free locale for a holiday. None of the above. The last blog I wrote got a bit heavily into politics and—not wanting to offend too many of their readers—more than one of the outlets posting my stuff preferred not to “publish.” Fair enough. Still, trying to come up with a column that ignores the elections and their electors is damn near impossible. Politics, it would seem, is everywhere.
One hears a lot these days how it is different now. That today we, as a nation, are more polarized than ever…that things are somehow darker today, more acrimonious than ever before to the point of being downright ugly.
Hamilton (now on Disney Plus) reminds us that the guy for whom they named the musical, was shot dead by Aaron Burr over an argument about (wait for it) politics. Another Award-winning musical… this one by the brilliant Steven Sondheim… also gave us a history lesson in Assassins. It features a litany of violent political acts, ending with the gunning down of President John F. Kennedy.
Over a half a century earlier, Senator Joseph McCarthy and his right-hand man, Roy Cohen (immortalized by playwright Tony Kushner in Angels in America) very nearly split our nation right down the middle. And a few years after that, Burt Lancaster, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, plotted to take over the US Government by way of a military coup in the movie Seven Days in May. Trust me, at the time, a large percentage of the audience was rooting for Burt to get away with it.
I was also around in the ‘60s…. producing a television series for NBC based on the nearly mythic American frontiersman, Daniel Boone. My politics then were pretty much the same as my politics now. The show took place in 18th century America just before the war of revolution that would pit us against the British Empire, then the most powerful military force in the world. I remember explaining my “take” on how this should be approached to one of the writers on the series: “The Americans are the Vietnamese and the English are the Americans,” I said. “Now write me a version of Brendan Behan’s The Hostage with that dynamic in mind.”
I reminded all of the staff that we were doing a show that took place during revolutionary times and that the essence of that sentence was revolution. I wanted to deal with what that meant, to hold it up as a mirror to our own times… the ‘60s… including civil disobedience. (Hello? Remember the Boston Tea Party?)
This was not the same as what I would do a generation later with Cagney & Lacey. There I was preaching to the choir. Cagney & Lacey was a hit in New York and Los Angeles. Audiences in those (and other) major cities were likely to agree with my liberal bent. Daniel Boone, on the other hand, was a hit in Louisville, Little Rock, and other less urban environs of the South. Fox news may not have existed in those days, but the local press throughout the region did a particularly good job of filtering out whatever it was the New York Times and Martha Graham’s Washington Post were dispensing. Then, along came Daniel Boone, introducing ideas into those communities that heretofore had not been given much of a voice.
My “favorite” piece of incoming mail at the time began “Dear Commie, Jew, Bastard.” It descended from there. I loved it. We were stirring things up. “Good trouble,” as the late Congressman John Lewis would say. We kept it up for the three years I produced that show with episodes dealing with racism, slavery, religious intolerance, misogyny… even Boone’s pre-adolescent son (played by then-10 year old Darby Hinton) had an episode where he led the other kids in Boones borough on a school strike for a program of “Red-Indian” studies, mirroring the 1960s’ strikes at universities all over the country demanding programs of black-studies in the nation’s schools.
Fess Parker was the star of Daniel Boone. He was from Texas; he was a Republican and he was a good friend of Ronald Regan. He was also one of the smarter individuals with whom I have ever worked. Fess, I am sure, had a very good idea of the politics of his then very young producer. But the only argument we ever had was the one I wrote about several months ago dealing with the line of dialogue, “Friendship without warmth is a waste of beaver.” It remains among my favorite show-business stories and I encourage you to look it up (May 2020 http://barney-cagneyandlacey.blogspot.com/).
10 years ago, 43 years after my first ever meeting with Mr. Parker, I flew to Los Angeles from my home in Miami on family business. At the airport I saw the story on the front page of the Los Angeles Times that Fess Parker’s funeral was to be held that very same day in his beloved Santa Barbara. We had lost touch. I didn’t even know he had been ill. I was heart sick as I took my rental car north from LAX, hoping to get to Santa Barbara in time to pay my respects.
I arrived as the funeral was in progress, finding a seat in the rear of the assemblage. Darby Hinton, now very much a full-grown man, was giving the eulogy. I had barely settled into my seat when I heard Darby speak of his final visit with Fess in the hospital. They had talked of their time together as “father and son,” and of their memories of those days and the work they had done. And Darby said Fess told him, what he was proudest of, “was the stuff they had done with Barney Rosenzweig that made the show current and meaningful to the audience.”
I all but swooned on hearing that tribute from Fess, a man I so admired and who had meant so much to me. A man who let me do what I thought was right, even though he might easily have said “enough.”
Sometimes politics makes more than “strange bedfellows.” And, more often than not, friendship without warmth IS a waste of beaver.
Now a comment from “one of the outlets posting Barney’s stuff” – regarding not posting his political blogs: Please know that Stewart Stewart and I (Dena Stewart) are 100% in lockstep with Barney’s political views and opinions. However, what we’ve realized (by reading a wide variety of newspapers including opinions and comments from both political parties, as well as watching all the cable news outlets), is that we all have become “right fighters” determined to win. Our adrenaline valve opens when we read or hear an opposing opinion, deflecting statement, misrepresented fact, and bold faced lie. We automatically go into fight or flight mode. But when we state proven facts and debunk ridiculous statements, do we really bring the “other side” over to ours? Probably not. Instead, we remain on emotional alert at a time when, due to COVID, we really need our emotional strength to stay physically healthy. So, that being said, we’ll stick to the brilliant essays Barney continues to write and share.
Link to Barney’s Blog: http://barney-cagneyandlacey.blogspot.com/