Growling engines and forgetful minstrels

My feverish naps have recalled a strange memory of a childhood illness. I must have been home from school several days already, because I'd improved enough to get out of bed and move to the green sectional sofa to watch the tiny black and white t.v. There wasn't much on in the daytime in the early Sixties, and being allowed to watch was a real oddity.

I'll never forget Bing Crosby forgetting his lit pipe backstage, and burning the theatre down. Not just once. Several times. Until the miraculous age of Google, I couldn't be sure if this old memory was real or a fever, but I worried a great deal about fires for years afterward. Now I know the movie was "Dixie", a 1943 musical biopic of the Old South, and the subject of an article in the Spring 2004 Journal of Popular Film and Television, by Michael Dunne:

Abstract: In Mississippi (1935) and Dixie (1943), the wildly successful Bing Crosby acts, croons, and clowns--in and out of blackface--in Southern roles that exemplify the unquestioned racism as well as the imaginative escapism that characterized other highly successful popular cultural artifacts of the era....

...Dixie is, at once, a musical biography, a narrative romance, and a Hollywood musical. As biography, the film has been justifiably indicted as inaccurate. Daniel Decatur Emmett was actually a native of Mount Vernon, Ohio, and he first successfully performed "Dixie" at the Bowery Amphitheater in New York City on February 6, 1843. (10) For reasons of narrative effect, most of these facts were changed in Dixie. As Michael Rogin points out, for example, "To hide minstrelsy's roots in northern, proslavery idealizations of the South, which it was repeating, Paramount moved Dan Emmett from New York to New Orleans for Dixie" (179). Furthermore, the plot provides Emmett's character with a behavioral forgetfulness about laying down his still-smoking pipes to set up the finale in which his debut performance of the tune "Dixie" in New Orleans must be speeded up to its current lively tempo because his discarded pipe has set the backstage on fire. To develop this narrative thread, Emmett accidentally burns down the family home of his fiancee early in the film, and later Millie Cook barely avoids another disastrous fire when she snatches up Emmett's smoldering pipe in the theatrical boarding house that she runs with her father in New Orleans. Not too long after this, Emmett's discarded pipe destroys the theater in which his new minstrel act is on its way to becoming a phenomenal success. As so often is the case in musical biopics, the available historical facts are subsumed by the narrative exigencies of the genre. (11)

I bring this up partly because of new feverish images, and partly because we adults forget the power of media impressions on young children. I don't know what understanding I had at that age of the Civil Rights movement then sweeping the U.S. I was too concerned about forgetful pipe-smokers to align the Hollywood minstrel romanticism with Life Magazine realities of racism. Afterall, I was only seven. Maybe I obsessed about fire because that was the only worry from the movie that I could even put a name to.

On a much lighter note, I read in the New York Times, Their Motorcycles Are in the Mail, that the Postal Service is releasing a new commemorative stamp set on Monday. The motorcycle stamps are groovy!

I'm a Collage Mama, not a Motorcycle Mama. I've ridden a motorcycle three times in my life. Motorcycles have different associations for me. My son collected some detailed cycle miniatures about ten years ago. At times, I have used the tiny cycles for a drawing project. Kids are as intrigued as I am with the cycles. They've been willing to observe them closely to make excellent drawings, and have respected the rule not to touch. Each time I've explained that the mini motorcycles belong to my son. Then I've showed the kids a photo of my three sons all grown up and dressed in suits. They are always amazed that I have sons, or so I've thought. Maybe they are amazed that I have sons so tiny they can ride the miniature motorcycles! Can you say "Tom Thumb?"

One time I brought the cycles back home after a strenuous drawing class, and left them on the dining table. After a few weeks, the cycles made it to the window sill. Now the cycles on the windows are a sign to friends, letting them know that they've found the right condo in the complex. If you get up to the front door, and don't see the motorcycles, you are at the wrong place!

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