The “Hated” Opposition

The “Hated” Opposition

By Patrick F. Cannon

If you know your British history, you will know that the political party out of power is known as “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.” They and the party in power will debate vigorously in the House of Commons, and even trade the occasional insult. Afterwards, they will often repair to the strangely named “Stranger’s Bar” for a convivial nip.

            While our own Congress never had a bar as such, it was once common for senators of both parties, for example, to gather in the Senate Cloakroom for a similar nip. Friendships across the aisle in both houses were once common, as was compromise. Now, if two sides were to meet in the Cloakroom, they might have to pass through a metal detector. We’re now told that Democrats and Republicans alike not only don’t talk to each other, but actually see the others as part of an evil plot to destroy the country.

            Alas, this animosity seems to have filtered down to more personal levels. Based on my reading of the “Dear Amy” advice column, it appears that many people feel under siege by the contrary political opinions of relatives and friends. Families have been torn asunder; kind of like the Civil War, or the White Sox vs. Cubs.

            Now, I admit there are some goof balls on both sides that I’d rather not associate with. But the fact is that I know and am related to people who voted for Trump, not because he was a noble human being, but because they agreed with his policies. Because he proved to be a liar and bully, a few decided not to vote at all the second time around. Some did, but were later appalled by his election denial antics. Just as they are appalled by President Biden’s spending spree (which gave me money I didn’t need).

            Regardless of their political persuasion, my friends are still my friends. The things that brought us together are more important than politics. They are inclined to help their fellow man; donate to good causes; and are often active in community organizations. They have reasons why they support conservative candidates. In most cases, religion is important to them. I also have friends on the other end of the political spectrum. Ditto for them. The lunatic fringe exists on both the left and right and must be ignored.

            This country works best when we try to understand the reasons why people choose one political philosophy over another, then seek to find  the common ground that makes progress possible. Drawing lines in the sand is pointless. In time, the wind always blows it away.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon     

Tit for Tat

Tit for Tat

By Patrick F. Cannon

It should come as no surprise that Republican-controlled state legislatures are passing laws making it more difficult for many potential Democratic voters to cast a ballot. Given the same opportunity, Democrats will make it easier for their adherents to cast a ballot. And both parties are in the process of using 2020 Census data to redistrict their states to protect their legislative seats, both statewide and in the Congress.

            Illinois is a good example of the latter. Despite a lot of blather about “fair maps”, the Democrats will carve up the state to suit themselves. As they also control the courts, they have been able to prevent redistricting reform amendments from making it to the ballot, just as they have been able to prevent pension reform. In both cases, the majority of Illinois citizens favor these reforms, and sign more than enough petitions to place them on the ballot. The Illinois Supreme Court, with its Democratic majority, always finds a technicality to stop these citizen initiatives. You have to give them credit for imagination, if not for judicial integrity.

            It’s difficult to imagine that all these machinations are what the Founders (that much maligned group) had in mind. The concept of one man, one vote, has been transformed into “I only want to vote for someone who looks like me.” The districts that result from this flawed concept assume shapes that even Eldridge Gerry would blush at. Despite the fact that the US Supreme Court has held that creating districts along racial lines is unconstitutional, they have yet to find a way to prevent it.

            My US congressman, Danny Davis, represents the 7th District, which encompasses part of Chicago’s lakefront, much of the city’s west side, Oak Park, and bits of other western suburbs. It was designed to be majority African-American, as is Davis. If you look at the map above, you will see that it’s embraced lovingly by the 4th Congressional District, which performs astonishing feats of magic to insure that it will be majority Hispanic. It is predictably represented by Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

            I have long held the naïve belief that you should select the best person for the office, regardless of sex, sexual preference, race or ethnicity. The only fair map is that which carves up the state (or city, for that matter) into contiguous districts of equal population. A good computer would make easy work of this. How can this seem a revolutionary concept? When the current system produces the knuckleheads who now so badly run most states and the country as a whole?

            And let me remind those of you who are so enamored of President Biden that if his “infrastructure” bill had actually been only about infrastructure as generally understood, the Republicans might well have agreed to negotiate, as they stand to benefit from the pork barrel just as much as the Democrats. But, who knows? Maybe the president will come to his senses and make what sandwiches he can from half a loaf.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

An Organ of Note

An Organ of Note

By Patrick F. Cannon

My spirited and legendary advocacy for the lamb kidney has insured my lofty place in the cooking Hall of Fame. Long a favorite among gourmets in such diverse countries as France and Ireland, the noble organ may yet find its place on the tables of our own United States, where it has long been despised.

            While most animal kidneys are toothsome and delicious, the lamb kidney is perhaps the tenderest and tastiest. Regular readers of this space will perhaps remember the recipe my dear Irish mother used to make her enviable kidney stew. Let me remind you of its simple preparation.

            After throwing open all the windows in the kitchen and adjacent rooms, and turning on whatever exhaust fans are ready to hand, cut two lamb kidneys into bite-sized pieces and drop into a pot of water.  As it simmers, skim the glob that rises to the top (your dog might well enjoy licking it up). When the glob ceases to form, add carrots and potatoes to the pot and continue cooking until they are tender. If you’re truly adventurous, by all meant add some pearl onions to the mixture. Serve in large bowls, along with some crusty bread to soak up the nectar.

            Kidneys are also favored by the French. I recall with pleasure dining on sautéed kidneys at the legendary Le Francais in Wheeling, north of Chicago (once considered America’s finest restaurant). Chef Jean Banchet cooked them with peppers and spices, with the centers still pink and moist. Ah, heaven! I have also tried Steak and Kidney Pie at various supposed Irish pubs, but usually found that only the merest of slivers of the noble organ were in evidence. Why do they bother?

            But kidneys are amazingly versatile. Here are some additional palate pleasers. First, you can substitute them for livers in your cocktail party Chicken Liver Pate. Chop them up, after trimming the gristly bits, and sauté them with shallots, garlic, and capers. Add some Cognac (use the cheaper VS you wouldn’t dare serve to your guests), then puree and refrigerate. Serve with your favorite crackers or little bits of bread. Beware of the guest who tries to hog it all for himself!

            The Kidneyburger is a staple at Chez Cannon. To ground kidneys, add cooked brown rice, chopped tofu, diced onions, and your favorite hot sauce. Mix and form into patties. Fry in finest lard. Place on burger bun and top with lettuce and tomato. A squirt of Cheese Whiz on top is optional.

            Kidneys are also highly suited to sweet deserts. One of my favorites is the raisin and kidney pie. Simply chop up a few pieces of kidney and add to the raisin mixture before pouring it into the pie shell. Most people find raisin pie too sweet; adding the kidneys mitigates this to a great extent. When I tell my guests what they’ve just eaten, I get great satisfaction from their interesting expressions.

            Another favorite of my guests is chocolate mousse au kidney. You make the mousse as usual, then fold chopped kidneys in just before serving. I can guarantee “oohs and aahs” from your delighted and amazed guests! And of course, the kidney, lettuce and tomato sandwich needs no explanation. You can increasingly find it on the menus of your better diners.

            And should you have a jar of marshmallow fluff in your pantry – but perhaps I should save this recipe for a future post. You may already have enough on your plate.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

As We Forgive?

As We Forgive?

By Patrick F. Cannon

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” You may remember this noble sentiment from the Lord’s Prayer. It’s a concept ingrained in Christian theology. No less a personage than Jesus Christ taught that if the sinner repents, and promises to sin no more, he can be forgiven.

            In this supposed Christian nation, God may still forgive the sinner, but almost no one else does. In a recent instance, 27-year-old Alexi McCammond – herself an African-American — was forced to resign as editor of Teen Vogue for tweets she had posted 10 years before as a teen-age student. Some of them involved snarky remarks about Chinese fellow students and teaching assistants, so were deemed racist. Apparently, 17-year-old girls cannot be forgiven for being immature, even if they apologize later, as Ms. McCammond predictably did. Maybe Christianity Today will give her a job. She can forget about the New York Times.

            By the way, that august newspaper is among those calling for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign. No more hypocritical than most politicians, Cuomo is accused of making unwelcome advances to young women, including some on his staff. Instead of giving the old coot a hearty slap on the face, or just telling him to act his age, they apparently make mental note of his transgressions until a braver woman comes forward publicly, then come out of the woodwork to pile on. By the way, Cuomo is a 63-year-old divorced man, old enough, I guess, to be considered a dirty old man.

            So far, he has refused to resign. If he does, it should be for fudging Covid nursing home death figures, not for being an idiot with women. After all, the country was happy to elect two serial sex offenders – Bill Clinton and Donald Trump – to its highest office. Talk about hypocrisy! I would guess that some of my readers voted for at least one of them in full knowledge of their sexual proclivities.

            Man’s inevitable sexual urges are now an issue in many now unforgiveable acts. Poor Charlie Rose was accused of luring women to his lair for immoral purposes and has all but disappeared from view. One day, the Charlie Rose Show; the next, reruns of Mister Rogers. Then there’s comedian Louis CK, who got his jollies by exposing himself and masturbating in front of bemused and/or appalled women. Pathetic, surely. Career ending? Why? He has apparently gone back to work. If he’s still funny, it should be OK to laugh at his jokes, just as people seem to enjoy Picasso’s work, despite his appalling treatment of women.

            As far as I can tell, none of these men committed an illegal act. If they did, why haven’t they been handcuffed and hauled off to the pokey? Being boorish and stupid has only ever been against the law of good taste, which is violated every day in every way by both sexes. Men who have crossed the line – Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby come to mind – have ended up in prison, as they should have.

            In the spirit of forgiveness, I’m even willing to offer absolution to Donald Trump, provided he admits his many sins, and promises to be better in the future. I concede I’m unlikely ever to be required to honor my generous offer. Who have you forgiven lately?

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

Can You Repair the Past

Can You Repair the Past?

By Patrick F. Cannon

The question of reparations for the descendants of formerly enslaved Africans has returned to the front burner recently. Just a few days ago, Steven Chapman of the Chicago Tribune editorial board wrote a column about Chicago suburb Evanston’s reparation fund, which will be supported by citizen donations and its cannabis tax. Liberal Evanston – it voted more than 90 percent for President Biden – has an African-American population of approximately 15 percent, roughly the same as the country as a whole.

Coincidently, Monday’s Tribune included a letter to the editor from someone whose ancestors came to this country long after emancipation, never lived in a Jim Crow state, and couldn’t understand why he should have to pay for someone else’s sins. This is a common argument and there is some justice to it.

The more you know about the history of slavery in this country, the more complicated it becomes. Slavery was introduced in what is now the United States by the British, just as they introduced it in the Caribbean to provide cheap labor for sugar production. In addition to sugar, here it was tobacco and later cotton. It formed part of what became known as the “triangular trade,” which involved shipping goods from Britain to West Africa in exchange for slaves, which were then shipped to the West Indies and America in exchange for sugar, tobacco and other commodities.

The future slaves were largely provided by their fellow black Africans, who captured them during raids or as the spoils of war. Arabs were also involved in the trade, as were the Portuguese and Spanish. The British finally abolished the slave trade in 1833, or just 30 years before the Emancipation Proclamation. You can quibble with the numbers, but slavery existed in what was British North America for 264 years, and in the United States for 100. Taking all this in consideration, how would you apportion the blame?

Despite all this shared responsibility, if reparations are ever to be paid, it’s down to us. If we’re honest, we must admit that the Federal government and courts permitted Jim Crow laws to stand in the South, and did nothing to prevent more subtle segregation in every part of the country. The electorate, that’s us, was generally happy to go along. Anyone who has lived in Chicago should be aware that African-Americans were excluded from most white areas until fairly recently. And who can deny that many jobs were denied to them? Even when qualified?

Rather than pay reparations for the past (and how could you possibly compute that?), I suggest we invest in the future by paying the tuition and related costs for any African American  — regardless of age — who is accepted at any accredited community college, four-year college or university, or trade school. Since Congress is only too happy to send money to people who don’t actually need it, why not send some along to people who do?

In the meantime, if you don’t really need your Covid relief check, why not send part of it to the United Negro College Fund?  And, by the way, the answer to the question in the title? You can’t.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon      

You Probably Don’t Care

You Probably Don’t Care

By Patrick F. Cannon

I thought I’d write this week about something few people are concerned with – Thoroughbred horse racing. It’s hard to believe now, but it was once the most attended sport in America. That was the case in 1957, when I first attended the races at Washington Park in south suburban Homewood. With its sister track in north suburban Arlington Heights – now Arlington International — it made the Chicago area one of the major centers of racing in the country.

            After Washington Park burned down in 1977, Arlington stood alone as Chicago’s preeminent track (both had been owned by the Lindheimer family). I won’t bore you with all the details (it involved bribing politicians), but the Lindheimer’s were forced to sell the track in 1968 to Gulf-Western, operators of New York’s Madison Square Garden, among other holdings. In 1983, it returned to local ownership when it was purchased by Richard Duchossois. In 1985, the original grandstand burned down; in 1989, the new grandstand opened. The track is now considered one of the most beautiful in the world.

            Some of the great horses who have raced at Arlington include Citation, Dr. Fager, Damascus, Buckpasser, Twilight Tear, John Henry, Round Table and Secretariat. Its Arlington Million was the first race in the world to offer that purse. This year, the purse has been reduced to $600,000.

            Alas, in 2000, Duchossois sold it to Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI), in a deal that made him the company’s largest stockholder. Once race tracks were the only place to legally wager in Illinois, but by then it had competition from the lottery and casinos; now you can place bets on just about any sporting event, and play the slots at your local tavern.

            During most of the time they owned Arlington, CDI lobbied the state legislature to permit slots and other forms of gambling at the track, much as has been done successfully in other states. In the meantime, CDI bought Rivers Casino in DesPlaines. When the legislature finally passed a new gambling law in 2019, they declined to apply for a license, claiming the terms of the new law were unfavorable. The real reason was the track’s proximity to the Rivers Casino.

            Then, a few weeks ago, they announced plans to put the property up for sale, saying it was now too valuable for horse racing, and should be developed for a “higher and better use.” The complex, 386 acres in total, sits in Arlington Heights, IL, one of the Chicago areas more prosperous suburbs.  Arlington has promised to hold racing this year, and to find an appropriate place for its license. Since it was granted the license by the state, it doesn’t actually own it, so it’s a hollow gesture.

            The only track left in the Chicago area is Hawthorne, owned for some 100 years by the Carey family (I went to grammar school with one of them, Judy). Unlike Arlington, they have applied for a  gambling license and have plans to transform the track with a casino and more modern facilities generally. Currently, their purse structure is pathetic, even compared with tracks in Indiana, of all places. Their average purse is approximately $12,500 per race (on Saturday March 6). In New York, that average would be closer to $50,000. I checked on Gulfstream Park in Miami just yesterday and the average purse over 10 races was $37,500. You can imagine where owners and trainers with decent horses would rather race.

            The decline in Illinois has led to a decline in the state’s breeding industry. Doubling of purses at a revitalized Hawthorne (and at Cahokia near St. Louis) would not only attract owners and trainers, but might revive breeding as well. What the Illinois Racing Board should do in the short term is tell CDI “thanks but no thanks” and award this year’s desirable Summer dates to Hawthorne as a reward for their commitment to the Chicago area. Obviously, CDI – which of course still runs the Kentucky Derby – now sees thoroughbred horse racing as a business instead of a sport. When selling widgets makes more money than the thrill of a photo finish, you can kiss the “greatest two minutes in sport” goodbye.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon 

Times Do Change

Times Do Change

By Patrick F. Cannon

Seeing a recent ad for the upcoming Master’s golf tournament brought back some memories of my time at Fort Gordon, Georgia. The fort is located – as is the August National Golf Club, home of the Master’s – in Augusta. It was then, as it still is, the location of the US Army’s Signal School.

            After basic training at Fort Benning – also in Georgia – I was sent to Fort Gordon in May of 1961 to train to be a cryptographer. (As an aside, both forts were named after Confederate generals.) Cryptography involves the coding and decoding of sensitive military (and other) information; to do it, you need a security clearance (Top Secret in my case). In addition to the FBI interrogating your friends  and neighbors, taking a lie detector test was then part of the drill. I passed it, but not everyone did.

            One of the members of my class was a young woman. She was intelligent, or she wouldn’t have been chosen for this training. She was also a lesbian, an orientation that was uncovered by the lie-detector test. She was not only removed from the school, but discharged from the Army altogether. Why, you might ask? As it happens, this was after the spy scandals in Great Britain, in which mostly gay men were discovered to have been Russian spies. The thought was that being gay would make you vulnerable to blackmail. Considering how appalingly gays were treated then, it seemed a plausible assumption.

            Augusta was still largely segregated in 1961. I probably knew this, but cluelessly asked one of my African-American fellow students if he would like to join us when we were going to town for a restaurant dinner and some bar hopping. He was a nice guy, and it seemed a reasonable thing to do. He looked at me with amazement, then said: “Thanks, but there’s no place to eat in Augusta that will serve whites and blacks together. This is the South, man.”

            Augusta is still the South, but a South where whites and blacks can dine together. Not all of its white citizens are happy with this, but blatant segregation is clearly illegal. African-Americans can even vote, which was largely impossible until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even the Augusta National Golf Club – whose membership was all white and all male in 1961 – now has both female and black members. Interestingly, the first female member was golf nut Condoleezza Rice.

            The young woman who was thrown out of the Army for being gay was a member of the WACs (Women’s Army Corps), which was disbanded in 1978. Women now serve with men in regular units. Gays can now serve openly in all the services, as can transgender men and women. This has created its own set of problems, but clearly there’s no going back.

            The lesson here is a simple one: despite what people with no historical perspective might claim, progress in expanding rights to all citizens has been continuous and even inspiring. This does not mean that racism, gender discrimination, or sexual orientation bias have disappeared; in my view, they never entirely will. But who can reasonably deny that great progress has been made?

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon       

I Hate Guacamole!

I Hate Guacamole!

By Patrick F. Cannon

I cannot now remember the first time I experienced guacamole. It may have been at a party of some kind, where a revolutionary hostess decided to forego the classic onion dip for something more exotic. “Hello,” I said to myself when I saw the green sludge for the first time, “what could this be?”

            My fellow partygoers seemed to be scooping the stuff out of the bowl with corn chips of some kind. Being the kind of fellow who’s willing to try anything once, I chose a sturdy-looking chip and dived in. I was perhaps too ambitious, as I dug down fairly deeply; too deeply in fact, resulting in the chip breaking, leaving a piece in my hand and the rest in the bowl. I popped the virgin half in my mouth, and gingerly plucked the guacamole-encrusted half out of the bowl. Into my mouth it duly went.

            How can I describe this experience? It was clear to me that the mixture contained some onions and chiles, along with some other seasonings. But the thing that impressed me the most was the base – it was slimy and even greasy. I was told that this was a fruit called the avocado or (if you want to be precise, persea americana). While the fossil record indicates that versions of the fruit – technically a berry – existed in other parts of the world, the version we now eat is probably native to Mexico.

            Anyway, my first exposure to the now ubiquitous fruit was not a happy one, and I have seen no reason since to change my opinion. In addition to being slimy and greasy, it has no flavor of its own (don’t give me that “it has a delicate, nut like flavor” nonsense, I’m not buying it). If you think it’s so great, why not just eat one like you would eat an apple or a peach? No? I thought not.

               I do concede that the avocado is nutritious, although rather high in saturated fats. But there are more nutritious foods that also have some taste: almonds, carrots, snapper, ocean perch, cherries, tangerines, scallops, and my special favorite – pork fat! In no top 25 list of the healthiest foods that I could find did I discover the avocado. Nor did I discover the chickpea, the basis for another disgusting mess, hummus, which has joined guacamole in the hors d’ oeuvre spreads of the culinarily deluded.

            Of course, one can avoid the guacamole bowl, but the avocado increasingly appears hidden in other dishes. Just the other day, I ordered a chopped salad. When it arrived, I discovered to my horror that little cubes of avocado were mixed in with the more traditional ingredients (which generally include chopped lettuce, broccoli, bacon and cheese, among others). As I was with a group, I didn’t feel I could gingerly pick out the avocado bits, so I manfully ate the salad, slime and all. The tasty dressing at least helped me get through the ordeal.

            Be warned also that the dreaded green stuff is sneaking into sandwiches. You would be wise to read the entire ingredient list before ordering. After the turkey, Swiss, lettuce, tomato, and bacon often lurks the green monster. And I understand that the latest fad among people who read too many food blogs is to spread avocado on their breakfast toast instead of strawberry preserves. Imagine, your day ruined before it starts.  

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

State of the Unions

State of the Unions

Patrick F. Cannon

Trade, craft, professional and industrial unions have done much to improve the incomes and working conditions of their members. It was a long struggle that began before the turn of the 20th Century, when workers were largely at the mercy of their employers. Through their efforts – and yes, suffering – we now have laws governing wages, hours and working conditions. Many of my relatives were union members; when I was younger, I myself belonged to two.

            And I support the right of employees to form new unions; indeed, this right is enshrined in the law. And reluctantly, I support these unions right to support causes and political candidates so long as corporations have this same right. It’s not my money (at least directly), so it’s none of my business. It is, however, my business when this support is paid for with my money clearly and directly, i.e., when it is spent by public employee unions.

            Frankly, I wish public employee unions had never been permitted, but, as they say, that train has left the station and it ain’t coming back. But I wonder why they should use my money to support political parties and candidates I oppose. In Illinois, those candidates are Democrats. Now, I do vote for some Democrats on the Federal level, but do my best to vote for Republicans locally. Why? Simply because the Illinois Democrats have formed an unholy alliance with the public employee unions.

It works this way: The unions provide money and bodies to Democrats; in return, the governor and legislators don’t do anything to diminish in any way the great deals they’ve given the unions over many years. One example is the pension debt. In the last year, it increased by $7 billion, and now stands at $144.4 billion. And despite the annual budget crisis – exacerbated by the pandemic – Governor Pritzker has not laid off a single state employee; or even asked them to take a slight pay cut or a few furlough days. This in a state that had unemployment spike to 16 percent! Shared sacrifice? You gotta be kidding!

Again, the public employee unions aren’t going away, but I believe they should not be permitted to donate money or time to political parties or candidates. This one step would instantly eliminate one road block to true fiscal reform in Illinois (and other states where public employee unions wield similar power).

It’s true that the Supreme Court has said that union members need not pay that portion of their dues that supports political causes or candidates. That’s, frankly, little more than a chimera. Let me put it simply: I don’t want my tax dollars to pay public employees whose union dues is used to support candidates I oppose (or even those I support). In essence, they are using my dough to get more of my dough. How can that be right?

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

Mine Those Riches!

Mine Those Riches

By Patrick F. Cannon

Whenever I want to punish myself for some transgression, I need only go to Taylor Swift’s web site and read some of her song lyrics. They are so uniformly bad that reading just one seems penance enough for any sin. To spare you too much pain, here is just a brief example:

                        “Untouchable, burning brighter than the sun,

                          And when you’re close, I feel like coming undone.”

            Ms. Swift, in common with many of her fellow performers, writes songs about breaking up with men who have somehow done her wrong. Among the most self-involved people in the history of the world, she seems to have love affairs with young men just as self-involved as herself. This clash of personalities is bound to end ill, thus providing Swift with more grist for her composing mill.

            Now, she is a singer of some, if limited, talent. Why does it never occur to her and her ilk to mine the riches that actually talented song writers have left for posterity? It could be because she has had only the sketchiest of educations, deciding at an early age that she was going to devote her life to becoming famous. So, perhaps she is unaware that there exists a proud history of popular American song.

One wonders if she (and the many others who think the world was created when they were born) have ever heard of Stephen Foster, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Richard Rogers, Leonard Bernstein, Frank Loesser, Frederick Loewe, Jule Steyn, Jimmie Van Heusen, Woody Guthrie, Steven Sondheim, Randy Newman, Jerry Herman, Paul Simon, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and so many others – and the talented lyricists who collaborated with some of them.

Of course, there could be a practical reason for performing only your own songs – you don’t have to pay royalties (although copyright has expired on some great songs). And perhaps they’re afraid to sing songs that would cause people to compare them with the great singers who interpreted them in the past. The list would be very long, but just let me mention Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Rosemary Clooney, Sarah Vaughn, Mel Torme, Louis Armstrong, Anita O’Day, Peggy Lee, and even Rudy Valee (that’s Rudy in the photo), to name just a few. Almost none of them wrote their own songs. Why would they, when there were such riches available to them?

While I’m on the subject of artistic interpretation, how many of our actors have ever appeared in a classic play (or any play, for that matter)? I was reminded of the reluctance of so many American actors to test themselves in the classics by the recent death of the Canadian-born Christopher Plummer. In a long career – he died at 91 – Plummer played most of the great Shakespearian roles, including Hamlet, Iago and Lear; but he also tried his hand at Chekhov, Brecht, Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, Pirandello and Shaw.

With a few exceptions – Jason Robards, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Brian Dennehy, and Stacey Keach  come to mind – once American actors make it in the movies, they rarely return to the stage. Let’s face it. Why would you want to memorize a part like Edmund Tyrone in O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, when you could easily learn a page of dialog for a movie scene? And how frightening would it be to stand upon a stage in front of 1,000 people and convince them you really are Hamlet? Or Hickey in The Iceman Cometh? Or Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman?

But if you’re a serious actor, or a serious singer, you should want to play the great roles, or sing the great songs. But I guess “serious” is the operable word.

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon