Thursday, October 23, 2014

Baseball Past and Present

By Matthew Linenbroker
            In 1985, the Kansas City Royals faced the St. Louis Cardinals in what was deemed the “I-70 Showdown Series.” During the ninth inning of Game 6, first base umpire Don Denkinger called Royals’ batter Jorge Orta safe at first, although replays showed that Cardinals’ first baseman Todd Worrell actually beat Orta to the base. After another base hit and intentionally walking Hal McRae, a single to right field drove in two runs, giving the Royals a 2-1 win. After that loss, the Cardinals melted down in Game 7, letting the Royals take their crown. Missouri was halved into bitterness and glee, caught in a newly inflated intra-state rivalry.
            The Royals are once again in the World Series, for the first time since 1985, and the Cardinals could have potentially become their opponent. The scent of a rematch wafted through the air, but the San Francisco Giants overtook them (although the Cardinals have won the World Series twice since their loss to the Royals).
Missouri is an explosive epicenter of baseball fanaticism, which is often due to the deafening dedication of Cardinal Nation. However, Royals’ fans are doing their part this year too – Anchorman actor Paul Rudd even invited everyone to a kegger at his mom’s house in Overland Park after the Royals’ American League Championship Series win.
Hit singer-songwriter Lorde penned her breakthrough song “Royals” after seeing a picture of Kansas City Royals’ player George Brett signing baseballs in a 1976 National Geographic magazine. A couple of San Francisco radio stations have responded to this by banning Lorde’s KC-inspired song from the radio until after the World Series is over.
             A look back at Missouri baseball history reveals more than just a kegger and a 17-year-old musician, and more than just an infamous umpire and a Royals’ triumph. Before the Cardinals’ #11in11, before Jarrod Dyson, before Jon Jay, before Pujols, Eckstein, and Edmonds, even before Don Denkinger and the 1985 Show-Me Showdown, Missouri basked in the sunlight of groundbreaking baseball culture. Roger D. Launius’ book Seasons in the Sun digs into the dirt to examine the Midwestern roots of baseball. St. Louis became a charter member of the newly formed National League in 1876, and Kansas City housed one of the premiere Negro National League
teams, the Kansas City Monarchs, in the 1920’s.
The history of baseball is intertwined with the history of Missouri, existing through political turmoil, war, economic depression, and segregation. Prior to his death in Kansas City in 1982, star Negro League Pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige impacted the baseball African-American civil rights fight. Donald Spivey’s If You Were Only White follows the tense political struggle, and Satchel’s important role in it.
Stan Musial is more than a Cardinals’ legend; he is a baseball legend. When America fought the Great Depression, war, and post-war turmoil, Stan the Man offered the nation a taste of hope and escape as he broke records and barriers. James N. Giglio’s Musial illuminates the life and career of the man immortalized in statue-form outside of Busch Stadium.
Missouri’s exceptional baseball past will forever help forge the legacy of excellence in Missouri’s baseball future. It is the nature of friendly competition to bring people together in solidarity; as fans assemble for #BlueOctober and #RedOctober, seeing Missouri once again bask in the possibility of its two teams uniting once more over America’s pastime feels like an intrinsic homage to Satchel, Musial, and all the others, large and small, who made Missouri baseball the noble creation that it is today. These books highlight a time in Missouri that helped shape the baseball culture we live in today, and just as people study the Declaration of Independence to understand the conception of our current government, so can Musial be looked at as a stepping-stone to Ozzie Smith, to Pujols, to Jay, so can a possible Royals’ World Series win be viewed through a retrospective of the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs. As a central facet of American culture, Baseball is ever evolving, and by learning of its progression, we can deeper our understanding and appreciation of the glorious baseball present.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Q & A: The Cinematic Voyage of THE PIRATE by Earl J. Hess & Pratibha A. Dabholkar

The Cinematic Voyage of The Pirate: Kelly, Garland, and Minnelli at Work follows the model of Earl J. Hess and Pratibha A. Dabholkar’s previous study of Singin’ in the Rain. Drawing on exhaustive research in archives, memoirs, interviews, and newspaper coverage, it takes the reader from the original conception of the story in the mind of a German playwright named Ludwig Fulda, through S. N. Behrman’s Broadway production starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, to the arduous task of crafting a suitable screenplay at MGM. Behind-the-scenes issues such as Garland’s personal problems during the making of the film and the shaping of the film by Minnelli and Kelly are among the many subjects detailed here.

Why was it important to write a book about the MGM film, The Pirate?
The Pirate has garnered a great deal of attention from viewers and critics alike as one of the most interesting film musicals of all time. It was a controversial film in several ways and has attracted considerable commentary over the years. Arguments about its plot, acting, sets, and dances, as well as the place it holds in the creative work of its director and its stars have raged since its initial release in 1948. Those arguments continue today, more than six decades later. And yet, The Pirate had not received the acclaim it deserves in scholarly literature. Among other things, the remarkable ways that the film helped the careers of Kelly, Minnelli, and Garland, its pioneering depiction of race relations in musicals, and the mastery displayed in the staging, filming, and choreography of Kelly’s dances led us to conclude that The Pirate is an underappreciated masterpiece. In writing this book, we set about to correct that situation and give the film its due.

What can we learn about film production from this book?
Readers can get an idea of the complex process of writing screen plays based on stage plays. They can appreciate how songs and dances are created to fit into the plot and learn about repeated rehearsals to get everything right. Readers can understand how shooting has to be planned to make efficient use of resources rather than chronologically according to the story. They can also find out how moviemakers have to deal with personal problems of the players and keep up morale. It is also interesting to learn that changes are made in plot and dialogue after shooting has started and even after the previews, and that the colors one sees on the screen are often adjusted in a lab after making the film.

You write that early audiences did not always understand the tongue-in-cheek humor in the film. Can you elaborate on the mixed reviews of the film musical?

Although movie audiences were less enthusiastic than film critics when The Pirate was released in 1948, it was mainly because they were not sophisticated enough to understand that the film was made tongue-in-cheek and that the imitations of Barrymore and Fairbanks by Kelly were done with affection to delight audiences. Some early audience members did get it, however, as seen from the excellent ratings when the film was previewed. As audiences became more sophisticated, enthusiasm for the film grew. It appears that this motion picture was at least twenty years ahead of its time. Our book includes a full discussion of critical and scholarly commentary over the years (including commentary by gay studies scholars) to help readers appreciate diverse views about the film as well as how perspectives changed over time.

Is The Pirate a cult film?
Strange as it may seem, it is both a cult film and one that appeals to mainstream audiences, especially those who love musicals. The Pirate did appeal to gay audiences soon after its release. Garland’s presence in the film and her camp performance started that process, but gay audiences also appreciated Minnelli’s aesthetics and Kelly’s virile dancing. Also, the film has been a hit with many college students since the 1970s and, a decade later, it began to be a popular topic of analysis for scholars who deal with gay theory and the cinema. At the same time, the film was appreciated by mainstream audiences all along. It won high praise from many viewers, critics, and scholars who savor the particular aesthetics of dance on film, with appreciation for the movie growing over the years. In fact, many fans of the film musical rank it as their absolute favorite.

What effect did the film have on the careers of the major players?
For Gene Kelly, the film was the true beginning of his postwar fame as a dancer on the big screen. He worked more intimately on choreography in this movie than on any previous film and also played an important part in character development. Kelly also learned a good deal about camera work and direction from Minnelli that he later employed very successfully in his own career as a director. For Vincent Minnelli, the movie exemplified his fascination with colorful locale, exotic costumes, and strongly defined characters. The director used his trademark boom camera work to full effect and also worked extensively to revise the final screenplay. He worked closely with the Technicolor Corporation to create a rich visual product. The Pirate is one of Minnelli’s most effective creations, displaying verve, irony, and a sardonic gusto. For Judy Garland, her personal problems with drugs and her troubled relationship with her husband came to a head with Minnelli during the filming of this movie. She missed many days of production, costing M-G-M a good deal of money and wasted time, but she turned in a stellar performance in a role that was unusual for her. Her pairing with Gene Kelly was phenomenal, as always.

The history behind the production of The Pirate seems awfully complicated. What challenges did you face while writing this book?
We had to get access to the stage plays and all the versions of the screen plays to see how the story evolved and why it took such a long time and so many writers to produce an acceptable script for the screen. We had to research all possible primary sources (including archival material, interviews, and so on) as well as secondary sources, and piece together the history of making this film, including its production, marketing, and legacy. Very often, there were divergent accounts and we had to evaluate which versions were based on fact and which were not. Also, scholarly accounts had misrepresented some facts, stating that the film was panned by critics on its release and made a loss over its lifetime. Researching original documents, we found that neither was true. Our book corrects the errors others have propagated.  

Despite the challenges, was it fun to write the book?
We had as much fun researching and writing this book as we do when watching this great movie musical. Everything we discovered about The Pirate is in this book, presented in a way that helps us understand and enjoy the film even more. Each time we watch the film, it offers more layers of meaning and enjoyment, tied closely to everything discussed in our book.

Monday, October 6, 2014


By Sara L. Deters

As a history major at the University of Missouri, I've always hoped that Missouri's history would deservedly receive more attention. Mark A. Lause, author of Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri does just that by exploring the largely ignored events that took place in Missouri during the Civil War. Focused around one military general, Sterling Price, Price's Lost Campaign describes the unsuccessful military raid in Missouri of 1864. Emphasizing guerrilla warfare and how that brutality shaped the political elections in Missouri during 1864 provides cultural as well as political history for the readers out there interested in more than just warfare history. 

What prompted you to write about the military campaign in Missouri?

Most of what’s written on the Civil War in Missouri has focused on the early days - before the Federal authorities secured their hold on the state - or on the colorful and violent events of the guerilla war in the state. 

Although I’ve always had an interest in the 1864 Missouri campaign, I didn’t pursue it seriously until after writing the book Race and Radicalism in the Union Army, which focused on the efforts of John Brown’s surviving followers to build a tri-racial Federal army in the Indian Territory--present Oklahoma.  It isn’t surprising that such a prospect did not please the Confederates at all, but I was surprised at the extent to which the Federal authorities did everything they could to divert it, drain it of resources, and even to line their pockets from the artificial misfortune imposed upon the project.  By the conclusion of that book, I had a very different and much dimmer view of the prospects for a real Reconstruction after the war.

Missouri troops and events in Missouri generally figured heavily in those operations.  At one point, for example, the Indian brigade essentially took over Neosho as a base--the place had been essentially abandoned.  And the fact that the Confederate army ended the 1864 campaign by retreating south right past a Union Indian brigade rendered helpless by Federal policies seemed to require another look at the movements of Price’s Army and his pursuers.

You say that your grandmother passed down stories of her grandfathers witnessing and participating in the 1864 campaign. Any stories you wish to share?

Both of her grandfathers and several great uncles were in the Enrolled Missouri Militia.  However, their wives and children may have seen more of this campaign than they did.  Riders went along those country roads warning that Confederate columns were on the way and everybody grabbed what they could and headed out across the fields into the woods.  They stayed there for several days.  Most of their houses were robbed of anything not nailed down and vandalized. 

The Federal Department of Missouri later made a great issue about the cold-blooded murder of Major James Wilson and his men outside of Union, Missouri.  This was a truly horrific act, but there was no mention of the murder of captured members of the militia the same day only a few miles away, or the previous day in Union, or in the other days before and after Wilson’s murder. The killing of Union soldiers, militia or civilians that fell into Confederate hands was a daily occurrence. 

And, yes, it went the other way, too, though never to the same extent.  

Why did the Federals call Price’s army a “raid” instead of a “campaign?”

The book argues that the Confederates planned the operation as an invasion to reoccupy as much of Missouri as they could on the eve of the 1864 presidential elections.  This included taking St. Louis and/or Jefferson City.  Union Generals William S. Rosecrans and Alfred Pleasanton, though, did not think that the Confederacy had that much life left in it, and originally thought that reports of Price’s presence with a large army represented a panicked response to a mere raid with no more than a few thousand men or less.  They staked everything on this mistaken assessment. 

Notwithstanding the stories later told that Pilot Knob alerted St. Louis to the danger and inspired Rosecrans to mobilize the population in the city’s defense. In fact, Rosecrans and his staff did not really mobilize city’s militia and continued to discuss this is a “raid,” almost until the Confederate advance probed the borders of St. Louis county on September 30.  Among other things, Price’s decision not to attack St. Louis permitted the Federals to continue to speak disparagingly of the operation as “a raid.”

A few days later, after Price again decided not to attack a strategic objective at Jefferson City.  Thereafter, Confederate goals centered on the idea of supporting themselves as long as possible in Missouri.  Indeed, the campaign proved to be such a dismal failure that Price and his staff increasingly preferred to have their achievements viewed in terms of a “raid.”    By the original standards, there was no seizure and occupation of St. Louis or Jefferson City, but nabbing dozens of farm wagons as you pass through Saline County might make a raid successful. 

What can we learn about Missouri’s role in the Civil War from Price’s Lost Campaign?

I hope that readers of the book will realize that historians have been making choices about what priorities to place on aspects of the Civil War.  The sectional tensions between the east and west, perhaps, were secondary only to those between the North and the South.  And sectional tensions represent a gross oversimplification.  The Civil War pit two different ways of seeing America’s future against each other, but there were also many variations in those aspirations, especially on the most complex side of the war. 

What was the most fascinating part for you during your research?

What always amazes me in doing historical research is the extent to which we can actually probe the experience of the rank and file--the soldiers, militia, and civilians touched by the war.   Part of this is has to do with new technologies, such as the digitalization of newspapers, military records, and even some manuscript collections. 

When they digitized the Official Records some years ago, I remember saying that this would probably enable critical researchers to start putting some holes into the often conflicting information contained in them.  That process has started.  I hope that, in a way, Price’s Lost Campaign and the forthcoming Collapse of Price’s Raid will be able to contribute to this.

Any other projects currently in the works?

I have several books already on the way to press, including The Collapse of Price’s Raid: The Beginning of the End in Civil War Missouri (University of Missouri Press), Free Labor: the Civil War and the Making of the American Working Class and a book on the politics of spiritualism in the Civil War years.  I am also finishing a book that grew out of what I learned in the Trans-Mississippi Civil War and applies it to the Franco-Prussian War, tentatively entitled The Last Republicans.  I have started another on political violence in the Wild West, aimed at the role of violence in reconstructing and imposing the two-party system.