by Rick Bretz
If you watch the Turner Classic Movies Channel and study history, then “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War” will fascinate you.
Researched and written by Mark Harris, he is a prolific writer for many periodicals such as Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine as well as the New York Times and Washington Post. His previous work was also a best seller, “Pictures and the Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood.”
The book covers the exploits of five Hollywood heavyweights who hung up their tinsel town regalia to put on a uniform and shoot the combat footage that we see today on the History channel and other documentaries. The title refers to five powerful Hollywood people who could have stayed in their comfortable California surroundings but went to war overseas, survived the experience, and came back alive to produce more classic films.
It covers John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler and Frank Capra. These five were responsible for some of Hollywood’s classics. Movies that film historians consider the finest the industry has produced and film school students today analyze shot by shot. These are also classic stories film buffs see each day when movie channels air them at all hour into the early morning.
Here is the short list of the five’s accomplishments.
1. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” Starring Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur
2. “The Grapes of Wrath” Starring Henry Fonda
3. “The Maltese Falcon” Starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Peter Lorre
4. “Young Mr. Lincoln” Starring Henry Fonda
5. “Woman of the Year” Starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn
6. “Shane” Starring Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur
7. “Mrs. Miniver” Starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon and Teresa Wright
8. “The Best Years of Our Lives” Starring Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy and Frederic March
The book tells the story of five movie professionals and how the war changed them. Once they joined the military, they trained their film teams, coordinated their missions and made sure the public was able to see their productions. These five went on dangerous missions in the air as well as on the ground to capture shots that would tell the story of how the allies won the war and what it cost in lives. They were a key part in keeping morale high on the home front by telling loved ones what their service men and women were doing overseas.
The book also covers the politics involved with creating a documentary and field photo unit with civilians turned officers leading the groups. At the beginning, some government officials were in favor of commissioning these five future officers to be charged with documenting the war while others thought it wasn’t the best idea. The important people, like General George C. Marshal, were proponents of the program.
The book reads slowly at times when Harris outlines the administrative maze that the documentary group had to navigate when confronted with Washington personalities and egos. Once you get past that, the author does a wonderful job of describing how Hollywood directors handle the military life and protocols. The action really begins when Harris describes the harrowing and dangerous missions some of them witnessed while viewing combat through a lens.
John Ford’s unit shot footage of the Battle of the Midway while John Huston and William Wyler went on bombing runs with the Army Air Corps. William Wyler lost hearing in one ear and partially in another from the concussion flak noise while trying to get some aerial combat footage. George Stevens had the unfortunate task of shooting horrific scenes of the liberated Nazi concentration camps. He also produced a film shown as evidence of the atrocities at the Nuremberg Trials to the war criminals and witnesses in the gallery. Stevens was the last to come back and thus through a film lens saw up close the inhumanity people are capable of to other human beings. This experience forever changed George Stevens as the book covers in detail.
“Five Came Back” is an entertaining and informative read, especially if you like history. More importantly, it points out how the Hollywood elite of that era stood up and did their part when asked by the government to contribute.
by Rick Bretz
The digital, broadcast and print media reflect, daily, the worst parts of human nature.
Evil ISIS hate groups commit atrocities in the name of religion. Countries invade neighboring countries killing innocent civilians. In the United States road rage violence continues just because a mother wanted to teach her daughter the proper way to drive. With all of that in the open, I think it is time to focus on an event that has given people joy since it first sent audio waves across a room to the human ear.
On this day, February 19th, 1878, Thomas Edison received his patent for the gramophone or phonograph. Since this invention dropped its first needle on a cylinder and then a disc, musical instruments, arrangements, lyrics and the human voice have made the audience forget their problems for just a few minutes, or for a good hour if you wanted to hear the whole album, LP or song list. Producers, singers and talent have given us songs we’ll never forget.
Here are some of my favorites. These are songs, I think, have a perfect mix of lyrics, vocals and instrumental arrangements. Music and the arts in general are the best parts of civilization. Especially when being civilized is the exception rather than the norm in some parts of the world.
Let the Day Begin-The Call
Everyone should wake up and listen to this song before they do anything else. If everyone did, there would be happier people on the highways during the morning commute.
Night Train-Rickie Lee Jones
Rickie Lee’s voice is an instrument in itself and she uses it to perfection on this song about love and moving down the line.
On the Turning Away-Pink Floyd
This is a song that simply states, stop looking away and start doing something to make the society a little better.
It Was a Very Good Year-Frank Sinatra
This song is about growing up but all you have to do is think about your experiences to connect with this song. Also, reading between the lines for this song is a fun exercise because in Sinatra’s day, a song writer had to be more subtle with words.
I Will Always Love You-Whitney Houston
Wow! Whitney Houston could sing. It’s worth listening to this song just to hear Whitney Houston hit all those notes. The words by Dolly Parton are pretty emotional also.
Interpreting Dylan’s words are always mind-benders. However, this song is perfect union with the music and lyrics. I never get tired of listening to it.
I Blinked Once-Steve Forbert
A song about growing and before you know it time has passed you by. Forbert knows how to put words together.
Games People Play-Alan Parson’s Project
Alan Parson produced a masterpiece for his “Turn of Friendly Card” album. It’s about luck, life and happiness and this song talks about it all.
This is my list of top eight great songs. You may have a list or other considered songs. If so, write a comment and let me know your opinion.
Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Hornsby, Fleetwood Mac Jackson Browne, Stevie Wonder, Eagles and anything by Van Morrison
EVENTS OVER TIME
Post idea suggested and with assistance by Olivia Boye from Florida
By Rick Bretz
The tobacco crop was an original export from the colonies to England and Europe at the onset of colonization of North America. It was a building block for the economic security of the United States. As the United States expanded and grew, tobacco products gained a healthy share of the disposable income market. In time, for some people, that disposable income became a necessary purchase for many Americans. The medical community and government officials came to the conclusion in the 20th Century that tobacco products, although enjoyable for some smokers, may create significant health issues with usage over time.
Tobacco product advertising from the 1940s through the middle 1960s remained unchallenged but the health argument remained in the background of the issue. Several television shows and networks brought on major tobacco companies to finance their programming. Film stars were seen smoking while some were paid to endorse a certain brand. The youth of America saw that smoking was cool and smoking meant that you were among the “in-crowd”; and furthermore, your personality exuded danger and adventure. All of this, in addition to the belief that smoking was harmless, contributed to the steady rise in smokers over time. This, of course, increased profits, and provided the necessary marketing funds for further advertising strategies.
The other side of the smoking issue relates to the altering of the carcinogen levels and other additives by companies to increase the likelihood of addiction. This is an important part of the story. Nevertheless, it is an issue for another time.
The advertising game changed after the Surgeon General released a Health Advisory Report on June 11, 1964, outlining the negative health issues from long-term smoking.
From the Center for Disease Control website:
The Advisory Committee concluded that cigarette smoking is—
- A cause of lung cancer and laryngeal cancer in men
- A probable cause of lung cancer in women
- The most important cause of chronic bronchitis
Later, the U.S. Congress adopted the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965 and the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969. These laws—
- Required a health warning on cigarette packages
- Banned cigarette advertising in the broadcasting media
- Called for an annual report on the health consequences of smoking
Despite pressure from the tobacco and broadcasting lobbies, the push to get a law passed to ban tobacco advertising gained momentum. That led to the act to ban cigarette advertising from television and radio in 1971. On April 1, 1971, President Richard Nixon, a pipe smoker himself, signed into law legislation that prohibited tobacco advertising on television and radio. Estimates at the time, showed that broadcast companies lost more than 220 million a year from advertising revenues. At that time, 220 million dollars was a big chunk of change that had to be replaced in order for the industry to satisfy investors and profit margins. According to broadcasting records, the last televised cigarette ad aired on the Johnny Carson Show at 11:50 PM on January 1st 1971. Carson’s ad occurred on January 1st, so that, in a compromise to the broadcasting lobby, they were able to get their last influx of profits by airing cigarette ads on the New Year’s bowl games. What was broadcast media’s loss, was print media’s gain. Tobacco company marketing campaigns moved advertising dollars to magazines and other print media.
Here are the primary 1971 smoking ad ban laws.
- Made it unlawful to advertise cigarettes on radio or television beginning Jan. 2, 1971.
- Changed the mandatory wording on cigarette packages from: “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous To Your Health” to: “Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined That Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous To Your Health.”
- Prohibited all state and local health-related regulation or prohibition of cigarette advertising.
Other provisions in the law are included here:
The video link below is from the archives and shows different cigarette ads through time.
According to the druglibary.org, “On October 20,1971, a U.S. District Court ruled that the Congressional ban on cigarette advertising is constitutional. The ruling stated that such advertising does not qualify under the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech; a sharp distinction was drawn between guarantees of freedom of speech for individuals and the “limited extent” to which broadcast advertising qualifies for such protection.”
Since those years when legislation was passed to curb cigarette advertising, the government and particularly congressional leaders have sought to prevent the sale of products to children, teenagers and adults by requiring age checks and high taxes on cigarette packs, cartons and boxes.
Some researchers have questioned whether this has curbed smoking numbers, considering the fact these same companies sell to foreign countries despite increasing legislation to do what the United States accomplished in the 60s and 70s. It seems today, that it may be easier and cheaper to buy a marijuana cigarette or product than a tobacco product. So, as they used to say in the military, “At ease, smoke ’em if you got ’em!”
SMOKING BY TOPIC
1940s-1971 1972-1990 1991-2000 2001-2015
Film Used frequently Used Sparingly
Television/Radio For advertising dollars until Jan 2, 1971 Characterization
Print Continued with Surgeon General’s Warning
Billboards Continued with Surgeon General’s Warning
World Wide Web Pro-smoking imagery on websites
Medical Research Jan 11, 1964, Surgeon General releases first Health Advisory Report
Overseas Effort to increase market in other countries after consumer domestic demand decreased
Strategies Marketing can’t depict smoking as being cool or moving up the social ladder
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,600 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.
by Rick Bretz
The Way It Is-Bruce Hornsby and the Range, 1986
A song that references the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 and specifically the formation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to “Give those who ain’t got a little more” as Bruce Hornsby sings. The also refers to the Food Stamp Act of 1964 to help those people who need an assist to boost themselves up the economic ladder. Best remembered words of the song: That’s just the way it is. Some things will never change. That’s just the way it is. Ah-but don’t you believe them.
We Didn’t Start The Fire-Billy Joel, 1989
Billy Joel has stated that he doesn’t like singing this song in concert because he has to remember a string names and events from history. Indeed, he’s on record as saying he didn’t think the song was “that great to begin with.” Song criticisms aside, the song does a good job of listing several famous people and historical events while rhyming at the same time.
Here’s one of the best:
“Rosenbergs, H Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom Brando, The King And I, and The Catcher In The Rye
Eisenhower, Vaccine, England’s got a new queen Maciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye”
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald-Gordon Lightfoot, 1976
Gordon Lightfoot researched the tragedy of the Edmund Fitzgerald and put the events leading up to the freighter sinking into a song that is classic still being heard today. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald Great Lakes Freighter surrendered to the cold waters of Lake Superior on November 10, 1975 during a heavy storm and with it took the lives of its crew of 29 souls on board. It’s a perfect blend of words and haunting music.
Dirty Laundry-Don Henley, 1982
I know this doesn’t reference history but it refers to the people who write the first draft. This is an amusing song to listen to but it is so true. He wrote this song in 1982 but it is relevant as ever today. He’s turns the microscope on media but he’s really scolding us, the audience, for liking it way too much. Lines like “People love it when you lose” throughout the song disrobe the media so the listener can see the king, the media, without their clothes while simultaneously scolding the audience for giving the media the power to continue their wicked ways.
Sunday Bloody Sunday-U2, 1983
Considered one of the best call to action songs of all time. Bono tells the listener he’s tired of the violence. It’s non-partisan song but he is clear from the lyrics that he wants the killing to stop. The militaristic drum beat in the beginning sets the tone for the words and music U2 brings to the song. Lead singer Bono sings, “I can’t believe the news today. Oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away.” Later, he asks “How long must we sing this song.” From their “War” album, the song concentrates on the “Bloody Sunday” incident in Derry, Northern Ireland in the Bogside area on January 30, 1972 when 13 protestors died from injuries from battling British forces during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association March.
Abraham, Martin and John-Dion, 1968
This is a song that has been covered by many singers and is about three significant people in the fight for civil rights. The words, “Has anybody here seen by old friend Abraham” and repeated for Martin and John are poignant throughout the rendition. A song about what might have been.
American Pie-Don McLean, 1971
A song about a terrible plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa on February 3, 1959 that killed everyone on board including Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.
On the surface this masterpiece of writing is about that plane crash but has several references and meanings in the lyrics left to interpretation of the listener. The interpretation is left to the audience because Don McLean refuses to say what he had in mind when writing the lyrics. This has left several people to create websites to fill the void about what the song means.
“19”-Paul Hardcastle, 1985
This song is about the Vietnam War and how it affected soldiers after they came back to the United States. It is a song that is relevant to every soldier coming home from every country involved in a conflict, As the song title states, the average age of the Vietnam soldier was 19 years old. An age significantly lower than the Korean War and World War II.
Honorable Mentions: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down-Joan Baez; Strange Fruit-Billie Holiday; Pride (In The Name In Love)-U2; Zombie-The Cranberries; Ohio-Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
by Rick Bretz
I see and hear many negative news items on the web, radio and television. I decided to write about what is great about living in today’s society. For the most part, people practice their religious faith or lack thereof despite a few pockets of backward groups and societies. Wars and violence have always existed. Unlike the past with local papers and radio, today each instance is magnified by all of our media choices. Blank internet pages need to be filled with content so local news gets more real estate on the screen. This means that the world and the people who live on it, separated by cultures, religions, language and nation boundaries, remain a work in progress. We all have issues to work on but overall today’s societies have many positives to offer.
1. Fighting Diseases–The current Ebola virus issue is an example of how countries today are better equipped to stop the spread of dangerous diseases. Sure it has moved to other countries but it has been identified and individuals quarantined. In the past, the disease might have moved without anyone knowing about the virus until it would have become a worldwide epidemic. Today the Center for Disease Control and the Worldwide Health Organization monitor the spread of diseases and create strategies to combat any epidemic. In addition, vaccines prevent the spread of disease among children and adults. Penicillin and other drugs prevent or hold many health issues in check. A hundred years or so, it was common for parents to lose children to diseases before the age of 10. Today it happens but rarely from a common disease like mumps or other types of contagious diseases
2. Technology–Let’s face it. We have hardware today that just makes life easier. The dishwasher, the microwave, the GPS, the SMART phone, ATM machines, remote controls, cameras on cars for backing up, and garage door openers help us get through the day. Here’s hoping that all of the satellites stay in the sky because if they fall out, all of us will have to pull over on the side of road because we will all be lost. We even have automated windshield wipers. I recently bought a new car after driving the same one for more than 10 years. The new car has all of the wiz-bang stuff such as satellite radio and Bluetooth command technology but it also has auto sensing windshield wipers so if it rains we don’t have to bother with turning the knob on the steering wheel. Just in case I can’t recognize that it is raining, the car does it for me. Yesterday’s cars didn’t even have power steering.
3. Freedom of Movement–We can go anywhere, anytime by car, train, airplane or boat as long as we have the money, time and the means. Today travelers move at a faster rate across the country and the globe for less cost than at any time in the history of the human race. We can run anywhere but we can’t hide. But that’s another list about today’s tracking technology.
4. Consumer and Worker Safety–Watchdog groups have made it a safer world to live and work. Some may hold the view that they go overboard but you could also say that if it has the potential to happen, it will happen, either at work or at play. Nobody wants to see a loved one hurt and organizations like the Consumer Products Safety Commission, the Food and Health Administration and Occupational Safety and Health Administration oversee safety and health in the United States. International organizations include the International Consumer Product, Health and Safety Organization in addition to an individual country’s safety departments. With procedures and equipment in place like fall restraints, harnesses and safety glasses, the labor force is more secure and protected than ever. Lately work place violence has been in the news but that has always been a danger due to personalities and conflict issues. Stress will always be a part of everyday life. Making sure one takes care of a family’s health and well-being tends to do that to someone.
5. Less Crime and Violence–This one may be controversial but it is true. Taking into account the single years where crime statistics rise slightly, FBI Crime figures show a decrease. If you cherry pick certain years and types of crime you can justify certain increases but overall there has been less crime. In addition, if you zero in on cities with large populations with high murder rates, you would think that violent crime in increasing. Statistics by the FBI and other organization like the Department of Justice show a downward trend. From its peak in the middle 90s, violent crime rates have been dropping or holding steady. That’s in the United States. In most European and Asian countries you can walk around relatively safely. Now that is not taking into account areas of the world where war is raging. For any traveler though, it is best to take precautionary measures whether traveling form the United States to another country or international citizen flying to the United States. We always need to work on decreasing violence but domestic violence, reported and unreported, is what needs to be addressed. Check it out for yourself.
6. Less War–It’s true that more people have been killed by war and conflict in the 20th century than any other. The statistics are inflated due to weapons technology. Bigger, better, faster weapons used against citizens as well as the military means more death and higher numbers. Two world wars and a long Vietnam War as well as the war on terrorism that began long before this century has contributed to the human death toll. Having stated that, previous centuries were filled with conflict in several countries at the same period in history for different reasons. The exception was peace rather than war during a lifetime. You can point to a certain year on a timeline and examine Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Asia Minor, Russia and Africa and more often than not a conflict or war was raging among countries on those lands. Although the United Nations has its critics, the organization does provide an opportunity for countries to resolve differences and hold leaders accountable for their actions.
7. Economic Stability–Despite pockets of poverty and suffering throughout the world, a majority of the world enjoys the ability and the right to earn a comfortable wage and most make enough to satisfy the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, such as food, shelter, security, and other things like SMART Phones. Furthermore, governments, having passed measures and legislation, prevent wild stock market fluctuations and crashes by using all of the countermeasure tools after learning the lessons of 1929 and 2008 economic collapses. Laws such as antitrust legislation also exist today enabling justice departments to catch white-collar financial crime.
8. Natural Disaster Measures and Warnings—The ability to forecast hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, tornadoes as well as snow storms and other weather problems has helped people throughout the world prepare before nature unleashes its wrath. Sometimes forecasters miss the mark but more often they let us know what is moving in well before the day it arrives. Often predicting disasters like the 2004 Tsunami is difficult. The good news is that with each year, forecasters and scientists are learning and finding out more information about how to prepare.
That’s it. When you think about it as President Barack Obama said to the United Nation’s General Assembly recently, “this is the best time in human history to be born, for you are more likely than ever before to be literate, to be healthy, and to be free to pursue your dreams.” He is right. If you think objectively without any political leanings, he is correct. We do live in a world today that is much safer and more convenient than ever. And that’s a positive.
President Barack Obama’s speech here.
by Rick Bretz
We’ve all seen the movie “Marathon Man” when Dustin Hoffman’s character is repeatedly asked, “Is it safe?”. Lawrence Olivier not getting an answer then sadistically digs into Hoffman’s teeth as a form of torture.
Today, professionals working in the journalism and broadcasting fields have to ask themselves, “is it safe?”, before venturing into dangerous areas of the world where hate, revenge and conflict rule the day. The job has always had its inherent dangers with the threat of prison sentences, injury, assassination and outright murder before every interview or timely picture.
The brutal murders of media professionals James Foley and Steven Sotloff in the last few weeks by ISIS, a terrorist organization without any morals or a modicum of decency, has answered that question for many in the profession.
The ISIS cowards have gone as low as to behead British hostage David Haines, an aid worker trying to help others in a war-torn part of the world. British Prime Minister David Cameron called it an “Act of pure evil.” I have other words but I won’t use them in this article.
Journalists and broadcasters write history’s rough draft for authors to analyze and research later. I love history and I don’t like people who try to suppress the information writers might use later. People who harass, kill, maim or intimidate journalists, videographers, photographers or broadcasters contribute to man’s inhumanity towards man in perpetuity.
There’s a difference between media professionals being captured and killed purposely for an organization’s propaganda purposes as opposed to a journalist being killed in the line of getting the story. One is an accepted risk while the other is just pure calculated murder for propaganda reasons and to show the world how brutal one can be. In reality terrorists are just plain old cowards who would rather make the world a darker place rather than an enlightened one. What courage does it take to kill someone kneeling with their hands tied behind their back?
I’ll answer that, none whatsoever, not an ounce. The person kneeling before the terrorist has the courage.
Have you ever watched a film or tape from the prohibition era, of war atrocities, or someone fighting racial inequality? If you have, you must realize someone had to be in harm’s way to capture that moment in time so a student or government representative could learn from it. Someone has to be on the other side of the lens to get it to the audience watching and reading safely in their homes.
The danger that media professionals have had to endure has been around a long time. If there’s a story, a person has been there to tell it. That’s why we have history.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is a website that exists to monitor media professionals and how many have given their lives so we can understand what is happening throughout the world.
Their website is:
These are statistics on those killed.
More people should read this website and find out about the latest information.
These courageous journalists and broadcasters have understood one truth, If evil, death, intimidation and fear hide behind a curtain, then nothing will change. Their words and pictures shine a light on these issues and force the world to wake up. Their lives will not go unnoticed.
By Rick Bretz
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit this book is my first authored by Stephen E. Ambrose. After finishing it in less time than it took veterans travelling from the United States to Italy by boat in 1944, I will read more written by Ambrose, who also wrote “Band of Brothers”, “Undaunted Courage”, “Eisenhower: Soldier and President”, and many others.
The Wild Blue, with the subtitle, “The Men and Boys Who Flew The B-24s Over Germany”, is well researched and an entertaining read. It is not a thorough examination of air power used in World War II. It, however, depicts the stages several individuals passed through to get ready, travel to a foreign country, and fly combat missions and hopefully arrive safely back home. The book zeroes in on one particular B-24 unit, the pilots and crews of the 741st Squadron, 455th Bomb Group, and one crew in particular that flew missions from Italy into Central Europe at the end of the war.
As Ambrose’s story unfolds chapter after chapter, the reader understands the commitment and courage bomber crews exhibited during the last days of World War II. Ambrose died in 2002 and with this book, published in 2001, he left us with the story about another significant American, 1972 Democratic Presidential Candidate and Senator from South Dakota, George McGovern, who died in 2012, and the his fellow servicemen.
Before George McGovern worked as an author, history professor, US Representative, Senator from South Dakota and Presidential Candidate, he was a trained pilot. By all accounts from the book, he was an excellent, composed pilot, respected and admired by his crew. Ambrose’s description of McGovern’s training and the dangers involved just to make it through the training is riveting. His account of how his fellow crew members came to sign up for the Army Air Forces and how they worked their way through training to graduation is enlightening. Some potential pilots washed out while some didn’t make it back. The book takes you through McGovern’s and his crew’s missions during World War II while describing his leadership style. The account of how he earned his Distinguished Flying Cross is particularly captivating.
The book is thorough but short enough to satisfy the reader who wants to know about the B-24 Liberator bombers and the story of George McGovern’s experience during the war.
I’m giving away my age here, but I was 12 years old when the 1972 Presidential Election was decided by the voting majority. I didn’t know much about either candidate back then. Today, I know more about former President Richard Nixon. I understand that McGovern was against the Vietnam War as early as 1962. As a World War II bomber pilot, McGovern understood the cost of war and in reading this you develop more insight into his thinking during those turbulent days in the 1960s.
by Rick Bretz
Band of Brothers (2001)
The story of Easy Company from their tough initial training through World War II’s D-Day to V-J Day. The 10 part series, based on a Stephen Ambrose book, covers the hardship and the elation of being part of a great cause. Each episode begins with an interview showing the real members of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
Best Line: Lt. Winters, “That night, I took time to thank God for seeing me through that day of days and prayed I would make it through D plus 1. And if, somehow, I managed to get home again, I promised God and myself that I would find a quiet piece of land someplace and spend the rest of my life in peace.
From the Earth to the Moon (1998)
This mini-series shows the challenges, heartache and triumph of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs as they achieved the nation’s goal of sending a man to the moon and bringing him back safely.
Best Line: Astronaut Frank Borman speaking about the cause of the Apollo 1 fire, “A failure of imagination. We’ve always known there was the possibility of fire in a spacecraft. But the fear was that it would happen in space, when you’re 180 miles from terra firma and the nearest fire station. That was the worry. No one ever imagined it could happen on the ground. If anyone had thought of it, the test would’ve been classified as hazardous. But it wasn’t. We just didn’t think of it. Now whose fault is that? Well, it’s North American’s fault. It’s NASA’s fault. It’s the fault of every person who ever worked on Apollo. It’s my fault. I didn’t think the test was hazardous. No one did. I wish to God we had.
George Washington (1984)
Barry Bostwick gives an outstanding performance of a young and ageing George Washington in this almost forgotten mini-series from 1984. It covers his early life as a young officer and his wooing of Martha Custis whom he would marry. The cast includes some of the greats: Hal Holbrook as John Adams, Patty Duke as Martha Washington, James Mason as General Braddock, Jaclyn Smith as Sally Fairfax and many more. Many actors have attempted to portray George Washington and some have succeeded but Barry Bostwick comes pretty close to getting the personality and spirit of the man.
Best Line: General George Washington addressing his officers, “Gentlemen, you’ll permit me to put on my spectacles, as I have grown not only grey but also blind in the service of my country.”
This is considered one of the best mini-series of all time. Based on the novel by James Michener, It’s on just about every one’s “best of” list. The central theme identifies the many challenges and hard ships associated with settling in the West as the concept of manifest destiny was put into practice. The cast includes just about every major actor of that era. Raymond Burr, Robert Conrad, Lynn Redgrave, Sally Kellerman, Richard Crenna and Sharon Gless and more. The story crosses two centuries and chronicles the lives of people living in and around the town of Centennial, Colorado.
Best Line: “Only the rocks live forever.”
John Adams (2008)
Paul Giamatti captures John Adams prickly personality as well as his determination in forging a new country. More than that, he was perfect for showing the audience how intellectually sound John Adam’s was when arguing for his clients in court or persuading the founders to adopt a course of action. The mini-series also makes a point to show how important Abigail Adams was to her husband’s success. Based on the book by David McCullough, the series makes it a point to show the hardships the John and Abigail Adams endured.
Best Lines: John Adams, “My thoughts are so clear to me… each one takes perfect shape within my mind. But when I speak, when I offer them to others, they seem to lose all definition.”
Benjamin Franklin, “You are a guest in Philadelphia. Fish, and guests, stink after three days.”
The Men Who Built America (2012)
Before you can succeed anywhere you have to possess a vision. These men had it with some to spare. This series points the key and fill lights on the Mount Rushmore of businessmen who built America. Each segment tells the story of giants in their field. The series tells the stories of J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Henry Ford and how they accumulated their vast empires and wealth. More importantly, the series tells how they worked with one another or challenged each other for another’s piece of the economic pie. If you want to know how America became an economic superpower after the civil war, this is the mini-series to watch. Many of today’s business leaders talk about what it takes to be ultra-successful in the business world during the series.
Best Line: H. W. Brands (historian) “Carnegie demonstrated that if you’re the first at whatever you do, you have a huge advantage over the people who come along later because you got the jump on them and very often that jump allows you to carve a niche and to maximize your profits within that niche.”
North and South (1985)
This series covers the friendship between two young cadets at The United States Military Academy at West Point. One is from, you guessed it, from a wealthy plantation owning family in the South and the other from a wealthy industrial and factory owning family from the North. The series tackles racism issues as well as the ideological differences among plantation owning southerners and industry building northerners. The civil war wages on and the friendship between the two main characters is tested.
Best Line: Orry talking to George, “This is our way of life, it has been for more than a hundred years! (Pause) How would you like me, to come up to Lehigh Station, telling you how to run your life, to change the way you have always lived?”
Roots is one of the most celebrated and well know mini-series since the inception of genre. It has great actors and a compelling story of slave family and slave owners. The first episodes in the series show the viewers what slave ships would have been like and how the slave trade was perpetuated by profiteers. LeVar Burton plays the lead character Kunta Kinte as we follow him from Africa to the United States. Based on the book by Alex Haley, the series shows how families were torn apart when the United States thought it was acceptable to own another human being. The all-star cast gives a bravura performance that captivated the country in 1977.
Best Lines: Omoro, Kunta Kinte’s father, holding his infant son up to a starry sky, “Kunta Kinte, behold the only thing greater than yourself!”
Fiddler, “Christmas is when White folk give each other stuff don’t neither of em need.”
Kintango, “It is impossible to kill an enemy. You may end a man’s life, but his son becomes your new enemy. A warrior respects another warrior, even he is his enemy. A warrior kills only to protect his family, or to keep from becoming a slave. We believe not in death, but in life, and there is no object more valuable than a man’s life.
Honorable Mentions: The Company, The Kennedys, Jesus of Nazareth, Shogun, Holocaust, The Civil War, The Winds of War, War and Peace, Hatfields & McCoys