What are American classics? They’re all sorts of things, and people. Mostly, they are what we are as a nation. People of my generation always recognize the music of Glenn Miller. They don’t have to be told who it is…they know. When Artie Shaw hits the licorice stick, they know who it is, as they know when Gene Krupa hits the skins. American Classics include crooners like Bing Crosby, and for the comic sidekick, his sometimes foil, Bob Hope. Mr. Hope was, all by himself, an American Classic for the seemingly endless work he and his troupes did for the troops. Pairs of comedians like Laurel and Hardy, Martin and Lewis, Abbott and Costello…American Classics every one.
We’ve had outstanding sports figures as well. The Iron Man, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige…American Classics. Then there were the cadets at the US Military Academy, Glenn Davis and Felix “Doc” Blanchard, known as Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside, respectively. Arthur Ashe, as fine a tennis player and as nice a person as anyone could want to meet…American Classics, all of them.
Even in politics, that evil, twisted game of power, there have been American Classics. Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Fitzgerald Kennedy and yes, Gerald Ford. They played the game, as TR might have said, and they played it well and because they did, at least in my mind, they are American Classics. Or how about Condaleeza Rice, Maya Angelou, and Leontyne Price…not only for being classics, but breaking another color barrier.
We mustn’t forget the wonder-filled films that are American Classics either. For as long as movies last, a trio of Humphrey Bogart films are American Classics; The African Queen, Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. Gone with The Wind is a classic love story with a background of the Civil War and the burning of Atlanta. The Godfather, with its penetrating look into the workings of the Mafia, certainly is one of the American Classics. Patton, a near-to-true story of a great American general is one of several wartime classics, as is Twelve O’clock High and Bomber Command. Jimmy Stewart was not only a movie star but a true American hero, along with literally dozens of Hollywood names that served our country in those days.
We’ve had business people who were American Classics. Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, George Westinghouse, just to name a few. Thomas Edison, Nicola Tesla were inventors, and Buffalo Bill Cody sort of tamed the Wild West, while Barney Oldfield burned up the early automobile racetracks. There was David Sarnoff and Allen Dumont, both played a huge part in our television viewing. In front of the TV cameras were Lucille Ball, Milton Berle, George Burns and Rod Serling and so many…it’s difficult to name all of them.
While not exactly people to be emulated, we had some pretty well-known figures in gangsters as well. Al Capone comes to mind, as does Machine-gun Kelly, Babyface Nelson and from way back, Jesse James. You may not think of them as American Classics, but they are. Anyone, and anything, that is pure American and sticks out in our memory…well, that’s an American Classic to me.
For me, I have personal American Classics…my parents. They grew up before and during the depression, had a family and passed on the love of this country, and their pride in being American, to me. They were classics.
You might not think of a comic book hero as an American Classic, but they were. Superman and Batman came along at a time when this country desperately needed a hero even if it was fictional. The battle of the Alamo provided us with heroes like Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett and William Travis along with many others. America has produced so many classics in so many fields…to name them all would take volumes.
Who are your American Classics? Surely there must be some that have come along during your lifetime. Think about it…maybe they shaped your lives like that of your heroes. If they’re the right kind, it could be the best thing you ever did for yourself. I have been reminded that many people of my age are classics as well. We have seen and done things that our children and grandchildren will never experience…and that is a shame. The world changes, but American Classics go on.
We are, even today, creating American classics. Donald Trump, whether you are for him or against him, is an American classic…one of a kind. Let us not forget Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
Classics, as you’ve read, are from all different places, and some are people and some are things but, in their own inimitable way, they are absolutely singular, and worthwhile to remember. No country, America included, is stain-free. Perhaps it is because of that stain, slavery, that we tried to rise above it…and succeeded.
Last word: So, why do we have people in our society trying so hard to erase all vestiges of our history and our classics? Our people, monuments, statues and film are to be kept, cherished, and remembered. For better or worse, they were, and are, America.
Image: Excerpted from: Film screenshot – Road to Bali film, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4143642