Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Rant #1,352: Very Timely Happenings

I would like to talk about two completely unrelated things today.

They are so unrelated that they are somehow interrelated.

Let me explain.

First of all, I have to make a mention of Bess Myerson's death. She was 90, lived in California in her golden years, and actually died on Dec. 17.

There was no announcement then, because over the years, she had become nothing more than a footnote on our culture, but at one time, she was probably one of the most famous women in the world.

She was the first, and only, Jewish Miss America, and she held that title when it actually meant something.

She was a real beauty queen, refusing to change her name from something so ethnic, which she was urged to do.

Sponsors pulled out of the pageant because of her presence, because they just couldn't fathom promoting such an event where a Jew was involved.

She later became a major presence on television, and later, in politics in New York.

Her later years were not happy ones, and the last thing I heard about her was that she was picked up for shoplifting.

She had dementia when she died, so her last days were not happy ones, but in the history of Jews in America, she is a bit more than a footnote.


The next thing I wanted to talk about today was a movie my wife and I watched on Saturday night. It was an extremely low budget 90 minute film from 1966 that caught our eye because of the title.

It was called "The Black Klansman," and it was also theatrically shown back then as "I Crossed the Color Line."

Today, the story might be looked at as trite, but back then, and perhaps even now, the story is far more than that, even in its low budget circumstances.

It concerns a light-skinned black man--actor Richard Gilden, who was actually white in real life--a musician, who has passed as white in his circles in the jazz clubs of Los Angeles.

He is estranged from his family, but has a daughter who lives in his old neighborhood with his mother.

Anyway, the Klu Klux Klan is prevalent in the Deep South, and was during those times.

The man's community has a virulent strain of this vermin in its midst, and one night, they decide to cause havoc, firebombing a church where the girl attends services with her grandmother.

The little girl dies in the firebombing, the man hears about it, and decides to do something about it.

He goes back to his old town as a white man and joins the KKK, vowing to avenge the murder of his daughter.

Look, this is not high drama. It is an exploitation film, little more, the acting is horrid--look for a young Whitman Mayo. later Grady on "Sanford and Son," in a small role--but it does bring up some interesting points even nearly 50 years after its initial release.

What does a person have to do to be respected in this country if they do not match the "profile" of what a "real American" is thought to be?

I think Myerson and this movie are kind of related, in a funny way, because both the person in the movie who eventually avenges his daughter's death, and Myerson herself in real life, sought that respect, even though they, perhaps, were not what many people believed to be "real Americans" way back when.

Check out the movie, and also, check out Myerson's bio when you have a chance.

You will find that the question I asked is still being asked today, all these years later, and years after the question should have been answered.

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