Yesterday’s news included an obituary for Betty Garrett, who entered the movie musical patheon as Brunhilde Esterhaszy–the cabbie who woos and wins Frank Sinatra in On the Town. In a small way, Garrett’s career illuminates some of the developments important to our course.
A new biography of J. D. Salinger has just been published. Given Salinger’s legendary reclusiveness and his hostility to biographers, that’s a big deal, and the biography (which is admired by some critics and seen more ambivalently by others) appears to provide an illuminating account of Salinger’s early years in New York and the period, after his terrible experience in World War II, when he established the style and the preoccupations for which he became famous.
In some respects, that history makes Salinger a comparable figure to John Hersey.
Music and entertainment play a minor, yet significant role in Petry’s The Street–where, as Lutie notes, they provide a world of “rainbow-colored lights.” They were also, of course, a major part of Harlem social and business life in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s
As we noted in class, Petry’s The Street takes place almost entirely in a few blocks in Harlem, but Lutie does make several unsuccessful journeys outside the neighborhood.
Historians have a number of ways of accounting for the cultural fertility of New York City in the 1940s.
As the career of Ann Petry indicates, Harlem in the 1940s was a center of civil rights activism. As her novel suggests, it was also a breeding ground for musical innovation. During the same years, the ghetto life that Petry depicted attracted a number of great photographers.
As you know from reading Cheryl Greenberg’s “Mean Streets,” Harlem in the mid-forties (the setting of Petry’s The Street) was a ghetto neighborhood that had been ravaged by the Depression and by decades of racial injustice and segregation.
That’s what the movie’s screenwriter, Abraham Polonsky, called Body and Soul.
No telling at this point whether campus will be open and we’ll have class to discuss this tomorrow. But we will talk about Body and Soul at some point. In the meantime, you may wish make comments or raise questions about the film here.
Today, the New York Times runs a book review of a new biography of the remarkable and strange Alan Lomax–the son of the pioneering folklorist John Lomax and himself a man responsible for recording thousands and thousands of hours of folk music from the U.S. and around the globe. Working first with his father and then independently, Alan Lomax was responsible for introducing a great deal of folk music and many artists–most famously Leadbelly–to popular audiences. As the review suggests, he was a bit of an obsessive.
Lomax’s life and work makes for a fascinating story. It’s a reminder, too, of the very interesting phenomenon of the folk music revival that began in New York City in the 1940s.