Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Patriots in Hollywood

Robert J. Avrech tells us that in a universe far, far away and so long ago there were movie stars that supported America in her time of need. In today's episode Avrech explains Theda Bara, a star whose popularity was only exceeded by Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplain.

Rule #5, 1918 version
...during World War I, Theda received a telegram that she lovingly preserved in one of her huge, crumbling scrapbooks:

Feb.11, 1918: 158th Infantry Regiment selected you for its Godmother by unanimous vote today. This regiment composed of Arizona men all sincere admirers of yourself. Mary Pickford has adopted 143rd Artillery Regiment here. Will be greatly disappointed if you turn us down. Please wire your acceptance at once.

Theda Bara’s brother Marque, was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in the Signal Corps. In 1917 Theda was asked to sign the American flag carried by a company of volunteers from York, Pennsylvania. Graciously, Theda autographed the stars and stripes. In gratitude the regiment sent her an ebony communion cup—unaware that she was Jewish.

This request from the 158th was profoundly touching to the patriotic movie star. She adopted the troops as her boys and finally got to meet the entire regiment in June 1918. She broke down and wept as she spoke to the star-struck soldiers.

“My heart is too full—words can’t come. This has been the most glorious day of my whole life.”

Theda, along with Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were the most effective war bond salespeople in the United States. In 1917, on the steps of the New York Public Library, Theda sold $70,000 in bonds a single afternoon. She returned in November and sold another $300,000 worth of bonds during several rallies.
How is it that Theda Bara was so patriotic?
As a first generation American—her father, a Polish born tailor, and her mother from Switzerland—Theda Bara most obviously loved America, and like all first generation American Jews, was grateful for the golden opportunities this land offered.
Oh, a Swiss connection. That explains it.

Also... The Warner brother, Jack, explains:
“My brothers and I are examples of what this country does for its citizens. There were no silver spoons in our mouths when we were born. If anything, there were shovels. But we were free to climb as high as our energy and brains could take us.”
Silly Warner boys! Shovel ready, indeed. Couldn't they see that the government had done it for them?

(Big Hollywood shows us that that patriotic universe isn't quite so far, far away and so long ago after all.)

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