There's no business like show business

Of Cabbages and Kings

It is true that, "There's no people like show people." That is a line from Irving Berlin's musical Annie Get Your Gun.

Last Wednesday, Brian Kellow spent the evening talking about show people and Ethel Merman in particular. All of us in the Columbia Forum audience had a great time and many laughs.

Kellow has written Ethel Merman: A Life. To conduct his research, Kellow cross-checked cast lists from Merman's shows against the Manhattan phone directory. While many of Merman's supporting actors are no longer with us, Kellow said that the dancers live forever. Need we ask why?

In addition to the power of her voice - like a foghorn - Merman's crystal clear enunciation was her hallmark. Kellow quoted Irving Berlin who said that a composer better not write a bad lyric for Merman, because everyone will hear it.

As my wife and I drove away from the event, we could not stop whistling, singing or humming the tune that became Ethel Merman's anthem, "There's no business like show business."

I had been trying to bring Kellow to Astoria for about three years. When I realized that he grew up in Tillamook and that he was features editor of Opera News, I invited him to the Astoria Music Festival in the Liberty Theater. On Wednesday afternoon, Rosemary Baker Monaghan, Dr. Bill Armington and I showed Kellow the Liberty. He was impressed.

If you do crossword puzzles or listen to National Public Radio on weekends, you know Will Shortz, the puzzlemaster. Portland State University brought Shortz to its alumni weekend. We had the good fortune to hear Shortz' presentation to a large audience in the Smith Memorial Center on the Park Blocks.

It is a delight to be around a mind that is as facile as Shortz' and also has such a puckish sense of humor.

By chance, two women joined our table at the last minute, and one of them was Kate Clinton the sister of Lee Clinton, communications and membership manager at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. Ms. Clinton stunned the audience in the ballroom of the Smith Memorial Center by guessing a 20-letter answer with only two letters in place.

At the Marine Corps base in Chu Lai in 1966, there was an informal circulation of paperbacks. When Sgt. Phillip G. Cline of Boston finished his tour, he left behind a few books, which included Gen. George S. Patton's War As I Knew It. My indelible memory of Patton's book is his statement that the purpose of winning battles is to make headlines. In other words, victory on the battlefield makes a headline back home and that builds public opinion that pays off in your next requisition for gasoline or tanks. Patton's admonition is timely, because the American public has run out of patience for our Middle East wars of occupation. Some hawks don't realize that.

Frank Rich of The New York Times on Sunday pointed out that hawks such as senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman are repeating the Chicken Little story they told about the urgent need to invade Iraq. McCain and Lieberman, Rich suggested, seem to forget that we've been at this for five years in a nation that has utterly no history of a national army or self government.

The role that McCain has played in pumping up recent wars makes a certain point about the Republican duality toward war and taxes. On the one hand, the GOP?mantra has been "No new taxes." On the other hand, congressional Republicans such as McCain have displayed an unseemly eagerness for war. In succumbing to their war fever, Congress has created a money-guzzling machine that has now consumed more dollars (adjusted for inflation) than World War II. But, hey: No new taxes.

While public opinion widely favors getting out of Afghanistan, Congress has been spared the voters' ire, probably because there is no draft. By contrast, President Franklin Roosevelt was exceedingly artful in bringing America (and draftees) into World War II. Ted Morgan tells that story in his biography of FDR, and I expect the presidents' other biographers do as well.

Graham Rowley reviewed the tie between selling a war through battlefield victories in The Times on Sunday. Using English impatience with the Revolutionary War in America as an example, Rowley writes: "Without such (battlefield) progress, a darkening public mood can end a war quickly."

But noting the Korean War and America's ensuing decades-long presence on that peninsula, Rowley writes, "Still, a long war can sometimes continue even after the public mood darkens, if it is seen as unavoidable."

Through all of these wars, we seldom know its personal toll, because we are distant from the soldiers consigned to these unpopular wars. My late Uncle Bob enlisted in the Marine Corps during World War II and rose to the rank of First Sergeant. He was called up for Korea and was on the way there when the armistice was reached. Being called back soured his attitude, as I learned decades later. Talking about my own experience with the USMC, I asked Bob whether he had any fond memories of the Corps. "Not one," he said.

- S.A.F.


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