One-Minute Book Reviews

July 4, 2009

The Ultimate Fourth of July Movie – Pauline Kael on ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’

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Pauline Kael calls Yankee Doodle Dandy “a big, enjoyable musical biography” starring “the astonishingly versatile James Cagney as the actor-playwright-songwriter George M. Cohan.” She adds in 5001 Nights at the Movies (Holt, 1991), a wonderful collection of thousands of capsule reviews adapted from her film criticism for The New Yorker:

“Made during the Second World War, it’s packed with jingoistic Americanism, but this ties in with Cohan’s own attitudes and the unself-conscious sentimentality of his songs, and Cagney’s stiff-backed hoofing is so spirited that the moldly plot turns hardly bother one. … It’s quite possible that he has more electricity than Cohan himself had.”

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June 20, 2009

A Good Children’s Poem About the Fourth of July

John Updike celebrates the Fourth in the spirited children’s poem “July,” which begins: “Bang-bang! Ka-boom! / We celebrate / Our national / Independence date.” The poem is one of 12, one for each month, collected in A Child’s Calendar (Holiday House, 32 pages, $17.95 hardcover, $6.95 paperback, ages 4–8). Beautifully illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, this picture book won a Caldecott Honor for its images of four seasons in the life of members of an interracial New England family and their friends. Don’t miss Updike tending the barbecue grill in the full-page picture next to the poem.

July 4, 2008

A Fitting Salute to Veterans and Current Members of the Military

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:10 pm
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Have all the veterans on parade today made you want to know more about members of the military and their families? Pick up Jim Sheeler’s Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives (Penguin, $25.95) www.jimsheeler.com, a moving portrait of a Marine casualty notification officer and the bereaved families he tried to comfort. Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning series for the Rocky Mountain News, this is journalism at its finest, enriched by wonderful photos by Todd Heisler and others. A review of Final Salute appeared on this site on June 20, 2008 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/06/20/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 3, 2008

Was George M. Cohan Really ‘Born on the Fourth of July’? Read a Biographer’s Answer and Listen to ‘I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy’ Here

I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,

A Yankee Doodle do or die;

A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam’s,

Born on the Fourth of July.

– From George M. Cohan’s “Yankee Doodle Boy” (also known as “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy”)

George M. Cohan claimed that he, like the Yankee Doodle Boy of his famous song, was born on the Fourth of July in 1878. But it true? In a poorly sourced article on Cohan, Wikipedia says that the composer was born on July 3, 1878. Other sources disagree with the online encyclopedia.

Biographer John McCabe says this in George M. Cohan: The Man Who Owned Broadway (Doubleday, 1973):

“George Michael Cohan was almost certainly born on July 4, 1878, at 536 Wickenden Street, on Corkie Hill, in Providence, Rhode Island. Until Ward Morehouse discovered the Cohan baptismal certificate which carries a July 3 birthdate, there had never been any doubt that the real live nephew of his Uncle Sam was born on any day other than the Fourth. The baptismal certificate hardly settles the matter. As was not unusual at the time, the birth was not recorded in the civic registry in Providence. There is, however, circumstantial evidence writ large that the July 3 on the baptismal certificate is a clerical error. Cohan’s birthday was always celebrated on the Fourth of July by his parents, Jeremiah (‘Jere’ or ‘Jerry’) and Helen (‘Nellie’) Cohan, and this many years before that date began to have profitable connotations for the Yankee Doodle Dandy. The utter probity of these two remarkable people who early taught their son that a man’s word was his impregnable bond is the strongest proof that Cohan was indeed born on the Fourth.”

Among the other evidence cited by McCabe is that Cohan’s father wrote in his diary on July 3, 1882: “Got a little present for Georgie’s birthday tomorrow.” McCabe adds: “The very casualness of the entry in a book intended for his eyes alone bespeaks its integrity.”

To hear a 1905 audio recording of “Yankee Doodle Boy” sung by tenor Billy Murray, including verses rarely heard today, click on the following link (where you will hear the lines at the top of this post about 40 seconds into the song): www.firstworldwar.com/audio/Billy%20Murray%20-%20Yankee%20Doodle%20Boy.mp3. Cohan wrote “Yankee Doodle Boy” for the 1904 Broadway musical, Little Johnny Jones.

You can also hear Cohan’s “Over There” for free in three recordings on the site www.firstworldwar.com/audio/overthere.htm site, including a English-French version by Enrico Caruso. To listen to the Caruso or another “Over There,” you will have to make another click on the site to select which version you want to hear.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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