Born on the Fourth of July – The Great American Birthday Party

Yankee Doodle Dandy

It’s the 4th of July again. We just watched the most spectacular fireworks display I’ve ever seen in my entire life … not to mention what has to be the absolutely best band concert in the world. Where else do they fire real howitzers during the 1812 Overture? Only at the Hatch Shell on the Charles River in Boston.

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When we lived in Boston, we actually got to see the fireworks live and hear the concert from our balcony in the apartment where we lived. If we wanted to get even closer, we could stroll a few hundred yards, see and hear the entire event from the Arthur Fiedler footbridge over the Charles.

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It was the best view in town and though watching it on television is okay, now that we live way out here in the country, there is nothing that beats being there.

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Boston’s had a rough year. David Mugar, producer and sponsor of the event, really outdid himself this year. It’s always spectacular, but this year, it was spectacularly spectacular.

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Now it’s time to watch Yankee Doodle Dandy.

When Garry and I were growing up in New York, the old Channel 11 (WPIX, I think it was) used to have a show called “Million Dollar Movie.” The theme for the show was “Tara’s Theme” from Gone With the Wind. I had never seen GWTW, so when I saw it for the first time, I said “Hey, that’s the theme for Million Dollar Movie.”

I wasn’t allowed to watch TV on school nights and only for a very limited period of time even on weekends. But, if I was home sick, I got to watch all the television I wanted, and better yet, I got to watch upstairs in my parents bedroom. It was black and white, as were all the televisions then. I don’t know if color TVs had been invented yet, but if they had been, no one I knew had one.

Million Dollar Movie played one movie per week, all day, every day, for however long they were on the air. So if I was home sick — usually for tonsilitis — whatever was playing, I saw it a lot. They also didn’t have a very large repertoire so the odds were pretty good if you got sick twice, you’d see the same movie again for another week.

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Thus “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” the great James Cagney docu-musical was engraved in my brain. I believe that during at least three occurrences of my nemesis, those nasty tonsils, I watched it over and over again until I knew every word, every move, every song … with frequent commercial interruptions.

Now of course, we own the DVD and we never tire of watching it. No one danced like Cagney. No one had that kind of energy! Believe it or not, I never saw any other of his movies until I saw “One, Two, Three” in the movies when I was older.

Tonight, we’ watch again as James Cagney dances down the steps in the White House. We always replay it half a dozen times. Can’t get enough of it. In case you feel the same way, I’ve included it so you can replay it as many times as you want. What a great movie! Happy Birthday to US!

I thought he was a song and dance man and comic actor. I was very surprised to discover he used to play gangsters. Million Dollar Movie didn’t play those films.

Only one questions remains unanswered through all these years. How come they didn’t make it in color? Does anyone have a sensible answer to that?

8 thoughts on “Born on the Fourth of July – The Great American Birthday Party

  1. It all has to do with copyright protection afforded to the original authorship of the original film. Woody Allen went to Congress in 1987 and asked for legislation to stop colorization of old black and white movies. Here’s part of the decision:

    The Copyright Office concludes in its decision that computer-colorized black and white motion pictures are registrable as derivative works where those works “reveal a certain minimum amount of individual creative human authorship.”23  The Copyright Office Registration Decision notes that determining the presence of human authorship in colorized works is quite difficult.

    It’s a rather complex decision, but it looks to me that it all goes back to the original method in the way the original film was made, and if colorization impedes on its copyright protection.

    Hopes this helps.

    • I was just assuming “bad choice”. You may be over-thinking it a little. I wasn’t wondering why it hadn’t be colorized. I want to know — as do others — why it wasn’t MADE in color in the first place. It was a strange choice for an “A” movie at a time when most A movies were made in color. Even the makeup on the women looks like it was intended for color. And if ever a movie screamed for color, this one does. I just don’t get it. Supposedly Curtiz decided on black and white, but what was he thinking??

  2. We ALL love “Yankee Doodle Dandy”!! Mebbe (maybe) one of you computer search mavens can ferret out the truth about why “Dandy” wasn’t shot in color. It certainly was an “A” picture with big budget production and grossed big bucks for Warners. “Million Dollar Movie” was a staple on the old Ch-9 in New York City. Ch-9 was owned then by RKO-General. Years later, when I got into the TV biz, one of my first jobs was at an RKO owned TV station in Hartford, Ct. Ch-18 (A wee thing of a TV station) used to swap stuff with Ch-9. That way, some of my work was seen in New York. I used to do multiple things. News, Public Affairs, Talk and Host old movies. We had life-sized likenesses of Cagney, Eddie G, George Raft, Bogie, etc. We used to run the same films seen on “Million Dollar Movie”. I used to intro the films and chat during commercial breaks — using the movie legend “dummies” as co-hosts. They seemed more real than some of my co-workers. Anyway, this all started with memories of “Million Dollar Movie”. Interesting how many of us watched that show. Nowadays, it’s Turner Classic Movies. That’s Entertainment!!! I’m ready, Mr. DeMille!!

  3. I absolutely love this movie. A local station used to show it every 4th of July. Now you can only see old movies here on PBS late Saturday night or on premium channels. Cagney reprised this role in a movie on the life of Eddie Foy, starring Bob Hope. The dance sequence with those two, neither one very young by then, is nothing short of amazing.

  4. Dorothy Durkee says:

    The further we go, the more inclined I am to think we were freakin’ TWINS. I loved this movie, love it still, but could never figure out, as an adult, how I had come to see it so many times as a kid. Thanks for explaining it. Turns out WPIX was showing it all the time, and it was possible to have watched it six times in what I recall as a very short span of time. Guess I must have caught it over a school vacation or maybe some childhood disease…however it got there, it’s etched in my heart.

    • Million Dollar Movie was how most of us fell in love with old movies and they played this one all the time. I probably watched it 20 times in a 2 week period, possible more. They played it over and over again so you couldn’t miss it! It’s an easy movie to love. Not only is is really good, but the music is wonderful, singable, and of course, familiar. So many of the songs we learned in school were by George M. Cohan. He consulted on the movie when it was being made and he and Cagney struck up quite a friendship apparently, rather like Jamie Foxx and Ray Charles when they made “Ray.” Thing was that Cagney was so unique … he moved like no one else, talked like no one else. He was truly a one-of-a-kind. As for being twins, I think we noticed that a long time ago …Lots of parallels … I do believe that’s how we got to be friends in the first place!

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