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HOLLYWOOD STEPS OUT

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There is more to life than just politics. And in the spirit of such a sentiment, this article will take a light-hearted focus on an aspect of popular culture. In specific, it will examine the stars, personalities, and faces that are featured in the 1941 Merrie Melodies cartoon, Hollywood Steps Out.

The cartoon takes place in Ciro’s Nightclub, which is located from 1940 to 1957 on Sunset Boulevard. A neon sign ironically advertises a meal for $50.00 (US$860.00 in today’s money). The first two stars we see are Claudette Colbert (1903 – 1996), famous for playing sophisticated women in light-hearted comedies and emotional dramas, and Don Ameche (1908 – 1993), a film and radio personality who played debonair men. Seated behind them are Adolphe Menjou (1890 – 1963) and Norma Shearer (1902 – 1983), who played spunky and sexually liberated women.

The first interaction occurs between Cary Grant (1904 – 1986), iconic for playing debonair leading men, and the Swedish-American film star, Greta Garbo (1905 – 1990), who is acting as the cigarette girl.

In the next scene, we are introduced to Edward G. Robinson (1893 – 1973), who rose to fame playing gangsters in films like Little Caesar, talking to Ann Sheridan (1915 – 1967). Robinson makes reference to the fact that Sheridan had been voted the actress with the most “oomph” by asking her how her “oomph” is.

The cartoon then pans across a series of tables. At the first table is Henry Binder and Leon Schlesinger (1884 – 1949), both of whom were Warner Brothers staffers. The next three tables are empty. The first is reserved for Bette Davis (1908 – 1989), famous for playing unsympathetic, sardonic characters. The second is reserved for Kate Smith (1907 – 1986), the corpulent American signer. The third is reserved for the cast of Blondie, a radio sitcom that ran from 1939 to 1950. Finally, a fire hydrant has been reserved for Daisy the Dog.

The cartoon then takes us to the cloaking room. Johnny Weissmuller (1904 – 1984), an Olympic swimming champion best known for playing Tarzan (the famous Tarzan yell is his), hands Paulette Goddard (1910 – 1990), a former Ziegfeld girl and film star, his coat. Following Weissmuller is the burlesque dancer, Sally Rand (1904 – 1979). Rand hands Goddard her famous feathers and leaves, presumably naked.

At the bar sits James Cagney (1899 – 1986), famous for playing gangsters, Humphrey Bogart (1899 – 1957), famous for playing cynical and hardboiled characters in film noir pictures, and George Raft (1901 – 1980), also famous for playing gangsters. They are depicted drinking, planning a crime, and pitching pennies.

Harpo Marx (1888 – 1964), the famous prankster of the Marx Brothers, is seen lighting a match under Greta Garbo’s feet.

Next, Clark Gable (1901 – 1960), the undisputed King of Hollywood and star of films like Gone with the Wind, is depicted sitting alone at a table.

Bing Crosby (1903 – 1977), a famous crooner known for songs like “White Christmas, introduces the composer Leopold Stokowski (1882 – 1977) as the evening’s entertainment. Stokowski was best known for his work on Disney’s Fantasia.

In the restaurant, Dorothy Lamour (1914 – 1986), an actress and singer, asks James Stewart (1908 – 1997), known for playing shy, everyman characters, if he would dance with her. Stewart runs away after seeing Lamour dance and leaves behind a sign saying, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (a reference to one of Stewart’s films).

Several famous stars are depicted on the dance floor. Tyrone Power (1914 – 1958), known for playing swashbuckling and romantic leads, dances with the Olympic champion figure skater and film star, Sonja Hennie (1912 – 1969). Frankenstein is depicted dancing mechanically. The Three Stooges, one of the most iconic slapstick comedy groups of all time, poke and slap each other in rhythm. Oliver Hardy (1892 – 1957), the fatter half of the Laurel and Hardy comedy duo, dances with two women at the same time. Finally, Caesar Romero (1907 – 1994), dances with Rita Hayworth (1918 – 1987), star of films like Gilda.

Mickey Rooney (1920 – 2014), who found fame playing Andy Hardy, and Judy Garland (1922 – 1969), a notable singer, dancer, vaudevillian, and film star best remembered for playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Rooney asks Lewis Stone (1879 – 1953), an American character actor, if he can have a “heart to heart talk” with him.

For the next performance, Crosby introduces Sally Rand (he introduces her as Sally Strand, no doubt for legal reasons) and her famous bubble dance. The radio personality and bandleader, Kay Kyser (1905 – 1985), calls to his students. These are William Powell (1892 – 1984), known for playing debonair men, Spencer Tracy (1900 – 1967), known for his natural style and versatility, Ronald Colman (1891 – 1958), Errol Flynn (1909 – 1959), the Australian-American film star famous for playing swashbuckling heroes, Wallace Beery (1885 – 1949), and the English cricketer and film star, C. Aubrey Smith (1863 – 1948).

The Austro-Hungarian born actor, Peter Lorre (1904 – 1964), known for playing creepy and cowardly characters, is depicted sitting at a table by himself. Henry Fonda (1907 – 1982), known for playing characters brimming with heroic integrity, sits at the next table. The voice that calls out “Hen-ree” is a reference to Alice Aldrich of the Aldrich family. Finally, J. Edgar Hoover (1895 – 1972), the legendary first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is depicted repeating “g” over and over again.

At the next table is Boris Karloff (1887 – 1972), most famous for playing Frankenstein, Arthur Treacher (1894 – 1975), a comedian best known for playing stereotypical Englishmen, Buster Keaton (1895 – 1966), a silent-era comedian who legendary status is bettered only by Charlie Chaplin (1889 – 1977), and the Russian-American film star, Mischa Auer (1905 – 1967).  The man who asks them if they are enjoying themselves is Ned Sparks (1883 – 1957), a Canadian character actor known for playing serious characters.

At the next table is Jerry Colonna (1904 – 1986), a well-known musician and comedian, sitting with the invisible man. Finally, the woman Clark Gable has spent the entire cartoon chasing is revealed to be none other than Groucho Marx (1890 – 1977).

THE DECLINE OF VIRTUE

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It is a great pity that the Latin language is now considered dead. Through its death, we have lost many of the Latin words, expressions, and maxims that provided us with great wisdom and poetry. Among these is the phrase, “Panem et circenses”, or, in English, “bread and circuses.”

Panem et circenses refers to a society that uses food and mindless entertainment to keep control of its people. Such a culture does not encourage deep thought, nor does it encourage any search for meaningful or consequential in life.

What an excellent way to describe modern society and the culture that it has produced. No longer does our culture celebrate those with intelligence, moral piety, or depth of character. Instead, society has chosen to celebrate exhibitionism and licentiousness as the height of moral fortitude.

And no other family has demonstrated this fact more than the Kardashian-Jenner family. And modern culture has seen fit to reward them handsomely for it! In 2016, Forbes Magazine listed the Kardashian-Jenner family as the highest earning reality TV Stars. As of 2017, Kendall Jenner had a net worth of approximately US$18 million, Kourtney Kardashian had an approximate net worth of US$35 million, Khloe Kardashian had a net worth of US$40 million, Kylie Jenner, only twenty-years-old, had a net worth of US$50 million, Kris Kenner had a net worth of US$60 million, and Kim Kardashian had a net worth of US$175 million (she made $45.5 million in 2016/2017 alone).

But it’s hardly fair to criticise them. They have merely capitalised on the desire many people have to live a life of glamour and luxury. The Kardashians have been able to make tens-of-millions-of-dollars through their various reality TV shows, various business ventures, modelling, product endorsements, clothing lines, and more.

Of course, all this is not to say that the Kardashian-Jenner family is blameless. Years ago, a family as egotistical, petty, and immoral (what is Kim Kardashian, after all, other than a glorified porn star?) as the Kardashian family would have been treated with absolute disdain.

Not today, though. Today, the Kardashians have been able to build their empire, and it is an empire, upon shameless exploitation, self-aggrandisement, and self-promotion. They are able to reach nearly a billion people through social media and have been frequent guests on television talk shows.

What the Kardashian-Jenner phenomenon reveals is just how shallow our society has become. People have come to treat supermodels, reality TV stars, and sport’s stars as though they are royalty. The problem with this is that it encourages people to do whatever they like for a little bit of attention.

What all this boils down to is a loss of virtue. We have replaced the old heroes, the ones who encouraged courage and chivalry, with new Gods that encourage self-centredness and licentiousness. Self-expression is no longer to be expressed through the sweat of one’s brow, the depth of his character, or the faculties of his reason. Instead, it can be gained, quite easily, by posting a selfie on Instagram or Facebook.

St. Augustine defined virtue as ‘ordo amoris’ (yet another beautiful Latin maxim), or ‘order of love.’ It was his belief that every object and entity was accorded the level of love and affection that was appropriate for it to receive.

What we have today is a society that has gotten that order wrong. When people no longer honour Kings, they worship movie stars, musicians, models, reality TV stars, prostitutes, scoundrels, and gangsters instead. As C.S. Lewis wrote: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”