Hey, Happy Almost 4th of July!
I expect lots of us in the US are heading out this long weekend to enjoy life, be at liberty from work, and happily pursue some deep Independence Day discounts! There will be picnicking and barbecuing, parades and band concerts, and whether it’s an orchestrated extravaganza or an unsanctioned display from neighborhood kids, you can bet there will be fireworks!
I’ve celebrated my country’s birth by participating in all of the above on one 4th or another. (Firework-wise, I’m counting the time I ran around a motel pool with a sparkler – whether or not it was it legal, it definitely felt very daring!) But there’s one activity I faithfully perform every Independence Day:
I watch a movie.
This particular one is so dear to me, I wish everyone would check it out – but it can be kind of a hard sell. I might lose a few takers just by declaring it’s an adaptation of a Broadway musical from the 70’s. And the cinematic slope gets slipperier when I explain that it chronicles the rocky Continental Congressional road toward the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
That log line won’t hook everyone – and you know, it’s their unalienable right not to be hooked. But after decades of treating myself to a screening every year, I hold these truths to be self-evident: that it’s a gem and a joy of a movie that offers so much more than people might expect! And beyond being delightful and affecting entertainment, it always moves me to some serious thought about the state of our Union, both as it was forming and as it is now – about what’s changed since those Revolutionary days and, perhaps, what hasn’t changed enough.
The movie is 1776.
What’s changed for sure are the viewing options for keeping up my long-standing family tradition! Back in the day, and having missed it on Broadway and in theaters, the folks and I discovered the film the only other way you once could – we caught it on television. With edits. And commercials. And no earlier or later than the time listed in TV Guide.
It wasn’t too long though before we were able to buy this wondrous machine called a VCR that could record shows off the tv and play tapes of films like 1776; so we could – get this – watch whenever we wanted! This was so exciting that I ran over and plopped myself onto the stiff wooden chair next to where our phone was plugged into the wall so I could dial my friends and tell them all about it!
Now, of course, I can keep the 1776 streak going by popping my DVD copy in the player or streaming the film online. In the wake of Covid though, I don’t take anything for granted. Mum and I carry on the tradition these days – but it was in jeopardy during the lockdown when I wasn’t allowed to visit her place. TCM came to the rescue though by including the film in their July 4th lineup! So Mum and I got on our phones (cordless ones!) – no earlier or later than the time listed in TV Guide – and shared the broadcast (with no edits or commercials!) from our separate homes.
Every year, I get to refresh my memory of how marvelous the 1776 cast is all the way across the board! At the risk of naming everyone, I’ll just mention that: there’s a deliciously witty performance by Howard Da Silva as Ben Franklin; Ken Howard is stoic and dreamy as Thomas Jefferson; Blythe Danner is radiant as his wife, Martha; there’s the smooth and searing voice of John Cullum as Edward Rutledge; there’s Virginia Vestoff’s poignantly patient Abigail Adams; and there’s the brilliant anchoring performance by William Daniels as John Adams, a man who while longing to be with his beloved wife and dearest friend is, by turns, funny (in a prickly sorta way), obnoxious (and disliked!), browbeating, doubting, and anything he needs to be to manifest his dream of American Independency.
That dream required the agreement of all 13 Colonies. And through a dynamic mix of fact, fiction, humor, drama and music, 1776 shows us how they got there – through the heated debates, the clashes of personality, the wheeling and the dealing. And even as we marvel that 13 clocks ever managed to strike at once in declaring independence and war, we’re soberly reminded of the fateful compromises made along the way, and of the heavy price to be paid for generations to come.
Storytelling styles and sensibilities also change over time – and different ages create their own touchstones, sometimes from the same inspirations. Both 1776 and Hamilton cover the Revolution, but with decidedly different vibes – still, I truly adore both productions! (While there’s the line “Sit down, John” in Hamilton, there’s an entire song with that sentiment in 1776!)
I got to thinking about these touchstones after coming across this fountain the other day:
I first noticed it several years back in its old home on a studio lot where I worked as an extra. Some fellow background people thought they recognized it too – and they drifted over for a closer look to discover they were right! It’s the fountain, seen at night, that the cast of the hit show Friends cavorts around (and in) during the opening credits of every episode.
I was right too. But what I pictured was a fountain in the light of day. One bedecked with lily pads where the comically confident Richard Henry Lee of old Virginia (Ron Holgate) musically assures a bemused Adams and Franklin he’ll get them a proposal that the Colonies become independent!
These days, I see the fountain in its new home on the Warner Bros. main lot – and a couch has been installed in front so tour trams have no doubt it’s ”the Friends Fountain”. All well and good. But I lean a little on the side of calling it the ”1776 Fountain.” And when I’m lucky to get to wander past, I’m happily reminded of a cherished film, and of all the times I’ve shared that film with the dearest of people.
Because I am as I ever was, and ever shall be – a great, great fan.
Cheers and Happy 4th!
P.S. TCM is once again including 1776 in its July 4th lineup! You can catch or record it at 11:30am (PT).
And to go in-depth about the movie and its making, check out a fantastic two-part podcast from the guys over at the Cine-Files:
Forgive me but 1776 leaves me with so many memories I need to share:
First -Ushering at the Curran theatre road show production when the leading man was late because of daylight savings time (years before cell phones!) so the actor playing Ben Franklin sharing stories about the White House performance with Nixon. Then we saw this spectacular show!
Second-a wonderful production at CCCT (of course) with Louis Flynn and Ken Ray and others wearing tights and wigs in costumes designed by Kim Mayer ( I created lots of buttons!)
Third-when ACT staged the show Maureen-my daughter also a fifth grade teacher at the time got tickets for the show for her students and gave every student in her class a member of congress to investigate. They sang the song track of the show for the rest of the year. Simply put -it changed their lives-that what the arts can do!
Fourth-Knowing there is a female version of the show that is coming to Broadway soon.
Thanks for reminding us all about what is important-the arts can change lives
Oh my goodness, thank you so much, Kathleen for the lovely response! You’ve got so many great connections to this work! (Would love to know who Ken and your dad played!). And good for Maureen introducing her students to the show! Wasn’t aware of a female version (makes me think of who I’d want to play). And you’re so right about the Arts and how valuable they are! Nice too to recall the CCCT days and folks like you and Kim – those truly were the best of times! Thanks for the note, the info and the memories – and all the best!
I loved 1776, but it’s been years since I’ve watched it. Much of my “knowledge “ of the Declaration of Independence comes from that movie, just like much of my “knowledge “ of Holy Week comes from the original album of Jesus Christ Superstar, and I’m a preacher’s kid 😁. Nothing like a good musical to solidify memories
Ha – indeed! Well, I think we could do worse than derive “knowledge” from musicals. Maybe the world would be a better place if we all paused and asked ourselves “What would Rogers and Hammerstein do”? 😉 Thanks for reading!
The LovedOne is addicted to “Hamilton” but 1776 might be a harder sell. I might have more luck getting her to run around the nearest lake (of which we have many) with a sparkler. 😉 I left Burbank decades ago, so it was a surprise to find that Bell-Jeff closed.
Ha! Fair enough on the harder sell. And yes, I guess the school’s been empty recently – think I saw a sign offering it as a filming location. It’s quite a building with all sorts of historical references in the detail. And hey – that sparkler thing could be fun! Thanks for the note!
Happy almost 4th of July Amy from your younger neighbours to the North, where we celebrate 155 years of Confederation today. May we all still strive to be the countries we want to be, while celebrating where we are and how we got here. Allan
Happy Canada Day – and 155th! And very well said about mindful celebrations!
Great picture of you, Jack and Dick. Ok. I’m going to have to watch 1776 now. Then I’ll have to write down about a 4th of July forty something years ago when your brother almost got arrested for giving me a beer ( or 2). Happy 4th Amy!
Thanks, Mike – really hope you find a screening time well spent (and feel free to circle back with which role you’d want to play)! Wishing you and yours a Happy 4th! Oh – and I’m intrigued to hear your story, but do check on any applicable statute of limitations first!
A nice tribute with the encompassing of big love. ❤️❤️❤️☕️☕️
Thank you, thank you!
I enjoyed your analogy of “13 clocks striking at the same time” to the forming of the Union… very poignant. And We have done the WB tour and sat on the couch. Your blog brings in a lot of relatable elements that entice the reader to continue. Nice JOb. And HI MOM….
Thank you thank you, Greg – very kind! I think that couch is a popular spot on the WB tour now – but the fountain will still always say “1776” to me. (And I’ll tell my mom you said “hi”!)