Monthly Archives: July 2010

Actor: Harrison Ford

He's Han Solo. He's Indiana Jones. He's Jack Ryan. Most actors would give anything to have had just one of those franchises. Uploaded by

Hollywood stars come in two varieties: Those who are propelled by their acting talent, and those who connect with audiences due to their larger-than-life personas. Some people combine the two (Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, e.g.). Harrison Ford can act, but it’s his strong, solid, accessible persona that has made him a Great American Thing.

After a half dozen years of making the rounds doing parts in TV shows and small movies, Ford got his big break in 1977 with the part of Han Solo in the original Star Wars (now fatuously titled Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope) (Great American Things, January 18, 2010). That opportunity came because director George Lucas remembered Ford’s small part in his mini-masterpiece, American Graffiti.

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Following the first two films in the Star Wars trilogy, Ford made a huge statement about his status as what Hollywood used to call a “leading man” in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). He was entirely believable as Indiana Jones, and if there had been any question about his durability on the “A list,” that role completely dispelled it.

In addition to these movies, some of the other hits Ford has starred in include Witness (1985), Working Girl (1988), Presumed Innocent (1990), Patriot Games (1992), The Fugitive (1993), and Air Force One (1997).

Although he’s received only one Academy Award nomination (for Witness), Ford received the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award in 2000. Oh, and his jacket and fedora from the Indiana Jones movies is in the Smithsonian…

Kid Stuff: Summer Camp

Each year, hundreds of thousands of kids get memories that last a lifetime at summer camp. Uploaded by

Several weeks after school lets out for the summer, a curious confluence of needs emerges. Parents need to get away from their kids, who are now at home all day, every day. And kids need something to energize them, once they’ve grown tired of hanging out around the house with nothing new to do. The answer for the whole family is simple: summer camp.

Traditionally, summer camp has taken kids away from a suburban environment into a more rustic one, with cabins, woods, and usually a lake. That’s changed a bit with the idea of “day camp,” which doesn’t involve overnight stays.

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Summer camp is also getting a lot more specialized these days. Used to be that churches, YMCA, Scouts, or 4-H got some kids together for a week, and the boys and girls learned lessons about faith and life. Now, there are camps for special interests – sports (or a particular sport), weight loss, language study, math/science/nature, performing arts, and more.

But summer camp isn’t the same without counselors, and pranks, and crafts, and a little homesickness. There will be sprained ankles, and sunburns, and poison ivy. There will be intense friendships that last a week. But best of all, there will be memories that last a lifetime…

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

He named his own era - The Jazz Age. Following publication of The Great Gatsby, he tried to live up to his celebrity with drinking and extravagance, and it killed him. Uploaded by

It’s unlikely that you’d consider someone who published only four novels – only two of which anyone who isn’t an English major could name – as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. But those two novels, Tender is the Night and The Great Gatsby certainly qualify F. Scott Fitzgerald for the honor.

It’s also unusual to live in an era whose name you conceived. But Fitzgerald coined the phrase “The Jazz Age,” and he became associated with the ebullience and extravagance of the 1920s. It was a role that he and his wife, Zelda, loved to play.

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The Great Gatsby was completed while the Fitzgeralds lived on the French Riviera. For the American intelligentsia, France was the place to be in the Twenties. It was published to great acclaim, and for good reason. It’s clearly one of the handful of best novels in the American literary canon. But Fitzgerald felt obliged to live up to the celebrity the book earned him, and the extravagance of drink and high living cost him dearly.

Faced with economic hardship and his wife’s failing health, Fitzgerald wrote short stories for popular magazines to make ends meet. Then he moved to Hollywood to work on scripts. He didn’t like the man he had become, which only exacerbated his alcoholism.

Fitzgerald died of a massive heart attack at the age of 44. His last novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon (originally published as The Last Tycoon), was completed by his friend and literary critic Edmund Wilson in 1941. Fitzgerald never matched the greatness of The Great Gatsby, but it remains as one of America’s best-loved and most-read classics.

Sports: Jim Thorpe

Jin Thorpe is in the hall of fame of professional football, college football, the US Olympics, and track & field. Uploaded to photobucket by Greg Bauch.

Jim Thorpe called football his favorite sport. And he certainly excelled at it, both at the collegiate and professional levels. But he excelled in everything he tried. Track and field. Baseball. Lacrosse. And get this – Jim Thorpe won the 1912 intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship. So you think you can dance?

Thorpe’s early life was beset by tragedy. He was a twin, but his brother died of pneumonia at age nine. His mother died in childbirth. His father died of gangrene following a hunting accident. So Thorpe, a Native American from Oklahoma, wound up at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It happened that Carlisle had a tremendous coach at the time – “Pop” Warner. He not only recognized Thorpe’s talent (who wouldn’t have?), but knew how to develop it.

Little Carlisle rode Thorpe’s strong shoulders to a national collegiate championship in football in 1912, highlighted by a 27-6 victory over Army. Thorpe was named an All-American in 1911 and 1912.

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Oh, and between those two seasons, Thorpe decided to try out for the US Olympic team. He went to Sweden, where he competed in the pentathlon and decathlon. He participated in several field events he had virtually never tried before, such as the pole vault and javelin throw. He won the gold medal in both events. His medals were presented by King Gustav V of Sweden, who told Thorpe, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” To which Thorpe replied, “Thanks, King.”

Thorpe played Major League Baseball for the New York Giants and Boston Braves. In the league that was to become the NFL, he won three championship titles. And he barnstormed for a couple of years with the “World Famous Indians” basketball team.

Jim Thorpe is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, the United States Olympic Hall of Fame, and the National Track & Field Hall of Fame. He was named the number three athlete of the 20th century by the Associated Press, behind only Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan…

Person: Julia Child

Julia Child brought the art of French cooking to America in her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Uploaded by

Julia Child didn’t set out to be a cooking celebrity. While that’s now a common condition, thanks to such outlets as The Food Network, Julia’s dream was not celebrity. She fell in love with French cooking, and she wanted her fellow Americans to appreciate it as well.

While Julia’s husband Paul was assigned to work in France, Julia took advantage of the opportunity to attend the world-famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. That led to a friendship with two women, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, who were attempting to write a cookbook teaching French cooking to Americans. Julia enthusiastically joined in, and the eventual result was Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book not only became a bestseller, it became a standard that French chefs have attempted to meet or exceed ever since.

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Julia became a staple of public television; her first program, The French Chef, ran for nearly a decade and won both Emmy and Peabody awards. She was almost always on television thereafter, though the names of the shows changed to describe each series. She expanded her own home kitchen to a functioning television set from which she filmed most of her episodes. The kitchen today can be seen in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Meryl Streep portrayed Julia in the 2009 movie, Julie & Julia. Writer Julie Powell had attempted to prepare every one of Julia’s 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking during one year, and wrote a popular blog about it. Julia Child was unimpressed. She said, “I worked very hard on that book. I tested and retested those recipes for eight years so that everybody could cook them. And many, many people have. I don’t understand how she could have problems with them. She just must not be much of a cook.”

Julia Child received the French Legion of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She also published 18 books, most of which are still in print today…

Singer: Stevie Wonder

What an incredible career. Thirty top 10 songs. Two albums of the year. Oscar for Best Song. Two halls of fame. Pretty good for a blind kid from Saginaw. Uploaded by

Who has won more Grammy Awards than any other male solo artist? Why, that’s right, it’s Stevie Wonder. It’s amazing that you knew that! What gave it away?

Stevland Morris recently celebrated his 60th birthday. He began recording for Motown at the age of 11. During that 49-year (so far) career, he’s had more than 30 top ten hits (pop/R&B charts), and won 22 Grammys. That’s pretty good for the third child of Calvin Judkins and Lula Mae Hardaway, born blind in Saginaw, Michigan.

He was dubbed “Little Stevie Wonder” by Motown impresario Berry Gordy, Jr. when he signed his first contract at age 11. He had his first hit, “Fingertips, Part 2” (recorded live) the following year. Before he turned 16 he’d co-written a chart smash (“The Tears of a Clown”) with Smokey Robinson, and he was skilled not just at harmonica, but also on piano, organ, and drums.

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Stevie Wonder’s career has featured one hit single after another, one powerful album after another. Two of his albums, Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life received the Grammy for Best Album of the Year. He’s won an Academy Award for Song of the Year. He is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and he has a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Here are the Stevie Wonder songs that reached the top 10 on the pop chart:

1963: “Fingertips, Part 2” • 1966: “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Place in the Sun” • 1967: “I Was Made to Love Her” • 1968: “For Once in My Life”, “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day” • 1969: “My Cherie Amour”, “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” • 1970: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours”, “Heaven Help Us All” • 1971: “If You Really Love Me” • 1972: “Superstition” • 1973: “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, “Higher Ground”, “Living for the City” • 1974: “You Haven’t Done Nothin'”, “Boogie On, Reggae Woman” • 1977: “I Wish”, “Sir Duke” • 1979: “Send One Your Love” • 1980: “Master Blaster” • 1981: “Happy Birthday”, “That Girl” • 1982: “Do I Do”, “Ebony and Ivory” • 1984: “I Just Called to Say I Love You” • 1985 “Part-time Lover” • 1986: “Go Home”

Food: Gullah Cuisine Restaurant, Mount Pleasant, S.C.

You'll find shrimp, chicken, sausage, and vegetables in Gullah Rice. It's available as an entree or as a side dish, and is a taste revelation. Uploaded by

With all the wonderful restaurants to choose from in the Charleston, South Carolina area, it would be easy to miss this way-out-of-the-way spot. It’s on U.S. 17 in Mount Pleasant, on the way to Isle of Palms. I mean, that’s where it is physically, but cuisinically (like that?) it’s on the way to flavor heaven.

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Maybe the word “Gullah” is new to you. It describes a special culture of African Americans living in the low country of South Carolina and Georgia. Because of their isolation, they’ve managed to preserve more African language and culture than virtually any other group in the country.

Owner and chef Charlotte Jenkins brings some of the special flavors and dishes of Gullah culture to her restaurant. Perhaps the centerpiece is Gullah Rice, a wonderfully rich rice in which you’ll find shrimp, chicken, sausage, and vegetables. It’s a main course in itself, or you can enjoy it with other entrees such as lightly coated fried shrimp, fried chicken, or fried oysters. Yes, fried. You can’t do it every day, but you’re depriving yourself unnecessarily if you avoid it altogether.

Owner/chef Charlotte Jenkins. Uploaded by

You’d also be depriving yourself if you didn’t try Miss Charlotte’s wonderful vegetables. Michael Stern, of the terrific website, has this to say: “No one ever need nag me to eat my vegetables when they are as delicious as Gullah Cuisine’s collard greens…How do so many southern cooks manage to transform austere broccoli into a rich, luscious vegetable? We’d guess the answer includes breadcrumbs, plenty of butter, and cooking time long enough to make it soft as clotted cream…If you like your yams sweet, these caramelized hunks are heaven on earth.”

I couldn’t finish this without talking about the two “soups” on the menu that are so delicious. The Gullah gumbo is full of shrimp, chicken, and sausage, while the she-crab soup is a rich bisque fortified with a dash of sherry.

There are so many delicious choices at this restaurant – you either have to pig out, or have your party order several things and share…

See an interview with Gullah Cuisine owner Charlotte Jenkins just after the four minute mark of this video:

Americana: The Liberty Bell

The first Liberty Bell cracked. The second sounded awful. The third didn't sound much better, and also cracked. But we love it because it called citizens to the reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776. Uploaded by

The Liberty Bell sits silent today, a symbol of our national values and an icon of freedom. But in its early days, it was rung for many important occasions. When King George III took the throne, ironically, in 1761. When the first Continental Congress was convened in 1774. And most famously of all, on July 8, 1776 to summon the citizens of Philadelphia to hear the reading of the new Declaration of Independence.

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The Pennsylvania legislature chose to order a bell as a way to honor the 50th anniversary of William Penn’s 1701 Charter of Privileges. The bell as we see it today is actually the third casting attempt. When the original bell arrived from England’s Whitechapel Foundry, it was tested for sound – and proceeded to crack. Two Philadelphia metalsmiths melted it down, added some copper, and tried it again. This time, no one liked its sound at all. So the two men tried again, with not much more success. Whitechapel Foundry was asked to try again, but their new bell wasn’t any better. So the original bell – our Liberty Bell – remained in the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall. Crack and all.

Even following the American Revolution, the bell wasn’t known by its present name. It was called “Independence Bell” or the “Old Yankee’s Bell” until 1833. A pamphlet issued by the American Anti-Slavery Society first gave it the name “Liberty Bell.”

Of course, that comes from the inscription on the bell itself. It reads, in part, “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof. Lev. XXV X” So you don’t have to look it up, here’s what Leviticus 25:10 says: “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.”

You can see why those who worked for the end of slavery approved of this verse on the Liberty Bell, can’t you?

Music: John Philip Sousa

Sousa directed the Marine Corps Band for several years, then formed his own band which he led most of the rest of his life. Uploaded by

Some of America’s most beloved patriotic marches came to us via the master of military music, “The March King” – John Philip Sousa.

His father played trombone in the U.S. Marine Band, and young Sousa at age six began studying music. But not just piano lessons for young J.P.; he studied voice, violin, piano, flute, cornet, baritone, trombone, and alto horn.

At the age of 13, Sousa tried to run away to join a circus band. “Not so fast, my friend,” said his Pa, and Sousa was made an apprentice in the Marine Band, a spot he held till he was 21. His musicianship was unassailable, and after a few years of touring (violin) he wound up conducting Broadway orchestras, including the production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.”

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While Sousa wrote 136 marches altogether, we know him today primarily for three: “Semper Fidelis,” the march of the U.S. Marine Corps, “Washington Post March,” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.” This last march has been designated as “The official march of the United States.”

(As an aside for Virginia Tech fans, Sousa wrote a special march called “Hands Across the Sea” which he dedicated to all of America’s allied countries abroad and to the Highty-Tighties, the Regimental Band of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets.)

Americana: Ice Cream Trucks

Most of the time, ice cream trucks in the neighborhood just offer frozen ice cream bars. But if you were really lucky, a Mister Softee would come with soft serve! Uploaded to Flickr by martin kelley.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re five or 75 – when you hear the ice cream truck come into your neighborhood, it makes you happy. The ice cream man! The ice cream man!

Some ice cream vendors carry the basic frozen specialties, such as ice cream sandwiches, Popsicles (Great American Things, July 1, 2009), Creamsicles, Fudgsicles, Cap’n Crunch chocolate and strawberry ice cream bars, and other cartoon-themed treats. But sometimes you get really lucky, and a Mister Softee truck comes by. Then, if you can scrape up the money (or if it’s right after payday for mom and dad), you can get a soft serve cone – or even a milkshake!

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The concept of an ice cream truck goes back at least to 1920, when Good Humor put a fleet of twelve vehicles with freezers and bells into the streets of Youngstown, Ohio. It took the development of special freezers to make the company’s innovative marketing possible.

Today, ice cream trucks are a novelty themselves, but their arrival still make the pulse rise. Positive endorphins course through your body, preparing you for that cold, sweet goodness. Not everyone likes ice cream, I’m told, but I don’t trust those people.

I just have one caution the next time the ice cream man comes to your street: Look both ways before crossing the street! (Thanks, Dad.)

Song: “Orange Blossom Special”

Charlie Daniels follows in the footsteps of every great bluegrass fiddler, each of whom has to prove his worthiness by playing Orange Blossom Special. Uploaded by

Those who follow this blog regularly know that I try to make the selections based not just on my own personal opinions, but to honor those things that are special about America. And so it is that one of the signature tunes of bluegrass music gets its due: “Orange Blossom Special.”

Though even a cursory look at YouTube shows performances of the song on guitar (Chet Atkins), harmonica (Johnny Cash), even ukulele (The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain), bluegrass fans know that “Orange Blossom Special” is the quintessential fiddler’s song.

Ervin T. Rouse. Uploaded by

It was written by a fiddling prodigy, Ervin T. Rouse, in 1938. A friend and fellow fiddler, “Chubby” Wise, claimed co-authorship for 50 years, but Rouse was too meek and too troubled to dispute the claim. What’s beyond question, however, is that Bill Monroe recorded it in 1941 and made it a hit.

The Orange Blossom Special was a train, of course, and the first thing a fiddler has to do is replicate the sound of the train’s whistle. After that, it’s stand back and get ready, because each musician does his best to burn up the strings with his own sizzling rendition. Who better to feature than one of the leading fiddlers of our time, Charlie Daniels…