Independence Days Of The Past


Though it was celebrated long before that, the 4th of July has been an official holiday since 1941.  In honor of the Fourth’s long history, here are some vintage photographs from Independence Days of the past.  As you can see, you don’t always need fireworks to celebrate America’s birthday:

1920s

1923

1925

1939

1942

1956

1960s

1969

1970s

1976

1987

1996

I hope everyone has a good 4th of July!  Usually, I celebrate Independence Day by taking a lot of blurry photographs of the fireworks exploding in the sky above me and then posting them to twitter.  I won’t be doing that this year but I’ll still find a way to celebrate everything that’s good about my home country.

United We Stand: The Patriotic Magazine Covers of July, 1942


Photographed by Erin Nicole

In July of 1942, with America newly engaged in the second World War, over 500 magazines had one thing in common.  They all featured an American flag on the cover and the words “United we stand.”  These magazines may have had different publishers and different audiences but, for that month, their covers all carried the same message: America stands united against its enemies.  Could we do something like that today?  I don’t know.

In honor of that moment in time and in hope that America will someday against be willing to stand united, here are a few of those patriotic covers from July of 1942.  The artist is credited where known.

by Armstrong Roberts

by Allen Saalburg

by Malcolm Bulloch

by Toni Frissel

Artist Profile: William Jacobson (1921 — 1992)


While I was searching for information about the artist William Jacobson, I came across 1992 Chicago Tribune obituary for an artist named William “Babe” Jacobson.  According to the obituary (and assuming that the William Jacobson who did the covers below is the same Jacobson who was written about in the Tribune), William Jacobson studied at at the Art Institute of Chicago, the American Academy of Art and the Chicago Academy of Fine Art.  After serving in World War II, Jacobson became an artist with the Stevens-Gross Studios before, in 1960, opening up a studio of his own, William Jacobson Illustration.

I could find much more information about Jacobson so, as often happens with the artists of the pulp era, his work will have to speak for him.  Here’s a sampling of it:

The Stratton Story (1949, dir. by Sam Wood)


Monty Stratton was one of the greats.

He was a Texas farmboy who knew how to throw a baseball.  Recruited by the Chicago White Sox, he spent five years in the majors.  From 1934 through 1938, he compiled a 36–23 record with 196 strikeouts and a 3.71 ERA in 487.1 innings.  In 1937, he won 15 games with a 2.40 ERA and five shout-outs.  The next season, he won another 15 games and completed 17 of his 22 starts.  For those of you who might not speak baseball, that all means that he was a really good right-handed pitcher.

When Stratton wasn’t playing baseball, you could find him down on his farm in Greenville, Texas.  He lived there with his wife, Ethel.  On November 27th, 1938, Monty Stratton was hunting rabbits when he accidentally shot himself in his right leg.  While Stratton survived the shooting, his leg was amputated, bringing Stratton’s major league career to an end.

No longer able to play in the majors, Monty Stratton spent the next few years as a pitching coach and helping to start a semi-pro team in Greenville.  With the help and encouragement of his wife, he continued to practice his pitching and he eventually trained himself to the point where he could transfer his weight effectively onto his artificial leg so that he could effectively throw a baseball.  In 1947, Monty Stratton made a comeback, pitching in the minors and ending the season with an 18–8 record and a 4.17 earned run average.  Stratton spent the next six years pitching in the minors before retiring from the game.  He went on to start the Greenville Little League program.  If you go to Greenville, you can still find Monty Stratton Field near Greenville High School.

The Stratton Story was made in 1949, shortly after Stratton’s comeback and while he was still playing in the minors.  James Stewart plays Monty Stratton while June Allyson plays his wife.  The movie follows Stratton from his early days on the farm through his major league career, his accident, and his eventual comeback.  Though the real Monty Stratton served as a technical advisor to the film, I don’t know how historically accurate it was.  The movie, for instance, seemed to condense the timeline so that it seemed like Stratton went straight from losing his leg to practicing for his comeback when it actually took ten years for Stratton to eventually get signed to a minor league team.  Even if it does take some liberties from the facts, The Stratton Story is still a good movie.  The baseball scenes are great and Jimmy Stewart is convincing when he’s throwing the baseball.  He’s also convincing in the scenes where Stratton sinks into a dark depression after losing his leg.  Stewart was so good in the role that, when Stratton finally started to practice his pitching again, I wanted to jump up and cheer.

I liked The Stratton Story.  It probably helps that I love baseball but it’s also a good movie about an inspiring story.

Major League (1989, dir. by David S. Ward) and Major League II (1994, dir. by David S. Ward)


I’m so excited that baseball’s back!

The 2020 regular season of Major League Baseball is going to start on July 22nd and it’s going to last until September 27th.  The teams will play 60 games and the World Series will be held in October.  It’s an abbreviated season but there was no way to avoid that.  I’m just happy that there will at least be some games played this year.

Of course, as excited and happy as I am, I can’t deny that baseball almost always breaks my heart.  Just a few years ago, I was so excited when a Texas team finally won the World Series.  Later, we all found out that the Astros won because they cheated, which will forever taint both the legacy of the team and the MLB.  It breaks my heart to say it but, as far as I’m concerned, no Texas team has yet to legitimately win the World Series.

And then there’s the Rangers.  I’m a Rangers fan.  I love the Rangers.  I was so excited the two times that they made it to the World Series and I’ve never gotten over their loss to the Cardinals.  (Their loss to the Giants I can accept because the Giants were a great team and they earned their wins.  The Cardinals, on the other hand…)  Ever since 2012, though, the Rangers have always broken my heart.  It’s been a while since we’ve had a great Rangers season.  At the start of every season, though, I say, “This is our season!”  And no matter how badly things end, I always say, “Next season, we’re going all the way!”

I guess that’s why I love Major League.

Major League is the ultimate underdog baseball movie.  It’s a film about a fictional version of the Cleveland Indians.  Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton), the new owner of the Indians, wants to move the team to Miami but to do that, she’s going to need to have the worst season ever, one where the team plays so badly and breaks so many hearts that even the most loyal fans stop coming to the games.  It shouldn’t be too hard since the Indians have’t even won a pennant in over 30 years.  But to make sure that it happens and that the team only wins 15 games over the entire season, Phelps recruits the worst players she can find.

The team that she puts together is made up of has-beens and never-weres.  Some of them have raw talent but none of them know how to play as a team.  Ex-con Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) has a killer fastball but is so near-sighted that he’s a danger whenever he steps on the mound.  Catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) is a veteran team leader but his knees are so bad that he can barely walk.  Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes) is fast but can’t hit worth a damn.  Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) can hit home runs but only if the pitcher throws him a fastball.  Just as Rachel expected, the team struggles at first.  Even when they start to show signs of improvement, she cut back on their budget and sells their equipment, all to try to make winning impossible.  It’s only when their manager, ex-drywall salesman Lou Brown (James Gammon), tells them that Rachel wants them to lose that the team comes together and starts to win.

Everything that’s great about baseball can be found in Major League.  I love all the scenes with the fans slowly coming around to believing that maybe the Indians actually could win it all.  I’ve been through that so many times with the Rangers that I know exactly how they all felt.  I love the interactions between all the players on the team, from the new players eager to win to the veterans who just want to survive another season.  I love the scenes with the play-by-play announcer (Bob Uecker) trying to put a good spin on the way the team plays.  (All together: “Just a bit outside!”)  And mostly, I love that the film treats the game and its players with the respect that they deserve.  So many other films would have turned a character like born-again pitcher Eddie Harris (Chelcie Ross) into a punchline.  Instead, in Major League, he gets a standing ovation after he pitches his last game.  The best thing about Major League is that it loves baseball, both the games and the players.

Since Major League was a success at the box office, it was eventually followed by a sequel, Major League II.

Major League II picks up the season after the first movie ended and it tells the exact same story as the first film, just not as well.  Almost everyone from the first film is back (though Omar Epps takes over the role of Willie Mays Hayes from Wesley Snipes) but the charm and the chemistry from the first movie just aren’t there.  The players have to set aside their egos and learn how to play like a team all over again.  The main difference between the two movies is that it takes a lot longer for the Indians to start winning in the sequel than in the first film.  Plus, the sequel just isn’t as funny.

Even if the sequel is a let down, the first Major League is still one of the best baseball movies ever made.  If the Indians could win the pennant in Major League, maybe there’s hope for my Rangers yet!