February 13th, 1949 Episode
Joined: Jan 10, 2009
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#1 - PermalinkPosted 02/14/09 - 11:47 AM:
As near as I can tell, there are very few episodes that are direct interpretations of or commentaries on historical events. Only "A Red and White Guideon" seems as historically isolated as "Valentine." "In the House Where I Was Born," "Sketch for a Screenplay," and "Berlin, 1945" are more abstract or detachedly reflective. "Meeting at Ticonderoga" is lost, and I have yet to read the script.
I take "Valentine" to be rather unique in that Cooper seems to have been engaged in a larger project of historical analysis. The beginning monologue by Lincoln (as we either guess immediately, or are told later he is) illustrates strong dichotomies of youth and age, the historical and the personal. The immediate goal seems to be to challenge our perceptions of historical personalities in general, and Lincoln in particular, which tend to fix the individual at a particular moment in history, and by extension in his own life. We forget that Lincoln had a youth, a period of innocence, that there may be features of his life that do not appear in the canon of biographical understanding. Indeed, Abe himself seems to understand this, and he wonders aloud in the first minutes of the story whether we expect him to have forgotten all of that as well.
The Anne Rutledge story, as one might suppose even if he has not heard of it prior to listening to this episode, is quite real, though its details are unclear and it remains even today a subject of much debate. Cooper, then, was addressing the fervor of that debate, and likely voicing his own view on it - that Lincoln and Rutledge had indeed been in love, and were even planning to be married before her death from Typhoid in 1835. More to the point, though, it seems that Cooper is commenting on what might push a person to discount the notion of that early romance, namely, a mythologizing of Abraham Lincoln that partial strips him of his humanness, and makes his character and his circumstances more fixed than they could be in reality. And in reality, Cooper seems to suggest, there is always young love, for that is simply a feature of being human. Lincoln says to us then, answering to the debate plainly: "Yes, I loved her. Need you ask?"
Then, to make the point that Lincoln may have been more than the aged historical figure we all recollect him as, there are a handful of lines that contradict that concept of him. The shopkeeper, upon Lincoln's return to New Salem, comments "We expected you'd be wearing a high silk hat," to which Abe replies "Not me." But what we take that to mean in "not yet," as at that time Abe had not yet become that person - he had to develop into it and live out the joy of youth, and have his first sorrows, prior to the war. Suggesting that same, very human development, when Aunt Hannah enters the store, he reassures her: "I'm never gonna forget my people." With the benefit of an historical perspective, though, we know that the truth is that he never returned to Illinois after leaving for the Presidency. Of course, that may not mean that he forgot them, but only that he never had the chance to return, that he became caught up in things much larger than himself, things which never led him to forget where he came from, but which did lead us, his later admirers, to forget it ourselves.
Abe overhears Anne, speaking in that same store, declaring how real was their love for each other. "I know it," she says. "He knows it. The whole world knows it. Must I write it down?" And Abe tells us then how happy that made him. But both of them, before death, before war, before the unforeseen turns of history, are naive, and fail to consider how fully such things, which may seem to them so significant and so clear, can be so fully overshadowed, and ultimately forgotten. And President Lincoln understands at the end that the only thing that can make that long-ago love apparent to history is that, indeed, it was written down.
Any other thoughts on this theme? Or another that I'm missing? The acting perhaps, or any other elements of the production?
And remember that next Friday it is episode #88, "Where Do You Get Your Ideas?" that has its sixtieth anniversary.
Joined: Mar 14, 2003
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#2 - PermalinkPosted 02/16/09 - 7:05 PM:
Okay, here are some of my ramblings. Don't take them too seriously. ...
I'm not so sure "Valentine" is part of "a larger project of historical analysis" as it is Cooper's typically nuanced take on what was by then a fairly standard idea.
Long before "Valentine," the Lincoln-Rutledge relationship had been a popular topic for radio writers. This was part of a broader cultural effort in early 20th century America to both glorify and humanize Lincoln. See, for example, Merrill D. Peterson's _Lincoln in American Memory_ (Oxford University Press US, 1995) which mentions in passing that radio had been doing Lincoln plays since the 1920s and a large number featured the "Abe Loves Ann" romance.
Even Norman Corwin was asked to write an "Ann Rutledge" drama -- for a 1940 _Cavalcade of America_ broadcast. The play was occasionally revived under different titles (as "The Girl Lincoln Loved" on _Cavalcade_ and as "Ann Was an Ordinary Girl" on _The Columbia Workshop_) and published in _Thirteen by Corwin_ (Holt, 1942). There was a brief discussion of it last fall on "broadcastellan," one of the more literate "old time radio" blogs:
About a week before Cooper's "Valentine" was broadcast, _Cavalcade_ apparently did a Lincoln script called "The Store That Winked Out" with a distant relative of Rutledge playing Ann.
The point of many of those frankly hagiographic Lincoln plays was to emphasize the dramatic contrast between the Great Man and his humble beginnings. Stressing that the Fearless Leader is not all that different from so-called ordinary people is a common theme in state propaganda. It's particularly obvious in dictatorships but turns up in even the freest, most democratic states. Cooper doesn't challenge that theme; he embraces it.
I think Cooper's real achievement here is his usual one. It's his quirky and artful combination of detail, atmosphere, characterization, and novelty, in the service of trying to tell a good story (in this case, a love story). Corwin's "Rutledge" play, in contrast, is a solid, respectable piece of work but you don't hear its characters saying things like "I'm finer'n frog's hair, Abe" or painting a word portrait of Illinois as vivid as the one that opens "Valentine."
And, unlike Cooper, Corwin would probably never dream of cheekily conflating Valentine's Day and Lincoln's Birthday for dramatic purposes. I suspect that would be too gimmicky for Corwin but not for an old advertising man like Cooper. (Like many in the ad industry, veteran copywriter Cooper appears to have been very holiday-conscious. Wait till we get to "Shadow of the Wings" where he manages to adroitly plug both Passover and Easter.)
And, for all the excellent research Cooper does, I don't think he's entirely above fudging historical accuracy if it gets in the way of a good story. For example, store-bought Valentines adorned with ribbons and lace don't seem to have caught on in the United States until the 1850s, long after Rutledge's death. But does that really matter when it's the thought that counts?
Joined: May 04, 2003
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#3 - PermalinkPosted 03/01/09 - 7:30 PM:
This has always been a Cooper play that I have mixed feelings about. I often think Cooper's writing was at its best when he was in a "reminiscing" frame of mind. Examples include "I Have Been Looking For You," "In Memory of Bernadine," and especially, "In the House Where I Was Born." Often his thoughts are drawn to Illinois and his youth.
"Valentine" is at best some of Cooper's most poetic writing:
The little houses along the road and the ravine that goes down to the Sangamon. And, now, in early February, the ground is soft and damp with the melting snow. The watery sun shines down on the eager young trees. And there's a promise of spring in the first February thaw. And the frogs are stirring deep in the cold mud under the spongy earth. And the ghosts in the old graveyard smile at the first obscure signs of spring.
I remember the mean little houses, the store and the post office, and the drafty houses where the people lived. And I remember the muddy road up from Vandalia. And high-wheeled buggies mired down in the low places. And the long, flat roads across the prairie -- where the grass grew from horizon to horizon. And the groves of trees were small, genial islands in a sea of undulating green.
but at its worst, sentimental gobbledygook:
ABE: Always and always. And we'll always be together.
ANN: (INCREASINGLY ANXIOUS) Never be apart from each other again?
ABE: Never. Never, Ann.
ANN: Oh, hold me. I'm so cold suddenly.
ABE: It's just a cloud over the sun.
ANN: Hold me. Always hold me.
ANN: I know it. You'll be a great, great man, darling.
ABE: With you beside me, I will.
ANN: But - if I die -
ABE: Don't say that.
ANN: Kiss me again.
Yet it is interesting that Cooper wrote a story for that 13th of February framed by Lincoln's birthday and his love for Ann Rutledge - a love tinged with sadness as some historians speak of Lincoln's long depression possibly brought on by the tragic death of Ann.
This story is part of one of the thematic threads that runs through this series: horror and fantasy to nostalgic rememberings. It contains the glimpses of Cooper's own past at the very beginning, it almost seems he is describing his home of Pekin, even while he is channeling Lincoln.
Does anyone know what song might be the musical accents other than the "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair" near the beginning of the play:
ANN: He'll be coming back. He'll be coming back for his birthday. Won't he? Why, the session is over now and he'll be coming back from Vandalia on a tall horse and there isn't a thing that'll hold him back from me. I know he'll be back home for his birthday.
(MUSIC ... AN ACCENT, THEN UNDER)
ABE: The gavel fell and the booming voice spoke. "I do now declare this general assembly adjourned." And I took horse for home. And now my heart was heavy with doubt for I remembered my long silence and my mind now wrestled with darkest premonitions. What would my homecoming be -- after those long months of silence?
(MUSIC ... AN ACCENT, THEN UNDER)
ABE: Yes, I loved her. Must you ask?
The actual performance helps get me past the sentimentality in the final scenes when one goes beyond reading the script.