Cross-Filed Under ” Historical Airbrushing” And “Corporate Cowards”: Damn You For Making Me Defend Kate Smith, Even If It Means I Get To Bash The Yankees!

My father hated Kate Smith. Hated her. The jumbo alto radio star from the Thirties and Forties was still showing up on TV variety shows in the Sixties and Seventies, and my father always made us change the channel when she appeared. Smith had made a virtual career out of belting her four-square rendition of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” and Dad regarded it as patriotic pandering and exploitation. Thus it seemed appropriate that two teams we all hated in Boston, the New York Yankees and the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, periodically used the recording of Smith—and sometimes Smith herself— singing the song during games. Once 9-11 caused baseball to add the song during all games at the Seventh Inning Stretch (time to end that, by the way), Kate’s immortality seemed assured, especially in Yankee Stadium, where her rendition was rotated with a few other versions.

Then some enterprising social justice fanatics and “Hader Gotcha!” masters decided to do a deep dive and find something on Kate Smith. What they found was that among her hits in the Thirties were two songs that make Stephen Foster seem like Snoop Dog. One was “Pickaninny Heaven,” which described a “colored” paradise  with “great big watermelons,” and the momentarily famous “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” which we will look at in some detail later. These presentist censors—remember, presentism is the fallacy of judging conduct from the past by the updated ethics and values of the present—protested to the Yankees, and that’s all it took to get Kate banished, presumably forever.  (The Flyers have also banned Kate.) The mighty Yankees whimpered in a public statement,

“The Yankees have been made aware of a recording that had been previously unknown to us and decided to immediately and carefully review this new information,. The Yankees take social, racial and cultural insensitivities very seriously. And while no final conclusions have been made, we are erring on the side of sensitivity.”

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Post Script: Rant Sports And Its “Top 25 Athletes Turned Actors of All Time” vs. The Ethics Alarms List

Suprise!

Surprise!

This topic isn’t really worth two posts, I know, but after some commenters mentioned other obvious examples of distinguished athletes turned actors the Rant Sports  incompetent post ignored, I did some additional research myself.

The first thing I discovered was that Renae Juska’s list was about 90% lifted from other similar web lists that had appeared on various sites over the past three years. These lists were almost as incompetent as hers, though one of them included Johnny Weismuller, and another included Esther Williams. For the most part, however, all included the same basic group of athlete-actors, clearly serving as the basis for the next blogger looking for a cheap post.

This is how bad or misleading information gets stuck in the public mind and discourse, and the process occurs regarding topics and issues that matter, not just gratuitous lists.. This is why politicians still talk about women only earning 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man, and how 50% of marriages end in divorce. This how rumors and mistaken beliefs take hold and spread, changing the results of elections and the course of history…lazy writers cribbing dubious facts, unsubstantiated stats and lazy compilations of data from other lazy writers. The phenomenon feeds itself. Take the current case: someone asking themselves the question, “Gee, I wonder who the most prominent actors who were also accomplished athletes are?” will google the question and check four or five sites, read virtually the same names on all of them, and think the topic has been accurately researched. That will be an illusion, and soon there will be another post, confirming the earlier ones, and further validating informational garbage.

I also checked the biographies of actors whom I knew had athletic backgrounds, and the performing credits of prominent athletes whom I knew worked in TV, stage and films. I also considered some of the candidates, omitted by Juska, that various commenters had suggested. The result is this list of 30 athlete/actors who were ignored by Juska and Rant Sports, every one of whom is beyond question more deserving of a place on an “all-time” list of “Top 25 Athletes Turned Actors” than many of the choices on the Rant Sports list, and quite a few of which—Robson, Williams, Henie, Rigby, Weismuller, Crabbe, Norris, Beradino, and others—should rank near the top. Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Lena Horne, 1917-2010

When actress Hattie McDaniel, the imposing African-American actress who played “Mammy” in the film “Gone With the Wind,” was criticized for her willingness to accept stereotypical and often degrading roles, she countered, “I’d rather play a maid and make $700 a week than be one for $7.”  Not Lena Horne.  Breaking into the movie business as a dynamic and glamorous singer-actress in 1942, she insisted on a long-term contract with MGM that specified that she would never have to play a maid. Continue reading