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Pagosa Springs News Summaries
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Local News - Opinions & Editorials - Business & Real Estate - Friends & Neignbors - Arts & Entertainment - Sports & Recreation - Humor, Fiction, Poetry - Health & Environment - Religion & Philosophy 
ESSAY: Make Believe
Bill Hudson | 10/3/14
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About eighty years ago, during some economic hard times, a young man without a college degree wandered the streets of Harlem, humming to himself.

He didn't have a trade, as such; from what little we know of him, he apparently couldn't hammer a nail or fix a broken pipe or milk a cow or do the kinds of things we normally think of as necessary to life.  But he liked to wander the street of New York, humming. He was, in fact, a rather successful composer, already at the age of 27.  Plus he could sing, and play piano.

On this particular afternoon, he was a polishing a little ditty he'd co-written with his friends Yip and Billy.  It was intended for a musical theater production called The Great Magoo.  He didn't know it at the time, but the show would be a flop.

The song, however, would have considerable staying power.

Say it's only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea,
But it wouldn't be make believe
If you believed in me.

Yes, it's only a canvas sky
Hanging over a muslin tree,
But it wouldn't be make believe
If you believed in me.


If you check on YouTube, you will find the song as sung by Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, James Taylor, Paul McCartney.

You can also hear it performed, to ukelele accompaniment, by a young Finnish girl named Selja Sini.

And you can hear it played by Lovely Miss Jess, and Ukulele Ukester Brown, and Seiji Yamashita...

It's a Barnum and Bailey world, just as phony as it can be.

I have no idea what the plot might have been for the failed play, The Great Magoo.  I can imagine, from the lyrics of its one surviving song, it probably had something to do with acting: paper moons, canvas skies, honky tonk parades.  The world, as a stage, where all the men and women are merely players.  Pretenders, pretending.

Strange things were happening in 1932.  In January, Congress established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which was allowed to lend $2 billion to banks, insurance companies, building and loan associations, agricultural credit organizations and railroads.

Critics called it "the millionaires' dole."

In June, 17,000 World War I veterans gathered and set up encampments near the White House and the Capitol in Washington, D.C. determined to collect the "bonus" pay they'd been promised for their military service.  The Bonus March, as it was called, was led by Walter W. Waters, a former army sergeant.

Many of the war veterans had been out of work since the beginning of the Great Depression. The World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 had awarded them bonuses — in the form of certificates they could not redeem until 1945.  Each certificate bore a face value equal to the soldier's promised payment plus compound interest.

On June 15, the House passed Congressman Wright Patman's "bonus bill" by a vote of 209 to 176. The bill was defeated in the Senate, however, 62 to 18. The vets maintained their determination to stay camped out until they got their pay.

On July 28, President Hoover ordered Gen. Douglas MacArthur to lead the 12th Infantry Regiment and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, supported by six battle tanks commanded by Maj. George S. Patton, against the demonstrators.  After the cavalry charged, the infantry, with fixed bayonets and tear gas, entered the camps, evicting veterans, families, and camp followers. The veterans fled across the Anacostia River.

Meanwhile, in New York, young Harold Arlen was writing It's Only a Paper Moon.

Without your love,
It's a honky-tonk parade.
Without your love,
It's a melody played in a penny arcade.


People in 1932 needed something to believe in. Cardboard seas? Muslin trees?

Love?

Six years later, as the Great Depression deepened and spread, Arlen would compose his biggest hit: Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow, why
Oh, why can't I?

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Lee Riley
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2001 REALTOR OF THE YEAR
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