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July 4 - Freedom Rings

The Big Valley!


The Liberty Bell first rang in America in 1753 in the tower of the State House of Pennsylvania. The bell’s got a crack in it, a huge one. No one knows exactly why or even precisely when the crack happened. Theories abound.


In my red-brick grammar schoolhouse in northern New Jersey I was taught that the signature crack in the bell was the result of imperfect re-castings which became necessary after the bell landed in America, from England, in 1752. At that point in time, the clapper was initially tested, and the rim cracked. The big crack in the body of the bell most likely occurred during the 1840s.

The Liberty Bell has been through the ringer! It, and its history, have suffered massively from myth and from mediocre reportage. Some things never change in the States! Even the facts regarding the naming of the bell have faded through time, if, in fact, that truth was even clearly heard when the State House Bell first became “The Liberty Bell”.


The abolitionists of America gave this symbol of freedom its name when they adopted the bell in 1837 as the symbol for their momentous movement to free the slaves of the American South; thus, all inhabitants of America would forever after live in freedom.

Nothing, and no one, are perfect, particularly in a land where freedom rings for one and all. The Fourth Estate of America, nonetheless, in this land of the free, and home of the brave, prefers to primarily fixate on the humongous crack in that bell, and not on the bell itself. The Press pines for a perfect liberty, and a pristine liberty bell, so ignorant are they of, well, so many things, but most of all of the cost of liberty:


the lives sacrificed in the battles for freedom from tyrants and from fear and oppression. Those battles continue even on this day, but most of the Press are chronically on the wrong side of that battlefield.


The First Amendment does not suffice to guarantee the liberty of Americans. The men and women of the armed forces of the United States do that duty, with honor, often silently, always heroically.

U.S. Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman stated: “If I had my choice I would kill every reporter in the world, but I am sure we would be getting reports from Hell before breakfast.”


In that arena of an unfettered public press, not much has truly changed in the United States since the 1860s. Journalists trap themselves daily and blame others for the entrapments. They broadcast the mistakes of others; rarely do they admit their own mistakes. They pontificate and preen and applaud their successes. They scarcely give air time to their failures and failings. There is no Press Ombudsman and there truly never was one. In the yesteryear, it was a post at a Newspaper Post to cover up evidence that might lead to lawsuits.


Today, for me, that Liberty Bell rings for freedom from the Press, the mass media that no longer speak for the masses or even tothem. The News is all about Them — the Media Personalities, the Self-Manufactured Celebrities. The exhorting and explaining and excoriating by the Commentariat to the Moron Masses have reached such a fever pitch that I can no longer listen to them or watch their overwrought performances.


No news is good news, but the Press doesn’t even report news anymore!


I understand that freedom of the press operates in such a way that there’s not much freedom from it, but I am staking my claim of freedom from it, on this Independence Day in the U.S.A. I am very pleased with that rebel stance. It was an attitude that I unknowingly took early on during my encounters with the Press.

Witness that perfectly awful photo of me that first appeared in the local newspaper (long ago defunct). I’d entered an essay into the National Newspaper Week Essay Contest and, to my enormous disgust, I won 2nd place.


A $25 U.S. savings bond was my prize. I put the bond into the local bank (now also defunct). Four years later, as I journeyed out into the world, I withdrew the bond which had not yet reached maturity, although I certainly had!


Briefly, I shall look at the Photo. The printing process of the newspaper roller of that era stretched my longish face into Stan-Laurel-land. The cheekbones are high (although I do not claim any American Indian ancestry); but clearly bangs (or “fringes” to the Brits) would make a happy return to my forehead (within just a few short years). Overall, the pic isn’t bad, considering the fact that I wasn’t wearing a bit of makeup and it was taken in the a.m., when I’m not really awake, even if my eyes are fully open!


I do recall that beautiful, natural-fiber ivory blouse with the lonnnnng scarf-bow. I had to wrap the thing twice around my neck before tying it. I always felt that I was tying a noose for myself and, considering the inexorable fate of Journalism, that symbolic action by Debra was more than Delphian.


Then there is the actual pull-quote, which is quite a hoot, in terms of the past and in terms of the present! Comparing American newspapers to a Russian or Communistic newspaper was cheeky of me. Obviously, I was completely unaware of the Pravda press pool in which I would soon be swimming laps, and not to victory!


Whoever read my entire essay (which I surrendered to the authorities at the National Newspaper Week Committee) — must have had a laugh. Or maybe a cry, for help: Get her (and those ideas) out of here!


My syntax and sentence structure were excellent, even if the writing was a bit wordy (the definitive sign of a beginning writer). There was, however, a remarkably high quality of thought. Also evident was that “compare-and-contrast” that is always so important for the maturing mind to engage in, at decidedly frequent intervals. I daresay my compare-and-contrast was what blasted that essay out of First-Place contention!


My essay came in 2nd (second) to a gal whose “essay” merrily chirped and sounded like free advertising for the local newspaper, pumping up the volume for them for even more advertising:


Need this? The News has it!! Need that? The News has even more of it!! Need anything? The News will be there with it!


I try to deflect cynicism, like water off of a duck. If the National Newspaper Syndicate of that epoch had wanted adolescents to do their pitch-man (and pitch-gal) work for them, they ought to have stated in the Instructions that free speech and free thinking were not part of the essay contest: Write-it right our way.


If I had known of their cynical ploy to get cheap child labor to do their pen-plugging for them, then I would not have taken the time and idealistic energy to write my superlative essay. I would have busied myself with other thoughts pressing me at the time, say, an analytical term paper on Tristan & Iseult.


Perhaps the most fitting fate of numerous copies of that newspaper photo of me, all of them clipped from purchased newspapers (who said I wasn’t good for Business?) — was the placement of my lovely mug in the Boys Bathrooms of the high school. A latrine offered the most appropriate odeur for the Press: peddlers of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.


I’ve no doubt that my adolescent essay was wayyyy ahead of its time: prophetic and philosophically pointing out to the Press the parfum of its piggish behavior.

I have now taken to watching horses, not pigs. Every night, I leave the here-and-now and enter the past to watch DVD’s of The Big Valley. This tv-show was set in the western part of Calaveras County, California during the post-Gold-Rush, post-Civil War era. The Big Valley ran in the States from 1965-1969 and — it was a real crowd-pleaser! In a very vast and competitive field, this show consistently won its time slot and went on to become a smash hit in syndication.

“The Adventures of Heath,” as I’ve re-named the show, are highly recommended for anyone, but primarily for Americans longing for a time that is free of the farces of modern-day freedom in America.


Sure, there is “progressivism” in the dialogue that dates the production, but the ideas and concepts all seem so tame, compared to the wild and woolly West that is the California Carnival of Clowns, otherwise known as Current Affairs! The Code of the West wasn’t written in legalese back then, and lawyer Jarrod Barkley would be the first to attest to that truth!


Season 1 is thrilling, as long as you ignore the geographical tv-distances from Stockton to, well, everywhere!

Miss Barbara Stanwyck really earned her Emmy. The powerful acting with her eyes seems oddly suited to the small screen. Some actresses make the Big Screen look small. The dramatic prowess of Stanwyck made the small screen look big! She was capable of capturing the scene for any character that she portrayed on film. That voice of hers, with its deadly delivery, silenced everyone in the room — perhaps on the entire set.


This thespian placed the bar very high for herself and for every actor who was fortunate to work with her in this television production about the American West. Stanwyck took it upon herself to embody the Woman of the West. She did it with class and with style and with unforgettable stagecraft. She was a throwback to a time that was no more, Hollywood, but also to an era of strong women and strong men in the America that had just survived the cataclysm called a Civil War.

And then there are the clothes! The horses! The set designs! The string ties! The guest stars! The big valley!


They even had an infernal drought and — boy howdy! They survived it! But not without gun fights, dynamite, dead cattle, corrupt judges, bandits, vigilantes enforcing mob justice, a run of wuss sheriffs enforcing no justice, and poisoned water holes!


I’ve just started watching Season 2. The plots are becoming totally improbable, especially in a 2-parter called “Legend of a General”. Heath lands himself in a Mexican jail in Part 1. The Love Interest is truly beautiful, but, alas, treacherous.


I prefer the humble tweed suit of Season 1 on Heath instead of the gussied-up, trim navy blue suit in this episode, but that preference is merely personal. Heath looks good wearing anything, and he looks even better shirtless.


The 4th brother, a UC-Berkeley medical-student, has mysteriously vanished by this point in the Barkley saga; but Part 2 of “Legend of a General” offers the other 2 brothers, Jarrod and Nick, wearing huge sombreros as disguises while they, and the heroic General, break Heath out of jail. The ending turns philosophical as Victoria Barkley grants a touchingly telling tale from her past life to this son who graciously accepts her wisdom, with a gentle kiss.


Yep, Heath is the bastard son we all wish we had!


The Second Season Opener featured Buddy Hackett claiming to be Heath’s long-lost Irish father. Just when the boy got used to being a Barkley, he then was told he wasn’t! Oh, well, success has many fathers; failure’s an orphan!

Of course, it was all a lie. Everyone but Heath knew it. Buddy Hackett siring Lee Majors was a stretch, although the Handsome Heath and the stunningly Lovely Audra were almost too credible as brother and sister.


Linda Evans eventually gives compelling performances as Audra but, initially, she appears as a Mansion Ornament who keeps foolishly riding off on her horse, at night, alone. She’s got that riding whip that does inflict some damage, but it takes almost an entire season for the spirited Audra to shed the too-sweet blonde image. She then comes into her own as a valiant young woman instead of staying in her pretty plaster cast as the Kid Sister, although she still shows a marked tendency to chase rainbows, including emotionally unavailable men.


And then They went and messed up Heath’s hair! They stopped over-dying it blond, but now in Season 2 it’s got a weird comb-style. Heath’s having a lot of bad hair days!

During Season 2 The Producers really started messing with the wardrobe, fancying it up too much. Accomplished stage actor Peter Breck, portraying the explosive Nick, now wears a silkish shirt open to the chest (wayyy open). And The Scriptwriters go all-out blasting with the dynamic dialogue:


Nick says to his mother in one scene: “Why don’t you just bust right into the room?” (Heath’s room, which I might add, is one-half the size and grandeur of the room belonging to Nick.)


At this point in the series, They had 1 person writing just Nick-dialogue!


Heath attempts to steady Nick and does not always succeed. He tells him in one key chase scene that it’s been said you catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar. Nick, just before he races off on the exquisite horse, Coco, informs his half-brother: “Yeah, well, I ain’t hunting flies.” The power of persuasion thereafter includes gloved fists!


That piece of dialogue is from the gem entitled “Caesar’s Wife”, an episode that presents an opportunistic woman in a light that would be doused nowadays!

Veteran actor Richard Long plays Lawyer Jarrod, the long handsome investigative arm of the Barkley empire. He rides to the rescue in this drama that would presently cause yet another battle between the sexes, chiefly because of the emotional carnage from the “freedom” of the sexual “revolution”. This enthralling episode rejected the Free Love mantra of the 1960s.


In reality, that tv-reality looks more real to me today than Whatever-is-Out-There-in-The-News. The Big Valley looks like a place where men and women were free to be . . . whatever they were born to become. That type of freedom is true freedom. It’s one of those inalienable rights granted by the Almighty to men and to women.

Freedom may mean many things, but, for me, it must ring of truth to be really free and truly meaningful. The essential truths of the past are too often denied in present day America, too easily rubbed out by some Americans who denigrate freedom even as they threateningly deny it to others. Let us, on this day, celebrate liberty in the manner in which it was revered by two great American leaders from the Civil War era:


President Abraham Lincoln, who stated: Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.

and


Frederick Douglass, African-American abolitionist leader, orator and former slave, who wrote: Freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitude.


May freedom ring for each and every individual in this land of opportunity!