Reflecting on a July 4th Favorite: Yankee Doodle Dandy

Yankee Doodle Dandy, 1942 (Through 2:46)

Anyone who knows movies knows that the brass section of the Warner Bros. Studio Orchestra was like no other. Whether scoring a Bugs Bunny cartoon, Bogart film or Errol Flynn swashbuckler, their trumpets are instantly recognizable, and warming to the soul.

Like in Yankee Doodle Dandy, the 1942 James Cagney film that won him an Oscar for Best Actor portraying the song and dance man and Broadway actor/composer/producer, George M. Cohan — who crafted the famous songs Grand Old Flag, Over There, Give My Regards to Broadway, and of course the title song. The above scene is one of the greatest musical dance numbers ever put on film.

Here on this July 4th weekend, hearing those heralding trumpets again, and through all my years, I was reminded how special this film has been to our family in so many ways.

My mother always says that when I was just a toddler, I’d get up on the piano bench during the famous scene above, and I would start dancing with glee on my face.

As a bigger kid, I’d practice and practice this dance routine in the living room or garage and imitate it best I could — as well as the final scene when the elder George dances down the stairs of the White House after receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor from FDR:

Then as a pre-teen, I was struck by what a bratty stage kid young George was, and how his arrogance hurt his family’s opportunities on the vaudeville circuit. And yet I loved how wonderfully kind and humble he became later in life, with the right discipline, guidance and wisdom from his family and friends. Strong yet gentle. It made me think of my own parents raising us while juggling so many demands — their example, and Cohan’s, made me want to be a better writer for the stage myself, and a better person.

Later, the film shaped my view of our country, of how art can touch people in times of crisis, and how our personal integrity and loyalty to family are far more important than our success.

And finally, now more than ever, watching it with our daughters, this film reminds me that I’m so grateful for the freedom to live each day that comes our way, to worship God, to celebrate together as family and friends on weekends like this, and to share the truths that matter most with our precious children.

My mother thanks you…

My father thanks you…

My sister thanks you…

And I thank you…

Onward!

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An Easter Reflection

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On this Easter Sunday, I’m struck by the preciousness of life despite its complexity, the worth of a soul despite some contentious people in my path these days, and the overwhelming power of God’s love and truth.

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When The World Listens

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak in New York City’s Times Square, during the 99th Armenian Genocide Commemoration, co-sponsored there every year by two Armenian fraternal, charitable organizations — The Knights of Vartan and the Daughters of Vartan, of which I am currently national chairman.

 

Although I’ve given talks to a variety of groups over the years, this was the first time I spoke in front of thousands, literally; with live radio and web broadcasts around the world; alongside senators, congress and city council members; in one of the most recognized public places in America; about one of the most intense issues of my lifetime: the Armenian Genocide — the 1915 massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire to cleanse its nation of any non-Turkish influence, commemorated the week of April 24 every year.

 

Talk about the Armenian Genocide to any Armenian you meet, and you will learn that they lost a relative, or perhaps several, in the genocide. You’ll see their face and tone of voice change — you’ll see or even feel the sense of a wound being reopened or re-injured, yet to be healed.

 

Talk to a Turkish person, and likely they will either claim the Armenian Genocide never happened, or that it was a mere subset skirmish of World War One’s bigger battles. Only now, so many decades later, are some Turkish intellectuals acknowledging the truth — and sometimes getting jailed for it.

 

The truth is that the Armenian Genocide occurred. It was the first genocide of the 20th Century and the systematic campaign that Hitler cited and studied when preparing for the Jewish Holocaust (“Who, after all, remembers the extermination of the Armenians?” he said to his advisors). And yet despite extensive genocide documentation from Turkish, German and US governments, missionaries, journalists and diplomats in the Ottoman Empire at the time, Turkey has yet to formally acknowledge the Armenian Genocide occurred, at their hand.

 

What is it like speaking on such a public stage, about something so difficult, that’s been part of your personal and community history for so long? How far do you go? How much do you balance the past-centered frustration and the need/desire to look forward with hope and redemption? How bold do you get, knowing that some crazy in the crowd could be lobbing a bomb at you at any time for what you believe?

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All these things raced through my mind as I stood there on the podium yesterday, in front of 2,000 people, in a closed off area between 43rd and 44th Street, near where the New Year’s Eve ball drops every December 31.

 

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