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“Over There” and the Ongoing Cultural Transformation

File:Over There 1.jpg

A grim day will soon arrive: July 28, 2014, the 100th anniversary of the date that Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie. The declaration brought into play mutual defense treaties that soon engulfed Europe in one of the most terrible wars in history, World War I.

WWI was the beginning of the end of a world civilization that had arisen with the Renaissance, a cultural revolution that arguably started with Europe’s Black Death in the 14th century. And, just as the end of the Middle Ages extended over many decades, so we in the post-modern world are still struggling to establish a New World Order, one that, it is to be hoped, will hold onto the gains, such as women’s suffrage, that have been made already, while adding other steps to the grand march of humanity forward, for instance a global bill of rights and a moderate, democratic world government capable of implementing and enforcing it.

What started RT thinking about this recently was the further progress he’s made in fleshing out his chronology for his grandfather the actor. The war’s cultural fall-out in the United States, which suffered “only” 116,708 casualties during the fighting (out of a total 25 million), was pronounced. The  roaring twenties is famous for its departure from established tradition, of which RT will note one almost immediate instance: woman won the vote in America with the ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920. (Women in Britain won full enfranchisement–that is, the vote on the same terms that men enjoyed it–with the passage of the Representation of the People Act 1928.)

Back to grandfather: in 1916, his most active year by number of plays counted so far, he appeared in such fare as “The Call of the North,” “Sinners,” and “The Angelus.” By 1926 he was being seen in “The Cat and Canary” and “Some Girl” (a production that also featured a famous female impersonator). And in 1930, he was involved in modern theater. Another tidbit: in the early 1920s, he was robbed in Baltimore (the thieves absconded with $40–the equivalent of about three week’s typical salary).

So far, RT has no indication that granddad performed in any WWI-themed productions. But if he finds that he did, he won’t be surprised.As a singer, he may well have publicly performed George M. Cohan’s extremely popular song, “Over There.”


RT is beginning to suspect that his forebear, in addition to being a damned hard worker (in the period 1915-1917, he appeared in 43 plays, often back-to-back from one week to the next), was also something of a post-modernist. After WWI, revolution was in the air. In a gentler, but no less ardent, way, his grandson’s generation is struggling to bring the enormous changes wrought by WWI to a happy conclusion.

Image“Over There” (sheet music). Cover, page 1 of 4. Duke University, WikiCmns. Public Domain.


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