“We must be good!”*

Image: (Wikipedia) “Charleston is the largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. The Gullah community has had a tremendous influence on music in Charleston, especially when it comes to the early development of jazz music. In turn, the music of Charleston has had an influence on that of the rest of the country. The geechee dances that accompanied the music of the dock workers in Charleston followed a rhythm that inspired Eubie Blake’s “Charleston Rag” and later James P. Johnson’s “Charleston”, as well as the dance craze that defined a nation in the 1920s.”

Nick Guzan wrote at bamfstyle.com on 20.5.16:

“Today would’ve been the 108th birthday of James Stewart, and BAMF Style is honoring this screen legend by looking at Stewart’s own favorite character from his filmography: George Bailey.

Rated #9 on AFI’s 100 Heroes list and #8 on Premiere Magazine’s 100 Greatest Performances of All Time, Stewart’s portrayal of the Capra-esque “every man” still resonates with audiences 70 years later, especially around Christmas time (due to an NTA clerical error in 1974). In fact, the local Regent Square Theater near my house in Pittsburgh hosts a free screening of It’s a Wonderful Life every Christmastime, which I’ve been sure to never miss in the last four years.

One of my favorite scenes – not only in It’s a Wonderful Life but from movie history – is the Charleston contest where George and Mary reconnect *and then find themselves drenched when a jealous rival for her affections (played by The Little Rascals‘ Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer) opens the dance floor to send the two flap-happy dancers into the school swimming pool. In fact, this scene was filmed at the Beverly Hills High School in Los Angeles which indeed had a gym floor that could be converted into a pool with the press of a button.

The scene sums up the message of It’s a Wonderful Life and much of Capra’s work in total: love and decency can and will triumph over any obstacles.

…Both the formality of the suit and the intensity of a heel-kicking Charleston call for a laced shoe, and George appropriately sports a pair of black leather cap-toe oxfords with dark dress socks, likely in dark blue to match the leg line of his trousers…

Go Big or Go Home

George: I’m not very good at this.
Mary: Neither am I.
George: Okay, what can we lose?

Both George and Mary end up proving themselves wrong; not only do they display relatively good form when dancing but they do end up winning the contest and that coveted “genuine loving cup” that Harry was touting.

So what does one have to do to win a Charleston contest? There are plenty of online tutorials and videos, but the general consensus seems to be that – like the Black Bottom and the Lindy Hop – there is plenty of heel-kicking, arm-swinging, and knee-crossing whether solo or with a partner. Improvisation is encouraged, but there are basic steps that make a Charleston a Charleston and not just some flailing fool…

The accompanying song by James P. Johnson is one of the catchiest standards of the ’20s and one of my favorite rhythms, with at least 70 recordings from different artists and eras on my iTunes. (Cecil Mack added lyrics which pay tribute to city in South Carolina, but I personally hate the lyrics. Sorry, Cecil.) Johnson, a pioneer of stride piano, composed his version for the Broadway show Runnin’ Wild in 1923, and a fad was immediately born as the dance reached its greatest heights through the middle of the decade. Contests were common as were dance-to-exhaustion marathons that could last up to five months… sometimes with fatal consequences…”

From Wikipedia:

“Donna Reed was born Donna Belle Mullenger on a farm near Denison, Iowa, the daughter of Hazel Jane (née Shives) and William Richard Mullenger. The eldest of five children, she was raised as a Methodist. In 1936, while she was a sophomore at Denison (Iowa) High School, her chemistry teacher Edward Tompkins gave her the book How to Win Friends and Influence People. The book is said to have greatly influenced her life. Upon reading it she won the lead in the school play, was voted Campus Queen and was in the top 10 of the 1938 graduating class. Tompkins went on to work on the Manhattan Project.
After graduating from Denison High School, Reed planned to become a teacher but was unable to pay for college. She decided to move to California to attend Los Angeles City College on the advice of her aunt. While attending college, she performed in various stage productions, although she had no plans to become an actress. After receiving several offers to screen test for studios, Reed eventually signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; however, she insisted on finishing her education first. She completed her associate degree, then signed with an agent.

MGM soon changed her name to Donna Reed, as there was anti-German feeling during World War II. “A studio publicist hung the name on me, and I never did like it”, Reed once said. “I hear Donna Reed' and I think of a tall, chic, austere blonde that isn't me.Donna Reed’ – it has a cold, forbidding sound.”

Reed collaborated with her Denison High school chemistry teacher Edward R. Tompkins (who, as noted earlier, worked on the Manhattan Project) on the 1947 MGM film The Beginning or the End, which dealt with the history and concerns of the atom bomb. Reed helped provide the story but did not appear in the final film.

MGM lent her to RKO Pictures for the role of Mary Bailey in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. The film has since been named as one of the 100 best American films ever made by the American Film Institute and is regularly aired on television during the Christmas season. Reed later said it was “the most difficult film I ever did. No director ever demanded as much of me.”

In 1967, Reed became a peace activist and co-chaired the anti-war advocacy group, Another Mother for Peace. The group’s slogan was “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” “

From DonnaReed.com:

“(Debbie) Reynolds met Donna Reed while working with charities. They became close friends, appearing on national television to promote Another Mother for Peace causes. She traveled to Denison, Iowa to participate in the third annual Donna Reed Performing Arts Festival in June 1988 where she spoke of their friendship.”

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