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From your editor Rjensen Oscar week is coming up, so let us talk about the ethnic factor in three great American movies of the 1940s and 1950s. A couple of weeks ago I was watching Turner Movie Classics and caught "Arsenic and Old Lace" the 1944 comedy directed by Frank Capra, based on hit Broadway play of the same name that appeared in 1939. I have been editing the article on WASPS in Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Anglo-Saxon_Protestant and added some details of that article and the one on the film at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arsenic_and_Old_Lace_%28film%29 Critics were unanimous at the time that this was one of the funniest plays and movies they had ever seen. As a stage play it has been repeatedly revived on the high school and dinner theater circuit. Upscale old stock white protestants (WASPS) came under ridicule in polyglot America in the 1930s, as typified in 1939, when the Daughters of the American Revolution denied prominent black singer Marian Anderson permission to sing in Constitution Hall. In the ensuing furor, the president's wife Eleanor Roosevelt publicly resigned from the DAR and arranged for Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial before a cheering crowd of 75,000. Just as interesting is a much more direct attack on WASP culture from Hollywood. (the term "WASP" was coined by sociologists in the 1950s.) Look at the smash 1939 Broadway comedy hit and Hollywood film of 1944, "Arsenic and Old Lace" The plot revolves around the Brewster family, descended from the "Mayflower" and composed of illustrious WASP ancestors whose oil portraits line the walls of the decaying old mansion. The religious theme is repeatedly mentioned, and one main character is the daughter of the minister who lives next door, with some scenes held in its ancient (1650s) graveyard. The Brewsters see themselves as the epitome of power (the brother thinks he is President Teddy Roosevelt) and philanthropy (the sisters see themselves as uplifting lonely men... By murdering them). Today the Brewster clan comprises insane murderers, but nevertheless has an outstanding reputation. In the plot the Irish police reject the idea that there are 13 murder victims buried in the basement. In the last scene, the two elderly aunts Abby and Martha Brewster inform their nephew Mortimer Brewster (played by Cary Grant) that he is not biologically related to the Brewsters after all: his real mother was the aunts' cook and his father had been a chef on a steamship. If he is not an upper-class Brewster then he realizes he will not become insane or a murderer. He gleefully exclaims "I'm not a Brewster; I'm a son of a sea cook!" Matthew Gunter argues that the deep theme of the film is the conflict in American history between the liberty to do anything (which the Brewsters demand), and America's bloody hidden past. He notes that Raymond Massey, who was nationally famous in 1944 for his portrayals of Lincoln, replaced Boris Karloff in the role as a brother who is a ruthless murderer. See Matthew C. Gunter (2012). The Capra Touch: A Study of the Director's Hollywood Classics and War Documentaries, 1934-1945. McFarland. pp. 49–51. online at http://books.google.com/books?id=XLD--w2GHrkC&pg=PA45 Director Frank Capra was born in Sicily and the opening scenes of the film show what "true" multi-ethnic Americans are like (they are raucous at a baseball game) -- totally opposite of the highfalutin Brewsters. One of Capra first major films "The Younger Generation (1929) was a rags-to-riches romantic comedy about a Jewish family's upward mobility in New York with their son trying to deny his Jewish roots in order to keep his rich gentile girlfriend. Has anyone seen it? Two other great classics are in the same genre. "On the Waterfront" (1954) directed by Elia Kazan, from a Greek Orthodox background) explores the relationship between Irish ethnicity, religion, labor unions and corruption. "Marty" (1955) is all about the Italians in New York. All the major characters except the girlfriend is Italian, and all the Italians have really nasty personalities except the hero Marty. All 3 movies were widely hailed at the time and since. The last two films won Oscars for best picture, best director and best actor. Rjensen --30-- --