The late charismatic mayor of New York, Ed Koch, won laughs and votes during his various campaigns by asking crowds, as well as individuals on the street, “How’m I doing?” We’ve recently been handed measurements of how America is doing, and, despite President Trump’s successes, one sector of American accomplishment isn’t very pretty. Let’s call it “A Tale of Two Standing Ovations.”
In late October of 1956 the world (particularly the Communist part of it) was shaken by the courage and audacity of the Hungarian people rising up against the mighty Soviet Red Army in what became known as the Hungarian Revolution.
The Hungarian Freedom Fighter was Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” for 1956, and though the weight of multi-millions of Russians eventually prevailed, for 10 glorious days Hungary was back in Hungarian hands, and Stalin’s Iron Curtain became a shattered venetian blind allowing over 200,000 Hungarians to escape to the West.
The hottest ticket on Broadway at the time was for the musical “My Fair Lady.” In that show (in the song “You Did It”), there is a fleeting reference to a highly distasteful character, a pesky, undesirable man from Budapest. “Never have I ever known a ruder pest,” goes the lyric.
Well, Budapest is the capital of Hungary. The audience knew that. In that late October the Freedom Fighters of Budapest chopped down the Stalin statue. The audience knew that, too!
On that very night, while the allegedly “happy and grateful” Hungarians were – according to Soviet propaganda – enjoying all the rich blessings of Communism, the cast onstage suddenly changed the lyrics (while preserving the rhyme on which they turned)! What boomed forth from the Broadway stage, instead of “that hairy hound from Budapest,” was “that hairy hound from Bucharest“!
Bucharest is the capital of Romania. The American audience got the point. The cast took the liberty to inject that itsy-bitsy editorial that honored the Hungarians. There would be no singing and dancing about Hungarian villains on that night. Instead, the unlikeable Hungarian in the lyric suddenly became a Romanian!
And the audience understood, thanking the cast and responding with a five-minute standing ovation!
(By the way, this wasn’t the first or only instance of political considerations causing a character’s nationality to change overnight. Those old enough to remember the radio serial “The Green Hornet” might recall that the hero’s faithful valet, “Kato,” was Japanese until Dec. 8, 1941 – the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor! – when he miraculously became a Filipino!)
Do you see all the good stuff in here? Victims of Communist oppression in Hungary rise up in a demonstration of virtually suicidal heroism. An American musical production decides to salute them by making a subtle change in the lyrics. The audience makes the connection and responds. Five minutes is an eternity for a spontaneous ovation.
The world felt slightly better when that uplifting deed was done.
We jump-cut now 62 years, to last week at the Tony Awards ceremony, where actor Robert De Niro told the large upscale audience he had something to say.
And precisely what piece of cultural uplift and rhetorical richness was it Mr. De Niro wanted to share? It was, and I quote, “F—k Trump!” And he said it twice! What has earlier been described as an “upscale audience” promptly demonstrated how down-scale they really were by rewarding De Niro’s contribution likewise with standing applause.
If Donald Trump were an ordinary president, with absolutely zero reasons to admire him, that episode would have been low enough to read by the light of a hotfoot. In another America – which in this aspect was a better America – mere respect for the office of president would have aborted such a tasteless, shameful display.
As history stands, it’s rather breathtaking to witness such an attack on a president who in his first 500 days gives us a raging economy, smashes unemployment (and not only for blacks and women), defeats ISIS and racks up a lot of other significant achievements and who, at the moment of insult, was doing more than any other president in history to end the nuclear threat from North Korea.
De Niro did not post a perfect score. Staten Islander Joseph DeVito ripped a portrait of Robert De Niro from his hallway wall and scrunched it up real good, frame and all, and as he destroyed his once-beloved portrait of De Niro he wailed, “He was my idol. I used to love this guy!”
So, who figures to be happier come election night? Robert De Niro and his well-attired, well-coiffed and perfumed standees applauding him, or Joseph DeVito, who couldn’t quite destroy his De Niro portrait sufficiently for his taste and temper?
Cousin Guerney says we have to keep on having elections to see if the polls were right. Atta-boy, Guerney! And another reason to keep having elections – apart from the Constitution! – is to see if our De Niros outnumber our DeVitos!