“The aroma of hypocrisy”: The Development of “Molasses to Rum” in 1776.

As a musical theatre scholar, it isn’t often that my search for archival materials takes me outside of New York City. As a result, it was a pleasure to be able to visit the American Heritage Center in Laramie, Wyoming. I’m a PhD candidate at Columbia University and my dissertation examines the historical representation in American musicals.

One of my chapters examines the 1969 musical 1776 and places it in conversation with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton (2015). Both the musicals look at the “founding” of America, but they do that in different ways and have different historical contexts which alter their interpretation of history. 1776 is about the writing of the Declaration of Independence. It begins in May of 1776 and, mostly within the walls of Independence Hall, tells the stories of the compromises and improvisations that men such as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson made to declare independence from Great Britain. I propose that 1776, a musical with almost exclusively white men on stage (and, a lot of them) is actually more critical of the stories surrounding the beginnings of the country than Hamilton.

I think there are several reasons for this difference, including the relationship of the creators to the presidential administrations in office when the shows opened. 1776 responds critically to the Nixon administration, while Hamilton exists alongside the Obama administration. Being able to look at Sherman Edwards’ thoughts on the subject matter and what exactly he sought to put on stage will certainly inform my chapter as I go back to revise it later this year.

Sherman Edwards was initially the sole creator of 1776 and wrote the music, the lyrics, and the book for the show. The marked folders in the archive at the American Heritage Center suggest that his notes on the show date to 1961-62, but it is probable he was working on the show earlier, presumably at least since the late 1950s.

After he plugged the show for theatre producer Stuart Ostrow, Ostrow agreed to produce the show, with the caveat that they bring on a new book writer, Peter Stone, to rework the book. As a result, the drafts here are exciting to look at because they show what difficult issues Edwards was thinking about before he began collaborating with Stone. For example, one of the songs I am particularly interested in, “Molasses to Rum,” is sung by Edward Rutledge, a delegate from South Carolina and details the hypocrisy of delegates from the Northern colonies who claim to be anti-slavery but participate in the slave trade. I was fascinated to learn that this song had been in Edwards’ very early drafts. I learned several important things about the song, perhaps most notably that it moved. In Edwards’ drafts it appears in Act One. Even though 1776 eventually became a musical with no intermission, it certainly appears in the latter half of the musical as it now stands and is one of the last songs. I argue that the song is placed in this prominent position to show the importance of the slavery issue, and to highlight our “founding fathers” failure to address it. Edwards’ drafts show that while it was an issue he clearly thought was important, he did not see it as the final crux of the musical, as it is now. Was this a change made by Peter Stone, or was it a change that happened organically as 1960s soldiered forward?

“Molasses to Rum” music manuscript, 1962-1969.
Box 6, Collection # 9242, Sherman Edwards Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

“Molasses to Rum” as it now stands includes a slave auction performed by Rutledge within the song. Rutledge climbs on a chair and bangs his cane against a table as an “auctioneer” as he acts out selling people from “Angola / Guinea, Guinea, Guinea” (etc.). In the show now this auction becomes too much and is cut off by Dr. Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire who cries out “For the love of God, Mr. Rutledge, please.” Rutledge then returns to the A section of the song and brings it to a close. In nearly every draft I examined (even in drafts of the music) rather than exclaim “For the love of God Mr. Rutledge, please” someone from New England (the character seems to not be important) interrupts shouting, “I’ll invest three thousand pounds!” This original line might appear more confusing in context, which is presumably why it was altered, but it also implicates the New Englanders in slavery arguably more than the line in the show as it now stands. The line now implies that even though they are “willing to be considerable carriers of slaves to others” as Rutledge says of his “Northern brethren,” that Northerners cannot stomach the dehumanizing violence of slavery. In this older version though not only can they stomach the violence they are “carried away” by it as Peter Stone writes in one of the later drafts. The line becomes an embarrassing concession that Rutledge is in fact, right. The New Englanders are willing to be actively complicit in slavery, even in the room of the Congress.

Note card, October 1966,
Box 3, Manuscript File, ca. 1963-1964, 1776 2nd Rough Draft, 1 of 3 folders, Collection # 9242, Sherman Edwards Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Finally, in what is presumably an even earlier note than the drafts I examined, Edwards writes, to the best of my knowledge through reading his handwriting, “Idea: Rutledge – octoroon – light black man… gets more black during song?” This note dated October of ’66 suggests an idea for a performance convention that was entirely dropped in all drafts of the musical and is something I have never heard discussed. The idea that Edwards considered making the biggest proponent of slavery a Black man who is passing for white, and a member of the second continental congress, seems as though it would have added another layer of hypocrisy to “Molasses to Rum.” It may have also meant having a Black man on stage, which certainly would be different for this musical that really only puts white men in the room. I say “may” because there is a stage history of characters who are partly Black being played by white actors, such as the role of Julie in Show Boat. It also would have broken from the historical record, as far as I know, which is somewhat surprising since Edwards was invested in historical accuracy. While there was historical speculation that Alexander Hamilton had Black ancestry, I’ve never seen such a thing suggested for Rutledge. Cleary this is an idea that Edwards left behind in his writing process, but what would it mean for this character to be Black? I think it would not only highlight more hypocrisy in the system of slavery, but perhaps Edwards was imagining it as a way to offset Rutledge’s claims that enslaved people were property rather than people. If Rutledge himself was a Black man, then that would surely show the flimsy nature of his claims.

In any case, I think there is a lot more thinking to be done about this note and these drafts, and I have barely scratched the surface of my own thinking. I could write at least six more posts this length looking at other songs/moments in the show because this collection is so rich with detail.

Post contributed by Anne Melissa Potter, PhD candidate in Theatre and Performance, Columbia University.

#always archiving

Posted in African American history, Composers, music, Musicals, Political history, Slavery, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Songs of the Arapaho

November is Native American Heritage Month. The American Heritage Center pays tribute to the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories of Native people.

The Northern Arapaho have a rich musical culture, from dramatic religious songs to haunting war songs and joyful social songs. From 1949 through 1983, Anthropologist Zdenek Salzmann spent summers on the Wind River Reservation, studying Arapaho linguistics and music. He recorded more than 100 audio tapes, documenting Arapaho songs and language. Salzmann collaborated with a number of Arapaho, including William “Bill” Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare, father of Bill Shakespeare. The younger Shakespeare played an instrumental role in interpreting Arapaho songs and language for researcher Zdenek Salzmann.
Box 10, Zdenek Salzmann papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Among the oldest known Arapaho songs are those associated with the Sun Dance. Historically, the Arapaho were nomadic, traveling in small bands except for an annual summer meeting. It was at these summertime gatherings that the Arapaho participated in a variety of dances, including the Sun Dance. The Sun Dance dramatized and reaffirmed tribal identity and was part of a seven-day long ceremony. Singing and drumming accompanied the preparation of herb medicines. Practice sessions for the singers were held in the nights leading up to the Sun Dance.

A two-sided drum was used as accompaniment. Most of the Sun Dance songs, like the majority of Arapaho songs, are sung with intentionally meaningless syllables. Syllables are grouped together in various patterns and are passed along orally from one generation of singers to the next. Following a long night of singing and dancing, the Arapaho Morning Sun Rise Song was sung, just as the dancers were preparing to rest.

Transcription of the musical score of the Arapaho Sunrise Song of the Sun Dance, 1911.
Box 10, Zdenek Salzmann papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Another group of Arapaho songs is associated with peyote. It is believed that peyote came to the Arapaho of Wyoming in 1903. Its use originated among the Mexican Indians and propagated through other North American tribes. Peyote was incorporated into the Arapaho vision quest. For the Arapaho peyote ceremony, a drum is made of skin stretched over an earthenware pot containing a little water. The water is used to moisten the drumhead to ensure a consistent pitch. A gourd containing glass beads is used as an accompaniment. Singing and drumming are integral to the peyote ceremony. Four songs are sung by each man who participates, with the ritual continuing past midnight and ending at dawn with another group of songs. Some peyote songs address the nature of peyote itself, while others are repeated syllables without words. Peyote songs are accompanied by noticeably quicker drumbeats than other Arapaho songs, but the singing style is more subdued.

Musical score of an Arapaho Peyote Song, transcribed by Bruno Nettl, June 1951.
Box 10, Zdenek Salzmann papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Some Arapaho social songs have been learned from other American Indian tribes. According to tribal legend, songs that accompany Round Dances were learned from the Gros Ventre in the late 19th century and songs for the Wolf Dance were learned from the Dakota tribe at approximately the same time.

Arapaho music can be dynamic, changing to reflect current events. War songs celebrated the tribe’s exploits in battle, and not just conquests from the days of the “Wild West”. Lyrics were changed or added to reflect Arapaho experiences during World War I and II. Tribal members also created new songs based on visions or dreams they experienced.

You can learn more about the diversity of Arapaho music and listen to traditional Arapaho songs in the Zdenek Salzmann papers at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center.

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.

#alwaysarchiving

Posted in American Indian history, Northern Arapaho, Uncategorized, Wyoming history | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Many Faces of Peter Lorre

This Halloween, we highlight the career of actor Peter Lorre (1904-1964), who is represented in two of our collections.

Publicity photo of Peter Lorre from the film Mad Love, 1935.
Box 13, Stephen D. Youngkin research files on Peter Lorre, Collection No. 12697, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Lorre, who was born László Löwenstein in Hungary, began acting for the stage in Vienna in the early 1920s. He gained international fame for his portrayal of a child killer in the German film M (1931), directed by Fritz Lang. 

Lorre left Germany in 1933 as the Nazis came to power. After appearing in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), Lorre came to America, where he became known for co-starring with actor Sydney Greenstreet in nine films, including The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942).

Lorre also made several horror films. Early in his career, he starred in Mad Love (1935), an adaptation of the novel Les Mains d’Orlac by Maurice Renard, and The Beast with Five Fingers (1946).

Frances Ingram (played by Victor Francen) assaults his secretary Hillary Cummins (played by Peter Lorre) in anger during a scene from the film The Beast with Five Fingers, 1946.
Box 13, Stephen D. Youngkin research files on Peter Lorre, Collection No. 12697, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Later, he appeared in three “horror comedies” produced by American International Pictures – Tales of Terror (1962) (in this trilogy of adaptations of stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Lorre starred in “The Black Cat”), The Raven (1963) (inspired by Poe’s poem, the film features Lorre as a magician who transforms back and forth from man to raven), and The Comedy of Terrors (1963). 

The American Heritage Center has the research files of Stephen D. Youngkin, author of The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre (2012). (The inspiration for the title of Youngkin’s book is Der Verlorene, the title of a 1951 West German film starring Lorre that he also directed and co-wrote).  

Youngkin’s files contain materials on and stills from Lorre’s films, including his horror films.  Among the photos is a series of pictures showing the making of a plaster mask that Lorre wore in Mad Love, as well as a picture from The Comedy of Terrors of stuntman Harvey Parry wearing a latex “Peter Lorre” mask.

Creation of mask of Peter Lorre’s face for the film Mad Love, 1935
Box 13, Stephen D. Youngkin research files on Peter Lorre, Collection No. 12697, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Stuntman Harvey Parry wears a latex “Lorre mask” while doubling for Peter Lorre in the opening “cemetery” sequence of The Comedy of Terrors, 1963.
Box 13, Stephen D. Youngkin research files on Peter Lorre, Collection No. 12697, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Also included in the collection is a file related to Lorre’s attempt to stop actor Eugene Weingand, who vaguely resembled Lorre, from legally changing his name to “Peter Lorie Jr.” 

The Center also has the papers of Forrest J. Ackerman, the editor of the fanzine Famous Monsters of Filmland which include stills from Lorre’s horror films.

Publicity still from The Raven, 1963. Shown are actors Vincent Price, Olive Sturgess, and Peter Lorre.
Box 107, Forrest J. Ackerman papers, Collection No. 2358, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Happy Halloween!

Post contributed by AHC Archivist Roger Simon (our resident film expert).

#alwaysarchiving

Posted in Holidays, Hollywood history, Horror, Motion picture actors and actresses, motion picture history, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kato and U.S.- Asian Relations

This is Kato, as played by Chinese American actor and martial arts expert Bruce Lee in the 1966-67 television series, The Green Hornet. The series featured the adventures of Britt Reid—rich newspaper publisher by the day, masked crime-fighter by night—assisted by Kato, his valet and driver.

Lego Kato on the first page of Alexander Russo’s article appearing in Radio Reader: Essays in the Cultural History of Radio (2002).

It was Lee’s introduction to American audiences, though he had been a child actor in the Hong Kong film industry. Lee declined the “sloppy punching” that the script called for; Lee used his martial arts training instead. The results were electric. As noted in a 2020 AHC blog post regarding The Green Hornet, “Younger viewers were astonished by what they saw. Bruce Lee’s Kato became the series’ real star, and he was soon making personal appearances across the country.”

Van Williams played the Green Hornet/Britt Reid and Bruce Lee played Kato. The Green Hornet television series ran from 1966 to 1967 and was produced and narrated by William Dozier.
Box 18, William Dozier papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Kato was, in fact, Filipino. At least for a few years.

The Green Hornet began as a radio program in 1936, made into two movies in the 1940s, and would run on and off until around 1952. “The Adventures of the Green Hornet” is a story complete, each broadcast depicting the life of a young newspaper publisher who is devoting his life to the breaking up of ‘rackets’ and underworld doings,” a 1936 press release said. It was patterned after The Lone Ranger, which had also been produced by the same station in Detroit, according to Catholic University media studies professor Alexander Russo. “The two programs shared a basic template,” Russo wrote, “a courageous white hero, a faithful sidekick of a different race, a classical music theme in the public domain to avoid royalty payments, and a deeply corrupt setting.”

Kato was first introduced as Japanese. “The Green Hornet (Britt Reid) is assisted by his faithful Japanese valet, Kato,” the Battle Creek Enquirer in Michigan announced in 1936. Echoing popular stereotypes of “Japanese loyalty and industriousness”, Russo said, Kato’s Japanese identity was vital to his role as valet. A few years later, however, there were references to Kato’s Filipino ancestry. “In my native Philippines, we have a saying, ‘It is easier to drown in a little wave than a big one,” Kato said in a June 1941 episode (as quoted by Russo). “Ably assisted by his Filipino servant, Kato, the Green Hornet fares forth again tonight to wreak more havoc among denizens of the underworld,” the Capital Times wrote in 1942. “Only Kato, his Filipino valet, knows [Reid] in his after-dark role,” the Shreveport Times wrote in 1947. Oddly, Kato was also, at least for a time, Korean. “Reid’s accomplice on his midnight forays is his Korean valet and chauffeur, Kato, the only person who knows his dual life,” the Pensacola News Journal wrote in 1939.

Reid/The Green Hornet might have had a dual life; Kato had several ethnic identities.

The radio series originated on January 31, 1936, on WXYZ in Detroit. Kato is referred to using a term that came to reflect anti-Japanese sentiment, especially after the Pearl Harbor Attack.
Image: Green Hornet Wiki

What might explain Kato’s switch in ethnicity? One version claims that this happened during the Second World War, as Japan became a US enemy. “In the early days of radio Kato was identified as a Japanese but during the war he suddenly shifted nationalities and emerged as a Filipino,” according to the Rapid City Journal. Some thought it happened immediately after Pearl Harbor, in December 1941 (“quickest change of nationality in the history of broadcasting,” George McEvoy said, writing for The Palm Beach Post).

But the dates of the articles cited above indicate that the shift took place much earlier, though the reasons were largely the same. Russo suggests that deteriorating public opinion of Japan beginning in the late 1930s might have prompted the change. In particular, the Japanese attack on China in 1937—84 years ago last July—and the atrocities that followed were condemned widely. Popular support for China soared in the US as support for Japan crashed. But because Kato’s Asian identity was essential to the program, this created a problem for the show’s producers. Filipino Kato was the solution (and, it seems, at least briefly, Korean Kato). “The Green Hornet was able to use a reconfigured Orientalism to respond to the military threat posed by Japan and internal fears about distinguishing ally from enemy,” Russo wrote.

Chinese-born actor Keye Luke played Kato in the 1939–1941 Green Hornet film serials.
Luke was also a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild.
Image: University Studios.

More than a pop culture icon then, Kato has arguably been a barometer for US-Asian relations and popular American attitudes towards Asia, including stereotypes and prejudice.

(Interestingly, Kato was played by a relatively unknown Hong Kong Chinese American actor in 1966 and Lee’s films in the 1970s were not seen in mainland China until much later. “Films like Enter the Dragon and Fists of Fury were banned by Mao as spiritual pollution and rightist sentimentality,” according to Clifford Coonan in the Irish Times. In contrast, in the recent 2011 film remake of The Green Hornet, at a time when Japan is a strong US ally, Kato was played by Jay Chou, a Taiwanese singer who has sold some 30 million records, according to his Wikipedia page, and is popular in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. “The Green Hornet represents the intersection of race, citizenship, and the public sphere,” Russo wrote. To this we might now add—global commerce. But we leave this for another post.)

In 1966, Lee was asked about Kato’s ethnic identity. “Speaking for myself, I am Chinese,” he answered, according to The New York Times. “Would some knowing Oriental protest since Kato was after all a Japanese name?”

Pause.

“I am a karate expert, black belt class,” Lee said. “Anyone object, I put them on their back.”

To learn more about The Green Hornet television series, see the William Dozier papers at University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center.

Postscript

Plot twist(s):

(1) A Filipino American supposedly introduced Bruce Lee to nunchucks (shown in the first photo). https://iexaminer.org/uncovering-bruce-lees-public-school-years/


(2) Bruce Lee has become, in a sense, an Asian American–not just Chinese American–role model (“He was an ethnically Asian male role model in a Western society where so few existed, before or since,” Kevin Wong recently wrote.)
https://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2019/11/asian-american-bruce-lee-still-matters


And though, as Russo explained, a “universal Oriental” wasn’t a solution to The Green Hornet producers’ Asian dilemma in the late 1930s, one might argue that what eventually became Bruce Lee in popular imagination might be close–though so much more independent and defiant than the producers ever imagined, upstaging even The Green Hornet himself, the white hero.

Reflections for another post.

_____

Post contributed by Erwin R. Tiongson, co-founder of The Philippines on the Potomac Project (POPDC) (https://popdc.wordpress.com/). The text for this post originally appeared on POPDC’s Facebook page. It is included in AHC’s Discover History blog with permission.

References

Clifford Coonan, 2008, “New generation of kung fu crazy Chinese discovering Bruce Lee,” The Irish Times, October 16. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/new-generation-of-kung-fu-crazy-chinese-discovering-bruce-lee-1.896517


Alexander Russo, 2002, “A Dark(ened) Figure on the Airwaves: Race, Nation, and the Green Hornet,” in Michele Hilmes and Jason Loviglio, eds., Radio Reader: Essays in the Cultural History of Radio (New York: Routledge), pp. 257-276.

Various newspaper articles as indicated.


Posted in Asian American history, Hollywood history, International relations, television history, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating Homecoming with Cowboy Joe – A Wyoming Icon

October 1922 is attributed as the first officially documented date of the University of Wyoming’s homecoming. Celebrations included class reunions, open houses, a homecoming dance, parades, and of course, the homecoming football game.

Wyoming football origins date back as early as 1893 when games were played in Prexy’s Pasture; however, the first official homecoming game was the inaugural game played in 1922 on the new Corbett Field thanks to intensive community fundraising efforts led by UW’s own Dr. Samuel H. Knight.

Corbett Field, ca. 1930. Negative Number 19371.1A, Box 17,
Ludwig & Svenson Studio Photographs, Collection No. 167, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

An alumnus of the University of Wyoming and professor of geology, Dr. Knight served as the president of the Alumni Association from 1921 to 1924 and on the athletic committee. Knight was keen on the national movement of the time to coincide football festivities with homecoming celebrations and was instrumental in collaborating with the Alumni Association to move the date of previously established alumni celebrations from the summer months to align with the first football game of the 1922 season, starting the tradition of UW Homecoming in October marked by a home football game.

As University of Wyoming Homecoming fast approaches its 99th year, UW football looks a little different. The homecoming football game is still regarded as one of the most Poke Pride-filled games of the season, second only perhaps to the Border War with Colorado State University. But it’s been a long time since UW football played its final game on the old Corbett Field, which is now occupied by the College of Business and the Wyoming Union parking lot.

In Spring 1950, construction of what is now War Memorial Stadium began and was completed in time to host the Cowboys that fall. The stadium wasn’t the only addition to UW that year though. 1950 also marked the beginning of perhaps the University of Wyoming’s tiniest and most beloved tradition – Cowboy Joe.

Cowboy Joe and one of his handlers, March 1951.
Photo file: College and Universities-University of Wyoming-Library, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Generously donated by the Farthing Family of Cheyenne, the young Shetland pony became Wyoming’s mascot. From the very beginning, Cowboy Joe was adored by the community and became a staple of UW pride representing the University of Wyoming and UW athletics in parades, tailgates, and, of course, the end zone after UW touchdowns! Accompanied by Cowboy Joe, the 1950 Cowboys football season played one of their best seasons, going undefeated in the regular season and winning the Gator Bowl hosted in Jacksonville, Florida, 20-7.

Cared for lovingly by his handlers, Cowboy Joe V is now a fifth generation Wyoming mascot and has become such an icon, he even has his own social media platforms. Today, he stays closer to home, no longer flying with the team across the country but rather making regional appearances around the state and trotting the field at every home game. According to the Cowboy Joe Handlers website, “Cowboy Joe’s handlers have the privilege of working with and grooming Joe before events, trailering him to events, and showing him off at home football games and other community and university functions. Handlers have the unique opportunity to spend time with Cowboy Joe and express the deep-rooted passion for the history of the University of Wyoming.”

Cowboy Joe V is shown during a touchdown celebration at War Memorial Stadium on Sept. 14, 2019 when the Wyoming Cowboy Football team defeated the Idaho Vandals 21-16. UW Photo.

Much about homecoming and UW football has changed over the years but Cowboy Joe represents a long-standing tradition and brings a special joy to adults and children alike.

You can learn more about Cowboy football history at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center.

Views of the stands at War Memorial Stadium for the Stripe Out game against Montana State on Sept. 4, 2021. UW Photo.

Post contributed by Archival Processor Emily Hakert, AHC Accessioning Unit.

#alwaysarchiving

Posted in Athletics, Homecoming, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming history, Wyoming History Day | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

National Taco Day – Celebrating Taco John’s “West-Mex” Cuisine

As lovers of Mexican food celebrate National Taco Day on October 4th, it seems an appropriate time to delve into the papers of Taco John’s International. The American Heritage Center has collaborated with Taco John’s to preserve their corporate history since 2004. The origin story of Taco John’s dates back to 1968, when John Turner opened his “Taco House”, a humble stand selling five tacos for a dollar to budget conscious Cheyenne diners. While Mexican food was a rarity in Wyoming, Turner’s “Taco House” soon had an appreciative customer base. Cheyenne businessmen Jim Woodson and Harold Holmes approached Turner about franchising the business, and Turner agreed to sell the rights to them for $10,000. Woodson and Holmes lacked experience in the restaurant industry, but that didn’t stop them from building a quickly expanding franchise business. They named their restaurant chain Taco John’s.

Menu from two of the original locations featuring a drawing of the prefabricated building design for the early units.
Box 7, Taco John’s International records, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The first one hundred restaurants were prefabricated modular buildings of plywood and aluminum constructed in Cheyenne and trucked to places like Rapid City, Scottsbluff and Torrington. None of them had seating for customers, who all got their food “to-go”. John Turner provided the restaurants with tortillas and his proprietary blend of seasonings and spices. The company’s original logo was a fiendish devil proclaiming Taco John’s as the “Hottest Spot in Town.”

Takeout bag, featuring the original Taco John’s devil logo, 1969.
Box 7, Taco John’s International records, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The success of the concept exceeded Harold Holmes and Jim Woodson’s expectations. Holmes was a private pilot and he and Woodson often traveled by small aircraft, approving sites for new restaurants and assisting franchisees in their openings. They found hundreds of individuals located in smaller cities in the West and Midwest with an entrepreneurial spirit who wanted the chance to own a quick-service restaurant. Restaurant design evolved to include seating and drive-throughs. Innovative products were added to the menu, like the Potato Olés and the Taco Bravo. The company coined the phrase “West-Mex” and trademarked “Taco Tuesday”.

Advertising for the Super Taco Bravo.
Box 7, Taco John’s International records, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Eventually, expansion put the chain in 22 states with nearly 400 locations. The company is still headquartered in Cheyenne and unlike their competitors, remains privately owned. Today, Taco John’s serves its namesake tacos, alongside burritos, quesadillas, nachos and breakfast items. It continues to be known for bold flavors, fresh ingredients and friendly customer service. Sixty-five percent of the business is drive-through, a factor that has helped the company manage through the challenging times of COVID-19.

Promotional flyer advertising Taco John’s “Taco Tuesday”.
Box 29, Taco John’s International records, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

You can learn more about the history of Taco John’s and whet your appetite for a taco or two in the Taco John’s International papers at UW’s American Heritage Center.

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.

#alwaysarchiving

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Meat, Manliness, and Marketing: The National Live Stock and Meat Board

“Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” So, Sam Elliot in his deep, husky drawl immortalized one of the most famous meat slogans in recent memory. The National Live Stock and Meat Board invented this piece of Americana and linked meat-eating to manliness for over seventy years. Now nearly forgotten, in its heyday, the Meat Board was the nation’s leader in meat advertising and much more.

I used my American Heritage Center travel grant to explore the Meat Board records for a book project tentatively called Cattle Cartel: How Big Cattlemen and Packers Harnessed the Meat Industry, 1916–1933. In it, I explain the origin of cooperation between these two groups and the many ways in which they reshaped the cattle industry. The Meat Board, I argue, embodied this new era of cooperation. It consisted of representatives from livestock associations, packers, retailers, and livestock exchanges. Surprisingly, its influence has remained largely hidden in historical literature. In the following paragraphs, I’ll tell a little bit about the Board and highlight some of its more amusing initiatives on the theme of meat and masculinity.

In 1922, industry leaders created the Meat Board to promote meat consumption. At the time, Americans ate less meat for various reasons, one being the popularity of breakfast cereal—pioneered by John Harvey Kellogg—which had replaced the traditional hearty morning meals. The Board struck back with studies on the healthfulness of meat and used that information to create all sorts of promotions. The pamphlet pictured here is called “Meat builds better Breakfasts—Better Breakfasts build better Bodies,” and it drew inspiration from eugenic contests like “Fitter Families for Future Firesides.” In its promotions like this one, the Meat Board often reinforced the age-old connection between meat and strength. The “’He-Man’ breakfast,” for example, explicitly tied a meat-centered meal to manliness.

Undated pamphlet titled “Meat Builds Better Breakfasts – Better Breakfasts Build Better Bodies.”
Box 263, Folder: Meat Board research program, 1924-1984, National Live Stock and Meat Board records, Collection #11744, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The outbreak of WWII provided the Meat Board another opportunity to show off meat’s mettle. The Board used high school poster contests, usually directed at home economics students, to spread knowledge about meat. The annual contest themes were designed to indoctrinate students about the latest findings on meat. The posters shown here drew on the idea that meat imparted virility, more so than other foods, and was, therefore, more necessary for men on the front lines. These heavy-handed prints suggested that meat, like some sort of drug, created super soldiers. In “Meat behind the Man behind the Gun,” a steak with little arms and legs literally ran behind a soldier. Subtlety was not a virtue in meat poster art.

The National Meat Board held a contest for high school students to point out the benefits of meat. Shown are a selection of the posters.
Box 393, Folder: Annual Reports 1943–1944, National Live Stock and Meat Board records, Collection #11744, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Meat also had a softer side, according to the Meat Board. In 1940, the Board released “Meat and Romance,” an educational and purportedly entertaining film. Intended for home economics classes, it featured newlyweds Peggy and Bill—played by Alan Ladd of Shane fame—who received a visit from Bill’s Dad, a physician, and his sister, a home economist. As Peggy, “the typical young housewife, inexperienced but eager to learn,” prepared for dinner she was given a lesson by these experts and others in meat selection, cooking, and nutrition. The local meat retailer even gave her an economics lesson on the price fluctuations of meat. The film is typical of the Meat Board’s view of “housewives” as uninformed and in need of advice. “Romance,” it appeared, was between Peggy and meat.

Pamphlet titled “Meat and Romance,” 1940.
Box 289, Folder: Meat and Romance – Movie, National Live Stock and Meat Board records, Collection #11744, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The Meat Board often cast women—like Peggy—as preparers of meat and “He-Men” as consumers. The Board reinforced this “separate spheres” notion about meat throughout its existence. Though the Meat Board broke up in the mid-nineties, groups like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) still carry on the spirit of the Board’s promotional work. In early 2021, for instance, the NCBA sponsored a NASCAR race called the Daytona 300 and renamed it the “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner. 300.”

Post contributed by AHC 2020 Travel Grant recipient Dr. Daniel T. Gresham, Professor of History, St. Mary’s College.

#alwaysarchiving

Posted in Agricultural history, Cattle industry, Foodservice industry, Meat industry and trade, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Comic Books: A Continuing Work in Progress

Although comic books depict the exploits of characters who possess “powers and abilities far beyond those of ordinary mortals” the medium itself stems from very humble beginnings. 

Comics as a print medium have existed in the United States since the printing of The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck in 1842. Funnies on Parade was published in 1933 and established the size, and format of the modern comic book. However, it was Dell Publishing’s 36-page Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics that is recognized as the first true newsstand American comic book. 

Gradually, the reprinting of newspaper comic strips gave way to original material presented in the same format. In 1938, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman was published in Action Comics #1 and not only originated the archetype of the “superhero”, but also made comic books into a major publishing industry and ushered in what became known as the Golden Age of Comics. 

This was followed by the Silver Age of Comics beginning in October of 1956 with the debut of The Flash, and the Bronze Age beginning in the early 1970s.  The current Modern Age of Comics runs from the mid-1980s to the present day.

As with any endeavor that has lasted so long and affected so many, the comic book industry has a fascinating history of triumph, tragedy, and controversy that has ultimately led to the present day when the characters it created and nurtured have become a dominant force in American cinema and culture. 

Cover of Superman #25, which was published on August 24, 1943.
Box 10, Folder 1, Mort Weisinger papers, Collection No. 7958, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Few who were involved in the medium during its beginnings realized the significance of what they were doing, nor would have ever predicted the impact it would have on future generations. For instance, the first inklings of the influence comic books have on society came from their attempted censorship by concerned citizens which led to hearings in front of no less than the Congress of the United States in 1954. The Comics Code Authority, a self-governing body within the comic book industry, was a defensive mechanism created in response to those hearings which hampered the creativity of the industry for decades to come.

The American Heritage Center is fortunate to have amongst its collections the personal and professional papers of two of the most notable figures in comics history: Stan Lee, who created such characters as The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Spider-Man, and a host of others, and became the public “face” of Marvel Comics and DC Comic’s Mort Weisinger who not only co-created such characters as Aquaman, Green Arrow, and Johnny Quick, but was the editor of the Superman titles in the 1950s and 1960s, and story editor for the television series The Adventures of Superman which aired from 1952 to 1958. 

Additionally, the AHC holds a number of collections which relate either directly or indirectly to the history of this important aspect of American culture. We invite both the curious and the researcher to come and explore these fascinating collections.

Post contributed by William L. Hopkins, AHC Assistant Director and Collections Manager.

#always archiving

Posted in Artists, Comic book history, Fantasy, popular culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Laramie’s Latin American Club

September 15 through October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month. Wyoming has a historically significant Hispanic and Manito population, some of whom came and went for work while others made Wyoming their home. Spanish-speaking people from northern New Mexico, called Manitos and Manitas, left their native land in the late 19th through mid-century 20th century seeking work. “Manito” is a term of endearment and kinship derived from the Spanish word hermano, “brother” or “sibling.”

During the 1930s and 1940s there was also a wave of immigrants from Mexico, resulting in part from the Bracero Program, a government program that encouraged legal immigration from Mexico to bring in workers during World War II.

Other Latinas/os moved to Wyoming from the San Luis Valley in Colorado seeking work in the state’s industries such as herding, ranching, farming, mining and lumber extraction, and the railroad.

Group portrait of Union Pacific Railroad Company employees at the railroad yards in Laramie, Wyoming, 1930. Although the employees shown are mostly white, people of color are also seen in the photograph.
Box 15, Negative # 17514A, Ludwig & Svenson Studio Photographs, Collection No. 167, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Possibilities of employment, especially railroad jobs, brought a number of these migrants to Laramie. Another big employer was the Monolith Portland Cement Company (today Mountain Cement Company) established in 1927. Discrimination in housing and employment meant that the town’s Hispanic population was unofficially segregated on the town’s West Side. Many West Side residents suffered from prejudice. They were generally not welcome in restaurants, movie theaters, stores, and other establishments east of the railroad tracks. They were equally unwelcome in Laramie’s fraternal halls such as the Elks Club, the Moose Club, and the Masonic Temple.

A glimmer into housing conditions on Laramie’s West Side can be found in a 1946 unpublished University of Wyoming master’s thesis by Ernest Press regarding the Mexican and Mexican American population in Laramie, “The two blocks on Railroad Street north of the [University Street] viaduct are definitely overcrowded…On several of the lots there is not only the house on the street front but as many as two or three shacks built on the rear of the lots. There is also a long cabin like house, which is inhabited by six families, each having two rooms and sharing one bath and toilet.” Press noted too that the company houses of the Union Pacific Railroad were particularly bad. Additionally, at this point in time, steam engines were still in use by the Union Pacific Railroad meaning those closest to the tracks were subjected to a high amount of smoke and cinders.

Map indicating where the Mexican and Mexican American population were living in Laramie in 1943 and 1945. The viaduct crossing the tracks was still at University Street as the Clark Street Bridge was not built until 1963.
From page 22 of the unpublished thesis of Ernest Press, “The Mexican Population of Laramie,” 1946, held at Coe Library, University of Wyoming.

The need for a communal place they could call their own was not unique to Laramie. In 1927 Lovell’s Hispanic population form an organization, the Comision Honorifica (Honorary Commis­sion), for both social and political reasons. In 1948 the Latin American Federation formed in Cheyenne to provide a club and social organization for that city’s Hispanic community. During the 1950s Latin American Clubs opened in Rawlins and other Wyoming towns to provide a social and cultural center for the Hispanic communities.

Laramie’s Latin American Club formed in 1956 as a non-profit, fraternal organization. In addition to the school, it was the central organization for the city’s Hispanic population.

Latin American Club of Laramie Board Officers, 1966.
Box 3, Latin American Club of Laramie records, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The club hosted regular meetings and a variety of activities to support and foster community. They held charitable events, scholarship fundraisers, potluck suppers, and regular dances typically based on a holiday. They brought awareness to the community’s issues and concerns and became a forum to mobilize advocacy.

In 1960, the club was able to purchase a tract of land and a house south of Laramie. The next year, the Wyoming Federation of Latin American Groups was formed, and the Laramie group became a member. They hosted some of the meetings and conventions, as they were the only members to have their own clubhouse. By 1965, a National Latin American Federation had been formed and the Laramie group became a member of that as well, with members traveling to the conventions and even hosting a few conventions.

Program from the National Latin American Federation Annual Convention, hosted in Laramie, August 16, 1975.  Box 4, Latin American Club of Laramie records, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
 

An electrical fire burnt down the clubhouse in 1968 and Laramie residents turned out to help raise $3000 to rebuild. More land was donated by a club member the next year and an old Union Pacific washroom was purchased and moved to the land to serve as a more spacious clubhouse.

The 1970s brought the Chicano movement to Laramie and the University of Wyoming. UW students formed a group called the Chicano Coalition, which became Movimiento Estuduantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) and still exists on campus today (provide link to AHC’s MEChA collection). By 1998 a Chicano Studies Program was formed in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Wyoming. Wyoming’s economic booms in the 70s and early 80s and the early 2000s brought good paying jobs for the state’s residents, including Hispanics and Manitos. All of these advancements assisted them in gaining some access to status they were previously denied and lessened their segregation.

By 2004, Laramie’s Latin American Club had disbanded, and the land and the clubhouse sold. Proceeds from the sale were used to set up a scholarship endowment for Latina/a high school graduates, as continuing education had always been a priority for the group.

Latin American Club of Laramie scholarship recipients, printed in The Laramie Daily Boomerang, October 7, 1995. Box 2, Latin American Club of Laramie records, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The American Heritage Center holds official Latin American Club records including board minutes, annual membership lists, and newsletters. There are many newspaper clippings of club event announcements and community recognition of club members. Photographs of past presidents and board members are also included in the collection. The club charter and a laminated poster of newspaper clippings regarding the rebuilding campaign of 1968 and a contribution chart from the same event can also be found.

Post contributed by the AHC’s Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.

#alwaysarchiving

Posted in Immigration, Laramie, Local history, Manitos, Mexican-American history, Uncategorized, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Time Warp: The Back to the Future Film Trilogy

Time travel behind the wheel of a nuclear-powered DeLorean is the premise of the 1985 hit movie Back to the Future. The film follows the comedic adventures of Marty McFly, a high school student who is accidentally transported back thirty years in time. McFly visits his hometown, Hill Valley, and encounters his parents as teenagers, well before his own birth.

Marty McFly meeting his future parents in Back to the Future, 1985.
Box 150, Herbert G. Luft papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the movie almost wasn’t made. Reaction to the script was discouraging – more than 40 studios and producers turned it down. Most said the film’s humor wasn’t raunchy enough, while Disney was critical of a scene in which Marty was to have an awkward, incestuous kiss with his future mother.

The film provided a breakout movie role for actor Michael J. Fox, who played McFly. Fox was not originally cast for the part, as he was busy filming the hit television show Family Ties. Production began with Eric Stoltz as McFly. It soon became apparent that Stoltz lacked the comic timing needed for the role. Director Zemeckis approached Fox and negotiated a deal in which Fox would film Family Ties during the day and Back to the Future at night. Reports at the time indicated that replacing Stoltz added four million dollars to production costs. The filming schedule was grueling. Fox barely slept during the production but said that Zemeckis’ enthusiasm for the project and the fun he was having on set kept him going.

Fox’s favorite scene from the film takes place in 1955, when he performs the classic Chuck Berry song “Johnny B. Goode” for his future parents’ high school dance, three years before the song’s actual release.

Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly performing “Johnny B. Goode,” 1985.
Box 3, Herbert G. Luft papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Despite the early skepticism, Spielberg, Zemeckis and Gale’s confidence in the screenplay was vindicated. The movie Zemeckis had described as a “comedy-adventure-science-speculation-coming-of-age-rock-and-roll-time travel-period film” was the top grossing film of 1985. The musical score included two original songs, written by Huey Lewis and the News. One of them, “The Power of Love,” shot to the top of the charts, driven by the popularity of the movie.

Plans were soon afoot to write Back to the Future Part II and III. Fans sent in thousands of letters making suggestions as to what adventures the future movies might incorporate. Christopher Lloyd was to reprise his role as Doc Emmett Brown, the mad scientist inventor of the DeLorean time machine. Michael J. Fox was to return as Marty McFly. Back to the Future Part II had McFly and Doc Brown travel forward in time thirty years, to intervene in the lives of McFly’s fictional children.

Publicity for Back to the Future Part II, 1989.
Box 3, Herbert G. Luft papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The storyline, again written by Zemeckis and Gayle, was also set in Hill Valley, only this time McFly had to appear in 1955, 1985 and 2015. Audiences were on the edge of their seats. As actor Michael J. Fox said, “Every time you think the characters have rescued themselves from their current predicament, and you think you can relax for a minute of two … BAM! – you run into something else.”

Back to the Future Part III led the film series in an entirely new direction, although still driven by DeLorean time travel. Fox and Lloyd take a giant leap backwards in time, from 1985 to 1885. In the final scenario, Doc Brown has transported himself into an old west version of an only recently settled Hill Valley. Marty McFly must race back to the past to save Doc from an untimely end.

On the set of Back to the Future Part III, 1990.
Box 3, Herbert G. Luft papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Back to the Future Part III provides a satisfying end to the saga, wrapping up loose ends. Doc Brown sums it up, saying “You are in charge of your own destiny. The future is what you make it. So go out and make it a good one.” In total, the three films grossed nearly one billion dollars in worldwide box office receipts and left an indelible impact on American popular culture.

For more about the Back to the Future film franchise see the Herbert G. Luft papers, where you can pour through production notes, photographs and other press materials.

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.

#alwaysarchiving

Posted in Fantasy, Hollywood history, Motion picture actors and actresses, motion picture history, science fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment