Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Guadalcanal Diary: The Movie
Found this as part of my History First Hand resources from 2002, although I notice my name is strangely missing?
Boy is William Bendix missed. He was a Yankee fan even before he played Babe Ruth. Here's an article the Daily News did many years ago on "New York Characters" that goes with this clip:
Taxi Potts, By ELLIOT ROSENBERG
It's Game Two of the 1942 World Series, Sportsman's Park, St.Louis. Cardinal rookie Stan Musial awaits New York hurler Ernie Bonham'spitch, bottom of the eighth, as Enos Slaughter, the winning run, inches off second. Musial s-w-i-n-g-s, the sputtering radio set carrying play-by-play action snaps and crackles — and the game's highlight is erased. You can't blame
Aloysius T.Potts for growling in frustration. Or maybe you can. Flatbush-bred Potts, a full-blooded Brooklynite, loudly trumpets his Dodger faith, and Dem Bums didn't even make this World Series. Their 1941 American League conquerors did, and here he is, actually rooting for those damn Yankees. Baseball loyalties should be made of sterner stuff.But you gotta make allowances. Taxi Potts is no longer steering his cab through friendly Prospect Park, Bensonhurst and Coney Island while exulting in the fortunes of Pee Wee Reese, Pete Reiser and Dixie Walker on the car radio. Sure, 12 months back, Mickey Owens' passed ball, which turned the tide in the Yankees' favor, broke his heart. But that was then, this is now, and the wounded radio set around which Cpl.Potts and his Marine platoon mates huddle rests beneath soaring palm trees on steamy, malarial, Japanese-infested Guadalcanal. Any link to the annual rite of nine guys in flannels facing nine other guys in flannels for the world championship thousands of miles away is a link worth grasping. But rooting for the men in Yankee pinstripes? "New York's my home town," Cpl. Potts explains to his new Marine buddies, all out-of-towners from the twangy Midwest or drawling South. Anyway, he amplifies his excuse: "Who ever said anything about Flatbush being part of New York? It's vice versa." Pinpointing on a map Guadalcanal, strategic jewel of the Solomons chain, would have left Potts geographically challenged. But as he crossed the ocean to fight for Kings County and country, he had much more to learn (check treetops for snipers, wear your helmet, beware of booby-trapped souvenirs). And some things to unlearn. Selection of small arms, for example. Aboard the transport conveying them, conventional troops prepare ammunition belts, but Taxi shows off his private arsenal. "That's not government-issue," a sergeant points out. "No, that's Flatbush-issue," responds the unapologetic Taxi, confidently waving his blackjack. "Do you want to take the island all by yourself?" "That would go over good in Brooklyn!" Cocky before combat, Taxi Potts is a bearlike, earthy, dems-and-dese guy, whether joshing a teenage recruit about his first stubble of facial hair ("You know your mother don't let you go with no dames") or ruminating on his own dealings with the opposite sex ("That's a tomato, every time").
He longs for the simple pleasures of bygone days — his beverage of choice, for example. There'd be Mom, pouring "a swig of gin. What a sweet old lady." And, of course, "Ebbets Field, that's for me. Just watching my beautiful Bums." But now, there's a war to be won. Initial landings go strangely unopposed. But snipers hidden amid palm leaves soon take their toll, and night infiltrators turn Marine sentries trigger-happy. Behind the beach, American troops take a Japanese landing strip, rename it Henderson Field and prepare perimeter defenses. "Maybe if we dig deep
enough," muses Taxi, "we'll come out somewhere near Ebbets Field." Counterattacks, bomb runs by Japanese planes farther up the Solomons chain and nightly shellings by warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy make life a nightmare for nearly 11,000 men of the 1st Marine Division. The grueling campaign now under way fosters a durable rhyme about Marines standing before the Pearly Gates and reporting to St. Peter that they've already served their time in hell. And the ordeal extracts from normally lighthearted Potts some somber reflections: "I don't know about those other guys, but this thing is over my head. I ain't much at this praying business. My old lady took care of that. I'm no hero. I'm just a guy. I don't want no medals. I just want to get this thing over with and get back home." "Guadalcanal Diary," the movie, loosely adapted from "Guadalacanal Diary," the book, combat correspondent Richard Tregaskis' day-by-day account, premiered at the Roxy on Nov. 17, 1943. The film's fictional Marine unit contributed to an evolving Hollywood formula — a geographical melting pot with a Texan, a Southerner, a Midwesterner and, unfailingly, a guy from Brooklyn. This one was played by New York-born William Bendix, later radio and television's lovably bumbling Chester W. Riley. According to Borough President John Cashmore's numbers, 327,000 real Brooklynites took part in the war effort, 71,000 of them laboring in round-the-clock shifts at the Navy Yard from which the star battlewagons Iowa and Missouri rolled into the East River. Over in Red Hook, the Todd
Shipyard churned out the workhorse assault landing craft that carried the Taxi Pottses of the 1st Marines to enemy-held atolls throughout the Pacific. And Brooklyn's unglamorous Army Terminal became departure point for 50% of the East Coast's war zone-headed cargo.
"A Long Way From Brooklyn — And Them Beautiful Bums," proclaimed the "Guadalcanal Diary" theater ads about Flatbush's native son. Ironically, even as Potts' lament reached the neighborhoods, Italian POWs shifted here from North Africa were being hospitably interned at Greenpoint, an enviable 5-cent ride from The House That Ebbets Built. Enough to make Taxi grumble, Riley-like: "What a revoltin' development this is! "Personal for Taxi: Still haven't caught up? Here's the Sportsman's Park update for Oct. 1, 1942 (Oct. 2 on Guadalcanal's side of the International Date Line): Musial singles. Slaughter races home. The Cards win.