Thursday, March 20, 2008
Irving Berlin, Harlem, The Marathon, The Olympics, Drunk As Hell & Explaining Why 26 Miles & 385 yards
Though he composed "Harlem On My Mind", I can't say I am a fan of the historic American composer Irving Berlin - that guy on the right below - why?...he did a lot of "minstrel Black face" crap. However it was his decision one time to include black performers in a performance. At the time, the US military armed forces were segregated, and as a result of Berlin's insistence, the performance This Is the Army show review unit became the only integrated US military company in uniform. To give This Is the Army the contemporary feel Berlin devised a new song for his black soldiers, something, he declared, "with a real Harlem beat." One endless night he played the melody for "Puttin' on the Ritz"--his ode to high-fashion blacks strutting along Lenox Avenue [Where I run & Ted Corbitt before me] --over and over again, and gradually the song evolved into something new: a different melody with the same tempo. When completed he said, "I finally got the number for the colored guys--'That's What the Well-Dressed Man in Harlem Will Wear." That was the name of the tune and what you see those men on the left in uniform above rehearsing. Now let me take you back a little bit. London, 1908 Olympics and THE MARATHON. The race distance was extended in order to please the British royal family: they wanted the race to start just outside one of their official residences, Windsor Castle, located just west of London. Although there was no standard distance yet, the previous marathons had been between 25 and 26 miles (or 40 to 41.6K). In London, the 26-mile maximum distance would have ended the race at the entrance to London's White City stadium. But there would be greater dramatic effect if the runners circled the stadium and ended up in front of the royal box at the stadium. So another 385 yards were added. So when you see the length of the race described as 26 Miles 385 yards....this is why. Now in 1908 during the race Londoners offered to the runners along the route "spirits" - happens even today - bars commonly offer beers to marathoners in a race - if the bar is along the route/course. In this case, beer, champagne - it all flowed to the runners, many were drunk during the race - however in 1908, one accomplished little Italian named Dorando Pietri was leading the race....but a little tipsy - he was drunk. Pietri had, according to one of the British competitors, been consistently drinking brandy offered from the generous onlookers. During the marathon race when he staggered into the stadium he seemed not to know which way to turn and promptly fell over - stone cold drunk. Some say he was simply exhausted. Others that he was "shit faced". That photo above on the right is of him "shit faced drunk" during the race. The British crowd soon realized that his closest pursuer was an American [who they despised] and urged Pietri to his feet. Suddenly a medical official rapidly administered a dose of a drug, strychnine, which quickly perked him up. Eventually Pietri was even then helped across the line by officials before the American [Johnny Hayes], could win the race. They carried him a distance to rousing cheers (photo on the left), Pietri was declared the winner which, since he had been given an illegal stimulant and then carried across the line, gave the Americans cause to protest - which they did. Justice prevailed when Pietri was disqualified, but at the end of the Games he was presented with a specially-commissioned gold cup by Queen Alexandra, who had watched his plight, according to the press, "With tender, womanly sympathy - and tears." Back to Irving Berlin, one of America's greatest popular composers, had his first big hit with the song 'Dorando', named after the Italian runner I have spoken to - The song is about an Italian-American barbershop owner who bets his shop on Dorando winning a running race at Madison Square Garden here in New York City. Dorando falls and loses, the lyrics go, "Dorando he's a drop! / Goodbye poor old barber shop." And the reason Dorando does not win, according to Berlin, is that the day before he eats Irish beef stew instead of spaghetti. Ironically, Johnny Hayes, the American who was declared the winner of the 1908 Olympic Marathon was the son of Irish immigrants. There you have it - now I jam packed this blog entry just to shut down the game (culture/sport/international/ethnicity) - some real history and connecting points you will not find anywhere - all put together here on Harlem 26.2. This blog is soon coming to an end - but let it be known far and wide - Harlem 26.2 knows this running game inside and out - back and forth - and can connect & flip it in ways few knew existed. Have a great day!
at 6:15 AM Posted by Smith