Saturday, July 3, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: CAGNEY & CO. salute 'YOU'RE A GRAND OLD FLAG'

Filled with GEORGE M. COHAN'S patriotic songs, 1942's YANKEE DOODLE DANDY includes a particularly rousing, stand-up-proudly-and-salute production number featuring a song Cohan wrote in 1906, YOU'RE A GRAND OLD FLAG. Contrary to what the movie says, Cohan was born the day before Independence Day, July 3 (1878). No matter. His unabashed Americanism and flag waving spirit is forever symbolic of the Fourth of July.

Cohan's inspiration for writing the famous song is explained in the following Library of Congress statement: The original lyric for this perennial George M. Cohan favorite came, as Cohan later explained, from an encounter he had with a Civil War veteran who fought at Gettysburg. The two men found themselves next to each other and Cohan noticed the vet held a carefully folded but ragged old flag. The man reportedly then turned to Cohan and said, "She's a grand old rag." Cohan thought it was a great line and originally named his tune "You're a Grand Old Rag." So many groups and individuals objected to calling the flag a "rag," however, that he "gave 'em what they wanted" and switched words, renaming the song "You're a Grand Old Flag."

Incidentally, You're a Grand Old Flag was the first song from a musical to sell one million sheet music copies.
You're a grand old flag,
You're a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You're the emblem of
The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Ev'ry heart beats true
'neath the Red, White and Blue,
Where there's never a boast or brag.
But should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.
This movie still depicts James Cagney as George M., stage front, backed by dozens of flag wavers and his Yankee Doodle Dandy family, portrayed by (from left) real life sister Jeanne Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, and Rosemary DeCamp. Released at the beginning of WWII, the film won three Oscars, including Best Actor for James Cagney. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
Celebrate the Fourth of July by viewing the (colorized) most patriotic sequence ever filmed, YOU'RE A GRAND OLD FLAG:

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