Holiday Inn reservations


Every Christmas season I make it a point to revisit certain movies and TV shows I consider essential parts of the Christmas experience: A Christmas Carol (Alastair Sim version), Elf, Christmas With the Letterman’s and a few others.

But, none of these gives me more enjoyment than the 1942 classic, Holiday Inn, which I first saw as a boy.

The plot of Holiday Inn was merely an excuse on which to hang 14 Berlin songs. Crosby, Astaire, and Virginia Dale are a musical act, which breaks up when Crosby decides to retire to a farm. But Crosby quickly grows bored and decides to turn his farm into an inn and nightclub, which will be open only on national holidays. He then teams with a new partner, played by Marjorie Reynolds. Suddenly, Astaire, jilted by Dale, pays a visit, and the two men’s musical and romantic rivalry starts up again.

Why do I love Holiday Inn? It has Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire at their singing and dancing best, along with songs by Irving Berlin. Each song is related to an American holiday including Happy HolidaysEaster Parade and, most importantly, White Christmas.

As holiday entertainment it’s nearly perfect.


There is this one song about Abraham Lincoln’s birthday…

That’s why we celebrate
This blessed February date
Abraham, Abraham

When black folks lived in slavery
Who was it set the darkie free?
Abraham, Abraham

If the lyrics weren’t bad enough (and they are), Abraham is performed by Crosby and co-star Marjorie Reynolds in blackface.


Whites in blackface was a tradition of “Minstrel Shows,” a popular form of 19th century entertainment still considered acceptable as nostalgia well into the 20th century.

There is plenty available online about the history of minstrelsy. I’ve read a lot on the subject and thought about it. Despite that, I just can’t answer, “Why?”

Why blackface?

I don’t get it. I don’t get why blackface was, a not-so-long time ago, so popular.

It boggles the mind.

One can only agree with this assessment:

In short, early minstrel music and dance was not true black culture; it was a white reaction to it.[117] This was the first large-scale appropriation and commercial exploitation of black culture by American whites.[118]

By the mid-1950s, blackface was no longer considered acceptable by mainstream American audiences (though it remained a staple of British TV into the 1970s), but Irving Berlin was more popular than ever. So, Hollywood decided to remake Holiday Inn in 1954, in color and without blackface. The result was the much more famous and popular White Christmas, starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.

While I realize White Christmas is many people’s favorite vehicle for the Berlin songs, I think the story is inferior and I know Danny Kaye is no Fred Astaire.

What to do?

You can see White Christmas on the big screen, at noon on Saturday, December 16, at the Catlow Theater in Barrington.



If you want to stick with the original version, use the fast forward button on your DVR or DVD player to skip over Abraham. Should you decide to watch the entire film with the family, use the opportunity (during or after) to discuss why this scene is in the film and why it is racist and demeaning to African Americans. Here’s a thought-provoking essay on blackfaceAnd another.

Should Holiday Inn, as a whole, be trashed? I don’t think so.

Abraham is an embarrassment, but Holiday Inn is an excellent 1940s musical with great songs and terrific work from Astaire. Skipping Abraham will not diminish your enjoyment of this film. It certainly hasn’t diminished mine.

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McBarronBlog Bonus

  • Spike Lee’s angry satire Bamboozled makes an irrefutable case that the repeated use of racist/demeaning images, especially blackface, corrupts public attitudes toward minorities. The film was was underrated when it was released. Look for it.

It’s Sammy Davis Jr.’s birthday – give yourself a present


On this date in 1925, the greatest entertainer ever produced in the United States was born.

If you’re not a Sammy Davis Jr. fan, or aren’t at least open-minded about popular music of the mid-20th century, stop reading now.

Parts of Sammy Davis Jr.’s, story are well known; how he was born in Harlem and was dancing on stage with his father in the Will Mastin Trio by the time most kids are learning to walk. At age 7, he starred in a Vitaphone Short.

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 8.48.20 AM
Rufus Jones for President (1933)

In ensuing years, Davis and the Trio went through personal and show business ups and downs. Davis eventually went solo and, beginning in the 1950s, attained nightclub, TV, Broadway, and movie stardom. He also became a member of the famed “Rat Pack.


Though his talent was never doubted, Davis was very “show biz.”  As a result, he wasn’t always taken seriously as an artist and occasionally was the subject of parody.

If the Neru jacket-wearing, finger-snapping, jazz hipster-talking guy who punctuates every sentence with “man” is the image that comes to mind when the name Sammy Davis Jr. is spoken, you haven’t heard Sammy Davis Jr. sings, Laurindo Almeida plays.

This long-forgotten album from 1966 is simply Davis accompanied by a single acoustic guitar, played by Brazilian jazz guitarist Almeida.  Everything about it is amazing.

Though famous for his dynamic “I’ve gotta be me” performing style, on this album Davis couldn’t be more relaxed and the recording could not be more intimate. Davis takes his time on well-known standards and, truly, makes them his own, including some famously recorded previously by his friend Frank Sinatra.

Since I first learned of this album’s existence more than a decade ago, I’ve been on a quest to find a perfect copy on vinyl.


I’m still searching, but there is a terrific remastered CD that you can look for.

The bad news is, it’s out of print and pricey. The good news is, it’s worth it.

If you don’t believe me, listen.

Celebrate Sammy Davis’ birthday by giving yourself the gift of hearing a great, underrated singer at his absolute best.

McBarronBlog Bonus:

Wikipedia: Sammy Davis Jr.  

2006 NPR review of the remastered CD: A Song-and-Dance Man, Reconsidered 

Vitaphone Short – Rufus Jones for President (1933)

Davis loved to take chances. Here he performs a medley of songs from West Side Story accompanied only by bongos.

In one of this last TV appearances, on Late Night with David LettermanI Can’t Get Started.


Al Franken decade ends ironically


Minnesota Senator Al Franken is toast.

When good liberals like Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, who aren’t facing an election next year, call for you to go, its because they know you’re already planning to leave.

Viewed from a distance, Franken’s impending resignation could be considered darkly, ironically humorous.

Franken is about to be cast out of “The worlds greatest deliberative body” at the same time the US Senate appears about to welcome a man who probably is a child molester and who you definitely would not want to “watch” your daughter while you run into the courthouse.

Hey, I said it was dark.

Leigh Corfman, now 53, said she met Moore outside an Alabama courthouse in 1979. She was with her mother, Nancy Wells, who was attending a child custody hearing. Moore offered to watch Corfman while her mother went inside. The two chatted, and Moore asked if he could call her sometime. Corfman gave him her phone number, she says, and the two made plans to meet. Moore picked her up around the corner from her house and drove her to his home:

Roy Moore, a man accused of having a sexual encounter with a 14 year old girl, and accused of other predatory acts against older teenagers and young women, is poised to be elected to the US Senate from Alabama. This is the same man who, TWICE, was removed from the bench in his home state for his failure to uphold the US Constitution.

For the unanimous members of the Alabama Court of Judiciary that ousted him from the bench — twice — it was not Moore’s substantive views but his sheer lack of integrity and impartiality. In a 50-page final judgment against him last year, phrases like “grossly inconsistent with his duties” and “incomplete, misleading and manipulative” leap out.

Yet, despite what his home state jurists think of him, Alabama voters are likely to make Roy Moore a Senator while Al Franken, for the foreseeable future, will be a pariah.

Franken is far from blameless. While working as a comedian in 2006, Franken posed for a photo that came to light at the very moment when the country’s consciousness was being awakened about the way men have mistreated women in workplaces from the time women were allowed in workplaces.


Juvenile. Idiotic. Embarrassing. Damaging beyond repair.

Another irony is that Franken has a laudable record as an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and likely sees the attention being paid to the issue of sexual harassment as a good thing for women and for the country. Which it no doubt is.

Whether you think it’s fair or not that Franken receives the political death penalty, it’s clear his continued presence in the Senate, at a time when new charges, all of them far less serious than those made against Moore, are being made against him, makes the Democrats look hypocritical if they tolerate Franken while opposing Moore.

If decency mattered in politics, Roy Moore would have folded his tent when he was unable to convincingly deny to Sean Hannity that he, as a man in his 30s, had a thing for young teenage girls.

If decency mattered, the country would be not be led by a man who was caught bragging about sexually assaulting young women and who remains accused of assault by at least a dozen women.

Franken could do do what Moore and Trump have done: refuse to listen to supporters who find the whole business unacceptably tawdry and just stick it out.

Bill Clinton left office with a 65 percent approval rating, about 28 points higher than the approval number for the current president. It seems time heals, if you have the stomach for it.

Al Franken was a good Senator who spoke up for people who couldn’t speak for themselves.

His unique combination of intelligence and humor made him a formidable opponent for the current administration which, with each passing day, behaves outrageously to the point it’s almost impossible to satirize. A world-class satirist could have been a perfect opponent for this White House.

Decades ago, Franken had a recurring bit on Saturday Night Live about the 1980s being the “Al Franken Decade.”

Ironically, not long ago, the decade we currently are in looked like it might become the Franken Decade for real. His unusual life story, his success as a Senator and his ability to use his show business past and his natural intelligence to communicate on a variety of issues seemed to make him a perfect politician for the era of Trump.

There were even people talking about Franken for President in 2020.

That’s not going to happen. Al Franken is about to exit the political stage. Will he have a third act?

More importantly, who is going to step up to articulate important issues and stop the erosion of democracy that Donald Trump seems intent on completing?





Chipping away at Cooperstown’s “character clause”

Until recently, I was adamantly opposed to allowing Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and other proven steroid “cheaters” to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

My opposition was based on the way these players shredded the baseball record book.

Before steroids, team and league records were only sporadically approached and were rarely reached or exceeded because, through the eras, players remained about the same size with about the same skills. They improved, but incrementally.

The “great” players among the “good” players were the future Hall of Famers.

Along came steroids and suddenly, after undergoing major physical changes, very good  or even great, players became great home run hitters. In Clemens’ case, a pitcher in his mid-30s, who appeared to have reached the end of a great career, became dominant again in his late 30s and early 40s.

That doesn’t happen without help.




Rules for getting into the Hall include what is often called the “character clause.” 

“Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

The “character clause” kept these superstars out of the Hall of Fame despite statistics that dwarf those of most of the Hall’s members.

What makes the exclusion of the “steroid cheaters” problematic is that the Hall, from the beginning, has admitted some pretty terrible people. For example, look at Cap Anson.

Anson starred for the 19th century Chicago National League team, then called the White Stockings, and had a long-lasting impact on Major League Baseball.

“An 1883 exhibition game in Toledo, Ohio, between the local team and the White Stockings nearly ended before it began when Anson angrily refused to take the field against Toledo’s African-American catcher, Moses Fleetwood Walker. Faced with the loss of gate receipts, Anson relented after a loud protest, but his bellicose attitude made Anson, wittingly or not, the acknowledged leader of the segregation forces already at work in the game. Other players and managers followed Anson’s lead, and similar incidents occurred with regularity for the rest of the decade…

Moses Fleetwood Walker was the first black major leaguer. Anson’s protest made him the last until Jackie Robinson, whom baseball in the past 20 years turned into a cause for celebration with little castigation of its role in Robinson getting an opportunity to play baseball only as a racial guinea pig.

If character mattered, Cap Anson wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer. Yet, he was admitted in 1939. This always made the position against steroid users in the Hall harder to defend.

In addition, recent Hall inductees included players rumored to have used performance-enhancing drugs.

Time heals, I suppose. On-the-field accomplishments certainly prove Bonds, Clemens and McGwire were great players and I’m no longer sure they failed the Hall’s “character” test.

Not if Chipper Jones is about to be welcomed with open arms.

Jones, the former Atlanta Braves third baseman, unquestionably, had a stellar career.

Jones is a slam-dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer. A career .303/.401/.529 hitter, he is one of just seven players in Major League history to finish his career with a .300 average, .400 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage over 10,000 or more plate appearances. The other six (Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth and Frank Thomas) are all in the Hall of Fame. 

Here’s the thing: Could a person of good character have issued this tweet?


As it turned out, there was plenty of outrage, all of it directed at Chipper Jones for repeating the malicious lie about the Sandy Hook Massacre. Jones deleted the tweet and “apologized.”

He needed to research to find out what happened at Sandy Hook? Really?

Only a heartless idiot, a person of no moral character, would have believed and spread the obscene lie that Sandy Hook was a hoax. His apology is worthless and probably related directly to the impending Hall of Fame voting.

The first-ballot acceptance of Chipper Jones into the very exclusive club will prove once and forever that character doesn’t matter.

I have never accepted Barry Bonds as “Major League Baseball’s Home Run King.” That probably will never change, certainly not as long as Hank Aaron is alive.

However, there is no reason to block these great players, who also happen to be cheaters, from The Hall. The “character clause” is meaningless when someone capable of posting such a hateful message to the world is easily accepted into the “Hallowed Hall.”

So, come on in, Barry, Roger and Mark. All is (mostly) forgiven.

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McBarronBlog Bonus:

Founded in 2013 in memory of Ana Grace Márquez-Greene, The Ana Grace Project was born as a response to the tragedy that took her life in Sandy Hook, CT on 12/14/12. The Ana Grace Project is dedicated to promoting love, community and connection for every child and family through three lead initiatives: partner schools, professional development, and music & arts. Learn more


We were the champions, my friends

Photo: AP
Barring a series-delaying earthquake, the Chicago Cubs are about to become “former World Series Champions.”

The Cubs’ reign will end the moment the last out of the seventh game of the 2017 World Series is recorded.

That’s sports. You try to win every year. If you actually manage to win it all, you revel in the victory for a relatively short time, then try to do it again.

No matter how many titles you won, those titles are still in the past.

You can’t live in the past.

Sure, I will always fondly remember the 2016 Cubs. I’ll never forget how they built on the success of the 2015 team, which arrived in the post season at least a year earlier than expected and won a divisional series before falling to the Mets in the NLCS.

They came into 2016 with a target on their back and with players on teams with more recent success suggesting expectations would crush the young Cubs.

“It’s unchartered territory, at least for me,’’ Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter said. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve always been the team to beat. It’s been our division. People are always coming to get us.

“Now, everybody’s real high on the Cubs. We get that. But it will be interesting to see how the Cubs handle that expectation.

As it turned out, they handled it real well.

But none of that mattered in 2017. The Cubs, with most of the same players, were good enough to win their division but not good enough to beat the Dodgers for the pennant.

While the 2016 championship reign is now a part of history, all Cubs fans can enjoy the fact that the idiotic talk about goats and curses is over forever (just don’t look too closely at the Championship Ring).

Decades ago, a fan of a team known for wearing red promised me “The Cubs will never win in your lifetime,” 

Knowing he’s had a real shitty year makes me smile. 

But we’re looking forward. The Cubs reign is over until the next championship. 

Which will be every bit as glorious as the last one.


McBarronBlog Bonus

In 1987, with Harry Carey recovering from a stroke, lifelong fan Bill Murray did color for an entire tv broadcast. It was classic.


Born to be reviled

Screen Shot

The kickoff of Governor Rauner’s reelection campaign was unusual.

Not because his Harley was the focus of his new campaign video; that’s been done tons of times by politicians who want to claim “man (or woman) of the people” status.

It wasn’t because his video contains an attack on Speaker Michael Madigan.  Rauner began attacking Madigan as a candidate and  continued to do on an almost daily basis.

No, it was unusual because an incumbent seeking reelection usually campaigns on accomplishments. “You’re gonna get more of that good stuff I gave you the last time” is what you expect from someone seeking to be returned to office.

Unfortunately, that’s where Bruce Rauner comes up way short.

Governor Rauner’s key accomplishments so far include a budget stalemate that lasted more than two years, the passage, over his veto, of a much-needed tax increase and the signing of an education funding bill he initially opposed.

Phil Kadner sees the hypocrisy…

That evil Michael Madigan fellow, he actually rescued the state financially by signing off on an income tax increase. Rauner couldn’t stop that, but he’s willing to take credit for the financial windfall, while ripping Madigan.

Even before his re-election video aired, he was bragging in a TV commercial about increasing the state’s education funding to record levels. That wouldn’t have been possible without that income tax hike.

Rauner doesn’t expect people to make the connection.

He’s going to claim he helped the school kids of this state by signing off on a historic school funding reform bill and is Mr. Public Education.

Every politician in Illinois uses the school kids of this state like toilet paper, so Rauner isn’t unique. He’s just the latest in a long line of Democrats and Republicans who have misled voters.

“I choose to fight” is the new Rauner rallying cry.

Rauner also promised to “fight” the first time he ran. It hasn’t worked out because:

He’s not good at fighting,

He’s fighting for the wrong things,

He’s fighting for (and against) the wrong people.

Riding a Harley doesn’t make you a regular guy.

Dramatically removing your sunglasses doesn’t make you a fighter.

Betting $65 million that voters will develop mass amnesia is not a winning strategy.

I hope.

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McBarronBlog Bonus:

Tribune report on Rauner reelection campaign

Scott Stantis cartoon

Video of what should have happened when the governor took off his sunglasses


Add Illinois Constitution to “Not respected by Gov. Rauner” list


Our governor has a problem and he wants Congress to fix it for him.

Bruce Rauner’s problem is that he is deeply unpopular with Illinois voters.

The poll was conducted by Normington Petts and the findings were outlined in a memo released by the DGA, which show just 34 percent of likely Illinois voters approve of Rauner’s job performance while 63 percent disapprove.

Rauner, who spent most of the summer making a series of highly embarrassing hiring decisions, has decided he needs to do something to improve his numbers. So, he’s going after public employee pensions. Again.

You certainly remember that the Illinois Supreme Court sided with the public employee unions in 2015, ruling the Illinois Constitution means what it says.

"Membership in any pension or retirement system of the
State ....shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, 
the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired."

That seems clear, unless you are a union-hating midwestern governor.

In that case, you might latch on to a scheme promoted by the conservative Manhattan Institute which would have Congress allow the General Assembly to ignore the Illinois Constitution if pensions are placing a financial hardship on the state.

Yes, owing to the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Congress does have the authority to override the pension protection clause of the Illinois Constitution — the wording that says participation in a public pension system is “an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.” That is, Congress can empower the Illinois legislature to make the changes to state and municipal pensions that the Illinois Supreme Court has blocked.

And yes, pensions to current and future retirees could be affected, depending on how the state legislature wants to reform the system.

The governor shared this big idea with business people recently…

The governor thinks Congress can release the state from that restriction by passing a law that would give states permission to come up with cost-saving changes to their pension programs. The option would be available to states only after they had established that spending money on workers’ retirement plans is hampering other essential services. 

After conducting hearings, a state would have to propose its changes to a court, which would hear arguments from people who would be affected. Options could include reducing benefits provided under a pension plan, changing the way benefits are calculated or limiting the number of pensions a person can collect.

This line of reasoning ignores something the Illinois Supreme Court, in 2015, did not; the state’s financial problems are self-inflicted and addressable. 

The justices went so far as to fault lawmakers for failing to keep in place a 2011 temporary income tax hike that boosted the personal tax rate to 5 percent. At the start of the year, the tax increase automatically phased down to 3.75 percent for individuals, costing the state $4 billion in annual revenue. Much of the tax increase was used to make the state’s share of pension payments during those four years.

“The General Assembly could also have sought additional tax revenue. While it did pass a temporary income tax increase, it allowed the increased rate to lapse to a lower rate even as pension funding was being debated and litigated,” Karmeier wrote.

The governor expressed hope the measure allowing Congress to tear up the state Constitution could be rolled into tax reform legislation being discussed in Washington.

Is that realistic? Perhaps not. But as the Tribune story hints, maybe that’s not the point.

Even if the appeal to the federal government goes nowhere, it allows Rauner to tell voters he has a plan for dealing with the pension problem.

While the prospects for this scheme to move forward are far from clear, there are some  things of which all Illinoisans can be certain:

The governor doesn’t respect the Illinois Supreme Court.

The governor doesn’t respect the Illinois Constitution.

The governor doesn’t respect working people, especially those who belong to unions.

Hold that thought. The election is less than 13 months away.