Enchanting Racism

Cover of "The Rodgers & Hammerstein Colle...

Cover via Amazon

A week ago, I was cleaning my office and found a bare DVD disk of the movie ‘South Pacific.’ The backside was all scratched up. Should I find a jacket for it, or toss it? In order to make a good decision, I watched the movie.

WOW! What a fantastic story. I had forgotten the plot, but recalled of it from a reading of James Michener‘s book ‘Tales of the South Pacific.’ I love James Michener books. The first one I read was ‘Poland.’ A Polish friend loaned it to me. My wife Barbara was Polish and I wanted to learn all about her heritage. As are most of Michener’s books, this one was over a thousand pages. I was riveted to the narrative for three days, finishing five hundred pages before getting tired. I set the book down on the end table to keep it handy. The book lie there for a solid year before I picked it up again on a summer weekend that was too hot and humid to go outside.  I read the remaining five hundred pages.

I fell in love with Michener’s style and the historical perspective he gave to his writing. The jacket cover on Poland mentioned him as a Pulitzer Prize winning author. I searched for the book that got him the prize, it was ‘Tales of the South Pacific.’ This story was one of his earliest. Contrary to later works, his early books were only three hundred pages. When I finished ‘Tales of the South Pacific,’ I had a clear understanding of the conditions our service people lived through in the Pacific during WWII.

Not all sailors were involved on carriers and cruisers fighting the Japanese. A large number were stationed on remote islands that were thousands of miles from home. They served as maintenance, supply, and hospital stations for those who engaged in battle. Needless to say, when there was no ship to service, these men and women let their own creativity fend the boredom of remote island living. Michener’s narrative of their exploits are both hilarious, and sad, but always factual and entertaining.

The movie, ‘South Pacific,’ is Michener’s story. Rogers and Hammerstein adapted the characters and derived the plot directly from ‘Tales of the South Pacific.’ I was amazed at how closely they followed Michener’s work. He included a racial theme in the story, and it was probably one of the first times we got a dose of reality on the racism that existed in our country during the nineteen fifties, and how the distance from home allowed some service people to break barriers.

Roger’s and Hammerstein wrote it as a musical play, and staged it on Broadway where it stayed for many years, finally  making it into the movie.  It became one of the best-loved films of all time. If you watch this movie, and don’t leave it humming, or singing Some Enchanted Evening, you are not alive.

I found a jacket for the DVD and placed in the library with all of  my classics.

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