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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Nicholas Stix
Bio: Nicholas Stix
Date:  July 1, 2024
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Max Steiner, the Million Dollar Movie, and Working-Class Heroes

Max Steiner (1888-1971)

By Nicholas Stix

Many movie lovers consider the main theme to Gone with the Wind, “Tara,” the greatest movie theme of them all, and its composer, Max Steiner, the father of movie music.


Steiner was aware of the plaudits, but humbly refused the honor, insisting that Wagner (1813-1883) was the father of movie music, particularly through the Saxon’s use of leit-motifs. (I can’t call Wagner a “German,” because in his prime, Germany was yet to come into being. That would not occur until 1871, late in the Teuton’s life.)

Richard Wagner

As a child, I never saw Gone with the Wind (1939), the picture that the late film historian Robert Osborne considered the greatest movie of them all.

By the time I saw it for the first time, it was 1980, and I was 21. A dear friend of mine, Sharon, had learned that GWTW was to be broadcast, uncut, on one of the big TV networks, over the course of two nights.

There was a room in SUNY Stony Brook’s Student Union, which had a huge, heavy TV set (though not nearly as big as today’s flat screen monsters, of which the Stix family owns two) suspended from the ceiling, and set on a large stand.

That I was madly in love with Sharon, was fitting. You should see Gone with the Wind with someone you love.

The feeling was not mutual, and yet that my love was unrequited did not drive me to despair.

We had met on the LIRR, at the beginning of my first semester at SUSB, in early September, 1978. Sharon was commuting from her family’s house in Levittown, Nassau County, while I was briefly staying at my big sister’s apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, as I hunted for an apartment.

I believe she was studying physical (upper) or occupational (lower) therapy. She was already betrothed to a rabbinical student, who was away in Israel.

Sharon had grown up secular, a child of the working class, but had had a religious awakening.

Her father was a skinny malink who worked in a factory for Grumman Aircraft. Mr. S had grown up during the Great Depression, and never put on weight, but in seeking to compensate for the poverty he’d known, would buy “pop” and ice cream by the case, thereby causing his two pretty daughters to frequently get chubby, and have to go on diets.

Sharon would later tell me of how I reminded her of her father, who would also get into long, involved conversations with total strangers with whom he’d just crossed paths.

(I met Mr. S when Sharon and I went to a Fleetwood Mac concert at the Nassau Coliseum, in the fall of 1979. She had me over to her house in Levittown, where I met the whole family. I don’t remember Mrs. S, but I do recall that Sharon had a cutie-pie of a younger sister.

Sharon was very neurotic about washing food, especially lettuce, adequately.)

That fall, we stayed on campus and fasted for Yom Kippur, under the guidance of Chabad-Lubavitcher schliach (missionary), Tuvia Teldin. While at SUSB, I considered two men my rabbis: Tuvia and Gershon Winkler, who was “straight” Orthodox.

It was during Yom Kippur that I told Sharon that I was in love with her.

She couldn’t have been shocked, and I expected nothing in return. I just wanted her to know.

As it turned out, Gone with the Wind was everything it was cooked up to be.

I still recall the camera showing an extreme close-up of starving protagonist Scarlett O’Hara, at the end of Part I (after the fall of “the Lost Cause”), I believe, in bizarre colors (twilight?), ripping a large turnip from the ground at Tara, the O’Hara family estate, and shouting (not screaming), as she bit into it, “I swear by God before me, I shall never go hungry again!”

And what a title invalid Southern belle Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949) had given what would prove to be her only work!

Although Victor Fleming (1889-1949) would win the Oscar for Best Director for helming the massive undertaking of the man we Stixes call “Zero,” because David O. Selznick’s middle initial stands for nothing, with all due respect to the memory of Vic Fleming (who also directed The Wizard of Oz that year!), at least 13 different men directed Gone with the Wind, including Zero, and its ultimate director, I believe, was none other than David O. Selznick (1902-1965) himself.

Still, given that Selznick won the Oscar for Best Picture as producer, it’s fit and proper that Vic Fleming won the Oscar that year for Best Director. (Zero would repeat his feat the following year, with Rebecca. He remains the only producer who has ever pulled off Best Picture winners in consecutive years.)

And the whole show began with that amazing theme, which I realized I’d heard before. (Granted, the composer was the last man to work on the picture.)

It would be over 30 years before I would again see Gone with the Wind, on DVD, with the person I love the most, my chief of research. (As much as The Boss and I love each other, we have long agreed that each loves my CoR more than he loves the other.)

When I was seven and eight years of age and in the second grade, I lived with Nana. Initially, I had been sent to live with my public school teacher Aunt Ruth (the eldest of Nana’s three children) and Trinidadian civil engineer Uncle Frank, who worked for The Phone Company. Both were good Stalinists. However, that didn’t work out. I would sit on the toilet in their lovely, compact, Levitt house in Bellmore, Long Island, and say to myself, “They hate me, they hate me, they hate me.”

I had thought I was whispering, until one day Aunt Ruth said to me, “We don’t hate you, Nick.”

But they did! (The only reason I remember my mutterings, is because Aunt Ruth brought them up.)

Meanwhile, my big sister was staying with Nana, whom she hated.

And so, a trade was arranged. Big Sis and I were swapped.

It was the most felicitous trade imaginable. Big Sis loved Aunt Ruth, and became a Stalinist, and I loved Nana, and became cantankerous, or at least was permitted to live in comfort with my character, at least as long as I was in Apartment 202, in The Buckingham, at East 170 Broadway, in Long Beach, N.Y.

I was then in the second grade at the East School, in Miss Weyman’s class. Miss Weyman was the only homeroom teacher I ever had who liked me. She even fixed it so that I was elected classroom president. (Once, when I was cutting class in the ninth grade by the administrative offices, my Irish guidance counselor, who was married to one of my gym teachers, saw me and invited me in to her office. There, she sat down with me, opened my personal files, and read me the annual evaluations of my homeroom teachers.)

Every day, I would come home from school, and Nana and I would watch pictures from the 1930s and early ‘40s, on WOR-TV’s Million Dollar Movie, on Channel 9 in the New York metropolitan area. The movie moguls of Hollywood’s Golden Age had built movie palaces all over the country, where people could go with loved ones and, for a few hours, forget their personal misery.

Nana’s bedroom was our movie palace! We watched classic pictures on her old, black & white Zenith.

One of the earliest pictures I saw with Nana was The House of Rothschild (1934), about the Jewish banking dynasty, starring George Arliss, a grand stage star who easily transitioned to making sound biopics. However, Arliss was too old to have much of a career as a movie star. (And the picture was so long ago that I had to look up its name and year.)
One time when we were watching the 1939 William Dieterle masterpiece of Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (starring The Man of the Thirties, Charles Laughton, 1899-1962), I learned Nana’s second favorite phrase in the English language: “Now, there’s a character actor.”

Thomas Mitchell had just taken center stage, as King of the Beggars.

Nana’s favorite English language phrase was simply, “Jimmy Stewart.”

While she didn’t know all the particulars of Stewart’s wartime service, which Jimmy himself refused to talk about, Nana had to know that America’s greatest leading man had also been a great war hero. But then, we were a nation of war heroes.

My first movie stars were Ronald Colman and Norma Shearer.

I saw Ronald Colman, he of the classically handsome face with the beautiful voice, in The Light that Failed (1939), about a great painter who is going blind; as the noble hero in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1935), who gave up his life to save another's; in the swashbuckler, The Prisoner of Zenda and Capra’s film of Hilton’s Lost Horizon, both in 1937. In Horizon, Colman’s hero was destroyed by his hubris, his attempt to leave Shangri-La, but without giving up his great love, whom he had met there.

Ronald Colman and Ida Lupino in The Light that Failed

I saw Norma Shearer in The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), about the (real) bed-ridden poet Elizabeth Barrett, who fell in love with, and eventually married the poet Robert Browning (Fredric March), over the objections of her ogreish father, played by, of course, Charles Laughton. I later learned about the French Revolution through the Shearer vehicle, Marie Antoinette (1938).

Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette

But I had no great passion for Norma Shearer. My first great love, rather, was Margaret Sullavan.

To my mind’s eye, I’d seen countless Margaret Sullavan pictures. However, when I checked her credits, there were only three that I’d seen at the time: Three Comrades (1938); The Mortal Storm (1940); and And so Ends Our Night (1941).

All three pictures warned of the coming catastrophe, which in 1939 would hit the Continent.

In real life, Sullavan was in love with Jimmy Stewart, and he with her. However, they were never in love with each other at the same time, and so they never became a couple.

Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart, in The Mortal Storm. In a scene like this one, they didn’t have to act much.

She never made that many pictures, leaving Tinseltown to return to the legitimate stage, marrying her producer, Leland Hayward (#3), bearing him three children, and while with her fourth husband, Kenneth Arthur Wagg, going deaf and mad and committing suicide at 50 on New Year’s Day, 1960 (barbiturates). (She had previously briefly been married to Hank Fonda and Willie Wyler.)

I’m sure Nana knew, but she spared me the news.

I remember little of most of those pictures. First, there’s the age factor. I saw them almost 60 years ago. Additionally, there’s the butchery factor. WOR had an employee whose job consisted of chopping out scenes, so that each picture would fit into its narrow time slot, with sufficient time for commercials, whenever things got interesting.

And so Ends Our Night was a story about a group of anti-Nazi refugees. Everything in the story revolved around the hero (Fredric March), who was named Steiner, and who at the end of the story returned to Nazi Germany, on a sabotage mission that could well cost him his life.

However, with all the butchering, every single scene in which Freddie March appeared, was deleted!
But the one thing I remember was the way in which all of the other characters said his name, “Steiner,” as if it were magical.


However, the real heroine in our little movie palace was the pretty old lady sitting on the overstuffed, beautifully upholstered chair in the corner on the left. (I sat at her card table on the right.) She bestrode my world like a 4’11,” 98 lb. colossus.

Someone at WOR had a grand inspiration. At the end of every afternoon’s broadcast, the station would show an old film clip from a New York City train station, in which a faceless set of hands would fill up one paper cup after another with coffee from a huge, steel urn, and hand them to one set of faceless hands after another, working-class heroes all.

And during the entire passage, the viewer would be treated to a musical piece of overwhelming power, whose source was unknown to me: It was the main theme, “Tara,” from Gone with the Wind.


Nicholas Stix
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Biography - Nicholas Stix

Award-winning, New York-based freelancer Nicholas Stix founded A Different Drummer magazine (1989-93). Stix has written for Die Suedwest Presse, New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, Middle American News, Toogood Reports, Insight, Chronicles, the American Enterprise, Campus Reports, VDARE, the Weekly Standard, Front Page Magazine, Ideas on Liberty, National Review Online and the Illinois Leader. His column also appears at Men's News Daily, MichNews, Intellectual Conservative, Enter Stage Right and OpinioNet. Stix has studied at colleges and universities on two continents, and earned a couple of sheepskins, but he asks that the reader not hold that against him. His day jobs have included washing pots, building Daimler-Benzes on the assembly-line, tackling shoplifters and teaching college, but his favorite job was changing his son's diapers.

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