Saturday, September 24, 2016

Paulette Spescha-Montibert writes


come my child
jump up to my back
let's go
you are no burden, you
you are a bird
come on little one
let's go
let's fly

-- Van B. Hooper 


  1. “Pickaback” is a folk alteration of “pick pack” (dating from the 1560s), which itself derived from “pick,” a dialectal variant of the verb “pitch.” In the US it is usually transformed into “piggyback,” a reference to carrying someone else, especially a young child, on one’s back, and has come to mean the transportation of goods where one transportation unit is carried on the back of something else, such as carrying semi-trailers on the flatcar of a train, as well as a shareholder selling rights or a person with bad credit using someone else’s line of credit; the intentional or unintentional allowance of unauthorized people to pass through a secure door; an astrophotographic technique; an electronic daughterboard; a second infusion set onto an intravenous line; or (plash cymbal piggybacking), mounting a cymbal on top of an already stand-mounted one.

  2. One of the most enduring songs of the 1960s, with many popular covers, most recently in connection with wounded soldiers, was “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” The Hollies’ guitarist Tony Hicks heard the demo, and the band decided to record it after Joe Cocker had already turned it down. They paid Reginald Dwight 12 pounds to play piano on the recording (later, he would do much better financially, but he had to change his name to Elton John first). The record was released in the UK on 1 September 1969 (reaching #3 on the charts) and two months later in the US (#7), and when re-released in the UK, following its use in a television advertisement for Miller Lite beer, it held the #1 spot for two weeks in September 1988. It was co-written by Bobby Scott (of “A Taste of Honey” fame) and Bob Russell (“Little Green Apples”), who died from cancer of the lymph nodes at 55 in February 1970. The two had been introduced to each other at a nightclub by Johnny Mercer, but they only met in person three times due to Russell’s illness. The title itself was not new; in 1884 James Wells, in “The Parables of Jesus,” wrote about a little girl carrying a big baby boy and saying, "No, he's not heavy; he's my brother;" in 1918, Ralph Waldo Trine, in “The Higher Powers of Mind and Spirit,” repeated the incident, but inh his version the girl replied, “He's na heavy. He's mi brither." In 1924, in the “Kiwanis” magazine, Roe Fulkerson wrote about a spindly boy carrying a baby and saying (for the first time using the exact words), "He ain't heavy, he's my brother." And in 1926, Mary Pickford, the most popular silent-film actress, carried a child on her back, saying, “Thanks Mister, but I don’t need any help. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

  3. But the most influential use of the phrase was as the fund-raising slogan for Boys Town. Immediately after being ordained as a Catholic priest in 1912, Edward J. Flanagan was sent as an assistant pastor to O'Neill, Nebraska, in the US, and then to nearby Omaha, where, in 1917, he founded an orphanage for homeless boys. Four years later, he founded the City of Little Men, 10 miles west of Omaha, and developed new juvenile-care methods that emphasized social preparation as a model for public boys' homes worldwide. Flanagan did not believe in the reform school model, insisting, "There's no such thing as a bad boy." Under his direction, Boys Town, as it became known, became a large community with its own boy-mayor, schools, chapel, post office, cottages, gymnasium, and other facilities where boys between the ages of 10 and 16 could receive an education and learn a trade. A 1938 movie, “Boys Town,” featured two of the most popular American film stars of the time, Spencer Tracy (who won an Oscar for Best Actor as Flanagan) and Mickey Rooney as one of the boys, Whitey Marsh. The film was written by Dore Schary and Eleanore Griffin (Oscars for Best Writing, Original Story), and John Meehan, and was directed by Norman Taurog (nominated for Best Director). The film was a massive hit, earning MGM over $2 million in profit and a nomination for Outstanding Production. Louis B. Mayer claimed that it was his favorite among the movies he was responsible for as head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. When Tracy accepted his Oscar, he devoted his entire acceptance speech to Flanagan, saying, "If you have seen him through me, then I thank you." The next day, an MGM publicist announced that Tracy was donating his award to Flanagan, but Tracy balked unless he got a replacement. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences agreed, sending a statuette to Boys Town that read, "To Father Flanagan, whose great humanity, kindly simplicity, and inspiring courage were strong enough to shine through my humble effort. Spencer Tracy.” (Tracy’s replacement award read, "Best Actor - Dick Tracy.") A 1941 Taurog-directed sequel, “Men of Boys Town” (written by James Kevin McGuinness) also featured Tracy and Rooney; it was not an Oscar contender, but was the 9th most popular film at the box office that year, taking in over $2 million. The movie was memorable because it made a reference to "He ain't heavy, Father, he's my brother," which became the charity’s slogan in 1943. According to Flanagan, in 1918 Howard Loomis, who had polio and wore heavy leg braces, was abandoned by his mother at what was then called Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys. One day, Flanagan asked Reuben Granger, one of the older boys who carried Loomis around, about it, and Reuben replied (of course), “He ain’t heavy, Father… he’s m’ brother.” Years later, Flanagan came across a line drawing by Van B. Hooper of a young boy carrying his brother on his back in the Christmas 1941 edition of the corporate magazine, “Louis Allis Messenger,” and received permission in 1943 to recreate it in color, with Reuben’s remark as its caption.


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