The Moment the GOP Got Weird: Ethel Merman Sings at the Ronald Reagan Inauguration, 1981

August 10, 2009

In the process of my writing an article about a theater company made up of Latino day laborers in Los Angeles with the working title “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” I came across this video of Ethel Merman singing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Inauguration in 1981.

And it. Is. Weird.

The way the Marine escorts her pale, corpse-like body to the stage for her to sing to the President as if he were a King or Emperor… How the lyric “coming up” reminds me of Reagan’s paradoxical economic credo “trickle down”… The way she begins by saying “I had a dream about you” while pointing into the camera… Did David Lynch direct this thing? Because it scares the shit out of me.

The video demands some context. I know next to nothing about Merman and was a bit shocked to learn that she was a devout Republican bully since the McCarthy era.

According to Brian Kellow’s biography of the Grand Dame of the Broadway Stage, as she was known, during her run in Annie Get Your Gun, Merman silenced one of the featured players in the show by threatening to have him fired if he marched in a Communist Parade in New York in 1950.

“You march in that parade and you’ll never get a job anywhere else I work. I don’t care what you do anywhere else. But not in my show. I’m an American citizen, and I’m proud of it. And if you don’t like working here for a very good salary…”

The Communist player, Danny Nagrin, subsequently did not march in the parade and then to one-up the Reds, Merman blessed the Loyalty Day Parade down Fifth Avenue by serving as its Queen.

As the Republican Party floods town hall meetings this August with arch opponents of health care reform and whips the mob into a froth by advocating aggressive behavior to disrupt free speech (and no doubt using the First Amendment to defend their ridiculous behavior), it’s worth nothing that bullies like Merman are what makes the Republican Party the Republican Party. Always have. Always will.

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