Twenty All Time Great Americans
FROM A CRY FOR LIBERTY TO LANDING A MAN ON THE MOON
20 PAST AND PRESENT AMERICANS WORTH REMEMBERING
Jazz is an American form of music celebrated in all its forms throughout the world. Perhaps American greats of Jazz such as Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane deserve a mention here.
There's a marvelous documentary series on this very American musical art form simply titled Jazz.
I grew up in a time when American fantasy shows such as Bewitched, I Dream of Jeanie, and The Flying Nun were popular. There was also Science Fiction.
Science fiction first took off with the French and the English. By the 1950s, however, American writers had not only caught up but had overtaken the others.
Today throughout the world warp drive, though fictional, is as familiar as the concept of television. Out of the notion of a western in space came Roddenberry's Star Trek.
The fact that Roddenberry's vision has yet again been revived and that there are now fresh Star Trek films out there should say something.
There have also been Star Trek novels written in our 21st Century and publish with all that one could ask from such science fiction.
The Vanguard Star Trek book series is a great example.
Star Trek television shows such as Voyager continue to be shown on television in Australia and other parts of the world.
There has been some debate over the years as to whether there really was a moon landing. The 1978 movie Capricorn One makes much of the idea of faking a landing, this time on Mars rather than the moon. I do, however, believe that the moon landing really did take place. Will the red Chinese in years to come make such a landing on the moon? There is that possibility.
It is sad to say that, of the men who were put on the moon, one is no longer with us. Neil Armstrong will be remembered.
Of the artists of the 20th Century Norman Rockwell is best known for putting his stamp on American life and what is deemed to be American. His stamp, though pleasing to the eye, is rather conservative.
Norman Rockwell helped to make the image of Santa Claus as a jolly fat man in a red suit popular in the USA, Great Britain and Australia. The earlier German vision had Santa in a brown suit.
In compiling a list of great Americans I am not likely to get everyone's favorites but hopefully I will get at least one of your top personal twenty. The truth be told, the USA has been around long enough to accrue quite a few heroes not to mention movers and shakers.
I will mention Americans that have in some way affected my life plus Americans that have touched us all. I think this is a fair enough approach. They are not in any special order of excellence.
All have one thing in common. They have shaped our views on what the USA is like and also our views on what the USA might be like in the future.
ALL AMERICANS SHOULD HAVE THE SAME FREEDOMS!
1. JOHN F. KENNEDY
He was president of the USA at a time of great change. He was the first Catholic president and a radical the FBI and the CIA were not crazy about.
He pushed for equal rights for all Americans and this may have been one of the top reasons for his assassination.
Legend has it in the comic book industry that he inspired the return of the superhero. He was in many respects an heroic president so that tends to fit.
Often Kennedy was described as a modern American version of King Arthur. The White House was sometimes described as the 20th Century version of Camelot.
Certainly the comic book superhero did prosper under his presidency.
There's a fun Red Dwarf episode where Kennedy is talked into assassinating himself so that his legacy might live on. Kennedy was all for sending a man to the moon not because it would be an easy thing to do but that it would be a supremely worthwhile thing to do.
Today there is an airport named after Kennedy.
WILD WORLDS AND EVEN WILDER ALIENS!
2. JACK KIRBY
Born in New York on August 1917, Jack Kirby made his mark as an illustrator and cartoonist. He did some marvelous work with Joe Simon in the 1940s. This included work on Captain America. But is perhaps best remembered for his work at Marvel in the 1960s and '70s.
Kirby's characters were larger than life. He excelled in creating futuristic looking cars and space vessels even back in the 1940s. Many of these drawings still stand up today as highly imaginative and futuristic looking.
Kirby's collaboration with Stan Lee over The Fantastic Four is legend in the comic book business.
Kirby worked for a while for D.C. but in my opinion his best work was for Marvel.
He has inspired artists throughout the world with his great body of work which includes Captain America, the Hulk, the Avengers and the Inhumans.
There have been numerous Fantastic Four animation plus two live actor movies.
Whenever I see a round shield with the colors of the American flag on it Jack definitely springs to mind.
Gene Colan art is inspirational
3. GENE COLAN
Gentleman Gene Colan's career as an illustrator started before the 2nd World War broke out for the USA and was interrupted by his time in the military during that war.
Even so, Colan developed a technique of illustration that was more about the ebb and flow of the action of the unfolding story than an attempt to capture a fictional moment in space and time.
Anyone who has studied and enjoyed the work of the French artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec should check out Gene's work on Marvel Comics' Daredevil and Tomb of Dracula. Gene could draw the most enticingly beautiful women or, going the other way, the most repellent of hags.
Of course it really is impossible to get a line drawing to move unless accompanied by other line drawings. Even so, the very illusion of movement, which Gene was a master of, really is something to behold. Born in 1926, I knew him briefly in correspondence as a great American as well as a great artist.
ROBERT E. LEE was a great leader!
4. ROBERT E. LEE
Born in 1807 Robert E. Lee had a rather distinguished and controversial career. He was a military genius who fought for the South during the American Civil War.
When war was breaking out President Lincoln wanted Lee to lead the North to victory but he couldn't go against Virginia. He didn't believe in slavery or succession but he had to fight for the South because they were his people. The South was always at a disadvantage throughout the war in terms of numbers of fighting men, weapons and other resources. What they were not short on was military leaders worth their salt.
5. GEORGE WASHINGTON
George Washington was the first president of the USA. He believed the colonies should form the united states and that these united states should gain their freedom from Great Britain.
The War of Independence was hard fought and the odds were greatly against the colonists. It was through endurance that the colonists won and the USA established.
No taxation without representation was the cry to arms.
Washingtion was a man of vision and a great military leader. He was also a slave holder which today makes one question his ideas concerning freedom. Slaves who fought for the colonists against the British in the War of Independence were promised their freedom afterward.
The Pulp magazine age
6. ROBERT E. HOWARD
Born a Texan in 1906, Robert E. Howard is best known for his Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja and Solomon Kane stories.
There have been numerous Conan movies and at least one Conan cartoon series.
He wrote pulp fiction that is still with us today and, if you are keen on sword and sorcery, you really can't go past tales such as Red Nails (Conan adventure) and Red Shadows (Solomon Kane adventure) for excitement.
Howard is perhaps best known for his work on Weird Tales magazine.
One of America's Greatest Military Leaders
7. ULYSSES S. GRANT
Ulysses S. Grant was the general mainly responsible for bringing the American Civil War to a successful conclusion for the North.
Grant was a failure in civilian life but he led the North to ultimate victory. He understood how to win the war. He knew how to inspire the fighting man.
Grant became president of the USA but his presidency, despite the fact that he served two full terms, was not a great success.
Grant pushed for African American rights and fought against the Ku Klux Klan.
Grant died of throat cancer probably brought on by the cigars he had smoked. Many of these cigars were sent to him during the war by well-wishers.
8. ABRAHAM LINCOLN
Abraham Lincoln became president of the USA at a time of great turmoil in American history. He was against slavery but, at the same time, understood the slave holder. He had in-laws that owned slaves.
Unlike other politicians against slavery, he understood the complexities of the various issues involved in the slave trade.
The South was afraid of becoming impoverished through any freeing of the slaves. Southerners were also scared of being murdered in their beds if slaves were freed en masse.
Lincoln proposed a plan of having the government buy up the slaves over time from the slave holders and send them back to Africa or where ever else they had come from. This plan was not practical for a number of reasons.
For a start, many of the slaves had been born in the USA and so had their parents and their parents' parents. They had very little understanding of life in Africa and had little if any understanding of how to survive there. What's more, many of the tribes they had come from were no more and many of them would have faced hostile tribes upon their so-called return. Like it or not, the slaves were Americans in all but name.
It had been hoped that Lincoln's conservative approach to the issues driving the nation to civil war would help hold it together.
Lincoln had promised not to interfere with slavery where it existed but to prevent slavery from coming in where it didn't exist. During his presidency Lincoln was to break this promise. Once he became president he urged the South not to succeed from the union but southern states did so anyway.
After the war it had been hoped that Lincoln would have a second term as president a lot more peaceful than the first. Unfortunately, this was not to happen. In 1865 Lincoln went to Ford's Theater in Washington to check out a comedy. There he was assassinated by an actor who was also a drunk and a coward.
The Great Showman
9. STAN LEE
Born in New York in 1922, Stan Lee has quite a reputation as a comic book writer and editor. He helped to create the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and the Hulk.
He did his best work along side great artists such as Jack Kirby and Gene Colan in the 1960s and '70s even though his writing for the comics dates back to the 1940s.
Nowadays he can be occasionally glimpsed in movies where you have costumed characters of the Marvel variety. He has also been involved in 'reality' television. Perhaps he should best be thought of a great showman.
THE GREAT BIRD OF THE GALAXY BELIEVED IN EQUAL RIGHTS!
10. GENE RODDENBERRY
Gene Roddenberry was in law enforcement before he took to writing and eventually to the creation of Star Trek.
Today the Star Trek franchise is huge. With the original Star Trek, however, there was a real fight to get it on the air and to keep it on the air.
The first pilot for the show Star Trek was not a winner. It was said to be too intellectual. The powers that be did not like the idea of the number one being a woman and also did not like a pointy-eared alien being part of the bridge crew.
The success of Lost in Space prompted another look at Start Trek. A new pilot was commissioned and this time the green light was given for the making of the first season of the show. Roddenberry could not keep his number one as a female bridge officer directly under the captain. He did, however, manage to keep his pointy-eared alien crew member who came to be the Enterprise's number one.
Today a Caucasian man kissing an African American woman on television is no big deal. Back in the '60s it was considered highly radical and bound to upset viewers in the American south. There were those who urged Roddenberry not to let this happen in a Star Trek episode. The kiss between Kirk and Ohura went ahead anyway.
Gene Roddenberry believed in equality for all and in a future where we would all go out to the stars as one human family of explorers. colonizers, etc. He came to be known as The great bird of the Galaxy. Among his many fans he remains the great innovator of American television science fiction.
Whether a Klingon or a Voice, he is a great actor
11. MICHAEL DORN
Michael Dorn hit the big time when he was given the role of Worf on Star Trek - The Next Generation.
Dorn helped to establish the Klingons as a noble alien race of warriors fans of Star Trek came to love.
Dorn's gravelly voice has come to the fore in various cartoon outings including an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
Writer, Editor, Publisher
12. BARBARA CUSTER
Barbara Custer is an up and coming pulp style writer, editor and publisher.
Her novels include Twilight Healer (dark fantasy) and Starship Invasions with Tom Johnson (science fiction).
She has worked with a number of writers and artists over the years. Including Derek Muk and Lee Clark Zumpe.
Also Included in writers she knows would be New Zealand novelist Lyn McConchie who is best known for her fantasy fiction.
Lyn's Western, South of Rio Chama (2009) is well worth checking out.
Barbara in the 1990s, among other things, wrote for a small Australian magazine titled Prohibited Matter and also for its sister publication Masque Noir.
Barbara Custer works in a hospital and her knowledge of medicine and hospital procedures has come in handy in her writing over the years.
Twilight Healer could not have been written without such medical knowledge.
Barbara Custer puts out the magazine Night to Dawn.
In Night to Dawn there are stories about vampires, ghosts, the walking dead, zombies, and anything else that fits neatly into the realm of the supernatural.
There has even been one story about the Loch Ness Monster.
Barbara doesn't often publish novels with a western theme. The Gunslinger's Companion thus being rather unusual.
Desk job was one writer's attack upon the political correctness of the 1990s. It is set in Australia but could just as easily been set in the USA or the UK.
Desk Job is a novel inspired by greats such as Terry Pratchett and Lewis Carroll. There are dark fantasy elements that spice up the action.
The author also gives some credit for inspiration to Franz Kafka who knew the darkness in the soul and also how crazy government could get and does get even today.
The Race to the Moon
13. NEIL ARMSTRONG
In 1969 they did indeed put a man on the moon and the man was Neil Armstrong.
Buzz Aldrin also set foot on the moon.
The race to our nearest celestial neighbor had been won by the USA.
Among other things, this race with the Russians had given the USA a unique and somewhat new way of viewing our planet. We do indeed live on a blue planet.
The flight and landing on the moon were televised. One thing that made this possible was space technology used in Australia. And also Australian know how. Check out the Australian move The Dish (2000).
I had the afternoon off school just so I could watch the landing at home. I watched it on a black and white television set.
Even before she came out of the Bottle she was star material
14. BARBARA EDEN
Born in Arizona in 1934, Barbara Eden is best known for her role as Jeannie in I Dream of Jeannie. This is a show women liberationists have mixed feelings about. The general rule of thumb here is that those who haven't seen the show think it degrades women while those who have checked it out believe that it actually empowers women in a tongue-in-cheek fashion.
There are connections with this show in, of all places, the great Western television show Rawhide. One episode has a mischievous Barbara Eden in it as part of a con act. An even earlier episode has the 1854 song Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair by Stephen Foster sung by one of the drovers to a young girl. The opening line is: ' I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair.'
Barbara Eden was also in an episode of Perry Mason, the great fictional courtroom lawyer before appearing in I Dream of Jeannie.
Elizabeth had a great time starring in Bewitched
15. ELIZABETH MONTGOMERY
Elizabeth Montgomery is best known for her role as Samantha, the suburban witch, in the television show Bewitched.
Strangely enough, one of her first roles on television was in an episode of The Untouchables. I say strangely enough because actor Dick York, the man who played her mortal husband, Darren Stephens, in Bewitched also starred in an episode of The Untouchables. It just didn't happen to be the one Elizabeth was in.
She also played a feisty role in an episode of Rawhide before becoming a television witch.
A Great What If Writer
16. HARRY TURTLEDOVE
Harry Turtledove is best known for his alternate history novels such as In the Presence of Mine Enemies (2003), Ruled Britannia (2002), The Guns of the South (1992) and American Empire: Blood and Iron (2001).
His alternate history novels are well researched, thoughtful and thought provoking. We know the South had plans to not import anymore slaves from anywhere into America.
There were also plans in the South, before the civil war, to give the people we now refer to as African Americans some rights as serfs rather than slaves. How far these rights would have gone takes us into the world of speculation and right into Harry Turtledove's writing.
The World of StarTrek in novel form
17. DIANE DUANE
Born in New York, Diane Duane is the best of the Star Trek novel writers.
Her work in the Star Trek universe includes Spok's World (1988) Doctor's Orders (1990) and Dark Mirror (1993).
In Spok's World we come to understand how Spok's race evolved. In Doctor's Orders we see how a starfleet medico might actually be better than his Klingon equivalent. Dark Mirror takes us to where the Federation was not a force for good but a force for conquest.
A Great Actor
18. CLINT EASTWOOD
Born in San Francisco in 1930, Clint Eastwood has had quite a distinguished television and movie career both in front of and behind the camera. His role as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide is not likely to be forgotten.
His role as Harry Callahan in the Dirty Harry films raised the bar as to what cop based movies could be and could do.
His Western movies include A Fist Full of Dollars, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Pale Rider and The Unforgiven. Clint gets an honorable mention in the semi-western, Back to the Future three (1990).
There's also the strange psychological thriller Play Misty for Me.There's some great Jazz Rock in this film. Apparently at the time Clint was a Jazz Rock fan.
One of his best non-western and non-cop roles was in Grand Torino (2008) where he played a disgruntled ex-army veteran on his last legs living in a neighborhood that was becoming more and more alien to him.
Among other things, Clint has promoted Jazz Rock over the years and has helped struggling actors get back onto their feet.
The Voice of the Americans at last
19. MARK TWAIN
Mark Twain gave many of his characters not only an American setting but also a genuinely American voice at a time when it was rare for an American novelist to do so. In his life time he was heavily criticized for having uneducated people actually talk like uneducated people.
Lately, Mark Twain's use of real dialogue has once more emerged as a problem for some rather prissy modern scholars. This is a damn shame.
Of the novels he wrote Adventures of Huckleberry Finn tends to be the most controversial. The South hated it when it came out because it appeared to be in support of African American rights.
THE FLYING ACE!
20. EDDIE RICKENBACKER
Eddie was an American World War One ace. With 26 aerial victories he was America's most successful aerial ace of the war.
He was born in Columbus, Ohio to German speaking Swiss immigrants. He was a well know race car driver before taking to aircraft. He seemed to have a special way with machines.
He eventually lead a squadron and became known as a balloon buster.
He flew in French fighter planes during the war.
THAT'S MY TWENTY!
I hope you have enjoyed the read. Not any modern politicians or bankers in this bunch but I suppose that is to be expected.
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