By Alex Cox
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Given that Lewis’ involvement in Brigadoon might be seen as the coming to fruition of all these qualities which the Group inhibited, it is a pleasing coincidence that one of his earliest muscle-flexings as director should have been the William Saroyan play of 1939 – My Heart’s in the Highlands. Agnes De Mille and Oliver Smith Of the three pairs in the photographs with which I began, Lerner and Loewe already occupied the popular terrain of Broadway (although Loewe would get there by way of the tradition of European classical music), Cheryl Crawford and Robert Lewis would get there by way of leftwing theatre and De Mille and Smith would arrive via the High Art of classical ballet and ‘legitimate’ theatre.
Maxine Sullivan executed a very popular swing version of ‘Loch Lomond’, as did Martha Tilton, the Benny Goodman Band vocalist, at the famous 1938 Goodman concert at Carnegie Hall, while Ella Fitzgerald might include an extempore phrase from a Scottish song in an otherwise ‘straight’ swing number – for example, from ‘Comin’ Through the Rye’ (which itself got the jazzed-up treatment as ‘Swingin’ through the Rye) in ‘Sing Me a Swing Song’ – and even recorded an entire ‘Scottish’ novelty number – ‘Macpherson is Rehearsin’.
The rubric under which these tendencies then operated was ‘patriotism’. The sombre subtext to our story is the McCarthyite purges of the Cold War, which would drive underground this progressive conception of patriotism. Indeed, many of those on the left who had been most alert to the danger of fascism in the 1930s would be denounced during the Cold War as ‘premature anti-fascists’. A full account of the turn to the socially-conscious vernacular would have to deal with the crucial influence of certain federal government mechanisms such as the Federal Arts Project, the Federal Music Project, the Federal Theater Project and the Federal Writers Project which boldly mobilised ‘creative’ personnel into publicly-funded work on much the same basis as plumbers, carpenters and bricklayers.