December 19, 2018

“These are the times that try men’s souls…”


During the Revolutionary War, getting soldiers to stay in the Continental Army was one of the biggest problems facing the American commander in chief, General George Washington.

Many American soldiers were non-professional militiamen who volunteered for a limited number of months, usually during the spring or summer. After a short stint, they were legally allowed to go back their farms to harvest their fall crops — and typically did.

There were regular soldiers in the Continental Army. But many deserted once they experienced the horrors of combat or the miserable conditions in winter camps. Others left after becoming disgusted by the lack of reliable pay and supplies.

In 1776, Thomas Paine, an aspiring writer who had emigrated to America from England two years earlier, became an aide-de-camp to American General Nathanael Greene.

That winter, Paine decided to write something to try to renew the patriotic spirit of American soldiers and discourage them from deserting or going home when their enlistment period was up.

It ended up being the first in his series of “American Crisis” pamphlets.

The opening sentence became a famous quotation; the second embedded two related metaphors into our language: 

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
Paine’s rousing treatise was first published in the Pennsylvania Journal on December 19, 1776, then issued as a printed pamphlet on December 23.
 
The piece provided some very timely and welcome inspiration to General Washington.
 
In recent months, the British had repeatedly defeated the Americans in battle and forced the Continental Army to retreat from New York into New Jersey. Washington’s troop strength was severely reduced by a combination of death, disease, “summer soldiers” and desertion.
 
On December 18, a despondent Washington said in a letter to his cousin in Virginia:

“I think the game is pretty near up, owing, in a great measure, to the insidious arts of the Enemy…but principally to the accursed policy of short enlistments, and placing too great a dependence on the militia.”
Five days later, after reading Paine’s new pamphlet, Washington had it read aloud to his remaining troops to inspire them in advance of a upcoming attack he’d planned.
 
On Christmas night of 1776, he and about 2,400 American soldiers made the legendary crossing of the Delaware River. The next day, at the the Battle of Trenton, they surprised and soundly defeated a group of 1,500 professional Hessian mercenaries who were fighting for the British.
 
That victory renewed the morale of Washington and the soldiers of the Continental Army. It also attracted many new recruits to the American ranks.
 
During the next six years, Paine wrote a series of fifteen more “Crisis” pamphlets. They helped inspire the sense of patriotism and resolve that eventually led to the success of the American Revolution. But none are as significant or as remembered as his first.
 
It played a role in a turning point in the Revolutionary War. Its opening sentence became one of the best known quotes in American history. And, the second sentence made “summer soldier” and “sunshine patriot” common terms of derision that are still used today to refer to people who give half-hearted commitment to a cause or abandon it when the going gets tough.
 

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December 09, 2018

“Baseball been berry, berry good to me!” – the famous SNL catchphrase of Garrett Morris as Chico Escuela…


If you’re old enough to have been watching Saturday Night Live in the late Seventies you might have been watching Episode 5 of Season 4 when it first aired on November 11, 1978. (I am and I was.)

Buck Henry was the host. The Grateful Dead were the musical guests. And, there were several classic skits — including one at the end that introduced what would become a famous TV catchphrase.

The sketch takes place at a meeting of the St. Mickey’s Knights of Columbus.

After dealing with a few business items, the organization’s leader, played by SNL cast member John Belushi, announces that the club would have a special guest speaker that night.

Dan Aykroyd, playing the Knights’ treasurer, notes that the group had to go into debt to pay the speaker’s steep $900 fee.

Belushi then introduces this special guest: “the immortal” Chico Escuela, a former all-star baseball player for the Chicago Cubs who came to the US from the Dominican Republic.

After being introduced, Chico — portrayed by SNL cast member Garrett Morris — gets up, stands at the podium and says in a thick Hispanic accent:

“Thank you berry much. Baseball been berry, berry good to me. Thank you. God bless you. Gracias!”

Then he sits down.

Astonished by the brevity of this $900 “speech,” Belushi’s character asks: “Is that it Chico?”

Chico thinks about it a second, gets up again and adds: “Keep you eye...keep you eyes...on de ball.”

After which, he sits down again.

Belushi says sardonically: “Thank you, Chico. You’ve been an inspiration to all of us.”

Three weeks later, during the December 9, 1978 episode of SNL, Morris’s Chico made a second appearance and repeated his line “Baseball been berry, berry good to me!” several times — making this the night on which it gained official catchphrase status. 

In that episode (Season 4, Episode 8), the host was Monty Python star Eric idle. Kate Bush was the musical guest. Dan Aykroyd performed the insanely funny skit in which he plays a frantic Julia Child, who bleeds to death after cutting her finger. And, Don Novello showed up as Father Guido Sarducci.

Chico was in the Weekend Update segment with Jane Curtin, who announced that he had been hired as the Weekend Update sports commentator. After being introduced by Jane (this time as a former New York Mets ballplayer), Chico says:

“Thank you. Thank you, berry, berry much. Baseball been berry, berry good to me. Thank you, Hane.

[A photo of major league player Pete Rose, who had recently signed a four year, 3.2 million dollar deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, appears behind Chico.]

Pete-ee Rose...Baseball been berry, berry good to Pete Rose. Three-point-two-million-dollar para Pete Rose. Charlie Hustle, you bet. Thank you berry, berry much.

In foot-ball... I don’t know football. In Dominican Republic, football is — how you say, Hane? Um, Oh! Soccer! Your football... I don’t know.

In National Hockey League... I don’t know hockey.

In baseball… Baseball been berry, berry good to me! Thank you berry much. Thank you. Thank you berry much. Hane? Thank you, Hane.”

Hearing Chico’s fact-challenged report, Jane responds sarcastically: “Great job, Chico. I’m glad that we haven’t hired just another stupid ex-jock sportscaster.”

Morris went on to appear as Chico Escuela eight more times before leaving the Saturday Night Live cast in the summer of 1980.

Each time, he repeated “Baseball been berry, berry good to me!” (sometimes written as “Beisbol been bery, bery good to me!” and in various other ways). It remains one of the most famous of the many memorable catchphrases created by SNL.

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