Oct 22, 09
Read in October, 2009
Cooke, Alistair. LETTER FROM AMERICA: 1946-2004. (2004). *****. Most of know Cooke through his series for PBS, “America,” and for hosting various specials on that channel. His fascinating book that accompanied the “America” series was also a best-seller. He was born in 1908 in Slaford, Lancashire, with the name of Alfred. He later changed it to Alistair. From early on, he was an ardent Americanophile, and moved to this country in the 1940s, taking up American citizenship in 1941. “Letter From America” formed a series of sustained commentary on the flavor of another nation’s life and was broadcast in England on the BBC. Cooke wrote in “conversation,” and spoke in prose. He emulated his American heroes, Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken. This collection of his broadcasts spans those from his earliest to some of his last, up until his death in 2004. In all, he totalled 2,869 broadcasts that were heard in five continents. The number of awards he received in his lifetime was staggering, including an honorary KBE in 1973. Reading these letters opens up the vista of the post-war history of America. Some of the essays include: Joe Louis winning the World Championship title, Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic, the assassination of JFK and the assassination of RFK (to which he was a witness), the beginnings of the Vietnam conflict, the rise and fall of Richard Nixon, the death of Dorothy Parker, the O. J. verdict, the Cuban Missle Crisis, and 9/11. He tried to dispel the British belief that all of the social elite in America were English. He explored the reasons for the numerous name changes – especially in the film industry – and disabused the Brits of their misconceptions. For example, Emmanuel Goldenberg became Edward G. Robinson, Bernard Schwartz – Tony Curtis, Frances Gumm – Judy Garland, Allen Konigsberg – Woody Allen, Issur Danielovich Demsky – Kirk Douglas, and so on and so on. I found these “talks” to be fascinating in their depth, and all extremely well-written. Highly recommended.