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Spreading The Wealth, American Style

It happened on Fifth Ave. Movie Poster from 1946

As I look aroundAmerica, the unhappiness, pain, grief, resentment and rage stagger me.

 Though money worries plague Americans, the picture is dark, and the mood anguished, for far deeper reasons.

 Americais sadly devoid of the wise, wonderful spirit of Aloysious T. McKeever [Victor Moore] in the 1947 Christmas film It Happened On 5th Avenue.

 In this magnificent story, the true wealth of America- the generosity of its people – is what’s spread around, voluntarily, to great effect.

 At story outset, Aloysious T. McKeever, a middle-aged, long-homeless man, returns to squat for his third winter at the vacantFifth AvenuemansionofMichael J. O’Connor[Charles Ruggles],America’s second-wealthiest man.

 The next morning, while strolling with his dog inCentral Park, Aloysious meets recently-discharged World War II veteran, Jim Bullock [Don DeFore] – who, ironically, is homeless due to Michael J. O’Connor’s  takeover of his apartment building.

 Finding Jim sleeping on aCentral Parkbench, Aloysious invites him to stay at O’Connor’s mansion.

 Soon, two families of veterans, unemployed, displaced war buddies of Jim, also move into O’Connor’s mansion.

 Compounding the fun is O’Connor’s daughter Trudy [Gale Storm], who has run away from boarding school, and with great bemusement is living incognito amongst the squatters.

 Desperately wanting her father to size up Jim, with whom she’s fallen madly in love, Trudy persuades O’Connor to ‘move in’ too – disguised as a homeless good-for-nothing!

 As in many memorable movies, the Christmas season is approaching.

 And miracles are fast occurring.

 Rather than encouraging his down-and-out guests to seek government handouts, ‘master of the mansion’ Aloysious invests his all in identifying and nurturing their paths to financial independence. Through Aloysious’ classic American lens, he sees in each and every ‘guest’ her/his innate potential to become a self-sustaining person. He visions them ensconced in futures of authentic pride, not woeful dependency.

 As Aloysious dispenses wondrous, huge doses of wisdom, guidance, and emotional support to his guests, their lives improve remarkably. By story end, each and every person is on his way to happy self-reliance.

 And strengthened family relationships.

 Far from being a film about coerced ‘spreading the wealth’, classic American generosity is at the core of this story.  The kind of generosity upon which our exceptional country has been built. Generosity that wondrously dispels unhappiness, pain, grief, resentment and rage – sentiments that for decades now plague more and more Americans.

 It isn’t the mansion setting that elevates this film to the highest echelon. It’s the wise, generous spirit kindled in Aloysious, who stands as polar opposite to Ebenezer Scrooge.

 And to many a ‘progressive’ American politician!

 Aloysious saw what potential brims in ‘the least of us’. Lovingly, he advised his guests to be the best version of themselves. “It’s never too late,” he declared to Mary O’Connor [Ann Harding], Trudy’s mother, who, divorced from her father, is also living with the squatters, disguised as a homeless cook.

 That was Christmas, 1946. How would a similar story fare, in America 2011?

 Imagine: President Barack Obama steps on scene at the start of this movie. Swiftly, he punishes [by extracting additional taxes from] Michael J. O’Connor, and gives what’s left [after bureaucracy greedily gobbles as it pleases] to the homeless veterans to secure them housing. What would the storyline become? No one would have grown in spirit; the veterans [and their families] would be depressed and dependent, rather than happily on their way to self-sufficiency; the money would eventually run out; entrepreneur – and jobs creator – O’Connor would be angry and resentful; and the story would end in whole scale misery.

 Rather than being a film of exquisite warmth and inspiration, It Happened On 5th Avenue would be a bleak docudrama of escalating human hopelessness and painful dependency, amidst escalating governmental coercion and control of American lives.

 Now, imagine this! Aloysious T. McKeever is America’s President. What magnificent direction he would offer!  For Aloysious grasped what brilliant psychologist Erik Erikson discerned – the core psychological developmental tasks of every human being: trust [v. mistrust]; autonomy [v. shame and doubt]; initiative [v. guilt]; industry [v. inferiority]; and identity [v/ role confusion].  All of which, to be mentally and emotionally healthy, we must master by age eighteen.

 If we do not, mastering our remaining developmental tasks — intimacy [v. isolation], generativity [v. stagnation], and integrity [v. despair] becomes impossible.

 No ‘Spread The Wealth’ Coercion Agenda could ever assist anyone with any of these tasks.

 But maybe you already know this, Mr. Obama.

 If we are to restore America to being America, what happened on 5th Avenue that 1946 Christmas must once again happen all over America, from Christmas 2011, forward.

 Imagine! Unfortunates find authentic welcoming. Seekers find within them the means to be self-sustaining.Americarevives in itself that which has madeAmericaexceptional.

 Aloysious T. McKeever, if ever you host Christmas again, please, I entreat you with all my heart: bless us all with invitations.

Writer’s Note:

It Happened On 5th Avenue will be broadcast on Turner Classic Movies on December 18 at 8PM [EST] and on December 24 at 12:30PM [EST].  It is also available on DVD.

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