Martial Artists with Supernatural Powers Proved No Match for Eight-Nation Alliance

The 1963 film 55 Days at Peking, starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner and David Niven, dramatized the siege of Peking during the Boxer Rebellion.

By Jim O’Neal

August 14 is an important date in Chinese history.

In the turmoil of the late 19th century, it was almost predictable that governmental efforts would be mounted to try and alleviate the growing dominance of the West in internal commerce policy. The Imperial government made some late-ditch efforts that all proved ineffective and the chaos came to a climax by yet another internal revolution that was dubbed the “Boxer Rebellion.”

This was an effort mounted in 1899 by a semi-secret society known as “The Righteous and Harmonious Fists,” whose singular goal was to expel foreigners. It was composed mostly of young men with martial arts skills and a remarkable belief they had supernatural powers that would make them impervious to bullets and weapons of the enemy.

The Imperial government was variously opposed and supportive, uncertain whether it represented a means of salvation or a risky provocation of the foreigners. After the Boxers’ fists proved to be vulnerable to bullets, they had their answer. The Eight-Nation Alliance (Japan, Russia, the British Empire, France, the United States, Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary) was successful in crushing the rebellion – invading and occupying Peking on Aug. 14, 1900 – and proceeding to extract more trade concessions and over $300 million in reparations.

In 1963, Charlton Heston and a boozy Ava Gardner appeared in a mediocre movie, 55 Days at Peking, that did not do well, even though it still shows up occasionally on cable. One interesting tidbit is that it was filmed in Madrid and the casting called for 6,200 Asiatic-appearing actors. Oops … there were only about 2,000 in proximity so over 4,000 were recruited from Seville, Toledo and at least three cities in France. Many of them were owner-operators of Chinese restaurants and when they shut down to be in the movies, a major shortage of Chinese food quickly developed.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Fun Facts: Tarzan of the Apes, Satchel Paige, Mickey Mouse

This Tarzan of the Apes one sheet for the 1918 film featuring Elmo Lincoln sold for $19,120 at a November 2009 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Some random tidbits for a Friday:

►The first adult actor to play Tarzan in the movies was Elmo Lincoln (1918) in Tarzan of the Apes. (Gordon Griffith played him as a child in the same movie and actually appeared first on screen). Lincoln was in two later Tarzan movies in the 1940s, both uncredited, and then died of a heart attack in 1952 at age 63.

A 1948 Leaf Gum Co. Satchel Paige #8 card realized $38,240 at a November 2015 Heritage auction.

►On Sept. 25, 1965, Leroy “Satchel” Paige officially became the oldest player in MLB by pitching three innings for the Kansas City A’s. Paige pitched a one-hitter with Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox getting the only hit off the 59-year-old Satch.

A Mickey Mouse stock poster (Celebrity Productions, 1928) realized $101,575 at a November 2012 Heritage auction.

►In 1929, Mickey Mouse (previously Mortimer Mouse) speaks for the first time in The Karnival Kid. Carl Stalling subbed for Walt Disney and provided the voice for that first line – “Hot dogs … hot dogs” – as Mickey played a hotdog vendor for the first and only time.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

100 Years Later, Battle of Verdun Remains an Example of Senseless, Protracted Warfare

This World War I propaganda poster issued by the U.S. government in 1917 realized $15,535 at a July 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

After every great war, heads of state invariably declare, “This must never be allowed to happen again” – as though their pronouncements will have some profound, magical effect on future generations determined to use force to rectify some grievance they have suffered.

That was certainly the case in 1984 when German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Francois Mitterrand met at Verdun, an ancient town on the Meuse River in eastern France. Later this year, President Francois Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel will again hold a ceremony in Verdun, this time to inaugurate a renovated museum.

One can only assume that their prepared remarks will contain similar definitive declarations.

This year marks the centennial of the Battle of Verdun, which was part of the First World War. The fighting erupted on Feb. 21, 1916, when German artillery began firing on French troops. It’s estimated that 1 million shells fell on the first day and an astonishing 60 million more in the next 300 days.

Historians and military experts are still asking a simple question: Why?

There was nothing strategic about Verdun in the context of the much broader war being waged, yet the battle raged for a remarkable 10 months – often cited as the single longest battle of WWI, if not history. In addition to 300,000 casualties, the lush forestland around Verdun, “an area larger than the city of Paris,” was devastated. Even today, arsenic, unexploded bombs, tracks of barbed wire and remains of the dead lurk under deceptive greenery.

The most popular theory is that the Germans were hoping they could lure French troops into a war of attrition by diverting their reserve troops from the main battlefronts. Then they intended to “bleed the French army white” as they attempted to defend their homeland and honor.

When the battle finally ended, the French could claim victory, but they had actually only moved a few hundred yards and without any tangible benefits – just immense suffering in a senseless, protracted battle that was part of an even more “tragic accident,” as World War I has often been described.

Twenty-six years later, in November 1942, Adolf Hitler would declare, “I do not want this to be another Verdun!” – referring to the siege of Stalingrad that would end up costing him his entire Sixth Army!

And still the question of “Why?” remains unanswered as Verdun maintains its eerie silence.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Despite Portrayal as a Tyrant, Captain Bligh Received Hero’s Welcome

A six sheet poster from 1935’s Mutiny on the Bounty realized $9,560 at a July 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Most movie trivia buffs can generally rattle off the three films about the Mutiny on the Bounty and the co-stars in each:

  • 1935 with Clark Gable (Fletcher Christian) and Charles Laughton (Captain William Bligh),
  • 1962 with Marlon Brandon (Christian) and Trevor Howard (Bligh), and
  • 1984 The Bounty with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins (Bligh).

However, many are not aware of two earlier versions – the silent 1916 version, and 1933’s In the Wake of the Bounty with Errol Flynn in his film debut as Fletcher Christian.

They also may not know that for the 1935 version, Gable, Laughton and Franchot Tone were all nominated for Oscars in the best actor category (they lost to Victor McLaglen in The Informer). The Academy quickly introduced a new category, best supporting actor, to avoid a recurrence of three actors competing in the same film.

In all five movies, Captain Bligh is portrayed as a tyrant who pushes the crew mercilessly and metes out harsh punishment for trivial incidents. In response, Christian leads a mutiny of the crew and sets Captain Bligh and a handful of crew adrift on the sea.

In reality, half of the Bounty’s crew chose to stick with their captain, despite being cast to the sea in an open boat with inadequate rations. Good decision since they made out much better than the mutineers.

In one of the great feats in seafaring history, Bligh navigated the small boat 4,000 miles across the Pacific to the island of Timor. En route, Bligh produced such excellent charts and descriptions of the water that the Royal Navy relied heavily on them for decades.

Bligh received a hero’s welcome when he returned home and eventually retired as Vice Admiral of the Blue. As for the mutineers, some were captured on Tahiti and either died or were hanged when they got back to England. Those who fled to Pitcairn were mostly killed by each other or their uninhibited Polynesian wives.

It is not surprising the screenwriters took some liberties with the real narrative.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

For Germany, Economic Development Has Trumped Disastrous Wars

Stanley Kramer’s 1961 film about the trial of Nazi war criminals, Judgment at Nuremberg, featured some of the best actors working in Hollywood, including Burt Lancaster, Marlene Dietrich, Spencer Tracy and Maximilian Schell.

By Jim O’Neal

The 34th Academy Awards ceremony was held on April 9, 1962, to honor films from 1961. West Side Story dominated the field with 11 nominations and 10 Oscar winners.

Another strong contender was Judgment at Nuremberg with 11 nominations, including two for best actor: Maximilian Schell (winner) and Spencer Tracy for his portrayal of Chief Judge Dan Haywood, a fictionalized character. Many moviegoers (and probably others) naturally assumed this was the extent of post-war judicial actions. In fact, the film only represented the third (“The Judges’ Trial”) of 12 trials for German war crimes.

Even before Germany surrendered, the Allies had planned to establish courts to try Nazi military and political leaders for their actions during the war. On May 2, 1945, President Harry S. Truman selected Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson to organize the proceedings and represent the United States.

Judge Jackson started by developing the London Charter, which established the International Military Tribunal and trial procedures. It was agreed to hold the trials in Nuremberg, where the Nazis held their annual rallies. Much of the city was damaged, but the huge Palace of Justice and a prison remained intact.

On Nov. 20, 1945, the Nuremberg Trials began.

“The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.” – Justice Robert Jackson, November 1945

In the first trial, 22 Nazis faced one or more charges of war crimes, crimes against peace or crimes against humanity. The defendants included Luftwaffe Commander Hermann Goering, Adolf Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess and the Fuhrer’s successor Admiral Karl Donitz. (Martin Bormann was tried in absentia and Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler had committed suicide.)

Over the next 10 months, prosecutors offered evidence of propaganda movies, vivid films of concentration camp liberations and damning testimony from many eyewitnesses. The evidence was so overwhelming, the 250 journalists attending the trial were often heard weeping in the courtroom or sobbing in the hallways.

On Oct. 1, 1946, the court handed down the verdicts.

Twelve high-ranking men, including Goering, were sentenced to death by hanging. Three more were sentenced to life sentences in prison. Four got prison sentences of 10 to 20 years and three minor political figures were acquitted.

The Nazi leaders had been tried in courtroom 600 of the Palace of Justice, where all proceedings were recorded. Some were broadcast in radio reports. Many people still claim it was the first time they learned of Nazi atrocities, the concentration camps or the gas chamber horrors (“The Final Solution”).

What is interesting, at least to me, is just how much more the Germans have accomplished through economic development than they ever did with guns, planes and tanks. Just ask the Greeks.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

There is Perhaps an Unpleasant Way to Cool the Planet

This special promo poster for the 1969 movie Krakatoa, East of Java went to auction in August 2007.

By Jim O’Neal

Krakatoa, East of Java was a film released in 1969 that starred Maximilian Schell and Brian Keith. Despite being nominated for an Oscar for special effects, it did poorly at the box office (as did its 1970s re-release as Volcano).

Most trivia buffs are aware the movie was loosely based on an actual event in 1883 and that Krakatoa is actually west of Java. Far fewer are familiar with an earlier volcanic event that occurred on April 10, 1815, on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia. A mountain named Tambora exploded in a truly spectacular fashion that was heard more than 2,000 miles away.

It was the biggest volcanic explosion in 10,000 years – 150 times greater than Mount St. Helens and equivalent to 60,000 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs. Thirty-six cubic miles of smoky ash and dust erupted, killing an estimated 80,000+ people with the blast and tsunamis.

The 1815 Tambora eruption was the largest observed in recorded history anywhere on Earth. Clouds of gas and dust encircled the world, causing heavy rain in some areas and unprecedented snowfalls in others. Crops everywhere failed to grow normally.

In Ireland, a famine and associated typhoid epidemic killed 65,000 people.

Spring never came and summer never warmed. 1816 became known as “the year without a summer.”

In the Northeastern United States, a persistent “dry fog” was observed. The fog reddened and dimmed the sunlight to the point that sunspots were visible to the naked eye. Neither wind nor rain dispersed the fog and it was identified as a stratospheric surface aerosol veil.

On June 6, snow fell in Albany, N.Y., and conditions were such that most agricultural crops in North America were ruined. In New England, with typical wry humor, the year was dubbed “Eighteen Hundred and Frozen to Death.”

Since Indonesia has over 130 active volcanoes, the most of any nation, I suspect we will be “hearing” from them again in the future (pun intended).

P.S. Since global temperatures post-eruption fell 1.5 degrees, maybe Earth’s natural thermostat can help solve the global-warming trends. However, the side effects would be devastating.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].