To begin with, we’re not talking about that super-smart cartoon dog who had a pet boy, though someone named Sherman does figure prominently in the topic at hand. We’re talking about the other Mr. Peabody, George Foster, namesake of the media awards that the University of Georgia has been handing out since 1941.
Submissions to the Peabody competition over the decades have piled up to embody a remarkable collection, some 90,000 kinescopes, 16 mm films, tapes and DVDs, all now stored in a huge, climate controlled grotto beneath the Richard B. Russell Special Collections Library on the UGA campus. For the past year, the staffs of the awards and the archives have been experimenting with making documentaries about TV and society using excerpts from selected archival programs. We did histories of comedy and crime shows last fall and a history of original animation for TV last month.
On Tuesday, April 21, we’re trying something a little different. To commemorates this month’s 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, we’ve put together an overview of that bloody, still divisive conflict that we’ve titled Blue and Gray.
Now, we could have just scheduled a showing of Ken Burns celebrated, multi-part PBS series about the war, and we have included some clips from that 1990 Peabody winner. But we also have dozens of programs – movies, plays, miniseries, other documentaries – going back to the 1950s that deal with at least some aspect of the War Between the States.
That’s what the documentary is assembled from and what it tries to reflect. You could almost call it Fifty Shades of Blue and Gray, such is the diversity of the styles and perspectives that have been applied to the subject matter.
Structured to follow the war’s chronology, from secession to surrender. A 1972 Appointment with Destiny special produced by David Wolper re-enacts the latter.
The documentary includes excerpts from the 2005 documentary series Slavery and the Making of America and the 1984 drama Solomon Northop’s Odyssey (the same story told more recently in 12 Years a Slave). There’s a powerful dramatization of John Brown’s treason trial from the 1992 miniseries The Blue and the Gray and a jingoistic speech to young Confederate recruits from a 1981 dramatization of Mark Twain’s The Private History of a Campaign That Failed.
The documentary encompasses scenes from big -budget network dramas such as Sandburg’s Lincoln (1975), Gore Vidal’s Lincoln (1988) and Andersonville (1996) and from documentaries such as Ridley and Tony Scott’s 2011 Gettysburg and Ric Burns’ 2012 Death and the Civil War. But there are also local-station specials such as Death Knell – Atlanta, 1864, produced by WAII-TV on the occasion 100th anniversary of Gen. William T. Sherman’s siege.
The oldest archival treasure excerpted is Fletcher Pratt’s History of the Civil War (1959), a staged reading of a then-popular historian’s book by a quartet of actors assembled by Chicago’s WTTW and directed by William Friedkin who, a few years later, would pick up an Oscar for his theatrical film The French Connection. An excerpt from a 1962 episode of The Lloyd Bridges Show depicts a momentary battlefield truce, a time-out to collect the wounded. John Cassvettes, soon to become an indie-film legend, directed with uncommon cinematic flair for a prime-time drama of that era.
The most surprising find from our sifting through the archive is silent film footage of a 1914 parade of Confederate veterans that was attached to the conclusion of a Jacksonville TV station’s 1961 documentary about Civil War battles in Florida. On horseback and in open touring cars, they ride past flag-waving onlookers to a rousing, overdubbed version of “Dixie.”
Do not look away. The screening of Blue and Gray in the Russell Library auditorium on the 21st is scheduled for at 7 p.m., with refreshments served at 6:30 p.m.