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Monday, March 05, 2012

The Kingfish Gets a Job on Guam!

As March 5, 2012, marks one year after I moved here on the island of Guam, I thought about OTR shows that had something to do with this lovely Tropical paradise.

Guam was the only U.S. jurisdiction that was completely occupied by an Axis power during World War II. Our liberation from the Japanese forces by the U.S. Navy, Marines, and Army in 1943 had numerous remote news broadcasts from the island. One interview of Marine Corps private named Staff was quite monumental and poignant.

Most OTR fans know about these audio documentaries. Even Guam public school teachers, who are required to take a course in Guam history at the University of Guam, MUST listen to those broadcasts by the NBC, CBS, Mutual, and Blue networks of the liberation.

So I had to do something different:

One thing where Guam really gets shortchanged is in entertainment. I don’t mean we lack in it… Oh, no. We have NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox local TV affiliates. We lost our CW affiliate last year and we never had MyTV. We have all the cable stations.We have three cinemas showing the latest films from Hollywood and Manila. We see movies from Hollywood almost one day before anyone else on the U.S. mainland, since we are two time zones west of the International Dateline.

We only have three AM radio stations but we get a constant dose of radio drama. One of those stations even airs complete OTR shows with unedited original commercials…

No… The problem is what the entertainment industry thinks of Guam.

In the early 1961, a movie was made about a locally popular hero, George Tweed, a U.S. Navy radio man who got stuck here after the Japanese took over in December 1941. His story is told in a book which is available at all Guam bookstores (also check online sources) is called Robinson Crusoe, USN. The movie starred Jeffrey Hunter as Petty Officer Tweed. The problem was that at this time it was impossible to make any movies on the island since the entire place was considered a naval installation (including Andersen Air Force Base). Even to take a pleasure trip to the island require a base pass from the Department of the Navy. So this movie, No Man is an Island, was filmed in the Philippines. The locals in the movie were Filipinos, living their culture and speaking Tagalog. Guam’s culture is much different and the indigenous language is Chamorro. So Guam didn’t really get noticed.

In Good Morning, Vietnam, the harassing Army sergeant major was punished for being so mean to Adrian Cronauer by being sent from Saigon to Guam because, “Nothing ever happens in Guam.”

In Look Who’s Talking, children were admonished not to play on the airport conveyor belts as their parents told them, “You might end up going to Guam!”

And in Matilda, as the little girl’s parents tried to flee from police and FBI agents, her mother shouts, “We’re going to Guam!” As if Guam lacks law enforcement. Ha, ha! We have the Guam Police Department, the Border Patrol, and the FBI. They wouldn’t get far. (They probably wouldn’t make it through Won Pat International Airport!)

David Letterman was a little nicer about Guam on The Late Show. The question was asked, “What do you know about Guam?” Nobody knew anything. Hey Dave! We watch your show here!

Guam still has a Rexall drug store, although it's actually a part of the Good Neighbor Pharmacy chain.

So, we go back 6 ½ decades to Amos ‘n’ Andy on the radio. On March 21, 1954, CBS aired an episode of the popular show in which George “Kingfish” Stevens was unemployed and seemed to be enjoying his freedom. His wife Sapphire did everything she could to find work for her husband. And Sapphire’s mother, who lived with the couple, was a thorn in the Kingfish’s side.

Well, Sapphire found the perfect job for George. It was as a construction foreman with a government subcontractor on the island of Guam. Sapphire really did her home work. She knew to say “on Guam” instead of “in Guam,” because that’s underground. The job offered a substantial salary, free housing, and both his wife and her mother could come as dependents.Sapphire went on to describe Guam as the largest and southernmost of the Marianas chain. (To which Kingfish made a pun about the A&P chain.) She sighed, “It’s a lovely Tropical paradise.”

To be honest, there is one teeny tiny island to the south of Guam, not far from the village of Merizo and it belongs to Guam. It’s Cocos Island and today it’s a theme park for Japanese tourists which is a good place to spend a fortune quickly. Most locals have never been there.

Now for some personal comments: The characters in this story were black and the series has been much maligned by the NAACP for being racist (the actors who played Amos, Andy, and the Kingfish, only two guys—not three, were not black but white). This episode has very little to do with race. These people could be anyone. And, in 1954, it could have been possible for a government subcontractor on Guam to hire a black construction foreman.
Actually, Guam’s racism wouldn’t show for another 50 years after this show. Because we are closer to Asia than America, many American store chains on Guam work from cultures in Asia where race, age, sex, and religion are legally discriminated against.

For example, when some black U.S. Air Force personnel tried to get a job as night workers for the 7-Eleven convenience store chain, they were not hired—management even openly bragged about the fact that they weren’t hiring any “niggers.” (Yes, as offensive as that is, they actually said it.) Consequently, we lost 7-Eleven. Maybe they’ll come back someday. We miss Slurpees. Those frozen Cokes and Icees aren’t quite the same thing.

By the way, I’m always looking for more entertainment trivia about Guam. I’m not looking for stupidity, like the Congressman who thinks the island is going to tip over because most of us are on one side of it. We are, in fact, almost the same identical size as Singapore. We have 5% of Singapore’s population. If Singapore isn’t sinking, we won’t tip over. Don’t kid us about that. It’s no laughing matter…

You can tease us that our highest speed limit is only 35 miles per hour (and we even have one highway which is partially considered a freeway!) Children riding in the back of a pickup truck must wear safety straps attached to the bed. Those under 12 years of age, who are 4’8” or shorter must ride in a safety seat in the rear of a car (not in the front seat). My fiancĂ©e is 4’7”. Fortunately, she is an adult and can ride up front with me. But motorcyclists are not required helmets. And bicyclists can ride in any direction they want on the sidewalk. Tease us about those laws. But not the tipping thing.

Because of the time difference, as I finish writing this post, it’s 11:30 AM, March 5, here on Guam, but it’s 5:30 PM, March 4, in California. It was this time five years ago, March 4, 2007, that my dad died peacefully in his sleep at home in Rialto, California. A happy anniversary. And a sad one.


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