In 1981, there was a film called Chariots of Fire. The movie is based on the true story of two British athletes competing in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. Englishman Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), who is Jewish, overcomes anti-Semitism and class prejudice in order to compete against the “Flying Scotsman,” Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), in the 100 meter. Abraham wins and Eric then goes on to win the 400 meter.
I was deeply moved and inspired by this Best Picture winner. The soundtrack by Vangelis was beautifully stirring. It haunted me and I started to vocalize the main theme which eventually led me to put words to the music. Now indulge me, and remember the theme to the film as you read the lyrics:
I speak to the children, the ones who are pure, for they are the future, the key to it all
Our vision has darkened, our way has been lost, it’s they who must lead us, back on the course
Imagine a world of love and hope, a world without hate
A world where nothing separates the spirit of man
No national boundaries, invented by greed
The world is awaiting, for love as the creed
I speak to the children, I speak to you all, join hearts and your voices, let love rule us all
I take the lyrics, go into a recording studio and sing the song in Italian and English. It was a moving and rousing experience, and I then come up with the idea for a world movement called “An Evening in the Celebration For The Spirit of Man.” I get a small group of followers going — about 30 people or so that are on fire with the idea. One was a writer, Vanna Bonta, who translated the lyrics into Italian for me. She’s the granddaughter of Luigi Ugolino, an Italian poet.
I then take the idea to a lawyer my friend Gene Kirkwood introduced me to, who in turn gets me a meeting with one of the heads of Universal Studios so I can pitch the idea. I tell them what I envision: a worldwide satellite broadcast where all three major networks (back then there were only three) give 90-minutes of free broadcast time to air the program. I want the Universal Amphitheater to hold the event and have parks and piazzas across the world put up big screens where people can congregate; a kind of Day the Earth Stood Still type of broadcast.
The people at Universal say this could be bigger then Elvis’s satellite concert – it has Olympic proportions. I am on fire and work to get sponsors and support; I play and send the music to all, speak about it wherever and whenever…
First I call UNICEF and ask if the children’s chorus would sing the chorus of the song. My plan is to have Frank Sinatra and Luciano Pavarotti sing the song in English and Italian respectively along with the UNICEF children. Then there would be master artists from around the world who pick a piece of music or theater or dance and present a 3 to 5 minute performance each. For instance, Meryl Steep could do a monologue from Medea; Nureyev would choose a dance; Itzhal Perlman would pick a piece of music; the Rolling Stones sing a song; Franco Corelli sings an aria, etc. Also, the natural and man-made wonders of the world would be shown and we would have a 30 second message from political and worldwide leaders asking that we all join in … The Spirit of Man.
The only problem is that I’m a nobody. Oh, sure, I know people and have many friends, but I do not have the clout to say, “Hey, we’re doing this. Come aboard.” And don’t forget, this is 1982, before Live Aid, We Are the World, and Earth Day. So, eventually, as you must learn in show business, I resign myself to the fact that it’s not going to happen.
In the years since, I’ve been pleased to to see how with Katrina and Haiti the world has come together; how television can bring us all closer. Recently, I was at my friends’ Jack and Leslie’s house and told them of my early dream. In turn, Jack shared with me a story his Aunt told him of the Holocaust, as I sat silent and stunned. His story hit me like a diamond stylus to the middle of my forehead… How — how — why did the world not respond back then?
I think of Patton saying that we must take pictures because no one will believe or remember this in 25 years. The frightening thing is that the way history is being taught today, they may not remember. We have an education system run by the left that has pressed the delete button on so much of history. So while the world nobly gives its heart to Haiti — this was NOT the case in 1945.
So please read on. A very moving story follows, written by my friend Jack…
I so very much appreciate your view points, thoughts and articles.
I did want to share with you an interesting conversation I had during my weekly visit with my Aunt who is 86 years old. She is a Holocaust survivor, one of the few remaining direct victims and witnesses to that terrible blemish on human history. She was born in the city that the Germans renamed, Auschwitz. The German crematoriums took both of her parents, six brothers and sisters (my mother was her only sibling that survived), scores of cousins, aunts and uncles.
When I walked into her home, it was obvious that she was terribly upset. She had been crying, she said:
“For those poor people in Haiti. I understand what it is not to have food, water, when all seems hopeless, and to have the dead lying everywhere around you.”
She went on to say that she had lain in bed not able to sleep the night before thinking about those people:
“It made me feel good to see how desperately people of the United States, but also other countries are trying to help the survivors by providing food, tents, medicine and support. Suddenly, I became even sadder. It made me think of the six million Jews and seven million others who were killed and all those others who were abused and tortured in concentration camps during World War II. Those of us who survived, at many times during the Holocaust, would have preferred death.”
She went on to talk about the liberation process:
“When we were liberated, firstly, the liberators helped us. Unfortunately, even after the war, there were countries in the world that did not want us to come back to our homes, they did not want to return our properties, some even wanted us to pay costs for taking care of properties taken from us during the war. The United States and Jewish agencies seemed to help the most. There were other agencies created to help mostly to deal with issues of those very few survivors who returned, children without parents and issues such as conflicts between parents returning to claim children who had been left in the care of others who did not want to return those children.”
Her general impression, however was that other than the United States there generally did not seem to be overall great world concern for the well being of the survivors.
I thought deeply about what she said as I later watched two former presidents and multiple celebrities so committed to helping the victims of the Haitian earthquake. I was proud of the efforts of this country and of the people of the United States to support humans and felt that in so doing they themselves were so much more human. I do think and hope this is a better world today, and perhaps in today’s world not only would there be greater caring and concern for the Holocaust victims but also, perhaps a President of the United States, again given a similar choice as Roosevelt had, would not send the passengers of the St. Louis back to Germany to face assured death, but would set an example that would open the eyes of the world and prevent a Holocaust.