Past Imperfect

I’ve been spending time this week with a great book called “Past Imperfect, History According to the Movies” by The Society of American Historians. It’s a captivating book for anyone interested in historic movies.

In the first paragraph of the inside jacket cover is the sentence “When most people come upon a photo of General George S. Patton in a history book, they expect to see the image of George C. Scott”. Interesting observation, especially for those of us who have an interest in our ancestry.

How does our perception of particular actors and actresses change when those people actually portray people who, according to recorded history, are our own ancestors? How does it feel to equate those larger-than-life faces we see on the big screen as the faces of our own ancestors?

Since ancestors are basically people we would call grandmother or grandfather, preceded by some number of “greats”, I find that I increasingly perceive particular actors and actresses who portray my ancestors as feeling like my grandparents. It feels good, and I hope everyone will share this experience. For instance, this week I watched a 1955 movie about people who, according to recorded history, were my ancestors. Maureen O’Hara portrayed a famous historic character from over nine centuries ago, a woman who I believe was an ancestress of everyone who reads this Captain’s Log, Lady Godiva. From this point forward, Maureen O’Hara feels to me like a grandparent.

As do Sophia Loren and Charlton Heston for their portrayals of our ancestors in El Cid, and Katharine Hepburn for her portrayal of our ancestor in The Lion in Winter, and Richard Burton for his portrayal of our ancestor in Cleopatra.

Since cousins are simply people we share ancestors with, and knowing that as ancestral lines are extended five to eight centuries into the past we will share numerous ancestors with all of these well known actors and actresses, these historic Hollywood films become in effect “family home movies” of our cousins portraying our ancestors.

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