To the Editors:
Finally got to an older issue and, while reading the Russell Baker piece “In Bush’s Washington” [NYR, May 13], was stopped by: “With Spike Jones they sang, ‘Heil! Heil! Right in der Führer’s face.'”
My memory is that this came from Irving Berlin. (“When der Führer says ve is der master race, ve heil, heil right in der Führer’s face…Not to love der Führer is a great disgrace so ve heil…” etc.) I even recall the tune.
But don’t remember Spike Jones in the mix. And, by the way, cannot agree with the romantic memory of Mr. Baker, whom I’ve long adored, of intrepid Americans during World War II. Those on the front were, appropriately, plenty scared.
With appreciation for your wonderful publication,
Montclair, New Jersey
Russell Baker replies:
Some dope on “Der Führer’s Face,” thanks to my wife’s Internet know-how:
It was the song for a Donald Duck cartoon issued in January 1943 by Walt Disney. The song was written by Oliver Wallace who worked for Disney. He said the tune came to him while he was bicycling, and he tried it on his daughter who was wowed. Spike Jones was not the performer in the cartoon version, but produced a hit record with his own musicians, which he called the City Slickers, I believe. That’s the one I remember. Spike very big in those days. You may have heard his “Cocktails for Two.” Unforgettable.
The Disney cartoon plot had Donald dreaming that he worked in a German munitions factory town where everybody has to extol Hitler’s virtues while making bombs throughout the day. Happy ending: Donald wakes up in the US. The cartoon won an Academy Award.
My reference to foolishly fearless Americans in World War II was not directed at the combat world of course, but to the home front which the present government tries very hard to keep scared these days. Paul Fussell, an army combat lieutenant in World War II, writes eloquently about the fear. Also tops on the subject is Chris Hedges’s recent War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (Public Affairs, 2002). Worth the hard-cover price.