Bronco busters Jacob and Israel Gershowitz (George and Ira Gershwin)
For me, the name Gershwin has always conjured up 1920s New York sophistication. George and Ira hanging out with Fred Astaire and Kay Swift in George's immaculate 5th Avenue art deco penthouse. Parties with young socialites and the artistic elites of the day. Soirées with great Harlem musicians such as James P. Johnson and Willie "the Lion" Smith" playing on George's grand piano.
Lest we forget, however, George and Ira also tackled the cactus and cowboys of the great American west. Their 1930 Broadway show, Girl Crazy, concerns the romantic adventures of Danny Churchill, a young playboy from Manhattan who's been chasing too much skirt and gets sent by his father to a small men's college in Arizona.
Gieber Goldfarb, a Jewish cabbie, drives Danny from 48th Street all the way out west. He winds up staying with Danny and encounters his own adventures - basically being an urban New York Jew trying to survive among rattlesnakes and roughnecks. At one point, about to be lynched by cowboys, Goldfard asks, "So, this is God's country?"
Eaglerock is simply dressed, speaks perfect English, and has just returned from college. When Gieber enters he assumes the pose not of a "real" Indian but of a stage Indian who wears a full headdress, whoops loudly, and speaks a strange "ugga-bugga" language which confuses Eaglerock thoroughly. The two "Indians" try a number of languages before Gieber finally introduces himself in Yiddish. This works, Eaglerock responds, and the two exit speaking animatedly.
The 1943 film version of Girl Crazy, with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, removed the Jewish elements of the plot.
A few years after Girl Crazy, George and Ira would themselves follow the cattle trail out west (via modern airplane), lured by the siren call of Hollywood. We may think of George Gershwin as being one with New York City - Woody Allen's Manhattan! - but he actually died in Los Angeles in 1937.
In 1943, MGM decided that this Jewish cowboy musical was a perfect vehicle for the ninth pairing of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Sadly, however, the studio removed Gieber Goldfarb and his adventures, as well as his song "Goldfarb, That's I'm!," converting the Gershwins' interesting cultural mix and comic fantasy of a fellow Jewish New Yorker out in the wilds of Arizona into a more comfortable and bland WASP vision of the American west.
It's interesting to note that this erasure of the Jewish elements of the story took place at a time when news about the concentration camps was first coming out of Europe. And that the head of of the studio, Louis B. Mayer, was Jewish himself. Evidently, Hollywood didn't think that a Jewish cabbie and a well-spoken Native American communicating in Yiddish would play in Peoria as it had on Broadway.
What the film does offer, however, is Judy Garland at the height of her vocal powers. And a typically surreal and mind-boggling musical number from Busby Berkeley. Busby was the original director for the movie, but he and Garland clashed on the set, so he was replaced by Norman Taurog. One of the few traces that remain of Berkeley's work is the bizarre finale that features a Tommy Dorsey big-band version of "I Got Rhythm," set out west, with cowboy outfits (perhaps the geekiest ever seen on screen), fake cactus, synchronized six-guns, a cannon fired directly at the audience, and strange, whip-like banners that remind me of Kurosawa.
It all adds up to classic Hollywood weirdness. (Especially the last minute of the video.)
Now, how we go from Jewish cowboy musicals and a freaky Busby Berkeley number to Bird and Diz using the same song as one of the foundations of Be-Bop is . . . well . . . one of those sweet mysteries of life.