Frankly, Trevor, I don’t give a damn

Trevor Noah, who takes over The Daily Show on Monday, describes himself as a 31-year-old half-black, half-white South African.

He describes his predecessor, Jon Stewart, as a 52-year-old Jewish man who grew up in New Jersey.

“The way we look at the same story will be completely different,” Noah said recently. “The most important thing is the place that you come from.”

Well said. I too like to know where people are coming from.

I loved The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I doubt I will ever feel the same about The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

I like John Oliver’s HBO show, but never forget where he’s coming from – the accent is a giveaway – an Englishman taking a weekly bite out of Americans.

My jaundiced journalist’s eye on North American media is also trained on the Brits in top management at the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Toronto Star, NBC News and ABC Entertainment, plus the Australian roots of Rupert Murdoch.

And there’s no relief from where I’m coming from in the make-believe world of movies and television – where you can’t tell the Brits from the Americans without an IMDB search.

I blame it on David O. Selznick.

The young Hollywood kingpin spent more than two years looking for the actress to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind.

He wanted someone unfamiliar to American audiences and eventually selected Vivian Leigh.

Before making the official announcement, Selznick made his case for an Englishwoman to play Scarlett – in a letter to one of the most powerful show biz columnists in the United States:

January 7, 1939

Mr. Ed Sullivan
621 North Alta Drive
Beverly Hills, California

Dear Ed:

Vivian Leigh is by no means cast as Scarlett. There are three other possibilities. But should we decide on Miss Leigh for the role, I think the following answers your question:

  1. Scarlett O’Hara’s parents were French and Irish. Identically, Miss Leigh’s parents are French and Irish.
  2. A large part of the South prides itself on its English ancestry, and an English girl might presumably, therefore, be as acceptable in the role as a northern girl.
  3. Experts insist that the real southern accent, as opposed to the Hollywood conception of a southern accent, is basically English. There is a much closer relationship between the English accent and the southern accent than there is between the southern accent and the northern accent, as students will tell you, and as we have found through experience.
  4. I think it would be ungrateful on the part of Americans, particularly Americans in the film and theatrical worlds, to feel bad about such a selection in view of the English public’s warm reception of American actors’ portrayals of the most important and best-loved characters in English history and fiction, ranging all the way from Wallace Beery in Treasure Island, to Fredric March as Browning in The Barretts, to Gary Cooper in Bengal Lancer.
  5. And, finally, let me call your attention to the most successful performances in the American theatre in many, many years – those, respectively, of the American Helen Hayes as Queen Victoria and the British (Canadian, actually) Raymond Massey as Abraham Lincoln.

I feel that these are the days when we should all do everything within our power to help cement British-American relationships and mutual sympathies, rather than to indulge in thoughtless, half-baked and silly criticisms.

Miss Leigh seems to us to be the best qualified from the standpoints of physical resemblance to Miss Mitchell’s Scarlett, and – more importantly – ability to give the right performance in one of the most trying roles ever written. And this is after a two-year search.

And if she gets the role, I like to think that you’ll be in there rooting for her.

Cordially and sincerely yours,


P.S. Incidentally, just where do the carpers think the name “Georgia” came from, but from England? I suppose they’d also object to George Washington being played by an Englishman!

Sorry, Mr. Selznick, but I do not forgive you for Brits playing:

  • McNulty on The Wire
  • Stringer Bell on The Wire
  • Brody on Homeland
  • Quinn on Homeland
  • Estes on Homeland
  • Philip on The Americans
  • Irving Rosenfeld in American Hustle
  • Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King and LBJ in Selma
  • Nixon in Nixon

But, then, of course, Meryl Streep did portray Margaret Thatcher.

And British accents echo endlessly through the North American airwaves – on newscasts, sporting events, talk shows, reality shows and ads for everything from luxury cars to boner pills.

“Someone has to tell me why Americans won’t take anything seriously unless it’s delivered with a British accent?” Bill Maher asked on his HBO show earlier this year.

“Our reliance on the British accent to convey gravitas is kind of admitting we know we’re not really a serious people.”

Jon Stewart is a serious American who conveys gravitas.

Trevor Noah is a 31-year-old half-black, half-white South African comedian with a show on American TV.

Anything else?

We’ll see.


Here is the entire Bill Maher bit.

And here is a link to the handwritten Selznick letter.


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