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USS Lexington; Felix the Cat; Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel


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Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.

I'm Doug Johnson.  On our show this week …

We visit an aircraft carrier that served during World War Two …

Answer a question from Brazil about the cartoon character Felix the Cat …

And listen to western swing music by Willie Nelson.

U.S.S. Lexington

The U.S.S. Lexington is an aircraft carrier that was built during World War Two. It earned two nicknames, Lady Lex and the Blue Ghost. Visitors to Corpus Christi, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico, can visit this warship which is now a museum. Jim Tedder tells us more.

JIM TEDDER:

The Lexington, not surprisingly, is huge. From the dock, the visitors standing high up on the flight deck look very, very small.

The flight deck is over two hundred and seventy meters long. It could hold more than one thousand parked cars. The ship is as tall as a nineteen-floor building.

Yet the Lexington is small compared to today's aircraft carriers.

Visiting the ship provides a history lesson. The Lexington entered service in nineteen forty-three during World War Two. The ship was part of the Fifth Fleet based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The Lexington was involved in twenty-one months of fighting. It took part in almost all major operations in the Pacific Ocean during the war.

Tokyo Rose, the Japanese radio propagandist, called the ship "the Blue Ghost" after its color. Japanese radio reported four times that the Lady Lex had been sunk. But she kept on fighting.

After the war, the Lexington served out of San Francisco, California. Later, it became a training ship until it was retired in nineteen ninety-one.

Visitors can see how crew members lived and worked on an aircraft carrier. The ship is like a city at sea, but a city with low ceilings, narrow halls and steep staircases.

Visitors can explore areas where the crew slept. The narrow beds are stacked one above the other, with little room in between. The ship has dental and medical clinics, a post office and a religious chapel. Visitors can also go through the large galley where crew members got their meals.

The Lexington carried about one thousand five hundred crew members. In nineteen eighty it became the first United States Navy ship to have women among its crew.

The Lexington could carry enough fuel to sail, nonstop, for almost fifty thousand kilometers.

In nineteen ninety-two, the Lady Lex became a museum docked in Corpus Christi Bay. At night, the ship is covered in a deep blue light. The Blue Ghost lives on.

Felix the Cat

Our listener question this week comes from Brazil. Jose Isidoro wants to know the history of the cartoon character Felix the Cat. This short black cat with large white eyes and a huge smile was one of the first stars in movie history during the period of silent films. The playful cat made his first appearance in nineteen nineteen in a short animated movie called "Feline Follies."

His name was Master Tom but it was soon changed to Felix. By nineteen twenty-four, Felix had developed into a softer and rounder form.

The earliest history of Felix the Cat is disputed. The animator Pat Sullivan invented the character and owned the copyright for Felix.

But Mr. Sullivan's co-worker, the animator Otto Messmer, often receives credit as Felix's main artist. Years after Mr. Sullivan's death in nineteen thirty-three, some people claimed that it was Mr. Messmer who invented the cat.

Pat Sullivan once said that the idea for Felix was influenced by a cat that his wife brought to the office one day.

By nineteen twenty-three Felix was as famous as the top movie stars of the period, including Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. In fact, in the cartoon "Felix in Hollywood" the cat meets Charlie Chaplin and becomes a film actor in California. The more than one hundred cartoon movies starring Felix were popular internationally.  Felix the Cat was also made into a comic strip that was published in more than two hundred newspapers around the world.

However, the popularity of this famous cat began to decrease in the nineteen thirties. This was partly because of the rise in popularity of a new animated character created by Disney Studios called Mickey Mouse. Disney had made a better transition to movies with sound.

But Felix the Cat returned in the nineteen fifties on a television show. The animator Joe Oriolo created this version of Felix. He also created the cartoon character Casper the Friendly Ghost.

In nineteen eighty-eight, Mr. Oriolo's son, Don Oriolo, made a full-length movie starring Felix the Cat.

Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel

Willie Nelson has been making records for almost fifty years. He is widely considered one of country music's most famous songwriters and performers. For his latest album, Nelson returned to the roots of country music. In "Willie and the Wheel" Nelson performs old western swing songs with the country band Asleep at the Wheel. Influenced by songs from the nineteen twenties and thirties, this album will make listeners want to start dancing. Barbara Klein has more.

That was the nineteen thirty hit "Sweet Jennie Lee" sung by Willie Nelson. Asleep at the Wheel and Willie Nelson did not try to modernize the western swing favorites on their album. Instead, they stayed true to the tradition of this music and gave it a fresh and energetic performance.

Western swing music first became popular in the nineteen twenties. It combined the sounds of country, folk, and polka music with the swing of Dixieland jazz.

Here is the song "I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None o' This Jelly Roll" from "Willie and the Wheel."

This album was released last month. But it has been in the making for about thirty years. In the nineteen seventies, a record producer urged Willie Nelson to record these classic examples of western swing. The producer even made a list of suggested songs. But Nelson changed record companies and the idea was put on hold until now.

We leave you with "I'm Sittin' on Top of the World." Willie Nelson performs this song with Asleep at the Wheel band member Elizabeth McQueen.

I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

It was written and produced by Dana Demange. You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs at voaspecialenglish.com.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.


"American Mosaic" in VOA Special English
www.manythings.org/voa/america

Source: USS Lexington; Felix the Cat; Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel
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