Independence: John Huston’s “Birthday Present” to America

“All films are created equal. I don’t think there is such a thing as a small film. We’re not pulling any punches here. Scene for scene, everything is being done to the best of our abilities. Each scene as we make it is the best scene I’ve ever made—in my imagination.” –John Huston, on Independence

Forty years ago, director John Huston and a team of Hollywood professionals rolled into Philadelphia to make a film at Independence Hall. Forty years later, the film still screens at Independence National Historical Park, with twelve shows a day.

How, you might ask, did a little government film draw stars like John Huston (The Maltese Falcon), and cinematographer Owen Roizman, (The Exorcist)? The answer is that it was never a “little” film in the sense that so many government productions were quickly out of date and replaced. The National Park Service commissioned the film as a centerpiece to its Bicentennial celebrations and intended that it would be in use at Independence National Historical Park for twenty years. NPS budgeted nearly $400,000 for the production, a fortune for a non-theatrical film, even if it would have been low-budget by 1975 Hollywood standards.

In a letter to Orson Welles, Huston called the project his “200th birthday present to the United States,” and he threw around a lot of weight in order to create the best possible product, including asking Welles to star as Benjamin Franklin, and bringing on board an Academy Award nominated cinematographer. Welles turned the role down, but Eli Wallach did not, telling a Philadelphia newspaper that working with John Huston again was “part of the lure, but that he also wanted to make the film because the Park Service planned to show it “for years and years”. Wallach said that he and his wife (who plays Abigail Adams) “turned down a lot to do it.”

Keep reading about the story behind Independence at  Happy July Fourth! John Huston’s “Birthday Present” to America | The Unwritten Record


By Anne Leader

Italian neoclassical sculptor Giuseppe Ceracchi was born on 4 July 1751 in Rome. The son of a goldsmith, he studied in Rome before embarking on a career abroad. He worked in London, Vienna, Philadelphia, and Paris, where he died in 1801. He is best known for his portraits of American Revolutionary heroes, including portraits of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin. His portrait of Washington was admired by contemporaries as the most lifelike image of the first president. Following neoclassical taste, Washington’s recognizable face is set atop a bust draped like a Roman military hero. Ceracchi had hoped to win a commission to make a large monument dedicated to American liberty, but the project never came to fruition.

George Washington, 1795, marble. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of John L. Cadwalader, 1914

Alexander Hamilton, 1794, marble. Bentonville: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art 

Alexander Hamilton, 1794, plaster.  New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum Accession

John Trumbull, Portrait of Giuseppe Ceracchi, 1792, oil on wood. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Morris K. Jesup Fund, 1936

Muse of Sculpture (Portrait of Anne Seymour Damer), 1779, marble. London: The British Museum, Gift of Lord Frederick Campbell

Bust of John Jay, ca. 1792. Washington, DC: US Supreme Court

The Impressionists were once called lunatics, but now they are some of the most beloved artists. See the paintings that have been shocking and delighting audiences for years in “Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting.”

“The Artist’s Garden in Argenteuil (A Corner of the Garden with Dahlias), 1873, by Claude Monet (Lent by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC: Gift of Janice H. Levin, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art)
How Philadelphia Helped Give Birth to the LGBT Rights Movement
Fifty years ago — four years before the Stonewall riots — Independence Hall was the site of one of the first gay rights protests in our nation’s history.

Happy Independence Day! This July 4th, LGBT people in America are one step closer to enjoying the freedoms honored on this holiday. While still working towards full protections under the law, we can remember one of the earliest protests which started in 1965. 

Philadelphia is the home of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Annual Reminder demonstrations co-organized by Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings with participants from New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.  

The The Pursuit of Happiness: Jewish Voices for LGBT Rights on view now on our first floor.

Google search of the day: spirit photography. In this 19th century trend, Spiritualists used a clever double-exposure technique to trick people into thinking they were looking at an image of a ghost. See it for yourself in “Adventures in Photography: Gifts from Harvey S. Shipley Miller.”

Spirit photograph,” c. 1900, attributed to H. Blackwell


Kevin Spacey and a host of other actors read from the Declaration of Independence in front of more than a million cheering people at the Philadelphia Museum of Art during Fourth of July festivities. July 4, 2001 in Philadelphia, PA.  On the way to the event, Kevin discovered his suit didn’t make it onto the plane. Not to worry, his peeps managed to get it to him anyway ;) 

This event was part of Norman Lear’s mission to bring “the people’s document” directly to the American people. See the entire video and more at