Ed Asner narrates ‘You Heard It Here First: The Pledge of Allegiance at the Twin Lights’ film on New Jersey’s key role in creating The Pledge.
ATLANTIC CITY, NJ— On the weekend of Saturday and Sunday, April 2nd & 3rd, The Garden State Film Festival will screen its nominees for Best Documentary Short at the Resorts International Hotel & Casino. All are worthy of recognition, but one in particular stands out for its connection to a long-forgotten piece of New Jersey history. You Heard It Here First: The Pledge of Allegiance at the Twin Lights revisits that April day in 1893 when the Pledge was first delivered as our national oath of loyalty, in front of the iconic Navesink Light Station in Highlands. The film was produced by the Twin Lights Historical Society.
The 40-minute film is narrated by Ed Asner, a 20-time Emmy nominee and 7-time winner, and former president of the Screen Actors Guild. Asner was drawn to the project because it was a complex, nuanced, and engaging story that has never been fully explored on film.
“I think this film is important not only on an historical level, but also on a convergence level,” says Asner. “The importance of the flag and Pledge were heightened by new people coming to a new land and solidifying some sort of uniform culture—something for everyone to believe in and take part in.”
You Heard It Here First looks at the unlikely allies who came together to produce the Pledge, push it through a change in the White House, and then bring it to national prominence—all in the span of a few months.
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“It’s a tale of money, power, politics and passion,” Asner points out. “In other words, it is through and through, an American story.”
How does an event of such importance to New Jersey history get “lost” in the first place? As the documentary explains, the Pledge event at the Twin Lights was followed immediately by a 30-warship international naval review in New York harbor, days of patriotic parades in the city, the opening of the World’s Fair in Chicago, and America’s worst financial recession to that time.
“It was an eventful spring 113 years ago,” notes filmmaker Fred Frintrup. “And it was a long and busy year creating this documentary.”
Frintrup also made The Twin Lights of the Navesink Highlands for the Twin Lights Historical Society, which won a Best Documentary Short award at the 2012 Garden State Film Festival. That film highlighted the lighthouse’s game-changing role in telecommunications, radar and the science of optics in America, and also touched on the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I met Ed Asner at the awards dinner that year and we began talking about another project,” Frintrup recalls. “Ed had introduced another documentary that I had directed that was an Official Selection at the Garden State Film Festival in 2014, and when I asked him if he would consider narrating an exciting story about the Pledge of Allegiance and how it came to be, Ed looked at his daughter, Liza, and said with a big smile, ‘Give him our numbers.’ It was November, 2014 when we sent Ed the final script and he said, I’ll do it! ”
Frintrup’s crew traveled to Asner’s home in Hollywood and transformed his living room into a sound studio.
“It was a terrific day spent with an amazing professional,” says Frintrup. “I will never forget the fun we had working together.”
You Heard It Here First will be available for sale on DVD and Blu-ray later this spring through the twinlightslighthouse.com web site, and at the Twin Lights Museum Store. The film explores the changes made to the Pledge, and the court cases surrounding it, in the 120-plus years that followed.
“The fact that the controversy emerged from the inclusion of the words ‘Under God’ displays how this country can be unified yet individualistic,” says Asner.
There is another component to You Heard It Here First that sets it apart from its competitors at the Garden State Film Festival. The documentary was produced in conjunction with an ambitious renovation of the Twin Lights Museum and a 1,000 sq. ft. special multimedia exhibit entitled “Seeing Stars: Every Flag Tells a Story,” which opened in October 2015. Seeing Stars features $2 million worth of historic flags and patriotic artifacts that trace the American experience from the Revolution to 9/11. Admission is free.
“We funded the renovation and new exhibit utilizing years of small donations from the 75,000 visitors we get at the lighthouse annually,” says Mary Jo Kenny, President of the Twin Lights Historical Society. “The new museum will draw an additional 40,000 people a year, which translates into an extra $1 million we are able to pump into the surrounding Sandy-ravaged towns. It’s a rare thing for a Friends group to produce award-winning documentaries. It’s almost unheard-of to make that kind of profound impact on the surrounding community and economy.”