Commentaries - August 2009

Sammy runs no more

Budd Schulberg died at 95 yesterday. He wrote the screenplay to On the Waterfront and, among many novels, the unforgettable exploration of anti-Semitism in Hollywood, What Makes Sammy Run. After a visit to the Soviet Union in '34 he became a communist. Later he named names before an anticommunist congressional committee. Here's the end of the Times obit:

His romance with Communism ended six years later, when he quit the party after feeling pressure to bend his writing to fit its doctrines.

Mr. Schulberg had been identified as a party member in testimony before the House committee. Called to testify, he publicly named eight other Hollywood figures as members, including the screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr. and the director Herbert Biberman.

They were two among the Hollywood 10 — witnesses who said the First Amendment gave them the right to think as they pleased and keep their silence before the committee. All were blacklisted and convicted of contempt of Congress. Losing their livelihoods, Lardner served a year in prison and Biberman six months.

In the turmoil of the Red Scare, Mr. Schulberg’s testimony was seen as a betrayal by many, an act of principle by others. The liberal consensus in Hollywood was that Lardner had acquitted himself more gracefully before the committee when asked if he had been a Communist: “I could answer it, but if I did, I would hate myself in the morning.”

In the 2006 interview, Mr. Schulberg said that in hindsight he believed that the attacks against real and imagined Communists in the United States were a greater threat to the country than the Communist Party itself. But he said he had named names because the party represented a real threat to freedom of speech.

“They say that you testified against your friends, but once they supported the party against me, even though I did have some personal attachments, they were really no longer my friends,” he said. “And I felt that if they cared about real freedom of speech, they should have stood up for me when I was fighting the party.”

The Times web site has the video of a 2006 interview.

Mojave fingerprint

Christopher Overing took the fingerprint of his right index finger, blew up it hugely, and etched it into a dry lakebed in the Mojave desert--and photographed it. Chris was my student in the late 80s and 1990.

read the words

Anthony DeCurtis had a piece in the New York Times yesterday, called "Peace, Love and Charlie Manson"--Anthony's contemplation of 1969, partly written in response to Arlo Guthrie's recent assertion that other than Woodstock there wasn't really anything else to remember from that year. Because I've been on the road a lot, and knew I wouldn't be able to take time to read the piece on paper or on screen, I decided to use Read the Words to make a quick audio version of it - read by a one of the Read the Words avatars, "Tom." Tom misses his share of pronunciation but I'm at least going to hear the piece twice tomorrow when I'm on the road again. You can hear Tom read Anthony's piece here.