With the passing of writer Budd Schulberg there is the usual outpouring of hosannas and allelujahs to a great screenwriter and novelist and he was indeed a talented man who penned some excellent, enduring and quote-worthy works of art and therefore I feel neither the need nor the desire to add to said heapings of praise. Instead, I’d like to put on record one of the aspects of Mr. Schulberg’s life that is largely missing from these paeans.
Even the “Gray Lady” herself, the New York Times, glossed over the shameful fact that in the 1950’s Budd Schulberg and his occasional collaborator Elia Kazan both testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and thus destroyed the lives of many of their former colleagues including Ring Lardner Jr., Dalton Trumbo and Herbert Biberman. He named at least 15 of his close friends, helping to send many if not all of them to jail. As I have written before this is a shocking and despicable act and it must not be forgotten.
So far, only Carolyn Kellogg in the L.A. Times has run a piece about Schulberg and his betrayals and the testimony quoted in the article gives a pretty good idea of the kind of a man Schulberg was at the time. He claimed that he became disillusioned with the the Communist Party when Stalin signed a non-aggression pact and that the CP interfered with his work.
Both are valid criticisms (assuming the latter was true) and Schulberg was perfectly within his rights to leave the party, which he did. However, going on to name names and cooperate in one of the most horrific instances of government abuse in our nation’s history was going too far.
“Dalton [Trumbo] wrote one good novel and that’s it.” [Schulberg told Victor Navasky for the latter’s book Naming Names.] Most of these people never tried to write any social realism. I think maybe [they had some] guilt about making two thousand dollars a week and doing nothing. You could make it up by paying ten percent dues [to the Party], and maybe that made you feel better about being a hack. Most of them settled for being hacks.
These people, if they had it in them, could have written books and plays. There was not a blacklist in publishing. There was not a blacklist in the theater. They could have written about the forces that drove them into the Communist Party. There was practically nothing written.”
So according to Schulberg, even though his testimony led to the loss of his former friends’ ability to earn a living, it was their own damn fault because they either weren’t as prolific as he was or weren’t able to shift to stage plays and books, thus avoiding the Hollywood blacklist? That’s a level of ego bordering on narcissism. Of course Schulberg was also wrong about Trumbo’s output.
Please, save your “but he was a fantastic writer and deserves the accolades” responses. Of course he was a great writer and yes, deserves to be lauded as such. That said, when one does bad deeds, when one betrays long-standing friendships, when one does irreparable damage to the lives of that many people and their families, it must be included in any wrap up of your life. You don’t get to skate in death, just because you were a great artist in life.
I am not one of these people that thinks that all deaths leave the world a poorer place. While I am against the death penalty, I am not above taking a little pleasure in the death of particularly vile people and today is no different. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about such pleasure taking, but not today. Today marks the death of someone who cause such misery in his life that his passing is cause for a massive exhale of relief.
Jesse Helmes was a dark-hearted bastard who was almost a caricature of the stereotypical pre-Civil Rights era Southerner. I say “almost” a caricature because he indeed was racist, homophobic, anti-art, Red-baiting, anti-choice…anti-everything all-purpose bigot. He led the fight against establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday, blocked ratification of the Test Ban Treat and Kyoto Protocol (not to mention Salt II) and campaigned against womens rights, gay rights and overaLl civil rights for decades in the US Senate.
In recent years Helms was approached by Bono to help the singer in his quest to reduce 3rd world debt and the suffering it causes and like many older staunch conservatives, he worked to repair his image, becoming more “compassionate” in his dotage. Late life reversals not withstanding, the man was a vile human being and like the Reverend Jerry Falwell, the world is a better place without him.
Legendary comedian George Carlin has died at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, according to Reuters and other sources. The first ever host of Saturday Night Live, Carlin was set to receive the Mark Twain Prize from the Kennedy Center, a lifetime achievement award presented to an outstanding comedian.
Carlin has long been my favorite political and social satirist and his voice, forever honest, will be missed. Today the world is short one of its most strident and unflinching observers. With the country in a seemingly unending war (two of them, actually), a growing gas crisis and almost constant government corruption, we need his unflinching honesty, clearness of vision and common sense now, more than ever.
Rest In Peace, George Carlin.
Over the next few days I hope to post a few of my favorite Carlin clips. And remember:
Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits!
NBC News’ Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert died of an apparent heart attack this afternoon after collapsing at work in Washington DC. This is for sure a great loss, as Russert was a straightforward and well-respected journalist and the longest-serving host of NBC’s Meet the Press, itself the longest-running US television program in history, having been on the air since November 6th, 1947.
Russert was a consummate newsman (and attorney) and his voice will be greatly missed during this most critical of election years. NBC anchors Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams are telling some great stories about Russert on MSNBC right now.
One of the great ones came from Williams who mentioned that facade of the Newseum in Washington D.C. is inscribed with the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Whose idea was that? Tim Russert.
In this time of a flaccid White House press corps and dwindling ethics and excellence in news, Tim Russert will be sorely missed.
Links about the story at Mahalo.
You are invited to join me, my family and friends as we celebrate and remember the life of my “unrepentant leftist” father, Victor Rabinowitz (July 2, 1911 – November 16, 2007) on Saturday, January 12th, 4pm at the NYU Law School, Tischman Auditorium, 40 Washington Square South, between Macdougal and Sullivan Streets.