I just recorded a new Patreon discussion on "Grovelling" -- when, why, how did society decide grovelling was "normal"? -- and was put in mind of two men who did NOT grovel. Who said no. Who said you can take your Party line ... or words to that effect.
As a result of my earliest signed op-eds in 1999, the first about Elia Kazan, the second discussing Edward Dmytryk, I received an invitation to tea with Kazan in New York City and had a terribly nice phone conversation with Dmytryk, who even claimed to have remembered my actress-mother's unsuccessful audtion for him and producer Adrian Scott circa late 1940s -- and maybe he did because how many struggling actresses ever told the Director and Producer she didn't think the script was so hot?
Anyway. I dug up these ancient op-eds, reproduced in No Fear, a collection of my op-eds. Sadly, but not surprisingly, postumous appreciations, also below, would follow. Time marches on and takes our heroes with it.
A decade would pass before I began researching and writing American Betrayal but readers may notice that some of the seeds took root here.
"Elia Kazan’s last Oscar" 1/29/99
When the board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science voted unanimously to give director Elia Kazan an Honorary Oscar, the news seemed to signify a historic shift in Hollywood. After all, hadn’t Mr. Kazan, now 89, been demonized for almost half a century in the arts community for cooperating with the House Committee on Un-American Activities?
This immigrant son of a Greek rug dealer may well have won two Oscars for directing Gentlemen’s Agreement and “On the Waterfront,” and made Broadway history with such landmark productions as “A Streetcar Names Desire” and “Death of a Salesman” but -- as the Hollywood line goes – the man “named names.”
That meant, as far as his peers were concerned, Mr. Kazan was on the wrong side of the struggle between the anointed Left and the oppressive Right. And because villains were black hats, not laurel wreaths, Mr. Kazan’s golden years have not been burnished with the glowing testimonials a man of his superior achievements could have expected.
Until now. Is it possible that Hollywood’s decision to honor Mr. Kazan reflects a new understanding of the concerted Communist efforts to infiltrate Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s, and the Blacklist erathat followed? Not really. That is, Mr. Kazan’s career may be about to be officially inducted into the celluloid pantheon, but the man remains typecast as the bad guy who made good movies.
The question is, is it right to continue to brand Mr. Kazan an "informer,” as recent press reports do, for telling Congress the truth about his 1930s experiences in a Communist Party cell and giving outthe names of former comrades? Had Mr. Kazan revealed the identities of erstwhile associates, in, say, the pro-Nazi German-American Bund, it’s unlikely the New York Times would persist with this sneering semantic slap. But it is one of the tragic peculiarities of the Cold War that while the West prevailed in the long struggle with Communist totalitarianism, the arts-and-lettered set remains emotionally in thrall to those who supported the Moscow-dictated Party line, including the so-called “unfriendly” witnesses who famously refused to cooperate with Congress. To put the matter into its shocking historical context, such faithful Party members remained loyal to Stalin, through purges, show trials, the famine in the Ukraine and the Katyn Forest Massacre. And that’s a lot to be unfriendly about.
In light of this record, the reverence accorded Mr. Kazan’s ideological opposites is bizarre. Most famously represented by the "Hollywood Ten," they routinely get the wings-and-halo treatment from the Hollywood guilds and associations for their historic stands. On such occasions, there is always plenty of speechifying about "McCarthyism," witch hunts and Amendments 1 and 5, but, as Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley reports in “Hollywood Party,” his excellent new history of the era, there is precious little mention of anyone’s former association with the Communist Party during its secretive efforts to use Hollywood to promote its socialist message, and, more important, to squelch scripts and careers associated with anti-Communism.
Which is what Elia Kazan ultimately decided to expose. Would a greater good have been served by his silence? This is a question Kazan asked himself before testifying in 1952, seventeen years after he had broken with Communism. “Wasn’t what I’d been defending up until now by my silence a conspiracy working for another country?” he writes in his memoir, "A Life." “Was the question really what the ‘comrades’ said it was, the right to think what you will and say what you believe? Or did it have to do with acts, allegiances, and secret programs?” What Mr. Kazan came to was this: “I believe that this committee, which everyone scorned – I had plenty against them, too – had a proper duty. I wanted to help break open the secrecy.”
They say history belongs to the victors; not in Hollywood it doesn’t. Under secure and sunny skies, Blacklist veterans still fulminate to warm applause about “reactionaries” such as Mr. Kazan (who, by the way, never voted for “Ronnie”). As for Mr. Kazan, he never wavered in his convictions, having discovered long ago what the Cold War was like on the front line. After his congressional appearance, he embarked for Europe to shoot “Man on a Tightrope,” the true story of a circus troupe that escaped the Communist Bloc, elephants and all. On the first day of production, East German radio broadcast a roll call of the mainly German cast and crew, calling on them to cease work for Mr. Kazan or risk “revenge without limit.” Only one man left. The tough bravery of the crew was a tonic to the American director, whose testimony, though born of conviction, had taken its personal toll.
The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen says Mr. Kazan in being honored now “not because his anti-Communism doesn’t matter, but because it does – and it is triumphant.” On what Hollywood marqueeis that one playing? Mr. Kazan is being honored because he was great; because he is old; and because Hollywood has some inkling that he may have been right, although there is no one yet articulating that fact. Perhaps one day, Hollywood will acknowledge the realities of the conflict of the century, and Mr. Kazan’s last Oscar will stand not only as a symbol of artistic genius but also of true liberalism, as tangible as a hunk of rubble from the Berlin Wall.
"One fell out of the cuckoo’s nest" 3/26/99
After accepting a special Oscar. for his monumental directing career, 89-year-old Elia Kazan told the world he would just slip away now.
Not so fast. Mr. Kazan himself may have left the Hollywood limelight for more secluded haunts, but the clamorous debate his award set off, a jarring and insistent coda to the Cold War, demands further attention.
Too many central questions remain unanswered – and unasked. The climactic event of Mr. Kazan’s real-life morality play has by now been widely reprised, typically with a hasty rundown of the Hollywood blacklist era during which Mr. Kazan named names of old friends (or, in the alternate version, old enemies). The moral momentum of these grossly superficial stories builds solely from Mr. Kazan’s act of giving names to the House Un-American Activities Committee, ultimately turning on his refusal to apologize or recant, and whether such a man should be honored with an Academy Award.
In light of this blinkered, nearly universal viewpoint, the aged, once-blacklisted Hollywood Stalinists, having roused themselves to mount a protest against Kazan and his award, found a more or less sympathetic spotlight for the duration of the controversy, a brighter beam than many of them ever knew during their careers.
And such nice people. Take screenwriter Abe Polonsky, who along with fellow scribe Bernard Gordon organized the anti-Kazan protest that ultimately divided the Oscar audience between those who roseto applaud Kazan (Warren Beatty, Meryl Streep), and those who sat in silence (Nick Nolte, Ed Harris). (There were of course those who had it both ways, sitting and applauding, such as Steven Spielberg.) “I’ll be watching, hoping someone shoots him [Mr. Kazan],” the 88-year-old Mr. Polonsky told the New York Post before the ceremony. “We must protest everything Citizen Kazan stood for,” said 81-year-old Gordon, attacking Kazan for supporting HUAC’s reign of terror.
Robespierre complexes notwithstanding, these are the men who got much of the good ink in this affair, and not just in the pages of the Village Voice (which, in typically subtle fashion, depicted on its most recent cover a sweaty Kazan grasping a rat-shaped Oscar). The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, as accurate a barometer of mainstream liberalism as any, wrote up an approving interview with Gordon, smearing Kazan’s brand of anti-communism as "scuzzy." More disappointing still have been the tepid defenses mounted on Kazan’s behalf (with some striking exceptions, such as a robust essay from Arthur Schlessinger Jr.). Our Man in Hollywood Charleton Heston could say only that it would be fiercely unfair to penalize artistic Kazan because of political Kazan – a weak-tea defense of the battle scarred anti-communist which practically echoed Steven Spielberg’s position. “What he did was wrong,” Mr. Spielberg told the Los Angeles Times. “But it didn’t make his films wrong for me.”
But did Mr. Kazan in fact do wrong? Consider some questions commonly overlooked during the debate. Who and what stood to benefit from Mr. Kazan’s silence? Answer: America’s Stalinists and their beloved Party, the malevolent source of most of this century’s human suffering and devastation. And why the Communist fetish for secrecy anyhow? And on whose orders was the secrecy maintained?
Kazan, old now and beyond the fray, fortunately has recorded his thoughts on the matter in detail in his compelling autobiography, “A Life.” I couldn’t behave as if my old comrades didn’t exist and didn’t have an active political program,” he has written. “There was no way I could go along with their crap that the CP was nothing but another political party, like the Republicans and the Democrats. I knew very well what it was, a thoroughly organized worldwide conspiracy. This conviction separated me from many of my old friends.”
Still does. Ninety-year-old director Edward Dmytryk, another former Communist who made political history by breaking ranks with the so-called Hollywood Ten – hence the name of his own illuminating but obscure memoir “Odd Man Out” – elaborated on these questions in his1996 book. “To realize its ambitious programs,” he explained, “the Party needed the willing cooperation of a large number of outsiders, and ... the unaware liberals were its greatest asset ... So, like the cuckoo, [party organizers] laid their eggs in other birds’ nests and depended on those birds to hatch their chicks and nourish their fledglings. This was one of the chief sources of the Party’s surprising power, and exposure was the greatest danger it faced .... And that was the reason for their tight membership secrecy, and why naming names was the ultimate sin.”
And is the ultimate sin. The lamentable lesson of the Kazan controversy is that while Mr. Kazan may have won his career-capping Oscar, Messrs. Polonsky, Gordon et al seem to have won all too manyAmericans – unaware liberals at heart – over to their position that naming names is the crime of the century. Heedlessly, too many of us fail to consider the moral responsibility such men bear for their historical devotion to the likes of Stalin – through the many purges, the show trials, the famine in the Ukraine, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and the Gulag.
As Mr. Dmytryk has put it, “What thousands of confused liberals have believed... was that one must allow a seditious Party to destroy one’s country rather than expose the men and women who are the Party. In other words, naming names is a greater crime than subversion. That’s what I call the ‘Mafia Syndrome,’ and I find no shame or indignity in rejecting it.”
Nor should we, any of us. But it is our bizarre historical lot that having won the geopolitical phase of the Cold War, the cultural front remains a sphere of the Hollywood Left. Yes, Elia Kazan, accompaniedby his wife, Frances, and phalanxed by an impressive bodyguard made up of Martin Scorcese and Robert De Niro, came before all Hollywood to collect his well-deserved statuette.
But he had to slip into the auditorium through a side entrance to avoid the gauntlet of 500 picketers outside. And while no outbursts punctured his televised moment, his reception, as they say, was decidedly mixed. Hardly a lionizing moment to bask in.
Is this the triumphalist Western world we hear tell of? Not so long as we keep such courageous anti-communists as Elia Kazan out in the cold.
"Edward Dmytryk" 7/9/99
One of the more peculiar legacies of the epic struggle known as the Cold War is the fact that while the West may have won its geopolitical phase, the cultural sphere remains fixedly under the influence of the Hollywood left. Nowhere is this bizarre condition better reflected than in the popular understanding of the Hollywood Blacklist, the mid-century intersection of politics and culture.
Consider the reception accorded director Elia Kazan on receiving his special Oscar earlier this year. It largely ranged from hostile and grudging, to merely ambivalent. Such reactions derive from the misbegotten notion that those, such as Mr. Kazan, who “named names” - i.e., disclosed the identities of secretly organized Americans who were willing participants in a conspiracy guided by Moscow - committed a crime far greater than those who engaged in the conspiracy itself. And so it is that the “informers,” the disillusioned ex-communists who acquired their wisdom the hard way, have been culturally ostracized, while the informed-upon have been embraced, even celebrated - certainly neverheld responsible or called upon to explain their zealous allegiance to the likes of Joseph Stalin through purges, show trials, the Ukraine famine, the Hitler-Stalin pact and the gulag.
A bizarre condition, indeed. Director Edward Dmytryk, who died last week at age 90, once came up with a good name for it: “What thousands of liberals have believed since [the Blacklist] was that one must allow a seditious party to destroy one’s country rather than expose the men or women who are the Party, In other words, naming names is a greater crime than subversion. That’s what I call the ‘Mafia Syndrome,’ and I find no shame or indignity in rejecting it.” This quotation comes from Mr. Dmytryk’s fascinating memoir, “Odd Man Out,” perhaps the most illuminating and intelligent account of the Blacklist period.
Published when Mr. Dmytryk was 87, the book tells the story of the director’s experiences as a Communist in Hollywood who rapidly became disillusioned with the party after a series of eye-opening experiences, ranging from his astonishment at learning that Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon” was forbidden reading to party members, to his final rupture over party efforts to compel him to change and reshoot the script of “Cornered” (incidentally, a pretty good, noirish, post-World War II movie). While Mr. Dmytryk may well have thought that his involvement with the party was over, his life had already taken an unalterable turn leading first to one kind of infamy as a member of the so-called Hollywood Ten, the group of famously uncooperative witnesses called upon to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and later to another kind of infamy as the only member of the Hollywood Ten to break ranks.
In recent years, Mr. Dmytryk would say, somewhat ruefully, that his obituaries would primarily remember him for his relationship to the Hollywood Ten, not for his direction of such memorable movies as “Murder, My Sweet” with Dick Powell, and “The Caine Mutiny” with Humphrey Bogart. He was right. The career in movies that Mr. Dmytryk pursued since 1922 (when he worked as a 14-year-old messenger boy at Paramount Pictures) was indeed overshadowed by his very much unplanned role as a warrior of the early Cold War, with certain newspapers, namely the Los Angeles Times, passing along the fearsomely ugly judgments of nameless “critics.”
But if, in this bizarre era, Mr. Dmytryk’s outspokenness as a former Communist and an anti-communist did take something away from his artistic legacy, it added another legacy, one that eventually may even transcend all others. One day, perhaps, Edward Dmytryk will be widely recognized not only as an accomplished Hollywood director, but also as a man of history who rose to the exacting demands of a dangerous era with integrity, intelligence and courage.
"Elia Kazan, freedom fighter" 10/3/03
Elia Kazan, who died this week at age 94, is remembered for two things: for having directed masterpieces on stage and screen, and, in the parlance of the Left, for having “named names” before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952.
He was long recognized for the former; but he should have been equally celebrated for the latter. For what was “naming names” but lifting the operational anonymity of Americans who served the hostile interests of a foreign power bent on dominating the world?
Regardless of this hard historical truth, the potshots flew for a half-century at the mention of Kazan’s name, with no-talent Lefties scoring easy ink well into their dotage just for taking aim at Kazan the “informer,” the “Judas” and the “heel.” Never did they account for — and never were they askedto account for — their own shameful careers as shills and agents of what was, in truth, an aggressive Stalinist conspiracy to infiltrate and twist the entertainment industry into a propaganda tool for the Soviet Union.
What goes unacknowledged is how very successful this conspiracy was, and how potent its repercussions remain. Communist success in Hollywood lies not so much in the movies that have engraved the Leftist demonology of Big Business, the CIA and suburbia onto our collective consciousness, nor in movies that baldly extolled the supposed virtues of Communism. The very best measure of the smashing success of Communist infiltration of Hollywood is the near-total absence of movies, black-and-white or color, that chronicle the primary drama of the last century: the struggle for freedom against totalitarian communism.
In his book “Hollywood Party: How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry in the 1930s and 1940s” (Prima Lifestyles, 1998), Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley plumbs this massive cultural chasm.
Thousands of Germans risked their lives to break out from behind the Berlin Wall and find freedom in the West, he writes, but only a single Hollywood offering — “Night Crossing” from Disney — everdramatized this scenario. Screen heroes with “progressive” politics abound, but who can name a single anti-communist good guy?
By Billingsley’s count, not one Hollywood film has ever showed the Ukraine famine, the Moscow show trials or the Hungarian uprising against the Soviet military. Both the epic drama of Prague Spring and the Soviet-backed crackdown on Poland’s Solidarity movement are backdrops for just one film apiece: the former in a short sequence in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and the latter in “To Kill a Priest,” which, as Billingsley points out, “failed to detail the politics involved.”
As screenwriter and Communist Party official Dalton Trumbo bragged in a 1946 article for “The Worker,” major anti-Communist books of the 1930s and 1940s, such as Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon” (literally verboten to Hollywood Communists, as ex-communist director Edward Dmytryk revealed), Victor Kravchenko’s “I Chose Freedom,” and Trotsky’s biography of Stalin, never made it to the screen. How could they?
As Billingsley reports, story analysts and talent agents working for the Communist Party were perfectly placed to block the progress of such anti-Communist material.
One result is that the Cold War experience has never been blended into our cultural narrative. Lore-less, it remains politics alone, a not-fully-incorporated appendage of our history. Meanwhile, having to some large extent robbed us of the cultural legacy of that mighty global struggle, Hollywood communists left only the spiritually stunting cult of what has become known as political correctness in its place.
In the end, it was this coercive political orthodoxy — lockstep, collectivist “liberalism” that brooked no dissent — that drove ex-Communists such as Kazan to break silence, earning him the eternal enmity of the anti-anti-Communists. Which is something to ponder in our own time, as a gathering movement of anti-antiterrorism builds. In his new book, “Onward Muslim Soldiers” (Regnery), Robert Spencer highlights an undeniable parallel between yesterday’s anti-anti-Communism and today’s anti-antiterrorism: both movements see in the United States the chief villain of the world.
And “just as twentieth-century leftists prostrated themselves before the progressive’ Soviet Union and its satellites, so too does the twenty-first century Left prefer Islam — with its presumed, romanticized history of ‘tolerance,’ despite all evidence to the contrary — to the West,” he writes. “Just as the Left was anti-anticommunist, so too then are they anti-antiterrorist.”
This is not to suggest how Elia Kazan — who, by the way, never voted for Ronald Reagan — would have come down on the war on Islamic terrorism. Still, this Constantinople-born son of a Greek rug dealer well understood the differences between Islam and the West. His favorite among his own movies, “America, America,” is about a Greek Christian boy’s near-endless struggle to leave behind the repression of Ottoman (Islamic) Turkey for freedom in the United States.
Elia Kazan, R.I.P.