"Jesse James," J. Edward Bromberg and the Hollywood Blacklist...
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Watching Henry King's 1939 "Jesse James" I noticed that one of the characters, "Runyon" alias "Remington" is played by J. Edward Bromberg. "Runyon" is obviously roughly based on the figure of Allen Pinkerton, the "secret agent" of the civil war and founder of the Pinkerton agency, snoopers and thugs for hire, who were employed by the railroads to run down the James gang.
I also took a look at Samuel Fuller's 1949 "I Shot Jesse James" and behold! J. Edward Bromberg plays "Kane," an impresario managing one "Cynthy Waters" who is the (fictional) love interest for John Ireland as the lead in this pic, "Robert Ford," the killer of James.
While "Runyon" is a wiley instigator of the "Ford" in King's "JJ" (played by the great character actor John Carradine, patriarch of the Carradine family of actors), "Kane" is a much more sympathetic figure, roaming the west with his blond beauty acting attraction "Cynthy" played by Barbara Britton (later better known as a tv representative for Revlon cosmetics) who once was in love with Ireland's "Ford" and for whom he killed Jesse, in order to be pardoned and get the reward money to marry Cynthy.
Fuller's B movie plot is his vehicle to present Ford as also a sympathetic figure, driven by obsession to kill a man he confesses, at the sad end, to "love" in order to get the woman he "loves," but destroying her affection for him and alienating himself from every community -- excepting the understanding of an old prospector he befriends, "Soapy," played conventially but skillfully by old timer Victor Kilian.
Bromberg is a chunky man with a moon face and gentle eyes (turned snarky as "Runyon") and effective in both films as a somewhat "minor" figure. He was also a member of the American Communist party (CPUSA), "Hollywood branch," and was "named" during the House UnAmerican Activities committee's LONG "investigation" of nefarious and ooo so dangerous Hollywoodens gone lefty.
Bromberg has the uh "distinction" perhaps to be named by many, most notably Elia Kazan, one of the great film directors of the 1950s, and Lee J. Cobb who originated the role of "Willy Loman" in Arthur Miller's classic play "Death of a Salesman" and who went on to a distinguished career in movies and tv.
As for Bromberg his living as an actor "dried up" after 1949 (perhaps "I Shot Jesse James" his last acting job in movies?) and he eventually died of congestive heart failure shortly after being subpoenaed and forced to testify before HUAC, refusing for his part to "name."
I looked Bromberg up in Victor Navasty's fascinating (for me -- I read it twice) "Naming Names," published in 1980 and revised in 1991 and 2003. I found this rather poignant passage (page 75; Hill and Wang trade paperback edition) I'd like to share re Bromberg, et. al.:
"Sterling Hayden, star of 'The Asphalt Jungle' (1950), named his former mistress.
"The screenwriter Melvin Levy ('The Bandit of Sherwood Forest,' 1946) named his collaborator.
"Richard Collins (who wrote 'Song of Russia,' 1944) named a creditor.
"Clifford Odets, the Group Theater playwright who had given the eulogy at the actor J. Edward Bromberg's memorial service (where he blamed HUAC for Bromberg's death) named J. Edward Bromberg.
"And Martin Berkeley, a screenwriter specializing in such animal pictures as 'My Friend Flicka' ('I always maintained that was because he couldn't write human dialogue' explains Ring Lardner Jr.) named 161 names."
Navasky doesn't say but including Lardner?...
The only Woody Allen picture I truly enjoyed was 'The Front', which was a dramatic and chilling look at the official blacklist of that time.
The unofficial blacklist caught a lot more people, but they weren't famous, and so often go overlooked.
In addition to Navasky, Eric Bentley's Thirty Years of Treason is a good read.
Yes I found the HUGE "Thirty Years" interesting as it has actual testimony and that's "interesting" until it all starts sounding the same.
Re "The Front" (1976) it's not directed by Allen but by Martin Ritt who was blacklisted; in fact many of the actors featured in the film -- Zero Mostel, John Randolph, Lloyd Gough, Joshua Shelley and Herschel Bernardi -- had also been blacklisted as had the screenwriter Walter Bernstein.
The character played by Mostel who loses his job as a popular kiddie show actor in New York and eventually "walks" out of a hotel window is based roughly on the actor Philip Loeb who had portrayed "Papa" on an early very popular tv series "The Goldbergs." Loeb eventually checked into the Hotel Taft (! but perhaps appropriate at that) in New York City and took some pills that killed him.
Mostel's testimony in "Thirty Years" by the way was quite "interesting" because he rather flummoxed the committee by insisting that his appearances at "benefits" for "left causes" were just things he did because he was asked. He talked about doing his imitation of a butterfly at one event and the committee members seemed not to know what to "do" with that -- but Zero got blacklisted nevertheless eh...
The Nightmare Decade: The Life and Times of Senator Joe McCarthy is another good book on those dark times.
Bruce, my friend, I am interested that you refer to "those dark times". Do you remember them? They WERE in fact pretty grim -- I was climbing painfully toward adult consciousness then (e.g. I remember the day the Rosenbergs were killed) but for every thousand people who discuss those times, I can't think of even one who addresses what is to me the most important question, namely why was the accusation of "Communist" so effective. There have always been McCarthy types ion American life, but their rant had previously fallen pretty-well on deaf ears. Therefore, the real issue is the long ground-preparation of the proper fear among the populace, and for that we have to look at the mind-poisoning which has been practiced ever since the rise of American industry, as a weapon against organized labor. It's not sexy to say anything good about the labor movement these days, but the fact is that the utter collapse of anything like either working-class direct action or even reformist labor politics has made possible much of the BS which has been going strong for a third of a century in the USA. Whaddaya think? -- GCG
Clearly. The working man is a ball bearing on a large board in the hands of a be-suited demon, and there are holes all over the board, and the demon doesn't care which hole he falls through and he WILL keep tilting until the inevitable.
That seems to be reaching a bit; but the climate of fear (immanent nuclear annihilation) led ordinary people to commit some pretty terrible things.
My reference comes primarily from my reading; I was born near the tail-end of that period and therefore have no direct experience. But it also stems from familiy history.
The tradiitional bastions of independent thinking folded like houses of cards during that time. Labor unions selflessly discarded any accused members like live hand-grenades, only demanding that those sacrificed members keep up their union dues. Universities simply acquiesed, terminating any non-tenured accused without any questions, reservations, or investigation. Newspapers (still a force then) and other media mostly championed the pursuit of the 'odd', the different, the strange.
(This has given me a very dim view of the claims of labor unions to represent their members; the membership is seen as quite expendable, as long as the union leaders survive.)
It was in some ways a very dark mirror of the traditional quest for 'normalcy' (Harding's word) after a time of intense struggle. Americans, prior to World War II, abandoned their military without hesitation. But the dark spectre of Communism and the Iron Curtain conjured up images of Reds invading after a horrific nuclear exchange, taking over our country. Americans were told they HAD to support a large military for the common defense, even though it was peacetime.
With all of that, the average American wanted everything to be quiet and normal; no major scandals, no major conflicts, no 'weird stuff', nothing that required deep thought. Simple Good (us) and Evil (them). And people who were 'different' were convenient scapegoats for the hidden anger that things hadn't gone back to 'normal', would never be normal again.
For many people, there were no trials, no hearings, no formal accusations. Just suddenly you were called in and told you couldn't be retained on the payroll. No explanation, nothing you could refute, and your union didn't want to get involved. Even if you could find (let alone afford) legal representation (many attorneys avoided such cases), what could they do? You hadn't actually been accused of doing anything wrong; there was nothing in your file to show why you'd been fired. Many places offered glowing letters of recommendation to dismissed employees; of course, those letters meant nothing, because no one else was going to take a chance and hire you.
Certainly it was an example to those in power that Americans would assist in keeping themselves quiet...as long as they had something invested in the system. When a younger generation that didn't have as much to lose by challenging authority came of age, things changed a bit.
I agree with most of #10, but it still doesn't explain the qualitative difference between, say post-WWII, and the earlier post-Bolshevik-Revolution period. Or for that matter the anti-anarchist mania which swept the country beginning -- check the record -- with hate-reports of the Paris Commune, reaching critical mass with Haymarket, and the later suppression of "the Debs Rebellion" and Coxey's "army". Also, I had-to re-read your penultimate paragraph to make sure you weren't talking about right-now. The final paragraph makes it clear: Americans are largely keeping quiet now even WITHOUT any significant stake -- in fact, quite the opposite, in the status quo.
In re #9. How desolate: the Iron Man will never walk these mean streets again....
Fear. Since the U.S.S.R got The Bomb, and we 'lost' China to communism, the idea that somehow, It Could Happen Here, took hold of the American psyche. (I won't deny that there may have been nudging towards that conclusion.)
In prior supressions, the authorities had the problem of 'Well, you took care of the trouble-makers, right? So everything goes back to normal, and the police/militia/army leaves, right?' The government could bring a lot of force to bear; but the population wouldn't put up with that force remaining once the 'problem' had been solved.
But with the Cold War, that force could never be dismissed; the U.S. HAD to maintain a large military force, for the survival of our country. Americans sort of understood that; but they resented it as well. It wasn't 'right'. And those deemed as being a threat internally bore the brunt of that anger.
'But with the Cold War, that force could never be dismissed; the U.S. HAD to maintain a large military force, for the survival of our country. Americans sort of understood that; but they resented it as well. It wasn't 'right'. And those deemed as being a threat internally bore the brunt of that anger.'
The growth of that force went hand in hand with tricking the populace into believing it was necessary. It never was. Those deemed as being a threat internally were deemed such by the same folk who benefited from the growth of the M-I business.
For the most part, those who got swept up in the events were complete unknowns to those who benefited from the growth of the M-I complex. No, it was ordinary Americans, driven by fear and sublimated anger, who caused the most damage to their fellow Americans in that time.
As for the necessity; yes we know NOW that the U.S.S.R was a paper tiger, incapable of doing much more than protecting its own interests, who ultimately doomed themselves trying to compete with the Americans. But it wasn't that clear then; and confirmation bias ('we know they're a threat, so we need to find out how much, rather than even ask the question 'are they a threat?') plus personal interest (if the Russkies aren't threats, my budget will be cut next year) didn't help matters.
We have to agree to see this from different angles...I believe that the USSR was NOT a 'paper tiger', but that the entire show was a product of the James Byrnes type of thinking that the US would have a 20 year nuclear lead and MUST therefore proceed in pursuit of hitlerto unthinkable profits...
I'm not sure but that Henry Wallace and the Progressive party in '48 weren't "naive" but the "inordinate fear of communism" (the smartest observation Jimmy Carter ever made I believe) led to the hysteria of McCarthyistic accusation and response -- though folks sometimes don't know that McCarthy wasn't with HUAC (he was a senator and operated mostly from the senate's Government Operations committee) and had nothing DIRECTLY to do with the "blacklist" which preceded his step into notoriety.
HUAC had several chairs -- Martin Dies (it was known as "the Dies committee" initially), Francis Walter and J. Parnell Thomas who got convicted of padding his congressional payroll with non working relatives and ended up in the same minimum security prison with of all people the Hollywood Ten!
(Walter's daughter attended Sarah Lawrence in the '50s where the college prez Harold Taylor once remarked to her -- finding who she was -- "We can't choose our parents -- and you loss the toss.")
The CPUSA was uh "subversive" in that it sponsored spies and all that but that aspect was strictly controlled by "Moscow" and the various political activities while of course pro Sov were independent (and necessarily so) and the party was "progressive" re workers and "Negro rights" etc. Guys like Bromberg may have been willfully "ignorant" of Stalin's "nature" but they weren't into espionage or plotting to attack the US government.
What is the main argument of Navasky's book has to do with its title eh, NAMELY that "naming names," not "discussing" one's experience or even disillusionment with communism (most "witnesses" were EX, however NOT the Hollywood Ten) but revealing people one knew or barely knew or "heard" that they were "in the party."
Many (starting with the actor Larry Parks in 1951) BEGGED the committee to let them "tell all" about THEIR experiences but to leave out names. In fact HUAC almost always already KNEW the names and many, like Bromberg's, were repeated. The trouble was that repetitions put the named "in the headlines" again and ensured his/her "perpetual" association with "communist subversion," making it impossible to work.
Screenwriters could use as per the movie, "fronts" for their scripts and consequently the highest paid guy prior, Dalton Trumbo, got "the minimum" but did "work"; Trumbo even won an Oscar as "Richard Rich" (hmmmm) for "The Brave One" and when his uh "name" was called at the awards NOBODY got up.
Actors as Lee J. Cobb once observed "have only one face" and blacklisting meant that one went "abroad" to Europe usually or to the theater in New York if possible but one's movie career was "over." And then the opportunities for other acting were often limited as compared to Hollywood or to tv which operated a blacklist in the same manner.
(Lucille Ball was "connected" with a number of "red" causes -- she was PROBABLY "in the party" -- in the '30s and early '40s but by the '50s she was "Lucy" eh and CBS's big gold mine and a favorite of Dwight D so when her wiley husband Desi Arnaz got up before an audience and cracked that "the on'y t'ing 'red' abou' Lucy is her hair AND THAT isn' even --" well that "fixed" it.)
And one rumor re Ronald Reagan (I believe it's in Edmund Morris' controversial "biography" "Dutch") was that he -- a staunch and passionate New Dealer -- once applied to the local CP and was told that he, then a wheel in the Screen Actors Guild, would be better as a "covert" commie symp, fighting for party ideals. Reputedly J. Edgar learned of this and then "enlisted" RR as an FBI informer (actual, not a "rumor") on the basis of the "threat" of exposure of past "sin"...
Michael's contributions are a welcome turn away from much of what precedes, most notably Bruce theoretical summaries in #s13 & 15. Let me go back a ways and point-out that the Taft-Hartley Act, and that damn' Attorney General's list were confected against the "internal menace" while the US had a hands-down nuclear monopoly against the "external threat" of the Communist bloc. It didn't take revisionist scholars to tell us this forty years after the fact: it was obvious back then to anybody who could pour piss from a boot with full instructions on the heel.
The U.S had a (short-lived) nuclear monopoly; they also had a populace that wasn't interested in continued fighting on a global scale. (Again, the 'We Wanna Go Home!' riots after World War II.) And the 'loss' of China showed that having a nuclear edge was no guarantee of maintaining control; that took something the U.S. lacked. (Boots on the ground.)
So, the U.S. capability vis-a-vis the USSR (and later China) wasn't as clear cut as some might have it.
HUAC was a predecessor and 'fellow traveller' of Senator McCarthy, who continued the 'good work' after McCarthy's downfall. (HUAC's decline started in the 1960s: http://www.notinkansas.us/ ; it ended with witnesses laughing at the committed in public hearings.)
But again, these were all the official organs of repression; most people's encounters were with private organizations, or local public institutions. An anonymous complaint by a local citizen was all it took for someone to lose their job, their home, their good name. No one wanted to take the chance of keeping a 'sympathizer' on the payroll. HUAC and McCarthy ruined lives, but they had a lot of unpaid supporters as well.
There were also numerous fans of the great Atomik, especially those watching from Las Vegas. Now THERE is a con well-orchestrated.
In regard to the continued huge military spending even after WWII, that had a lot to do with economics. Most economists predicted the U.S. and Europe would fall back into depression after the war. It was partly to prevent that that the U.S. government developed the 'military-industrial complex' which frightened even Eisenhower, a former general (see his farewell speech). Of course, there had to be a reason why the U.S. needed a huge military after Japan and Germany had been defeated. So the threat of the Soviets was played up.
On the other hand... The Soviets didn't have the bomb, at first, but they had a ground force in Europe which the western allies couldn't match. So the threat wasn't entirely invented.
>21 madpoet: '...'military-industrial complex' which frightened even Eisenhower, a former general (see his farewell speech).'
Would be interesting to see whether ANYONE in pro con didn't know about this.
Not to pick, but Oligarchs seeking tremendous profits is economics. The brilliant move, for when we can stow the emotions/heart, was the rapid makeover of Germany and Japan at the expense of allies.
I think the Marshall plan was an adept move and its results were beneficial for Europe as well as for "US." I think it's obvious that there was a cold war "paranoia" but for instance the Rosenbergs WERE "guilty" (Julius was at least) and it's likely that so was Alger Hiss but I believe the execution of Julius and Ethel was barbaric and unnecessary and one can make it a "check" in the Dwight D negative column that Eisenhower didn't commute the sentences.
By the way since my topic includes in a sense Jesse James as per my "habit" I've been reading a bio of JJ -- "Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War" by T. J. Stiles (Alfred A. Knopf New York 2002) -- you know, just to see how "close" or "far" Hollywood was re the actual.
Stiles' study is very thorough, examining the "state" of Missouri from the 1830s where JJ was born, near Liberty in Clay county, Sep 5, 1847 and where Frank had been born Jan 10, 1843.
Their father Robert was a successful hemp farmer and a preacher who started a church under the Baptist rubric and their mother Zerelda (Jesse married a cousin named for his mother and she was called "Zee" -- Dr Freud call your office?) was an especially strong minded and dominant woman and Robert seemed to "wander" away from her at times, most notably to California for the '49 gold rush where in 1850 he died of disease (cholera?) in a mining camp.
Zerelda married twice after, once to a man who ended up cheating the family of its finances so she divorced him and then to a rather passive man of some means, a Dr Reuben Samuel, who was subsequently dominated by his wife in what one may call the "classic" manner?
"Mother" (I also just watched Hitchcock's "Psycho") was an ardent partisan of southern slaveholding (the family owned a number of slaves, a sign of its "middle" status) and the notorious strife re the admission of Kansas in the 1850s found Frank a "bushwhacker" and young Jess his admirer.
Frank later served in the confederate army of Sterling Price but when Price was driven from Missouri, Frank became a guerrilla fighter in several bands, notably with the most famed guerrilla general William Quantrill (Frank was involved in the infamous raid on Lawrence Kan) and then with "Bloody Bill" Anderson, the leader of one of the most vicious "terrorist" gangs that fought for a confederate Missouri and murdered dozens of unionist Missourians as well as union soldiers in the terrible "Centralia raid."
Jesse in his seventeenth year joined Frank (in 1864) and became an accomplished "terrorist" (the word Stiles uses to describe him at one point), participating in numerous killings including that of the unarmed (and undressed) union soldiers captured from a train during the Centralia raid.
"Mother" was known to state that she was "proud" of her sons and thoroughly endorsed their "activities," no matter how sanguinary. (Poor Dr Samuel once attempted to flee his uh "family" to Indiana but the union authorities that ostensibly controlled MO, a "border" slaveholding state that never formally seceded, denied him the required pass.)
Oh and there's a movie (there's ALWAYS a movie eh!), "Ride With the Devil," directed by Ang Lee of all people and released I think about ten years ago with Toby Maguire and the singer-actress Jewel in the cast that depicts the terrible "civil war" among Missourians who had as per Iraq and Afghanistan (or Bosnia for that matter) once lived in peace with their neighbors and finally were trying to kill each other. The inimitable Gore Vidal once said he thought it "the best" civil war film so I'm back at "bests" hmm...
Great post, MW. I will immediately steal that movie from the ether.
"American Terrorism" -- there's a long history of such. Stiles remarks that the "interesting" aspect re Missouri and other places during the civil war and even before as per Kansas was that this time the RACIAL component wasn't there specifically (implied though re black slavery?).
American terrorism had mainly that "racial" aspect in Indian raids and then in raids on Indians, e. g., Rogers' rangers' attack on the Abenaki Indian settlement at St Francis in Quebec in 1759 (and there's a movie -- "Northwest Passage" with Spencer Tracy as "Rogers"); the attacks back and forth in the Minnesota Lakota (so called "Santee Sioux") uprising after which some thirty or so Indians were hung by the Lincoln government; and the nefarious "Sand Creek massacre" and there's a movie too, "Soldier Blue" with Candace Bergen.
In MO however "white folks" were "happily" (apparently) murdering other "white folks" of the same ethnic background and even religious sensibility BUT who felt differently about the "morality" or "utility" of human (black) slavery and its value as exceeding that of the union of states and the constitution of 1789...
Another point I would make -- obviously the James gang garnered its legend re the reconstruction years (1863-77) and is part of a populist legacy that fears "the guv'mint" and the wealthier powers (represented by "the railroad" say) and finds in outlawry as per Robin Hood eh a "poetic" resistance.
The film "Jesse James" of 1939 mentions NOTHING about the civil war; the mother played by Jane Darwell is presented as feisty at first and then scared "her boys" are "gonna be hurt!" She hardly seems like the Zerelda of Stiles' book.
Jesse, played by a youthful beauty (like the Tsarnaev brother?) Tyrone Power, expresses his "compulsion" for revenge and becomes "hardened" by his experiences but what "drove" him to banditry is obviously corporate and political corruption and injustice. THIS "Jesse" rather suits the 1930s "leftist" zeitgeist and he the western "cousin" in a way to the 1940 "The Grapes of Wrath" directed by John Ford and featuring also Henry Fonda ("Frank James" in "JJ") and Jane Darwell this time as "Ma Joad," less sickly but still "afeerd" for "her boy" yet more stoical about it.
"I Shot Jesse James" concentrates on Robert Ford's betrayal and so is somewhat sympathetic to Jesse although he is presented as a "hardened" sort (played with a beard by Reid Hadley, the beard a part of his disguise as "Mr Howard" and historical -- a photograph of JJ in his coffin shows said beard) as is brother Frank portrayed by Tom Tyler who was earlier "shot down" in the streets of Lordsburg New Mexico by John Wayne in Ford's 1939 "Stagecoach."
So I look forward to Nicholas Ray's "The True Story of JJ" to see first, IS it "true" and second, what the more conservative but teen angst ridden 1950s had to say re Jesse James.
I've been rewatching the 1972 Philip Kaufman film "The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid" and it does imply that the James' considered their "raiding" (especially into "the north," i. e., Minnesota) as an extension of "the wahr."
Jesse as portrayed by Robert Duvall ("that blinky eyed bastard" Cliff Robertson's "Cole Younger" calls him) IS a mean sonuvabitch (uh no uh "pun" intended?) who murders some "yankee soldiers" on his way to Minn. Cole however (the "star" Robertson eh) is presented much more positively although I doubt there was a "substantial" difference. But then the audience can't be repelled by EVERYONE hmm.
And the "legendary" aspect is there yes but the "great raid" is badly bungled -- as one observer I'd read some years ago said, rather pointedly, "In comes the James gang and they're blown to pieces by a bunch of squareheads," i. e., Swedes, many of whom were used to weaponry and may have been civil war veterans themselves. The James gang rode in wearing "slickers" as per Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in the West" and in a small college town (St Olaf's was and is there) they attracted attention hmm and as famous as JJ was he was recognized.
Well as I've also heard said -- "there's always the unexpected"...
I think I've seen it, but I've started the download just to see Duvall.
By the way it seems that another "American terrorist" has been "picked up," one Robert Lady of the CIA who helped kidnap and then "rendite" (? as "extreme rendition") a suspect from Italy to Egypt (the Mubarakan one, just returned?) where the suspect was tortured first, asked questions later and then released.
Lady was detained by the Panamanians under it appears some Interpol request but the prospect of his being delivered to the Italians is small as there's no extradition treaty between the two AND the US has uh some influence re Panama eh.
(What was Lady doing in Panama? Something per the north Korean shipment of armaments under those bags of Cuban sugar?...)
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