William Mandel review of Arthur Miller-Elia Kazan documentary

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Sep 19 06:26:33 MDT 2003


>    Last Sunday I watched a PBS show with a strangely reversed title:
>"Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan and the Blacklist: None Without Sin." It is
>superb, with one very serious flaw, which will be the burden of this
>prose.
>    The two men in the title were the closest of friends, and
>collaborators, Kazan directing Miller's first plays, which were great
>hits. They had relations with, and Miller married, Marilyn Monroe, of
>whom there is truly lovely footage, and who played a remarkable role in
>bringing them together again after the crisis that provides the story
>line of this special in the American Masters series.
>    Miller and Kazan were both called before the House Committee on
>Un-American Activities. Miller would not name names, Kazan did. The
>first-rate film historians who carry the program demonstrate
>convincingly that the subsequent works of both were essentially a duel
>continuing the rationale of each for his behavior before the committee.
>    Miller's "The Crucible," a flop on Broadway largely because the press
>dared not say a good word about a play against the witch-hunt, hinged on
>the character Proctor, who, after confessing to that which he was not
>guilty of, argues and pleads for the one thing he has left -- his name,
>which would be taken from him if they compel him to name others.
>    Kazan's "On the Waterfront," in which Marlon Brando tells on the
>mobsters, including his own brother, responsible for the crimes that
>forced longshoremen to endure conditions not far from slavery, is an
>argument in favor of naming names.
>    The PBS show is dramatic and convincing until the wrap-up. At this
>point it jumps from the effects of the House Un-American Activities
>Committee upon Hollywood, Broadway, and the country at large to saying
>that it gradually lost popularity, and didn't amount to much when it
>attacked the civil rights and the anti-Vietnam-War movements in the
>middle Sixties. The End.
>    Gradually lost popularity? PBS drops a major movement and four years
>of history down the memory hole. In May 1960 HUAC subpoenaed 46 people
>to appear before a hearing in San Francisco. From my autobiography:
>    "May 13th proved to be tremendously exciting. Actually, it was
>historic, for it launched the mass movement of white students of the
>1960s. Black students were already on the move, primarily by sitting at
>lunch counters in the South and demanding to be served on a par with
>whites.
>    "HUAC made a fatal error in including an 18-year-old UC student, Doug
>Wachter, among the subpoenees....The leader of the liberal Berkeley
>student party SLATE and another student who had headed the Student Civil
>Liberties Union called a meeting to organize a protest against the HUAC
>hearing....They...organized a picket line outside the hearing and a mass
>rally in San Francisco."
>    "The police turned hoses on and viciously beat the mass of students.
>The next day, the San Francisco Chronicle immortalized the occasion by
>devoting its entire front page to nothing but a photograph of the City
>Hall rotunda with the students being washed down the staircase."
>    "HUAC...was totally taken aback by the massive student outpouring. So
>it lashed out by making a movie of these events....The film, Operation
>Abolition, was given enormous audiences - 18 million total - by the
>cooperation of the largest corporations and the nation's police
>departments."
>    "'Police riot' is a phrase the students invented to describe the
>events that occurred....The American Civil Liberties Union soon made a
>film titled Operation Correction, devoted solely to exposing the
>falsehoods in the Committee's movie and its editing....Finally, an
>opponent of the committee, Hollywood producer Robert Cohen, made the
>best of the anti-HUAC films, despite its deadpan title, House Committee
>on Un-American Activities."
>    "The first two showings of Operation Abolition were on TV in Los
>Angeles, introduced by a former governor of California."
>    "The Los Angeles TV commentator's type of attack did have some
>dangerous consequences. A month later, an incendiary bomb was thrown
>against the building of the Citizens Committee to Preserve American
>Freedom, in Los Angeles. It was headed by Frank Wilkinson and was the
>adult organization seeking to abolish HUAC. A man of classically
>respectable upbringing and background who had been a public housing
>administrator, Wilkinson has been convicted of contempt of Congress and
>served a year in jail. First, however, he had a truly triumphal speaking
>tour at campuses across the country, including one at UC Berkeley with
>an audience of  5,000. A couple of months later, a lunatic walked into
>the office of English professor Tom Parkinson, as rational and decent a
>man as could be found on the Berkeley campus, blew the side of his face
>off with a gun, and killed a graduate student. When captured, he said
>that this was an anti-Communist act and he had hoped to start World War
>III."
>    "Attacks, not lethal but politically more dangerous, came from
>presumably saner quarters. The Saturday Evening Post, the weekly
>middle-America trusted, with 6 1/2 million circulation, editorialized
>about the student protests: 'Those Mobs Are Part of the Kremlin's Plan,'
>and said: 'Directions for these disorders...were printed in The
>Californian, UC student newspaper, and circulated among the rioters.'
>That was a lie, and the Daily Californian forced the printing of a
>retraction."
>    "A nationwide mass movement now arose to abolish HUAC. The silent
>acceptance of McCarthyism during the preceding decade was a consequence
>of belief in the inevitability of war with the USSR. This belief
>demanded that all Americans close ranks. That the United States would
>beat the USSR even in a nuclear war was taken for granted. Then Sputnik
>went up in 1957. This proved the Soviet claim to have developed an
>intercontinental ballistic missile, because they clearly had rockets
>capable of boosting payloads beyond the pull of gravity. The small
>minority of citizens who had hitherto been vocal opponents of nuclear
>arms swelled into a mass movement embracing people from all strata of
>society. Americans now realized that this country too would be destroyed
>in such a conflict. In that sense, Sputnik, opening people's eyes on all
>these issues, contributed to the anti-HUAC movement."
>    "Berkeley students could not abandon their opposition to HUAC even if
>they wanted to, which they didn't. Sixty-eight people, primarily
>students, had been arrested the day I appeared." I was one of the
>subpoenaed witnesses, and was called to the stand immediately after the
>students were washed down the stairs. "Students now organized to oppose
>HUAC and to defend themselves legally."
>    "The students' behavior was highly principled. When offered dismissal
>of the charges against them on condition they file no suits against the
>police, they agreed, provided the judge would also dismiss charges
>against non-student demonstrators. He did so."
>    "In October, just weeks after U.C. Berkeley's fall semester began...I
>wrote to Bill Sennett, a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, then
>living in North Hollywood. He had invited me to speak to his discussion
>group about the split between the USSR and China that had just occurred.
>My letter tried to convince him to change the subject of my talk. I
>wrote:
>     "'There is one phenomenon in current American political life -- and
>current American political MOVEMENT -- with which I am intimately
>associated and highly familiar, and which I believe is more important to
>your group than this Sino-Soviet business.
>     "'I refer to the student movement, and in particular student
>opposition to the Un-American Committee....It is important for your
>group to know that a new MOVEMENT is under way that, I am absolutely
>convinced, will have a major impact on American life in the years just
>ahead'."
>     "A month later a pamphlet called Campus Rebels appeared, written by
>Al Richmond, editor of the communist People's World. He had interviewed
>me and quoted me anonymously, thus:
>     "'An older radical, who is acquainted with student leaders, said
>this movement might well spearhead a progressive democratic revival in
>American life filling a vacuum that he believes has been created by the
>abdication of labor leadership and the ineffectiveness of existing
>radical groups.'"
>     "I spent much of the next four years responding to the furor created
>by Operation Abolition" which treated me as chief villain and "briefly
>made me a national figure among youth," "and participating in the
>counteroffensive the hearing and movie stimulated." I was invited to
>speak at campuses across the country.
>     It was those four years of student activity that reduced the
>prestige of the Un-American Activities Committee to zero, causing its
>attacks on the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement
>simply not to be taken seriously, and resulting in its abolition by
>Congress not long thereafter.
>     But viewers of the PBS film get not one word on that.
>
>                         William Mandel
>========================================================
>
>The title of my autobiography, SAYING NO TO POWER (Introduction by
>Howard Zinn), is based on my demolition of Sen. Joe McCarthy and later
>of HUAC in hearings of 1953 and 1960. It is a history of how the
>American people fought to defend and expand its rights since the 1920s
>(I'm 86) employing the form of the life of a 30s AND 60s activist, one
>who was involved in most serious movements: student, labor, 45 years of
>efforts to prevent war with the USSR and Cuba, civil rights South and
>North, women's liberation [my late wife appears on 50 pages], 37 years
>on Pacifica Radio [where I reinvented talk radio, of whose previous
>existence I had been unaware], civil liberties, and opposition to
>anti-Semitism and to Zionism. You may hear/see my testimonies before
>McCarthy and, later, HUAC on my website, http://www.billmandel.net  I am
>the author of five books in my academic field, have taught at UC
>Berkeley, and earlier held a postdoctoral fellowship, by invitation, at
>Stanford's Hoover Institution.
>  The book may be ordered through all normal sources. For an autographed
>copy, send me $24 at 4466 View Pl.,#106, Oakland, CA. 94611
>========================================================

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org


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