[Marxism] God's angry man

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jul 11 07:25:59 MDT 2008

NY Times, July 11, 2008
Recalling a Cheerful Man Made Angry by Hypocrisy

For a while, way back in the days of the Hollywood blacklist, Eliot 
Asinof fronted for Walter Bernstein. Before we go further, some of you 
may need a brief primer.

Fear of communists in the 1950s, and a hunt for them and their 
sympathizers, led to a movie-industry ban on certain people with suspect 
politics. Walter Bernstein was one of them. You may have seen some of 
the films he wrote, not all of which bore his name in the credits. They 
include “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Train,” “Fail-Safe” and, most 
appropriately, “The Front.”

A front back then was someone who submitted a script under his own name 
when in fact it was written by a blacklisted writer. Mr. Asinof 
performed that chore for Mr. Bernstein. “I wish I could remember what 
the script was,” Mr. Bernstein said. “It would have been for one of the 
live TV shows, like ‘Philco Television Playhouse.’ ”

What he does remember is the state that Mr. Asinof worked himself into 
while dealing with television executives, and one producer in 
particular. “He got so mad at this producer,” Mr. Bernstein said, “that 
he was going to throw him out the window.”

“Eliot was an original,” he said. “He was God’s angry man.”

The funny thing — if such a thing may be called funny — is that Mr. 
Asinof soon landed on the blacklist himself. Years later he saw a file 
that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had kept on him. His sin, he 
discovered, was to have signed a petition in the early 1950s urging the 
New York Yankees to end their long resistance to racial integration and 
finally hire black players. Some subversive.

God’s angry man died last month just shy of 89. The other evening, 40 of 
his friends gathered to remember him, in a room at the Harvard Club 
where the walls were lined with portraits of very serious-looking men, 
long gone. Mr. Asinof’s anger came up often in the conversations. So did 
his honesty about people behaving badly. Mr. Asinof had known no 
shortage of those types.

He wrote more than a dozen books, but he is destined to be remembered 
best for “Eight Men Out,” which was published in 1963 and was the source 
for a 1988 John Sayles movie of that title.

IT was a well-researched study of the Black Sox scandal, the conspiracy 
among members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team to cast their lot 
with gamblers and throw the 1919 World Series. Eight players ended up 
being banished from the game for life.

Mr. Asinof did not deem them rogues, though. Not that they were heroes, 
but he saw them as grossly underpaid — and thus vulnerable — victims of 
their owner, Charles Comiskey, a man who held onto a buck so tightly 
that Washington’s face practically turned blue.

It was injustice of that sort that got to Mr. Asinof, said Jeff 
Kisseloff, also a writer.

“He wasn’t an angry person,” Mr. Kisseloff said. Most times, he said, 
Eliot Asinof was a man of good cheer, down to being able to joke about 
being confused with Isaac Asimov.

“There just were things that made him angry,” Mr. Kisseloff said. “He 
couldn’t tolerate bigotry. He couldn’t tolerate gutlessness. He hated 
hypocrisy. He hated people who didn’t stand up for what was right. 
Sometimes, things would just tick him off, and when they did tick him 
off, he wasn’t quiet about it.”

Apparently not.

Julian Koenig, who knew Mr. Asinof going back 80 years, told the 
assembled group that his friend “didn’t like agents, and he didn’t like 

“And lawyers,” a woman cried out.

Country-and-western lyrics also made him “very angry” for some reason, 
said Donald Kurtz, a golfing partner of Mr. Asinof’s. Al Silverman, a 
former editor at Viking Press, recalled working on a novel, “Strike 
Zone,” which Mr. Asinof wrote with the former Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton. 
The authors wound up not speaking to each other. “As we went along, I 
wasn’t an editor anymore,” Mr. Silverman said. “I was a referee.”

But as important as honesty about people and their failings may be, it 
has its limitations. That came through in a story from a memoir that Mr. 
Asinof finished just before his death. It was about his Army days during 
World War II on Adak Island in the Aleutians.

For heat and hot water, enlisted men had to make do with a faulty 
boiler. That’s because a new boiler was commandeered by a colonel “for 
this fancy bathtub that he had in his cabin,” said Mr. Kisseloff, who 
read the memoir. One day, the old boiler exploded, killing a young corporal.

The injustice hounded Mr. Asinof. Years later, he visited the corporal’s 
parents. And it seems the colonel had told them that their son died a 
hero, but Mr. Asinof let them know the reality.

“They didn’t want to hear it,” Mr. Kisseloff said.

That’s the problem with the truth, isn’t it? People don’t always want to 
hear it.

E-mail: haberman at nytimes.com

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