Books postsSaturday April 15, 2017
Winston Churchill, Comsymp
Near the end of “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic,” the much-recommended new non-fiction book by Glenn Frankel, we get a bit of blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman's life in exile in London. Some bad stuff: He suffered writer's block, drank too much, slept around on his wife, felt angry all the time. He did do a few pictures for Columbia under a pseudonym, then became one of the first, if not the first, blacklisted writer to work openly again without having to name names before HUAC. He wrote and produced the lackluster “The Key,” starring William Holden and Sophia Loren, then struck it big by writing and producing “The Guns of Navarone” with Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and David Niven.
One of the fans of “Navarone” was Winston Churchill, then 88, who set up a meeting with Foreman at his office to discuss the possibility of Foreman writing the movie adapatation of his memoir, “My Early Life: A Roving Commission.” (It finally became a movie in 1972, seven years after Churchill's death.) “In the interest of full disclosure,” Frankel writes, Foreman admitted to the former prime minister, and the man who had invented the term “The Iron Curtain,” that he had been blacklisted in the '50s for earlier Communist connections. This was Churchill's reply:
“Oh, I know all about you,” Churchill said. “But we don't like political blacklists in England. And speaking for myself, I don't care what a man believed in when he was a boy. My concern is whether or not he can do the job.”
Go fuck yourself, Hedda Hopper, Hedda Hopper.
Carl Foreman with infamous fellow traveler Winston Churchill.
Glenn Frankel's much-recommended “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic” includes a great story about Marlon Brando during his prep for “The Men,” which is about a WWII soldier who is paralyzed from the waist down. It's not only Brando's first film role but the first movie to unite the team that would make “High Noon” two years later: producer Stanley Kramer, writer Carl Foreman, and director Fred Zinneman:
A devout believer in Method acting, Brando immediately immersed himself in patient life at the Birmingham hospital. He confined himself to a wheelchair and drove a car specially fitted with hand controls like the vets themselves used. Brando spent four weeks living in a ward with thirty-one wary, frustrated, and often angry men. He dealt with them without a teaspoon of pity or condescension. Soon he became their leader. In the most famous tale, Brando went drinking one night with his new friends from the ward, and when a woman at a bar started praying aloud for their recovery, Brando listened for a spell, then rose up haltingly. “I can walk! I can walk!” he cried. Then he broke into a soft shoe and danced his way to the sidewalk, his paraplegic buddies trailing after him in full mirth.
Another good Brando story can be found in our recent feature on entertainment attorney Bonnie Eskenazi.
For Jan. 20, 2017
Here'a a passage from “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds” by Michael Lewis
The central question posed by Gestalt psychologists was the question the behaviorists had elected to ignore: How does the brain create meaning? How does it turn the fragments collected by the senses into a coherent picture of reality? Why does that picture so often seem to be imposed by the mind upon the world around it, rather than by the world upon the mind? How does a person turn the shards of memory into a coherent life story? Why does a person's understanding of what he sees change with the context in which he sees it? Why—to speak a bit loosely—when a regime bent on the destruction of the Jews rises to power in Europe, do some Jews see it for what it is, and flee, and others stay to be slaughtered?
Raising this last question for a friend.
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I don't know how long this has been going on, but Barnes & Noble is now doing the amazon.com thing of recommending items based on your purchases. I noticed this over the holidays. You buy, say, “The Book of Daniel,” and they'll suggest another E.L. Doctorow or maybe a history on the Rosenbergs or McCarthyism or the New Left. Their recommendations wind up in your bag along with your receipt.
Here's the recommendation I got based on Salinger purchases:
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- Catcher in the Rye by Salinger, J.D.
- Bell Jar by Plath, Sylvia
- Things They Carried by O'Brien, Tim
- Girl on the Train by Hawkins, Paula
The last is a bit of a stretch. Or something.
Anyway, it's a nice innovation ... 20 years late.
From Neil Gabler's book on Walt Disney, about the man's work at the 1964 New York World's Fair:
The basic idea of the attraction, appropriate to UNICEF, was a large boat that would float on a canal through a universe of small animated dolls representing all the countries of the world and demonstrating the fundamental unity of mankind—a platitude given the archetypal Disney treatment. Originally Walt had thought to have the dolls “sing” their national anthems, but the result was cacophony. Instead he asked the Sherman brothers, who had written songs for various films at the studio, to write a composition that could be sung by all the children. Harriet Burns, who worked on the exhibit, remembered Walt telling the Shermans offhandedly, “It's a small world after all,” which became the title of their song and of the attraction.
I was like: “Oh, so that was Walt Disney.” That song. It's something that I kept thinking throughout the book. Oh, so we might not know “Three Little Pigs” if it wasn't for Disney. We wouldn't have “Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.” The Davy Crockett coonskin cap craze in the '50s. EPCOT. All Disney.
I've never been to Disneyland or Disneyworld, but I still should've known about “Small World,” since it was so expertly parodied by “The Simpsons” when they went to Duff World and Lisa has that LSD-like experience during the knockoff “Small World” boat ride.
Duff World ... Hoo-rah!
Other great takes of latter Disney include the last chapter in E.L. Doctorow's “The Book of Daniel” (for Disneyland) and the last part of George W.S. Trow's epic essay “Within the Context of No Context” (for '64 World's Fair). Both are required reading.