erik lundegaard

Sunday May 03, 2020

Ben Maddow by Walter Bernstein

“[My agent] paired me with a more experienced screenwriter named Ben Maddow. We were to adapt an English thriller called Kiss the Blood off My Hands. Once again it was a learning experience, only this time I did some actual writing. Maddow was a poet and, under the name of David Wolff, had written a documentary film about civil liberties called Native Land. I had liked the film and came to admire Maddow. He had a film sense that was then entirely new to me. He wrote for the eye as well as the mind, while I was still chained to the ear. He was also, like many of the New York writers I met in Hollywood, a product of the Depression. They all seemed touched with some ineffable sadness, as though the world had broken something in them that could never be entirely mended. Maddow had graduated from Columbia with a science degree in the pit of the Depression and had been unable to get any kind of job. For a year, he told me, he left his apartment only at night, roaming the city by himself until dawn. He had a taste for what was bent and melancholy. When he wrote a novel some years later, the final pages were a minute description of the garbage floating in the East River. After our collaboration he went on to write fine scripts for Intruder in the Dust and The Asphalt Jungle, and then he was blacklisted.” ...

[Bernstein then returned to New York and spent most of the 1950s on the blacklist, scrounging out work on television through fronts. Near the end of the decade, he was asked back to Hollywood—I believe to work on a project for Italian producer Carlo Ponti, who was married to Sophia Loren and didn't give a rat's ass about the blacklist.]

“While we were there, I heard that Ben Maddow was working openly again. He was at Twentieth Century-Fox, writing a movie for Elia Kazan. I found this hard to believe. It meant that he had given names. It was something I did not want to believe. I also did not understand it. Maddow had been working steadily since being blacklisted, mostly writing scripts for a writer-producer named Philip Yordan, who then placed his own name on them. He had written some very good ones, including the loopy western Johnny Guitar. Whatever he had done, he had not done because he was starving. ... 

”We met at a coffee shop and embraced. I found myself very glad to see him again and very apprehensive. We sat down and ordered two of the breakfast specials and then he said what I knew and feared he would say. He said it right away. He had testified in secret and named seven or eight or maybe ten people, he was not exactly sure how many, and now he was working again. ‘Why did you do it?’ I asked. “Why? You were working.' 'I couldn't stand going into the screening room after the lights were out,' he said. It had nothing to do with money or politics or being afraid or not able to work. He simply could no longer stand living in the shadows. ...

”I felt there was something I should feel that I was not feeling. I should feel anger or contempt or disgust. Maddow had not been forced to do what he did. He had been working, being paid well, surviving the blacklist better than most. He had gone through the worst of it. But there are no gradations of betrayal. He had sold his friends so he could come out of the dark. Now he stood in the light and he could put his name on his work, but he had sold his name as well as his friends. All I could feel was sadness."

— from Walter Bernstein's “Inside Out: A Memoir of the Blacklist”

Posted at 07:53 AM on Sunday May 03, 2020 in category Books  
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