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Stage West Theater in Fort Worth Texas sold all their tickets for the last matinee performance of “Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been…” by Carlyle Brown. It’s about one of poet Langston Hughes’ testimonies to the McCarthy anticommunist committee in 1953.

“Are You Now…” in Ft Worth

People who attended because they wanted to get more insight into the great poet and his poetry, or people who just like to see a well-done one-man performance, were probably quite pleased.

Those of us who wanted to see an uplifting portrayal of America’s fight against fascism, or at least wanted to gather insight into what happened during the McCarthy period so we can avoid it now, were severely disappointed.

There were two acts. Djore’ Nance performed alone and made an effort to give an insight into Langston Hughes, his times, and his work. In other words, it was essentially a lecture. It was a very good lecture and well performed, but still a lecture.

In the second act, Christopher Dontrell Piper played Hughes’ lawyer and sat beside him while off-site questions came from, supposedly, Senator Dirksen, anti-communist spokesperson David Schine, top anti-communist prosecutor Roy Cohn, and the infamous McCarthy himself. Piper had about two lines, so the second act was about like the first, all Nance. The responses to the investigators were, apparently, mostly taken from the actual testimony in 1953.

Hughes did not stand up to Mc Carthism. He avoided any kind of confrontation. He didn’t defend his rights or anybody’s. He ended his testimony with a loving endorsement of the entire process. Yes, he probably had to. Dozens of otherwise good people caved in to McCarthyism and hardly anybody opposed it. But why make a play about it?

Why not, instead, make a play about Paul Robeson or Dashiell Hammett, or one of the others who fought back as well as they could and suffered the consequences?

The audience rose to their feet and applauded as the play closed, but they also headed for the door. I could hardly wait to get out of there. There was far more information, and more meaningful content, in the playbill than there was in the play. YouTube has dozens of more worthwhile works.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, see my personal web site.

Book review: Glenn Frankel, “High Noon. The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic.” Bloomsbury, New York

garycooper

There aren’t any actual good guys that I know of in the story about the American film blacklist. There are just bad guys, to one degree or another, and victims. The main character in this book is Carl Foreman, who wrote “High Noon” and saw it through. According to the book, Foreman’s views were shaped by the anti-communist witch hunt going on at the time (1952). Foreman was one of the victims.

The plot of the movie, as you know, concerns a lawman under pressure from a gang of killers. He can’t find anyone to back him up, but he can’t figure any way out of it either. So he has to face almost certain death alone. He survives (it’s still a Hollywood movie) and is embittered about the law (the system?) and about the people he had considered his friends. He dumps his tin star and rides away. The town becomes a ghost town, just as it deserved.

The town in High Noon is a metaphor for Hollywood. I’m old enough to remember when the movie came out, and I’m also old enough to remember the schlock that passed for American films afterward. Rock Hudson flirted with Doris Day in every other movie for the next ten years!

I’ve read several books about the witch hunt that is sometimes called the “McCarthy period.” I liked this one because it names a lot of names of the name namers. It doesn’t equivocate as to who was profiting by turning in their friends, who was lying to begin with, and who found some way around it. Foreman was one of those last ones. He was a victim to be sure, but he came out of it better than many former Reds. He managed to avoid naming any names, too, according to the book.

A lot of fuss is made over film star John Wayne, who was one of the biggest red-baiters in Hollywood. This may have been because many of the people he was victimizing had served honorably in World War II, while Wayne ducked it and made his fortune playing war heroes. Wayne hated “High Noon” and Carl Foreman. There’s an interesting interview on YouTube in which Wayne tries to cover his venom with a patriotic veil.

I also liked the film analysis in the book. Several artists did what has to be their best, or way up there nearly best, work in this movie under difficult circumstances. I can’t think of a better performance by Katy Jurado or Lloyd Bridges. Lon Chaney Jr, who ruined his image by playing The Wolfman over and over, was especially outstanding. Gary Cooper played Gary Cooper for the 1000th time, but it’s hard to think of a better version! If you’re curious about Cooper’s role in the witch hunt, you’ll get your answer in this book.

The book offers a lot of answers about this terrible period in American history. The questions continue to overshadow the answers, especially “Will it happen again?”

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3 fm in Dallas every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

 

 

 

marxdmn

When I was in high school, my girlfriend’s BFF was the daughter of a college professor. We double-dated, and that’s how I came to be sitting in the prof’s living room. Young and eager for intellectual discussion, I asked her about Karl Marx. She went crazy angry on me and snapped, “He was a Russian dictator and that’s all you need to know!”

Even I, a hick from a hick town, knew Karl Marx wasn’t Russian. So I learned two things:

  1. College professors may not always be so smart
  2. There’s something really scary about the name “Karl Marx.”

I didn’t ask anybody again until the middle of the Vietnam War, when I and millions of others were trying to figure out how to understand and improve our society. Even then, I was too anti-Marx indoctrinated¬†to try any serious study. Eventually, I gave in to the overwhelming curiosity generated by the nagging question, “If there’s nothing to be learned, why are they trying so hard to keep me from learning it?”

So I plowed through a number of books and pamphlets by Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, and V.I. Lenin. Some of it was really hard to read. I had to get a friend to teach a “course” on Capital Volume One in my living room, just to get through the book. As these things were written mostly in the 19th century, the language was different. A lot of Lenin’s writings were polemics, arguments, against obscure people I never heard of with Russian names I couldn’t pronounce or remember. But the biggest obstacle of all was the anti-communism buried deep in my bones during my childhood in the McCarthy witch hunt days.

I didn’t like a lot of the people who posed as “Marxist scholars.” They were an awful lot like Biblical scholars; and I can’t understand or relate to either one very well.

Other people told me that they knew all about Marxism, but that it was irrelevant today because it was written before computers, before global warming, and before nuclear weapons.

I think that those who dismiss or attack Marxism are generally wrong. There’s a lot of relevant stuff to be learned there, even though it’s pretty hard to dig out through reading the old books.¬†Fortunately, today, there’s a shorter and easier way on-line. See what you think! ¬†–genelantz