Inquisition in Eden
by Alvah Bessie
Macmillan, 276 pp., $5.95
Fear on Trial
by John Henry Faulk
Simon & Schuster, 397 pp., $5.95
Only You, Dick Daring
by Merle Miller, by Evan Rhodes
Sloane, 350 pp., $5.95
by Newton Minow
Atheneum, 316 pp., $5.95
These are the memoirs of persons who depended on the kindness of the producers of movies and television and were variously betrayed. They are four tracts for a new sort of Ludditry, the complaint not of the victims the machine displaces but of the victims it employs.
Alvah Bessie is the earliest of these victims and the most primitive. He has not been heard from since 1949 when he went to prison for contempt of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He was, then, one of those Communist screenwriters we dimly remember as the Hollywood Ten and who were among the first casualties of the machine. He was brought West from New York in 1943, largely, one suspects, because Hollywood’s duty was the manufacture of the anti-fascist film and because the drama editor of the New Masses could be trusted as instructor in the anti-fascist formula. The formula was no longer operative after the war; and Hollywood disposed of such of its tools as could not be reconverted with an indifference very like that with which Stalin liquidated the French Communist militants after he signed his pact with Laval in 1934. Mr. Bessie was the least adjustable of all; he must, in fact, be the last Stalinist; and to read him is like listening to the only surviving hand-weaver in Lancashire in the 1860s.
John Henry Faulk is a radio and television performer who was driven from the medium in 1957 on charges that he was pro-Communist. This accusation, we are pleased to find, had a small basis in Faulk’s humanitarianism: he would have stayed out of trouble if he had consented to the trial and purgation of suspected Communists in the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists. He refused on the simplistic ground that “I could never be a party to buying my personal security at the expense of another performer’s reputation and career.” His flaw was to know that he was liked and to believe that he had friends in power at the Columbia Broadcasting System who would protect him. They, of course, ran away from him in his crisis. He ended up in the care of Mr. Louis Nizer, who pressed his suit against his two main detractors to a judgment for libel of $3,500,000, in 1961. That judgment is unlikely to be collected: it has been for Faulk in any case a small reward; he is trying as best he can to put his career together and be again the cheerful talker he once was paid to be. He walks with two terrible wounds: he has discovered that there are people who do not like him and he has learned that there are not many people he can trust. Under those circumstances, the style of his innocence is hard to recapture.
Faulk is a more sympathetic figure than poor Bessie, and offers the hope that, if the system is not improving, at least its victims may be. Merle Miller is …
Prisons May 6, 1965