Tuesday, February 21, 2017

High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic

You know the film. Sheriff Kane has married a Quaker beauty and is hanging up his gun and turning in his badge to run a shop. Then Kane learns that a gang is out to get even--Kane's life to pay for his arrest of their leader, now out of jail.

Get out of town, everyone advises. This two-bit town wasn't worth dying for.

Kane knows you can't escape the past. He had to face the danger and end it once and for all. As he tries to form a posse Kane discovers he is alone; everyone else in town justifies retreating into their protective shells.

Clocks tick off the minutes until noon when the train carrying his nemesis arrives. Kane is left alone on the empty street of a town without moral conviction, friendless; even his pacifist wife is leaving town without him. It is Kane alone against four armed men bent on murder.

The simple song with the hoofbeat rhythm tells the story, and its melody morphs and evolves, becoming menacing and persistent, until it is High Noon.

Stanley Kramer owed United Artists one more film to fulfill his contract, then he could get on making movies under his own studio. Screenwriter Carl Foreman had been working on an idea for several years, High Noon. They secured the over-the-hill but still box worthy actor Gary Cooper to play the lead, and newbie Grace Kelly to be his wife.

No one thought the film would amount to much. Cooper's acting lacked oopmh, Kelly was too young, and, used to emoting to the back row in the theater, over-acted. The early film version was deemed awful and needed cutting and remaking.

I was thrilled to read Glenn Frankel's book High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic. High Noon is a favorite film in my household. I know it scene by scene. Frankel's account of how the film was made was fascinating and exciting. Frankel portrays Gary Cooper as a handsome Lothario, also described as one of the nicest, greatest guys; Carl adores Coop.  Frank Cooper was the son of a Montana lawyer who wanted to be an artist but could not afford art school. He went to Hollywood after learning they needed stunt artists. He was a quick study. His handsome good looks caught the eye of Clara Bow for her famous movie It. Gary Cooper was born.

What really makes this book relevant and important is learning how the Cold War fostered an era of fear that allowed wholesale persecution.

Before High Noon was complete Carl Foreman's name was given to the House Un-American Committee as a member of the Communist Party. Carl had been a member, drawn to its Anti-Fascism and promotion of the rights of minorities, Jews, immigrants, and unions. Carl had signed an oath in 1950 saying he was not (then) a member of the Communist Party.

The Communist Party of the early 20th c attracted progressive liberals and intellectuals who supported such 'un-American' ideals as unionizing and workers rights; their agenda did not include the overthrow of the United States. The Communist Party was seen as a social club, a place for making connections. When Russia became an ally against Hitler, Hollywood was called upon to portray positive images in films like Song of Russia and Mission to Moscow.

The House Un-American Committee 'quizzed' accused Communists, rewarding those who cooperated with reprieve, but not always forgiveness. Milton Berkeley gave the Committee 150 names and was their darling; yet when his son graduated from Yale he was denied acceptance into the Navy's Officer Training Program, blacklisted because his father had once been a Communist!

Carl could have played their game, admit his sins and name several Communist party members they already knew about. He'd be off the hook, perhaps with his career damaged, but not over. Carl would not bend his convictions; he'd rather go to jail. Alone and afraid he faced the tribunal. They were not pleased.

Carl was a liability. Kramer fired Carl; no studio could afford to be associated with Communism. Cooper, a Republican anti-Communist, believed in and supported Carl and wanted to help him start his own company; the deal fell through. Even Cooper couldn't defeat the HUAC and stand up to the threat of blacklisting. Foreman went to England and went on to write The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Guns of Navarone, The Mouse that Roared, Born Free, and Young Winston.

The HUAC's abuse of power was finally addressed by the Supreme Court in an a1957 ruling, stating that "There is no general authority to expose the private affairs of individuals without justification in terms of the functions of Congress. Nor is the Congress a law enforcement or trial agency." Senator Joseph McCarthy's fall also damaged the HAUC's credibility.

Carl Foreman had lost his job; his name was expunged in the credits of High Noon and The Bridge on the River Kwai; his passport had been revoked; and his marriage damaged. And yet years later, back in America, he ran into John Wayne, an ardent anti-communist. They embraced as old friends. When Carl asked how he could accept an old enemy so nicely he replied that Wayne was a patriot and had only been doing what he thought was right.

In times of national stress fear manifests in attacks against perceived threats, which in hindsight are seen as ill-advised, unconstitutional, and morally suspect. The red-baiting witch hunts of the 1950s were such a time. Frankel's book reminds us of the cost of allowing our fear to negate the rights guaranteed by our laws and warns against the misuse of power.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

High Noon
Glenn Frankel
Publication February 21, 2017
$28 hard cover
ISBN: 9781620409480

Sunday, February 19, 2017

You Must Go Home Again: The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

"O brothers, like our fathers in their time, we are burning, burning burning in the night." --Thomas Wolfe

Phillip Lewis's debut novel The Barrowfields is a remarkable story, beautifully written and wise. Henry's journey resonates with self-recognition and affirms that going home can open the path to the future.

The language is lush with a penchant for rarefied words, a nod to Thomas Wolfe's poetic and verbose style, and the novel is imbued with vivid descriptions and cinematic scenes.

The protagonist Henry Aster narrates the story of his family, beginning with the first settlers in Old Buckham. Settled deep in 'the belly' of the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, "a town of ghosts and superstitions," and populated by under a thousand people, 'everyone else lived in the hills beyond.' His grandparents survived on little but were content.

Henry's father was considered "awful queer," a bookish boy who idolized Thomas Wolf. University provided an escape and brought him a love of Poe and Faulkner. After graduation he teaches while writing, winning early acclaim before faltering. He wants to write the great American novel--to prove his worth. Then he is called back home to care for his failing mother. The family moves into an abandoned mansion on a hill, a 'macabre' house with dark corners, haunted by ghosts. A lawyer by day, at night he retreats into a cubbyhole room to struggle with his unmanageable novel and his growing alcoholism.

"Aster's work, for all its brilliance, is impenetrable."

Henry had idolized his dad; they shared a love of books and music. But he and his sister Threnody watch their father retreat from the world until he is a 'ghost.' They pledged to always be there for the other. After the tragic death of a new sibling, their father succumbs to despair and deserts his family.

Henry leaves Old Buckram for university and law school. He falls in love with Story, a conflicted girl with her own father issues and a fear of intimacy. As he supports Story in her search for her father, returning to her home town of Lot's Folly, Henry realizes that he also must go home again and confront his past, and face the sister he abandoned.

" I suppose that one can never leave a place completely."
Wolfe's influence pervades the novel, from the setting and theme of the search for the father to the influence of  Wolfe on Henry and his father: just before Henry graduates from Chapel Hill he reads Look Homeward, Angel and You Can't Go Home Again and "never got over them entirely."

The role of books is hugely important. The Barrowfields is a 'wasteland of nothingness," a desolate opening in the woods outside of Old Buckham. When the town gathers there to burn Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, Henry implores his father to stop the book burning. In a frighting scene, his father stands up to the crowd to defend and protect the volume from the fire.

Our past leaves its scars and questions, and painful as it is, we become free by confronting it. Lewis has written a story that hearkens back to the great literature of the past while offering insight into the universal human condition.

You can learn more about Lewis and his debut novel in my interview with the author in my blog post on February 26, 2017.
Phillip Lewis

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

"Mythic in its sweep and mesmeric in its prose, The Barrowfields is a breathtaking debut about the darker side of devotion, the limits of forgiveness, and the reparation power of shared pasts." from the publisher's website

The Barrowfields
Phillip Lewis
Publication Date March 7, 2017
$26 hard cover

Whereas: Poems by Stephen Dunn

"What's a poet anyway but someone who gives/ the unnamed a name?"
Many years ago I came across Stephen Dunn's poetry. I thought I knew where but it turned out to be a false memory. It happens to me more and more often now, misremembering something vividly recalled, learning it didn't happen that way at all. I requested Dunn's new book of poems Whereas through Edelweiss because I recalled his name and wanted to read his latest poems.

Dunn begins with a poem on his seventy-fifth birthday considering "the movement from ignorance to astonishment" and the "strangeness, the immensity" of life. He ends with A Short History of Long Ago, recalling the simple things of childhood that brought contentment followed by adulthood's choices and desires, concluding, "A bad memory is the key to happiness./I apologize for everything I haven't done."

These poems written from the wisdom of maturity are thoughtful without being abstruse, universal by being personal. Duplicity and truth, the role of the storyteller, nature vs artifice, faith, and superstition, marriage and parenthood, the mystery of life--his themes are universal.

I read the poems several times, with certain lines resonating with me.

The Melancholy of the Nude considers an artist's model who lives in "a world where she was both woman and thing."

 In Be Careful you are warned not to look into the eyes of an animal, no matter how beautiful, for staring means aggression, and "Doesn't blood usually follow when language fails?"

In Even the Awful he writes, "I would prefer an occasional bout of joy, which I could recover from in a day or so, and maybe even speak about, whereas ecstasy (that one time) made me silent." A deceased friend "just lay there, immobile, like a Calder without a breath of air to move it. In fact, he had become an 'it', and those of us who knew him noted how poorly itness suited him."

In Creatures we see him at the seashore watching a pelican following a dolphin, feeding on a school of fish and concludes that "to step out/of our houses any morning is to risk/being variously selected, and that nothing/like kindness of beauty of justice/will ever change the truth of some lives."

I keep returning to these poems. Each reading I discover something I had missed.

Dunn won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry

I received a free ebook from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Incisively capturing the oddities of our logic and the whimsies of our reason, the poems in Whereas show there is always another side to a story. With graceful rhythm and equal parts humor and seriousness, Stephen Dunn considers the superstition and sophistry embedded in everyday life: household objects that seem to turn against us, the search for meaning in the barrage of daily news, the surprising confessions between neighbors across a row of hedges. Finding beauty in the ordinary, this collection affirms the absurdity of making affirmations, allowing room for more rethinking, reflection, revision, prayer, and magic in the world.

Stephen Dunn
W. W. Norton & Company
Publication February 21, 2017
ISBN-13: 978-0393254679
ISBN-10: 0393254674

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Eugene Gochenour's Memoirs: Jokesters Join the Lab

Dad wrote about "New Blood" as the Air Conditioning Lab expanded in the 1980s, including two jokesters who loosened up the lab. These stories became legend in our family. 

Eugene Gochenour at work in the 1980s
"As the demand for air conditioners in automobiles increased, it became necessary to increase the size of our lab. The lab had always been serene, orderly, and fairly quiet (boring), but that was soon to change. One day two new mechanics transferred from another lab to ours.

Their names were Jim C. and Jay F. They were noisy and boisterous and not too respectful of us older mechanics. At first I resented their presence because they were so disruptive. Also, they were always thinking of ways to annoy me.

At lunch time I often took a nap since we had a 45 minute lunch break. Once when I awoke after the nap and tried to walk I tripped because they had tied my shoelaces together! If I removed my shoes while I slept they would hide them and when I awoke I had to walk around in my socks trying to find them.

Once when I was standing on my bench putting in a new light bub in a ceiling fixture and could not drop my hands, they loosened my belt and pulled my pants down. So, there I was, standing on my bench in my under drawers until I could finish what I was doing and pull my pants back up.

On the top of my bench was a small cabinet with drawers. It had many nuts, bolts, washers, and other small parts. Sometimes when they were both by my bench and I was talking to one of them the other would be dumping the drawers full of parts onto my bench. of course when I saw what they did, I chased the one who dumped the parts, but they both just laughed.

In the 1980s we got another new addition to our lab. Diana C. was an Electrical Engineer. She had graduated from the University of Michigan and was very sharp. Well, one of the mechanics had a small wooden statue of a naked man wearing a barrel that was hung from his shoulders by suspenders. it stood about six inches high and with his bare feet looked like some poor hillbilly. Some people would be inquisitive and lift the barrel, and when they did a huge penis wold pop out. We all got many laughs when that happened. But we decided to improve him. We drilled a hole in the penis and hooked up a hose and a water supply to it.
Jim C. and Dad in the lab
When Diana came into the lab one day we showed her the little wooden man and when she lifted the barrel we turned on the water and she got squirted. She was surprised and we all howled with laughter. Diana could have really raised hell for us, but she was a good sport, and never complained to our bosses. She learned fast what she was in for when she worked out in our lab.

One day a huge horsefly flew into our lab Jim C. chased it around until he caught it. He sprayed it with something from an aerosol can which knocked it out, then he came over to me and pulled a hair from my head. He put Crazy Glue on the hair and attached it to the back of the fly. He must have thought about this before because he had a small, quarter inch by three inch piece of toilet paper with the words "Eat at ARA" printed on it. The sign was attached to the other end of the hair on the fly. The ARA was of course the company that ran the Chrysler cafeteria.

Well, there happened to be a meeting going on at a conference room next to our lab with about ten people including our lab supervisor and some engineers and designers. When the fly revived, Jim opened the conference room door and set the fly loose.

So here's this fly cruising through the room advertising ARA with everyone watching and after a few trips around it land on the nose of Fred McC. who was looking up toward the ceiling. When Jim released the fly into the room it became quiet but soon after there was a roar of laughter. No one was ever reprimanded for this, but I think they knew who was responsible.

Setting on a cabinet by my bench was a small toy slot machine. Occasionally someone would come by and pull on the lever. The toy was at about face level and when the lever was pulled a little round funny head would pop up and squirt the person who had pulled the lever. There was always someone new to pull the lever so we got many laughs from it.

Even though we had a good time at work, everyone was a good worker and our lab accomplished much.

Jim C. was a hunter and he and I planned to take a weekend and go to my brother-in-law Don Ramer's cottage near Grayling, MI. I had spent a week helping Don and his wife Marie build the floor, walls, and roof panels of the cottage a few years before. Don had ten acres and his twin brother Dave had ten acres net to his. It was all heavily wooded.

After work on Friday, Jim and I loaded up the car with our guns and hunting equipment and headed north. When we were north of Bay City it was very dark. Parked at the side of the road was a van and as we approached we saw a man waving to us. So we stopped to see what he wanted.

The man told us they had hit a deer and heir van was disabled. He said the deer had a broken back and was lying by the road behind their van. He asked if we had a gun so we could stop the deer from suffering, and we said we did. Jim had brought along a pistol and he went and shot the deer. Then the man asked if we could run him into the next town for a tow truck. We, of course, said we would. There was another man and a woman in the van and they took down our names and our license plate number before we left. On the way to town the man said they had a load of apples in the van.

The first garage that we stopped at in the next town did not have a tow truck but they would take the deer. He said they lived on deer Up North. The next garage did have a tow truck, so we left the man there and continued on our way.

I don't know if it is legal to shoot an injured animal but we could not see it suffer.

On another trip, my son Tom, Jim C, and I stayed at Don's cabin to hunt.
Tom Gochenour and Jim C. at Uncle Don's cabin

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Who's Jim Hines? Life in Jim Crow Detroit

I met author Jean Alicia Elster at a books and writers fundraiser at Leon & Lulu's in Clawson, MI. I bought her book The Colored Car, which I reviewed here, and the next year brought home Who's Jim Hines?

Elster's books are drawn from family stories about their life in 1935 when her grandfather ran a business delivering wood.

In Who's Jim Hines? we meet twelve-year-old Doug whose father runs the Douglas Ford Wood Company from their Halleck Street home in Detroit. Every day his father collects wood pallets from the auto factories, breaks them down, and loads them into his truck. He saws the wood into pieces sized for his customer's wood burning stoves, which is then delivered by his employees. Doug's mother runs the office, taking orders and managing the paperwork while caring for her family.

Their neighborhood, and the men who work for Doug's father, include African Americans, many from the South, and Polish immigrants. The families help each other, especially Doug's father who is grateful for their financial security during the Depression. He looks the other way when children steal a bit of wood to fashion playthings, and exchanges wood for services. The Ford family goes to nearby Hamtramack to shop, then a predominately Polish neighborhood and today a diverse multi-cultural magnet.

This is the story is of a boy's idolization of his father as a man and provider. Doug wants to be like his dad, but Douglas Sr has other plans: he intends that his son become a doctor.

The tension in the story is provided by Doug's gnawing need to know 'who's Jim Hines,' the faceless employee his dad says makes his business possible.

Doug must help his dad in his work to pay for lost school books, discovering exactly what it means to be black when he leaves the shelter of his narrow world.

In her Epilogue, Elster tells that after WWII and the decline in wood burning stoves her grandfather worked for Chrysler (as did my dad) and her father Doug Jr did graduate from medical school.

Written for ages eight through twelve, Who's Jim Hines? is a gentle story that brings a place and time in history to life, addressing an issue that resonates to this day.

Who's Jim Hines?
Jean Alicia Elster
Wayne State University Press
Publication 2008
ISBN: 9780814334027

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

February 15, 1924 Vogue

Vogue Magazine February 15, 1924
Ninety-three years ago today Vogue offered A Forecast of Spring Fashions.

To put the fashions in context I researched what the world was like on February 15, 1924.

February 1924 events included the premier of  George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in New York City. Gershwin's music melded popular music with symphonic music, starting a revolution. This year Leonard Slatkin of the Detroit Symphonic Orchestra has concentrated on the influence of Gershwin in a series called Gershwin and His Children. On October 3, 2016 we were at Orchestra Hall to hear Slatkin conduct Rhapsody in Blue--an amazing concert.

In Egypt, Howard Carter raised the lid of King Tut's stone sarcophagus revealing the gold mummy case.  Art Deco design was strongly influenced by Egyptian Art.

February 1924 saw the death of President Woodrow Wilson, the release of Mahatma Gandhi after two years imprisonment, and the birth of Margaret Truman to Harry and Bess and the birth of actor Lee Marvin. President Coolidge gave the first radio speech by a president.

1924 was the year Lenin died.  MGM and the National Hockey League, and the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade were born. J. Edgar Hoover was appointed head of the Bureau of Investigation. 

An immigration act was signed, severely limiting immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, severely restricting immigration from Africa, and banning Asians and Arabs. 

President Coolidge also signed the Indian Citizen Act and after 302 years the war with the Indians ended. 

Edwin Hubble announced that Andromeda was a galaxy, which like the Milky Way is one of many, changing how we Earthlings saw our place in the universe.

"The Silhouette is Short, Straight, and Slender" was announced in the Forecast of Spring Fashions.

That was great for young girls.

But how did more mature women cope? 

First, they had to choose their clothes carefully, as some fashions added bulk and others skimmed the body.

Otherwise, it was all about the undergarments.

A dancing corset for the woman who needs hops and back held flat

This flesh colored brocade is ideal for rather heavy older women who require stiff boning
but have rejected the old fashioned, high busted types. The brassiere is of flesh batiste and net.

A girdle and brassiere of flesh colored satin are designed for the slim girl.
If the undergarments failed to provide the proper silhouette ladies could always try other means.
Rubber Reducing Garments

Even Maternity Clothes could 'avoid the obvious'.

Four rules for maternity clothes: avoid draping over the belly bulge, avoid bright colors, choose cape backs, and forgo heels

Home sewing patterns from Vogue featured godets for 'graceful movement.'
Fashions featured scarfs and the cloche hat, dropped waists, and deep V-necks.

 And of course the magazine included countless ads and photos of fashionable women.

The stylish shoe of 1924.

 This year the Michigan State Museum had an exhibit on the cloche hat which I wrote about here.

Babies and children also needed to be fashi0nable.
an 80 piece layette

The fashionable lady traveled in a fashionable way.

And they drove to fashionable luncheons.
 Wearing the latest perfume.

And makeup.
Maids and nurses apparently put comfort and freedom of movement over fashion.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald was published in 1925 and is set in 1922. These are the fashions that women wore as he was working on the novel.