Monday, February 06, 2006

Drunkablog hits bottom, writes review

Just finished reading Deborah Martinson's biography, Lillian Hellman: A Life With Foxes and Scoundrels. Poorly written, indifferently documented, and a near-total whitewash of Hellman's lifelong Stalinism, Lillian does, at least, have a few good quotes:

Sam Goldwyn was Hellman's Hollywood boss for nearly every film she made, and Goldwyn had more fights than any other man in Hollywood." "You always knew where you stood with Goldwyn--nowhere," or so said F. Scott Fitzgerald. Goldwyn was stubborn, persistent, and wily; his success depended on it. "He was a titan with an empty skull," Billy Wilder said of Goldwyn in retrospect, "not confused by anything he read, which he didn't." . . . He was never stopped by a simple no. He pressed and recruited inexorably. One time Paul Jerrico wanted to take a Goldwyn job but had made a verbal commitment to another filmmaker. Goldwyn wanted Jerrico too, and Jerrico recalled, "This is a true Goldwynism . . . He said, 'do the decent thing. Take this job and don't even tell him.'" Indeed Goldwyn's relentless nature paid off. By the late 1930s his Formosa Avenue studio housed great writers like Elmer Rice, George Hecht [sic] Robert Sherwood, and Frances Marion, along with Hellman, who became the star of his stable. Goldwyn bragged, "Just classy writers, Goldwyn's got just classy writers."

"Star of his stable?" Please. About Hellman's good friend Dorothy Parker Martinson writes, "After one party that Parker and her husband Alan Campbell threw in their North Canon Drive house, Parker declared that her "hangover was impressive enough to be referred to as 'we.'" (Lesson: no matter what anyone says, drinking does too make you witty.) And on Hellman's legendary physical unprepossession (unprepossessiveness?) Martinson quotes somebody saying that Hellman "looked like the Ancient Mariner in drag."

But otherwise the book is lousy, as Martinson is apparently determined to extenuate or ignore Hellman's vitriolic Stalinism in paragraph-long nonsequiturs and moral equivalences:

It seems hard to believe that the Communist Party recruited between 50,000 and 75,000 American members, just when news of Stalin's purges emblazoned every newspaper's front page. Hellman, along with countless others, swallowed the CP line. Hellman signed a manifesto in defense of Stalin and joined 150 progressives in signing The Moscow Trials, A Statement by American Progressives. "The text of the statement makes clear that the signers' pro-Soviet attitude was conditioned by Soviet resistance to Hitler, by Soviet attempts to improve the living conditions of Russians, and by Soviet efforts to strengthen the League of Nations as a force for peace. Lillian's signature on this document is neither surprising nor damning." The "demonstration trials," as Stalinists called them, appeared to many outsiders legitimate consequences of treason and Trotsky's efforts to retake power from Stalinists. Stalin seemed the Russian premier of choice, since Trotsky actively promoted worldwide revolution while Stalin preferred domestic stability first. The trials seemed far away and the consequences of someoone else's political upheaval. "Even the New York Times seemed to accept the verdicts."

The New York Times? Well why didn't you say so?

Anyway, just one more thing: Martinson claims that Hellman's longtime lover and whatnot Dashiel Hammett thought The Glass Key the best of his own novels. The movie (for some reason not yet out on DVD) is great too, not least because William Bendix beats the crap out of Alan Ladd (as the "Little Rubber Ball") about 47 times. Quite brutal-looking early noir. It has Veronica Lake sulking around too.

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