Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Heroines named Alice, like no one you know, in THE PARAGON HOTEL and A HAIRPIECE NAMED DENIAL

The Paragon Hotel by Lindsay Faye (Putnam) and A Hairpiece Named Denial  (Pelekinesis) by S. Sal Hanna are very good novels with strange affect, where humor and identity take turns you can't anticipate. Stranger yet, both have heroines named Alice.

As The Paragon Hotel  opens, Alice, also known as Nobody, is a young flapper on the run from Prohibition Harlem's mafia gang wars. Wounded and bleeding heavily, she boards a train where Max, a concerned porter, spirits her to Portland's Paragon Hotel, the only hotel for African Americans in a white city. A very skilled African-American doctor saves her life but then Alice, who uses invisibility to survive,finds herself a prominent, unwanted guest. She has to convalesce and the hotel is a perfect hide-out, yet her presence generates outsize fear, unmitigated by the cash in her bag. Suspicious residents shun her until a protector emerges. The charismatic Blossom, a wordly caberet performer, invites her to her room, curious about Alice, guessing she's not easily shocked by secrets.

Before the novel is over, Alice and Blossom's strange histories unravel, along with the curious life of the hotel, which provides not just rooms but crucial refuge for "travellers." As Alice recovers from her injuries, so does her razor sharp sleuthing instincts. When a mulatto boy goes missing from the hotel, she joins the search and uncovers secrets--outrageous, forbidden, pathetic  and ultimately dangerous. The hotel becomes a catalyst for revelations hidden in Portland society, including a nascent Klu Klux Klan.

The dialogue is filmic with lush historic details and tantalizing mysteries. Through Alice/Nobody's almond shaped "sicilian eyes" I experienced Prohibition era New York, streets and clubs with entertainers, as well as the forbidden high life of a portland party barge. This novel puts you front and center from the first lines:

"Sitting against the pillows of a Pullman sleeper, bones clecking like the pistons of the metal beast speeding me Westward, I wonder if I'm going to die." Faye was nominated for an Edgar for Jane Steele, an earlier book. This one is certainly a contender.

 A Hairpiece Named Denial, begins in the 1980s in Kansas, with  "Alice, a writer of comic prose, printed on the title page of a manuscript: Guaranteed to make you laugh or your sense of humor back, she mailed the manuscript to an editor who, in her words, "misinterpreted the guarantee and set the manuscript back."

"Alice Princeton Goe and her husband Frank were a wealthy couple who had kept their fortune a private matter. No one in Samsville, their small town located on the wide-open, wind-ransacked plain of central Kansas, knew of the millions they had tucked away in a bank in the big city of Wichita..."

After Frank's death Alice decides to give away seven million dollars. She concocts a hilarious scheme and shares her ideas with her "deluxe cleaning lad," a young man who holds a B.A. in Philosophy and wears an Elvis pompadour hairpiece. The scheme, a kind of test of the "endowment" industry, involves two hapless financial officers at a small arts college.

Alice turns a linear process meant to end with her signature into a madcap circle. As traditional expectations are jettisoned for the absurd, Alice's brilliant nonsense reaches no foregone conclusion. Instead, her truth seeking missle results in a satisfying demise of expectations and role-playing. Her new college friends do prosper from Alice's adventure and she gets another bestselling novel. There is also much serious wisdom in the revelation of her life and what, in the end, has value.

Look for S. Sal Hanna's A Hairpiece Named Denial at Peleinesis and for previous books, The Gypsy Scholar and Beyond Winning, in university press sections.

I found this a very good book to read before bed. It amused me and gave me a comforting sense of the value of being a human being. Better than Netflix.


S.W.



Monday, March 11, 2019

The Typewriter Underground's LA COMMEDIA, Tzara's DADA, D.U.M.B.'s egalitarian cry


LA COMMEDIA SOTTERRANEA DELLA MACHINA DA SCRIVERE,
Swizzle Felt's FIRST FOLIO from the THE TYPEWRITER UNDERGROUND
(Pelekinesis)

Is this a put-on, precious satire, poetry, an infinite jest? Yes, as well as the first blast of  THE TYPEWRITER UNDERGROUND, a movement both radical and retro, reactionary and progressive, profound and silly--Marc Zegans, poet and spoken word artist, began this movement after publishing a collection of verse, The Underwater Typewriter. The Typewriter Underground was originally inspired by an abandoned subway, boarded up and forgotten. Zegans imagined galleries, performance in such a space. His movement has attracted a group of like-minded artists making film, music, spoken word events. It's become an alt art movement.

In the FIRST FOLIO he teams with Eric Edelman, a retro collage artist, to introduce fictional author, Swizzle Felt and his group of bohemian drop-outs, such as Edamame Phelps (his personal librarian), Clytaemnestra Litotes, Manicotti Delacorte, Quarantine Ellipsis and my favorite Hyacinth Coyote. Their voices celebrate "the tangible, the analogue, the ephemeral, the particular, the mechanical--original products of the word by hand."


http://pelekinesis.com/catalog/marc_zegans-la_commedia_sotterranea_della_macchina_da_scrivere.html.

Here are stanzas from The Danger Meditations

Living in the Underground entailed risk,
Typists inhabited the rough margins
of the urban social infrastructure
forming circles in abandoned job shops
transportation tunnels and sub-basements
the roofs of tenements and corner bars
in the lowest rent corners they could find.

And they did not want to draw attention
so they blended with the irreputable
the sketchy, the seamy, the broken, the louche
Making themselves targets for shakedowns and more.
The true inhabitants became feral,
Masters and mistresses of feline stealth
Yet, flooding, power-outages, trespass
Theft and casual violence were always near

And much of the conversation:
"Did you hear that Lysander's notes were took
And burned as kindling for a warming fire?"
"Three pigeon coups ravaged in the past week."
"Can't wear my transcription drag on the street."
"The dome of our library is showing cracks."

"There's a shortage of black market ribbons.
And spools are being hoarded by chop shops."



What is the point?  Consider the dire politics; the looming destruction of the planet as a human habitat, the emergence of  American branded fascism in the White House, art as a luxury commodity, people aspiring to become"brands". There is a tyranny of technology and disenchantment, as privacy diminishes. Suppose a group of activists secretly returned to typewriters and created a 21st century underground, where print (vs a throwaway print out) and meanings are resurrected as a radical private recreation. THE TYPEWRITER UNDERGROUND.

Alternative movements are, I believe, a necessary corrective for mainstream culture.  In 1912, during  WW1, in Zurich Tristan Tzara (poet, essayist, performance artist--and literary iconoclast) founded the DADA movement inspired by his contempt for bourgois values and traditional attitudes toward art. Tsara's manifestos and "Lampisteries"created with artist Picabia, led the way for surrealists. The question of what's real or of value was a corrective for their time and continues inours.

As a lover of art movements, in the spring of 1980, in the dawn of the Reagan era, and serious corporate commodification of art, I was involved with D.U.M.B. Magazine (Down Under Manhattan Bridge) an art-lit zine (only a debut issue) along with The Portable Lower East Side. D.U.M.B's founder Dan Freeman got commercially viable and valued artists, like Alex Katz and Red Grooms,  to contribute art to be shown alongside unknown artists and writers. Egalitarian art was a corrective for the oppressive emphasis on making salable name-brand art. It was about the work.

Most alt art movements are short-lived, a finger in the cultural dike. Dixon Place, originating from that alt burst in the 80s, is an outlier, a space that presents performance, theater, visual art, writing by knowns and unknowns--it's about the work. I cheer on The Typewriter Underground as they connect with like-minded artists, writers, performers nationwide. Today more than ever we need an alt underground, below the radar, avoiding commodification of art and people, the brave denizens of THE TYPEWRITER UNDERGROUND.

Swizzle Felt's Folio has a retro decorative feel, different from Tzara's bold graphic manifestos or the 80s zines. Could you say the retro style is decadent, like the symbolists-decadents of another alt cultural moment? Yes, except Edelman's collages conjure a steam punkish reality. Can it survive in this era of corporate domination, when tech giants move fast to co-opt brands?  Even Banksy's maneuvers have been co-opted, despite his vigilance.  Is the obviously retro Luddite
TYPEWRITER UNDERGROUND next?



D.U.M.B.

S.W.




Monday, February 25, 2019

NYC Producers, ETHER: The Strange Afterlife-of-harry-houdini-and-sir-arthur-conan-doyle/




ETHER staged reading went very well despite our missing visuals and audio. Honors to director Sara Minisquero and cast- Owen Hayden, Geoff Moonen, Chelsea Rodriguez, Lauren Elizabeth. Video soon.
If interested, leave info in comment. Thanks. SW


http://dixonplace.org/performances/ether-the-strange-afterlife-of-harry-houdini-and-sir-arthur-conan-doyle/

Play by Susan I. Weinstein, Directed by Sara Minisquero. First act of full-length play about frenemies Houdini & Doyle. Stuck in competing versions of reality, they make a dire metaphysical bet.


Lauren Elizabeth, playing Bess Houdini and other Characters,
Geoff Moonen, as Harry Houdini, Chelsea Rodriguez as Lady Doyle and a variety of mediums, Owen Hayden as Conan Doyle.
And..the incomparable director for ETHER, Sara Minisquero.
April 12th Dixon Place Lounge 7:30








 ETHER: The Strange Afterlife of Harry Houdini and Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle is being
 presented in a staged reading on April 12th at 7:30 in Dixon Place. ACT 1

3/21 Rehearsal tonight. Amazing that script works (so director says) and I can see the bones without the staging, sounds visuals. The primal argument about the edge between life and death–what is beyond the afterlife. Such fine actors. Inspired director. Come on the journey.
http://dixonplace.org/…/ether-the-strange-afterlife-of-har…/ce lounge. 

Frenemies Houdini and Doyle, stuck in competing versions of reality, make a dire metaphysical bet. 1st Act of 2 Act play about Harry Houdini & Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's rivalry, continued in the afterlife, where they and their wives seek the final resolution. The play's based on their letters and  here is presented with limited visuals.. 

It's under an hour, free and if you know any "Angels" who might have interest in helping us
perform the whole piece, do bring them along. (Dixon has unusual drinks). Thanks for considering.
Susan I. W.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2160413990685503/



Lauren Elizabeth (Bess) heads her own production company, Street Cirque, which combines traditional stage and circus. Her production, BOUDICCA, was produced at Dixon Place on 10/7/18.
Owen Hayden (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)is an actor recently in BOUDICCA at Dixon Place. He is known for Ac-tiv-ist (2016) andThe Bard (2010).
Sara Minisquero (Director) is also an actress, stage manager and dramaturg, who has performed in Regeneration Theatre’s AS IS, She-Moon at The Muse, Brooklyn and BOUDICCA at Dixon Place.
Geoff Moonen (Harry Houdini) works in theater, film, TV, Voice-overs and has magic skills. (2018, Future Proof Season 2, The Trial of Usher Randall).
Chelsea Rodriguez (Lady Doyle) is a choreographer & drag performer, who has performed at Dixon Place (The Wapshot Whatever: The Secret Lives of  Computer Programs and BOUDICCA), Brooklyn Arts Exchange, The Producers’ Club, Joyce SoHo. Ballerina Bizet is her stage name for gender fluid drag.
Susan I. Weinstein (playwright) In 2018, her play The Wapshot Whatever: The Secret Lives of Computer Programs was produced at Dixon Place mainstage. Her plays have had performances & readings at A.C.T., The Public Theater, Harold Clurman Theater, Toykraft (Bunraku adaptation of Anderson's The Little Mermaid.) Her novels include The Anarchist's Girlfriend, Paradise Gardens.(Pelekinesis)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Edward Einhorn's brilliant play, THE NEUROLOGY OF THE SOUL-Neuroscience is the nexus for love, art & brand marketing


Written and Directed By Edward Einhorn  UNTITLED THEATRE CO.

February 8 - March 2, 2019  

at A.R.T./New York’s 
Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre
502 W. 53rd Street (at 10th Ave)

A new play examining the nexus between neuroscience, marketing, art, and love.

With: Ashley Griffin*, Mick O’Brien*, Yvonne Roen*, Matthew Trumbull*

*Indicates member of Actor's Equity Association

Thu - Sat at 8pm
Sun Feb 10 and 24 at 5pm; Tue Feb 12 and 26 at 7pm



Here's the story. Amy, a lapsed artist and one-time artist's model, is married to Stephen, a neuroscientist investigating how emotions affect the brain. As the play opens, she's not been his only subject but his favorite, as he investigates the neurological impact of their relationship--their love.
He speaks and she's not to answer. His words are a stimulus for her brain to register emotion. And when she's had enough she can exit by squeezing a bulb.

As the story evolves, Stephen is offered a high paying job in neuro-marketing in New York. The company owner, Mark, sees the research not just as an extension of how psychology is used but the potential of a whole brave new world of induced responses with the "flea driving the dog." But Amy, the artist, now poses a challenge--other ideas of  motivation. And so, as Stephen takes the job with Amy his only subject (not quite as mute as was Pygmalion's Galatea), a not quite conventional love triangle develops. And what about Stephen's theory?

This play takes on notions of"progress and success, but more original is how it juxtaposes data with the human soul, the idea of the artist as truth seeker with the static male gaze of the "beloved" in the arts. This ambitious play, delivered on much of this with clarity and humor. Below is some of the dialogue.

Don't miss this play. It needs to be extended. Although the cast was excellent, Ashley Griffin's AMY was quite a stand-out, as she cautiously walked a line between loyalty to her husband's research and  his use of her and an awakening to her own the potential as an artist.

STEPHEN
enters. AMY is back in the MRI machine.)

These images may be art one day, so try to think like Van Gogh! On second thought, don’t do
that. I like you with both your ears.

(He laughs at his own joke. Which falls dead of
course…AMY can’t respond, even if she wanted
to,)

OK, this time, as I explained, I am going to mix different types of phrases together, and I’m
going to see if there’s a difference between your neural reactions. Squeeze the thingy if you’re
ready.

(AMY squeezes it.)
Great. Let’s go. I love you.
(Pause.)
I like you.
(Pause.)
I don’t like you.
(Pause.)
I hate you.
AMY
I’m reminded of some early relationships I had. Before I met Stephen, of course. Or rather, most
of them were before I met Stephen.
STEPHEN
I have no feelings about you whatsoever.
AMY
Stephen and I weren’t exclusive. Well, he was. I wasn’t. He wanted to be.
STEPHEN
I am indifferent.
AMY
I…didn’t know what I wanted. There was one guy, Mack…he goes by Mack, short for…my
God, I don’t remember. McKenzie? Something Irish. Have I really forgotten his real name? I
have. I guess I have.
STEPHEN
You turn me on.
AMY
Mack was an artist too. But he was—his art was terrible. Sold well. He knew how to sell. He’s
the only one, actually, the only one I know from those days, who’s actually making a living from
his art. If you can call it art. Landscapes that look good in your living room, that you don’t have
to think too long about. Nobody could stand him. Not even me.
STEPHEN
I want to fuck you.
AMY
Maybe it was jealousy. Why should he be successful, with his awful, clichéd seascapes or
flowers or whatever while I was totally unsuccessful with my awful, clichéd, half naked women.
God, he turned me on.
STEPHEN
I long for you.
AMY
I told you I like you.
(Pause.)
I don’t like you.
(Pause.)
I hate you.

(Transition to MARK at the Digital Leadership
Summit again.)
MARK
Let’s go back to the concept of love. Because that’s it, isn’t it? That’s the Holy Grail. If you
can make your customer love you, you have it made. They will stick with you, with your brand,
forever. Or at least until they fall in love with another.
(Slide: a wedding)

It’s all about cognitive framework. The situation in which you encounter a brand affects the way
you think about it, just in the way that the situation you encounter a person affects the way think
about him or her. Let me tell you the story about a marriage. My marriage, in fact. I met my
wife in college. Well, she was in college. I was her TA. I know, scandalous, except that it
happens all the time. She was very beautiful, and very smart, and to be honest, I don’t think she
would have given me a second glance if we had met in a coffeehouse. Or on the street. Or
maybe even through a friend. But I was her teacher. I was smarter than her, at least about the
class I was teaching. I was more powerful than her. And for her, that was the right cognitive
framework. That is what made her notice whatever my good qualities might have been, what
made her overlook my bad ones. Now in my case, the marriage didn’t last. In my case, once the
framework changed, so did the love. She saw me differently. So it’s a challenge, and the
challenge is twofold. Win the love. Keep the love. It’s a challenge in any circumstance, but
when you can look inside someone’s brain and see when the love is waning…well, that gives
you an edge, doesn’t it?

S.W.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

NOTORIOUS BEN HECHT NYTBR 4/21 https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/17/books/review/adina-hoffman-julien-gorbach-ben-hecht-biography.html


4/21, New York Times Book Review on NOTORIOUS BEN HECHT. Quite an even-handed look.
CONGRATS to Purdue University Press and Julien Gorbach!!

 https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/17/books/review/adina-hoffman-julien-gorbach-ben-hecht-biography.html


https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/movies/ct-ae-ben-hecht-biographies-0331-story.html?fbclid=IwAR1I7Q0AECpxtvA3CkjHoVxoeOaL8441guvKrUNbKJcHWqKp33EXOsXIRFs


Congratulations to Julien Gorbach on the publication of NOTORIOUS BEN HECHT on
March 15, 2019. A wonderful in-dept look at a man whose career spanned reporting on corruption on Chicago, writing Broadway hits like Front Page in NY, as a famous wit of the Algonquin Roundtable, winning an Emmyfor the invention of the modern gangster movie in Hollywood, where he wrote Scarface and Notorious, Hecht organized entertainers to save Europe's Jews and later joined forces with notorious gangster Mickey Cohen to fight for a Jewish stsate. Writer, thinker, famous in his time, offers wisdom for ours in this perceptive book.

From Hecht's message to the world at this time 
https://www.facebook.com/The-Notorious-Ben-Hecht-379289649470179/
WHAT IS THE BIG STORY OF OUR GENERATION THE PRESS IS FUMBLING TODAY? Julien Gorbach writes:
"During the Second World War, we witnessed mass man’s capacity for genocide.The war ended with the atom bomb. Through the late 20th century, we were caught in the thrall of a nuclear arms race, remaining fifteen minutes from global nuclear holocaust.
Now, in addition to “loose nukes,” we are steadily, but relentlessly, driving a global mass extinction event, exhausting our basic resources, so that scarcity and mass migration will  increasingly stoke global conflict."
Algonquin Roundtable
toast by Julien Gorbach to the spirit of Ben Hecht, 3/9



HECHT RECEIVES OSCAR FOR 1st modern Gangster movie.
Hecht's Underworld is considered the first modern gangster movie. Though it opened with modest hopes, it garnered massive box-office success, and Hecht would receive an Oscar for best original story at the first Academy Awards ceremony, on May 16, 1929. “Here’s to crime,” wrote a reviewer for Motion Picture Classic.“Ever since Underworld came through with flying colors, most every producer including its particular sponsor, Paramount, has been trying to duplicate it.”
In Hecht’s follow-up, Scarface, written after the stock market crash, he would push into far darker territory, appealing to a more sophisticated, or more jaundiced, audience. The differences between the two films reflect the contrasts between Hecht’s worldview before and after his experience in Germany, as well as the changes wrought by Prohibition in Chicago. While Underworld had portrayed the gritty era of the First Ward and the Gangsters’ Ball, Scarface depicted corporate criminal syndicates that had developed in response to the Volstead Act, engulfing the power structures of the city.
The result was a culture and politics suffused with crime. Scarface capitalized on the cult of personality around Al Capone, notorious for a ruthlessness that was a mix of icy calculation and ferocity. The film capitalized, as well, on the public’s appetite for violence. Its gangsters were not merely thugs but veterans of a world war, armed with its firepower and trained in military tactics. In short, whether consciously or not, Hecht’s terrifying vision of Scarface protagonist Tony Camonte and his mob was in many ways suggestive of Hitler and the Nazis, just when Hitler was poised to seize power. Like the Nazis, Camonte was a creature of the world war, born of that combination of mad viciousness and modern efficiency. Like Hitler, Camonte is a media obsession with a genius for manipulating public opinion.
But ironically, as a powerful figure who challenges the state, Camonte would also endure as Hecht’s iconic outlaw, the fearsome and fearless type Hecht would one day turn to for help when the Jews were in need. In both roles this American movie gangster, like his real-life German counterpart, personified all that had gone wrong in the world. Underworld had struck a chord because Hecht understood America’s fascination with the soul of the racketeer. His own Menckenesque contempt for hypocritical puritan morality had put him at the center of a revolution in morals and manners under way in the 1920s. Gone was the gentility of the Victorian age. After the war, a new, modern urban culture. (Below scene from Underworld)


Excerpt from THE NOTORIOUS BEN HECHT, Hollywood, his "El Dorado"

While the rest of the country was plummeting into the Depression, Ben Hecht had reached what he called “the new El Dorado.” Hollywood, which asked of writers merely their hearts and souls as the price of admission,would drive the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald to a “crack-up.”2 But there was a bright side. Hecht was ensconced during those early years on the Youngworth Ranch, a “wooden castle” and avocado farm overlooking MGM’s back lots in Culver City, and his guests for a typical night of
drinking might include the movie star Jean Harlow, soon-to-be princess of Austria Nora Gregor, director Howard Hawks, Harpo Marx, Dashiell Hammett, composer George Antheil, Charles MacArthur, and other fellow writers.
“The sun shone,” Hecht wrote. “The dinner parties looked like stage sets. International beauties sat in candle-lit café nooks, holding hands with undersized magnates. Novelists, poets and playwrights staggered bibulously in and out of swimming pools. Floperoo actors and actresses
from New York, ex-waitresses, elevator girls, light o’ loves, high school graduates with the right-size boobies all met their Good Fairy and were given seats on the royal bandwagon. And out of the hotel suites, brothels
and casinos came a noise of life undaunted such as not been heard since the Forty-niners drank themselves to death looking for nuggets.”
On the Hollywood payroll, one joined the most accomplished writers and artists of a generation. But in the heyday of the studio system, writers were paid Excerpt from The Notorious Ben Hecht--Hollywood, "the New Eldorado"more money than they had ever seen before but found themselves workers on a factory line. Here perfectionism was anathema, and an author could expect the writing conferences and other machinations of film production
to perversely salvage his or her worst ideas while shearing off the best.
“Your writing stinks,” observed MacArthur, “but you meet the people you want to be in a room with.” With fat rolls of cash, studio bosses summoned the highest class of talent if only for the sense of culture it gave them and for the feeling of superiority that came from telling such people what to do. Hecht had originally been summoned in 1926, by a cable from Herman Mankiewicz that would live on in Hollywood legend: “WILL YOU ACCEPT THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS PER WEEK TO WORK FOR PARAMOUNT PICTURES? ALL EXPENSES PAID.
THE THREE HUNDRED IS PEANUTS, MILLIONS ARE TO BE GRABBED OUT HERE AND YOUR ONLY COMPETITION IS IDIOTS. DON’T LET THIS GET AROUND.”
Mankiewicz, who would one day script the classic newspaper film Citizen Kane (1941), was another half ne’er-do-well, half prodigy within Hecht’s close circle of friends in New York. Along with both Hecht and
MacArthur, he was by the mid-1920s a member of the Algonquin Round Table, an exclusive clique of newspaper columnists, playwrights, theater producers, and critics who met at least once a week for lunch at New York City’s Algonquin Hotel. Forever compensating for his weaknesses for drinking, gambling, and a lack of self-discipline, Mankiewicz possessed a whiplash wit that was a match for even the famously gifted Dorothy Parker.
























The Notorious Ben Hecht: Iconoclastic Writer and Militant Zionist

Julien Gorbach. Purdue Univ., $32.95 trade paper (484p) ISBN 978-1-55753-865-9
This meticulously researched biography from Gorbach, an assistant communications professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, focuses on two aspects of writer Ben Hecht (1894–1964): his remarkable versatility—he produced journalism, novels, criticism, screenplays, plays, and memoirs—and his vocal support, prior to Israel’s founding, for a Jewish homeland. Gorbach argues that the seeds of Hecht’s success lay in his experiences as a reporter in 1910s and ’20s Chicago, which informed his cynical worldview and much of his best-known work, including the 1928 Broadway smash The Front Page and the 1932 film Scarface. In Hollywood, Hecht was astoundingly productive (of his more than 60 screenplays, “over half were written in two weeks or less”). This sheer output came to be seen by critics as a sign of his “shallowness and dissolute talent.” While Gorbach feels Hecht’s literary legacy is overdue for reevaluation, he admits a troubling shadow is cast by some of Hecht’s political activities, including his public advocacy of reprisals against the British soldiers occupying what was then known as Palestine. Suggesting that Hecht’s self-conscious persona as a “tough Jew” equally shaped his literary output and political ideology, Gorbach leaves readers with a richly provocative and original take on an influential writer. (Mar.)
The Notorious Ben Hecht: Iconoclastic Writer and Militant Zionist


HECHT the Newspaperman. Excerpt catches the flavor of this reporter days. "Front Page" looked back from his perch as a New York playwright--before Hollywood's siren song.

Over the next three years, it would take a series of exposés in the Lancet, a British journal, to break arguably the biggest story in the city’s history: the disgusting and dangerous conditions in the stockyards, which became the focus of Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle.Chicago’s newspapermen reflected the character of the city itself.

For a reporter who spent days and nights dashing between crime scenes, trolley car and machinery accidents, and the city morgue, Chicago in the throes
of its industrial boom was a raw and brutal place. Doug Fetherling puts it well in his biography of Hecht: “Chicago seemed a prairie Gomorrah where homicide was the logical solution to arguments and chicanery a natural force in the administration of justice. Streets were torn down and new ones erected, gang bosses were murdered to be supplanted by their killers, a dozen railways brought an influx of immigrants never matched by the number of people heading out. . . .

[Hecht’s] rhythms were those of the train wheels, factory whistles, gunfire and later the jazz music of a city which was, just then, exactly what [Carl] Sandburg said it was: hogbutcher, freight-handler, builder of railroads.” Or as Hecht would recall: “Trains were wrecked, hotels burned down, factories blew up. A man killed his wife in their Sedgwick Avenue flat, cut off her head and made a tobacco jar of its skull. . . . The headlines of murder, rape and swindle were ribbons around a Maypole. The Elevated squealed Hosannahs in the sooty air. The city turned like a wheel."



About the Early-Roaring 20's Hecht, who had multiple hits on Broadway including "Front Page." He resided at the Algonquin Hotel with the literary Round Table. For the curious...The Legendary Algonquin Round Table! Here "the Vicious Circle" where this infamous gang of whiplash wits gathered each week for lunch during the Roaring Twenties. 

The Round Tablers, who transformed American theater, comedy and the portrayal of journalism in popular culture, besides HECHT included Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross (founder of The New Yorker) and Robert Benchley; columnists Franklin Pierce Adams and Heywood Broun; critic Alexander Woollcott; comedian Harpo Marx; and playwrights George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly, and Robert Sherwood. Algonquinite Edna Ferber called them “The Poison Squad,” and wrote, “They were actually merciless if they disapproved. I have never encountered a more hard-bitten crew. But if they liked what you had done, they did say so publicly and whole-heartedly.”

NOTORIOUS BEN HECHT was launched!  March 15 the book is published. Want one in advance. paper



Ben Hecht’s world, dominated by a madman and the response of the Big 3 Allies. 
NOTORIOUS BEN HECHT, 
the “Shakespeare of Hollywood,” was prescient about the annhilation of Europe’s Jews and an activist for survival. Propaganda, fanning hate and division, disruption as progress? This was his world also….. 

This book in paper  has just arrived in the Purdue University Press warehouse. http://www.thepress.purdue.edu/titles/format/9781557538659

The Notorious Ben Hecht, a new biography from Purdue University Press, is the
FIRST Extensive bio of Hecht, who defined his age and is again new in our time.

Ben Hecht is Hollywood’s most legendary screenwriter, but he is arguably more significant as the man who shattered the American media silence about the Nazi slaughter of European Jews. He started as a crime reporter on Chicago's gritty streets before becoming famous as a Broadway playwright with his classic newspaper comedy The Front Page. As a screenwriter, Hecht defined Hollywood’s Golden Age with scripts that included Scarface, Gone with the Wind, and Notorious.

A ferocious wit with a genius for spectacle and controversy, Hecht responded to the rise of Hitler with a massive publicity campaign that awoke the American public to the Holocaust. Soon afterward, he earned infamy when he embraced the label of Jewish “terrorist” and joined with the gangster Mickey Cohen to smuggle weapons to Palestine in the fight for a Jewish state. Julien Gorbach's biography, The Notorious Ben Hecht: Iconoclastic Writer and Military Zionist (Purdue University Press, March 2019), investigates the life and multifaceted character of this storytelling virtuoso and provocateur.

Pauline Kael, revered film critic for The New Yorker, credited Hecht with having written half the entertaining films Hollywood ever produced. Ironically, Hecht’s commercial success, as the author of many movie melodramas, damaged his literary reputation.

“He also operated in so many genres that one life—no matter how colorful, no matter how full—barely seems to have encompassed what he achieved, in journalism, in literature, on the screen, and in polemics,” said noted historian Stephen Whitfield. “Yet until now—that is, until the publication of Julien Gorbach’s lively biographical study—Hecht has eluded the grasp of scholarship. The Notorious Ben Hecht is thus a welcome corrective.”

Hecht’s importance as a versatile modern writer does not diminish the role he played in history. Born shortly before the start of the twentieth century, he came of age with the advent of mass communication, and his story vividly illustrates how mass media changed the character of our culture. But, he was among the most prominent and influential disputants in a clash of political ideas that came with the rise of Nazism, the Holocaust, and the birth of Israel.

During the 1930s, his grim view of what he called “the soul of man” allowed him to see, with far greater clarity than most, the horror at the world’s doorstep. He offered a warning, not just to the people of his day, we would do well to rediscover Ben Hecht in this time.

Advance Praise for The Notorious Ben Hecht

"Gorbach’s work accomplishes what a good biography should: It focuses on an important and interesting figure; describes a little-explored aspect of his life that affected world events; makes a larger point about the society in which he lived; and does it in a clear, coherent, and captivating fashion. The importance of Ben Hecht lies in its major theme: Hecht’s willingness to stand out as a Jew and advocate for Jewish causes when most successful Jews of his generation sublimated their ethnic identity. Hecht and the Irgun advocated increasingly extreme and violent measures. To Hecht and the Irgun, the murder of six million Jews while the world watched proved they could not count on the international community."

—Laurel Leff, Associate Professor, School of Journalism, and Stotsky Professor of
Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies, Northeastern University; Author, Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

"Julien Gorbach has done more than anyone before to shine a light into the darkness of the connections between Chicago’s underworld and its rawboned journalism. While previous celebrations of Chicago’s dailies during the age of newspapers’ ascendancy made sport of recklessness, fabrication, and violence, Gorbach has revealed the ‘devil’s bargain’ struck most notably by Ben Hecht, whose own life touches the 52 lightheartedness of The Front Page only tangentially. Hecht publicly laughed at journalism while obscuring its worst secrets."

—Dr. Michael Sweeney, Editor, Journalism History;
Associate Director for Graduate Studies, Ohio University

The Notorious Ben Hecht: Iconoclastic Zionist and Militant Zionist
Purdue University Press, March 2019

Author Julien Gorbach spent most of his ten years as a daily newspaper reporter on the police beat, covering drive-by shootings and murder trials, and publishing an investigative series on killings that remained unsolved because gangs had intimidated witnesses into silence. As a freelancer, he contributed to the Boston Phoenix, Time Out New York, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and the New Orleans Gambit, among other publications. He covered Hurricane Katrina for the Boston Globe. Currently, Gorbach is an Asst. Professor at the University of Hawaii.

S.W.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

WONDER---Swalllows and Amazons & How To Love the Universe






Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransom (Overlook Press) Sometimes I yearn for  a kinder gentler place. In this 1930s classic (comparable to Harry Potter in its era) I found adventure sailing with  four English children--during WW2. The oldest, age 12, Captain John, commands a 14 ft. sailboat with Susan, his first mate, able seaman sister Titty and seaman Roger, the youngest. They sail across a large lake to a wooded island and camp out, without adult supervision. Unimaginable in modern parenting, their mother encourages them by leaving them alone.

But she does check on them to bring treats with baby Vicky or hears news from adults, when Captain John picks up milk from the "natives." Their voyage of exploration begins with permission from their dad at the front, an enigmatic telegram:  BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON'T DROWN. Does father think they will drown or that they are not duffers?  Mother clarifies that dad knows John can handle the boat taught him last summer.

John, though doubtful he will remember, takes the responsibility seriously as does first mate, Susan, who helps him navigate and eagerly plans their food. They call their ship The Swallow and the idyll begins.  They have fair weather, find a cove and claim their camp, though it does seem someone may have been there in the past. Imagination is the wind in their sales, as young Roger plays he's a ship and Tittie dives for pearls. She references Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, writing in her journal of visits by "quaint natives" (her mother) as well as real islanders who make charcoal.

Imaginary adventures give way to the real thing, as one day they spot  The Amazon,a white sailboat with a pirate flag and two girls wearing red hats. Friendly rivalry is inevitable, especially when the girls raid Captain Flint's (their uncle) houseboat  and The Swallow is held responsible.  As the two ships vie for capture, there are real pirates on the houseboat. Before the summer's over, The Swallow and The Amazon join forces to solve a mystery, there's a dangerous night sail, Captain Flint walks the plank, and Tittie finds buried treasure. What a summer. I enjoyed their company.




HOW TO LOVE THE UNIVERSE: A Scientist's Odes to the Hidden Beauty Behind the Visible World By Stefan Klein (The Experiment, the experimentpublishing.com)  This book is the most mind-bending book I read in 2018. I can't describe it without including the chapter headings.

1. The Poetry Of Reality--A rose makes us aware that nothing and nobody stands alone. The more we know about how things in the universe relate to each other, the more mysterious the world seems to us.

2. A Marble in the Cosmos--The Earth rises over the moon and we see the universe as it is being born. Much greater spaces are concealed behind the visible cosmos. Reality is quite different than how it seems to us.

In this book the more science you know, the more awe inspiring nature appears. "The scientist's sharp eye even revealed things that at first seem ugly or repulsive to us. The fading of the rose is a symbol of decline, but if you look closely, you can see the hip growing deep within the withering petals, Each seed of the rose is a miracle of its own, because in each tiny kernal, the complete embryo of a rose is waiting for the moment it can soak up water, expand, break out of the husk, and stretch out its seed-leaves to the sun."

This is ecstatic, wise, wonderful writing by Klein, who studied physics and analytical philosophy, completing his doctorate in theoretical biophysics, before turning to writing to "inspire people with a reality that is more exciting than any thriller."

Read this book to be amazed at the world, as you may have been as a young child. There is a thrill of discovery in these pages, along with the unsettling adult feeling that we know nothing. Humility can be awe-inspiring. Loved this book.

S.W.   Happy New Year.


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

War Memoirs--Afghanistan Noir, BLINDSIDED BY THE TALIBAN and IN THE RED ZONE, post-Saddam Iraq


 

Let us talk about that most crazy and foolhardy of  free lance journalists, brave ones who cover wars and in our time the "forever wars" of Afghanistan and Iraq. Vietnam a different story, body bags being loaded on planes, front and center on the six o'clock news. People were riveted-overloaded by daily body counts like a dark casino jackpot ever rising. Until it was enough, and Americans--old and young, liberal and conservative, veteran and resistor, surged in the streets to end that war. That old coverage gets little play now but then the numbers were enough. (Today, without the nightly network focus, would it happen?)

This post is to celebrate this rare journalist in the present, when our wars merit scarce network attention and coverage is often but a distanced reminder of what is going on far away --the horrific daily reality of war.  But there are news outlets who occasionally run stories by journalists enbedded with soldiers and their allies, working inch by inch-year by year--to wrestle peace from overwhelming destruction.  Now that Trump has pulled troops out of Syria, how long before the Taliban's retaken that ground? Will our allies, the Kurds, survive? Will coverage be shown?

I am not a fan of  war memoirs but in 2007, my friend Steven Vincent, a free lance journalist, went to Iraq to cover the war on terror. I saw him in New York and asked him why he was going back, he wasn't a career war journalist. Was it the adrenoline thing, feeling alive in the middle of death; a search for truth in destruction--personal issues?  Steve mentioned help for a friend. But before he left, he wrote an OpEd in The NY Times about local corruption. Soon after he was attacked, his friend got out. He left his  memoir In the Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq described as: 

"an American journalist's account of his daring solo expeditions through post-Saddam Iraq, is a vivid, frank, and unforgettable portrayal of the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. An eyewitness of the 9/11 attacks, Steven Vincent went to Iraq to experience the daily realities of life and death in the crossfire of the war on terror. His report is essential for understanding America's enemies and allies in the critical but confusing struggle against radical Islam."

Carmen Gentile is another kind of freelancer, a veteran war journalist who covered Cairo in the 90's, unrest in the oil rich Niger Delta, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq--embedding with soldiers on the front line. He's written for The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, though most outlets weren't doing a lot of war coverage, when USA Today agreed to send him back to Afghanistan. That was the trip he should have lost his life, he explains in his remarkable memoir Blindesided By The Taliban: A Journalist's Story of War, Trauma, Love and Loss (Skyhorse Publishers).

Gentile has to be the Philip Marlow of freelance journalists and his memoir is a kind of war noir, about one man's intolerable and ridiculous survival in extreme circumstances. Here is a guy who is struck in the face by a rocket powered grenade and survives. With humor and irony, he looks at the horror and idiocy of  his life before and after the near fatal attack. There's the dark humor of his comrades and  awful crawling heebie jeebies about going to the bathroom, when any movement spells death. And like Chandler's Marlow, he wonders why he's always putting himself in the way of bullets. 

A reluctant philosopher embedded with young soldiers half his age, Gentile probes why he's alive  when  helicopters evacuate men who won't make it to the hospital. After he's hit, he sees the shocked looks of others, wondering what's left of his face--his eye, before losing consciousness. Awakened after emergency surgery, Gentile questions the trajectory that got him to this place, lucky to be alive with a mutilated face. Self critical, in and out with meds, he  wonders what flaws inspired this nebulous career and his "perfect" woman to break off their engagement--by email.

Between multiple operations, state of the art experimental surgery to rebuild his eye, he finds some solace with another woman--while questioning what good he's doing her. He also plots a post  recovery rendez-vous with a lost love. Though painfully aware how passions override his judgement, Gentile's recovery is not negotiable.  Despite the welcome oblivion of painkillers, for weeks he must live looking down, unsure how and IF he's to go on. 

He recovers, facing truth and consequences. One day he finds Lucille, his aged motorcycle, and with one good eye takes a freezing ride to the Florida garage he calls the "Failure Cave"to figure out his life. Suffering flashbacks, he decides to cure himself by going back to Afghanistan. He embeds to the site of his most extreme trauma for MORE! And a few more embeds after that.  In the beginning of Blindsided By the Taliban, Gentile quotes  a friend who said "my greatest achievement is getting shot in the face." But he lived to do mind boggling work, looking through a sure and steady lens. 

Recommended for anyone who wants to know about the daily grind of war in Afghanistan and what it means to be a journalist embedded in the front lines. An outrageously honest, surreal and darkly funny memoir.

S.W.