Sunday, May 25, 2014

The 1940s

So I was in the midst of a crush on Winston Churchill (which will be the subject of a future post) when what should nestle inside my Kindle but The Forties: The Story of A Decade. This is a compilation of many different articles, profiles and reviews that appeared in The New Yorker during and after WWII. There’s coverage of D-Day, London during the blitz and the Vichy regime. John Hersey is represented by an account of John Kennedy’s adventures on his PT boat and Hiroshima in its entirety.

Already giddy from these offerings, I came upon Joseph Mitchell’s wonderful “The Old House at Home (On McSorley’s Old Ale House)”: “Except for a few experimental months in 1905 or 1906, no spirits ever have been sold in McSorley’s; Old John maintained that a man never lived who needed a stronger drink than a mug of stock ale warmed on the hob of a stove.”

In Lillian Ross’ “Symbol of All We Possess,” I learned that some cities (Greater Philadelphia and New York City) fielded separate Miss America candidates. Before there was Bert Parks, there was Bob Russell and the Miss America pageant song was this one: “Let’s sing a song to Miss America,/Let’s raise our glasses on high/From Coast to Coast in this America,/As the Sweetheart of the U.S.A is passing by/To a girl, to a girl,/To a symbol of happiness,/ To the one, to the one/Who’s the symbol of all we possess.”

I was less impressed by the book reviews but that could have been because with the exception of For Whom the Bell Tolls and 1984, I haven’t read the books reviewed. There is also a sour little piece by Edmund Wilson called “Why Do People Read Detective Stories?” This is not to be confused with Wilson’s later “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” Wilson complains about Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, and says this about The Maltese Falcon: The Maltese Falcon today seems not much above those newspaper picture strips in which you follow from day to day the ups and downs of a strong-jawed hero and a hardboiled but beautiful adventuress.” Mr. Wilson cannot see what all the fuss is about. He likes Poe and Dickens but not much else.

The volume contains a good selection of movie reviews (His Girl Friday, The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Dictator, Citizen Kane, Casablanca) and fiction by Carson McCullers, John O’Hara, William Maxwell, Elizabeth Taylor and others.

My favorite piece in the collection is “Come In, Lassie,” Lillian Ross’ account of the Red Scare in Hollywood. This was written shortly after the Hollywood 10 were prohibited from working in the film industry in America. Hollywood then produces the “Screen Guide for Americans” written by Ayn Rand. Protests one screenwriter: “For years I’ve been writing scripts about a Boy Scout type cowboy in love with a girl. Their fortune and happiness are threatened by a banker holding a mortgage over their heads, or by a big landowner, or by a crooked sheriff. Now they tell me that bankers are out. Anyone holding a mortgage is out. Crooked public officials are out. All I’ve got left is a cattle rustler. What the hell am I going to do with a cattle rustler?”

But we soon discover all is not gloom. Jack L. Warner, busiest of the Brothers, is genially inclined to bolster up the courage of those who are ready to throw in the towel. “Don’t worry!“ he roars, slapping the backs of of lesser men around him. “Congress can’t last forever.”

Oh, that that were true.

No comments:

Post a Comment