A LONELY LIFE

Betty Davis 1962

This autobiography is surprising for its unparalleled excellence and seeming honesty. Davis has represented her life in a well-written little book. She speaks well of everyone she worked with in film including industry rivals, Joan Crawford. She passes on providing long comments regarding Barbara Stanwyck.

Of course, the book tells about acting: stage, screen (silent – talkies), modeling, fame, being a glamour puss. Davis knew she was not the typical 1930s actress – beautiful, lanky or seductive but she was blonde. Davis suggests and I believe she rose on talent and merit alone. The more involved the part the better the performance – two years toward the beginning of her career, 1936 and 1939 Davis received Oscars for best actress. She was dedicated to excellent projects and to excellent performances. She ran into the buzz of the Warner Brothers demanding she do mediocre projects. That legal dispute ended in London before World War Two began for the Americans. Olivia de Havilland broke the studios’ system.

Her movies of the Forties and the early Fifties all had substance for her. She never mentions a western, but early on Bette Davis from New England was typecast as the Southern girl and the Southern lady. Motherhood, marriage and living reduced the number of films she was in. She was not always in Los Angeles but lived on the East Cost. She tells trying to be the best mother, when she wasn’t always around, her understanding of intimacy from work and from husbands, and the shortcomings in the men she encountered and those she eventually married. [The first was always at home but did not work at home and little out of it; the second died young; Gary Merrill, fellow actor, had work but did not like the comforts of a joint home.]

Bette Davis had help with children and with the house; she had capable assistants. Davis expresses gratitude. But she felt isolated from exchanging intimacy, touching, sensing another human being, and caring in full devotion. [Note in the text Davis describes these attributes as handled by a performing actor, but says they are not transitioned to or that acting did not fulfill the needs of a human being living in reality.] This distinction between acting and reality is how she conveys she was lonely, and hence the adjective in the book’s title.

Two remarkable chapters in the book are the first and the last. The first doubts whether anyone, including herself, should write an autobiography. Davis beats out the words in spades. The last chapter deals with the status of a successful woman, running into unsuitable men, earning more than most people, and handling fame, professionalism, being alone, and where all that leaves the woman: Her state of mind. It is an excellent description of explaining the world that might become more matriarchal. Sex alone changes nothing. Couples should be mates and their efforts should complement one another.

This is an excellent autobiography; it benefits from being short and well-thought out. Also, this autobiography became the first feminist tome of the modern era. The Feminine Mystique was published two years later in 1964. If Betty Friedan believed it was the problem that has no name, she was unacquainted with Bette Davis’ Autobiography.

Advertisements

BABBITT

Sinclair Lewis

Having an excellent opinion of Main Street, I decided to read the accompanying book, Babbitt, published two years later in 1922. George Babbitt is a prosperous realtor in a fair-sized city. Life is good; he has a house and family and friends who enjoy his company and who respect him. He doesn’t womanize; he goes to church. But he listens, sometimes to opposing political and social points of view. The author does not dwell on the issue but he mentions a local [regional, state, national] group, the Anti-Birth Control Union – birth control was alarming for 1922 Americans.
The reader must infer everything wrong about the protagonist’s life. Reading the novel straight gives the notion of reading about Don Trump’s life, and how ignorant, narrow-minded, biased and prejudiced that persons, and all men like him are. The novel exhausts the reader’s patience with that mush.
Finally, in the story labor issues and a strike divide Babbitt from fellow businessmen. He believes laborites may be misguided, but everyone can talk to one another. This is heresy for Babbitt’s business buddies who have formed a League of single-minded vigilantes – crack open their heads. Babbitt refuses to join. Despite being an excellent realtor, he is ostracized.
Babbitt’s wife is embedded in the social morays of the city; she leaves town to help a family member recover from sickness, rather than live through tough times. Meanwhile, Babbitt meets a refined, sophisticated widow; she and her friends open his eyes and mind. Babbitt is very discrete with her.
That mischief ends after his wife returns and takes ill with appendicitis. Babbitt returns to the fold, becoming the ever caring, doting husband. Men become friends again; business picks up. He enjoys rejoining society, including joining the League. Babbitt can live fat and large.
Babbitt’s twenty year old son runs off and marries the 20 year old neighborhood sweetheart. It is an elopement. The police are alerted; everyone’s hunting for them. In a few days the couple returns to Babbitt’s house.
Marriage while in school and at that age is not what Babbitt wanted for his son. Indeed, nothing his son has done or is doing is what Babbitt wanted and previously demanded. But Babbitt listens. The son is a tinkerer, in the best possible meaning of that word; he sees no value in a University education. He’s happy with his choice of wife. Changing his mind seems impossible. Everyone in both families, all the adult friends, the police, ministers, educators and others with a voice condemn the rush to marriage and present criticism. They urge the marriage be dissolved. Conventional wisdom, common sense and decency aren’t served by the union. Society and it’s social pressures must work!
How much has George Babbitt learned about conventional wisdom, common sense and decency of society, over the two years of the novel: He hates them, and jaundicely views the society which imposes a common will. Babbitt will deal with all that regarding himself in his own way, but he tells his son: Anything you decide and do, I am with you.

MAIN STREET

Sinclair Lewis

This worthwhile book has some flaws but many remembrances of times when human beings relied on one another. Trustworthiness, honesty and reliability had different meanings and importance in society. When human beings were apart, there was no communication. Telephone and telegraph lines could send messages but most news was one, two or three days late. Gossip slanted the news in town.

The novels establishes this complete setting in spades for a town, Gopher Prairie (3500 population). Town folk have nothing but one another to pick on and gossip about. The heroine, Carol, tries to remain apart from the settlement and its people, airing attitudes which town people attribute to her being city born and bred. Carol is married to home town boy who is the best doctor around.

Almost every limitation and opinion Carol has about the town is substantiated and correct. Her reactions to simplicities, ignorance and misguided loyalties are mostly justified. She is not always courteous, and not political. The Doctor’s position and stature protects his wife from her complete vilification. She wants the town and its people to improve – beautify the place, toss around a little architecture, and the citizens to uplift themselves with social and intellectual activities and conversation. She expresses much enthusiasm for her outside thinking.

There is a cheat in the story. Carol is not the woman she believes herself to be; she has enthusiasm but no skill, no talent and no education. She puts together a group for a play, but she has never directed; she’s never acted. She complains about hard-nosed church goers (as though going to church is the sin itself), yet she doesn’t go to church much herself. Her education is in librarianship but her efforts are a void there. Carol is not unlike any woman who complains about a new environment but lacks training and experience in psychology, sociology, history, politics rudimentary business, or any other practical discipline to do anything about the new place.

Carol wants people to be receptive to words, visions, poetry and music – anything to shift people from their stupor. What Carol faces is expressed well by Miles Franklin in My Brilliant Career: Sybil is confronted by her mother and the daughter responds (paraphrased), I wish I were born low with common desires. That I never learned. I never asked why. If I were born and lived like an idiot, I would never fear for lack of company. I would be among my people. Sybil’s mother believes her daughter is going to hell.

That attitude and adjusting to it is what Main Street is about. And Sinclair Lewis has Carol get through various scenarios: Attractive, artistic young man arrives in town; Carol befriends him. Town folk believe their love is hot and heavy. Nope, but after 150-200 pages, young man leaves. Carol later learns he is in New York City not Minneapolis; he’s changed his name and is acting in movies. An enlightened school teacher, fresh from the city, goes to a dance with a town ne’er do well, the son of a hard-nosed church goer. The son buys liquor and tries to assault the teacher repeatedly; she beats him off, repeatedly. The mother accuses teacher of corrupting her son. Everyone in town knows it’s a lie, but the teacher resigns rather than being fired. Carol loses a friend. She loses another friend when death takes his family.

Carol leaves Gopher Prairie and ends up during World War One working in Washington D.C. The War ends; she works for Women’s Suffrage. She has her son with her. Her husband at home remains steadfast and loyal to the marriage. Carol likes the work and independence, but there is a true grind: True work and effort result in uncertain accomplishments and outcomes. Life and work in Gopher Prairie and Washington D.C. are not that much different.

An older woman in the leadership of the Suffrage Movement befriends Carol, after meeting the husband. She gives the best advice about work in the public sector that I remember reading. The older woman believed Carol, a fine advocate and valued worker, does not have the correct mindset to ultimately succeed: Carol is sensitive and worried about criticism or strong feelings directed toward her. The woman says (paraphrased) You cannot be sensitive. Most people don’t know about the work I’m doing and whether it truly affects them at all, if they know about my efforts. When they hear of successful outcomes, they grumble. The older woman makes Gopher Prairie palpable. Indeed, when Carol returns home a few changes have been made and more are planned.

The power and force of the writing of conclusionary confrontations between characters (young man – Carol:Doctor) (school teacher: Carol:Prominent town’s people) (Suffrage: Carol:Older woman) surpass the issues of 1916-1920. Some of those events and words happen and are uttered today. Sinclair Lewis earned his money when he wrote and published Main Street.

GERRYMANDERING

The United States Constitution, Article l, section 4, states, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed to each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.”

The Fourteenth Amendment can be considered as subsequent authority allowing changes and modifications in decisions made by the the Legislature of each state. But generally, before setting national rules applicable to the entire country, it is the job of local governments and local people to set the local districts electing members of the House of Representatives. Not everything can be uniform.

Can a District be strictly segregated? No.

Overall the American people have seen elected officials of all races ineffective and/or corrupt: Have Latinos been well served by the Latino senator from New Jersey, or is he representing someone else? Were white people well served by the white mayor of San Diego, or did a small group of others benefit? African-Americans have gladly elected members of their own race to learn later of mismanagement and/or corruptions ending in guilty verdicts. Race, itself, is not a good means on which to base Representation. If race is the primary element determining whether a district is legitimate, God help America, and ask did Martin Luther King ever live?

Are the Republican and the Democratic Party a better means? Suppose the choice is between Colin Kaepernick and Don Trump – shouldn’t Americans hope a third person can emerge? The choice might be Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein – someone’s daughter ought to run and kick their butts. If Democrats leave Detroit or New Orleans, does that mean that Democrats should retain Congressional seats there? NO, there are no dead boroughs – designated seats – like Great Britain had until 1909. Likewise Alpine County, California (population 1175, one fifth Native American) does not have as many state senators as Los Angeles County, as it once did. All Congressional and legislative districts do and must change. All legislative districts will be approximately the same size. That is the outcome of the court decision that we now call, One Man, One Vote. In her senility Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg does not understand One Man, One Vote.

What have elected officials done? Some have accomplished much in state office, but the sad tale of New York state needs telling. Governor, Attorney General and local attorney generals are mostly Democrats. Federal prosecutors were Democrats. During the real estate collapse in 2009 members of the Trump family made representations about sales in a building they were trying to unload. The representations and actions surrounding the non-sales went to the local District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, Jr., a scion of the venerable Cyrus Vance. The current generation of the Vance family apparently likes things fast and loose.

It is reported and emails show two Trump children by were trying to agree by constructing and arranging which lies to tell while they were testifying. [It is truly amazing that the Trumps criticized Hillary Clinton for lax and improper use of email, whilst they left electronic pavement smeared across the Internet proving the worst of their actions indicating guilt.] But the pay off was to Cyrus Vance Jr. He needed money to pursue the next political office. The Trumps paid. [Note, in Florida the Attorney General of the state, Republican, declined to participate in a suit against Trump University in exchange for campaign contributions. That was all right, though, because she’s blonde, or bleach blonde.] [Before being recalled in 2003 Gray Davis was noted for dropping administrative and regulatory actions against offenders in exchange for contributions.] Needless to say nobody now remembers who Cyrus Vance Sr. was, or anything he did.

What does gerrymandering have to do with corruption? Everything. As people become entrenched in office, corruption flows. It is easy to stop – bring legal actions, taint a candidate at election time, taint the public official while in office and damn the opposing tweets from twitter-brains, make all provable facts known and supply supporting documentation. Corruption or perceived corruption is one means how political power shifts from party to party, or ideology to ideology: How was the first African-American elected President? He was a change from the Republicans, and he delivered a message different from the Clinton’s.

The exact rules to follow to avoid gerrymandering is a big and diverse issue. Despite changes who makes up electoral districts, California remains a heavily gerrymandered state. The Los Angeles Times reports there is No California Congressional District with Registered Republicans In The Majority. The Democrats have two-third majorities in the legislative houses.

I know residents of Morgan Hill, California whose congressional district extends 80 miles east through 40 miles of wilderness and 40 miles of fields to the cities along Highway 99 and the Sierra foothills. One cannot drive to their house directly from the Central Valley. Their land and residence is continuous to the congressional district of Silicon Valley where they both worked. They are up the hill, but they are part of the Salinas Valley: School district, local government, law enforcement, library district, water district, etc. I asked, “What’s happening in Fresno, or Modesto?” They have no idea.

Democrats should be careful about complaining of gerrymandering. A federal court can come along and rule a state is gerrymandered. The Democratic Party could lose 15-20 seats in the California House of Representatives delegation.

In 1779 General George Washington told the government of Virginia to send its best people to represent it in Congress. Virginia sent James Madison, likely the best Congressman to join the National government, ever. That’s the problem. Americans are not finding and sending the best persons.

My Congressman is a Democrat. I don’t dislike him because he is a Democrat; the Republicans have run real losers against him and that Congressman remains in office. But I refer to and will vaguely quote Mark Twain for a proper description of my House Representative: He is somewhere between the apes and the French.

WISDOM OF THE CROWD?

This politically correct TV production from California, and I suppose Hollywood, is UNREAL. This production is set in Silicon Valley. Everyone in it is of dark complexion but salient places are ignored: An entire continent is missing.
NO ASIANS – the sub-continent Indians, no Vietnamese, no Malaysians, no Thais, no Chinese and no Japanese. As for Europe the characters look like they come from the Mediterranean places. There are no Frogs, no Krauts and no Limeys. No one looks ready to play a a role in Fargo except for the blonde victim. Where are the Ruskies, the easiest characters to write and cast: Thin guy, big eyes always looking at the walls, generally incoherent and absolutely brilliant. And there are no Irish!
There is also a black/white element present in the production. Everyone wears black. The bad guys were Northern European/North American.