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.

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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.

SHERLOCK – Season 4

This series has begun the slide into fantasy and surrealism. Points are blocked out and seemingly follow one another. But do the blocks make sense? A headline from Favorite Internet Site leads to Sherlock and Watson to follow a line; a note discarded in the Underground on the other side of London stirs them in other directions.

The cartoonish coincidences of blocks mock the whole Sherlock idiom. Most of Season 4 is taken up with the future crimes predicted by past bad guys, James Moriety, killed in Season 2. Note that a few years or more have passed by Season 4. The dead man has joined forces with Sherlock Holmes brilliant sister, who supposedly has not been released from confinement for 30 years.

According to the cartoon story she knows everything. She’s more brilliant than either of her brothers, although she is severely mentally retarded. She keeps that handicap in check while having her brothers jump through her hoops. Episode three of Season 4 is not good science fiction, science fantasy, detective fantasy, etc. It’s more like a pseudo-psycho story with gaps, and the audience is to fill in the blanks while trying to follow improbable actions: A cross between Survivor and Alien [the original].

The Sherlock Holmes idiom presents a man who is different from other human beings. Note that Sherlock is not in a different setting. In the settling that is known to the audience, what delights readers and viewers is Sherlock’s observations of the unknown and unnoticed. When Sherlock pursues criminals, he does not leave reality, the setting the audience is in. When using fantasy leaps, grand coincidences and changes of setting in SHERLOCK – Season 4, the Sherlock idiom is lost. [Robert Downey Jr. movies came close but did not cross this line.]

What the audiences and the writers lose? Nobody cares about Sherlock or how the crimes are solved. Most of the crimes are obvious {cereal (serial) killer}and solvable by the cops; Sherlock isn’t needed. SHERLOCK – Season 4 lost its strongest human being when Mary, John Watson’s wife, is unnecessarily killed. If the truth be known the original Terminator movie has more human beings in it (including Arnold) than SHERLOCK – Season 4.

WINCHELL

Neal Gabler

Winchell was an entertainer, and primarily uninteresting. During the 1920s he came up in the newspaper world (columnist) and made most of his money and notoriety (not fame) in radio. Winchell never had the substance, education and discipline of an Edward R. Murrow or a William L. Shirer.

What Winchell had was gossip, “making smart chat,” initially about persons involved in Broadway plays and shows extending to Hollywood, New York City, crime, and into politics. A fact is found this biography telling about Winchell’s wife, June:
“She read novels, saw movies, listened to records and radio
programs for Walter and delivered her opinions, which then
became his opinions.” (p. 357)
Apparently Winchell great observer, critic and commentator did none of those things. He collected and organized gossip, having a string of runners whom he usually did not pay. Much of the slang he developed and used then does not live today.

Winchell had no background for what he was doing. He was an empty suit. At the end of his life he wrote an overlong autobiography (in manuscript) pulling no punches, punching down, kicking shins and elsewhere else. It is hinted, though, that therein Winchell told the truth.

The author quotes a member of the Smart Set: “If all the Armenians were to be killed tomorrow” that would help establish the decade’s tenor, “and if half of Russia were to starve to death the day after, it would not matter in the least. What concerns me alone is myself and the interest of a few close friends. For all I care the rest of the world may go to hell at today’s sunset.”(p. 47) This book tells the relationships and activities of Walter Winchell and a few close associates and colleagues who lived in New York City and Washington D.C.

At the end of life Winchell was defeated and bitter. His family’s life had collapsed: A daughter had died when young; his wife (somewhat estranged) saw him a week or two a year; she died before him. A daughter with grandkids was unhappy and not productive. A son had committed suicide. For the final fifteen (15) years of life (60-75 years) his health was no good. All the while his professional career of gossip was disappearing. His was a name many knew, but he was from a profession and a time that no longer existed. He was a hanger-on, has-been, once-was.

From gossip around New York City in the 1920s, Winchell moved toward circles in Washington D.C. New York City might tolerate the fluff, insults and revelations. Almost everyone would not hold grudges. However, Winchell held grudges for years or decades to the point of being vile and evil. I had to rethink Ed. Sullivan who adamantly opposed Winchell for a quarter century. Sullivan was not intimidated. Unlike the person most Americans remember, Sullivan was very athletic when young. Winchell did not want to tangle with him.

The Washington D.C. world pegged Winchell, and held him to his words. He was initially anti-Nazi and against racial discrimination. He was on “the New Deal” team and opposed to conservative forces in the Democratic Party. He was B.F. F. with J. Eager Hoover – died two months apart in 1972.

Those persons and organizations presented forces and influences on Winchell that he could not handle and did not have the ability to dismiss. Personally, he was a raving lunatic when it came to his column; He mostly had the blessings of his sponsors of his radio broadcasters, but not his employers. Everyone liked the expanse of exposure and advertising Winchell provided, but there were no controls, no discipline, no education and no restraints on Walter Winchell. He was a master and manipulator of his world, gossip.

His failure to recognize and abide by limits, to observe times were achanging, and to be introspective brought failure. Josephine Baker entertained in New York City and dined at the Stork Club, owned by a good Oklahoma friend of Winchell. The unstated policy at the Club was no riffraff and no minorities; the place was for white snobs only. In the early 1950s Winchell was in the restaurant when Baker and her guests were served drinks but left for a movie premiere. Baker later was not served the dinner she ordered. Everyone wondered what Winchell thought. He did not explain the facts as he knew them and next say he was awaiting the results of the Civil Rights investigation. Instead, Winchell treated the incident like it was part of his column, an item of gossip where he did not have to take responsibility for missing or added facts. He tried to protect the Oklahoma friend and the Stork Club, although he disagreed with the policy. As the sides hardened, Winchell attacked Baker for several years. It is wrong to say Winchell was a racist, but it is right to say he was an idiot bordering on imbecility.

Winchell was anti-Communist, and once again he got caught up on the extremes of Washington D.C. and a national issue. Winchell backed Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn (whom he introduced to the Senator). The grand finale which Winchell did not perceive coming or realized while it happened on television, was followed by Winchell trying to protect McCarthy and slamming organizations and individuals as communist-oriented, leaning left and pink. In the 1960s Winchell still called John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy communists.

Would anyone ever believe Walter Winchell could be so uneducated, ignorant and thick? He never understood, When the horse is dead, get off. He had to opportunity (like Ed Sullivan) to make the transition to Television, but did not fully understand the medium. [This thinking came from a guy who was in vaudeville for a dozen years and never forgot stage work.] Apparently, his life was so perfect – none of it was – that he was incapable of change. A New York celebrity dined with Winchell at the Stork Club, and opined in his diary, “Winchell was a bore, a vanity of all vanities.”(p. 257) Late in life he got a press pass and observed the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention street riots. Like most reporters Winchell did not and could not know the full story, but he chose anyway.

The strength of this biography tells the life and times of the man, how he fit in and his methods of surviving. The surprising fact is that Winchell did not change. In the end he sought television exposure, a further failure of business opportunities accompanying bad health and a disintegrating family. The times of Walter Winchell are not as complete as they can be because primary sources are likely not yet opened or available.

If the biography has problems they are absence by inference. Winchell’s shortcomings. It is a New York City behavior revisited on the American people every week now. He was usually nonsensical and unmeritorious on the attack, always blundering through trivia; the points made were off-point, scattered and offensive. That was Winchell’s doing in his column and on the radio. And now Americans have to hear that sort of tripe, petty, crybaby stuff everyday.

Winchell was not a celebrity. He received no respect and no love during his lifetime and afterward. He did not deserve it. Winchell preyed upon people’s fears until the last decades of life when opponents began beating Winchell up with their words. Winchell was notorious, an outlaw to entertainment and to society, one of the sorts of figures today who get arrested before a concert tour as part of a publicity campaign.

A final point: The Burt Lancaster movie, Sweet Smell of Success, (1957) was representative of Winchell’s career and life. Winchell was the target. It is an ugly, dark movie and a classic. But His Girl Friday is also about Winchell. Gary Grant, editor, plays Winchell. The character and the target share a first name, Walter.

REVIEW: NEW YORK TIMES

Delivered to the house was the magazine WIRED (March 2017). I’ve perused it and have comments.

On the cover is a photograph of A.G. Sulzberger, editor/publisher/owner of the New York Times. He appears to be middle age, is bald, mediocre posture of an undead person, and wearing dark clothes he is ready to conduct funerals. It looks very Nineteenth Century – pose, distant vision, presentation of person, but that’s it. None of that works today, 2017.

Inside Sulzberger says that everyone appear and be normal human beings. Nothing about Sulzberger suggests he is a homo sapiens sapiens. He looks like an android sent from another planet to scout out prospects on earth. He is less threatening than Arnold Schwarzenegger, but looks built by the same machine-owned firm that put Arnold together for those movies. Trying to soften Sulzberger’s image, they have him wearing eye glasses, circa 1935 frames.

There are many problems with the New York Times, the most basic ones are not identified in the article. Indeed, one paragraph in the article presents New York Times’ major flaws:

Four books after the election, Times chief executive Mark Thompson
told an industry conference that subscriptions had surged at 10 times
their usual rate. To Thompson, the likeliest explanation wasn’t that
the times did a bang-up job covering the final days of the election –
like everyone else, they failed to anticipate Trump’s victory – that that
readers were looking to hedge against fake news. He suggests a simpler
reason: “I think the public anxiety to actually have professional,
consistent, properly funded newsrooms holding politicians to account
is probably bigger than all of the other factors put together.” In other
words, the president’s hostility to the press and the very notion of facts
themselves seems to have reminded people that nothing about The New
York Times – or the kind of journalism it publishes – is inevitable.

This passage, page 53, like most most journalistic writing is overwrought. 1) It can be cut: ELIMINATE “In other words” and everything after it. 2) Another explanation (third line) is most likely: Democrats and anti-Trump persons believed they missed something, which The New York Times picked up. They ended subscriptions to other newspapers and started up with the gorilla on the block. 3) The admitted failure of The Times and everyone else to predict a Trump victory suggests a grave issue. The Times was believing its own press, it’s own sources, all its fans, it’s own wave. 4) Journalists are supposed to talk to the other side, which many people, Left or Right, have difficulty doing. One wonders if The Times talks to people on the right, or if their reporters have shut their mouths now that new immigration policies are being put into effect. Polls suggest those are popular measures among Americans. [Remember, don’t conduct any penetrating political polling in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania before the election.]

Other than who is being talked to and reported, what are the facts – misstatements, misconceptions, pure truth. No knows what that is sitting in New York City wondering about an Internet site at the New York Times offices. [This segment is greatly shortened.] All journalism comes from excellent writing, and that is where the Internet and word processing becomes a hinderance. Everything is spelled correctly; words appear to be in the proper order. There are too many words – say eight words where two will do. The Internet has space to waste, not the usual newspaper adage. All those reporters who grew up and got an “A” in eighth grade English, have pyramided that excellence into a newspaper career. They’re still writing at middle-school levels, with the juvenile, horrifying reactions to the unusual, the absurd and the foreign.

Every immaterial, irrelevant reaction part of perceived fad-culture is presented in an article. That is not journalism. What may be journalism is the fact that people believe such temporary moments as important, where as in the long haul, they are not. Newspapers hire journalists for their perspective, but most journalists hooked onto the Internet truly believe in these cultural misunderstandings – it might be 5,000 people without tickets to a concert and they are disappointed. Time to riot. Let’s feel sorry for them? [Is the story about the 5,000 standing around outside waiting for the concert to end? What else is on their mind? Is this the best thing any of the 5,000 can do with time?]

Are journalists trained and do they understand everything? The easiest thing to do is hand them a straightforward story, and learn how many cliches are included in the proffered article. The more cliches, the less understanding.

Keep reporters away from the two-pager in Wired. How to grow your own pot. That will kill initiative, except to cultivate and smoke, and wither away brain cells the user never knew were present. It’s not called dope for nothing.

This final most significant point in the Wired New York Times article suggests doom for the newspaper. It’s not that the Ploughkeepsie Times is stealing advertising dollars. It is not competition from the ankle bitters like the Huffington Post take a few bucks. The big player in the room came in a few years ago, new to newspapers but forever familiar with the internet. Jeff Bezos of Amazon bought The Washington Post, lock, stock and barrel, and likely The Post does not have the Internet issues complicating life at the NY Times. Instead, Bezos must only work to cultivate writing and writers, the most important part of any newspaper. If the Internet is presenting a new way at looking at the world (needs color, illustrations, pictures, cartoons), do it! Recognize newspapers are competing against the Super Bowl, World Series, the Best Voice, Great Dancer shows, Wiccan Conventions and every musician to touch a fiddle.

THE LINCOLN BOYS – JOSHUA ZEITZ

This is not an easy book to write. In its telling this book suffers from sets of styles (different voices) imposed by the text. There is biography (A. Lincoln, John Hay, John Nicolay, Robert Lincoln).

Next comes autobiography. Maintaining the voice of Hay and Nicolay in the third person, the text becomes a memoir. What was it for each of them to write a biography? How do either of them write? How did either of them write differently? In short texts most writers ignore these personal voices when writing or they incorporate them into the text, and no one knows better. However, the author here tried at the beginning to keep everything separated.

There is a shift from biography when writers put together the story of the documents, events, people involved and other biographers. It becomes more so evident when the text becomes historical. In a short passage Our Ideal Hero Chapter, Zeitz efficiently tells of literary and social efforts to return the South to the United States. He adroitly puts together many of the same facts Mark Twain viewed before writing Huckleberry Finn and Life on the Mississippi.

Keeping everything distinguishable, clear and fluid was a challenge for this author. I read hoping everything would be in place. Other than for money I do not know why Nicolay and Hay wrote the Lincoln biography. The writing process for both Hay and Nicolay (the autobiography) was shortchanged.

Why write a ten volume biography of Lincoln? Trying to establish the image of Abraham Lincoln for posterity – was a public relations campaign needed? It might be argued that Lincoln could never be buried. The future of the man was set in stone when he was assassinated: Leader – President who took us through the War – Counseled moderation and a warm embrace to the South without slavery. And next, survivors and posterity discovered speeches to chisel into stone, incredible words. The Gettysburg Address may be the best speech of the century, unless it is superseded by an Inaugural Address.

Without the ten volume biography what might Lincoln’s image have become? Frivolous, goofball and irrelevant as some writers treat it today: Lincoln was a quiet lady’s man, manic-depressive, cold and some say, gay. It is likely that Americans will let these quacks polish their views as much as they can. But Lincoln tells Americans more about themselves, to a human being, than any one has communicated to the country and its people since his death.

AS GOOD AS IT CAN BE

THE REPUBLIC OF PIRATES

COLIN WOODARD

This is a very readable book about diverse subjects who have very little substance. I wanted to learn about pirates who have been characterized in history, by Walt Disney, in cartoons and in art. I read this book, and I learned what happened to them and what happened to the people who put an end to them.

Pirate society, however, is not a republic.. It is similar to a mafia or an organized crime syndicate: get money by anyway possible, generally release the victims so they will go off and work to get more money and property, drink to incapacity every day, rape and otherwise be included in a society of men seeking spontaneity, caprice and ease. Sociologically, pirate society was similar to cults; it has elements of male dominated philosophies and societies which appeared in twentieth century countries where mass-murder was accepted (Germany, Cambodia and Rwanda).

A full analysis of the sociology is likely impossible. There are too few historical sources; projecting modern theories into the Seventieth Century seems impossible.

Despite these shortcomings this book is enjoyably informative. One thing it tells the modern reader is the world of the past was not settled and peaceful. There were murderers, rapists and robbers then. But there were also unusually modern situations which may never be found in any university history. The footnote on page 98 would enliven any book, although I don’t know what it has to do with pirates:

Young Sarah Walker (1700-1731) would eventually marry William Fairfax, for
whom Fairfax County, Virginia is named. Her daughter, Anne, was George
Washington’s mistress, a particularly awkward situation as she was married to
his brother, Lawrence Washington. Anne’s own brother, George Fairfax, apparently
had some African features; he suffered humiliation during a childhood visit to
England when his paternal relatives began speculating aloud as to whether his skin
would turn black at puberty.

HOCHSCHILD’S MISREADING

On March 18, 2016, Second D, page 5, Adam Hochschild ventured into an area where he lacks expertise, knowledge and imagination. He described why Mark Twain’s Life On the Mississippi need not be read in its entirety. Being familiar with Twain’s work, I am surprised. I’ve read works from historians competing with Hochschild for readers, and I now wonder if I ought to read his books. The world is more multilayered than Mr. Hochschild appreciates. Regarding Life On the Mississippi he has two grand oversights.

Hochschild stumbled upon the fact that Life On is a companion book to Huckleberry Finn. That novel is firmly set in the 1830s. Life On presents contemporary observations which were added to Twain’s previous publication of Old Times on the Mississippi (@1875).

In 1882 books and basic knowledge of the Mississippi River Valley were scare. Twain had written about 25 chapters of the novel but needed a refresher course about locations and the sense and feel of the South, and the river. In 1882 he traveled up the river, noting events and occurrences, present time to 45 years before. Not much had changed.

Life On came from Clemen’s notebooks and scrapbooks. Prior to William Faulkner’s observation about the past in the South, Clemens realized in the South that nothing was ever the past. In 1884 he told the world that in Life On.

The second point is what the South did with its history, this time and subject is described by a prominent American historian who quotes Life On the Mississippi from a late passage. SPOILER ALERT! Hochschild’s fans should stop reading NOW!

…Colonel Marshall graphically described the scene demonstrating Lee’s
posture and his forward wave of the hand as Jackson rode away.The
movement became the subject of a painting completed in 1869…Mark
Twain studied the original in New Orleans and reflected on the importance
of explicitly telling people the retrospectively defined meaning of what they
they see when one offers them a historical representation…Unless the
painting were properly labeled Twain said, it might readily be taken to
portray “Last Interview between Lee and Jackson” or “First Interview
between Lee and Jackson” or “Jackson Reporting a Great Victory” or
“Jackson Apologizing for a Heavy Defeat” or “Jackson Asking Lee for a
Match.” “It tells one story and a sufficient one; for it says quite plainly and
satisfactorily, ‘Here are Lee and Jackson together.’ The artist would have
made it tell that this is Lee and Jackson’s last interview if he could have
done it. But he couldn’t, for there wasn’t any way to do it. A good legible
label is usually worth, for information, a ton of significant attitude and
expression in a historical picture.”
Royster, Charles, The Destructive War, Knopf, NY, 1991, p. 203-204.

 

LOCKE BIOGRAPHY OF EASTWARD

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE VERY UGLY
Sondra Locke

Any autobiography suffers from the writer’s inability to tell the truth, fully, moderately or partially. This flaw has been noted among writers. [William L. Shirer, Twentieth Century Journey, vol. 1, Chapter 1] However, Sondra Locke in The Good, the Bad & the Very Ugly (no index) remarkably tells the truth in a well-written autobiography while coming to incomplete and imprecise conclusions.

General impressions. I like Sondra Locke; this book does not endear me to her. But I am happy she has managed to act in and direct additional films. The more films made the better. This autobiography lacks any setting: What was Los Angeles like for an up-and-coming actress in entertainment(1968-1973)? Locke gives the impression that every role she got except the first and those until she met Eastwood, magically came to her. Indeed, it seems her first and only mentor in entertainment was Eastwood.

Locke presents her life as a fairy tale; the writing is consistent. In a deposition the first questions were about the fairy tale life. She is admirably loyal to persons in her life and hometown who have helped her, especially her best friend Gordon. They marry. Gordon declares he is gay; he finds other lovers. They live separately in Los Angeles but talk daily and see each other often.

Sondra Locke had a good start to a film career in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Thereafter her roles diminished, three films that tried to develop the alternative reality of the Sixties: Reflections of Fear was the most establishment.The Seducers, supposedly a true story about teenage girls, gone wild. The Second Coming of Suzanne, hipsters supposedly making a movie. None of these movies added anything to Locke’s career. She mets Eastwood in an audition for Breezy which Locke pejoratively and quickly dismisses: “about a man in his late fifties who choses a young teenage chick with lots of T and A.” (131) Eastwood hires Locke to perform in The Outlaw Josey Wales. It is “love at first sight,” but it was also roles in better movies at first sight.

It might also be better described as physical relations at first sight. Eastwood learns about Gordon. They meet, socialize, chat and laugh. Eastwood produces movies, some of which Locke acts in. For those movies and others Locke says she worked on them when Eastwood viewed them in post production at the ranch.

After discussions with Locke Eastwood divorces his wife in the early 1980s; Locke remains married to Gordon. Eastwood buys a house, and Gordon lives in it. He buys a second house in Los Angeles (Stradella) for himself and Locke, apparently selling a Studio City house about the same time.

What was life with Eastwood like? There is some of that but more about Gordon. The whole book must be consumed before making an impression. Locke and Eastwood spend time in Carmel, Sun Valley Idaho, Lake Shasta and other places. But get to the nitty-gritty – before, during and after dinner talk, the sweet words soothing life to get to sleep.

In the mid-1980s Locke spent a couple of years decorating houses.(175) Gordon is frequently with her during that shopping. If Eastwood is in town, Locke and Eastwood would be together during the evening: What did you do today, darling? Chapter 12 late in the book gives a run down of a Locke and Gordon day. Gordon has spiritual qualities and abilities. Locke enthusiastically writes about days of spirituality but lacks specifics. In talks with Eastwood Locke likely was very verbal about those spiritual events. There was no communication. Eastwood seems like a feet-on-the Earth fellow.

Screaming at the reader is one word: INCOMPATIBLE. It is completely unfathomable why Locke would call Eastwood, a man 14 years her senior: “Daddy.”(152) And when Eastwood left she would “cry like a school girl.”(148)

For Every Which Way But Loose Eastwood wanted Locke to sing songs she had written and composed. She didn’t want to and never wanted to sing again.(157) Eastwood liked Locke, a beautiful woman, to wear no make up.(148) NO: put on the ughs and toss on the paint. Locke wanted to direct. Through Eastwood’s production company the script of Ratboy is bought(mid 1980s).

First-time director Locke and Gordon want to rewrite the Ratboy script. Gordon has no writing credits (that are mentioned)l Locke has none. Eastwood says no. There are schools of practice about producers/directors rewriting scripts. Eastwood may favor, Buy a script, shoot it. Undisciplined, enthusiasts among producers and directors don’t believe writers do anything, but they, themselves, can take years rewriting screenplays. This autobiography does not go into business customs and practices. Eastwood’s point of view is clear. Locke is deeply offended. It should be observed for her next film, Impulse (1989) Locke does not admit doing a director’s rewrite of the script.

While Locke is engaged in the film as a director, someone she likes back home dies. Gordon returns. Over Eastwood’s objections Director Locke returns home (203). The autobiography casts adjectives, one of which is mean which is completely meaningless. Locke’s adjectives are belied later in The Good, The Bad (249): “In a near-hypnotic manner I went back to work. Directing a film requires awesome stamina and with claiming of so much emotional drain on the my life I could hardly stay afloat.” There is no discussion of Locke’s emotional state after her return to directing of Ratboy.

Locke is incredulous about her palimony suit (remember she is married to Gordon throughout), that participants can be petty in a domestic relations litigation. Locke’s description of what happened is run of the mill. It is equally surprising that entertainment closes in trying to keep people out, but think of the earlier incident: Academy Award Winner Cliff Robertson and the $10,000 check. None of those schemes are very sophisticated. It is probable that Sondra Locke has now learned Samuel Goldwyn’s aphorism: “An oral contract is not worth the paper it is printed on.”

There are items every writer ought to know: A baby deer is a fawn.(165) There are no “preliminary hearings” in civil cases.(7) There are Pre-trial conferences, Settlement Conferences and Law and Motion. One “saves” money. One does not go about “saving up” money.(46) And it is inconsistent to call Eastwood a “spoiled child”(236) all the while the author is describing her life as the fairy tale she has lived in since the 1950s.

RADS, TOM BATES, 1993

This excellent book recounts anti-War and anti-establishment activities at the University of Wisconsin (`1965-1971), including the bombing of the Army-Math building on campus causing one death and five severe injuries. They used a fertilizer bomb costing less than $100.00 packed into an Econoline Van. It was a smaller version of the Oklahoma City bomb in 1995. Divisions of various academic subjects were destroyed including decades of work in physics, mathematics and in other disciplines unrelated to Army Math. Army Math which dealt with a bunch of transitory subjects was inconvenienced.

An amazing fact was the location of Army Math in a building on campus. There had been protests and riots, some close to the building. Yet, there was no security, except a guard with a time clock. The building was a convenient open target.

The individuals made unrelated events the basis for the bombing in August 1970. The individuals and friends were moronic; no one broke any IQ records. Within 24 hours of the bombing law enforcement had the names and identities of the four suspect. The FBI’s arrogant attitude screwed up immediate arrests which led to manhunts which brought three bombers to trial. It is postulated the fourth bomber was a police informant who either did or did not alert anyone about the bombing. Either decision he made plus the bombing of the building was a death sentence for the fourth bomber.

The three remaining bombers were pleasant, not threatening, socially capable and able to light a joint, take a suitable toke and graciously pass on the remainder before it became a roach. That may have been their most admirable social quality. Intellectually, they knew Castro was in Cuba, Che was bleeding somewhere, Ho had something to do with Vietnam, and Mao was good on Sandwiches. These sorts of persons were par for the course in leftist, youth, culture and riots. No one else in their right mind would suck in that much tear gas and pepper fog emissions.

For good reason the book lacks discussion of a theoretical basis for the bombing. Instead it presents a robotic quality of the trio. These people did not read, ponder, conceptualize, intellectualize theory and discuss it. They heard a cliché and but it into action. These bombers were incapable of doing otherwise. Many Leftists like to supply the theoretical basis which never existed. No one could ever explain why it was reasonable to get the little people, ants, greasers, women and stooges to act.

On a personal note the book returned me to attitudes I once had. Exchange glances with someone, and have a gut reaction: Do I trust that person? NO. I would not trust any of this trio, and certainly none of the leaders who preached hatred, violence and death.

There are reactions to facts in the book. Page 101, “police provocateurs” in Chicago were dressed in “Al Capone suits.” Page 239, meal of “vegetables and brown rice.” In Berkeley add bean sprouts and wonder why more of the boomer generation did not die of arsenic poisoning (the rice) and salmonella poisoning (bean sprouts). Page 220, First Earth Day in Berkeley was set [and upset] on April 22(23?) 1970, not April 18, 1970.

Page 138, Fred Hampton, Black Panther killed in Chicago, December 1969, “denounced the Weathermen as ‘anti-people.'” Hampton agreed with SI Hiwakawa who said, “I can talk to the Black militants; they want to get something done.” It was the white radicals were wanted to destroy everything.

Page 131. “Affinity groups.” In a riot five to seven people would move and act as a unit; they would care and look out for one another. Later in Rads the cops began using “anti-affinity” groups.

My first year at Berkeley I was surrounded by 30 days of street rioting. Occasionally I participated, but usually I was just passing through – going to and from class or appointments. I saw friends and acquaintances in the action. Carrying a book meant I was a non-participant. I have never heard of an “affinity group” until reading Rads.

Page 407. “The visitors reminded [Tom] Hayden of his previous support for Karl [one of the bombers], and for a moment he weakened. “Don’t worry, in public I’ll back Karl to the hilt. I can’t let Jane say anything though.” The “Hanoi Jane” label had become a drag on them both.”

This realization was known to Jane Fonda in the autumn of 1973. Six months before, [Spring 1973] she was in her pride and glory, being quoted about North Vietnamese treatment of American prisoners of war: “Walking through the streets of Hanoi with their heads bowed in front of a woman with a bayonet might be torture.” Daily Californian, April 12, 1973, p. 1; Berkeley Barb, April 10, 1973 for more Jane Fonda statements on the torture of American POWs. See also Holzer, Henry, Mark and Erica, Aid and Comfort: Jane Fonda in North Vietnam, McFarland & Co; Hayden, Reunion, p. 455, “Either Tom Hayden or Jane Fonda said about the time of the 1973 Peace Treaty, ‘the POWS were liars, hypocrites and pawns in Nixon’s efforts to rewrite history.'”
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