After I joined the Trotskyist movement in 1967, I always kept a certain distance from the pulsating heart of the movement that consisted of people on staff. This was partly a function of having a day job as a computer programmer and my pre-political existential identity forged by readings of books like Herman Hesse’s “Steppenwolf”, Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski.
Because of my detachment, I never saw any need to stop subscribing to Esquire, a magazine I had read since high school. Unlike Playboy, the magazine was much less about titillation than taste—including fine literature. It was quite a bit like Harpers but with articles about clothes and travel that I largely ignored.
In the January 1970 issue, there was a long article that you can read in its entirety below. It consisted of correspondence between Dalton Trumbo and original NBC Tonight show host Steve Allen over Allen’s role in redbaiting Trumbo. In 1969 Tom Bradley was running for Mayor of Los Angeles against Sam Yorty, a real son of a bitch reactionary. Allen wrote a letter to someone who had invited him to a fundraiser for Bradley at Trumbo’s house telling her basically that he should be shunned by liberals as a totalitarian.
It was in a way the last gasp of McCarthyism with Allen summoning up Arthur Schlesinger Jr. as an authority on how evil Communism was. Much of Trumbo’s correspondence was directed at Schlesinger’s intervention and was devastating. Allen’s last letter in the correspondence reveals a surprising obsession with 60s radicals, mentioning the Progressive Labor Party and the RYM faction of SDS. It is truly odious stuff.
The best way to describe Trumbo’s letters is a mixture of P.G. Wodehouse’s literary style and the searing polemical power of Alexander Cockburn at his best. At the time I laughed out loud at Trumbo and became a huge fan, even though I had scant knowledge of his life story or his screenplays. The only thing I knew about him was that he had written a novel called “Johnny Got His Gun” that my girlfriend at Bard—a Red diaper baby—raved about.
Interestingly enough, the correspondence that I scanned in was not from a Dalton Trumbo letters collection but from a Steve Allen collection called “But Seriously…” published in 1996. I can’t say that it redeems this insufferable liberal but I’m damned glad that he included it.
The Happy Jack Fish-Hatchery Papers
In which the Messrs. Steve Allen, Dalton Trumbo, and Art Schlesinger, Jr, debate the true meaning of liberalism
Reprinted from Esquire, January 1970 (published by the Hearst Corporation),
Mrs. Beata Inaya Los Angeles, California
February 26, 1969
Dear Mrs. Inaya:
Thank you for your letter of February 25th in which I am answering five minutes after reading.
I’m sorry to report that I’m already committed for the evening of Friday, March 14th and will therefore not be able to have pleasure of attending the party that evening in honor of Bradley. As I believe you know, I am participating in another affair in his honor on March 1st. It is absolutely none of my business that the March 14th affair is being held it the home of Mr. Dalton Trumbo, but I am assuming that those of you who are working so hard on Tom Bradley’s behalf must know that Mr. Bradley’s reactionary opponents will certainly make capital of the fact that Mr. Trumbo’s home is the setting for this particular occasion.
I know absolutely nothing of Mr. Trumbo’s present political convictions, nor have I any particular interest in what his political affiliation might have been, say, a quarter of a century ago. I assume, however, that at one time he was indeed a Communist. I have also been told he is a very likable individual personally and his position as one of our most talented screenwriters is widely acknowledged. It would in no way affect my own admiration for Mr Bradley that Mr. Trumbo might be one of his supporters but to go over the ground again if (a) Mr. Trumbo is today of the Communist persuasion (something he has every right to be), and if (b) this fact is publicized by Mr. Bradley’s rightist political opposition, then (c) the March 14th affair will almost certainly be used in such a way as to cost Mr. Bradley a perhaps significant number of votes in this not-always-politically-enlightened city. I am perfectly willing to have you show this letter to Mr. Bradley, or to Mr. Trumbo for that matter, should you feel inclined to do so.
If Mr. Bradley’s present campaign is, let us say, similar to William Buckley’s in New York, in that winning is out of the question, but the race is run merely as a public profession of political principle, then, of course, my observations here will be irrelevant. But they do indeed have a relevance if Tom Bradley and his supporters are interested in winning the political contest.
Cordially yours, Steve Allen
Mr. Dalton Trumbo Los Angeles, California
Dear Mr. Trumbo:
The Arts Division of the American Civil Liberties Union inaugurated its first Annual Playwriting Contest open to all students in any college or university in Southern California. The response was overwhelming and enthusiastic, and we now have the two award-winning student plays. They will be presented at the Stage Society Theatre in Los Angeles for four performances only, on Sunday afternoon, June 8 (preview performance for students), and on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings, June 9, 10, and 11. It is because I am certain that you share my interests in both encouraging young, fresh talent and the free expression of ideas that I am asking you to participate as a sponsor in this unique project with me. Only $25 from you not only helps to underwrite the cost of these productions, but it will also make it possible to invite two students to the preview performance on Sunday. Furthermore, your name will be listed on the program as a sponsor and you will receive two tickets for whichever evening performance you prefer. Please indicate your preference when you send your check made payable to the Arts Division, ACLU which I hope you will do now.
Thanks so much for your support.
Cordially, Arts Division
American Civil Liberties Union Los Angeles, California
May 7, 1969
Not so long ago, Mrs. Trumbo and I gave our names as sponsors for a liberal cause which I shall not mention here, and some-what reluctantly agreed to throw our house open in its behalf to a fund-raising party for 150 persons. Unknown to us, Mr. Steve Allen, who appears to be the doyen of the Hollywood liberal community, wrote a letter to the organization charging that the use of my name would provide rightists and reactionaries with an opportunity to defeat their organization and the cause for which it stood. Although no one had mentioned the matter to Mrs. Trumbo or me, and the invitations were already at the printers, the party was canceled forthwith, and we, quite after the fact, were notified of our undesirability. I did not like it, and I am resolved it shall not happen a second time. I shall be glad to sponsor the Arts Division, ACLU Playwriting Contest provided you can secure Allen’s written consent for my name to appear on your list. I know this seems odd, but it’s the only way I can think of to avoid another spasm of nastiness and, perhaps, disavowel. I enclose my check for $25 as a straight nonsponsoring contribution.
Cordially, Dalton Trumbo
cc: Mr. Steve Allen
Arts Division, American Civil Liberties Union
May 13, 1969
Mr. Dalton Trumbo was kind enough to provide me with a copy of his letter of May 7th to you. I shall naturally accord him the same favor in attempting to clarify the misunderstanding to which an earlier letter of mine has apparently given rise. I can quite understand Mr. Trumbo’s personal displeasure at the cancellation of a party for which, in the first place, he had agreed to serve as a somewhat reluctant host.
Secondly, I concede that he is correct in placing on my shoulders the primary blame for the cancellation of the party, although in referring to me as “the doyen of the Hollywood liberal community” he greatly exaggerates my influence upon liberal affairs in our com-munity. Nevertheless, my letter of February 26th did indeed recommend against the holding of the fundraising party in Mr. and Mrs. Trumbo’s home.
To make my motives in this instance perfectly clear, I quote here the relevant portions of the letter to which Mr. Trumbo objects:
“I know absolutely nothing of Mr. Trumbo’s present political convictions, nor have I any particular interest in what his political affiliation might have been, say, a quarter of a century ago. I assume, however, that at one time he was indeed a Communist. I have also been told he is a very likable individual personally and his position as one of our most talented screenwriters is widely acknowledged. It would in no way affect my own admiration for Mr Bradley that Mr. Trumbo might be one of his supporters but to go over the ground again if (a) Mr. Trumbo is today of the Communist persuasion (something he has every right to be), and if (b) this fact is publicized by Mr. Bradley’s rightist political opposition, then (c) the March 14th affair will almost certainly be used in such a way as to cost Mr. Bradley a perhaps significant number of votes in this not-always-politically-enlightened city. I am perfectly willing to have you show this letter to Mr. Bradley, or to Mr. Trumbo for that matter, should you feel inclined to do so.
“If Mr. Bradley’s present campaign is, let us say, similar to William Buckley’s in New York, in that winning is out of the question, but the race is run merely as a public profession of political principle, then, of course, my observations here will be irrelevant. But they do indeed have a relevance if Tom Bradley and his supporters are interested in winning the political contest.”
Now may I draw your attention to something in Mr. Trumbo’s letter of May 7th which is possibly critically significant in this context. In his first paragraph he chooses not to identify Mr. Bradley’s campaign but refers only to “a liberal cause which I shall not mention here. . . .” While it is conceivable that Mr. Trumbo omits Bradley’s name because he has decided to base his argument on principle rather than on specifics, it seems to me more probable that he is motivated by a generous reluctance to draw Mr. Bradley’s name into this discussion at a moment in the mayoralty race when it is unwise to rock boats. If the latter hypothesis is the valid one then perhaps, in choosing not now to link his name with that of Mr. Bradley, Mr. Trumbo may be motivated by precisely those considerations which dictated the writing of my letter of February 26th.
Mr. Trumbo seems to feel that the party at his house was cancelled on my instructions. Such was not the case. I simply brought certain considerations of political expediency to the attention of one of Mr. Bradley’s campaign workers. Apparently my letter was forwarded to higher-placed members of Mr. Bradley’s staff; presumably it was these workers who issued the cancellation order. It is clear, I would think, that only someone more formally associated with Mr. Bradley’s campaign would have the authority to dictate such a cancellation. I have no such authority. It is unfortunate that the reasons for the party’s cancellation we’re not explained to Mr. Trumbo before rather than after the fact, and again I say that his emotional response to the manner in which the situation was handled is quite understandable.
Mr. Trumbo is a witty and trenchant writer and I stand properly amused by the irony of his suggestion that he will sponsor the ACLU-Art Division’s Playwriting Contest provided only that the organization can secure my written consent for his name to appear on its list of sponsors. I have, of course, no more authority to prevent his association with the Arts Division-ACLU in this instance than I had to prevent his public association with Mr. Bradley’s campaign in the other. To this point my comments will probably have seemed unexceptionable to you, but concerning what I have now to say a raised eyebrow or two would be understandable. Can it indeed be the case that I have the temerity to recommend Mr. Trumbo’s rejection a second time, to rub salt in his wounds, to attempt, in my capacity as doyen, to banish him into that exterior darkness into which, from time to time, in recent history, various representatives of the non-Communist left in America have attempted to push their pro-Soviet or pro-Marxist associates?
The question is, alas, impossible to for the reason that I haven’t the slightest idea as to what Mr. Trumbo’s present position n the o political spectrum might be.
At which you should pin me to the wall and demand to know, in certain terms, what my recommendation in this matter would be if it could be absolutely certified–or even assumed for purposes of debate–that Mr. Trumbo is today a Communist and proud of it.
In which case I concede my strong anti-Communist bias. Since there are those seriously afflicted by the either–or disease–a malady apparently as common on the political Left as it is on the Right. I am therefore obliged to state that my opposition to political tyranny does indeed take in all 360 degrees of the circle that stretches to the political horizon, which is to say that I am also revolted by Nazism, Fascism, and McCarthyism. It is all very well for Communists to resent the criticisms of Liberals and Democratic Socialists; the hard fact remains that Liberals and Democratic Socialists in power do not send Communists to execution chambers and political prisons; whereas Communists in power in country after country—do indeed exercise a barbarous vengeance against those members of the non-Communist Left whom the Communists correctly identify as their true rivals for the political affections of the masses.
It would be to a degree irrelevant and presumptuous here to review the political history of the first half-century but I cannot conceive how any true Liberal, being familiar with that history, could be anything but anti-Communist. As a Liberal, I am in favor of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and of freedom assemblage. But I know of no Communist society in which such freedoms exist. I am also opposed to the death penalty, as are most Liberals, but it is clear that Communist societies cannot function without the threat, and frequently the reality, of state murder. As a Liberal I am suspicious of official censorship, but I observe that it is harshly dominant in all Communist cultures. As a Liberal I do not think a college student should automatically be considered a criminal if a marijuana cigarette is found in his possession, but we know of the utter ruthlessness with which Communist societies stamp out such instances of bourgeois decadence. The civil liberties the ACLU so courageously defends are not the foundation-stones of any existing Marxist society. The litany of specifics need not be continued; certainly the point is clear enough.
I concede–indeed, I fervently hope –that all of this may be utterly irrelevant in Mr. Trumbo’s case. If it is, I and would be greatly relieved —assuming the man has not forsaken one tyranny for another would therefore be willing to be associated with him in a worthwhile social endeavor as I would with any other law-abiding citizen.
I have frequently been a stern critic of American society and expect to function as such in the future, but for years I have consistently maintained the position that it does not profit the non-Communist political Left to be formally allied with those who will endorse a Liberal cause only when to do so coincides with the purposes of Moscow or Peking in Vietnam, for example, what I hope for is peace; therefore I cannot cooperate with those who are motivated primarily by hopes of victory for Ho Chi Minh.
I leave you, gentlemen to determine the relevance, if any, of these observations to the case which Mr. Trumbo’s letter has brought to your attention.
Most cordially yours, Steve Allen
cc Mr. Dalton Trumbo, Mr. Eason Monroe, Mr. Tom Bradley, Mr. Burt Lancaster
Mr. Steve Allen, Encino, California
May 19, 1969
My dear Stern-Critic-of-American-Society-Who-Expects-to-Function-as-Such-in-the-Future:
Thanks for the copy of your May 13th Epistle to the Thespians. It soars. One must stand back to gain perspective. After just two readings I am a much better citizen than I really wanted to be.
Beyond adding three splendid new names to our circle of readers, you have also cast a dazzling light on that gritty little cancelled campaign party by placing it in bold juxtaposition with the political history of the first half-century, the non-Communist left, pro-Soviet or pro-Marxist associates, Communism, anti-Communist bias, the Left, the Right, political tyranny, Nazism, Fascism, McCarthyism, Liberals, Democratic Socialists, execution chambers, political prisons, vengeance, the masses, the true Liberal, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assemblage, the death penalty, state murder, official censorship, the marijuana laws, ruthlessness, bourgeois decadence, civil liberties, Marxist society, American society, Moscow, Peking, peace, Vietnam, and Ho Chi Minh. Unhappily my fuller comment must be deferred because of a pledge I made to refrain from using certain names connected with the matter under discussion until after the election. Pending that time, however, allow me to toss a few of my own hang-ups into the pot which you have so generously provided, to wit:
The French withdrawal from NATO, British entry into the Common Market, abolition of the statute of limitations in West Germany, the prevalence of Huntington’s chorea in the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman, equal access to the southern fishing banks of Iceland, the plight of West Irianese refugees and the Free Papua Liberation Command, the population explosion among North European elvers, the theft of four paintings from the collection of the Ninth Earl of Linster at Rudford Castle near Cockermouth, the demotion of Sophronia as patron saint of toothaches, the effect of the Spitz-Holter valve on hydrocephalic children, Portnoy’s Complaint, the Schism of Photius, the Black Panther Party, tax relic treasury notes, family foundations, tapped telephones, pornographic pictures, mandragora, nerve gas, vervain, air pollution, euthanasia, law and order, academic freedom, mace, the pill, yohimbe root, penis envy, stainless stealing, fire-buggery, Aristotle Onassis, Eldridge Cleaver, Abe Fortas, Patricia Nixon, Prince Abdul Rahman, Cesar Chavez, Andy Warhol, and Brenda Holt 23, who died two weeks ago in Canterbury, England, of diet restricted to honey, cereals and dandelion coffee. I am passionately concerned with every one of these issues, some of which are more sinister than they sound, and confident that our forthcoming discussion of them, and those which you have introduced, cannot fail to provide our accumulated pen pals with much nourishment.
Sincerely yours, Dalton Trumbo
cc: Mr. Steve Allen, Mr. Eason Monroe, Mr. Tom Bradley, Mr. Burt Lancaster, Mr. George Plimpton, The Hon. Mr. Lyndon Baines Johnson, The Ninth Earl of Linster, Estate of Mr. Harold Bell Wright
Mr. Steve Allen
May 21, 1969
Dear Mr. Allen:
In my note of May 7 to the Arts Division, ACLU, the word disavowal was spelled disavowel. My secretary’s mistake. In my letter to you of May 19 I identified St. Sophronia as the dethroned patroness of toothaches. The personage referred to was actually St. Apollonia (her day is February 9). My mistake.
In your May 13 Epistle to the Thespians the following line was quoted from your February 26 letter to Mrs. Beata Inaya: “I know nothing of Mr. Trumbo’s present political convictions. . . .” The original letter, of which you forgot to send me a copy, reads: “I know absolutely (my italics) nothing of Mr. Trumbo’s” etc. Your History is watching us, Mr. Allen. We serve larger purposes than our own. Let’s show our best profiles by keeping the record straight.
Faithfully yours, Dalton Trumbo
P.S. I discover in this morning’s mail that Senator Cranston and Congressmen Bell and Rees are bugging me for a contribution to you-know-who’s campaign. My name on a check? Don’t they know, for God sake?
cc: Mr. Eason Monroe, Mr. Tom Bradley, Mr. Burt Lancaster, Mr. George Plimpton, The Hon. Mr. Lyndon Baines Johnson, The Ninth Earl of Linster, Estate of Mr. Harold Bell Wright, Mr. Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, Mr. Gus Hall
Mr. Steve Allen
May 22, 1969
Dear Mr. Allen:
I hate to interrupt your meditations at a moment when the campaign approaches its climax, but my God, Mr. Allen, I’ve got another crisis. Before I tell you exactly what it is, I think I owe you an explanation of what led up to it.
Some time ago, when your concern for America and me was less apparent than today, I chaired a public dinner which sported, in addition to a congressman or two, more municipal and superior court judges than I’m really comfortable with. I thought the thing went off rather well: the only guest (an assemblyman) who put his feet on the table had clean shoes, nobody hoicked on the chicken supréme, nobody snerched too loud, and everything seemed real nice.
For some reason I’m not quite sure of (perhaps because my presence in the chair drew no attacks from right-wing reactionaries and the rest of that scum) somebody must have spread the word that I was a hell of a chairman, because not long afterward I was asked to chair another dinner in honor of somebody else, and I’ve got to confess that but for a previously scheduled pilgrimage to various shrines and cadavers of the sonofabitch side of the Iron Curtain, I’d have accepted. That I did not is probably the finest thing which ever happened to that particular honoree, although he himself has never acknowledged my part in his good fortune or even thanked me for it. On the other hand, how can you expect a man to be grateful for escaping an accident he wasn’t in and never heard of? You can’t. You just have to forget the whole thing and keep on living, which is exactly what I did and still am.
And then this thing happened that I’ve got to tell you about: last evening, in that hour which finds all highstrung chaps awash pick-me-up, I was requested by telephone to chair a dinner honoring Mr. Julian Bond. The request was almost as importunate as of Miss Beata Inaya to grab our house in behalf of you-know-and I, perhaps because of pick-me-up, perhaps because of that restless, feckless, reckless streak which keeps running down the middle of my back to dilute my character and befog the luster of my name, accepted.
However, on awakening this morning to the full glow of sunlight and sobriety, I fell at once into a kind of intellectual sweating fit, or whatever it is you call that particular condition which induced by the collision of a bad conscience with a faulty nerve system. I said to myself, you fool, I said Mr. Allen is every bit interested in the triumph of Mr. Bond’s cause as he is of you-know who’s, and when Mr. Allen is interested in something, he doesn’t just sit around like some crumbum the way you do, he acts; things happen. Sooner or later he’ll find out about what you did last night, compute the evil that’s bound to flow from it, and five minus later —–bang!–another torpedo zoops off the old launching pad.
And as if that weren’t enough, you, poor fool, will know nothing about what’s zeroing in until that penultimate moment when (loins neuterized with dusty philters, armpits sweetened, black tie only slightly askew, spirits already afloat on wings of imaginary applause) you find yourself diving through cold thin air with the wind in your ears, shot down once more for the fallen angel you never deserved to be.
What shall I do, Mr. Allen?
Shall I tell them I was drunk when I accepted? I could, of course, if you think it best, but if I say that too often people will get the idea I’m fried all the time, and for a man who needs steady work that isn’t a good image to have projecting itself around the community. Shall I say I’m going to be too sick to show? The trouble with this is that they’ve scheduled the gala three months in advance, and to say now that I’ll be sick then may suggest that I got lucky and hit Big Casino, and this isn’t too good from my point of view either, because health is very big these days and we live in a town that cancerated writers about as badly as a bull blowfly needs a good squirt of Black Flag. There could have been the possibility asking them to clear it through you at the outset, but I tried that with the Arts Division, ACLU, and what happened? Your Epistle to Thespians, that’s what: cc’s flying through the air like pessaries at a campus love-in, pregnant problems aborting in practically everybody’s backyard, grim-faced ideological buzzards flapping home to roost in the most improbable places, sacred geese rocketing at full quack through esplanades and public squares, befouling with their startled excrement the fairest freeways in all our New Jerusalem–well, Mr. Allen, I sure don’t want much more of that and I hope you don’t either. But how shall I go about avoiding it?
Would you advise me to turn myself in like a man (which is not in my nature)? Go back where I came from (which seems a reproach on my people who split the joint over two hundred years back)? Pretend I’ve been brought to bed with Huntington’s chorea (which at least has the virtue of rarity)? Get myself hauled up before some Committee so the real truth at last may be known (which, to survive, requires the kind of luck I haven’t got)? Square the whole thing off by blowing out my brains (which probably takes sharper shooting than I’m up to)? Or should I just sort of hunker down and let her blow (which depends a good deal on the condition of your hunkers)?
In any event, Mr. Allen, the man doesn’t live who can say I’ve been sneaky about this thing or insensitive to the consequences of my existence to the dedicated community over which you stand your lonely, solitary, but not always silent guard. I’ve told you frankly, honestly, and exactly where the bear sits in the buckwheat. All I ask in return is your advice on how to bag him or get the hell out of his hunting range.
Please send me your thoughts as soon as possible, because the pot is simmering here on the back of the stove, and she’s tighter scaled than a bull’s you-know-what in choke-cherry season, and something’s bound to blow a lot sooner than I want it to.
Sincerely yours, Dalton Trumbo
cc: Mr. Eason Monroe, Mr. Tom Bradley, Mr. Burt Lancaster, Mr. George Plimpton, The Hon. Mr. Lyndon B. Johnson, The Ninth Earl of Linster, Estate of Mr. Harold Bell Wright, Mr. Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, Mr. Gus Hall, The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, Al Ibrahim Institute for Control of Huntington’s Chorea
Mr. Steve Allen
May 23, 1969
Dear Mr. Allen:
Well, here I am again. The problem may not seem very important to most of our correspondents, but that makes it no less a problem, and I hope I’ve dealt with it in a way that will make you proud of me.
The Ninth Earl of Linster, who has been shacked up in Chula Vista these past three months house-guesting on a bewildered pair of old family retainers, informs me that although your letter of February 26 was addressed to Miss Beata Inaya, my note of May 21 referred to her as Mrs. He feels that the difference between those two forms of address involves a rather substantial difference in the kind of person any lady actually is, and begs me to clear the matter up at my earliest possible convenience, which, luckily, is right now.
I have replied to him as follows:
“My Dear Ninth Earl:
“The marital situation of the lady in question is absolutely none of my business. I know absolutely nothing of her present marital status, nor have I any particular interest in what it may have been, say, a quarter-century ago. I assume, however, that at one time she was indeed a single woman.
“It would not in any way affect my own admiration of you-know-who that the lady in question might be one of his supporters, but if (a) she is today a single woman (something she has every legal right to be), and if (b) that fact is publicized by you-know-who’s reactionary rightist political opposition, then (c) her connection with you-know-who will almost certainly be used in such a way as to imply that his feminine support derives exclusively from virgins, maidens, and spinsters, thereby costing him a perhaps significant number of votes amongst that large bloc of married, divorced, or widowed females, which has long infested this not-always-politically-enlightened city.
“It was, perhaps, my unconscious desire to avoid such a split which caused me to refer to the lady as Mrs. I leave it to to you to determine the relevance, if any, of these observations to the case you have brought to my attention. Most cordially yours, etc., etc.”
I hope you will agree with me that this prompt response to Linster of Radford near Cockermouth (who is, in any event, an alien) clarifies more issues than at it would seem to at first glance it would seem to.
Sincerely yours, Dalton Trumbo
P.S. I solved that other problem re: being bugged by Cranston, Bell, and Rees re: you-know-who by sending a small check signed with my accountant’s name rather than my own. I pray, however, that we’ve got a loyal campaign staff, because you know as well as I do that in these critical times the gander’s pragmatic virtue almost always turns into the goose’s subversive conspiracy, which means that all hell is bound to break loose if my caper is leaked to our opponents of the extremely reactionary right. Right?
cc: Mr. Eason Monroe, Mr. Tom Bradley, Mr. Burt Lancaster, Mr. George Plimpton, The Hon. Mr. Lyndon B. Johnson, The Ninth Earl of Linster, Estate of Harold Bell Wright, Mr. Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, Mr. Gus Hall, The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, Al-Ibrahim Institute for Control of Huntington’s Chorea, Princess Conchita Pignatelli, Estate of Miss Brenda Holton
Mr. Dalton Trumbo
May 29, 1969
Dear Mr. Trumbo: Mr. Allen is presently in Indianapolis and will be leaving directly for Northern California for a few days. However, he will be back in town next week. In the meantime, Mr. Allen wanted me to drop you a note acknowledging your recent letters, and he wanted me to let you know that he will be answering them as soon as he returns.
Most cordially, Betty Brew, Secretary to Steve Allen
Miss Betty Drew
Secretary to Mr. Steve Allen Encino, California
June 2, 1969
Dear Miss Brew:
Thanks for informing me of Mr. Allen’s absence from the city and his intention to answer my letters when he returns. I must tell you, however, that from my point of view his Indianapolis and Northern California commitments have not come at a convenient time.
He won’t believe this (at first I didn’t either) but Sunday evening Mrs. Trumbo and I were invited to dine person to person and face to face with he-knows-who in the house of a mutual friend. Knowing how gross an abuse of free speech and assembly my presence at such an affair would constitute, dreading the impact of a second apostolic interdiction while not yet fully recovered from the first, I heard a voice remarkably like my own begging with the idiot’s excuse that we were departing the city Friday noon for a Mexican holiday which hadn’t entered my mind until that moment.
Since a chap in my position has to be even more scrupulous with the truth than Caesar with his wife’s, or vice versa, there was nothing for it but to transmute my lie into its opposite by immaculate proclamation of a southbound hegira to begin no later than 14 day noon, June 6, 1969.
Mrs. Trumbo, I’m sorry to report, didn’t take the news at well. For some years she has been doing whatever she can for a group of young preteenage and hopefully prepregnant sub-Aquarians who foregather throughout the mating season (June 1 throng August 31) each Saturday afternoon at Happy Jack’s Fish Hatcheries, 8041 North San Gabriel Canyon Road in Azusa, where they receive much enlightenment from pisciculture in general, and particular from unblinking observation of the relatively chaste techniques which characterize the breeding habits of even the most concupiscent among the fishes.
At their last meeting (end of August, 1968), in a somewhat rowdy but nonetheless moving demonstration of gratitude and loyalty, the youngsters unanimously chose Mrs. Trumbo to be Vice Den Mother for their 1969 season which begins, as anyone with calendar at hand can see, on Saturday next. I had written for the occasion a rather stirring First Inaugural Address (based in part on Mr. Allen’s Epistle to the Thespians) which can be rattled off in just under forty-seven crackling minutes; and Mrs. Trumbo, having memorized and come to believe it, thought poorly of a command holiday which was bound to spoil what she has lately taken to calling sentimentally, perhaps, but tot unjustifiably—her Vice-Den Mother’s Day among the pisciculturians.
Ethics, however, is ethics, and my honor, when it comes to a showdown, invariably takes precedence over hers. Result: we depart Los Angeles International Airport on Western Airlines’ Number 601 on Friday, June 6,1969, for Mexico City, where we shall be met by chartered car, driven forthwith to Cuernavaca, and lodged at Privada de Humboldt 92. Our mailing address, however, will be Apartado 1292, Cuernavaca, Morelos, etc. We can be reached by telephone almost daily between the hours of three and six-thirty A.M., central standard time, at Cuernavaca 2-31-38.
And why, do you ask, have we been put to all this hurly and stiffly and involuntary aggravating unexpected burly? Because I, in Sunday’s moment of mistruth, had no stern critic at hand to straighten my morals and narrow the range of my political and social pretensions. So much for NCLers who rush off to rival Communists for the political affections of the masses without preschooling their own acolytes in the mysteries of honest unilateral action.
Most respectfully, Dalton Trumbo
P.S. The Ninth Earl has somehow leapt to the untidy conclusion that Burt Lancaster is under house arrest as a carrier of Huntington’s chorea. Although I have done everything in my poor power to explain that no man on earth can carry a pestilence like H’s c (he has to haul it), I might just as well have spent my time hollering down some neighbor’s empty grain barrel. He has filed an emergency application with the Chula Vista branch of Travelers Aid for immediate transport to the Control Institute in Oman and Muscat, and compels his entire household, including two of the most dejected old family retainers you’ve ever seen, to wallow with him thrice daily in tubs of boiling Lysol hugely adulterated with white lye, sheep dip, and magnums of granulated loblolly flambé en brochette.
Raw-wise, the skins around that house have passed the point of no return, and for some reason I can’t fathom old Linster has tried four nights running to deposit the whole begrutten mess (the Sixth Earl married a Scotswoman described by a contemporary as “begrutten of face, large of wen and warp but small woof”) at my doorstep. For all his breeding, which I am told has been prodigious, the big L shows every sign of becoming, as we say in my middle class but hopeful precinct, just one more unwanted and ungrateful anguis in herbia.
cc: Mr. Eason Monroe, Mr. Tom Bradley, Mr. Burt Lancaster, M George Plimpton, The Hon. Mr. Lyndon B. Johnson, The Nitta Earl of Linster, Estate of Harold Bell Wright, Mr. Harolds() Lafayette Hunt, Mr. Gus Hall, The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, Al Ibrahim Institute for Control of Huntington’s Chorea, Princes Conchita Pignatelli, Estate of Miss Brenda Holton, Happy Jack Fish Hatcheries
Mr. Dalton Trumbo
June 13, 1969
Dear Mr. Trumbo:
I had a nightmare the other evening. It seemed that at some distant point of future time an enterprising publisher released a portly volume titled “The Trumbo-Allen Letters.” The book opens with your clever message of May 7th to the Arts Division of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is followed, of course, by my ponderous rejoinder of May 13th. The third letter is your brief note of May 21st, which clarifies a few points of minor significance. But then, where the reader might expect my response, he instead encounters your letter of May 22nd, your letter of May 23rd, your letter of May 24th, your letter of May 25th, your letter of May 26th, your letter of May 27th and so on–God help us ad infinitum, ad nauseam, ad wolgast. Right to the end of the book.
At this point the scene quickly shifted, the way it can in dreams where no stagehands are involved. I not only asked myself, “Where do the polls have Tom Bradley?” but “Where do the Cubans have Eldridge Cleaver?” and “Where do the Nielsen’s have Gomer Pyle?”
I awakened with my heart beating mightily, concerning which I have no complaint, for the day will surely come when it will not beat it all. But be that as it may, and I see no reason to be sure it is, the explanation of the dream must be that I was beginning to fear I would never have time to answer your several letters. Or perhaps I was asking myself is this whole misunderstanding just another example of what can happen when entertainers get involved in politics?
In any event, I have not only had no time to write to you about the Tom Bradley Dinner incident, I have not even had time to write to Mr. Bradley himself; a particular shame since I had planned to suggest specific positions for him on the crucial issues of the day.
Reporter: “Mr. Bradley, what do you think about police brutality?”
Tom B.: “I think people are being entirely too brutal to the police.”
Reporter: “Do you think we should recognize the Red Chinese?”
Tom B.: “Well, they all look alike to me.”
Reporter: “As a former police lieutenant, what would you say to Mayor Yorty if you encountered him face-to-face at this moment?”
Tom B.: “You’re under arrest.”
What a pity, as I say, that all this, and more, never reached Tom because of the demands of my schedule.
But, you may retort, what doth it profit me to make such easy jokes when I have a flair for them?
Wrong. I have a typewriter for jokes. I use my flair for other purposes.
But all seriousness aside . . . it ill- behooves us to be joshing like this while our city crumbles about us. Whoever governs this disorganized metropolis, what does he propose to do about such problems as the recent parade held to commemorate Fire Prevention Week, a parade that blocked several fire trucks attempting to report to a nearby conflagration? Which–fire trucks being red–brings me back to the question of your political affiliation. You have me, of course, at a considerable disadvantage in that I am unable to know to what extent the straw-man Dalton Trumbo I have criticized corresponds with the real Dalton Trumbo. All I know about you that you are one of our industry’s best screenwriters and that at one time you were involved in a public confrontation which y including your name in a list of imaginary orchestral led to m aggregations such as Andy Kirk and his “Clouds of Joy,” Horace Heidt and his “Musical Knights,” Harry Horlick and “The A Gypsies,” Earl Warren and the Supremes, Red Nichols and “The Five Pennies,” and Dalton Trumbo and “The Unfriendly Ten.”
I am reminded at this point (and I’m glad to be reminded, to because this letter could use a good, funny line right now) of Bill Wilder’s observation that of the Unfriendly Ten “only two writers really talented; the rest were just unfriendly.” I’m sure you were one of the two. If you’ll tell me who the other one was, I’ll check and see if he had anything to do with Tom Bradley’s defeat.
It is most generous of you to pretend to honestly solicit my opinion as to whether you should withdraw from or honor your other forthcoming social commitments. On all of your specific questions I must simply beg off. I say again that I don’t know ifyou are presently a Communist. I do know that the ACLU was rent by a controversy about this general issue some years ago, and I suspect there are still at least two points of view on the question among members and officers of that admirable organization. I am obvit-ously more-or-less cemented into my view that Communists act-ing as such—cannot be trusted. Nor I readily concede—could I be trusted if, holding my present political views, I were a citizen of a Communist society. I am afraid I would be in rather constant abrasive perhaps even treasonable contact with the state because of my conviction that it was embarked on a disastrously erroneous course. But I am not only willing to make the distinction between a man’s political function and his function as husband, father, neighbor, dentist, screenwriter, golfing companion, or what-have-you; I absolutely insist on that distinction. Which is to say that while your letters testify to your wit, charm, and good grace, I would nevertheless be forced to oppose you to hamper you in your political capacity were you indeed a Marxist.
The fact remains that, while you and I have been composing witty letters to each other, poor Tom Bradley has lost the mayoralty race. All Yorty had to do to defeat him was confuse perhaps 5 or 10 percent of the electorate as regards the issues of racial intemperance and Communist influence. Gus Hall’s incredible stupidity in recommending support of Bradley to his followers at a formal Communist party meeting however supposedly private is consistent with the long history of such mistakes on the part of CP functionaries. It is true that at present perhaps a larger percentage than usual of embittered youth are so disillusioned with the American system that they are willing to entertain a Marxist alternative. I suppose some of them would be willing to rally around the banner of Attila-the-Hun if some fiery spokesman for that cause would insult our present traders colorfully enough. But with this one exception, Communists are now —as they have been for decades —about as popular with the American electorate as Nazi storm troopers at a Bar Mitzvah. There can be no question that the Gus Hall incident cost Bradley a number of votes in this peculiar community. Certainly the polls show that Bradley lost the race in the last few days, since he was far ahead for several weeks before the contest went to the wire.
While–as I previously made clear—I can understand your feeling hurt at being treated as something of a pariah, I ask you honestly what public capital you think Mr. Yorty would have made out of your hosting a dinner on Mr. Bradley’s behalf, had information about the affair come to his attention. As regards my not knowing whether Beata Inaya was a Miss or Mrs., I stand corrected, which is understandable, since I’m wearing surgical hose at the moment. To tell you the truth—inasmuch as the lady signs her letters simply “Beata Inaya”–I didn’t even know for sure she was a woman until I met her. I suspected hers was one of those African or Muslim names presently sported by so many of our black brethren along with colorful, flowing robes and “natural” hairdos. In reviewing my own correspondence with the good lady I find that I addressed her on February 26th as Mrs. and on April 3rd as Miss. For all I know, she may be some kind of a Communist, too, who one day acts like a Mrs. and the next day as a Miss, just to throw me off the track. It is clear that the name itself sounds suspiciously un-Waspish. Beata Inaya, indeed! Personally, I’ve never beaten an Inaya in my life and at a time when the pope is reneging on beatifications right and left, it ill-behooves a woman arbitrarily to beatify herself.
Well, enough of the chit-chat, which I was about to call Tom-foolery, but will not, out of respect to Mr. Bradley. I repeat, we have our nerve kidding about all this when conditions in the city worsen day by day. Last night the police in the Griffith Park area got a call for help. From three muggers. And just try to bring other actors to line up seriously in support of one worthy cause or another. Polly Bergen cares more about her turtle oil. Debbie Reynolds cares more about her Girl Scouts. George Jessel is so old he’s concerned only with his infirmities. At the moment I believe he is suffering from bleeding Madras. If you’ll forgive me, I must close now as I am overdue in getting out to local authorities a report of an accident I witnessed this morning on an off-ramp of the Ventura Freeway. It seems a Coupe de Ville gave the coupe de grace to a pedestrian.
Yours in haste, Steve Allen
cc: Burt Lancaster, Lance Burtcaster, Burnt Flycaster, Bald Broadcaster, Aristotle Onassis, George Givot, Euripides Pants, Stannous Fluoride
Mr. Steve Allen
July 17, 1969
Dear Mr. Allen: I was out of the city when your letter of June 13 arrived. Although it was forwarded to me, the pressure of working away from home prevented me from answering it as promptly as I’d have liked to. I must now clean up a few matters that accumulated during my absence, after which I shall address myself to a response. Sincerely, Dalton Trumbo
Mr. Dalton Trumbo
August 12, 1969
I thought you would want to add to your Allen-Trumbo files the enclosed copy of a letter Mr. Allen has just received from Mr. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
Cordially yours, Betty Brew Secretary to Steve Allen. Enc. (1)
Mr. Steve Allen
Dear Mr. Allen:
August 4, 1969
I have just recently returned from Europe and only now have had an opportunity to read the letters to the ACLU Arts Division.
Your letter seems to me clear and correct, and I would be in strong agreement with it. I have never understood how people who defend communism could consistently associate with an organization dedicated to civil liberties.
Sincerely yours, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
Miss Betty Brew c/o Mr. Steve Allen
Van Nuys, California
August 28, 1969
Dear Miss Brew:
I think I shall never forget Friday, August 15, 1969, as the day I opened an envelope bearing Mr. Allen’s new return address and discovered therein, clipped to your thoughtful note, an enclosure which carried the Great Seal of the City University of New York’s Albert Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities, the upholstery of which, it said on the back, is stuffed with honeysuckle pollen and twenty-dollar bills.
“Dear Mr. Allen,” I read (thinking how much warmer ‘Dear Steve’ would have seemed), “I have just recently returned from from Europe and only now have had an opportunity to read the letters to the ACLU Arts Division. Your letter seems to me clear and correct, and I would be in strong agreement with it. I have never understood how people who defend communism could consistently associate with an organization dedicated to civil liberties.” And then, with noble simplicity: “Sincerely yours, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.”
I confess to you, Miss Brew, that I was more than stunned by what that letter was than by what it seemed to say. Although Mr. Schlesinger is perhaps the most prolific correspondent of our time, his and the pope’s thoughts are generally considered too precious to waste on individual citizens or even small groups of them. Because of this, a vast number of Schlesinger judgments, opinions, disavowals, affirmations, admonitions, exhortations, and bad tidings bypass the addressee altogether and go directly to the engraver for mass distribution.
However my letter (or rather mine and Mr. Allen’s) is what the people at Sotheby’s call a “private” Schlesinger. Bells clang all over the place when one of them shows up and the director himself protects it with a ten-guinea bid for openers. It follows that even a Xerox copy of such a find has more cash than sentimental value.
Please be circumspect about having sent it to me. If Mr. Allen discovers that it has fallen into my hands the consequences can so terrible that well, for now let’s not think of them. We can worry about crossing that particular bridge when we come to it. If we turns to worst, as it usually does when my happiness is at stake, perhaps Mr. Schlesinger, who knows a great deal more about bridges than he pretends, can be persuaded to lend us a hand.
And please, Miss Brew, don’t let either of them know that I have written you about bridges or anything else. Mr. Schlesinger has rich and powerful friends on every side of any ocean you choose to cross; Mr. Allen is the most beloved poet, wit, essayist, author, raconteur, comedian, actor, TV personality, stem critic of American society, and potential congressman our democratic way of life has yet produced. Such men are easily offended: their wrath if aroused, consumes continents.
Let us therefore consider this a private letter from me to you. Since it was, after all, your friendly intercession which made Mr Schlesinger’s views known to me, that fervid spirit of reciprocity which saturates our free society calls for some response in kind. But only for you, Miss Brew—only for you, and strictly between ourselves.
Unhappily for both of us, Mr. Schlesinger, when not speaking ex cathedra, is one of those soupy writers who requires translation. One must separate what he seems to say from what he says, and then what he says from what he means to say. Not until the broth has been thoroughly clarified is it fair to judge the quality of the ingredients that went into it or the flavor their blending has produced.
The meaning of his first sentence seems relatively clear: I wrote one letter to the ACLU Arts Division and, to the best of my knowledge, Mr. Allen wrote no more than one. Thus when Mr. Schlesinger says he has “had an opportunity to read the letters to the ACLU Arts Division” it is logical to assume that he has read my letter and Mr. Allen’s response to it. By changing the end of the first sentence to an opportunity to read Mr. Trumbo’s letter to the ACLU Arts Division and your response to it we know exactly where we stand.
But we don’t know yet exactly where he stands, do we? The difficulty, I suspect, resides in that almost imperial would be in strong agreement, which, by pairing a volitional auxiliary with a volitional verb, does something that isn’t very nice if we accept the convention that any well-behaved volitional verb wants to mate with an auxiliary of simple futurity such as should: hence “should be in strong agreement.”
Yet the letter form, however soothing to pedagogues, fails to enlighten the commonality because it raises in their less cultivated minds two questions of substantial importance: one of simple futurity (when would/should he be in agreement?) and another of conditional futurity (in what circumstances would/ should he be in agreement?)
They are so subtly related that a proper response to one is agreement?) almost bound to answer the other. For example: “Your letter seems to me clear and correct, and if asked to take a position on what it says, I should be in strong agreement with it.” Or—do you see what I mean ?–something that goes even better than that.
Yet that isn’t too good either. What we desperately want to know is not whether Mr. Schlesinger will agree with Mr. Allen’s letter in some future time, or in some unspecified future circumstance, hut whether he agrees with it today, this minute, right now. A conscientious translator trying to solve this typically Arthurian riddle must rely on reasoned analysis of the intent of the full sentence, and, indeed, of the letter, as a whole.
Viewed in this light, it is logical to assume that Mr. Schlesinger intended his letter to convey the bracing views that he did agree with Mr. Allen’s clear and correct statements the instant he read them, and still does. Our translation therefore reads, “Your letter seems to me clear and correct, and I am in strong agreement with it.” Or, more simply and less passively, “I strongly agree with it.”
Now we have it, haven’t we? Mr. Schlesinger finds Mr. Allen’s letter clear and correct and strongly agrees with it. His feelings about mine, as suggested in his next sentence, are antithetical. But oh Miss Brew, that next sentence! Stand back for a moment. Regard it: “I have never understood how people who defend communism could consistently associate with an organization dedicated to civil liberties.”
The first thing that strikes us here is the coupling of present tense defend with past tense could. Let’s dismiss it as misfired elegance, and substitute a can for the could: “how people who defend communism can consistently associate.” That helps, doesn’t it Well, yes; but not as much as we hoped. We still have that consistently to reckon with.
Mr. Schlesinger doesn’t understand how people who defend X can consistently associate with people who are dedicated to Y. Why doesn’t he? Why can’t they? What holds them back? You know, Miss Brew, and so do I, that it’s perfectly possible for anybody to join the ACLU and consistently support whichever of its quarrels he has time for, consistently attend its meetings, and consistently pay its dues. This being incontestably true, we must conclude that Mr. Schlesinger doesn’t use consistently in the sense that one consistently attends church, consistently adheres to a course of action, conducts his life in a consistent manner, or behaves with persistent uniformity. If I know my Schlesinger and, rather more than less, I do he is trying to say that there is something inconsistent or incongruous about people who defend communism (and therefore wish to destroy civil liberties) associating with an organization that is dedicated to defending those liberties.
Let us, therefore, change consistently to without incongruity (or something better of your own choice) and see if it helps: “I have never understood how people who defend communism can without incongruity associate with an organization dedicated to civil liberties.” That gets us a little closer, don’t you think?
But not close enough when we pause to consider the meaning of communism with a diminished c. Although the rules of capitalization are as variable as a pimp’s virtue, and every writer is a law unto himself, in most dictionaries the 12-volume O.E.D., Webster’s Third Unabridged, Random House Unabridged—the first definition of communism with a lower case c describes a philosophy or system which cannot possibly be considered inimical to the defense of civil liberties. Now if Mr. Schlesinger refers to this good, lower case, non-incantatory kind of communism his letter makes no sense at all.
This becomes particularly apparent if we recall that when he was a much younger man, ardently mindful of Senator Vandenberg’s advice to “scare hell out of the country,” convinced even I before Russia had the bomb that she’ be content with “nothing less than the entire world,” playing to the hilt his role of John the Baptist to Joe McCarthy’s unexpected messiah, warning his too-complacent countrymen against the “awful potentialities of the totalitarian conspiracy” (“It is we or they; the United States or the Soviet Union; capitalism or Communism. . . . We must not be restrained by weakness when [italics mine] the moment of crisis arrives . . . we must act swiftly in defense of freedom”), Mr. Schlesinger always gave bad Communism a capital C.
Not only did he capitalize it, he often characterized it with great specificity as Soviet Communism, Russian Communism, Soviet totalitarianism, etc. Yet now, despite the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and the dictionaries (Random House Unabridged capitalizes it, Webster’s Unabridged regards it as a word generally capitalized), he has lately begun to invite all sorts of confusion and misunderstanding by demoting it to a simple, commonplace, lower case c.
Although no one can be certain when dealing with a mind as subtle and well-connected as Mr. Schlesinger’s, I suggest that his reasons are romantic and ideological. He is so fed up with Communism that he has zapped it into the lower case out of sheer pique, and who can blame him? Certainly not I. Was it not, after all, Lyndon Baines Johnson during his troubles with De Gaulle who commanded the Government Printing Office to place quotation marks around France?
Whatever the truth may be, I think we shall come closer to Mr. Schlesinger’s vision of it by changing his lower case communism to upper: people who defend Communism. Although it is true that we can’t be sure whether the people he is putting the hex on defend Russian, Chinese, Yugoslavian, Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, Albanian, Rumanian, or Cuban Communism. I think it is just clear (and vague) enough to serve Mr. Schlesinger’s purposes.
This leaves only defend to worry about. Does Mr. Schlesinger use the word in its sense of protect, ward off, or repel? In this sense, the ACLU for many years has defended the legal rights of Communists to be Communists and of the Communist Party to exist. Surely he can’t object to that, since he himself is an absolute wowser on civil liberties and Mr. Allen is wowsier still.
But, one must ask, when the ACLU and Mr. Schlesinger and Mr. Allen defend the civil rights of the Communist party and members, don’t they actually help the party to stay in business? If so, is not their defense of its rights a form of assistance, their assistance a form of support, and their support, in any practical sense, defense not only of Communist rights but of Communism itself’?
No. This must not be. It cannot be because it should not he I it were, members of the ACLU wouldn’t be able to associate w each other, and Mr. Allen would be cutting Mr. Schlesinger cold the street if Mr. Schlesinger didn’t cut him first.
Perhaps, then, Mr. Schlesinger’s defend takes the meaning uphold by speech or argument, to maintain, to vindicate. This seems a lot more likely, don’t you think? For his sake, then, as well as clarity’s, let us change defend to uphold. Then, carefully underlining the changes we have made, let’s assemble the whole thin and see how it looks. To wit:
“Dear Mr. Allen:
“I have just recently returned from Europe and only now had an opportunity to read Mr. Trumbo’s letter to the ACLU Arts Division and your response to it.
“Your letter seems to me clear and correct, and I strongly agree with it. I have never understood how people who uphold Communism can without incongruity associate with an organization dedicated to civil liberties.
“Sincerely yours, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.”
Since we have followed the form and structure of the original, our translation is not graceful, but the tenses are’ straightened out the purport of the words is clear, and I’ll take an oath in any Federal Court of his choice that it exactly reflects the meaning which Mr. Schlesinger wanted to convey when he wrote it.
We emerge from the maze with three small facts: Mr. Schlesinger has read Mr. Allen’s letter; he finds it clear and correct; he strongly agrees with it. Our next step is to determine whether the letter with which he agrees makes sense. Let us accept, as our standard for judgment, the idea that reason is the guiding principle of the human mind in the process of thinking; that a logical statement must conform to the laws of correct reasoning; that logic is the process of valid inference; that an inference is valid only when justified by the evidence given to support it; and that any violation of the rule of valid inference (or correct reasoning) produces a fallacious, or illogical, conclusion.
Let’s brood for a moment on the following quotations taken in sequence from what I shall henceforth call the Allen-Schlesinger thesis: (1) I know absolutely nothing of Mr Trumbo’s present political convictions. . . . (2) I assume, however, that at one time he was indeed a Communist. (3) . . if Mr. Trumbo is today of the Communist persuasion . . • (4) . . . if it could be absolutely certified —or even assumed for purposes of debate that Mr. Trumbo is today a Communist . . (5) I haven’t the faintest idea as to what Mr. Trumbo’s present position on the political spectrum might be. (6) I concede –indeed, I fervently hope—that all of this may be utterly irrelevant in Mr. Trumbo’s case. If it is, I would be greatly relieved.
Question: “What is the subject of the Allen-Schlesinger thesis? Answer: “Mr. Trumbo’s present political convictions,” which thereafter are linked with everything from ruthless marijuana laws and political tyranny to state murder and a strong hint of treason.
Question: What qualifies them to write on this particular subject? Answer: Their confession at the outset that they know absolutely nothing about it. In this respect they are more percipient than a Zhdanov or Goebbels but, in consequence of their percipience, less rational. Everything in their thesis which flows from this anarchic demolition of valid inference and reasoned thought is, by definition, fallacious, illogical, irrational, and, for men of such enormous integrity, morally degrading and intellectually disgraceful.
Dare we now admit, against our best hopes and prayers, that Mr. Allen and Mr. Schlesinger between them have written almost 1,500 deeply patriotic words (not to mention Mr. Allen’s later effusions) on a subject about which they know “absolutely nothing”? We not only dare, Miss Brew, I’m afraid we must. Can the words of men who haven’t “the faintest idea” of what they’re talking about be classified as anything but gabble? They cannot, Miss Brew: sheer mindless gabble; garbage, as some call it; dreck; pure merde.
What is it that impels a ranking intellectual like Mr. Allen and a Schweitzer humanitarian like Mr. Schlesinger to write all this gabble or dreck or whatever one calls it? That vincible companion of sloth called ignorance, Miss Brew; that infallible solace closed minds which has sometimes been called “the voluntary misfortune.”
The pity of it is that all their ignorance could so easily his been dispelled. Unlike Mr. Allen, who shows every sign of offering himself one day for public service, and Mr. Schlesinger, who has always had one foot in government and the other in somebody’s mouth, I am a private citizen to whom the idea of anyone seeking public office has always seemed faintly ridiculous. As past or full/ politicos, Messrs. Allen and Schlesinger must be prepared at all times to make full disclosure of their professional, political, economic, military, and even marital histories: as a private citizen, my political affiliations, whether now or a quarter-century ago, are exempt from such disclosure.
By exempt I mean private. By private I do not mean secret Hundreds of friends, associates, colleagues, chance acquaintances employers, and adversaries have discovered from my own lips exactly what my political thoughts and affiliations have been from my twenty-first birthday through every change or lack of it to t present time only what they were or are, but when and exact’ why they were made or changed.
They are secret only to casual sensation hunters and those who hope to extort information about them under threat of legal or economic reprisal. In that sense they are as secret today as they were twenty-two years ago on that bright October afternoon in Washing ton, D.C., when I first refused to make public disclosure of political affiliations which I had voluntarily made known, in advance of assignment, to every producer for whom I had worked at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during the preceding five years. In every other sense they are as open today as they have always been.
Had Mr. Allen approached me for enlightenment on a subject about which he stood in total ignorance, I should cheerfully have told him all my secrets and blessed his warm, inquiring heart. Had he confided to me his misgivings about the effect on the Bradley campaign of a party at my house I should have consented at once to transfer from my address to his. Not because I share his fears or admire him over-much for harboring them, but because as a rational man I should have been compelled to recognize the objective fact of their existence and to deal with them on that basis.
Do you begin to perceive what I mean, Miss Brew? This part of my letter you may reveal to Mr. Allen and Mr. Schlesinger in any words you choose, for I am offering them the key to their mystery. Whenever they wish to establish a friendly acquaintanceship with me for the purpose of exchanging ideas on subjects of mutual interest (including my past, present, and possibly future political opinions and affiliations but not excluding all else), I shall be happy to accommodate them. At my house. Over my whisky. And, since they are the supplicants, at my convenience. “Ask, dear colleagues,” shall I say unto them, “and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened.”
But do you know something else, Miss Brew? I don’t think either of those aging and obsessed evangels will come tapping at my door, because knowledge is the killer of faith and they are of the faithful. They have hallucinated God as the greatest anti-Communist of them all and been completely unhinged by the sight of His glory. It is no longer important to them that they know what they’re talking about. It is important only that they talk, since in their theology the act of speech proves the truth of what has been spoken. Trapped thus between nightmares of qualified good and unqualified evil, they have become what they hate. For such there can be surcease of gobble, guano, merde, or whatever it is that gushes from their lips and typewriters until the fevers pass and logic resumes its lonely reign. Thus, as the man said, are sweet reason’s children strangled in the womb, and noble minds laid low.
Most gratefully yours, Dalton Trumbo
cc: Mr. Eason Monroe, Mr. Thomas Bradley, Mr. Burt Lancaster
Mr. Dalton Trumbo
September 23, 1969
Dear Mr. Trumbo:
Doing six ninety-minute television shows a week has placed such obstacles in the path of my properly fulfilling my obligations as your correspondent that at this point I must beg off, accept your kind invitation to continue our exchange over an amicable glass and relegate these paper records of our misunderstanding to respective heirs, assuming our rival philosophies will ultimo permit the continuance of our species on this planet.
Your witty letter of August 29th to my secretary, Miss Brew, obliges me to attempt a response, but I shall not pretend that follows is anymore than a half-hearted attempt to tidy up a few loose ends. At this point, as often is the case in matters of controversy, so many elements have been introduced, above and beyond the original grain of contention, that even if either of us had the luxury of an extended exchange of letters, I suspect we should find it difficult to limit the number and scope of our concerns so as not greatly to confuse any others who might read this correspondence–not to mention each other.
(1) You raise what well may be a fair question with your observation that a considerable amount of confusion might have b avoided had I approached you about the matter in the first place You say, “Had Mr. Allen approached me for enlightenment . , . I should cheerfully have told him all my secrets and blessed his warm, inquiring heart.”
This reminds me, though, of the occasion when, as a sixteen year-old runaway from my Chicago home, I found myself, one chill October afternoon, in front of the Bluebird Café in Del Rio, Texas with a compulsive hunger that drove me to the lunch counter and forced me to gorge myself though I had not a penny in my pocket When, after the meal, I confessed as much to the proprietor he called the police and then asked me as we sat listlessly waiting for the law to arrive “Why didn’t you just ask me for something to eat?”
Although I couldn’t bring myself to say as much, I think a fair answer would have been, “Because, sir, you would have told me to get the hell out of your restaurant.”
In any event, what’s past is past.
(2) Since you know yourself to a degree that I do not, you naturally have me at a disadvantage when the object of our mutual scrutiny is Dalton Trumbo. When you speculate about me, however, then the advantage is mine. It is a simple matter to develop factual evidence about an individual, but when we attribute motivations supposedly explaining his behavior, and indulge in purely theoretical speculation about his beliefs and opinions, our testimony will generally be considerably less reliable. You attribute to me, for simple, the view that Communism is an “unqualified evil.” Nothing human can be totally evil. The worst atrocity ever committed was an ill-wind that produced some positive result, however slight however out-of-balance with the enormity of the crime itself. There has never been nor will there ever be the totalitarian dictatorship—whether of the Right or Left—which could not point to its social achievements; is there anyone beyond the age of ten who would deny it? The near-total law-and-order of totalitarian societies has its attractions, to be sure; the historically crucial question is: are these few material benefits purchased at too high a pricew*hen the coin that buys them is the sacrifice of freedoms of belief, speech, assembly, the press, and travel?
(3) Three single-spaced typewritten pages of your letter of August 28th are devoted to a reinterpretation of Mr. Schlesinger’s letter, yielding the unsurprising conclusion that the man’s statement is to be taken at its face value, that he means exactly what he seems l to mean, which is to say that he is puzzled how people can on one hand defend Communism—which in all times and places, as a matter of public policy, violates civil rights and liberties—while on the other hand they profess allegiance to organizations–such as ACLU–which are sworn to defend these same rights and liberties.
A crucial word, of course, in Mr. Schlesinger ‘s observation is “consistently.” Obviously it is logically inconsistent to proclaim civil liberties in one nation while denying them in another. But there is another sense in which such behavior on the part of American Communists is neither inconsistent nor puzzling, a situation directly analogous to that in which the Catholic Church concedes on the one hand that Protestant rights in Catholic Spain have been infringed upon, in law and in deed, while at the same time insisting that Catholics in the United States are entitled to the same rights as other American citizens.
It is entirely reasonable for Communists-USA to endorse the American Bill of Rights since it proclaims the essential political rights of all Americans. But when Communists assume control of a nation then the rules of the game are radically changed and rationalizations are advanced supposedly justifying limitations uo pn civil rights and liberties of non-Communists.
You delay an approach to the essence of our argument by raising the irrelevant question as to whether Mr. Schlesinger would distinguish, in his disapproval, among Communism of the Russian, Chinese, Yugoslavian, Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, Albanian, Rumanian, or Cuban sort. That no two of these are precisely similar is obvious enough, but the large question is no more necessary than would be the question as to whether, in your disapproval of Fascism, you would be more or less tolerant of it in its Gents Italian, Spanish, Japanese, or Argentine guise.
It is irrelevant to our purposes–or to mine, at least–to waste time considering the different dictionary meanings of “Communism,” the first letter capitalized or not. Obviously there is always a difference between the purely theoretical statement of a philosophy on the one hand and its flesh-and-blood embodiment on the other. In every historical case the ideal is superior on to the practice. I see no purpose, therefore, in debating the abstract philosophy of socialism or Communism. What I am here interested in is the undeniably clear record of Communism-in-practice and with—more specifically–the activities of the American Communist party, a political instrument which over the years is on record as endorsing the Hitler–Stalin pact, justifying the Soviet attacks on Poland and Finland, opposing Lend–Lease aid to Europe and assistance to Great Britain before Hitler’s surprise attack on Russia, attempting to sweep under the rug of history Stalin’s slaughter of millions in his domain, bitter opposition to Franklin Roosevelt during the period of the Soviet–Nazi pact, opposition to the Marshall Plan (Communists wanted Western Europe to collapse, not recover), serving as apologists for the Moscow trials, the crushing of the Hungarian rebellion, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and the rest of the sickening list.
(4) Liberals may or may not be opposed in principle to the economic theory of Communism (though they will look in vain for evidence of its concrete realization). But by the very definition of the word liberal they are logically obliged to oppose the omnipresent despotism of Communist political practice and belief A liberal, as such, may be an atheist, or a devout religionist. But the one thing he can not possibly be is an apologist for the ruthless imposition of Communist minority party rule that for more than half a century has has characterized the exercise of Marxist authority.
That is not to say that Communists, or socialists of other kinds, are wrong in all their criticisms of capitalist practice, or of American foreign or domestic policies. For many years Western capitalism has propped itself up with a certain amount of socialist timber, Western democracy has come to understand that—mutual annihilation by either nuclear or conventional weapons being an unacceptable alternative–it will have to come to some sort of terms with the Marxist powers. The more responsible elements in each camp, then, may hope that the other side will mellow and evolve.
Against that hope, there are those who so contemptuously speak the word “revisionism.” The young nuts of the Progressive Labor Party and Revolutionary Youth Movement haunted, I suspect, by the dawning awareness of their essential irrelevancy to the American social experience–actually consider China and Albania the only right-thinking Marxist states and view the Soviet Union as revisionist, if not overtly capitalistic and antirevolutionary.
What these fierce but inexperienced dogmatists have yet to discern about the human adventure is that man is by nature a revisionist creature, the only conscious one, in fact, that walks our planet. While other species may have their behavior modified by the slow, inexorable force of nature, man is able to take quicker voluntary adaptive steps to bring himself into a more harmonious relationship with his environment. Addiction to rigid dogma and habit, I assert, is an emotional disease that over the course of time greatly incapacitates those individuals and groups that fall victim to it. Not all evolutionary or social adaptations prove beneficial, but utter inability to revise behavior to conform with changing circumstances is a sentence of slow death. The Soviets are by nature nei-ther more nor less dogmatic or revisionist than the Chinese; the Russians simply started their revolution thirty-two years before the Chinese did. It is therefore to be expected that the pace of their political evolution would have wrought greater changes than China has made since 1949.
As a liberal I selfishly hope, of course, that SDS firebrands become even more fanatic and dogmatic. It will make them still more socially irrelevant, even to the most dissatisfied American blacks, poor, and young.
The last thing I will say on this point, for the present, is ill even if a liberal were unable to perceive that reason demands his opposition to all forms of tyranny, he ought to be anti-Communist simply because Communists are antiliberal. When Stalin’s arms enlarged the Soviet sphere of influence at the conclusion of the Second World War they almost ignored Conservatives, Reactionaries Nazis, and Fascists in the areas that came under their control. These pathetic souls had already been defeated, slaughtered in great numbers by the process of war itself, or done in by their own underground movements. The few remaining were in disgrace as having sympathized with Hitler and accordingly posed no threat to Stalin’s legions and indigenous Communists. The true threat came from non-Communist socialists and liberal democrats who though anti-Nazi to the core—enjoyed a popular following and therefore were rivals for the affections of the liberated masses. It was these unfortunates who suffered most tragically at the hands of the Soviet “liberators.”
Let us fantasize widespread American dissatisfaction in, say, 1975, a growing rebellion of blacks, Latin-Americans, Indians, poor whites, the unemployed, the antiwar young, and then some idiotic repressive act on the part of Wallace-Reagan-Goldwater-J. Edgar Hoover types, leading to popular uprisings, a coup, and a Communist takeover. Would the party be seriously worried about the Far Right? No, it would need the Extremist Right as a punching bag. The one group it could absolutely not tolerate would be non-Communist leftists who would share popular disaffection but not countenance official terror campaigns. The non-Communist Left would once again be the first to be sacrificed to the Red firing squads.
(5) The cleverest portion of your letter is in the following sentences:
. . . when the ACLU, and Schlesinger and Mr. Allen, defend the civil rights of the Communist party and its members, don’t they actually help the party to stay in business? If so, is not their defense of its rights a form of assistance, their assistance a form of support, and their support, in any practical sense, a defense not only of Communist rights but of Communism itself?”
The question is as I say—clever, even a bit playful. So let us play with it for a moment. One might as responsibly ask, “When the ACLU and Mr. Trumbo defend the civil rights of the Nazi party and its members, don’t they actually help the party to stay in business? If so, is not their defense of its rights a form of assistance, their assistance a form of support, and their support . . . a defense not only of Nazi rights but of Nazism itself?”
The paradox, of course, is apparent rather than real. All true libertarians are prepared to defend the civil rights of a variety of anti-social or subversive or totalitarian groups which they personally abhor. In the process of defending these rights there is no question hut that actual material benefits fall to Communists, Nazis, Ku Kluxers, Minute-Men, John Birchers, and political knuckleheads of all sorts. One may feel the emotional temptation to say, “To hell with it; civil rights and liberties ought not to be extended to such political idiots; it is really too much to assert that a Communist or Nazi, a Mafia murderer, a Black Panther sniper, a Ku Klux lyncher, ought to be accorded the same constitutional protections as decent, law-abiding American citizens.” But of course that is the precise point upon which the rights and liberties of all of us are balanced. The minute we make the mistake of saying that all Americans are entitled to civil liberties and rights except Communists or Nazis we have opened a floodgate which it would almost certainly prove impossible to close. Others would care to add to the list Fascists, Pacifists, Liberals, Conservatives, and so on back into the blood-soaked jungles from which we all sprang.
(6) You have taken me to task, albeit gently, for having referred to myself as a “stern critic” of American society, perhaps under the misapprehension that the phrase was a fearsome mask held before my face and that what I proposed to criticize sternly was your own political record. No. I meant to suggest that I see much in American non-Communist behavior to criticize—from the picture, “Big Deal”—for who does not? Today we are all critics, but I was such when it was a somewhat less popular pastime. After visiting Vietnam in 1963 I did a television documentary saying we could not win a military victory there with less than one million American troops and that, since we were clearly unwilling to make such an investment, we ought to begin getting out. At the time I was already a veteran of the nuclear test ban debate, the capital punishment controversy, and other scuffles in the marketplace, for all of which activity I was publicly accused by Conservatives–this will make you laugh–of being a Communist!
(7) In conclusion, a word about your assumption that I plan one day to run for political office. I do not. In 1961 Norman Cousins advised me to prepare myself to run for the office of U.S. Senator from California. A great many other Democratic Party people chiefly but not solely of liberal persuasion, have since made similar suggestions. For several years my answer, was “No, thank you,”
Then, in 1965, Congressman James Roosevelt retired, accepted a post at the United Nations, and left ten months of his term to filled, which called for a special election in his district. I was again urged to run. Since only ten months were involved, I agreed to make the experiment, having received encouragement from Hubert Humphrey and Bobby Kennedy, whose advice I solicited.
A poll showed I would have won handily, but after campaigning for a few weeks I discovered that an obscure clause in the California election code law made it impossible for me to become the Democratic candidate, because I had registered as an Independent. I thereupon withdrew from the race and do not plan to repeat the experience, although I would not have missed it for the world.
(8) Lastly, something weighty still seems to block the path toward your understanding of the meaning of my original point. At the risk of boring even myself, let me state it once again, as concisely as possible: (a) at one time you were a mightily active Communist; (b) I do not know whether you are presently a Communist; (why don’t you tell us, by the way, and hang the suspense?) (c) if at the time of the Bradley-Yorty mayoralty campaign in Los Angeles—you were still a Communist, then it would have been politically disadvantageous to Mr. Bradley’s cause to have it become publicly known that a fundraising party on his behalf had been held in your home.
No doubt upon occasion over the years I have unwittingly vouchsafed public observations that were obscure or ambiguous. This is not one of those occasions.
Most cordially, Steve Allen
Mr. Steve Allen
October 13, 1969
Dear Mr. Allen:
Aside from the owner of the Bluebird Café, who’d have thought that a hungry, vagrant, shivering little tyke in Del Rio, Texas, would grow up to be the sort who’d sneak a peek at Miss Brew’s mail? Well, I for one. On the off-chance she doesn’t snoop yours, please tell her I’ve just discovered Mr. Bradley didn’t know that goddamn party had been scheduled until two weeks after it wasn’t held. This means that your spirited croak against free speech and assembly at my address can’t properly be called delation because you delated to nobodies, and that doesn’t count.
Even were it otherwise, I still feel that the Bishop of Norwich and Exeter held his hackles a bit high when he called informers and delators “an infamous and odious kind of cattle”: almost every member of the tribe I uncover turns out to be just one more lost, home-loving, duty-driven civil-Samaritan of absolutely paralyzing sincerity, whose only fault is a headful of wind littered here and there with small particles of badly organized misinformation. You can’t hate a man like that, you can only try to help him.
To that most Christian end, my secretary is preparing a quick-information kit to set you straight on almost everything from marijuana penalties in the USSR (fifteen days for a first-caught user) to the reasons why what you call your black brethren (whose lives will be 176,000,000 years shorter than ours) sport those funny robes, wear those “natural” hairdos (your quotation Marx not mine), and foolishly prefer two names, as in Muhammad Ali, to the five in Stephen Valentine Patrick William Allen. The whole lot, weighing just under three pounds, will be shipped post-paid in a plain brown wrapper.
As for defending the head humanitarian of CUNY, take one wrapper, look at that cold, governmental smile, and then head for home. He slings the fastest gun in town and you can’t shoot back without blowing Old Glory full of holes. I run a kind of nervous check on him every now and then because when you back him into a serious corner called Bay of Pigs or Congress for Cultural Freedom his talent runs to diddling with the truth instead of telling it.
All that jive about would/should/volition/futurity was, of course, part playfulness, which you suspected, and part gallantry, which you didn’t. Any fool can spot the verb of “would be in tit agreement,” but “be,” for God sake, is copulative, and I certainly wasn’t going to say a thing like that in front of Miss Brew.
Sincerely yours, Dalton Trumbo
P.S.. I almost forgot the best news of all: the 1958 edition of March’s Thesaurus-Dictionary, editorially supervised by the same Norman Cousins who tried to roust you off the tube and into the Senate restricts its “c” listing under EVILDOER to caitiff, cannibal, Communist and cut throat. Your pot.