Candle in the Wind:
Excerpt from Memoir in Progress
by Emanuel Fried
Part One: I want to be a starof stage and screen!
Part Two: But not a court jester for the rich!
Part Three: Heading for the train wreck!
I want to be a starof stage and screen!
“I’m going to start you off on your movie career,” Gadge said. “There’s a good part for you in this film.”
The movie was Boomerang, and the director proposing to re-start my acting career was Elia Kazan who had directed me some years earlier when I played the lead role in the Theatre of Action’s production of The Young Go First. Gadge, as we called him then, had been one of several members of the Group Theatre who had “adopted” us in the younger and more radical Theatre of Action troupe and for several years conducted classes in acting for us.
It was November, 1946. The day before I met Gadge, I had been separated from active service in the army, at Fort Dix in New Jersey. A first lieutenant, I was still in uniform. My civilian clothes were back home in Buffalo, New York.
After the Japanese surrendered in 1945 I had been sent to Korea, assigned to headquarters of the 20th Infantry Regiment in Kwangju, where our immediate job was to move all Japanese soldiers and civilians back to their own country. For a short while I served as Public Relations Officer (PRO), a position I had requested because of my interest in developing as a writer. My immediate assignment was to write feature articles about soldiers in our outfit, to be printed in their hometown newspapers. Before being sent to Korea, I had been an instructor teaching use of weapons to infantry recruits at an army post in Macon, Georgia.
From the time I volunteered in April, 1944, to join the army to fight against the Nazis, my history of previous membership in the Communist Party and my employment since 1941 as a union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, generally known as the UE, had followed me to every post to which I had been assigned. I assume the commanding general in Korea finally got that information, which resulted in my being transferred out of the PRO job at regimental headquarters to head an infantry platoon with the regiment’s Second Battalion in Pusan.
Depressed about my life there, I wrote a long letter to Kazan, unburdening my feelings, telling him how, by an unplanned set of circumstancesthe candle in the windmy life had shifted from being an actor in New York City to being a union organizer in western New York.
Gadge’s wife, Molly Day Thatcher, who had treated me kindly when I was a young aspiring actor, responded to my letter, telling me that Gadge wanted me to get in touch with him as soon as I was discharged from army service. When I made the phone call to Gadge’s home, Molly answered the phone, told me Gadge was waiting to hear from me and wanted me to come right away to see him on location in a town just north of the City, where he was shooting the Boomerang film.
Gadge introduced me to the screenwriter who agreed I could perform the role of the priest in the film. I told them I had a wife and child back in Buffalo whom I hadn’t seen in over a year and before I did anything else I wanted to see them. Gadge told me to go, that it would be at least another week before they got to my scenes with Arthur Kennedyhe was playing the lead rolebut I must get back by then.
Rhoda and our four-year old daughter Lorrie had been living with me off the post in Macon, Georgia. When I was shipped off to Korea they went back to Buffalo and moved in with Rhoda’s parents in The Park Lane. We were still holding onto our apartment in The Gates Circle, an apartment house next door to The Park Lane. Rhoda’s family, the Luries, owned The Park Lane, Buffalo’s most prestigious apartment house, with its exclusive restaurant and cocktail lounge, the “saloon” where the city’s rich and famous, its socialites, and its huckstering nouveau riche climbers, politicians, city officials, “respectable” union leaders, and well-heeled movers and shakers drank, dined, danced and used the place to meet across class and political divisions and make deals.
When Rhoda died of a stroke at age 71 in 1989 we had been married forty-eight years and along the way had intermittently agreed that with our very different backgrounds we never should have married. My friend George Poolewhile we were still like brothers and before his experience with Russian soldiers while he was with the army in Europe led him to change his political affiliation and join the forces trying to drive me out of the labor movementhad warned me immediately after Rhoda and I got married in The Park Lane in 1941 that the marriage couldn’t work.
“The Park Lane and the UE,” he insisted, “can’t sleep in the same bed.”
“But we are, ” I said, “we are.”
Rhoda and I first met when I returned home from New York City in 1939 to direct the Buffalo Contemporary Theatre, a worker-oriented theatre company that had advertised for a director through the left-wing New Theatre League. Out of curiosity, Rhoda had let her manic-depressive (now termed bi-polar) sister Ruth, who was in a “high state,” persuade her to come to our first performance. That was the candle in the wind, again, which unpredictably and drastically changed the lives of both of us.
When I told Rhoda about Kazan’s offer to re-start my acting career by casting me in Boomerang, she was not impressed. Rhoda had the sultry kind of sexy face that had photographers repeatedly asking her to pose for photos for magazines like Vogue. She considered herself far above that. Continually sought after because of her connection to The Park Laneher envious detractors calling her Miss Park Laneshe didn’t need getting her picture on the cover of a fashionable magazine to make her feel superior and important. (The publicity I would get following the subpoena to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities would brutally haul her down off that height.)
Rhoda’s interest was painting. She had her studio in a small room in the rear of The Park Lane, one of several small rooms usually occupied by tenants’ live-in maids. She credited marrying me with changing her from what she called “a Sunday painter” to an artist who painted every day from early morning to three o’clock in the afternoonwhen, if I was around, she would ignore my disapproving but tolerant look and reward her hard work of the day by literally running to get her previously prepared martinis out of the freezer, urging me to join her, which I usually did for the first drink.
“You can go move back to New York or go to Hollywood,” she said. “But Lorrie and I are not going to move. We’re staying here.”
The next day I went to visit Charlie Cooper in the hospital to tell him about Kazan re-starting my acting career. I thought I owed that to “the old man,” as many of us in the union fondly called him. Charlie had stuck his neck out to help organize thousands of workers in the factories in Tonawanda and North Tonawanda, two small industrial cities bridging the Erie Canal, a few miles north of Buffalo. He was one of those old-time union guys who asked nothing for themselves, having refused to take a paid staff job with the union. Working in the Remington Rand plant in Tonawanda, he had led several successful strikes against notorious union buster Jim Randat that time the sole self-made owner of Remington Randwhose home was in North Tonawanda and who publicly exulted about how he loved to fight his scrappy Tonawandas employees, actually taking a perverse pride in his neighbors being tough enough to be worthy opponents to fight with. He had fired Charlie for trying to organize a unionand Charlie’s case had gone all the way up to the U.S. Supreme court, which upheld the Wagner Act establishing the right of workers to organize, resulting in Charlie being reinstated to his job with back payand Charlie becoming the beloved hero of labor in the area.
Charlie had lost a leg while he had been a young sailor with the merchant marine. In the hospital now, surgeons had sliced off another piece of that leg, way up into his thigh.
Now in his late fifties and president of the local union representing Remington Rand workers in the Tonawanda and North Tonawanda plants, he continued to work in the machine shop and refused to take any pay for performing his union position. Charlie had been like a father to me when I started the union organizer job. I had never negotiated a contract, handled an arbitration or taken full charge of a union organizing campaign. I told this to Charlie and he told me not to worry. With his help we organized thousands of Tonawandas and Buffalo factory workers into local unions affiliated with our UE union, and I learned from him how to conduct strikes, negotiate contracts, handle labor-management arbitrations and argue on behalf of workers with on-the-job grievances.
“When you coming back to work, you redhead?” Charlie finally got around to ask me, with a gesture that wanted to know when I was discarding the soldier’s uniform I was still wearing.
“Charlie,” I began, and stopped, not knowing how to tell him. I began again. “Charlie, it’s all an accident. I’m an actor, not a union organizer.”
We talked a long while. I told him about Kazan’s offer to re-start my acting career, how much I loved my life in the theatre, quickly adding that I also loved the union work and especially the people I was working withbut that it had had always been my ambition to be a great actorand here’s my chance. His hand gripped my arm, he wouldn’t let go as he kept interrupting me with almost a teary desperation.
“Don’t you abandon us, you redhead! . . . Don’t you abandon us, you redhead!”
He kept saying it, that same phrase, over and over, interjecting it between my emotional efforts to explain and justify, all the while he was squeezing my arm, making me feel guilty as all hell about thinking of myself and not concerned enough about all the men and women who’d stuck their necks out to support me in tough organizing campaigns and strikes we’d gone throughdeveloping that kind of closeness like army veterans who’ve risked their lives together in fierce combat.
“Don’t you abandon us, you redhead!”
When I left him, my face tense and tight, I had promised him that whatever I decided I wouldn’t just go off without coming back to talk to him.
“Don’t you abandon us, you redhead!” That was the last thing he ever said to me. He died that night. A blood clot broke loose and stopped his heart.
I stayed with the union, never called Kazan, and since I hadn’t left any address or phone with Kazan, he couldn’t call me even if he wanted to. Karl Malden got the part I was supposed to play in Boomerang, and with Kazan’s help he went on to play important roles in On The Waterfront and a zillion other films, becoming a big movie star in Hollywood.
A few weeks agonow in 2002I was visiting my younger daughter Mindy, now 52 years old, in Boston, and we talked about the choice I made back in 1946. She wanted to know if I ever regretted it.
“No. I’ve thought about it, what might have happened if I’d become a Hollywood star. But I’ve had an unusually complex and exciting life, the kind of life I would never have had if I’d gone the other way.”
“And you never would have had me,” she reminded me, assuming that that choice would have ended the marriage before Rhoda was pregnant with her.
“True,” I said. “That’s true.”
We both laughed in a warm kind of way at that thought and agreed that if it were even only that, it validated the choice I’d made. But then we spoke about the certainty that because of my previous association with the Communist Party back then I would have been called before the Committee on Un-American Activities, as Kazan was summoned before the Committee about ten years after we talked about him giving me a role in Boomerang. And Kazan named names of theatre people he’d worked with who had been members of the Communist Party with him, condemning them to be blacklisted, ruining their careers. Would I have done that? Mindy didn’t think so, citing my refusal to answer any questions when I, a union organizer, was called before the Committee about the same time as Kazan and I sought to be indicted for contempt of Congress so the courts would have to decide whether the enabling resolution establishing the Committee was unconstitutional, putting them out of business, or I would go to jail.
“But who knows what kind of person I might have become,” I said to her, “ifwhen I was called before the CommitteeI had accepted the role of the priest in Boomerang and with Kazan’s help was climbing up the ladder to be a movie star in Hollywood?”
That conversation with Mindy prompted me to think about Robert Frost’s poem with its “fork in the road” and the choice which “made all the difference”and to think about what made me the person I became by the time I confronted that “fork in the road” and led to my making the choice that had “made all the difference.”
If I recall correctly, it was Moby Dick author Herman Melville who wrote that the course of one’s life is determined by heredity and environmentand the candle in the wind.
At age 90, looking back, I’d like to search out to what extent, despite heredity and environment, my life was determined by “the candle in the wind,” and I’d like to dig out, relentlessly and honestlyand no matter what the cost to my egowhat were my true motivations beneath the surface of what I’ve done with my life. It must seem silly, even stupid, to younger people, but at my advanced age I need to find out why I have become who I amand who am I now?in order to decide what to try to do with the rest of my life.
I was 43 years old when I was forced out of my job as a union organizer and blacklisted. Both Lorrie and Mindy were unexpectedly and unfairly cut out of their professional jobs at a similar age. That I was able to withstand tremendous pressure and deal with the difficult situation that confronted me must have come from what I unconsciously imbibed from my parents by something akin to a process of osmosis. And I like to think that what I got from them, enabling me to bounce back and work my way through extremely difficult life-destroying situations, has been similarly imbibed by Lorrie and Mindy, enabling them to bounce back and work their way through several extremely difficult life-destroying situations they experienced as adults.
It’s hard to believe that my mother was only 13 years old when she came over alone to this country from her home in what was then the Austria-Hungarian Empire. The village where she was born is today part of Slovakia. In New York City she went to work for an uncle, operating a sewing machine in a sweatshop. She said he was good to her. When she complained that sewing under the bad lighting made her eyes hurt, her uncle had a gas light placed closer to her sewing machine. At age 17 she returned to the village in Europe to bring back her parents who were too fearful to try to make the trip to America by themselves.
My father was born in a village not far from where my mother was born. When his parents came to America they took along all their children except my father, leaving the young boy to keep his grandmother company. His grandmother placed him with some rabbinical scholar to study, wherehe told ushis meals consisted of a roll and water. When his grandmother was on her deathbed she arranged for some family to bring my father over here to join his own family. Since some years had passed since seeing his mother and father and his brother and sister, he felt like a stranger with them.
My father never said it, but I don’t think his family life could have been very happy. His father was a peddler, carrying a pack on his back, going out into the country to sell goods to farmers. An orthodox Jew, his physical appearance and clothes must have invited some hurtful insults. The story handed down is that he returned home one day, climbed into bed and never left the house again.
That was one of my grandfathers. I don’t remember ever meeting him or his wife, my grandmother on that side. They might have died before I was born. I do remember, vaguely but with warmth, my grandfather who was my mother’s father. His job was delivering milk. He was a giant of a man with a long beard, who smoked a long stem pipe. I remember that he took me to a service in a synagogue located in a small room, lifting me, a small child, to stand on top of the alter. And I remember him sitting on the top step in the back hall next to the open door to the kitchen, scraping horseradish for my mother. I don’t remember his wife, that grandmother. She may have also died before I was born.
The story we were told is that my mother was supposed to marry a man who had been selected for her, an arranged marriage. Instead she married my father. Sounds romantic. But neither my mother nor my father would tell us more about it.
I believe it was my parents’ great courage facing hardship that rubbed off on me and enabled me many years later to deal with the difficulty of being cut off in my early 40’s from the job I’d held from 1941 to 1956 as a union organizerleaving me blacklisted, with FBI agents visiting a series of U.S. employers who hired me, telling each one that I’m a dangerous communist, getting each one to fire me. (I finally got a job with a Canadian insurance company whose international corporate vice-president met with me and told me he was refusing the FBI effort to get him to fire me.)
My mother and father worked very hard, finally developing their own successful business, manufacturing children’s dresses. My mother told us how she would walk down Fifth Avenue and sketch out patterns based on what she saw in windows of the finest stores. My father did the cutting of the dress material back at the factory. Employees did the sewing. According to my father, he was the first manufacturer to introduce the idea of sizes for children’s dresses.
They were doing very well financially. We had servants in our house. Then came the disaster. The dress factory burned down. Here it’s as if what happened was the basis for a very successful Hollywood movie, Barry Levinson’s Avalon, which was made not too long ago. The insurance agent, a relative, had pocketed the premiums instead of turning them over to the insurance company. The factory and all its contents, none of it covered by insurance, were destroyed by the fire.
For many years my father had to go out on the road as a salesman, traveling across the country for Butler Brothers Dry Goods. I can imagine how difficult that must have been for him, a strict orthodox Jew. During those years he was home only a few months each year. All the while he worked for Butler Brothers I distinctly remember that we used their catalogues for toilet paper.
Shortly after he started working for Butler Brothers we moved to Buffalo, a part of my father’s territory. He and my mother had decided it would be a good place to raise their children and also establish their own business. That must have been a tough move for my mother, with nine children. I was five years old then and have only a misty recollection of that 1918 train ride from Manhattan to Buffalo where my father was waiting to meet us. The older children helped take care of the younger ones. Gerry, the baby, was only a few months old. The oldest, Sam, was fifteen.
My parents’ plan was for my father to continue as a salesman on the road while my mother would open and tend the dry goods store. The goods for the store would be bought from the Butler Brothers salesman, my father.
Our first night in Buffalo we moved into a house on Division StreetSouth or North Divisionthat had been rented by my father. Our new home was an old wood frame structure. Quite small. It must have been a very difficult comedown for my parents. Until our furniture arrived we slept on piles of Oshkosh overalls. I can still recall the distinctive smell of those new denim garments. Years later I would joke that I never knew I grew up in a slum until long after I was out of it.
The store was opened on Genesee Street near Mortimer Street. (I now drive past there on the Route 33 throughway almost every day.) We moved there, living in rooms behind and above the store. For years my parents, being observant orthodox Jews, closed their store on Saturdays. A few years later my father bought a building on Genesee Street near Pratt Street. The dry goods store was in front on the first floor. The family kitchen was in the rear of the store and the bedrooms were upstairs on the second floor. My mother still ran the store with help from my older brothers and sisters.
My father stayed out on the road, selling for Butler Brothers, until finally he decided to stay home and take command. At that time I deeply resented him, wishing he’d stayed out on the road. I don’t think I was alone in that respect. And he may have sensed this. I can recall how again and again he would berate us childrenand our motherangrily proclaiming, “I am boss in this house.” Since Iand one brother and one sisterhad red hair, and neither he nor my mother had red hair, I often wished when I was a young boy that he wasn’t my father.
Each of the children, as we grew old enough, put in our time working in the store. I hated it, and while still in my early teens swore I would never trap myself into permanently living that kind of life, dependent upon some customer buying a piece of goods about which I didn’t really give a damnexcept for the need to make a sale. If I didn’t achieve the sale I would be nagged for days by my father about what I had done wrong. Only much later, thinking back, did I realize that for him each sale, no matter how small, meant the difference between having or not having enough to feed our large family.
During the Big Depression of the early 30’s food was short in our house and I remember how after we had eaten what was our evening meal my father would say to us nine growing children. “If you’re still hungry here’s bread. Fill up on bread.”
I don’t think my father had received much love from his parents, which may explain why he apparently didn’t know how to convey love to his children. I knew that my mother loved me and the rest of my brothers and sisters. I just felt it. But there wasn’t much time or energy left for her to pay special attention to us. She worked from early morning till late at night, working in the store and also taking care of us children in all the necessary ways, including cooking and sewingwith some help from us children, especially the older ones. Thinking back, except for one short memory of my father holding me above the crib while I was still a baby and softly singing to me, I cannot remember my father or my mother ever kissing me while I was growing up. I was the seventh child, quickly replaced as the baby by Joel and then Gerry.
My fatherbefore he got into the dress manufacturing businesshad worked in a cigar making factory, where he became a follower of Daniel DeLeon, head of the Socialist Labor Party. Even after he became a dress manufacturer he still called himself a socialist and referred to our family as a socialist family, which in my youth meant nothing to me except that we were on the side of labor, and it was never more clearly defined than that.
The only positive thing my father seemed to retain from his cigar making trade was the ability to take a mouthful of wine and spray it over cheap cigars, making them “expensive cigars.” He delighted in showing us how he could do that with a whole box of cigars.
He was a strange kind of socialist because I remember him reading in the newspaper about some factory workers being out on strike, saying, “They should shoot them.” Yet when I was subpoenaed to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1954 he told me, “Tell those momserim to go to hell,” (Momserim: Yiddish for bastards.) And when my mother, distraught because of redbaiting attacks leveled against me in the newspapers (accusing me of being a subversive trying to overthrow the government) burst out, “How would you like to have a son who’s a traitor?”my father defended me, saying, “He’s a good boy, he’s doing right.” Boy? I was 41 years old, with a wife and two children.Traitor! Coming from her, that hurt. I’ve never forgotten that and it still hurts. Yet, even when my mother said that, I knew she still loved me. Her face creased with held-in emotion, she followed up, to my father, “I know he’s a good boy and I worry what will happen to my boy.”
My father was well into his 80s whenafter he had been beaten badly twice by young thievesseveral of us, his sons, combined finances to trick him into giving up the store by subsidizing a buyer to meet the high price he insisted upon getting for all the unsold goods he had there. After he retired I dropped by to see him and my mother in their flat in North Buffalo every day on my way home late in the afternoon, and my father would pour a schnappsel for each of us, and my mother would bring out a plate loaded with chunks of sponge cake. My father insisted that only barbarians drank whiskey without the accompaniment of a piece of cake. And it was in the midst of one of these warm moments between us that he spat in my face when I defended the right of one of his grandchildren, my youngest brother Gerry’s daughter, to marry a young man who wasn’t Jewish. I wiped my face, stood up and left the house without saying a word, hearing my mother angrily berate my father for what he’d done. It was weeks before I dropped in again to see themand my father quickly served me a schnappsel, his way of apologizing. Not long after that I heard him ask his granddaughter, now married to that young man, “When are you going to bring your husband so I can meet him?”
Now at my age of 90, I drive by that old brick building where we once lived behind and above the store. It’s the only structure left on that block, part of the ghetto inhabited by poor black people. It’s unoccupied and in complete disrepair in an area that looks like it’s been hit by a bomb. I recall how my father and mother and the seven boys and two girls in our family, plus my widowed aunt and her two daughters, lived in this small two-story brick building, in the little room back of the store and several small rooms above the store, in total space less than I occupy now in my house where I live alone.
Balanced against some negative feelings about my father that I still seem to have difficulty forgetting, I believe now that back then I got from himand yes, from my motherthe stubborn ability to pick myself up and go on after I was hit with economic disaster in my early 40’s. I recall how at that time of my blacklisting I again and again reminded myself hearing my father talk about his economic setbacks, including the burning down of his uninsured dress factory and several bankruptcies in connection with the Buffalo store, saying very simply, “I fall down, I pick myself up, and I go on.”
My father had his own way to express his feelings for us. Once he brought home a bushelactually a bushelof books he’d bought in a second-hand store. He plopped the bushel of books down on the floor in front of us kids and said, “Here, books. Read.” He didn’t seem to know any other way to show affection.
I try to understand why he was such a terrible nagger. It was hard to do anything that would draw his approval. The hard life he had led probably caused him to push us all too hard. If I brought home a report card with a grade of 99 he’d loudly berate me, “If you got 99 you could have gotten 100 if you tried harder.” When his children were all grownall nine of usand well established in whatever work we had ended up doing, I remember him angrily chastening a group of us, “You’re all failures because none of you listened to me.” By then we were apparently secure enough that our reaction to that, I recall, was that we all laughed.
But when I was cut out of my job as a labor leader in 1956, blacklisted, with no idea on what to fall back on to make a living for my family, I believe it was the remembrance of the courage and strength my fatherand yes, my motherevidenced in dealing with their tough situations that helped me pick myself up and go on. And I believe it was that conducttheirs and minethat years later helped my daughters Lorrie and Mindy quickly pick themselves up and go on when they, separately, got hit with devastating economic blows.
I was 28 years old in 1941 when, a member of the Communist Party, I was asked to become a union organizer. I was newly married, about to become a father, andby order of the Army Air Force Colonel at the Curtiss Wright Aircraft planthad been removed as “a subversive” from my job, a template maker in the mold loft department, just after I had completed laying out on sheet metal the master template for the entire instrument panel for the C-47 aircraft. Prior to that, my desperate aim in life was to become a successful writer. A Broadway playwright. And an actor. A star on Broadway. A star in Hollywood.
I had not yet chosen that as my goal when, a redheaded urchin maybe 8 or 9 years old, I ignored my father’s objections and started my work history by hawking newspapers on a street corner.“Hey, get your pee-po-paper here.”I vaguely remember the cold rainy day when, as it was getting dark, a man confronted me and gruffly asked how many papers I had left. Apprehensive, not knowing what this total stranger wanted from me, I counted the newspapers and told him. He took the papers, gave me some money, and said, “Go home, kid.”It was a kindness I’ve never forgotten.
When I was 10 or 11, I stood on the curb in front of the entrance to the zoo in Buffalo’s Delaware Park, selling balloons for a partially crippled boss, in his late twenties, who mercilessly exploited kids like myself, paying us pennies for working in the hot sun all day on Sundays during the summer months.
I was about 12 when I graduated to selling candy bars in the baseball park and advanced from that to selling hot dogs“They’re hot, they’re red hot!”for old man Jacobs, the Jewish grandfather and great-grandfather of the present Jacobs family members who developed his concessions business in one ball park into ownership of stadiums and race tracks and all kinds of concessions in cities all across the country and around the world. Now apparently wealthy and part of Western New York’s upper crust, I’ve been told they presently are members of the Christian faith.
My brother Dave was 16 years oldand I was 14when he got a job to stand in front of what was then the Ford Hotel on Delaware Avenue near Chippewa Street, directing tourists to park their cars overnight in the Huron Garage several blocks away. Dave worked there one week, hated the job, said he was quittingso I took his official chauffeur cap and told the people at the garage I was taking my brother’s place. They accepted that, asking no questions about my age. The job required working late seven nights a week. The pay was tips I got from tourists.
I liked the job. It got me out of the house that I found to be very depressing during the evening. I’m still not sure what produced that feeling, but I do remember thinking I would always want a job that required me to work evenings. Though I’m reluctant to blame it on my father’s naggingbecause I believe he meant wellthere always seemed to be an underlying tension between him and my mother that may have stemmed from worries about not enough money. Dad was a sucker for salesmen. Since he had lived that hard life he insisted on buying some goods from every salesman who pitched his wares. I can hear Mother again and again accusing him, “Why? We don’t need it!”
The job in front of the hotel introduced me to a world different from that I had known, and in retrospect I can see that it was the beginning of my separation from the boys I’d grown up withchildren of lower middle class retail trades people whose parents hoped they would become doctors, lawyers or dentistsor if not that, then teachers or pharmacistsor if not that, then post-office workers or civil service employees. Working in front of the hotel I got to know the prostitutes who worked the area and also learned for the first time about homosexuals, who occasionally caused mayhem with wild parties they held in the hotel.
I remember standing in the open doorway of the apartment of two of the prostitutes, catching a brief exchange between them about the good time they had had at the beach. This led to the first play I wrote, at age 15. It was about a young man who worked in front of a hotel directing tourists to the garagehe’s in the apartment of two prostitutes, listening to them talking about having had fun at the beach, realizing for the first time that “whores” are human beings just like other people. Seeking to be encouraged as a writer, I sent my only copy of the play to one of my older brothers, Marty. Recognized proudly by our whole family as our intellectual academic, he was studying for his Ph.D. in English Literature at Harvard.
“I’ve torn up your play,” he wrote me. “It’s bad enough you’re a pimp without letting the whole world know.”
I had never thought of it that way, but at that young age I suppose I was technically a pimp. One of the prostitutes had given me business cards to give to anyone at the hotel who asked for their services. For each man I sent them I was given one dollar. That’s why I was in their apartment, to collect my “finder’s fee.”
I had expected praise from my brother. Encouragement. I think now that what I felt after reading his letter was betrayal. Betrayed by the brother I thought would help me find my way as a writer. And there was no one with whom I could share how I felt.
I don’t want to leave what Marty did then without talking more about our relationship. Marty got his education the hard way. He did get a small amount$100, I thinkfrom some kind of scholarship when he graduated high school. He attended State Teachers College, which later became Buffalo State College, where he subsequently ended up teaching in the English Department.
Marty worked nights and weekends at the post-office to finance the rest of his university education. He selected Mark Twain to be the object of his research and writing, and was on his way to be recognized nationally for his writing on that subject when this was aborted because he was my brother. A student of his, a reporter for the Buffalo News, told him confidentially thatapparently because of my activity as an organizer for a union accused of being communist-dominatedhis editor had declared that me and Marty from then on were to be treated as non-persons, never to be named in the newspaper. This was a case of Martya cautious liberal and in no way a left-wingerbeing found guilty by association with his younger brother, me.
For many years I think Marty, with his fine academic credentials, considered himself the writer in our family and saw me, who did not achieve a college education until I was approaching 60, as some kind of vulgar pretender. When he saw the opening production of my play The Dead Hand, winner of a Buffalo Junior Chamber of Commerce sponsored play contest, he remarked to our youngest brother Gerry, “It’s only dialogue.”
At one point, after my play The Dodo Bird was produced in New York City in 1967, he conceded that I was a writer, but said to me, “The difference between us is this. If we both were going to write about a pig pen, I’d research everything written about a pig pen. You’d go roll around in one.” He did not intend it as a compliment.
But in 1972, despite my being already 59 years old, Marty successfully used every bit of the political muscle he had developed at Buffalo State Collegeand he had a great deal as the senior professor in the English department and as a close friend of the college presidentto get me off the blacklist, hired to teach Creative Writing there.
And then came a devastating punch in our relationship, which I can see unfolding with my mind’s eye. A few years after Marty had retired, the Buffalo State College Alumni Association announced he would be honored at a special dinner. Marty invited his brothers and sisters, along with their families, to join his familyhis wife and childrenfor the dinner and award ceremony. After we had all eaten, the master of ceremonies called Marty to the front of the room and shook his hand.
“Martin,” he began, adopting a formal tone, “in recognition of the fine contribution you have made and are continuing to make with your writingthe plays you’ve written and have had producedand the novels you’ve written and have had publishedthe Buffalo State College Alumni Association at this time takes great pleasure in publicly acknowledging and honoring you“
He was interrupted by Marty. “No. Wait.” After a moment of silence Marty went on. “I’m afraid you’ve made a mistake. You’re talking about my brother Manny.”With his wife and children and all our families there, watching and listening, I could think only about how he must feel.
It was in 1964 that The Dead Handmy prize-winning play Marty described as only dialoguewas given its premiere production, the prize, in the second floor lounge of the Ford Hotel where I had worked years before.
The chief bellhop Old Bill, the other bellhops, the desk clerks, the house detectiveall the people I’d come to know so well back then when I had moved up to become an elevator operator and then a bellhop inside the hotelwere all gone. But, crossing through the lobby, I could, with my mind’s eye, see and hear Old Bill, having sized up a guest with luggage coming into the lobby and having determined how little tip that guest would give, yelling out to me, “Front boy.” He saved the big tippers for himself. I was a teen-ager, a junior and then a senior in high school, and he must have been in his mid-forties when, to me, he was old Bill. .
And I still remember the young man my age who worked behind the soda counter in the drug store on the corner of Chippewa and Main Streets, where I stopped every night during my supper break for a sandwich and a chocolate milk shake. We seemed to recognize a sadness in each other, possibly connected with being shy teenagers who were working nights while the boys we grew up with were out playing. We never got to know each other’s name. With my red hair, he called me, “Red,” and I think I called him, “Pal.” In what I think of now as some kind of instinctive act involving one working kid to another working kid, without either of us saying a word about it he started charging me for only a coke when I was having a sandwich and milk shake.
My work at the Ford Hotel was primarily a summer job, during the tourist season. While attending Hutchinson Central High School during the school year, I worked evenings and weekends as an usher at several movie houses on Main Street, first at Shea’s Hippodrome, then at Shea’s Buffalo, a magnificent palace which now houses touring musicals. Back then the theaters’ patrons were entertained by vaudeville performers at Shea’s Hippodrome and by big bands at Shea’s Buffalo, along with seeing a feature film..
Writing in the April 18, 2001 weekly Blue Dog newspaper about my stint at Shea’s Buffalo, I described how “night after night last year, waiting for my entrance cues during my performance as Lafew in the Irish Classical Theatre’s production of All’s Well That Ends Well at the Andrews Theatre, I would look through a window facing a deserted Main Street and see . . . the changing electric signs appearing on the Shea’s Buffalo marquee.
“Pictures flash before my mind’s eye. I see a redheaded high school kid proudly showing himself off in his usher’s fancy uniform . . . his hands encased in white gloves, he struts back and forth with other uniformed ushers in close order drill, not knowing that this is a rehearsal for the real thing he’ll be doing in World War II . . . and this scene brings to my mind’s eye a fellow high school usher Harry Southard, back then an up-and-coming Golden Gloves boxer, who is talking me into entering the ring with him at a fund raiser for his church . . . he promises we will just go through the motions for three rounds, he won’t hurt me . . . I could clearly see myself in that very first round, desperately trying to defend myself as Harry uses me for a punching bag . . . My mind’s eye sharply switches over to another fight that took place much later, in the 60’s, in front of that same theatre . . . a non-violent Gandhi-kind of response by myself and a half dozen others as we were bumped, shoved, tripped, pummeled by what I thought were government agents determined to break up the first outdoor public demonstration in Buffalo against the Vietnam War.”
So far as I can recall, my only other job during my high school years was selling shoes at a cheap chain shoe store on Seneca Street, in a rundown area where there were pawn shops, second-hand clothing stores, panhandlers, druggies and drunks. Two of my older brothers worked there on Fridays after school and Saturdays, and they arranged for me to work with them on the big sale days preceding Easter Sunday and the like. The manager was an affable guy who had spent some time in Mexico and showed his limited knowledge of their language by frequently proclaiming with good humor, “Entiendo-sted?”I still occasionally find the opportunity to talk about him and ape his jovial “Entiendo-sted!” I’m sure we both mispronounced what’s supposed to mean: Do you understand?
But I think I got more than that from him and much more from the mechanics and other workers I got to know at the Huron Garage, where I directed the tourists to park their cars, and from all the other working people I got to know at the hotel and at the movie theatressomething I have difficulty describing exactly. I know I liked most of the people I worked with and I felt that they liked me. My red hair may have helped, enabling them to easily have a name for me: “Hey, Red.”In retrospect, I think this may have been a further step toward my beginning to align myself with labor, with working people, “the working class,” a process intensified when I graduated high school and worked for several years in the Dupont Rayon and Cellophane factory on River Road in the Town of Tonawanda, one of the many factories lining the Niagara River all the way from Buffalo through the city of Niagara Falls.
That row of factories along the Niagara River came to have a symbolic meaning for me. Shortly after I had been subpoenaed to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities for the first time in 1954, Rhoda said she was going to leave me, taking the kids with her, that she could no longer take the pressure being put on her because of my union and political activity. I left the house, got into my car and drove over to the road along the Niagara River. My hands tightly gripped the wheel of my speeding vehicle as I instinctively tried to find some source of solace there to choke off the gulping sobs which had finally broken through between my wild howls into the night as I drove past the Dupont plant where I had worked and past the factories in the cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda, whose workers I had helped organize into unions, and on along the Niagara River past the long string of chemical factories in Niagara Falls, whose workers had been organized into unions by my good friend Charlie Doyle who had openly been the head of the Communist Party in Western New York . . . and speeding by all those factories where I could with my mind’s eye see the working guys working in there . . . the night shift workers at their machines . . . and the cold wind rushing through where I’d fully opened the car’s window. . . my cheeks cooling off . . . my face drying . . . and with my mind and heart finally settling into a feeling of peace, a saddened and subdued peace, I rolled up the car window, turned the car around and drove home.
In 1926, a freshman, I began attending Hutchinson Central High School on the corner of Chippewa Street and Elmwood Avenue, just one block from the Ford Hotel. Back then, although the school was highly rated academically, it was looked upon socially as being below Lafayette High School which had a high attendance of WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). Hutch’s student body included more of a mixture of children of Italian-American and Polish-American Catholics, and children of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. There were some children of African-American families, and back then it was still acceptable to speak respectfully of them as Negroes.
Some years later, with our country heading into World War II, African-American families poured up from the South for jobs in defense plants, and the number of their children attending Hutch subsequently swelled to a point where the segregationist forces in the city, disturbed by the growing number of black students mixing with white students in Hutchinson Central, acted to change Hutchinson Central to Hutchinson Central Technical School, a high tech vocational school generally referred to as Hutch Tech. This was tied in with building a new school, Woodlawn Junior High, in the heart of the black ghetto, to drain black students away from Hutch, separating them from white students .
My opposition to that led to my involvement in a brouhaha where I was attacked in an editorial in one of the local newspapers, accused of trying to agitate a revolution in the city, cited as an example of how one subversive individual, if not checked, could single-handedly create chaos. By then I was a union organizer, the International Representative for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, known as the UE, which represented approximately 30,000 workers in 15 manufacturing plants in Western New York. To put it bluntly and without false modesty, despite being publicly and continuously attacked as a dangerous communist, I had strong rank-and-file support, not only from our union members but also from other workers and some middle class progressives in the area, which gave me political clout.
I was in the 8th grade when the school principal had me deliver a Christmas basket of food to a black family who lived around the corner from where I lived. That is a scene I have always rememberedwhen I for the first time became aware of and was troubled about the condition of poor black families. Along with several of my brothers, I was attending vocational grammar school 47, around the corner from our family’s mom-and-pop dry goods store. 7th. 8th and 9th grade students had to go to classes in machine shop, woodworking shop and sheet metal shop half of every school day and were expected to go on to a vocational high school and factory work. My parents, with much arguing, got us admitted into the kind of high school that could prepare us to go to college.
But it was in the 7th and 8th grades at School 47 that I learned the trades of a machinist, a carpenter and a sheet metal worker, all of which came in handy when I did become a factory worker in the control lab at the Dupont Cellophane and Rayon plant and some time after that when I became a template maker in the mold loft at the Curtiss Wright Aircraft factory and unexpectedlythe candle in the windbecame a union organizer.
My oldest brother Sam had preceded me as a student at Hutchinson Central High. However, for some reason I can’t remember, Martin went to South Park High in South Buffalo in the heart of the Irish neighborhoodan area heavily populated with families of steel plant workersstrong labor union territory, an area heavily seeded with gin mills, taverns, bars, saloons, pubs, drinking joints (whatever name you prefer) where union members drank beer and/or tossed down shots of whiskey with beer chasers and argued and got into fist fights over shop problems and union politics and differences regarding what was being done or not being done by those elected local, state or federal “sellout artists.”
It was in the Twenties, while Martin was attending South Park High, that the street car workers became involved in a long bitter strike. Young as I was, I still remember seeing armed National Guardsmen in uniforms riding the street cars to protect the scab operators from grown-up strikers and young sympathizers who threw rocks to smash the street car windows.
My poor brother Martin, the innocent unaware of the consequences, took his usual street car ride one day to South Park High and when he emerged from the street car in South Buffalo he was badly beaten, bloodied, by other high school students who were strikers’ sons and sympathizers. From then on, Martin rode the “nickel jitneys”autos owned and operated by striking street car workers.
If I remember correctly, I felt sorry for Martin but I also had a friendly feeling for the striking street car workers, especially since their jitney drivers gave me free rides to wherever I wanted to go, not collecting the nickel fares from young kids.
My oldest brother Sam had graduated high school before I entered as a freshman. But many of my teachers had taught him and they expected me to match his high scholastic achievements. Also, he had preceded me on the school’s football team. He filled one of the guard positions. The coach shifted me from one backfield position to another. Years later that high school football experience would open some doors for me.
Our coach had a serious problem. During practice the players were stealing the footballs as fast as he supplied themthe players taking advantage of the coach’s attention being elsewhere to throw the ball over a small hill bordering the field, picking it up there later. The coach tried but could not get any of us to snitch on the thieves. So he came up with a brilliant idea. He gave me and several others our own footballs to keep, provided we agreed to bring them to practice during the rest of the season and loan them to the team each day to practice with. It was a good lesson in how to deal with a seemingly insoluble problem.
But the main thing I got out of high schoolthe candle in the wind, affecting the rest of my lifewas my introduction to theatre by my favorite teacher, Miss Edith Haake, who surprised me by marrying the brother of one of the female students with whom she was most friendly in our drama club. What reinforced my memory of her is that years later, when I was challenging the public school superintendent’s decision to change Hutchinson Central to Hutch Tech and build Woodlawn Junior High in the black ghetto, Miss Haake came back into my life. I had not heard from her since my high school days, and when she phoned me, her frightened voice made me think she must be aware of how, because of my union battles, I was being demonized constantly in the newspapers as “that dangerous commie Manny Fried.” She did not give her name, possibly fearing the phone was tapped, which it may have been. She said I might not remember her but that she had taught me in high school and she had been closely following my acting career in New York City and my subsequent work as director of the Buffalo Contemporary Theatre (all of which had preceded my becoming a union organizer). She asked if I knew who she was. I said I did. And then, her voice trembling with emotion, she said she wanted to thank me on behalf of herself and other teachers at Hutch Central for opposing the action of the school superintendent. Appreciating that for her this was an extremely brave act, telling “that dangerous commie Manny Fried” that she supported him for what some prominent community leaders were attacking him in the newspapers, I thanked her and asked about her sister-in-law, my former fellow student in the drama club. But, apparently too frightened to extend the conversation, she thanked me again, said, “God bless you,” and hung up.
It was Miss Haake who introduced me to the work of Eugene O’Neill, his one act plays about sailors and also his full length playsincluding Anna Christie, his play about a sailor and a prostitute. It was Anna Christie that encouraged me at age 15 to write my first play, about the prostitutes I met when I was working at the Ford Hotel. Reading O’Neill’s plays in high school steered me later to write about the factory workers I worked with, those I met while working at Dupont and at Curtiss, and more so, those whom I came to know very well on a deeply personal level over the years I worked with them as their union representative during organizing campaigns, strikes, contract and grievance negotiations, arbitrations, picnics, union meetings, political and labor fights of all kinds, and so many other events and situations that included complicated mixtures of positives and negatives connected to the people I worked with. It finally led years later to my conscious decision to concentrate with my writing on trying to bring onstage working people, labor people, as fully rounded human beings with their full complexity – to try to be a voice for working people.
And for many years, actually continuing right up to the present, my writing about labor, about working people, has again and again, like a powerful magnetthough initially to my great surprisedrawn negative attention to me from the FBI. Much more about this later.
But sticking momentarily with my effort to be a voice in the theatre for working people, let’s briefly jump ahead to 1967 and the New York City Off-Broadway opening of my play The Dodo Bird. The New York Times second-string drama critic Dan Sullivan began his review:
Most plays smell like other plays; some plays smell like life. Emanuel Fried’s ‘The Dodo Bird,’ which opened at the Martinique Theatre last night, falls into the welcome second category.
It is a long one-actor about a long evening in a workingman’s bar. The three chief characters work at the foundry across the street, and by the time the bar closes we know more about the foundry and the guys who work there than we ever thought we’d want to know, and it’s fascinating.
It’s fascinating because Mr. Fried has been there. . . . These are not workmen seen through the rosy glasses of ideology, not noble primitives from the anti-capitalist 1930’s but men you’d find any night at the local pubas un-heroic, as tired, as shrewd, as funny.
Following immediately after this high praise for my play, critic Dan Sullivan was offered a deal he apparently found hard to refuse, to be first-string drama critic at the Los Angeles Times. Although I knew (and will later recount in detail) how the FBI sabotaged that production of The Dodo Bird, for the present let me add something that happened years later to a different drama critic, in Buffalo, that made me wonder if Dan Sullivan had been deliberately lured away to Los Angeles because he was “too strongly supportive” of my writing about labor people.
When my play The Second Beginning was presented at the Buffalo Ensemble Theatre a few years after the New York production of The Dodo Bird, critic Adolph Dupree wrote a very favorable review in the The Challenger, Buffalo’s African-American newspaper, with the bold heading: “WHO’S AFRAID OF MANNY FRIED?” I phoned Mr. Dupree to thank him. During our conversation I learned that his day job was working for IRSInternal Revenue Servicein the Buffalo office. We agreed to meet for lunch and talk further. But the next day Mr. Dupree phoned me and cancelled our lunch appointment. Without warning he, a Buffalo native, had been given an immediate permanent transfer away from Buffalo, told to report at once to the Rochester office of IRS. I assume that his phoneor, more probably, my phonemay have been tapped by the FBI.
Meanwhile, Dan Sullivan at The Los Angeles Times encouraged me to keep in touch with him. He read my play Drop Hammermuch of which is based on my experience with the men working at the Blaw Knox foundry and machine shop in Buffalo. Two small presses, West End Press and my own press Labor Arts Books, were about to publish the play. I hoped that publishing the play would help get it a production. By this time I believed that the FBI was actively working to prevent production of my plays and I was angry enough about that to have founded my own small press, determined not to let them block me from getting my plays read and produced. I asked Dan Sullivan if he would give me a quote to use in connection with publication of Drop Hammer. What he gave me to use on the cover of the book encouraged me to keep going in the direction I was pursuing with my writing.
He said that though this was not yet part of a review of an actual production of the play, I could officially credit the following as coming from Dan Sullivan, Theatre Critic, Los Angeles Times:
No playwright writes so knowledgeably and so sensitively of labor’s rank and file as Emanuel Fried. He knows what drive workingmen and their families, their fears, their sense of honor. He knows the things they can say to each other and the things they somehow cannot bring themselves to say. And he never preaches. This is a people’s playwright who can see the individual face.
Dan Sullivan then recommended the play to Bill Bushnell, artistic director of the Los Angeles Actors Theatre. By strange coincidence, the theatre’s play reader turned out to be the son of Mike Jiminez who years earlier had been the district union representative above me when I was a union organizer. The play reader strongly recommended that the theatre produce the play. Incidentally, Mike Jiminez was the man on whom Ernest Hemingway based the male hero in his novel For Whom the Bell TollsMike had blown up bridges during the Spanish Civil War to slow the advance of the oncoming Franco forces. In World War Two, Mike became a favorite of General William Donovan who headed the Office of Strategic Servicesthe OSS, which later became the CIA. Mike parachuted down alone behind enemy lines to make contact with the partisans, many of whom had fought alongside him in Spain. Mike told me that Donovan sent word to members of the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities that if they tried to subpoena him, Mike, Donovan would blow the whistle on things he knew about them. Despite his personal political history, Mike was never called before the Committee. But his experience blowing up bridges in the Spanish Civil War was deliberately demonized by anti-labor columnist Victor Riesel who publicly attacked Mike again and again in his columns, labeling him “Mike Jiminez the dynamiter,” trying to make it look like Mike used dynamite in his labor activities in this country.
Anyway, Drop Hammer got great reviews from all the Los Angeles drama critics, one critic actually calling it “a work of genius.” For the first time in its history, with unions buying large blocks of seats for their members, the Los Angeles Actors Theatre sold out all seats for the entire run of the play.And several years after that, when I ran into artistic director Bill Bushnell, he told me he had been warned that if he ever produced another play of mine, it would be the end of his getting financial support for his theatre.
When Buffalo school superintendent Benjamin Willis proposed changing Hutch Central to Hutch Tech and to build Woodlawn Junior High in the black ghetto, I appeared at the school board’s public hearing and was surprised to find that leaders of the black community who I expected would oppose his plan never showed up. They may have known that anyone who opposed the plan might be severely attacked by the media, as I was. One black community leader from the Urban LeagueI will not embarrass any of his living relatives by naming himdid show and supported Willis’ plan.
When I rose and started to speak, I abruptly was interrupted by the president of the school board, Pascal “Pat” Rubino.
“Who do you represent?” he asked.
I knew Pat well. He and his family owned several funeral homes and he was a familiar drinker at the exclusive Park Lane Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge that, along with the prestigious adjoining Park Lane Apartments building, was owned at that time by my wife’s family, the Luries. (My marriage to Rhoda: the candle in the wind.)Pat’s cold tone of voice signaled that there must be powerful forces in the community supporting the Willis plan. My union organizer assistant and close friend, Warren Brown, an African-American, was with me, and through his brother, a city councilman representing an essentially black district, I had a good background on what was going on.
“I am here,” I responded, matching the antagonistic coldness of Pat’s voice, “as the representative of the national office of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers, also designated to speak on their behalf by our Local Union representing black and white workers at the Buffalo Foundry and Machine Division of Blaw Knox Corporation, and I’m also here as the father of two children attending public school in this city.”
“You have the floor,” Pat quickly conceded, forcing a polite smile.
I spoke at length about the Willis plan, charging that its deliberate purpose was to intensify segregation in the Buffalo school system. When I finished, a city councilmannot naming him now to avoid embarrassing any surviving relativesrose and stridently attacked me, charging my ulterior motive was to agitate and create racial trouble. I knew this particular councilman playing the holier-than-thou concerned citizen was the front man for the taxicab mogul who had just been named Citizen of the Year by the Buffalo News and who was soon to be snared as he tried to jump over the fence and avoid being caught by state troopers raiding the Mafia’s top level Appalachian meeting.
Pat adjourned the school board meeting to the next day, giving the newspapers time to feature the councilman’s scathing charges against me and to editorialize about my supposedly subversive motives. When the school board met again, the meeting room swarmed with “suits who I thought might be plainclothes cops and/or FBI agents. They tried to intimidate me and Warren Brown by steadily staring at us throughout the meeting, giving us what I call “the fisheye.”
As expected, the school board ignored my accusation that the Willis plan was intended to intensify segregation in the public school system. They voted unanimously to go ahead with it. And as Willis left the room, he directed a sneering remark about “ten little Indians” in the direction of Warren Brown and myself. Following behind Willis, but seeming to hold back until Willis left the room, was Assistant School Superintendent Joe Manch. He had not spoken during the meetings. Joe had grown up with me and my brothers on the East Side of Buffalo. As he walked out of the room, Joe momentarily hesitated beside me and then, so no one else would hear what he said, whispered, “Manny, you’re right.”
That’s not the end of it. Conservative forces in Chicago hired Willis to do there what he had done in Buffalo. But the black community there had learned from the mistake of Buffalo’s black community. Massive demonstrations in Chicago thwarted Willis’ effort to introduce his segregation plans there; he was firedand I’ve been told, by an officer of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Willis then became a Catholic priest. Some years later, in 1972, HOME (Housing Opportunities Made Equal) under the leadership of two volunteers, black Frank Mesiah and white Norm Goldfarb, filed suit against the new school superintendent Joe Manch and the school board, charging that students in the public school system had been deliberately segregated. Goldfarb phoned me. I had just started teaching Creative Writing at Buffalo State College. Goldfarb asked if I would testify in court, telling what I had told the school board when I expressed opposition to Willis’ plan. I said I’d do that. But a few days later he phoned to say there was no need for me to testify because school superintendent Joe Manch and the school board had agreed to stipulate that what I had said back then was true. Judge John Curtin in 1976 ordered the desegregation of the Buffalo public schools, resulting in the integration of black and white students, including students in the very same high school that Willis had built in the black ghetto to promote segregationit became an integrated magnet school, re-named Buffalo Traditional High School.
Not long after that, unfortunately, Norm Goldfarb died at a relatively young age. Frank Mesiah was elected president of the Buffalo Branch of the NAACP.
It was my high school science teacher Mr. Hopkins who got me hired at the Dupont Cellophane and Rayon plant after I graduated at age 17 from Hutch Central in 1930. Jobs were scarce. The 1929 stock market crash had ushered in the Big Depression, which I believe truly ended only when World War Two created a strong need for workers in war plants, while young men were being siphoned off to become soldiers.
The 1930 edition of the Calendar, the Hutchinson Central year book, carries my photo along with those of other graduates, and states: “Emanuel J. FriedUndecided (this related to what I’d do after graduation)‘Even Jollies Fate’ (I’m not sure what that meant)Lunchroom Monitor ’29,’30, Football ’29, Track ’27-’30, Cross-country Squad ’27, School Play ’30; Calendar ’30; Chairman Student Social Committee ’30.” And then my motto: “There are better things in life than just financial success.”
At the graduation ceremony I was given an award as the best all-around student and athlete, which meant that my name would be added on the bronze plaque posted in the school’s hall. And it was announced that Charles Scheeler had been granted the University of Michigan Award, which would provide him four years free tuition at that university. We had similar records in studies and after school activities, but he was a skinny boy who did not participate in athletics.
Charles Scheeler belonged to a small WASP social group at Hutch Central. I was the only Jew invited to participate in the group, and I’m ashamed to admit that I was flattered that I had been brought into their after-school social gatherings. This included being invited by Mr. Hopkins several times to come with Charles Scheeler and others from that select group to his very nice home. At that time, politically, I was a blank. The plaques and framed certificates hanging on the walls in Mr. Hopkins’ home, identifying him as an ardent member of the American Legion, did not affect me in any way. In retrospect, I think Mr. Hopkins might have been politically leaning to the right, but I admired him very much andthough the prospect seemed very unlikelyI wished I could someday become like him and live his kind of life. Mr. Hopkins may have sensed my admiration, which could be whywhen he learned that unlike Charles Scheeler I had no plans to go to collegehe offered to get me the job at the Dupont plant.
Later I learned that Charles Scheeler came from a well-to-do family who owned the Buffalo Wire Works, whichremembering that when we graduated I got my name on a plaque and he got four years of free university tuitionprompted a rueful laugh on my part. I had been told by other Jewish students, but didn’t want to believe it, that being a Jew disqualified me with the local University of Michigan alumni for their free tuition award. Ironically, Charles Scheeler and I ended up sitting across from each other at the bargaining table at Buffalo Wire Works, Charles having become president of the family-owned company and I having become the union organizer representing the workers in his plant. Buffalo Wire Works was a relatively small outfit with less than a hundred employees and we got along fairly well, working out contract agreements without our union ever being forced to strike the plant. And, possibly because of our past history, Charles was one employer who never directly red-baited me, though occasionally he would slyly needle me about the way some of the big corporations with whom I was negotiating were publicly playing the red-baiting card .
I try to recall why, when I graduated from Hutch Central, I had no plans to go to college. None of us, the children, could expect financial help from our parents. The money simply wasn’t there. To go to college, each had to earn his/her own way. All my older brothers, as each graduated from high school, took a test that won them some kind of financial aid based on scholarship. I didn’t apply to take that test becausehaving been convinced I was the “dumb one” in the familyI assumed I would not win a scholarship and would never hear the end of that from my father. When I graduated from high school in 1930, Martin and Maury and Dave and my sister Sadie were already attending college. Martin and Sadie were students at State Teachers College where tuition was free for New York State residents. Dave and Maury had won scholarships to Cornell University. Dave was studying to become an architect, a goal he successfully achieved. Maury graduated with a Batchelor of Arts degree andduring the Big Depressionworked for only a short while as a bank teller before being laid off. Our older sister Gert graduated high school and went to work as a bookkeeper for Star Ring Corporation, one of the leading jewelry manufacturers of expensive rings in the United States. When Gert got married she quit the job and arranged for Maury to take her place. He climbed the ladder from there to the top position, running the company for the children of the deceased founding owners.
If I remember correctly, after graduating from Hutch Tech, our oldest brother, Sam, got a job sewing fur coats for a retail furrier. The owner of the firm was a buxom woman somewhat older than Sam. I remember her being somewhat matronly, and I was very much in awe of her when she several times dropped into our home, sitting briefly with us in the kitchen in the rear of the store on Genesee Street. She dressed and conducted herself in a way that made me think of her as “a rich lady.” That was underlined by how my mother and father acted toward her. They were very respectful, too respectful. She brought us all kinds of gifts. I believesort of sensed it even back thenthat she had adopted my good-looking and athletically built older brother Sam as her young lover. With the money Sam earned working for her, he enrolled at Cornell University. When he was completing his second year there he spoke to his advisor about entering their Engineering School and was advised that since he was Jewish it would be a waste of time to choose engineering as a career since no engineering firm would hire a Jewwhich may have been true back then. That may have been why he quit Cornell and, while working full time at the post office, studied dentistry at the University of Buffalo and became a dentist. (But there were some hushed whispers in the house, hinting that the real reason for Sam quitting Cornell was that a young woman from a prominent well-to-do family, whom he had expected to marry, dumped him for someone more socially acceptable.)
Through the effort of my high school teacher, Mr. Hopkins, I was the first Jew ever hired to work at the Dupont Cellophane and Rayon factory on River Road in the Town of Tonawanda, just north of Buffalo. I became their “token Jew,” which caused some hard feelings a few years later when I quit the job at the Dupont factory to become a freshman at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.
I don’t know if I can adequately describe what it was like for me to go to work at the Dupont factory. Physically, the factory was a combination of several very large buildings occupying a great deal of open space bordering the Niagara River. I was seventeen years old and had never before been inside this factory world. It was strange to me. It scared me. When I first walked through the building where rows of women, young and middle-aged, were packaging cellophane sheets, I was caught off guard, embarrassed, when some of them whistled at me. Years later, I read a short story by a Russian writer about his venture into the society of the Cossacks and particularly his experience for the first time getting to meet on a personal level the Cossack women who were different from the women he knew in the society from which he came. I thought my experience at Dupont was similar in some way to his with the Cossacks. True, my contact with the women working at Dupont was superficial. I never spoke to them, nor they to me. But it was the beginning of what developed in full forcean entirely different perspective on my part regarding women who are factory workerswhen I became a union organizer meeting and speaking and planning with thousands of women and men in heavy industry factories.
My job in the control lab at Dupont was somewhat repetitive. Every hour I gathered samples of chemical solutions and raw materials from tanks and other places in several buildings, tested the solutions and materials, and reported results back to operators who made any necessary adjustments to meet required specifications.
The building where cellophane was made was awesome. There were rows of machines, each the length of a long city block. At the front end of each machine a reddish-brown jelly-like mixture made from wood pulp and caustic (viscose) was shot out of a wide thin slit, up through a sulphuric acid bath, producing a continuous wide thin sheet of coagulated material which was then threaded without a break over rollers down into and out of heated chemical solutions contained in a long series of tanks, some of the liquids heated so hot that their surfaces heaved and tossed and sent up clouds of steam. After being threaded through the tanks of hot liquids, the unbroken cellophane sheet passed over large metal heated rolls which dried it by the time it came to the end of the block-long machine, where the finished product wound continuously into big rolls, some to be shipped as they were, others to be hauled to the building where other workers, predominantly women, cut the rolls of cellophane to create the packaged sheets to be sold to customers.
There were elevated wooden catwalks running along both sides of each of those block-long machines. Taking samples from the series of connected tanks of boiling chemicals, I hurriedly walked, sometimes even ran on these catwalksand after I was sufficiently familiar with the machines to ape the bravado that characterized some of the operators working on them, I would occasionally, while holding the handle of the wooden case with its bottles of samples of different chemical solutions I’d taken from the tanks, cockily leap back and forth from the catwalk on one machine to the catwalk on the next machine, though that was forbidden by management as being too dangerous.
Inevitably there were times when there would be a break in the long continuous sheet of material winding into and out of the solutions in the tanks. At the point of the break the sheet would keep winding around one roller. That was emergency time. Operators would shout. A loud horn would sound. The operator assigned to that machine would have already raced to pull the rope hanging in front of the machinethe rope tied to some mechanism that slowed down the speed of material passing over the rollers. Operators from all the other machines would come running to converge on the affected machinewith their knives (like hunting knives) out and ready to cut away the material piling up on the roller at the point of break.. Sometimes, while they were working to repair the break in the continuous sheet on the first machine, there would be a break in the continuous sheet on another machine. Again, there would be the warning shouts and the blasting of the horn. An operator would peel off to the second trouble spot to cut the sheet in front of the area where it was winding on one roller and then he’d keep pulling the slimy sheet off to one side into a gooky pile on the catwalk until other operators were freed from repairing the first trouble spot and could come over to help him clear the material off the roller where the break had occurred. Then the operator would again feed the sheet of material into and out of the tanks and over the heated metal rolls.
Sometimes, despite the operators washing down the catwalks with a hose after repairing this kind of break, there would be some slippery residue left on the boards, which I’d step on as I moved quickly back and forth between catwalks. I’ve had my feet slip out from under me and I’ve fallen down onto the catwalk or down to the floor between and below the catwalks. Though I did get badly scraped and bruised several times, I was aware of the company’s constant campaign to keep down the number of reported injuries and fortunately was never hurt enough to feel compelled to report it.
While over seventy years have intervened since I started to work at Dupont and I worked there for only a little more than two and a half years, there are a few people I worked with there whom I remember well, mainly because thinking about them later affected my life.
Howie Valyear kept coming back into my life every fifteen or twenty or twenty-five years. We had worked together in the control lab and we both had wanted to be recognized as writers. Howie had more realistic goals than I had. He was happy writing short pieces for the company bulletin. We both belonged to the so-called “independent union,” but while I worked there we never had anything to do with it. Years later when I did become aware of what a union is, or should be, I thought that what had existed back then had been a “company union” formed and controlled by the company in order to keep the employees from creating a real union. When I met Howie shortly before he retired he was still working at Dupont and he was writing the union’s newsletter. He believed that the unionthough still not affiliated with the main body of the labor movement in the AFL-CIOwas now truly independent, no longer controlled and dominated by the company. Howie was a quiet man, introverted, never confrontational. Every so often when I was under attack politicallyespecially when I was being crucified in the newspapers as a dangerous subversivehe’d somehow surface into my life again and with a shy smile he’d hesitantly offer support and agreement with my views. As far as I could tell from our brief meetings and conversations spread over seventy years, I assumed he was a loner since he never mentioned anything indicating he had a wife or children. I could have asked him, but I’ve always worried too much about invading people’s privacy.
Several others contributed parts of themselves to the characters in my plays. “Dusty” Rhodes, a skinny blonde-haired operator on the cellophane making machines always greeted me in a very friendly way when I came out to take samples from the tanks where he was working. “Hiya, ya redhead,” he’d shout over the loud noise of the machines.And there was the slow moving potbellied Welshman, also a machine operator, who kept telling me, jokingly, he had a daughter he wanted me to meet. He always had a smile for me, even when I gave him some very negative readings on the chemicals in the tanks on his machine. And there was the young man in the control lab, only a few years older than I was, who had built his own little propeller airplaneand on his days off he would noisily circle his plane over our building until he drew us outside and then he’d daringly fly it low enough to wave to us as he buzzed over our heads. It was his way, I thought, to establish that he was somebody, not just an ordinary factory worker like the rest of us.
I tested the heated chemical solutions in the tanks every hour and wrote the results on charts at the head of each machine, to be seen not only by the operators but also by the supervisor on the shift. These chemical solutions had to be kept within fixed ranges, and the machine operators made corrections as needed. (Incidentally, these machines operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Operators and control lab employees, including me, worked all three shifts, rotating each week to the next shift, with a 16-hour shift at the end of the week on one shift to effect the turnaround to the next shift for the following week.) If the operators failed to adjust the strength of the chemical solutions to keep them within prescribed ranges, the resulting product could fail inspection and become scrap. An operator who, despite my reporting to him the results of my hourly tests, failed to make the adjustments to keep the chemical solutions within prescribed ranges, could draw a strong reprimand and/or written warning from his supervisor.
The truth is I didn’t know the exact limits of these ranges. I did the testing and wrote results on charts posted on work stands in front of each block-long machine. Operators. knowing the exact limits permitted, checked my figures on the charts and quickly made adjustments in the flow of chemicals into the tanks. Sometimes, when what I wrote on the chart indicated to the operator that a chemical solution had descended below or risen above permitted limits, the operator on that machine would angrily challenge the accuracy of my test results, trying to intimidate me into revising the figures. I considered it important that I not establish any precedent that I would give in to this kind of pressure.
A clash about this with one machine operator brought elements of him later into several of my plays. Though I don’t remember his name I can clearly see him with my mind’s eye. He was at least one head taller than my 5 feet and 9 ½ inches, at least a good foot wider than my size 42 shoulders, and weighed about twice my 155 pounds. With his bulging bare arms and shoulders and chest covered with colorful tattoos, he was a formidable figure as he came roaring into the control lab, demanding, “Who’s the sonofabitch who wrote those lying figures on my chart?”I said it was me.He bellowed a long tirade of obscenities directly into my face as he charged over and over that I had marked down the wrong results. Shouting down my efforts to justify my figures, he kept yelling that he wanted me to go out there and change them. “Right now!” I knew that he wanted me to change the figures before his supervisor saw them.He ordered me over and over that he wanted me to go out there and change those figures, “Right now!Right now!”
Feeling humiliated by his tone of voice, I hesitantly interrupted, “You go to hell.”
He stopped yelling, glared at me in disbelief, then quietly demanded, “Whatdidyousay?”
I looked up at this formidable giant ready to destroy me, I swallowed, and I squeaked out: “I said you go to hell.”
He glared down at me while I waited for the punch that would destroy me. Then he threw his head back and let out a roaring laugh and reached out and grabbed me in those tremendous bare arms and hugged me to his chest, lifting me up off the floor.
“You’re okay, kid,” he shouted, laughing. “You’re okay, kid.” He put me down and patted me on the head like I was a little boy. “You’re okay, kid.” He shook his head and was still chuckling as he left the control lab.
Those are some of the good memories about working at Dupont. But most of the time I was not happy about working there, since I still cradled the ambition to be an actor and playwright. Also, my mood was very much affected by the lousy economic situation, the Big Depression revealing itself early each morning as I came off the graveyard shiftthe long sad lines of unemployed men waiting for the personnel office to open, hoping to get hired, when those of us working there knew it was more probable that there’d be more layoffs, not new hires. I was a lucky one, laid off for only a few months, then called back.
Working rotating shifts at Dupont, I saw less and less of the young crowd I’d grown up with, the members of our Emanon Club at the Jewish Community Center(Emanon is No-name spelled backward)and the members of our high school fraternityand the guys from the neighborhood. I was the only one in the whole bunch who had ended up working in a factory, but it wasn’t until many years later that, looking back, I defined and recognized the importance of this different direction developing between my life and the lives of those who had been my boyhood friends. By then Carl Frey had become the successful owner of a used car business, Isaiah Zisser had his own jewelry store, Harry Perlmuter owned several taverns in the black ghetto, including Buffalo’s famous Little Harlem night club, and “Sonny” Benderson headed one of the biggest real estate developer firms in Western New York and beyond.
All of us had grown up in an integrated East Side neighborhood, playing baseball, basketball and even tackle football (wearing no protective equipment) in the graveled playground with teams made up of black and white players. That may partly explain why, as we grew older, we got along very well on a personal basis with black people.
Years after our lives had parted and I’d rarely seen any of the old gang, during my worst period of being red-baited and blacklisted, Carl Frey and Harry Perlmuterwhen I did see themstill were loyal friends, expressing support. Zisser had moved out of town. I saw him only once more whenduring that same tough period in my lifeI foolishly accepted his invitation to attend a reunion of the old gang and found it hard to talk to him, and even to Carl Frey and Harry Perlmuter. One reason I attended the reunion is because it was held in a private room in The Park Lane Restaurant which, as I’ve already mentioned, was owned at that time by my wife’s family, a fact that I reluctantly recognized seemed to impress the old gang, adding to the rift developing between us..
My relationship with Sonny Benderson shifted back and forth over a period of many decades. When I was getting my plays produced in New York City’s Off-Broadway theatres, he did put $1000 into a play of mine, and through the years, though he had become rich and influential, he’d exchange a friendly but brief greeting with me when we occasionally ran into each other in restaurants and other public places. But when his firm, under the leadership of his son, formed and headed up a coalition of developers and contractors to fight against using union labor, Sonny stopped saying hello to me.
Contributing to my depression while working at Dupont was that my facewhich I superficially counted on to get me recognized as an actorwas becoming faintly lined with caustic burns caused by spattering and dripping of hot chemical solutions on my face when I reached over to take samples from the boiling liquids in the tanks. It took years for those faint lines in my face to heal and disappear, but remaining from those caustic burns I still have a slight hollow across the right side of my nose.
My dejection caused by lack of hope that I’d ever create a career as an actor was unexpectedly dispelled.The candle in the wind.A young chemist, who frequently came into the control lab to have material tested, somehow mentioned that he had done some acting. That led to my telling him about my interest in acting and playwriting. He told me the University of Iowa, his alma mater, had a nationally recognized Theatre Department. He suggested that I might get a scholarship if I wrote to the department chairman, Professor E. C. Mabie, telling him about my interest in theatre, my working background, and the play I’d written about prostitutes. He also suggested that I include news clippings about my playing quarterback on my high school football team. This resulted in an offer of a one-year football scholarship providing free tuition. Fortunately I’d saved enough money from my work at Dupont to be able to handle the cost of a room at the dormitoryand the university arranged a job for me, washing dishes at a Jewish fraternity house in return for my meals.
When I gave notice that I was leaving Dupont, the head of personnel came to the control lab and told me that if I stayed at Dupont I would have a good future there. The only explanation for his concern that I can come up with is that he didn’t want to lose his “token Jew,” and I wonder if this related to something developing higher up in the corporation, since some years later I read that a newly named president of the Dupont corporation was Jewish. But I stuck with my decision to quit Dupont and go to the University of Iowa to advance my theatrical career.
Leaving Buffalo to go to the University of Iowa in Iowa City was another step away from my previous growing-up world. My trunk containing clothes and other things was sent ahead. Included in the trunk was a velvet bag containing the black straps and phylacteriessmall leather boxes containing Hebrew scriptureswhich, under the watchful eye of my father, I’d bound around my left arm and my forehead as I said prayers every morning. I never again took those black straps and phylacteries out of the velvet bag to bind them around my arm and forehead, never again said those morning prayers. By then, when I had recited prayers at home or in the synagoguewhere I and my brothers went every Saturday and on High Holidays with my fatherthe praying had become meaningless. Rocking my head back and forth the same way the old-timers did while they prayed, I mumbled the Hebrew words and never thought about what the words meant. That’s not something I’m proud of or ashamed about. It’s simply that those prayer rituals had lost their meaning.
Though it’s been a long time since my father made me go straight from public school to Hebrew School every day, I still can read Hebrew but don’t remember what the words mean. For me and for my brothers, the way Hebrew school was conducted did not contribute to serious study. Old bearded Rabbi Diamond sneaked around the classroom with a ruler poised to smack us over the head or on the hands to prop up our attention.(Rabbi Diamond’s son David later became a highly respected New York State supreme court justice and an ardent supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.)Several of my brothers and I were in the same classroom on the first floor, and during the warm days when the windows were open, if we saw old man Diamond heading for one of us with his ruler upraised, we’d shout a warning and then throw folding chairs directly in front of the old man to block him as we all scrambled out through the open windows. It became a game, the brothers versus the bearded rabbi with his ruler.Years later, as a union organizer, I learned from my Catholic friends that they had similar problems with nuns wielding rulers.Anyway, we didn’t gain much respect for religion from attending Hebrew School. So, when I headed for the university, it was sort of a declaration of “free at last,” breaking away from that superimposed regimen that no longer had any real meaning for me. This in no way detracted from my developing belief in and dedication to the social philosophy of Judaism. Our father had repeatedly warned us, his children, to accept our responsibility to deal with our problems, saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” Gradually over the years I have dropped God out of that equation and without knowing it when I began my journey to the universityand with many deviations in the years aheadI was on my way to becoming a humanist, a secular Jew.
After I took a bus to the end of the line and stepped out onto the highway to begin thumbing rides to Iowa City, I did something about which I still feel some guilt, but which dramatically, metaphorically, says something about my state of mind. Worrying that I would get hungry, my mother had given me a brown paper bag filled with sandwiches wrapped in wax paper. Standing on the side of the highway, about to step out to hold up my hand and jerk my thumb back and forth to ask drivers of passing vehicles for a ride, I tossed the paper bag into a grassy field. At the age of 19 I was breaking with my past, starting a new life.
A young redhead wearing sneakers, white pants and a sweatshirt sporting a large brown and blue H, a football letter, I must have been an appealing character as I asked for rides with my jerking thumb. I averaged over 400 miles a day. Two times I was given rides by male drivers looking for a young boy for sex. One of the drivers was a chauffeur pimping for his boss. When I, hiding my fright, abruptly rebuffed these approaches I was summarily kicked out of the cars.
In Wayne County, Indiana, I got a ride from a salesman, a member of the Wayne family on his way to a family reunion back deep in the hills. Did I want to go to the reunion with him? It was a new experience for me, meeting these poorly dressed gaunt backwoods people who treated me like family. I remember especially the bent old man (probably younger than I am now) who had no teeth left. He proudly showed me the platters of plums he had baked dry over the wood stove in his little shack, so he’d have food ready to eat during the coming winter.
And then, unexpectedly, the candle in the wind again. A large automobile driven by a uniformed chauffeur passed by me, its occupants ignoring my gesturing thumb. But about a hundred yards down the road the car pulled over and the chauffeur got out and beckoned to me. I ran to the car. It looked like a Cadillac. The chauffeur opened the door for me to step into the rear of the car where a well dressed middle-aged woman greeted me with a warm smile. She asked where I was going. I told her I was on my way to Iowa City to go to the university. She said they would give me a lift in that direction since they were going to Los Angeles. She apologized for having first passed me by, said that she never gives a hitchhiker a ride but that my red hair reminded her of her redheaded son. As we drove west we talked, for hours. She bought meals for me along the way and as we approached the spot where I would have to leave to take the road going north to Iowa City, she suggested I ride with them to California. I had told her I wanted to be an actor. She said Los Angeles was the place to be and she might be able to help me. We came to the crucial “fork in the road” and the chauffeur parked the car. I had to make my decision. Go west to Los Angeles with this friendly lady and try to break into the movies? Or get out of the car and hitchhike north to go to the University of Iowa with its outstanding Theatre Department?
With my trunk on the way to the university, with the football scholarship all set, and with my dorm arrangements made and everything else tied to my going to the university, I reluctantly thanked the woman and said that I better go to school. She wished me good luck and we shook hands, saying goodbye. I got out of the car and continued hitchhiking to Iowa City.
Just for the hell of it, I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I’d gone on with that nice lady to Los Angeles instead of Iowa city and the university.
One thing I remember well about my time at the University of Iowa is that back then, in 1932, students like me who were Jewish were treated differently from the way other students were treatedboth by some of the other students and by some faculty and staff.. When I was interviewed at the university’s personnel office and was offered the dish washing job, the interviewer emphasized that the job was at a Jewish fraternity house and made a big point, intended as praise, telling me that I was “different from other New York Jews on campus.” I’m ashamed to say that I let that pass unchallenged when I knew the difference was only that I was from Buffalo, possibly the only student from that city at the western end of New York State, and did not speak with the interviewer’s conception of a downstate New York City/Brooklyn accent.A fraternity member where I washed dishes shared with me that he had a non-Jewish girlfriend on campus and they had to meet secretly because if her relationship with a Jew became known she would be expelled from her sorority and be shunned by her friends.A student who stopped his car every day to offer me a ride as I was walking to my dish washing job, and who was impressed when, in response to his questions, he learned that I was one of the quarterbacks on the university’s freshman football team, asked me to join his fraternity, at the same time making a derogatory remark about my washing dishes for those Jews at the Jewish fraternity house where he was dropping me off. When I, after a moment’s hesitation, let him know that “I’m Jewish,” he mumbled a brief apology, and from then on he looked the other way as he drove past me.
Then I was 19, now I’m 90. My University of Iowa experience took place so long ago that it’s difficult for me to characterize exactly what it was like. I didn’t quite fit in. I don’t think it was that I was Jewish, though I must say that up until then I had not been made aware of that difference as much as I was made aware of it then. But I think the main reason why I felt different was that I had worked in the Dupont factory. Back then factory workers and children of factory workers generally did not go to college. At that point in my life, having come directly from working at Dupont to the university, I thought of myself as a factory worker. (It was the right of World War two veterans to get a college education with tuition paid by the federal government that years later brought working class kids in full force onto college campuses.) In any case, the fact is that I did not make a single close friend at the University of Iowa that entire year. The closest to it that I did achieve was a warm relationship with Professor E.C. Mabie, chairman of the Theatre Department. I auditioned for him and was cast in the role of the German accented director in Once in a Lifetime, a play authored by Moss Hart and George Kaufman. (I had no idea then that a few years later I would act in New York in one of their plays and talk to Moss Hart.) I’m sure I was not a great actor in Once in a Lifetime, but I did well enough to attract the attention of the chairman of the department. Professor Mabie was a very friendly, somewhat overweight, easygoing gentleman who did his best to encourage me and the other actors. His favorite actor, who played the lead in a number of plays that year, was Richard Maibaum, an upper-class student, possibly a senior or post-graduate, who had a large physical build and a powerful deep voice. I guess I was jealous of the attention he got. He was the star of the Theatre Department, expected by everyone there, including himself and me, to be the student who would become a highly successful professional actor. A few years later I did see his name mentioned in a news column about Hollywoodas a screenwriter on some filmand that was the last I heard of him. The theatre and movie businesses are cruel that way to actors and writers.
What I remember of that year at the University of Iowa that now gives me some insight into why I did what I did in the future is that in my freshman composition class I wrote something that says a lot about what my father had hammered into my mind. I wrote that no matter what it is that any person attempts to do, he or she, with only one exception, is doomed to be a failurebecause only one person can be the best. Fortunately in the years ahead I learned how destructive that belief isit produces impotenceand I told my daughters, “You do as good as you can do, and that’s fine.” And then there was my experience with training in ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps), a requirement for all students because, I believe, this university got a land grant or something like that from the federal government. An army colonel was in charge of ROTC. I remember him being arrogant and insulting, much different from most of my fellow officers during World War Two. His idea about how to train us to be reserve army officers was to shout at us as if we were stupid idiots. When I had done close order drill as an usher at Shea’s Buffalo, I thought I did very well. But when I was marching in close order drill in the armory at the university, trying hard to be the best man at close order drill in our squad, the colonel apparently did not think my marching was up to his standard. Maybe I was trying too hard. He grabbed me by the shoulder, pulling me out of the formation and, accusing me of being out of step with the other men in our squad, literally screamed at me, “What are you, a communist?” “NO-O-O!” I exploded back to him, out of a deep sense of having been accused of something horrible. Thinking about that nowspecifically that only a few years later, when I had become a member of Actors Equity, the actors union, in New York City, I was recruited into the Communist Party by another actorthe change in my thinking in such a short period of time startles me.
How and why did this change really come about? Never mind the surface causes. What was it beneath those surface causes that made me stand fast when I was subpoenaed to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1954 and again in 1964, when I was labeled “the most dangerous man in Western New York,” blacklisted from 1956 to 1972, unable to hold onto jobs with a number of U.S. companies who had hired me, the FBI visiting those employers, getting them to fire me, punishing and pressuring me because I refused their demand, conveyed to me by a close friend, to publicly condemn my union which was accused of being communist-dominated, and refused to publicly repudiate my political beliefs and name names of “communists and communist sympathizers”a refusal which prompted that close friend, a prominent lawyer in Western New York, to become my active enemy who cooperated with the FBI to increase the punishment and pressure by getting all the middle and upper-middle class friends of my wife Rhoda and myself to cut off ever again being with usand later, as an officer of Studio Arena’s executive board, to block production of my plays and my appearance as an actor on the stage of Buffalo’s leading professional theatre.
Years later, in 1945, I recalled the screaming of the University of Iowa ROTC colonel after I drew a similar angry attack from the colonel in charge of a court martial proceeding in Korea. An article I wrote about it appeared in The Buffalo News on March 14, 2002. The point I made was its relevance to what might happen with the military tribunals President George W. Bush established by executive order following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack which destroyed the World Trade Center Twin Towers in lower Manhattan.
Because someone in the Advocate General’s office may have known I had been a militant union representative in civilian life, that office had appointed me Defending Officer for a private accused of raping a young Korean woman. I was an infantry second lieutenant and our battalion, with the 20th Infantry Regiment, was stationed in Pusan following the Japanese surrender ending World War Two.
A court martial board of officers had been appointed to decide the fate of the soldier whom Inot a lawyerhad been appointed to defend. Only one member of the board, another infantry second lieutenant whom I knew very well, was from our battalion. I first saw the accused, a white soldier probably in his early twenties, when he was brought into the room under armed guard, had no chance to speak to him, could only wonder if he was guilty as charged. A middle-aged Korean man, the first witness, pointed at the accused and, through a translator, stated that he was the father of the young woman who identified the accused as the soldier who had assaulted her. When the colonel indicated that the witness could return to his seat I stood up and said I’d like to question the witness.
“Lieutenant!” The colonel slapped his hand on the table and with a peremptory gesture ordered me to sit down.
Startled, I said, “Sir, I respectfully”
“Lieutenant!” the colonel literally screamed, his face flushing red as he leaned forward to glare at me as he pounded his fist on the table.
Frightened, I stood there, refusing to sit down. There was a moment of frozen silence. Then the colonel abruptly adjourned the hearing to the following morning. As my second lieutenant friend and I headed back to officers quarters, he passed on a warning from the colonel. “The General”that was General Hodge, commander of all U.S. armed forces in Korea“has sent down word that he wants a conviction.” The gist of the message from the colonel was that I’d better keep my mouth shut or I’d be in big trouble.
I immediately contacted the Advocate General’s Office, stating that since I was not being permitted to defend the accused I did not wish to participate any further in this court martial proceeding. The Advocate General’s Office rescinded my appointment as Defending Officer.
Since thenI’m glad to addthe rights of our accused soldiers have been much liberalized. But when I wrote the Buffalo News article, president George W. Bush had ordered that military tribunals may secretly convict and sentence non-citizens accused of terrorism, not allowing such non-citizens legal representation and other rights guaranteed to American citizens. I warned that if non-citizens were deprived of these rights, some politicians were certain to demonize U.S. citizensas I had been demonized during the Cold Warand, charging them with “obstructing the war against terrorists,” would try to take away from such U.S. citizens the rights taken away from non-citizens. And of course that is exactly what the George W. Bush administration then went on to do. Fortunately, unlike judges under Dictator Franco in Spain and Dictator Pinochet in Chile, some judges in our courts made strong, though not completely successful, efforts to resist this attempt to deprive such U.S. citizens of their legal rights.
Unfortunately at the University of Iowa I did not perform well enough as quarterback on the freshman football team to be asked to return the following year with continuation of the football scholarship providing free tuition. But even with free tuition I would not have been able to return because I did not have enough money left from what I’d earned at Dupont to pay for the dorm and other fees. My brother Dave, studying at Cornell University to become an architect, was being helped by my parents. They did not have the money to also help me. Since Dave was already into his second or third year I agreed that he should come first. While the people at the fraternity house told me I could come back the second year to wash dishes in return for my meals, the truth is that I did not have a strong desire to continue at the University of Iowa. It’s hard for me to explain why, but despite my acting role in “Once in a Lifetime” I felt out of place there, that I was getting nowhere with my life. Thinking about it now, I believe that if I had really wanted to continue at the University of Iowa, I would have picked up some kind of extracurricular job that would have enabled me to scrape together enough money for tuition and some place to stay. I also might have been able to get a student loan.
Now I’ll tell something I’ve never before revealed. One of my reasons for not doing well at the quarterback position is that I was nearsighted. I had difficulty accurately seeing players to whom I tried to throw the football. To see well off the football field I wore glasses. But back then we did not have contact lenses or special helmets for nearsighted football players. That’s my excuse. So far as the coaches were concerned I wasn’t good enough to be asked to come back. But that was not the end of my football career. A few years later I played freshman football again, illegally, at Canisius College, a Jesuit school in Buffalo, and quit school when the football season ended. It was a temporary interruption between appearances on New York’s Broadway and Off-Broadway stages. The Buffalo sports writers had fun with it, calling me “the matinee idol quarterback.”
But before getting to New York City as an actor, I returned to Buffalo from my freshman year at the University of Iowa and at age 20 got a job as a clerk at an A&P grocery store. Working there, frustrated and angry because I still yearned for a career as an actor, I responded to an item in the newspaper and was accepted to appear onstage as a non-speaking ‘extra” with a professional theatre company (known in the theatre business as a “a stock company”) who staged a series of play productions at Buffalo’s Teck Theatre on Main Street. There was no pay for my acting with them, except the experience, which was fine with me. That was so long ago that I don’t remember what plays I appeared in, but I do remember two members of the acting company: the leading man, Lawrence Fletcher, and the leading woman, Rosalind Russell. I got to talk quite a lot to Larry Fletcher since I was allowed to use his dressing room. He encouraged me to come to New York City, gave me his phone number and address there, and said he would give me information about whom to see and how “to make the rounds.” When I did get to New York City he did meet me one afternoon and gave me that information. Since he and Rosalind Russell had been a hot item back in Buffalo, I asked about her. He said she was fine. Period. I said to say hello. His relationship with her may have already ended. In the immediate years ahead he appeared in minor roles in several plays, never connected to rising movie star Rosalind Russelland then I never heard of him again. I learned later, from my own experience, that that’s not unusual with personal relationships in the theatre business.
Meanwhile I kept on working at the A&P store as an assistant to the head of the produce section. I remember that I was busily stacking the produce out in front of the store when I heard that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had ordered a national bank holiday to halt the run on the banks during the Big Depression. Back then the store, on Jefferson Avenue, was in the center of a white working class neighborhood. Years later the neighborhood became part of the black ghetto. I was promoted to head the produce section and did a very good job of figuring out ways to present the produce in an inviting manner, doing such things as wrapping bushel baskets with white wrapping paper to set off the fruit and vegetables. The man in charge of all A&P stores in the city, a genial Irishman, seemed to take a special interest in me, possibly because of my red hair, my Irish-looking mug, and my eager beaver approach to the work. Againthis time overhearing him talk to the manager about me and my future with A&PI heard that disturbing remark which I cowardly did not contradict but accepted as a compliment: “He’s different from the other Jews.” Subsequently he told me that I was going to be upgraded to the post of Assistant Supervisor in Charge of Produce for all their stores in the area. I was given the impressive title with the promise that sometime in the future there would be an increase in pay. And strange though it may seem now, back then I temporarily thought it was possible that moving up the ladder within the A&P organization might lead to a satisfying life.
I learned that that was not how my brother Maury felt. During those depression days he had lost his job as a bank teller and, though he tried, he had been unable to find work. While I was not being paid very much I did receive a paycheck every week and I gave him an allowance of, I think, about $3 a week. At that time I was still in charge of produce at the Jefferson Avenue store. My helper quit and I hired Maury to work with me. Each morning when the weather permitted we would place planks of wood across apple crates in front of the store and then we’d set out bushels and boxes of fruits and vegetables on this makeshift stand. At the end of the workday we’d take everything back into the store. When I think about the comic routine Maury created each time we did this, I still laugh. I was gung-ho as I’d enthusiastically lead him to the crates of oranges inside the store, saying, “Maury, let’s get out our oranges.” He’d stop me, putting his hand on my shoulder, and he’d dryly say, “Not ours.” He’d repeat this each time I led him to put out things like bags of potatoes or bushels of apples until finally I started beating him to the punch line. I’d say, “Let’s get out our crates of strawberries,” and before he could say anything, I’d say, “Not ours!” Fortunately Maury did not have to stay there very long. When our sister Gert got married he took over her job as bookkeeper at Star Ring Corporationand in a few years moved up the ladder to become the CEO in charge of the entire corporation.
As Assistant Supervisor in Charge of Produce, I was sent from one store to another throughout the entire area. My job at age 20 was to teach the store managers the proper way to display their fruits and vegetables and the best way to price them. I did not have the sense to be tactful in giving orders to men who were more than twice my age. Let’s put it bluntly: I was a miserable boss, arrogant in my belief that I knew more than the store managers, insulting in the way I ordered them around. Fortunately for my future, some store managers complained to my boss and after a few months I was bounced back to my previous job, handling produce at the Jefferson Avenue store.
Back then that demotion was hard to accept. The anger, the resentment, the frustration I felt led me to do what it took to put me back on course to develop my career as an actor. I came in early one morning, boiling inside about the state of my life as I started to set up the stand in front of the store. I brought out the apple crates and placed them on the sidewalk next to the plate glass store windows. I carried out a heavy plank of wood. But instead of carefully laying it down in place, I angrily tossed it at the tops of the crates. The heavy board bounced off the tops of the crates and noisily crashed through one of the large plate glass windows. I stormed into the store and met the manager as he rushed toward me.
Before he could say anything, I angrily shouted, “I quit!”
“You don’t quit!” he shouted back. “You’re fired!”
And that was how I escaped from my promising career with A&P.
Still living at home with my parents and brothers and sisters in our always crowded house, I was determined to get back on track to an acting career. I made no effort to find another job. Instead I somehow got a list of summer theatres, probably from the New York Times, and wrote to several who had advertised for apprentices. I cited my acting experience in Once in a Lifetime at the University of Iowa and my appearances with the stock company at the Teck Theatre, and also mentioned that I had performed in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Buffalo’s leading amateur community theatre, The Studio Theatre.
I don’t remember when I squeezed in that performance in the Shakespeare play. My brother Martin, through his connection with Buffalo State College, knew Jane Keeler who headed the Studio Theatre. He arranged for me to have an audition with her for a role in the Shakespeare play. She cast me as one of the crude workmen who performed to entertain the queen, and I thought I was extremely clever when, acting the part of the lion, I let my red hair grow so very long that I was able to use it as the lion’s mane.
The Studio Theatre subsequently became the Studio Arena Theatre, a professional theatre, a member of the League of Regional Theatres (LORT). Most of its actors are brought in from New York City, with some local actors occasionally used. Years laterafter I had acted On-Broadway and Off-Broadway and had several of my plays produced Off-Broadway in New York CityI would be blacklisted at Studio Arena: the chairman and vice chairman of its board of directors would be bitter opponents of mine because of my political and union activity, and its artistic director Neal Dubrock would apologetically tell me that no play of mine could be performed on its stage and I would never be permitted to act there. He was wrong. Recently, many years later, I did perform there.
A bottle tossed into the ocean, my letters to summer theatres, drew an offer of a non-paying apprenticeship, except for room and board, with The Rip Van Winkle Theatre in Haines Falls in the Catskills resort area, north of New York City. On a tattered page in my crumbling theatre scrapbook I am listed as assistant to the stage manager, but I did a lot more: helped build sets, worked with lighting and did kitchen duty. But I also was given the opportunity to act in several plays there.
What I still remember very well about this major step towards my acting career is the scene it prompted with my father the morning I was to leave home. Since I was going to hitchhike to Haines Falls, I was traveling light, having mailed my clothes and other things ahead. It was early in the morning, just beginning to get light outside. I’d said goodbye the night before to my father and mother and my brothers and sisters. I was in the kitchen, getting ready to leave. My father appeared, still in his long underwear.
“Why are you going?” he asked me, and before I could respond he said what since then I’ve often thought about, not only in connection with my acting career but also in connection with my career as a playwright. “Acting,” he said, trying hard to establish emotional contact when he must have known that by now there was little he could do to break down the wall that had developed between us and influence me. “Acting,” he said. “ is for rich men’s sons, not for you.”
“I’m going,” is all I said, quickly thinking that this was very late for him to be talking to me for the very first time about my choice for my future and also that my mother had probably pushed him to talk to me. “I’m going,” I said, flatly, and turned away and walked out of the houseto begin my hitchhiking trip to Haines Falls.
I remember my experience with The Rip Van Winkle Theatre with great fondness, probably because for the first time I was fully engaged in the theatrical life for which I’d always yearned. As part of launching my new life I adopted a stage name, derived from my first name, Emanuel. I broke that in half: Eman and uel, and then Eman became E. Man and that became Edward Mann, my stage name, with friends calling me Eddie Mann or “Red” Mannand that was the name I used from 1933 until I returned permanently to Buffalo in 1939 and rejoined my given name Emanuel “Manny” Fried, sticking with that from then on, even whenafter my years as a union organizerI returned to acting and also playwriting.
Years later, as a union organizer, I was in charge of a strike of Columbus McKinnon Chain Company workers in Tonawanda and North Tonawanda, the twin industrial cities just north of Buffalo. The publisher of the Tonawanda News, Mrs. Hewitt, sent me a message that she was going to drive “the outside agitator from Buffalo” out of town. She had a reporter write a list of “embarrassing questions” that strikers should ask Manny Fried. “Will he deny that for years he used a name entirely different from the one he uses now?” I publicly replied, telling about my acting career and my stage name, Edward Mann. This response actually helped me gain greater acceptance in the Tonawandas. The reporter who, on orders from Mrs. Hewitt, had urged the strikers to question me was so disturbed when he read my response that he quit his job with the Tonawanda News, apologized to me, and shortly after that he went to work for a Buffalo newspaper. He and his wife invited me and my wife to dinner at their house. We became friends. Incidentally, Mrs. Hewitt’s son Charleshe’d been a foreign correspondent in Europe for some news service and had become my brother Gerry’s bridge partnerdropped in unexpectedly at the Gates Circle apartment where I was living with my wife Rhoda and daughter Lorrie (before my other daughter Mindy was born). He said he disagreed with his mother, approved of what I was doing. Then his mother died and he inherited the newspaper. But very shortly after that it was reported that, while standing with his wife on a cliff overlooking the sandy beach of Lake Erie far below, Charles Hewitt slipped and fell to his death. His wife became the publisher of the newspaper and she continued her mother-in-law’s effort to drive out of town “that outside agitator from Buffalo.”
It was the summer of 1933 and I was still only twenty years oldthat’s so long agowhen I got my chance to act in several plays with the Rip Van Winkle Players, advertised as “A Company of New York Actors.” I had minor roles in The Gold Watch, Latchstrings, Co-operative Husband and Ten Nights in a Barroom. I’m not aware that I learned much about the craft of acting there, except what I might have unconsciously imbibed from performing with other actors before an audience. But most of the actors there seemed to be primarily concerned only with remembering their lines.
Thinking back, I must have been a very naïve young man then, fascinated as I was by what I was experiencing there. Two plays were being tried out with the thought of possibly being taken into New York. The Gold Watch was a Hungarian play that had been translated into English by R.C. Sherriff, author of a hit war play Journey’s End. All I remember of The Gold Watch is that the central character was the watch and how it played a role in different people’s lives. Even unschooled as I was about playwriting back then, I thought it was essentially flat and lacking in getting anyone to deeply care about what was happening. The other play being tried out was Latchstrings, written by the producer and the woman who directed that play. What fascinated naïve me who, as yet, had little experience with the complicated relationships that develop with adult life, complications maybe more evident between people involved in the arts, was the triangle thatI sensedinvolved the producer and his aging musical comedy actress wife and the woman with whom he had collaborated in writing the play, which seemed to embody something of their experience. All three seemed to be comfortable with their apparent triangular relationship, and thatsomething new to my experienceis one thing I remember very well about that summer. But I also warmly remember the producer’s older brother, Harry Chapman Ford. He had directed plays for David Belasco, the theatre producer who believed in using the real thing on stage. Harry and I got along well, and he told me a lot of theatre anecdotes, including how Belasco had him bring over Arabs and their horses for “the desert play” and the wonderful time he had when he went back to visit the Arabian riders who had been paid enough by Belasco to enable them to go home and live without working the rest of their lives. Listening to him, I had no idea that a only few years later I’d be performing onstage in the Belasco Theatre.
While at that time, working with the Rip Van Winkle Theatre, I truly loved what I was learning about life, my mind was not in the slightest way concerned with what was happening with politics and unions. To be recognized as an actorand hopefully as a playwrightwas the all-consuming goal to which I dedicated all my thoughts.
Yet currently, when I talked to an actress friend about this, she disagreed. “Seeking approval,” she said, “was your goalto get the applause you needed because you were the seventh of nine children, quickly replaced by your two younger brothers, quickly ignored, lost in the crowd.”
But I think it’s more complicated than that, and I’m trying to dig out what it really is, why I’ve made the choices that led to my becoming the person who went on to do what I did.
When I became a union organizer and was writing a story a week for The Union Leader, the Buffalo CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) newspaper, Angus Cameronhe had been a senior editor with publisher Little Brown and was starting his own book clubasked me to write a novel about my experience, always keeping in mind the following: “What is really happening here and why?”That question, written on a 3 x 5 index card many years ago, now yellowed and scratched, is still pasted above where I write.
“What was really happening?and why?from the time I left Buffalo in 1933, wanting to become an actor on New York City’s Broadway stages, to the time in 1939 when I returned to Buffalo and two years later, in 1941, chose to become an organizer for a union accused of being communist-dominated?”
In those years between 1933 and 1939 I was politicized, becoming a member of the Communist Party. Prior to that, though my fathera hangover from his early work in a cigar making factoryspoke of himself as being pro-labor and a follower of Socialist Labor Party founder Daniel DeLeon, I don’t remember him engaging in any overt political activity. I don’t remember the name of Karl Marx or the Communist Party ever being mentioned in our house. My father often did say we were a “pro-labor socialist family.” But that never meant anything to me except that we were favorable to labor, without any clear understanding as to exactly what that meant. Nor do I remember ever seeing a political pamphlet or political book or political newspaper in our home. All of us children were readers, taking many books out of the public library, but I was never aware of any social or political content they might have contained.
My younger brother Joel did develop into a lifelong member of the Socialist Labor Party, becoming part of the family of that party’s local leader, marrying his daughter, dropping out of our Fried family so completely that he changed his name to J. Brenn Morgan, taking the name of a noted anthropologist who specialized in the study of Native American culture. It wasn’t until many decades later, at a Fried family reunion in the summer of 2000, that the Morgan family came together again with the Fried family.
But I don’t yet understandon a deep levelwhy I turned to theatre and later became a union leader. David Caro, author of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, says that the compulsion driving LBJ was that he had to be somebodyto stand out from the crowd. That’s what my actress friend said about me. It’s true that wanting to become somebody and stand out from the crowd was a strong part of whatever was driving me. From the time I read Eugene O’Neill’s plays in high school I yearned to become a playwright like him and get the recognition he was getting, and from the time I played a character in a reading of one of his plays in high school I wanted to become a professional actor who would get the kind of attention that movie stars were getting.
But even before that I decided I did not want to become a businessman, in part because of my experience working in our family’s mom-and-pop dry goods store and in part possibly because of many anti-Semitic remarks I heard, accusing Jews of being obsessed with making money and cheating people to make money. Strongly affecting me, I still vividly remember the scene that I, a young boy, witnessed in our family’s mom-and-pop dry goods store, a scene I recently included in an article I wrote for The Buffalo News.
Again I see the frightened red-haired grammar school boy I was, helplessly listening to a heavyset woman screaming at my father, calling him a dirty Jew, ignoring his anguished denials as she accuses him of stealing her purse. People crowd into the store. Two policemen arrive. The woman demands that they arrest my father. She describes in detail exactly how she placed her purse down on the counter and when she looked away ‘the dirty Jew’ grabbed her purse and hid it from her. My mother pleads with the policemen: my father is an honest man; he would never steal a penny.
The red-haired boy’s throat is clogged as he watches his mother fighting back her tears and his father desperately denying the woman’s screaming accusations.
At last the manager of the A&P grocery store pushes his way into the store, holding high a purse that was left on the counter in his place across the street. The woman angrily grabs the purse and runs out of the store.
I arrived in New York City, still a very naïve twenty-year old, with only a few dollars in my pocket. Fortunately, I was able to stay with the family of my father’s brother in Brooklyn until I got my first acting job. I don’t remember ever having met my uncle before that. He spoke only Yiddish, which I did not understand. When he talked about me to his sons, my cousins, who were older than me and whom I’d also never met before, I could tellfrom the way in which they, with embarrassment, gave revised translations of what he had saidthat he didn’t think very highly of my ambition to become an actor.
They did not seem to disagree with him, and as long as I lived with their family I felt as if I was mired in the same discouraging atmosphere my father had laid on me when I was leaving home in Buffalo.
But all that was about to change. In the immediate years aheadthrough the plays I would appear in and through the life I would lead as I tried to achieve my ambition as an actormy growing belief in the hidden class nature of our society, along with developments in my personal relationships, would so change my thinking that I would make the choice which turned me away from striving to achieve that ambition as an actor, choosing instead a role in life that my uncle and my cousins would find even less to their liking a committed Left-oriented union organizer.
Fortunately, my red hair shortened my stay with my uncle’s family. Because of it, I got picked to play a sailor in the road company of Sailor Beware, the color of my hair setting me apart from the rest of the young sailors in the cast. Completely devoid of any serious social content, the play had been a fluke hit on Broadway. The week before it opened, the producers were so sure the play would be a flop that they offered to sell the production to any buyer for $5000. There were no takers. The play centered around a bet on whether the leading man, a sailor with a reputation for getting young ladies into bed, could succeed in doing that with the leading lady, a bar girl known for her cool resistance to all attempts to board her. I was part of the comedy relief, a much too serious young sailor who will not go near the bar girls because “I’m promised to a girl back home.”
On November 13, 1933 our road company of Sailor Beware opened at the Hanna Theatre in Cleveland, then moved on to open November 19, 1933 at the Selwyn Theatre in Chicago. In both cities the critics’ reviews of the play were not great, most probably because there wasn’t much in the play to wax great about. But living out of a trunk in a room in a cheap hotel in both cities and getting my first deep taste of raunchy bohemian life late at night after performances in Chicagoit was a fascinating experience for the naïve twenty-year old kid I was. As yet there was no hint in my mind of the dedicated labor and political activist I was to become. I drank in the experience, relishing every bit of it, including several unexpected sexual adventures. At age twenty it was exhilarating to feel that I was breaking free from what I thought was my humdrum and oh so very uninteresting and ordinary life.
In the Creative Writing: Narrative classes I started teaching at Buffalo State College in 1972, I would ask my students: “What are the two of the most important things that determine the direction of people’s lives?” In response I got all kinds of answers with only a few students coming close to what I had in mind.
“Money and sex!” I’d finally blurt out. “Money and sex! Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud!” This usually prompted heated discussion, some students agreeing, others disagreeing.
The role that lack of money played in much of my early life is clearly there for me to explore. The role that sex played from early on in my life is something I still have difficulty digging out and dealing with in its naked and at times embarrassing truth. But if I don’t dare to risk probing into that I will be leaving out what may bewhat undoubtedly isan important part of what’s determined the direction of my life, what has profoundly affected the choices I’ve made when the candle in the wind confronted me with situations where I had to make a choice.
I must have been about eight or nine years old when, rigid with fear, I lay awake night after night, waiting to hear the suppressed crying sounds of my mother who was in bed with my father. Three double beds were squeezed together in a large room above the Genesee Street store. With one of my brothers, I was in one bed. Two more brothers were in the second bed. My mother and father were in the third bed. I don’t remember how many nights of fearful listening it took before I realized what was happening. But that they were engaged in something sexual did not alleviate the rigid terror with which I waited night after night to hear those frightening sounds my mother made. I thought my father was hurting my mother.
When I was fourteen or fifteen and, after working late into the night at the Ford Hotel, I came home to a silent house, undressed and went to bedthis is hard for me to think aboutI was the target of “sexual abuse.” Feigning sleep, I vigorously repulsed the attempt. Night after night after that, frozen in terror, I’d lie stiffly in bed, waiting, gearing myself up to resist. Needing to escape from that, I told the rest of the family that I wanted more room to stretch out. I retreated to the living room above the store and slept on the couch there, fully dressed, until over a year later our family moved away from the store into a house where I slept alone on a folding cot in the enclosed rear sun porch,
Earlier, something happened that became entangled in a peculiar way in my mind with sex. A bloodied rat, terrified, was cornered in our yard inside a circle of adults and kidsI was one of the kidsall armed with brooms, shovels and sticks, hitting the terrified animal again and again as it frantically darted back and forth, becoming a bloody mess as it tried to escape, finally scooting out of the circle to disappear under the house. I don’t remember if I physically participated in bloodying that rat. I hope not. But years later, at times when I had sexual difficulty, that scenethe bloodying of that ratcame clearly into my mind, its terror connecting with the terror of those nights I listened to hear what my father was doing to my mother and those nights that I tensely waited, gearing up to repel a possible repeat of the attempt to sexually use me.
I mention these experiences now because my struggle with themthough relatively successfuldid affect my sexual life. And my sexual life did strongly influence the choices I made in connection with my involvement in theatre and union and politics.
Reluctantly I admit that at the outset my sexual relations with the opposite sex were definitely in no way connected with love and affection. My first experience with sexual intercourse was a tawdry one in a cheap whorehouse in Niagara Falls. I was in my early teens, still too young to drive. A group of us teenagers, boys and girls, had been at a party at the home of one of the girls. We, the boys, thought of the girls as “nice girls.” One of the boys, Stewie, had borrowed a big limousine from his uncle who owned and operated The Palace, Buffalo’s only burlesque theatre. We, the boys, kissed and fondled the “nice girls” in the car as we drove to the whorehouse. The “nice girls” waited in the car, parked in front of the whorehouse, until we, the boys, returned. Not a word was spoken about what had happened in the whorehouse. What we, the boys, had done in the whorehouse was something done with “bad girls,” something at that point in my life I did not do with “nice girls”something I did not associate in any way with love and affection. It actually had been a cold and somewhat mechanical act ending with orgasm as quickly as it began. Yet, as some glimmer of a change about to develop in my thinking, it was about this time that I wrote my play about a teenager discovering that the prostitutes he met while working at the Ford Hotel were human beings like other people.
I would for the first time in my life – a few years after my appearance in the road company of Sailor Bewarebecome seriously involved sexually, along with being intensely in love, with a young woman who was the granddaughter of a former governor of the state of New Jersey. The relationship with Dolly was another instance of the candle in the wind. It resulted in a choice to be made, a choice I did make, a choice that contributed to changing the entire direction of my life. It was then, when I discovered sexual intercourse as an expression of love, that I also struggled with that terrified bloodied rat bursting into bloom in my head. Add to it that at that time I was already a member of the Communist Party. And I’m still searching, probing, to dig out how all that affected what happened with Dollybecause I’m quite certain it did.
It was a few years before that change in my outlook on sex and politics that, on my way to the hotel in Cleveland after a performance of Sailor Beware, I was approached by a young womanbut somewhat older than my twenty yearswho asked me where Euclid Avenue was. We were standing on Euclid Avenue, the city’s main street. Without answering, I took her by the arm and she willingly went with me to the hotel and spent the night with me. Next morning she said she wanted to go to Chicago with me. I said, “No,” and she readily accepted that. Thinking about it later, I wondered if she was a prostitute who had decided to forego charging the young redheaded actor her usual fee.
But my experience with Mona Lita in Chicago was different. Mona Lita was much older than me and told me several times, “Don’t you fall in love with me.” We met at the cheap hotel where we both were staying. One of the other “Sailor Beware” actors, Byron Shores, who had struck up a conversation with Mona Lita in the hotel’s coffee shop, introduced me to her. She was also a performer, a stripper, billed as “Mona Lita in the Dance of the Seven Veils,” doing her act in Chicago’s nightclubs.A few years later, when I was performing in Having Wonderful Time on Broadway, I learned that Mona Lita was being featured by famed burlesque producer Minsky in a theatre just a few blocks away. The show was titled something like Burlesque Comes to Broadway, and it consisted of a series of burlesque acts topped by “Mona Lita in the Dance of the Seven Veils.” In Chicago Mona Lita fulfilled for me what I’ve read is many a young man’s fantasy: an older woman, experienced in matters of sex, seducing the young man and educating him. She seemed to enjoy, to get a real kick, laughing out loud, having fun, teaching different positions in bed to this naïve redheaded twenty year old, to whom all this was an unexpected and delightful surprise dropped out of the sky. “But don’t you fall in love with me.”To fall in love with her never occurred to me.
For some reason I still can’t explain, Mona Lita preferred that we be together in my hotel room rather than hers. This led to a scene that demonstrates that at that time I still separated “good girls” from women with whom I had sexual relations. Laurasadly, I can’t remember her real namewas the daughter of one of the stagehands at the Selwyn Theatre. She was about my age, maybe a little younger. We became sort of pals, doing things together before or after the evening performances, like seeing a movie, having a soda, walking along the lake shoreand in a very platonic way we held hands, briefly kissed and hugged. One morning she surprised me by dropping in to see me at the hotel. We were sitting in my room, talking, when there was a knock on the door. I asked who it was. Mona Lita answered. I hid Laura in the bathroom, standing in the tub, the shower curtain drawn to conceal her. I opened the door and Mona Lita came in. I told her I was just getting ready to leave, and we left together. When I came back to the room a little later, “good girl” Laura, curious, pressed me to tell her all about what was happening between me and “bad girl” Mona Lita, which I didand Laura acted as if she thought it was amusing. Our relationship remained platonic until a few years later when she phoned me in New York City and said she was nearby visiting her aunt and uncle. She asked me to come over to their apartment. I went there, and on the floor of the rear stairwell outside her aunt and uncle’s apartment, saying goodbye, we went beyond platonic.Skip ahead to 1945. On leave from my job as an organizer with the UE union, I was in Chicago again, this time wearing a second lieutenant’s uniform, on my way to the West Coast to ship out to join the 20th Infantry Regiment of the Sixth Division in Korealeaving behind in Buffalo my wife Rhoda and my three-year old daughter Lorrie. I called the headquarters of the stagehands union, got the phone number of Laura’s father and, from him, Laura’s phone number. Phoned her to say hello. She wanted to see me right away, would come to meet me, cried bitterly, said she’s in a lousy marriage, wants to leave her husband, wants to be with me. Her crying got to me, but I had to tell her that I was married and had a child and it was best for us not to meet, that I’d be leaving in a few hours to take a plane to the West Coast and then on to Korea. She cried, said she still wanted to come and meet me. I felt lousy about it, but I told her it would not be good and I had to go. Said goodbye. And hung up the phone. Since then I’ve thought of Laura at different times, especially when there was difficulty in my marriage. But we never saw each other or spoke to each other again.And adding to my feeling of sadness about her, while I can still vaguely remember her face (as it was back then over a half century ago) I still can’t recall her real name.
The negative notices that the Chicago critics gave Sailor Beware prompted the producers, after a run of a few weeks, to close the show, dropping previous plans to take it to other cities.
Back in “the City” I made the rounds of offices of agents and producers. Because of my red hair, producer George Abbott had me read for a major role in Brother Rat, a play requiring a cast of a few young men. I might have looked the part, but at that point I lacked any formal training as an actor, and the small amount of acting I’d done had not yet prepared me for a major role. I remember how nervous I was and how my cheeks flamed hot as I read for the role in the presence of George Abbott. Then actor Garson Kanin read for the part and got it, dyeing his hair red for the role. Kanin went on to become an assistant to Abbott and then a successful playwright and screenwriter.
Kanin subsequently married Ruth Gordon who starred in The Theatre Guild production of John Wexley’s play They Shall not Die. That play realistically portrayed what had happened to the Scottsboro Boys, several young black boys who had been framed, falsely found guilty of raping two white girls, and had been given harsh jail sentences. I played a non-speaking role in that production and I learned a great deal from appearing in it, especially from all the discussion it prompted, not so much about acting, but about discrimination against blacks in the South and also the disputed role of members of the Communist Party in fighting against that discrimination.
While I had flubbed that chance with George Abbott, my red hair still helped me get work in other shows, including the non-speaking role in They Shall Not Die. What may have helped me get cast in those productions might have been something more than just the red hair, maybe something added by the different jobs I had hadan indefinable something that working at the Dupont factory and at the Ford hotel and at the A&P and other places somehow subtly reflected itself in my overall appearance and personality. Whatever it was, I found myself getting cast in plays that dealt with working people and/or plays with a radical pro-labor theme and/or plays with a politically leftist point of view. Such plays were not uncommon during that period of the Big Depression in the Thirties.
I believe that acting in those plays contributed greatly to educating me politically, moving my thinking to the left. I drank in the information, new to me, about the “reality underlying our society”my introduction to the idea of class conflictthat I got from the plays themselves and also from talking with the other actors, some of whom were members of the Communist Party and whom I readily recognized as being much more knowledgeable than I was about the make-up of our society.
There was no question in my mind, probably because of my work history, about whose side I was on. But because I was raised in a family whose income came primarily from our mom-and-pop dry goods store, I thought of myself as lower middle class and, much as I might wish it otherwise, not really working class.
This was especially true of my thinking when I became a member of the left-oriented Theatre of Action. Only years later, long after that group had disintegrated, did I figure out that, despite my family’s mom-and-pop dry goods store, I had been the only actor in that theatre company who had worked in a factory, the only actor who personally had a substantial “working class” job history of his own.
With the exception of Perry Bruskinwe’re still in close touch with each otherwhose father, if I recall correctly, was a union man working in a bakery, most members of the Theatre of Action were university graduates, some from wealthy families, who, generally prompted by reports they had read and heard about the Soviet Union establishing a worker-controlled government following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, had intellectually arrived at their radical beliefs and their commitment to the working class.
For me, at that point in my life, drinking in this information from my fellow actors and actresses who were better educated, better read, more knowledgeable and politically wiser than the ignorant and unsophisticated person I was, helped to dispel a feeling of emptiness and “no point to life” which had intermittently plagued me from the time I was a teenager and, on occasion, had made me think about killing myself. Despite the Big Depression, there was hope. There could be “a point to life.” These actors, I believed, I truly believed, were working to make life better for working people, for poor people, for white and black poor people. And this, like a magnet, drew me forcefully to themto the left.
When I had been hired for the road company of Sailor Beware I became a member of Actors Equity Association, the actors’ union. Attending the union’s meetings, I became aware of a schism between the left and the right, with the old guard part of the right. They dominated the union’s executive board and were quick to red-bait any actors who proposed that the union take a stand on issues not narrowly confined to only actors’ economic concerns. Supporting Dictator Franco because “he’s fighting the communists,” the old guard were especially adamant in their opposition to any attempt to put the union on record in support of the loyalists who had been elected in Spain. But even on actors’ economic issues the old guard generally supported the viewpoint of the producers rather than the actors.
It was only years laterwhen I, as an organizer for the UE union, was personally involved in trench warfare between left and right in the labor movementthat I realized that many of the old guard right-wingers in Actors Equity might have been part of a Catholic caucus, like the ACTU (Association of Catholic Trade Unionists) caucus that operated inside our UE local unions in the Fifties and finally, with the help of FBI and other government agencies, succeeded in splitting away a large part of our membership to form a rabidly anti-communist rival.
Our national union convention, supporting Henry Wallace’s opposition to a Cold War with the Soviet bloc, had endorsed him, not Harry Truman, for president. This prompted the Truman administration to do its best to destroy our union, enlisting the help of some “labor priests” to pressure AFL and CIO union leaders to launch a continuous series of raids against our UE local unions all across the country,
Years later, in 1976, when NEA (National Endowment on the Arts) decided to fund a pilot program to involve workers in the arts, Buffalo was one four cities selected. The announced intention was to involve union members and their families in the arts by getting them to attend professional play productions. I received a phone call from Jack Golodner, head of the national union of professional employees, who had just arrived from Washington and had an appointment to meet with Jim Kane, the president of the Buffalo AFL-CIO Council, to select the person who would be in charge of the new NEA program in the area. Golodner told me he was going to recommend that they support a production of my play The Dodo Bird. But he phoned me again several hours later, his voice reflecting dismay as he reported that a Catholic priestJames Healy, the so-called “labor priest” who had openly led a successful campaign to drive me out of my leadership position in the area’s labor movement about twenty years earlierhad been brought into the meeting by Kane, and the priest took over, saying the new NEA program was too important to be under the control of anyone but the Catholic Church and he’d appoint the person to be in charge.
To nominally head the new NEA program, Father Healy named Bob Jarnot, an English teacher at South Park High School and, I assume, a devout Catholic. I got to know Bob fairly well. He was a good guy, meant well and tried hard. But the program failed to get workers involved because the play productions they were asked to attend at Buffalo’s Studio Arena theatrewhich then catered to a very conservative audiencedid not appeal to working people. There was more excitement for them at the corner gin-mill. Bob, anxious to save the program and his job with it, finally joined me in an unsuccessful effort to get The Studio Arena to do a production of my play The Dodo Bird. NEA then cut out funding for the program, which resulted in Bob going back to teach at South Park High School. I credit him for sincerely trying to make the program work.
Father Healy was the chaplain for the St. Joseph Guild, the Buffalo ACTU unit, which he organized early in the Fiftiessetting up Catholic caucuses within a wide range of local unions, not only our UE unionswith the publicly stated purpose of driving the communists out of the labor movement. He used these ACTU caucuses to try to take over control of the all the local unions in the area.
When our union was involved in a strike at the Richardson Boat Company in Tonawanda, the St. Joseph Guild officer whom Healy got named to head the State Mediation Service in the area deliberately helped to prolong the strikerefusing to set up a mediation sessionin order to help the employer and the ACTU caucus succeed in getting the striking workers to abandon our union.
At about the same time Father Healy had another of his St. Josephs Guild membersClarence Lamotte, a former business agent for the Machinists Union whom he helped to become a conciliator with the U.S. Conciliation Servicetry to extend our strike at the Blaw-Knox plant to the point where our members there would also turn against our union. The government conciliator kept telling me that he had asked the company to meet with us but that they still refused to talk to us. He repeated this even when, with the company manager sitting beside me and listening on a phone extension, I phoned from the company’s conference roomimmediately after we had already reached agreement settling the strikeand I asked the conciliator if he’d please ask the company again to meet with us. He said he had just spoken to the company manager again and the company still refused to meet with us. I then informed him that we were sitting with the company manager and we had just settled the strikeand I hung up the phone.
Father Healy then got himself appointed by the governor to head up the Mediation Service for all of New York State and he tried to get control of some big downstate unions by using the same tactics his ACTU people had used against our UE local unions. But the leaders of the downstate unions he tried to take over had more political clout than we in UE had and were essentially conservatives who could not be easily labeled communists. They complained to their representatives in the state legislature, telling them what Healy was doing. The governor withdrew Healy’s appointment to head the New York State Mediation Service, a polite way to fire him.
Sometime during this period Father Healy announced he was organizing a tour group to visit Italy. My brother Martin signed on with the group, taking advantage of the cheap fare to visit the Italian friends he’d made while he’d headed the Buffalo State College’s program in Sienna. Healy knew Martin was my brother and apparently felt the need to explain why he was so openly attacking me and trying to drive me out of the labor movement.
“The majority of the union members your brother Manny represents are Catholic.”This was true of our local unions in the area.“I’m not opposed to Manny because he’s Jewish,” he went on. “But he’s not Catholic. We should have a Catholic organizer representing our Catholic union members in there.”
To avoid unpleasantness during the rest of the trip, my brother told me he chose not to argue.
I think it was an actor in the rank-and-file group challenging the old guard in Actors Equity who asked me to join the Communist Party. .
To be honest about it, I did think at that time that it would be best for my career as an actorhelp me get acting jobs with the left-oriented theatre groupsif I said yes when I was asked to join the Party. Later, not too many years later, I like to think that by the time I became a union organizer I had become truly prompted by my concern for other people, with primary concern for working people, for the poor, for needful minorities, etcrather than by concern for advancing my own selfish interest.
My red hair, I think, continued to give me an advantage in the Broadway competition for acting jobs, because it was very shortly after the Chicago closing of Sailor Beware and my return to New York that I got the non-speaking role in John Wexley’s They Shall Not Die, the play about the Scottsboro Boys presented by The Theatre Guild. I’ve mentioned how educational it was for me to be involved in that play, whichone week before my March 1, 1934 twenty-first birthdayopened to mixed reviews.
This was before I became a member of Theatre of Action and I was still essentially untrained as an actor and did not have enough money to pay to attend acting classes. Somehow I learned that Mary Tarcai, who later became a highly respected acting teacher with her own studio classes, was putting together a choral recitation and dance group to give a performancea fund-raiser for The New Theatre Leagueat the Civic Repertory Theatre on 14th Street. I believe the idea for establishing the New Theatre League came from the Communist Party, with the intention to encourage formation of worker-oriented theatre companies around the country.
Mary Tarcai accepted me into the group and we performed to benefit The New Theatre League. I remember very well another young actor in the group, also in his early twenties, who went on to become one of the biggest film stars in Hollywood: Charlton Heston, the president and ardent spokesperson for the National Rifle Association.
We performedwith intense choral recitation and modern dance thrusts from the pelvisa performance piece derived from Johnny Got His Gun, the powerful anti-war novel written by Dalton Trumbo. All of us, including Charlton Heston, rhythmically pounded out the words, our fists clenched as we energetically thrust our bodies forward with intense movements stemming from the pelvis: “Johnny got his gun, got his gun, got his gun/ Got it on the run, on the run, on the run/ Johnee-ee-ee!/ Johnee-ee-ee!/ Johnny got his gun, got his gun, got his gun . . . ” It was a strong attack against the use of guns, in which Charlton Heston, now president of the National Rifle Association, ardently joined. But that was almost 70 years ago, and we all do change over time.
Incidentally, Charlton Heston recently announced his 79th birthday. But I myself am now 90, and if Charlton Heston is now 79, he would have been about 10 or 11 years old up on the stage of the Civic Repertory Theatre with the rest of us in our early twenties whenwhile energetically thrusting his pelvis forward and backwardhe belted out, “Johnny got his gun/ got his gun/ got his gun . . .” Well, I don’t blame a Hollywood actor for shaving a few years off his age.
I had come to New York in 1933 determined to devote my whole life to becoming a star of stage and screen, ready to make whatever personal sacrifice was necessary to achieve that goal. Yet in 1939 I walked away from that, returning to Buffalo to become artistic director of The Buffalo Contemporary Theatre, one of the worker-oriented theatres associated with The New Theatre League.
Examining my life to get at the truth, the deep truthnot the easy surfaceas to why I did that, I keep reminding myself that it couldn’t be just the candle in the wind. I made choicesdifficult choices – conscious and unconscious – resulting in tumultuous changes in the whole direction of my life.What role did money play?What role did sex play?What role did something other than money and sex play?
It’s easy to see how acting in several productions presented at the Civic Repertory Theatre by the Theatre Union may have contributed to moving me in that direction, where I chose to become artistic director of a worker-oriented theatre. While I did not have specific knowledge about who had gotten together to launch the Theatre Union, I vaguely understood that the intent of the Theatre Union was to educate a trade union audience with plays that dealt in a somewhat progressive/radical way with social problems. As an actor in several of their productions, I did become aware of political tensions up there on top, reflected in disputes about which plays to do and what political/militant actions should be taken by characters in the plays that were produced.
That the plays were intended for labor audiences did strongly interest me, but truthfully when I was cast in Sailors of Catarro my main concern had been to get a job as an actor. However, by the time I was cast to perform there in Bitterstream, I was beginning to think differently.
If I recall correctly, Sailors of Catarro is set in the time of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and it involves an unsuccessful uprising by some sailors in their navy who objected to the way that the Soviet ruling structure had been established. Again, if I recall correctly, the other play, Bitterstream, was a dramatization of Ignazio Silone’s novel Fontamara, adapted for the stage by Victor Wolfson, brother of actor Martin Wolfson whom I knew well; it was about the unsuccessful revolt of the farmers of Fontamara in Italy.
There was talk among the actors about there being differences within the Theatre Union’s governing board concerning these two plays and even more so concerning Black Pit whichagain if I recall correctlywas a play dealing with a wildcat strike of coal miners in our own country and was subsequently made into a movie starring Paul Muni.
I was not knowledgeable enough then to be aware of the complicated reasons for the tug-of-war taking place within the theatre’s board of directors, which included representatives of the Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party. After a few years of the Theatre Union’s existence this contention, I was told, led to theatre’s demise.
However, even after I became deeply involved in union and politics and was aware of differences “up there” between them, I deliberately ignoredoften joked aboutadmonitions from “up there” in the Communist Party that I should not have anything to do with members of the Socialist Workers Party: “Trotskyites.”
In the Buffalo area the so-called “Trotskyites” had splintered into opposing groups. It was possible to work with some of them, lending support to one another in strikes and other matters of that kind. However, even though now I’m again a professional actor and also I’m a playwright with a number of plays produced and, since 1972, I’ve been a college professor, I’m told thatthough I’ve not been a member of the CP for over half a centurythere is a retired union organizer/lawyer, Manny Tabachnik, associated with a small political group in Buffalo that splintered off the Socialist Workers Party, who still bad-mouths me behind my back, saying about me, “Once a Stalinist always a Stalinist.” Maybe that’s because I refuse to ape him in demonizing those who might be members of the Communist Party.
Does it bother me that he does this? Yes, it does, though when I’m told about it I laugh and dismiss it as stupid bullshit. I had no connection with Stalin. Didn’t defend him or attack him. He was someone “up there and far away” with whom I had no close connection. As an actor and communist in the Thirties, and as a union organizer and communist in the years immediately after that, I dedicated myself to improving the lives of the working people with whom I was in direct contact.
Sometime in the mid-Nineties I received a phone call from a friend, LouJean Fleron, who headed Cornell University’s Buffalo Labor Studies program, and she told me that two men, who were scheduled to speak at a seminar about the Bell Aircraft strike which had taken place back in the Fifties, said that they would promote a boycott of the seminar by survivors of those striking workers if Ias had been announcedwas to be one of the speakers.
“One is supposed to be a good friend of yours, “ she said. “You’ll never guess.”
I was not able to guess. She told me he was Manny Tabachnik. That surprised me because whenever I ran into Manny Tabachnik he always flashed a big smile and vigorously shook my hand. LouJean told me the second man was Don Slaiman who had just “retired” from the chairmanship of the national AFL-CIO Civil Rights Committee in Washington. I knew that newly elected AFL-CIO president John Sweeney had cleaned house, getting rid of the Shachtmanite clique whom the two former AFL-CIO presidents, Meany and Kirkland, had used as advisers.
I prepared for the humiliating blow, expecting that LouJean had called to gently take back the invitation for me to speak at the seminar. This especially bothered me since I assumed LouJean knew that Manny Tabachnik and Don Slaiman were followers of Max Shachtman, formerly the secretary to Leon Trotsky who had broken with Lenin and Stalin, and that they and other Shachtmanites, who had been colonized into Buffalo, had helped the FBI undermine our UE union and the Mine and Smelter Union back in the Forties and especially in the Fifties during the McCarthy Periodwith their activity tied into the FBI’s operation that set up “ultra-revolutionary” political groups to attack the left from “further left.”
But I felt better when LouJean Fleron told me that she and UAW Regional Director Tom Fricanothe seminar was sponsored by UAW and Cornell Universityhad no intention to withdraw the invitation for me to speak. They just wanted me to know what was going on.
A few days later I received a phone call from Frank St. George who had been one of the leaders of the striking workers at the Bell Aircraft plant.. What he told me made me feel good. Tabachnik and Slaiman had contacted him and several other men who had been involved in the strike, urging that they refuse to participate in the seminar if I was to speak. Frank said he reminded them that I had brought over about a thousand of our UE union members to reinforce their UAW picket lines. He said he told them that if I were not permitted to speak, he and the other surviving workers from that strike would not participate in the seminar.
When I entered the union hall on the night of the seminar, I had to consciously hide my disgust as Manny Tabachnik and Don Slaiman rushed over to shake my hand and tell me how glad they were to see me there. I acknowledged their enthusiastic greetings with a fake smile and said nothing. Frank St. George and several of the former strikers had stationed themselves where they could watch the performance of Tabachnik and Slaiman. They gathered around me, shaking my hand, and then escorted me into the meeting room. I felt good. Triumphant.
My political education continued with my non-speaking role in Elmer Rice’s play Judgment Day presented at the Belasco Theatre in September of 1934. In retrospect, that play is especially important to me because years later when I appeared before HUAC in 1954 and again in 1964 my mind could not help but flash back to compare the witness who named me and others in 1954 and 1964 with the witness in Elmer Rice’s play.
In his play Elmer Rice presents his dramatized version of the trial of Communist Party leaders in Hitler’s court in Leipzig. They were accused of having burned Germany’s parliament building, the Reichstag, in 1933.
In the play the cooperating witness is so drugged that only with great difficulty is he able to stand and speak. He is badgered repeatedly by the prosecuting attorney to get him to mumble that the Communist Party is responsible for burning the Reichstag. However, on the internet a Dutch citizen, a member of a some revolutionary group opposed to the Communist Party, is reported to have testifiedwithout being druggedthat he set fire to the Reichstag. And a supposedly reliable source stated that Nazi leader Goering did it.
Anyway, in 1954 and again in 1964 when I was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee I had to laugh at myself for having been so naive as to believe that getting a witness to testify the way the witness did in Elmer Rice’s play requires that he be drugged. The FBI’s cooperative witness who testified against me and other union organizers in HUAC’s 1954 and 1964 hearings was definitely not drugged.
In 1954 I was surprised when I saw who was being called to the witness stand to identify me and other UE union organizers as communists. The cooperative witness was a UE union organizer who had worked with us for years. I always thought Jack was a nice guy, not the most brilliant in his ability to organize and negotiate, but competent enough, and easy going and generally likeable, though always seeming a little too anxious to please and be accepted by the rest of us. He had been kidding around with us at a meeting of the organizers just a few days before he appeared to take the stand and testify that that very same meeting was a communist meeting to plan how to control what direction the union would take. He and the committee’s lawyer questioning him made it seem like we were plotting to overthrow the United States governmentcomparable to “setting fire to the congressional Reichstag in Washington.”
My experience with the conduct of our country’s political leaders in Washington during the McCarthy Period led me to view anything said by themand by all political leaders from then on to this daywith a deep skepticism. To fend off red-baiting by the Republicans who were accusing the Democrats of being soft on communism, President Truman opened the door wide for McCarthyism by issuing his executive order 9240 which barred “subversives” from having jobs in defense plants. Responding to this, our UE union, along with a number of other international unions, split with the CIO and refused to endorse Truman for re-election. Re-elected Truman apparently reacted by giving the FBI the green light to go all out to destroy our UE union and the other unions who had refused orders from the CIO leadership to back his endorsement. This led to our UE local unions all across the country being raided by rival unions who were assisted by various agencies of the government and some Catholic Church leaders and some employers in an unprincipled effortwith threats of physical violence against our union leaders, including meto take our members away from us. Senator Hubert Humphrey (he later became vice-president) joined in the red-baiting, publicly interjecting himself into several big elections conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, urging our UE members to reject "the communists" and go with the unions that were raiding us.
UE local 301 in 1954 represented thousands of GE workers in the Schenectady plants. The president of the local union was Leo Jandreau, a devout Catholic who wanted his marriage annulled so he could marry his lady friend, one of our union’s organizers. I was told that a deal was made to get the Catholic Church to grant the annulment, apparently over his wife’s objections, in return for Jandreau pulling his local union out of the UE and taking it into the anti-communist IUE which had been set up at that time with the assistance of the FBI and other government agencies. Humphrey helped by red-baiting our UE union and flag-waving in support of the shift into IUE Local 301.
The National Labor Relations Board had set a date for an election between UE and IUE at the Schenectady GE plants, and the 1954 HUAC hearing had been set to take place just prior to that election. The hearing took place in a courtroom with the apparent intent to make it look like it was a legal trial, which of course it was not. We were allowed to have a lawyer with whom we could have whispered consultations, but the lawyer was not allowed to speak out on our behalf. We could not present witnesses in our defense. We could not question our accusers. The courtroom was filled with officers and members of Local 301 and the purpose of this HUAC hearing was to affect the election about to take place between UE and IUE by creating some kind of hysteria about communism and the so-called ulterior motives of communists in the union.
At one point Leo Jandreau was called to the stand. He was asked point-blank if he had ever been a member of the Communist Party. Under oath he swore that he had never been a member of the Communist Party. One of the UE union organizers sitting next to me whispered, “They know he’s lying. He knows he’s lying. From now on he’s their boy. They can get him to do anything they want, because anytime they want, they can get him on perjury.”
Jack slipped in through a door behind the judge’s bench. He did not look out into the courtroom. Head down, he took the stand and swore he’d tell the truth and nothing but the truth. In response to questions from HUAC’s lawyer, Jack testified that the communists met in caucus before union meetings and talked about what policies they would advocate in the meetings. When he was asked to name those who were present at those meetings, he named me along with several others. The congressman chairing the hearing thanked Jack for being a good patriotic American Then Jack was quickly whisked out through the door behind the judge’s bench.
Some of the other UE organizers who had worked very closely with Jack and knew him and his wife socially, told me that Jack’s wife had been upset about the red-baiting our union was taking and she had pressured Jack until finally he had given in and agreed to cooperate with HUAC. Whatever happened to their life after Jack cooperated with HUAC must have been too difficult for his wife to handle. I was told that shortly after Jack named names the way he did at the HUAC hearing in 1954 his wife killed herself.
While my response to the witnesses in Hitler’s court in Elmer Rice’s Judgment Day back in 1934 had been purely intellectual, an addition to my political education but with no emotional involvement, my response to the witnesses in the HUAC hearing in 1954 was much more complex. My whole life, including my marriage, was endangered. Yet I still felt sorry for Jack. Though I never had the opportunity to speak to him after the hearing, I like to think that he was decent enough not to rationalize that his cooperation with HUAC was a great act of patriotism. And I still wonder if his wife killing herself might have prevented him from thinking that way.
By accidentthe candle in the windI received what I believe is the best training an actor could possibly get at that time in this country.
My appearance with the Theatre Union in Sailors of Catarro may have combined with my red hair to bring me to the attention of the Theatre of Action who were looking for an All-American-Boy to play the lead in The Young Go First, a play written by George Scudder and Pete Martin, about young men in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
The Theatre of Action, a collective of young theatre people, had developed from the Workers Laboratory Theatre, which was reputed to have been a communist theatre troupe. Theatre of Action performed agit-prop (agitational propaganda) sketches at political meetings, in union halls and on street corners. They developed the Living Newspaper technique, dramatizing economic, social and political issues. I believe The Young Go First was their first effort to produce a play other than agit-prop.
The CCC was established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to provide jobs for unemployed young people. In the play a group of young men in the CCC camp run by an army colonel revolt against the camp’s living conditions. My thought now is that there really wasn’t much to the play. The conditions we revolted against may have been better than the environments we had left behind. But we, the young men in the CCC camp, wanted representation and a grievance procedure to resolve complaints. My character stepped forward, becoming the organizer of the revolt against the iron fist of the colonel.
What was most important for me, far beyond this play, was that the Theatre of Action had been taken under the wing of some of the most talented theatre people in our country, members of the Group Theatre. . . .
(Note: This is part of Part One of the Memoir.)
©2004 Emanuel Fried. All rights reserved. Published by The Autodidact Project by permission of the author. Further publication prohibited without the author's permission.
Note: This is only a draft and an excerpt. The full memoir has now been published as Most Dangerous Man: A Personal Memoir. RD, 6 October 2010
Manny Fried at a Crossroads (Excerpt from Memoir)
The Emanuel Fried Center
Fried for permission to produce Manny Frieds plays
& for other non-web-site-related business.
Home Page | Site
Map | What's New | Coming Attractions | Book News
Bibliography | Mini-Bibliographies | Study Guides
My Writings | Other Authors' Texts | Philosophical Quotations
Images & Sounds | External Links
CONTACT Ralph Dumain
Uploaded 21 March 2004
Note added 6 October 2010
Last update 21 June 2011
Site ©1999-2011 Ralph Dumain