Screenwriter Lester Cole, of the Hollywood Ten, would not appear to have moved an intellectual muscle since he was wowed by...


HOLLYWOOD RED: The Autobiography of Lester Cole

Screenwriter Lester Cole, of the Hollywood Ten, would not appear to have moved an intellectual muscle since he was wowed by Gorky, at age 21 in 1925, and envisioned ""the nobility of fighting for a socialist life for all."" The political news of his story, scant but real, follows therefrom: for Cole, who remained in the Party (unlike Trumbo, Lardner, and most others of the Ten), the Blacklist never ended; he was not again employable in Hollywood under his own name. The niche he achieved, finally, was that of an open, unreconstructed Red. He had wanted, he writes, to disclose his C.P. affiliation in 1942 (""But the Party ruled against it""--lest I ""harm my effectiveness"" as a Screen Writers Guild official); but in 1972 he came ""out of the (political) closet"" and became film critic for a Party paper; ""although they wouldn't permit me to write films for them, the advertising departments had no objection to inviting me to the press previews to write about their films."" At the same time, he and the other surviving Unfriendly Witnesses, now very much at odds, were being feted en masse! Cole, bitter about the others' defection, attributes his own staying power to a working-class boyhood (""They had to regain status""); but--still another irony--the most telling, Odets-ish incident finds Cole visiting his fervent socialist father for the first time in nearly 20 years and discovering, in the proud old gent's little factory, that the ties have no union label. His stage-struck N.Y. to up-and-down H'wood story has other elements of interest, though, some with a slyer anti-Establishment edge: the great Max Reinhardt, outraged at being put on display for a bevy of movie moguls, calling on third assistant stage manager Cole to direct a rehearsal of The Miracle; Cole rewriting The House of Seven Gables to radicalize it--and none of the critics noticing. (He had his way, too, with MacKinlay Kantor's The Romance of Rosy Ridge--at MGM, where he'd long been proscribed--and the portion of the script included is a model of schmaltzy ""message""-writing.) Thus Cole, who worried about writing ""trivia,"" gets across the idea (downplayed in most accounts) that he did his bit for the Cause. His is not a book, altogether, for the casual Hollywood Ten aficionado--the occasional polemics are hackneyed, the later sections detail endless ceremonial trips to the USSR and satellites. But it has its rewards for the skeptical as well as the susceptible reader.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Ramparts

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1981