RED CARPET by Joseph Finder


Email this review


Loose, interwoven chapters on the Soviet commissars' favorite capitalists--Armand Hammer, Averell Harriman, Cyrus Eaton, David Rockefeller, Pepsi's Donald Kendall--bound together chiefly by two ""ironies"": the Russians treat the Americans ""like royalty,"" and the Americans lap it up. In more discerning hands, even this could be a bona fide subject; but, with one exception, Finder's text consists of old tales, conjecture, and snide aspersions. Dominating the book, moreover, is the still-mysterious, atypical figure of Armand Hammer. Finder is at pains to play up the undoubted Communist connections of his physician/businessman father Julius (angel of the fledgling American Communist Party, etc.)--and to expose Armand's later attempts to play them down; he also plays up Armand's own services to the USSR--most notably, in selling Tsarist art for hard currency--and attempts to discredit his protestations of not always following the Communist line. And in chronicling Hammer's re-emergence in the post-thaw 1960s and '70s, he does add some particulars (especially on Hammer's dealings with rival/counterpart Cyrus Eaton) that didn't get into Edward Epstein's 1981 New York Times Magazine piece, ""The Riddle of Armand Hammer."" But he also resorts to flagrant speculation (""Where in Europe did Hammer go? Russia is as good a guess as any. . . . Although no business was to result from the 1946 journey--if it did take place--"") and, ultimately, has no more notion of where Hammer actually stands than anyone else. Of the other four, Harriman had only brief Soviet business dealings--a disastrous 1920s manganese flier--which, however, both he and the Russians often capitalized on (and still do). Finder sniggers, with some reason. Towards ""renegade"" industrialist Eaton--founder of the anti-nuclear Pugwash Conferences, recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize--and capitalist ""prince"" David Rockefeller, ""apostle of East-West trade,"" he's if anything more snide. The one episode recounted with some zest (and mainly, it appears, from interviews) is Donald Kendall's success in selling Khrushchev on Pepsi-Cola--to the ultimate profit of the Soviets (who disposed of expensive vodka and didn't imbibe Americanism). Finder follows through with the eclipse of the pro-Soviet-trade bloc (at the hands, chiefly, of Senator Jackson) and assorted reasons for not doing business with the Soviets. Insubstantial, however, except as a sidelight for curiosity-seekers--with some sly, residual intimations.

Pub Date: Aug. 8th, 1983
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston