LAUGHING LAST: Alger Hiss by Tony Hiss by Tony Hiss
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LAUGHING LAST: Alger Hiss by Tony Hiss

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Advance publicity promising that Alger Hiss' son Tony means to ""tell all"" should galvanize those who still suspect that some embarrassing but exculpating personal scandal was buried along with the pumpkin papers. Instead, ""all"" turns out to be an ostentatiously revelatory melange of anecdotes about well-connected, suicide-prone Hiss forebears, ""Al's"" misadventures with masturbation at age five and with prostitutes during his college years, testimonials to Al's innocence from fellow Lewisburg inmates, and Tony's own memories from the post-trial years when he owned a punching bag shmoo named Nixon. More illuminating are reminiscences of the New Deal years and Yalta, which also explain how Al Hiss fell out with Jimmy Byrnes and Trib columnist Bert Andrews. But Al's character is essentially the same as that projected in Smith's Alger Hiss (p. 186), though Tony says Al's attraction to Crosley, a.k.a. Chambers, was a sort of patrician ego trip and there are hints that he was drawn similarly to Frank Costello in prison. Tony Hiss' candor, even his tastelessness, seems calculated to present a tale so banal that it just has to be the truth. The strategy has some commonsense merit: one is reminded of the power of chance to cast the same individual as a State Department luminary, convicted felon, and failed businessman. Beyond that, some may vow never to read another word about Alger Hiss. However, it won't silence such latter-day prosecutors as Allen Weinstain, whom the author dismisses but doesn't rebut. And the fact that the exposure of private trivia is likely to prove as naive and futile a sacrifice as the elder Hiss' original attempt to vindicate himself is hardly laughable.

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 1976
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin