Madrid. A scar on the heart of the world.|
I need to "speak"
to an apparent contradiction in Ted's Spanish saga. Arturo Barea, who was the
Government censor in Madrid, says in his autobiography that he didn't speak any
English and that he left liaisons with the foreign journalist to his colleague,
Ilsa. But as I remember Ted telling the story, Barea met regularly with the foreign
journalists in the restaurant of the Grand Via Hotel. There he held court and,
on occasion, he would read to them any of their despatches that he found to be
of special interest. These meetings were an important feature of the correspondents'
social life in war time Madrid. But Barea doesn't speak of them. While they may
have eaten in the same restaurant, Barea seems to intimate that he rarely communicated
directly with the foreign journalists, so why does Ted say...
I was talking
to a friend about these sliding truths. "People
should have a choice how they want to be remembered," she commented.
In her book on Hemingway's women,
Bernice Kert writes of Martha Gellhorn: On January 5 (1937) Martha wrote Eleanor
Roosevelt that she was seeing Hemingway, who was "an odd bird, very loveable
and full of fire and a marvellous story teller. (In a writer this is imagination,
in anyone else it's lying...)" (1)
There is so much material about Ted's
childhood - I've only shown you samples, a small flavouring - and there is lots
of writing about his adolescence and his time in Spain, but after that, for the
most part, the next twenty years is thinly documented. What there is, is many
lists, outlines for autobiographies. One amongst these ("Bridging Information"
from a version of "Happy Ending: an autobiography") is almost in prose.
He is speaking here of the autumn of 1937 after his return from Spain.
"I was planning to return to Spain
and write a book which Capa's photographs would illustrate. The Canadian Communist
Party deemed otherwise and ordered me not to return to Spain but to become Foreign
Affairs Editor of The Daily Clarion. I wasn't happy. I wrote a short story titled
"A Gun Is Watered", which was published in the New Masses. This led
to an offer of a contract from Wm. Morrow to write a novel. I left Canada for
following is an example of a list from "Outline of Autobiography. Feb 13,
Chaya. Shoeperle and Capa. Fred Rose, Foreign Editor, Toronto. New York, the search
for John's widow, Kate Schwartz Lenthier, This Time a Better Earth. Marriage of
death. All feeling cut off. Separation and Mexico. Love affair with Aza. Begging
Kate to come after the break up.
and I decide we'll return to Spain and do a book together. The boat. I meet Shepperle.
In Canada the Party, punishing me. Capa waiting for me in New York. I can't go
back. He went on his own.
I go to New York to
write the novel and move in with Frances, my agent.
Sadie's visit to New York. (Note how I have forgotten my first glimpse of Sadie
on my return from Spain. Fat and living at Auntie Leah's.) Then marriage to Kate.
Interlude with Aggie. The trip to Mexico with Ricky...
Even on the boat back from Europe Ted
found himself thinking that he would visit John Lenthier's widow, Kate, to bring
her John's farewell letter and that he would marry her. "We will wed,"
he thought, "and it will be a marriage of death."
I got back to New York I waited a few weeks before I felt ready to see Mike's
(John's) widow. I had promised
him I would deliver his message. I went to see her in her apartment. She was an
extremely attractive girl, but very high strung. We sat in the front room of her
apartment and I said, "Mike (John)
and I were in the Brigade together. He wanted me to tell you that everything
will be okay..."
Lenthier had shown Ted a picture of Kate. "She's Jewish," John informed
him. She had high cheekbones, closely cropped hair, and a small pretty nose. Ted
thought that she looked Russian. They, John and Kate, had been married for a little
over a year. She had been a concert pianist, but had given up her career because
she felt she didn't play well enough.
wrote a story about being in Mexico City waiting for his girl - the story is called
"Hotel Fernando" (or, alternatively, "Love? Pooh!"). It was
published in Mademoiselle. In the typed story the narrator's fiancée was
called Marylin Sweetwater, but in the copy I have in front of me Ted has crossed
out that name and pencilled in Kate Lenthier.
was in love once. Her name was Kate Lenthier, and I loved her so much I would
happily have cut my throat for her. Which goes to show you what love will do.
She had wavy brown hair and eyes and lips that made you want to pray. She had
a trim figure and wonderful legs, but what does that tell you? When I saw her
So one day Kate says to me, "Ted,"
she says, "I like you very much but we have little in common, except politics.
Forget me. I hope we'll always be good friends."
I came to Mexico to forget Kate.
does the scenario of Ted and Kate's meeting go? On the boat back, before meeting
her, Ted had decided to marry Kate. A "marriage of death": a consolation
for the death of John Lenthier and Gerda Taro. So he courted Kate Schwartz - this
would be 1938 - but he was always ambivalent, uncommitted.
Perhaps we can taste the flavour of Ted and Kate's courtship in Ted's story "Summer
were riding on the top of a Fifth Avenue bus. It was Saturday night and it was
summer, and they were holding hands. She snuggled closer and rested her head on
"I like riding on the top
of a bus," she said.
he answered, stroking her hair.
talk silly. All right?" she said.
"Shoes in wrapping oranges
sell for six cents strike four."
"You've got to answer
something like, 'Not unless Hitler singing Mammy I'd walk a mile for a Camel Sonny
Boy,' or something like that. Didn't you play it when you were a kid?"
"No. We made up dirty words to songs. Want
to do that?"
"No. Tell me about when
you were a kid. No. Then we'll get serious. Let's not get serious. Let's talk
silly and act happy."
he said turning to look at her and giving her a smile. "You're lovely,"
he said. Then he asked, "When do we get off the bus? It's getting late, isn't
"Let's go to the end of the line.
Tomorrow's Sunday and we can sleep late. Don't you want to talk? Tell me about
"Let's not talk. Let's just
sit and ride."
They listened to the shifting
of the gears and the loud roar of the bus motor and to the sounds of the city
"How do you feel?" he asked
after a while.
I feel wonderful. Just wonderful," he answered with sarcasm.
let's not go over it again," she said
don't like it." ...
this story the girl is pregnant, planning an abortion on the upcoming Monday,
and the man feels bad about it. "It's a dirty trick," he says. This
then is not a story about Ted and Kate themselves, but we may catch a glimpse
of them in it.
don't like it. I..."
"Stop it, will
you?" She pulled her hand away from his and sat up erect staring in front
"I'm sorry darling," he said.
"Honest. I'm sorry."
it'll be all over."
He pulled her hand towards him and pressed it hard against his heart. She brushed
her cheek against his shoulder and he put his arm around her and hugged tight.
"Let's hum something," she said.
"Let's go through everything
we know of Gershwin and Berlin. Let's start with "Remember". That's
nice and gushy."
They hummed through their
"Geeze, I remember us singing
these songs in Spain. It made me so goddamned homesick..."
many times have I told you you're not in Spain and to stop swearing."
"Hell, you get into the goddamned habit and
it's hard to break."
"Tell me about
the nights in Spain," she asked
remember the first nights better then the last ones. Warm. Lots of stars. I'd
get more homesick at night. More time to think." He stopped as the bus stopped.
"We've come to the end of the line."
conductor passed and she put two dimes into the box. "Clinks like my office
typewriter," she said. "Give me a cigarette. Yes?"
lit a cigarette and placed it between her lips.
spring of 1995; the last weeks of Ted's life, Ted told me, again, about marrying
Kate. Kate's mother, Zezzel, was ill, dying of cancer. Zezzel was concerned that
her daughter was widowed and alone. She was agitated by this. She wanted to see
Kate settled before she left. Ted and Kate decided to stage a marriage for Zezzel's
sake. They went up to Boston, Kate's home town, and got a rabbi to perform a ceremony.
The marriage would not be official until Ted and Kate signed the certificate.
Therefore, to all intents and purposes, they were not really getting married.
On the bus back to New York, Kate started to weep.
"Why are you crying?" Ted asked.
don't love me!" That's why she was crying.
for godsake," said Ted. "Give me the certificate. I'll sign it. See!
I do love you."
relationship with Kate, his "marriage of death", brought him no joy
or ease. After a short while he decided to leave.
did I go to Mexico? Because Cardenas was president. It was a Socialist country.
They spoke Spanish, and I felt a longing for Spain. I had been back from Spain
a year and a half when I arrived in Mexico City. It reminded me of Madrid.
I locked myself in a hotel room the first day and
lay down on the bed and let the sun come in through the window and rest on my
body. And I hummed the second movement of the Beethoven's fifth symphony. It was
the first time in nearly two years I had done that.
began to study Mexico. I went around government departments to get statistics.
One day in the Department of Agriculture I was walking down the stairs after getting
some information on communal farms. A young man and woman were walking up the
stairs. He stopped me in passing to ask, in Spanish, where he could see someone
who could give him some figures on that same subject, communes. I told him it
was a coincidence, because I had just got this data, but that the man in charge
had left his office and would be back in an hour or so. We walked down the stairs
together. "You're American aren't you?" I asked.
smiled, "Yes." Now he perceived that I too was an northerner. "I
thought you were Mexican," he said.
I'm not Mexican"
"But you speak Spanish
"So do you," I
answered, "but we both speak with accents. We might as well introduce ourselves.
My name's Ted. Ted Allan."
He stopped dead
and whispered, "Holy Christ!"
the matter," I asked with some concern.
started to sing the second movement of Beethoven's fifth, and began to laugh.
The light dawned on me. It had to be Joe Stevens
who had shared my hospital room in Madrid. "But
you're dead," I said. "You were practically dead when I left the hospital.
You were going to die any day."
nuts. Not me," he said, and he introduced me to his wife. "Darling this
His wife said, "So I gather,
Joe. Joe's told me about you, and he drives me crazy singing the second movement."
Joe and I looked at each other a long while. It
was the first time I had seen his face. It was a swell face, and just now it had
a grin that ran from ear to ear. "I'll be damned," I said.
talked for hours. We decided that the Spanish war was not over, that the people
of Spain were going to win in the end. That's what Joe and I agreed on. We did
argue a little. We argued about whether Harry Bridges was the greatest of union
leader, and it was a wonderful thing being able to argue with Joe Stevens.
Ted fell in with a literary crowd. The
nights were warm, the wine was cheap: the living was easy. There was a lot of
romance in the air in Mexico.
There were several
writers and actors in the pension, the hotel, where Ted was staying. Notable
among them was Clifford Odets. Odets was a celebrity. In the nineteen thirties,
Odets, a young protege then in his twenties, had been the leading light of the
theatre of social protest. He was one of the founders of the Group Theatre, and
his contributions to that company, in particular his play "Waiting for Lefty"
had a considerable influence on the American stage.
was a pleasant companion, in and out of his cups. He was just beginning, at thirty
three, to run to fat. "You see me, Ted. This is you in twenty years time."
Ted wasn't sure whether to be flattered or not. He was flattered, though, when
the beautiful young Mexican whore who lived with Odets would steal away to share
Ted's bed whenever she was able.
his time in Mexico, Ted wrote:
Cardenas was President. He had tried to transform the economy, giving land to
the landless peons. He was one of that very small band of political leaders whom
power did not corrupt. He asked me to produce a radio program aimed at a U.S.
audience. For almost a year I wrote, directed and produced "The Good Neighbour
Hour", corralling anybody I could find in Mexico City who could speak English.
This included people like Clifford Odets, John Garfield, Hans Eisler...
Among the group of acquaintances Ted
mixed with in Mexico city was a beautiful dancer, Aza. Aza had a stormy on again
off again relationship with her boyfriend, an actor. She was afraid of him, the
boyfriend. He went away on a long tour. Ted and Aza began an affair. Ted fell
deeply in love with Aza. The actor came back. Aza decided to marry him. "But
you don't love him. You love me," Ted complained to no avail.
couldn't bare it," said Ted. "I
couldn't bare being left again. Gerda left me. Aza left me. I've always felt terrible
when anyone leaves me. So I phoned Kate in New York. I begged her to come down
to Mexico, even though I knew better. She knew better too. She was reluctant,
but I was persuasive. I told her I had enough love for both of us. So she came,
and she got pregnant immediately. That happened so quickly, I always had suspicions
the child wasn't mine. I wanted an abortion, but the doctor frightened me. We
kept the child, and that was the foundation of the marriage. A triple rebound
and a moral shotgun."
Kate got pregnant we decided to have the child in the United States. The Mexican
Department of Culture and Communication owed me six months salary. Cardenas accomplished
much but was not able to cope with the traditional Mexican bribery and corruption.
Julie was born February
1940. This places the above events in the spring of '39.
and Kate returned to the States.
New York I got a job through Helen Strauss, who was then a story editor of Paramount,
I got a job writing commercial movies for a Paramount subsidiary called Caradel
Films. For $50 bucks a week in 1939/40, I felt like a millionaire. Things began
to look up.
For a while
they lived with Kate's life long friend, Agnes Ives. "I was typing in the
kitchen of Agnes Ives," Ted wrote. "I think I was working on my first
novel. And I looked to my left at the window and saw my father with one foot over
the ledge trying to jump out." This is a theme we will observe several times
in Ted's life: repressed memories haunting him as the make their return to surface
of his conscious awareness -freud's "return of the repressed".
In one set of notes Ted spoke of the
"Agnes interlude." Was that an innocent interlude? Let's give innocence
the benefit of the doubt.
in New York in 1940. Julie was born Feb. 5th. Ted was writing. The novel had been
published. Short stories were being written and being placed.
a miraculous day! A letter from The New Yorker! My hands shook so I could barely
open it. It read, "Dear Mr. Allan: Your story, "Crazy Joe," has
impressed all of us here at The New Yorker. I would like to speak to you about
it in person and suggest you telephone to arrange a meeting. Sincerely yours,
I telephoned Mr. Maxwell.
His secretary arranged an appointment for eleven o'clock the next morning. That
night I kept trying to decide how much money I would ask. I'd been told The New
Yorker paid as high as five hundred dollars for a story. I decided I would accept
half of that. By now I had four dollars and sixty-two cents to my name.
took a good hour to walk to 44th Street. I started out at seven-thirty and found
myself with two and a half hours to kill. I figured that if Maxwell was very enthused
about the story, I'd ask for three hundred. Feeling wealthy I staked myself to
a breakfast of ham and eggs, toast, orange juice and coffee, instead of the usual
coffee and doughnut. Including the tip, a large tip, that left me with three dollars
even, with a wife and child to support.
on the street I witnessed an elderly man hit by a taxi. A shocked and remorseful
cabby was bending over him as blood poured out of his mouth and ear. He was dead
before the ambulance arrived.
I was a few minutes
late and badly shaken when I finally arrived at The New Yorker and was directed
to the office of Mr. William Maxwell. A striking, sensitive-looking man in his
early thirties smiled and beckoned me to sit down. "I loved your story,"
he said. "We'd like you to be a regular contributor. Unfortunately, we cannot
buy this story because we published something very similar a few weeks ago, but
"What did you say?" I
heard myself shouting. "You're not buying the story?!"
what I'm trying to explain." He spoke softly. "We can't buy this story,
but we'd like you to send us anything you've written."
not buying the story?!" I screamed again. "Then why then hell did you
ask me to come here?" I was standing now, trembling with rage.
didn't want to send it back with what might have sounded like a polite rejection,"
he explained. "The other editors and I feel that you could probably write
very humorous stories..."
feel like writing humorous stories!" I shouted. "I just saw a man killed
by a taxi! You shouldn't send letters like that unless you're going to buy the
story. I bought myself a big expensive breakfast this morning because I thought
you were going to buy it!"
he continued calmly, "that you could become one of our regular contributors.
Now that I see how young you are, I'm more convinced of it than ever. I'd be very
happy to lend you some money if you need it."
grabbed my manuscript from his desk, mumbled that he should stick his money somewhere,
and stormed out of his office.
addiction to his writing, Ted was involved at this time in fund raising.
"My one and only meeting with
Dashiell Hammett (2) took place in a Forest
Hills, New York, home of some extremely wealthy people whose names I've forgotten.
It might have been 1940 or 1941. At that time Dorothy Parker and I were on a fund-raising
tour for the Joint Refugee Anti-Fascist Committee. Miss Parker and I traveled
to the major cities of the United States addressing gatherings, large and small,
in auditoriums and homes, raising money for Spanish refugees. Miss Parker was
already famous as a writer, poet, raconteur, and wit.(3)
Her presence added a touch of stardom to the occasion. And me? I was somebody
who had participated in the Spanish Civil War. There was an aura of romance about
me, particularly when I modestly mentioned that I had served in the trenches for
a while (neglecting to mention that the "while" was all of three days
It may not be generally known that
Dorothy Parker suffered from stage fright. When the moment arrived for her to
go on stage she would invariably take me to some space out of sight of everyone,
and desperately whisper, "You'll have to do it tonight without an introduction.
I can't go on. Don't argue with me. Just go and explain that I'm ill."
A speech like this (with a few amendments) was always
delivered a minute or so before the meeting was to begin. I always listened sympathetically,
nodding with total understanding until she finished. Then, I would take her by
the shoulders, turn her around, and propel her onto the stage or into the living
room. The instant she looked at the people present she became calm, and funny.
I wish I had recorded some of Miss Parker's remarks.
My poor memory has left me only second-rate Parkerisms like: "They call me
a dirty red. That doesn't upset me. Dirty red is a humble colour, but it suits
me fine." Then she'd utter some glowing words about my talents as a journalist
and my bravery as a soldier and finally say, "It is my pleasure to introduce
Ted - the - man - I - love - Allan."
would then deliver an emotional harangue ending with a truthful explanation of
the desperate need for money. Then I'd hit the audience with, "Who will give
the first ten thousand dollars?" In those days that amount of money was the
equivalent of ten times ten today, but we did get the occasional donor. If no
one volunteered, I'd quickly drop to five, and then to one thousand dollars, which
often brought forward a few offers. Then five hundred, a hundred, and end up asking
for singles. We raised a few hundred thousand dollars this way in a few months.
I may be exaggerating the figure, but it was a goodly sum.
evening of the affair in Forest Hills, before the speeches we mingled with the
guests, among whom was Lilian Hellman and her even more famous friend, the tall,
thin, distinguished, prematurely white-haired, Dashiell Hammett. I could not help
noticing that Mr. Hammett was hammered. He was weaving slightly and his speech
When it came time for me to ask,
"Who will start this off by giving ten thousand dollars?" a foggy voice
said "I will." It was Hammett, reaching for his cheque book, wobbling
to a table, and proceeding to write the cheque for ten grand with apparent ease.
No one followed his example. I dropped to five thousand dollars. No one moved.
The silence was ghastly. I was about to drop to half that sum when Hammett's thick,
inebriated voice announced again, "I will." He wrote out a second cheque,
this time for five thousand. Again I thanked him, feeling a trifle ridiculous.
I knew that Hammett was one of the largest contributors to the Joint Refugee Anti-Fascist
Committee and had already given large sums of money.
dropped my request to two and a half thousand. Again the same voice. Again Hammett
writing a cheque. When I dropped to one thousand, finally the gathering came to
After the collection I sought out the
Committee's organizer. "For God's sake, tear up Hammett's cheques. He's so
drunk he doesn't know what he's doing. He's already donated tens of thousands."
Hammett left with Miss Hellman after a warm handshake
and a friendly, albeit still slurred, congratulatory remark about my spiel.
Next day the lady from the Joint Committee telephoned.
"I called Mr. Hammett and told him we were going to tear up his cheques.
He said absolutely not to. He insisted that he had given those cheques for the
Spanish refugees, and that we were to deposit them. He may have been a little
high, he said, but not that stoned not to know what the hell he was doing. I'm
"Was he sober when you spoke
to him?" I asked.
was the reply.
top of the grayed copy of the story "ENCOUNTER WITH DASHIELL HAMMETT"
Ted had written in pencil, "Terrible! Rewrite it completely! 11/12/89".
I haven't: though I've trimmed it a bit and altered a few words.
This is also the era of Sam Shaw:
"Sam Shaw plays an incredible
role in my life," Ted wrote.
"If he had not nagged me about Bethune I would never have written that 180
page biography that I sold to 20th Century Fox. It was his saying, "This
is a great man," and me really not liking Bethune. But he forced me. He came
every night forcing me to write a 20 page Treatment first, which a very close
friend, Irving Hoffman, sold to Fox for 25,000 dollars. It's amazing the influence
of Sam in my life. The work I got through him. He introduced me to Bob Goldstein
who got me the job with Columbia. He had a tremendous influence on John (Casevettes)
Ted wrote many
times of Sam's importance, but doesn't say anywhere how they met. I phoned Sam
just now (January 4th, 1997) to ask.
was when he came back from Spain. I think he was negotiating on the book: This
Time a Better Earth. He was the hot young writer. Everybody was talking about
him." Sam speaks very slowly. He always did, but more so now that he is in
"But how did you meet Ted?"
I asked. "How exactly did you meet?"
was down at the Daily Worker, the Daily Worker and the Sunday Magazine, and we
talked about doing an article on Spain for the Sunday Magazine."
was so colourful, so charismatic. He was such a good speaker. I introduced him
to Irving Hoffman. Irving was a columnist and dramatic critic for the Hollywood
review. He was a very influential man. He was intrigued by Ted. Hoffman touted
him all over. He (Ted) told stories. He was a wonderful story teller. Hoffman
called him the Jewish Jimmy Cagney."
all became friends here in New York. I and Hoffman got Ted to meet him Charlie
Feldman. Ted and Michael Sayers were supposed to write a story for Charlie Feldman.
They went out to Hollywood, but Ted never got down to writing it. From the stories
Ted told Charlie Feldman went into preparing a picture... I forget. It became
a very big picture. It became... it became "The Best Years of Our Lives".
got a job for Bob Goldstein and, and Leonard Goldstein, who became head of 20th
Century Fox. He had that great line, Ted told me, "I changed my name to Leonard
Goldstein for business reasons."
Ted went and worked for Warner Brothers. He spent a lot of time with Fritz Lang.
Fritz Lang taught him about editing films. And Gary Cooper. What was that story:
at a dinner, no, a lunch, Ted turned to Cooper and said, "You're such a wonderful
story teller, why don't you talk like that in the pictures." Cooper said,
"The dialogue is so terrible. That's why I learned to grunt."
came back to New York with an outline for a novel. He got a twenty-five hundred
dollar advance from, Random House I think. He learned how to live on that, and
he got twenty-five hundred from every other publisher in New York."
Hoffman had this place on 48th Street right next to the Royal Court Theatre. It
was a meeting place for all the Hollywood people. Whenever a VIP from Hollywood
would come into town, Hoffman always had Ted come over to tell stories. Let's
see, who was there? There was Darryl Zannick, Irving Berlin."
Hollywood Ted was very involved with the German refugees. There was a whole colony
of those people who used to hang out together. There was Brecht."
interrupted Sam to tell him I had material on Brecht.
Ted wrote a lot about Brecht. There was Fritz Lang, and Marlene Dietrich. They
were very close friends. Ted used to see her regularly. I'll try and see if I
can remember any stories about Marlene. I've been writing notes on Ted like you
I gave Sam my address again,
thanked him, wished him a happy New Year. (It was Jan. 4th. 1997.)
In Mexico in 1939 Ted had done propaganda work for the government. With the advent
of Pearl Harbour (December 1941) and America's entry into the war, Ted found a
job with the Office of War Information.
worked for the OWI during World War II." Ted
wrote. This is from one of the outlines. "My brother Georgie becomes
a Lieutenant in the R.C.A.F. and flies many bombing missions over Germany. I meet
Ruth Berlau and have a raging love affair - lustful passionate on the stairs -
and she introduced me to Berthold Brecht. Uta Hagen.
following is a composite of the three items on Brecht that I found among Ted's
papers: a short story, a rough draft for a chapter of "The Biography",
and three pages of notes:
I also met Brecht through a woman. I was working at the Office of War Information
during World War II. I was on the Master Radio Desk under John Houseman and Dorothy
Van Doren. I was writing news reports and propaganda broadsides that were being
translated and broadcast into the Nazi occupied countries of Europe. There was
a very attractive woman by the name of Ruth Berlau who worked on the Danish desk.
We started to go out for coffee and became friends. Her English was unsteady,
but vigorous and colourful. She had a sweet Danish accent. She was a writer and
photographer and she kept telling me she wanted me to meet her friend, Bert Brecht,
who she said was a genius.
I knew Bertold Brecht
as the guy who wrote lyrics for the working-class songs of Hans Eisler, "Just
because he's human, he doesn't want a pistol to his head..." Things like
that. Ruth was not surprised that I had sung his United Front and revolutionary
songs as a young man in the Montreal Young Communist League, but she found it
difficult to believe that I had not heard of the Three Penny Opera which had been
so famous in Germany before Hitler. "Ted," she said, "you know
he's one of the great playwrights."
"No, I didn't know that."
she brought the genius to my house for dinner. Brecht spoke English with a very
heavy Berlin accent. He looked very strange to me: he had a weird haircut, but
I liked him. His hair wasn't combed back as was the style at the time, but came
over his forehead in a bang. He almost always had a cigar hanging in the corner
of his mouth. He was very bright, and as time went on I began to respect his knowledge
of politics. He was an avowed communist, but, unlike most Communists I had met,
he critisized the Party. He considered the leader of the Communist Party of America
to be a little man who had no idea of Marxism. I found this opinion shocking and
arrogant. At that time I thought that if you became the leader of the Party, you
had to be a political genius. Brecht treated all my naivetes with amused tolerance,
while I, in return, felt that his put down of the various political leaders in
the United States was just sour grapes.
time I expressed to Brecht my unease about the Soviet-Nazi Non-aggression Pact
of August 1939. In response he told me that when he had been in Moscow, his Russian
publishers had asked him to give them everything he had for immediate publication.
Brecht had told them, "Everything I have is anti-Hitler, banned by the Nazis."
They said, "It takes a little time to translate, takes a little time to print."
He was indicating to me that the Non-aggression Pact was a temporary strategic
move, and that calmed me down a bit.
together on that day, June 22nd. 1941, when the Nazi invaded Russia. For us the
Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union meant the beginning of the end for Nazism, and
we never for one moment had any doubts of Hitler's eventual defeat. I doubt if
anyone of us on the left-wing thought differently. Had we suspected that Stalin
had been taken by surprise, we might not have been so smug, but we both believed
that the first Russian retreats were part of a deliberately planned Red Army strategy.
I had started working on Bethune's biography. I had a 185 page draft that Ruth
Berlau showed Bert. He said it was the most important thing he had read in this
country. He urged me to stick with it. He said that Bethune was not only fascinating,
but that it was very important for the world to know about him. Brecht's encouragement
pleased me, but in as much as he was always saying he didn't know too much about
writing prose, I wasn't all that flattered. I told Brecht that I was having trouble
with the material because of my ambivalence about Bethune. "I hate him...
and then I love him..."
like that!" he said emphatically.
I was also working on the first draft of "Love is a Long Shot"(5)
1 which I had given to Ruth to look at. She gave it to Brecht. He loved the beginning.
"Marvelous! Very good," he said, but when he read the completed draft
he screamed at me, "You shit on your work! You shit on your work! It is very
good, the first hundred pages. Then it is shit. Work on it!" I was not impressed
with his critique.
brought me his stuff to read as well. He brought me a poem called "The Children's
Crusade" about a group of children wandering through Europe during the Thirty
Years War. I worked on it with him to get it into some shape, but I was not a
poet and, although the poem moved me, he could see I was only doing it as a favour
and not because of any particular enthusiasm for the work.
he brought me a play called "Mother Courage". He had a translation that
he didn't like and he suggested I might help him with the translation. I could
make neither head nor tale of it. I reread it several times, but I couldn't understand
it. I thought, "This poor guy is going to have a hard time make a living
as a writer." I told Ruth Berlau, "This guy should stick to lyrics."
She said, "Oh, you are so stupid, you know!"
She screamed. Then she brought me "Caucasian Chalk Circle" and "Good
Woman of Setzuan". They made a little more sense to me, but I thought them
didactic and naive. I confided to Ruth that I wasn't the man to help with the
translations. She should tell Brecht that he needed someone who understood German,
but in truth I had neither the time nor the inclination. I was too busy writing
my own stuff.
I continued to be blind to Brecht's
talent. One Sunday afternoon he and Ruth brought a tape which they wanted to hear
on my tape recorder. It was more of Brecht's lyrics to music by Kurt Weil, sung
by Lotte Lenya. There was one song that stood out, "Mackie Messer" (6),
that had a compelling march like quality to it, but the other songs, things like
"The Alabama Song" ("Show
me the way to the next whisky bar"), were alien and raucous to
my ears. This is music that I later came to love, but again, as with the plays,
at the time I couldn't understand it. I was open minded enough to concede how
closed minded I was, but I was busy writing something, something very important,
so I left them with my wife. Kate was a pianist and knew something about music.
I figured she would be interested. They played the whole tape, this terrible German
sounding stuff. And Kate was very excited by the music, but I thought, "Oh,
Christ," and went up stairs to work. I kept hearing this grinding rasping
German stuff, de de de de, da da.
Brecht fell in love with my daughter, Julie. He was just mad for her. Julie was
a particularly independent and assertive little lady at four, and she was very
particular about who could hug and kiss her. She'd stare at you when you came
in, look you over, and she'd say, "I don't like you." Great. But this
one, she fell in love with this guy. That's why I think it's such a great title,
"Brecht was my Baby-Sitter." He used to phone and tell Kate and me to
go out because he and Ruth wanted to come over and baby-sit. He just adored Julie's
no-bullshit attitude, and the fact that she was exceptionally pretty. He used
to like taking her for walks. They conducted long conversations about everything:
birds, dogs, cats, grass, flowers, and God knows what else.
Brecht and his family - and Ruth Berlau was considered part of his family - moved
to Santa Monica, California, where Brecht began to work on a film called "Hangmen
Also Die"(7). I was very pleased by this
for it meant that he was earning some money, and I was worried about his ability
to survive as a writer. Not long after I too moved out to the west coast.
The studio wanted a happy ending for "Hangman
Also Die". "They want a happy ending?" said Brecht. "Give
them a happy ending."
I spent afternoons
with Brecht and Charles Laughton while they were working on the screenscript of
Brecht's "Galileo". My affection for him grew to admiration and respect
as I gradually came to appreciate his measure of his work and worth.
Brecht had not told me right away, but I learned in dribs and drabs, that he had
four mistresses. There was Ruth, and his wife, Helene Weigel. I don't think they
were having sex anymore. Ruth told me Helene Weigel was a great actress. By that
time I was used to Ruth's use of the words genius and great, and I treated it
with the amusement I thought it deserved. Then there was Elizabeth Hauptman, and
a fourth younger woman, who was not there with him at the time. (Was there a fifth
woman, or did that come later, in Berlin, whom I met?) Anyway, there were four
mistresses, and he was very jealous about them.
in Berlin Ruth told me a story about her and Hauptman phoning Brecht. Hauptman
had a sore finger and Ruth had a sore leg. Brecht asked Hauptman about her leg
and Ruth about her finger. Each replied that they were fine to protect him from
any embarrassment, and later they compared notes and laughed.
then, in California, Kate told me she had discussed this situation with Ruth.
Kate was shocked at Ruth's acceptance of him having three women. "Ten percent
of Bert," said Ruth, "is better than a hundred percent of most men."
In August 1945 Brecht phoned me in the middle of the night waking me from a deep
slumber. "Did you hear what they did?" he asked. His voice sounded hysterical.
I said, "Did what? Who?"
was lying beside me going, "What?"
said, "It's Bert," and then asked him, "What are you screaming
"Did you hear about this atomic
bomb they dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?"
I said. "It was in all the papers and over the radio. It was a big bomb.
And he was screaming, "They've
burned to death thousands of men, women and children. This is worse than Buchenwald
and Auschwitz. It will go down in history as an even worse atrocity that anything
the Nazis have done."
I said, "it seems to be just two big bombs..."
is the matter with you? Don't you understand what they've done? Can't you understand
what they've done?"
I was silent. He said
goodbye and he banged down the receiver. I said, "Oh, he's screaming about
this bomb they dropped, you know, this big bomb they dropped."
took me a long time to appreciate what Brecht had known immediately.
Later, in the nineteen fifties, I pestered Bert about coming and watching him
direct with his Berlin Ensemble. He wrote to say he was busy, and that I'd have
to wait till he was bored. So finally I get to Berlin, and I'm greeted by Ruth
at the airport with the bad news. He won't see me. He's pissed off with me because
she told him about us. Then when I did see him, he told me he could never forgive
me for cuckolding him.
That's the Brecht story: "Brecht was my baby-sitter."
Before Ted moved to L.A., back
in 1943, back in New York, Ted was working on a biography of Bethune. He got a
$25,000 advance on a Bethune movie from Fox. "And that's why I named you
Bethune," he asserted.
Ted would spend
ten years working, off and on, on Bethune's biography spurred on by Sam Shaw,
by Brecht. Ten years of frustration struggling to organize the material and turn
it into a readable text; years steeped in Bethune.
on in this project, Ted renewed his acquaintance with Beth's ex-wife, Frances
Bethune, nee Frances Penney. Frances came down to New York and spent some time
with Ted and Kate.
Soon after Frances returned
to Montreal she wrote Ted a letter. The letter, in part, is a response to an early
draft of the Bethune biography: "The Scalpel, The Sword".
"Tuesday Dec. 29th. 1942
"4 a.m. The fourth
Christmas since he left us behind. I am sitting up with my tree, a little beauty
standing so proud and free - perfect in form, and covered with snow (absorbent
cotton!) and silver bells, and an angel, and one little Chinaman that Beth gave
me long, long ago. Perhaps fever these last nights has made me see this tree sometimes
as a gallant ship, sometimes as a Chinese pagoda this morning.
the first letters I picked up (8) are surely
among the most beautiful a man ever wrote a woman, but these are for me only.
Ah, there are many furious ones, many bitter ones, many only to do with money.
"Oh, what to do about it all - the me and Beth
v Beth and me bit. Part right.(9) Somehow neither
deep enough or light enough, and it could be done - it must be done, not for me,
for him - but this morning I pull these out at random making notes for you if
"We were married August 13th! I
was in a black chiffon frock, and I broke my hand mirror that morning. These are
facts. Yes, he said, "Now I can make your life a misery," but he added,
"But I will never bore you." It is a promise (a promise kept).
there was an incident in the Channel Islands - did I tell you? A high high cliff,
a deep, deep ravine - a long step, almost a jump, to cross, oh pretty bad, and
no earthly reason to cross, but Beth suddenly said, "I would rather see you
dead than funk that." I did it, but something died. My failure: it shouldn't
"Do you remember the story
of the knight who wanted to do a deed of valour for his ladye, and she threw a
rose into a lion's den and said fetch it back. He did, but afterwards he rode
"It was after that Beth told me,
"Always look at me though half closed eyes."
he didn't call me "darling" always. He mostly called me "tyke",
i.e. bum: often "rabbit", and he didn't say, "Change your hat."
He threw it away - without comment. Once when I was away from him, having left
for a "breather", I got a wire saying, "Posted you three inconsiderable
hats this morning." He had. On my charge account!
God, an awful letter discovered. Do you know Mary Queen of Scots lament for Douglas?
"Oh to bring back the days that are not. Mine eyes were blinded. Your words
"And his last letter from
the ship to China. "It would seem that the time for offering you advise has
gone, but I beg you to leave Montreal - I feel so unhappy about you, what you
have become and will become - escape for your life or these terrible people will
kill everything in you I once loved.
bye - "
"Ted, this is getting too
"I must sleep or weep.
"First and last and always it was
a spiritual bond. His last letter was still "My dear Francis", not just
"Francis" as when he was good and mad. Oh why did he think I could be
changed - I mean by A.R.E. and his friends.
"Did you know we had a doll-child called Alice.
"Oh Ted, why did it have to happen, all of
"I went to London
on my own - no connection with him at all - though he was always at me to leave
the family roof. God knows why. I was extremely happy. He found me at the Settlement,
where I was doing "good work". He arrived dressed as a tramp. Then I
was also extremely happy he disrupted that - for returning from Barcelona he gave
me a ring - old Bethune family affair, garnets, and hair under glass, engraved
inside with the name Bethune and dated 17**, something? I naturally took it at
face value. Later found that woman found it in a junk shop in Barcelona and gave
it to him. I threw it away. Why not, after all!
God, I left Beth oftener than he left me. Do you take me for a ninny? First time
I divorced him. Next time we decided fair play meant him doing it. We meant to
have a third time, a third marriage: stay put. What of it: he continued to introduce
me as "my wife". "I lend my wife," said he when I remarried
(on account of A.R.E.), "I do not give her!"
our first honeymoon, in the Channel Islands, Beth went swimming at night in the
raging storm-sea. Sobered and quiet when he came out, we walked back silently,
dressed for dinner (always full evening dress, of course), and had a bottle of
Imperial Tokay. Teddy, I am truly shocked, my lad, by the picture you present:
"Buried my face in his shoulder"! God in heaven! Why dear heart, the
sea nearly got him. One doesn't, except in Hollywood, indulge in sentimental slush.
At least, we never did. We didn't have to. (You see, we loved each other.) I was
frightened. Also rather grimly angry. He was frightened, and a little ashamed.
We didn't speak till over our wine glasses our eyes meet, and we both laughed.
That was always our solution. We laughed, and so to bed. (Do not think the latter
played a small part with us. Much much more complicated than that.) "Beat
it again, Tyke." There was at no time anything undignified in our relationship.
"Oh, I'm tired. You understand, don't you.
It's all the re-opening of an old wound that was beginning to heal. One of the
last things Beth said to me (after Spain) was, "I have a scar in my heart
forever." Not Spain. Me!
he also gave me a typewriter - you and me, but one of his women friends, alien,
hostile to me, came and borrowed it. She is poor. One had to lend it. I have never
touched it since.
"Oh, it's been a long
silent struggle between us - a (unintelligible) - but the thaw has come - at last,
and I feel the man on top of the tiger, the tiger being my own feelings, of course,
but you see why you have to struggle with this writing. (10)
" 'She for a little tried to live without him:
liked it not: and died.'
"My love, my love
was an Egotist.
"I do enclose plan of 1221
St. Mark, and his remarkable Chinese bed. (11)
"I did not, do not, "think of Beth".
I am with Beth, even now, hanging a picture, moving my room around, its always
for Beth - buying a hat I don't think, "Do I like it?" "Would Beth
like it?" It's actually spoilt my judgement. Beth would want me to write
A.R.E. - and so on - Beth would like this man, this woman.
see, I know - we were both gamblers, but our stakes were never small. Faites vous
jeux! Messieurs, faites vous jeux! cry the Olympians. And the last line: -
"Rien ne va plus.
Ted lost contact with Francis. He learned, later, that she had returned to Scotland
and her family, that she had gone "crazy", and was institutionalised.
She died in the nineteen fifties still in the institution. Ted felt, at some level,
that he had abandoned her.
Nov 10, 1990
Like all flashes of insight I am
amazed I never saw it before. Talking to Carol Hay I suddenly realized I had never
mourned for Beth. Never. Ever. And when she suggested I write him a letter asking
him for forgiveness I felt I might cry - might - and then stopped feeling again.
He had loved me. He had been so happy to see me
when I arrived in Madrid. When I arrived he hugged me and said, "Oh God,
how I need you. I need you so badly. You'll be political commissar and help us
get this unit into some order..." Something like that. But, "Oh God,
I'm so happy to see you"; and his joy.
had been my surrogate father. And he disillusioned me. And I reported him and
suggested he be brought home after discussions with Gallo - and when that meeting
was held and I said, "We all know he's a son of a bitch" and he stepped
from behind the curtain and gave me a look ("et tu Brutus?") of such
pain, such hurt, such sadness - and I floundered and said I hadn't finished my
sentence: I was going to add...
you, comrade, Friend," he said, or something like that. "I will write
out my resignation immediately and join the British or American medical unit."
"The Party wouldn't like that," I said,
and that stopped him. "The Party would like you to go home and go on a propaganda
I felt I had betrayed him - but
at the time I felt justified. Then when I came home wounded and he saved my foot
from a bad infection and came to my house to change the bandage every day, we
hardly spoke. When my foot was better, I don't think I ever saw him again.
When Sam suggested I write his biography I refused.
I said I hated him. Then when Sam insisted and the big money offer came and I
started writing it, I never understood what was bothering me.
told Brecht that I hated him and then I loved him and Brecht shouted, "Write
it that way!"
When it became clear that
he had been a hero, and had done such wonderful things in China, I repressed my
feeling of guilt and betrayal. I kept asking him to forgive me but I was never
clear about what. And whenever anything bad happened to the movie I kept thinking
he was getting back at me.
I never mourned for
Beth. I don't think I have mourned for Sadie either. It took me twenty years to
start mourning for Gerda. I must let myself mourn and cry and forgive myself.
I must do this or I shall die. But I am afraid if I allow myself to do it I'll
bring on a heart attack.
This is the first time
I'm beginning to understand why I abandoned Frances. I didn't want to be near
someone mourning for Beth the way she did! She never understood, neither did I,
why I never contacted her again. Poor woman.