Red Redgrave’s comeuppance

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Redgrave in Playing for Time

Not long after Vanessa Redgrave’s 1978 Oscar debacle, which we discussed yesterday, came another controversy: she played a real-life Jewish concentration-camp survivor, Fania Fénelon, in a CBS-TV movie, Playing for Time. Many Jews, including Fénelon herself, objected to Redgrave’s selection to play the part; Sammy Davis Jr. memorably said that it was “like me playing the head of the Ku Klux Klan.” (She won an Emmy for her performance.)

In the years since, Redgrave has remained a devout Marxist. In her 1994 autobiography, she wrote that she was still “absolutely convinced of the necessity of Marxism, and not for a single day has this conviction been shaken.” She’s also continued to be a generous supporter of Islamic terrorism. In 2002, she paid £50,000 bail for Akhmed Zakayev, a Chechen who was accused by the Russian government of involvement in terrorist acts, including that year’s Moscow theater hostage crisis; in 2007, she helped pay bail for a terrorist who’d been arrested immediately upon returning to Britain after his release from Guantánamo.

Jeremy Corbyn

In a 2015 interview, Redgrave celebrated the election of the Marxist Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader in Britain, calling it the “English Spring.” (She may be a Commie, but she’s still enough of an upper-class, far-left English snob of the Sidney and Beatrice Webb/Bloomsbury type to all but ignore the existence of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.)

Redgrave, by the way, didn’t get the last word at the 1978 Oscar telecast we discussed yesterday. Some time after her acceptance speech, in what would become a famous moment in showbiz history, legendary screenwriter Paddy Chayevsky (Marty, Network) took the stage to present the awards for best original and adapted scripts. He began by saying the following:

Before I get on to the writing awards, there’s a little matter I’d like to tidy up – at least if I expect to live with myself tomorrow morning. I would like to say, personal opinion, of course, that I’m sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion of the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal political propaganda.

I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation, and a simple “thank you” would have sufficed.

Chayevsky’s remarks about Redgrave were received by the audience with immense enthusiasm. (Among those who can be seen applauding lustily in the You Tube clip are Chayevsky’s fellow writers – and fellow Jews – Neil Simon and Arthur Laurents, the latter of whom had actually been a victim of the blacklist; conspicuously not applauding was Shirley MacLaine, whose own fondness for Communism we examined on this site in 2015.) In these times, however, when more and more Hollywood luminaries are loath to criticize Islamic terror but quick to demonize the only democracy in the Middle East, we can’t help but wonder how one of today’s Oscar audiences would respond to a speech like Redgrave’s and to comments like Chayevsky’s.

 

Vanessa Redgrave’s hatred for “Zionist hoodlums”

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Vanessa Redgrave

Though Vanessa Redgrave is one of the world’s great actresses of stage and screen, and a member of the most renowned acting dynasty ever, she’s at least as well known for her politics as for her performances. The most famous moment of her career is still the speech she gave in 1978 upon winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her title role in Julia. Redgrave was already famous for her outspoken Marxism, her support for the PLO, and her hostility toward Israel, and she had just produced and narrated an anti-Israel documentary, The Palestinian, which had caused outrage among many American Jews. As a newspaper profile would point out many years later, by the time of that award ceremony her “reputation for hectoring radicalism had made her widely disliked.”

After being handed her Oscar by John Travolta, Redgrave expressed thanks for the honor and praised her co-star, Jane Fonda, and her director, Fred Zinneman. She then thanked the audience – or, at least, the Academy members present who had cast their ballots for her – for having “stood firm” and “refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums.”

At the sound of the words “Zionist hoodlums” there were audible gasps from the audience – followed by a good deal of booing. Unruffled, Redgrave went on to maintain that by giving her the Best Supporting Actress nod, Academy voters had “dealt a final blow against that period when Nixon and McCarthy launched a worldwide witch-hunt against those who tried to express in their lives and their work the truth that they believe in.” In other words, by choosing to present that golden statuette to Redgrave rather than to one of her fellow nominees (Leslie Browne, Quinn Cummings, Melinda Dillon, and Tuesday Weld), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had finally brought the age of McCarthyism to an end.

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Redgrave and her brother Corin at an London antiwar rally in 1968

It was, all in all, a high point in the history of show-business vanity, self-importance, ideological hectoring, and moral posturing. And it shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Just a few years earlier, Redgrave and her brother Corin had joined a radical British faction called the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), and had immediately become its most famous and influential members. Corin had even bought a house in Derbyshire for the party to use as a training camp. Over the next few years, the WRP developed close ties to Muammar Gaddafi’s government in Libya, took money from him, and engaged in espionage on his behalf. The party also accepted payments from Saddam Hussein, on whose behalf its members photographed participants in demonstrations against Saddam’s regime. All this happened with the knowledge and approval of Vanessa Redgrave, who was twice an WRP candidate for for Parliament.

More tomorrow.

Inventing Julia

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Mary McCarthy on the Dick Cavett Show

“Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the,’” said novelist and critic Mary McCarthy on a 1981 telecast of the Dick Cavett Show. She was talking about her old literary acquaintance and political adversary, Lillian Hellman, the Stalinist playwright turned memoirist. After Hellman sued, Martha Gellhorn, who had been Ernest Hemingway’s third wife, rode to McCarthy’s rescue, devoting sixteen pages in an issue of Paris Review to a detailed takedown of Hellman’s purported autobiographical account of her adventures with Hemingway in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. When Gellhorn read Hellman’s account, she saw at once that it was sheer fiction. Because Gellhorn had been there.

Writer and correspondent Martha Gellhorn is shown in this undated photo. (AP Photo)
Martha Gellhorn

That wasn’t all. Comparing one of Hellman’s memoirs, An Unfinished Woman, with another, Pentimento, Gellhorn “discovered instances in which Hellman apparently had been able to be in three places at once: in the Moscow embassy, with Julia, her anti-fascist agent/friend in Vienna, and in Spain.”

There were also a number of details that Gellhorn, a sharp-eyed reporter, recognized as bogus – for example, “Hemingway and Hellman could not have stood on their balcony in Madrid watching the fireworks from bombing (as Hellman claimed) since the bombs in Spain did not give off light.” Gellhorn concluded that Hellman had spent three weeks in Spain, tops, and that if she’d witnessed any military action whatsoever, she hadn’t understood the first thing about it.

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Carl Rollyson

The most famous story in any of Hellman’s memoirs concerns her purported lifelong friendship with a woman she identified only as Julia. As Hellman told it in Pentimento, Julia joined the anti-Nazi underground while studying medicine at the University of Vienna; in 1937, she asked Hellman to smuggle a large sum of money into Germany to help save the lives of some of Hitler’s victims, and Hellman bravely agreed.

Then, in 1983, came a memoir, Code Name Mary, by another hand – Muriel Gardiner, an American psychiatrist. Her story was strikingly similar to Julia’s: while studying medicine at the University of Vienna in the late 1930s, she’d become active in the anti-Nazi underground. 

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Julia (1977): Jane Fonda as Hellman and Vanessa Redgrave as Julia

This raised a problem. Gardiner was a real person with a real history in the anti-Nazi underground. If there’d been another female American med student in Vienna who was also in the underground, surely (a) it would have been (to say the least) a remarkable coincidence and (b) the two women would have known each other. But Gardiner had never crossed paths with anybody who might have been the real-life Julia. Nor had she ever met Hellman.

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Hellman in a 1979 ad for Blackglama furs

But one person she did know was Wolf Schwabacher, a friend of  hers who also happened to be –guess what? – Hellman’s lawyer. Over the years, Schwabacher had told Gardiner a lot about Hellman; and after Gardiner’s book came out, it seemed painfully obvious that Schwabacher had also told Hellman a lot about Gardiner.

Despite widespread speculation to this effect in the media, however, Hellman insisted that she had never heard of Muriel Gardiner, and had absolutely not based Julia on her. Fiercely, Hellman stuck to her story: Julia had been a real person, a person whom she’d known and loved since they were girls together, and with whom she had collaborated in 1937 in a courageous anti-Nazi caper. And that was that.

But that wasn’t that. Whether Hellman liked it or not, the walls were beginning to crumble, the truth beginning to out. And people who understood Stalinism, and who were aware of the intimate relationship between Stalinist ideology and reflexive untruthfulness, were starting to get Hellman’s number. 

More tomorrow.