Roger L. Simon, Blacklisting Myself: Memoir of a Hollywood Apostate in the Age of Terror Encounter Books, $25.95
Hollywood memoirs abound, but not many describe The Motorcycle Diaries, a hymn to Che Guevara, as a “puerile fantasy,” compare Stanley Sheinbaum, a key Hollywood politico, to “one of Lenin’s useful idiots,” and question the intelligence of Barbra Streisand. This long overdue memoir is different and deserved.
In a town not friendly to writers, where few even attain “flavor of the month” status, Roger L. Simon has been hugely successful. He created the hippy detective Moses Wine, hero of books and movies such as The Big Fix. Simon’s script for Enemies: A Love Story was nominated for an Academy Award. As he told Frontpage in a recent interview, that is not exactly chopped liver.
Blacklisting Myself serves up an insider view of Hollywood, with portraits of Woody Allen, Richard Pryor in his glory days, and Oliver Stone, here seen leaving the set of Wall Street to cavort in a Chinese whorehouse. In one vignette, mink-clad Lillian Hellman rolls into an event in a wheelchair, accompanied by Paul Robeson’s version of the labor anthem. “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night.”
Barbra Streisand, one of those people who needs people, summons Simon, loads him down with boxes of material, then calls him that very night to see what he thinks. That was the end of his involvement in the Prince of Tides. Such vignettes will entertain, but better still is Simon’s take on the Hollywood ethos.
America is evil and capitalism is bad – except for my three-picture deal with Paramount and its residuals, except for my Malibu house, and except for my Ferrari and Mercedes Benz. That was how Richard Grenier described the political dialectic of Hollywood, a place where people confuse having a lot of money, and celebrity status, with having something to say. Simon’s adventures illustrate that dialectic. A man of the left since high school, Hollywood welcomed his leftist connections as cool, part of the anti-Vietnam gestalt brought in by the “baby moguls,” creatures of the sixties.
That is why Simon would get pitched on a film about Bill and Emily Harris of the Symbionese Liberation Army, a domestic terrorist group. That is why Abbie Hoffman came to town to shop the film rights to Steal This Book, and why there was interest in movies about the Weather Underground and SDS. That is why Hollywood ignored the victims of Stalinist terror but wanted to make a movie about Bertell Ollman, an NYU professor who invented a Marxist version of monopoly called “Class Struggle.” And so on.
Marxist totalitarian dictatorships evoke interest in Hollywood but Simon, unlike others, took the trouble to actually visit a few. One of the more enigmatic non-movie characters in Blacklisting Myself is Richard Hunter, an architect and private detective who claimed to know Zhou Enlai and scouted Simon for a trip to China. He went there, and also to Cuba and the Soviet Union, all voyages of discovery. Despite their good reviews from the American left, Simon came to regard them as gigantic jails. In the USSR, he noticed, he was always under escort or surveillance. The KGB also tried to spring a honey trap on him. He didn’t go for it.
“The more time I spent in the Soviet Union,” he says, “the more I despised, more precisely dreaded, them and their culture.” Even so, “My trips behind the Iron Curtain were considered ‘groovy’ in Hollywood. They gave me panache. We were light years beyond the blacklist.”
Simon doesn’t go into the back story of Stalinist capers in the screen trade, but he has a lot to say about the blacklist going on now, which he says is worse. It involves “the grey haze of this mindless received liberalism,” which Simon compares to “the permanent religious text of some strange new orthodoxy.” The subtext was that “we were all together, part of the secret society, the world of those who know as opposed to those who don’t.” In this world, conservatives are “bad people” dominated by greed.
If you dissented just a tiny bit from this view, Simon says, you had three choices: One, argue and be dismissed as a fool, warmonger and nut; two, shut up and ignore it, then feel yourself a coward; three, blacklist yourself. That is, walk away. Simon did, with good reason. He had broken the rules.
He calls Hollywood’s anti-conservative accusations “a distracting charge, a flimflam job on the self and others, to preserve an opulent lifestyle by avoiding embarrassment and seeking inoculation from criticism.” He’s not a fan of the religious right, but believes they could teach Hollywood types a few things about raising children. He even agrees with Timothy Leary that Gordon Liddy is a smart man.
After keeping quiet for years, Simon started to speak openly about those gigantic jails so revered in the dream factories. He saw a betrayal of civil rights in the OJ Simpson verdict and its aftermath. After 9/11 he chose not to blame America but be to be vigilant against Islamofascism, “the world’s most virulent enemy of women’s rights and homosexual rights, justifiably two of the most accepted liberal shibboleths.” To be liberal, he says, is no longer liberal “and I am free.”
Simon recommends that those of a conservative bent avoid Hollywood and make movies on their own, now an easier task. He and his wife are writing a story about the incarceration of an American in Poland in 1949, during the Stalin Era. But that is not a project for Hollywood.
“We will make it ourselves,” he told Frontpage, “to make sure the political content is not violated.” That done, they should take Blacklisting Myself, which sets a new standard for Hollywood memoirs, and put it on the big screen. Maybe Richard Dreyfuss would be interested in the lead role.