John F. Kennedy, Alan Paton, the Black List and Judy Holliday

Recently, as you may know, I have posted about the biographies I have read of half-sisters, Mary Pinchot Meyer and Rosamond Gaston. Gaston was a beautiful young actress and socialite who committed suicide while still in her twenties, and Meyer a “friend” of President Kennedy and wife of CIA officer Cord Meyer, who was murdered on the Georgetown towpath. Who would have guessed that this morning, as I revved up the treadmill and turned on Comcast On Demand to accompany me, I would select (for no good reason) a new films (perhaps never shown in theaters) called “An American Affair”, that fictionalized the Meyer story and told the story of a woman living in Georgetown, who had an affair with the president. The thrust of the film appears to be that Kennedy was murdered by anti-Castro forces after failing to follow through following the Bay of Pigs disaster, that they were after the president’s lover’s diary, and that she was at risk. It is also a coming of age story, as the young teenager living across the street gets involved with his new neighbor and brought into the story as a central figure. The president’s friend (not named or identified as Meyer) is murdered, but at the bottom of the steps in Georgetown famous from “The Exorcist”, not on the towpath. It is not a good movie (thought it kept me going), and it is certainly not true to the facts (and doesn’t pretend to be true to a historical story), and its publicity does not even cite the Meyer case as its inspiration, but I thought it was quite a coincidence that it focused on an unfortunate event that I had read so much about before.

In the meantime, over the last few days, we watched three films (DVD) that are worth mentioning – “The Solid Gold Cadillac”, “The Salt of the Earth” and “Cry the Beloved Country”. “The Solid Gold Cadillac” in its stage version is being performed at the Studio Theatre. We missed our performance night and will have to see it one night this week before it closes on the 10th. The movie, with Judy Holliday, was filmed in 1956 and was fairly disappointing. The story is about a woman who owns a small amount of stock in a company and challenges the company’s directors at a board meeting, eventually falling in love with a former president of the entity and working with him to take over leadership of the company once again. A comedy, it was more silly than funny. And in fact, that is what the reviews of the theater production have been saying – it seems like the problem is with the script, and whether it’s on stage or film, it won’t be successful. We’ll see when we see the play.

On the other hand, the other two movies are absolutely worth watching. “Cry the Beloved Country”, based on Alan Paton’s wonderful book about South Africa, was made in the mid-90s, staring James Earl Jones and Richard Harris as the black and white leads. They are both wonderful, the direction and cinematography were topnotch, the film sticks very close to the book, and the story is both depressing and uplifting. The human condition, indeed.

Finally, “The Salt of the Earth”, Herbert Biderman’s semi-documentary about a Hispanic-led strike at a zinc mine in New Mexico, using professional actors, and non-professionals who were involved in the real event, is a very powerful black and white film. Biderman, as well as the writer of the screenplay and several others involved in the production were black-listed during the McCarthy era (Biderman spent six months in prison), and the film was basically banned for over a decade. As a historical piece alone, the film would be worth seeing.

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