A VERY DANGEROUS CITIZEN: Abraham Lincoln Polonsky and the Hollywood Left

Paul Buhle, Author, David Wagner, Joint Author . Univ. of Calif. $27.50 (275p) ISBN 978-0-520-22383-7

Called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1951, Polonsky was called a "very dangerous citizen" by Illinois congressman Harold Velde. Blacklisted in Hollywood for refusing to inform on his political associates, this brilliant screenwriter lived a life that offers a unique window on the Cold War in Hollywood. Buhle (Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist) and Wagner have produced a fine biography of Polonsky (who wrote such classics as Body and Soul and Force of Evil) that is also a visceral and engaging study of the Hollywood blacklist and its broader context: the 1950s right-wing backlash against progressive politics. Buhle and Wagner carefully detail Polonsky's actual leftist political activities (as opposed to the innuendo and misinformation that circulated in the HUAC) and map out the permutations of Polonsky's artistic career—from working with Gertrude Berg on The Goldbergs to later work such as the 1969 Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here. Sympathetic—the book is dedicated "To the Memory of the Blacklisted Generation"—without being hagiographic or dishonest about their subject's political ideas, Buhle and Wagner have written an exceedingly well-researched, nuanced and highly informative biography and social history. It's a welcome addition not only to film literature but to the political history of the 1950s. 18 b&w photos. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
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