cover image From the Lower East Side to Hollywood: Jews in American Popular Culture

From the Lower East Side to Hollywood: Jews in American Popular Culture

Paul Buhle. Verso, $25 (304pp) ISBN 978-1-85984-598-1

Following up on his Radical Hollywood, Buhle, who teaches at Brown University, delivers a rambling, factoid-driven account of the contributions American Jews have made to music, theater, film, radio, television and graphic arts. Among his subjects are the theater and literature created by early Lower East Side immigrants, the transition to Hollywood and the effects of the Blacklist, as well as the work of the Avant-Garde during the 1950s and 60s. Buhle seems to have interviewed Jewish artists in every media, and he strings their anecdotes together using his own personal preferences, opinions and nostalgia. Sometimes it works, as in a lyrical description of the late Yiddish painter-poet Moishe Kish, or in descriptions of comic artists Harvey Pekar, R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman. But at other times Buhle just seems to be listing people's names and achievements. And the omission of Arthur Miller's work, when Clifford Odets is given lavish treatment, seems odd. Two of Buhle's previous books--The Encyclopedia of the American Left and Marxism in the United States--have gone a long way toward restoring a radical legacy that was more or less wiped out by Cold War-era red baiting and scare mongering. And while this book will be useful to followers of Jewish American history, its importance does not quite reach that of its predecessors.