Monday, May 14, 2007

Bernard Gordon 1918-2007

Bernard Gordon, blacklisted writer who led protest at Oscars, dies at 88

By Valerie J. Nelson
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Bernard Gordon, one of the younger screenwriters blacklisted during the McCarthy era whose proudest moment late in life was the protest he led against the honorary Oscar awarded director Elia Kazan, has died. He was 88.

Mr. Gordon, who wrote for years under a pseudonym but saw many of his film credits restored, died Friday at his Hollywood Hills home after a long battle with bone cancer, said his daughter, Ellen Gordon.

When Kazan stepped onstage in 1999 to accept an Academy Award for lifetime achievement, many in the audience withheld their applause. Outside, hundreds of demonstrators protested noisily, a result of the campaign Mr. Gordon helped orchestrate.

In 1952, Kazan had denounced colleagues as one-time communists before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Mr. Gordon had been subpoenaed to appear before the committee but never was called to testify. The exiled screenwriter was forced to work abroad and made more than 20 films, including writing the scripts for "The Thin Red Line" (1964) and "Battle of the Bulge" (1965).

"Some very, very prominent people had been affected by the depths of that campaign against Kazan. That was Bernie Gordon's handiwork, and he lived long enough to experience some vindication," said Patrick McGilligan, an author of "Tender Comrades," a 1997 book about the Hollywood blacklist that included a lengthy interview with Mr. Gordon.

Unable to find work because of the blacklist, Mr. Gordon became "the world's worst plastics salesman" in downtown Los Angeles, he said in 2000. His boss was Ray Marcus, a friend whose name he would use as an alias on several scripts. "Raymond T. Marcus" was his original credit on "Hellcats of the Navy" (1957), which starred Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy Davis.

Through a friend, Mr. Gordon met film producer Philip Yordan, who would become known for acting as a front for blacklisted colleagues. Mr. Gordon moved to France and then Spain to work for him from 1960 to 1973.

As a writer and producer, Mr. Gordon made such science-fiction classics as "The Day of the Triffids" (1962) and such big-screen spectacles as "El Cid" (1961) and "55 Days at Peking" (1963).

He was proudest of his films that had cult reputations, such as "Horror Express" (1973), McGilligan said.

Yordan often took the screen credit while Mr. Gordon wrote the scripts, but the arrangement allowed him to make movies, and $2,000 a week, in the 1960s.

"The living was good in Spain," Mr. Gordon recalled in "Tender Comrades." It led him to title his memoir "Hollywood Exile, or How I Learned to Love the Blacklist" (2000).

Decades would pass before Mr. Gordon's achievements were acknowledged publicly as his by the Writers Guild of America.

As of 2000, 10 screenwriting credits had been restored to Mr. Gordon, more than any other writer, said Dave Robb, a journalist who covered Hollywood and became a friend of Mr. Gordon's.

"The action by the guild comes about 40 years too late to help my Hollywood career," Mr. Gordon told The New York Times in 1997 after seven credits had been restored. "I sure am angry at the way I was treated by all the major studios. They blacklisted me, and I couldn't get any work in this damn town."

Mr. Gordon was born Oct. 29, 1918, in New Britain, Conn., to William and Kitty Gordon, who were Jewish-Russian immigrants. His father ran a hardware store.

Growing up in New York, Mr. Gordon developed an early fascination with movies. He studied English and film at City College of New York, earning a bachelor's degree in 1937.

When he arrived in Los Angeles, Mr. Gordon had $16 in his pocket and got a job at Paramount as a script reader.

Active in the Screen Readers Guild, he served as its president and helped negotiate the organization's first contract with the film studios, according to "Tender Comrades."

Mr. Gordon joined the Communist Party at 22, when he was just getting his start in Hollywood.

It "was certainly not a path to success," Mr. Gordon wrote in his memoir. "Right or wrong, people were there because they were outraged about the existing woes and evils of the world and wanted to do something to correct them."

In 1946, he married Jean Lewin, a fellow activist. She died in 1995.


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