Saturday, July 18, 2020

Larry Tye's "Demagogue"

Larry Tye is the best-selling author of Bobby Kennedy and Satchel, as well as Superman, The Father of Spin, Home Lands, and Rising from the Rails, and co-author, with Kitty Dukakis, of Shock. Previously an award-winning reporter and national writer at the Boston Globe and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, he now runs the Boston-based Health Coverage Fellowship.

Here Tye dreamcasts the lead for an adaptation of his new book, Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy:
Tough-guy Emanuel Goldenberg is the Red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy. Or at least he could and should have been, were he still alive and still using his screen name of Edward G. (for Goldenberg) Robinson.

It’s partly that Robinson looks the role of the sinister McCarthy, from his easily-acquired five o’clock shadow to his receding hairline, expanding waistline, and general burliness. He also could be at least as snarling and bullying as McCarthy, traits Joe displayed to the world during the legendary Army-McCarthy hearings and that Eddie did when he played Rico Bandello in Little Caesar and Johnny Rocco in Key Largo. More to the point, Robinson had lived through the Red Scare that Joe McCarthy came to embody. He had experienced first-hand the anti-Semitism McCarthy was accused of, which is why the Goldenbergs fled Bucharest when Manny, as he was known then, was 10. He attended City College of New York, which McCarthy disparaged as a training ground for Reds and pinkos. He knew what it was like to be singled out by the FBI as a Communist and to be called to testify before the McCarthy-like House Un-American Activities Committee. And he’d learned on the streets of New York’s Lower East Side how to fight back, declaring, “These rantings, ravings, accusations, smearing and character assassinations can only emanate from sick, diseased minds of people who rush to the press with indictments of good American citizens. I have played many parts in my life, but no part have I played better or been more proud of than that of being an American citizen.”

Robinson also knew better than anyone that it wasn’t that simple. Afraid of landing on a career-stopping blacklist, he named names of men he thought were Communist sympathizers and repudiated some of the leftist organizations he’d belonged to. “I was duped and used,” he testified. “I have never knowingly aided Communists or any Communist cause.”

Whatever ethical lapses he showed by such backtracking and finger-pointing, Robinson could have used those emotions to bring nuance to his portrayal of Senator McCarthy. He had more than 100 movies to teach him how, and he performed well enough over his 50-year career to win an Oscar for lifetime achievement. What Jack Nicholson did to bring alive on the big screen Teamsters strongman Jimmy Hoffa, and Leonardo DiCaprio did in reminding us about FBI boss Hoover, Edward G. Robinson could have with done with “Low Blow” Joe McCarthy.
Visit Larry Tye's website.

The Page 99 Test: Demagogue.

--Marshal Zeringue