Alvah Bessie as a volunteer in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, Darmos, Spain around 1937.

Are you rolling your eyes? If you subscribe to this site, you probably guessed I would have an Alvah Bessie post. So what can I mention about this great man that I haven’t written before?

Well, let’s start with Alvah’s role in Julius. Alvah at first appears in Corinne’s dreams but then he starts appearing. At first, Corinne thinks that the stress of the magazine is slowly driving her mad, but when Alvah the Ghost assures her that he’s acting as her guardian angel, she accepts that perhaps there are worse ways to go insane. As the story unfolds, Alvah advices of how she should run the fiction section of Julius and acts as a confidante. These conversations with Alvah become benisons for Corinne as she becomes estranged from Jake. As a side note, I should add that apart from Alvah the Ghost, there’s also Alvah the terrier. Yes, Corinne has a Jack Russell terrier whom she named Alvah after her hero.

Instead of providing biographical detail of the great man what I’ll do is let him speak for himself and if you want to learn more about Alvah (the man, not the dog) you can read the three longish chapters in Rare Birds, by his son Dan Bessie and also Inquisition in Eden, Alvah’s memoir of his part of the Hollywood Ten.

But as a means of an introduction to the writer, readers might be interested that as a young man Bessie had theatrical ambitions; however, once he realized that he wouldn’t be able make it on Broadway, he wrote the following, which I think will resonate with most of us:

I had spent four years getting exactly nowhere on the New York stage; unless you consider a six-month case of gonorrhea somewhere. I had somehow acquired 1,000 books (mainly by theft, I’m sure) during my four years in high school, four in college, and another four on the stage, and I decided that there was only one thing for me to do; I would sell the books for one dollar apiece and go to Paris–to write. And that is what I did.

Although he wasn’t as prolific in getting published as many of his contemporaries because of the blacklist, Alvah wrote every day until the day he died. Nothing stopped him not even Hollywood’s or the US government’s censure. It’s a lesson we should all follow.

The AlvahBessie, Park Slope, Brooklyn late June 2007

 

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