B is for Mr. Alvah Bessie

by RS on April 2, 2012

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

 

10 comments
HollyMichael
HollyMichael

HI Rebecca, I just want to hang out here and soak up all this cool info! Cute puppy!

bluebethley
bluebethley

Because I have trouble letting go of books (even library books), the image that stays with me is of young Alvah selling 1,000 books at a dollar apiece to go to Paris. His biting humor comes through in the quote beautifully. You make me want to read more. . . 

jonjo_6_2
jonjo_6_2

:-) I've finally got to leave a comment!

What an interesting guy, Rebecca. I lloved reading about him.

I also tried to leave a comment yesterday but couldn't get in.

Have a great 'challenge'

guilie172
guilie172

I didn't even know this person existed... yeah, I'm all blushing and everything :) Thanks for the education!

francene
francene

Haha. Great introduction to a character through the letter B. Cute dog too.

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