And who the hell is Samuel Ornitz? Well, dear reader, if you were a student of the Left you already would know the answer to that question. Was he a footnote in Leftist history? Mais, non! Mes amis. Samuel Ornitz was more than that and I will shortly tell you why he mattered.
How does he fit in Julius? Mr Ornitz comes up in a conversation about books…and that’s all I’m saying.
Samuel Ornitz was a labor and political activist, a novelist and a screenwriter. Wait did I say a screenwriter? Yes and you can probably guess where this all leading to, right?
Ornitz’s background was middle-class, he was educated in New York City. At one point, before he became a writer and went to Hollywood, Ornitz was a social worker and it was during this stint that he observed the corruption in the local political and judicial systems. He wrote about what he had seen as well as labor problems, and the moral descent of bourgeois Jews in his best-selling Haunch, Paunch, and Jowl (1923) that described the immigrant life at the turn of the century. He also wrote a children’s book, Around the World with Jocko the Great (1925). In his 1927 novel, A Yankee Passional, Ornitz tells the story of a Christ-like character who is martyred by Protestant-Catholic hatred.
By 1928, Ornitz was wooed to Hollywood where he wrote several non-political screenplays that included Follow Your Heart, The Hit Parade, It Could Happen to You. However, he became a pioneering figure in Leftist causes and was widely considered the Hollywood Communist Party’s intellectual guru.
Ornitz traveled along with Theodore Dreiser and John Dos Passos to Kentucky in the 1930s to meet and generate attention to the plight of impoverished coal miners, which he wrote in his play In New Kentucky, which was published in the New Masses in 1934.
In 1947, Ornitz, with his nine associates, faced the House Un-American Activities Committee and refused to answer their question. He was charged with contempt of Congress and was imprisoned at Vermont’s Springfield Prison for one year and paid $1,000 fine.
After his release from prison, Ornitz was blacklisted from working in Hollywood and spent the rest of his life writing novels. He died of cancer in Los Angeles in 1957.