Barzman And Blair On The Blacklist

REVIEW by Harriet Robbins

I recently wrote about FIREWEED (A POLITICAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY) by Gerda Lerner which focused on the Hollywood blacklist. Now two more memoirs--THE RED AND THE BLACKLIST and THE MEMORY OF ALL THAT--have been written by Norma Barzman and Betsy Blair, respectively, adding another dimension to this highly volatile subject.

Betsy Blair, married to Hollywood star Gene Kelly, led a life of luxury laced with political activism that spanned the years of the blacklist unrest. From her humble beginnings she epitomized the American Dream as she lived her fairy-tale life with Kelly and their child. Her transformation into a divorced expatriate living in Paris working with such European film luminaries as Michelangelo Antonioni, Costa-Gavras, Simone Signoret, Yves Montand, Marguerite Duras and Luis Bunuel taught her much about the realities of life and led her to marry British director Karl Reisz in 1963.

The book describes her own personal growth even as it reveals much about the machinations of the Hollywood and European film worlds with all of their political infighting. Thus, through Blair we get not only an inside but a wide-screen view of the blacklist and its aftermath. Her book is laced with drama and offers fresh insights into an infamous period of American history.

THE RED AND THE BLACKLIST offers another slant on the same subject. Married to leftwing screenwriter Ben Barzman, Norma Barzman was a writer in her own right and the mother of seven children. Her autobiography brings a large cast of characters to life: Pablo Picasso, Harold Robbins, Sophia Loren, Charlton Heston, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Losey, John Wayne, among many others.

To escape being subpoenaed by the witchhunters, the Barzmans fled the USA for France. The family's 30-year stay in Paris is described in vivid and novelistic detail. Barzman writes in lusty, no-hold-barred fashion and doesn't shy away from unflattering personal revelations. In all, this is a provocative, engaging and sometimes annoying book, one that leaves its mark on the reader.