Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Yahrzeit #15...and A Day In Court

Lionel Stander (l) in a 1961 production of The Policemen, directed by Leonidas Dudarew-Ossetynski.

My father died of cancer 15 years ago today. We were a continent apart then--he in L.A. and me in Maine. There were times when he went years without seeing, or even speaking, to me. But now he's a constant presence in my life, due to the dozens of photographs on the walls of the "Dad Gallery" in the upstairs hallway. I see him when I first wake up in the morning and just before I go to bed at night, which rarely happened during my childhood.

The newest additions to my ever-growing collection of Lionel Stander images came via email a few weeks ago. Early this year a woman in California named Valerie Hunken found me via Google. She was going through the possessions of her late father, the actor and stage director Leonidas Dudarew-Ossetynski. Among them were some stills from a 1961 Off-Broadway production of The Policeman, with my father. Would I be interested in those photographs?

Of course I would, I wrote her. I hadn't known anything about The Policemen or Dudarew-Ossetynski. (I learned from Google that he was born an aristocrat in Wilno, Poland--now Vilnius, Lithuania.) The only shows I recalled Dad being in the early 1960s were The Conquering Hero (memorable because Tom Poston held a puppy that peed on his hand during a rehearsal in Philadelphia), Brecht's Arturo Ui and Luther. The latter two were directed by Tony Richardson, who went on to cast my father as Pierpont Mauler in a London production of Brecht's St. Joan of the Stockyards, then broke the Hollywood Blacklist by putting him in the The Loved One (still one of my all-time favorite movies).

Months went by and I forgot about Hunken. Then out of the blue the photographs arrived on November 12th, four days after my birthday. And who else should be in some of the photos than Jack Gilford, whom I first knew as the nice man in the Cracker Jack commericals. (I still remember the lyrics!) He was also blacklisted, though not as long as my dad if he was doing commercials when I was very young.

Rehearsal of The Policemen. Director Leonidas Dudarew-Ossetynski is atop table, Lionel Stander is seated at center, Jack Gilford is standing at far right.

Speaking of the Hollywood Blacklist, along with 31 others I signed on to a Brief of Amici Curiae of Victims of the McCarthy Era in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project. I received a PDF of the brief today from the attorneys. It argues that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA):
threatens once again unconstitutionally to interfere with the rights of free speech and association. AEDPA's vague ban on 'assistance' and 'advice' is essentially no different from the McCarthy Era attempt to root out association with and advocacy for groups unpopular with the government.

One of the key lessons from this era is that when the federal government fans the flames of public passion by enacting overreaching criminal statutes, staging congressional hearings, and investigating the loyalty of millions of American citizens, it implicitly condones and sanctions retributions against individuals, such as Amici. Eventually, our society and this Court understood that these consequences were uncceptable. We should not make these mistakes again.
To my surprise and amazement, Dad and I are mentioned in the brief proper, which all nine Supreme Court Justices (or at least their clerks) will have to read. How cool is that?

In the Appendix, the List of Amici Curiae has biographical notes. Here's mine, drafted by the attorney and amended by yrs truly:
Bella Stander is the daughter of the late Lionel Stander, a film, stage, television and radio actor who was active in many progressive social and political causes. Stander was first subject to an early “blacklist” in the 1930s because of his active role in progressive trade unions and anti-Fascist organizations. Although he was publicly cleared of accusations of being a communist by the Los Angeles District Attorney in 1940, years later he was again accused of being one. He was subpoenaed to appear before HUAC in 1953, and as a result was blacklisted from radio, TV and Hollywood. Lionel Stander sparred vigorously with the Committee, defending his Constitutional rights and denouncing HUAC for trampling them, which made front-page news from coast to coast. Columnist Walter Winchell, who had supplied material on Stander to the FBI, then demanded that he be ousted from his role in the touring production of “Pal Joey.” J. Edgar Hoover wrote in his FBI file, which covers some 30 years: "Be certain Stander doesn't use FBI to regain respectability."
I didn't light a Yahrzeit candle tonight, but I think the above will burn a bit longer.

4 comments:

Kim Rossi Stagliano said...

Bella, you write the most beautiful tributes to your Dad. I remember Jack Gilford from those commercials.

My Father in Law died of Esophogeal/liver cancer 9 years ago - and I still miss him. He was the heart of the family. A fact made all too clear when he died and his house grew icicles that have yet to melt.

You're a good daughter.

Sustenance Scout said...

Kim, that's an image I'll never forget. I'd say you and Bella are both good daughters/ds-in-law. Bella, I love your Dad Gallery and your line about not seeing him daily in real life but now sharing every day with him. I'm sure he's happy about that, too. Hugs, K.

DebraLSchubert said...

It was an honor to see your "Dad Gallery" in person last week. What a treat for me. Thank you.

Obie Joe Media said...

Very lovely memory. Thank you for sharing this.