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Monday, December 22, 2014

J. Edward Bromberg

   I doubt anybody knows who Joseph Edward Bromberg (December 25, 1903 – December 6, 1951) was. He was a Hungarian-born American character actor in motion picture and stage productions dating mostly from the 1930s and 1940s. Born Josef Bromberger in Temeschburg (Temesvár), Austria-Hungary (now Timişoara, Romania), he was five years old when his family immigrated to the United States, settling in New York City.
     After graduating from Stuyvesant High School, he went to work to help pay for acting lessons. By virtue of his physique, the short, somewhat rotund actor was destined to play secondary roles. Bromberg made his stage debut at the Greenwich Village Playhouse and in 1926 made his first appearance in a Broadway play. Occasionally credited as Joseph Bromberg, he performed secondary roles in 35 Broadway productions and 53 motion pictures until 1951.
     For two decades, Bromberg was highly regarded in the New York theatrical world and was a founding member of the Civic Repertory Theatre (1928–1930) and of the Group Theatre (1931-1940). Bromberg made his screen debut in 1936, under contract to Twentieth Century-Fox playing a wide variety of roles, ranging from a ruthless New York newspaper editor to a despotic Arabian sheik.
     Although he spoke with no trace of an accent, he was often called upon to play immigrants of various nationalities. When Warner Oland, the actor who played Charlie Chan, died in 1938, Fox considered Bromberg as a suitable replacement, but the role ultimately went to Sidney Toler. Fox began loaning Bromberg to other studios in 1939 and finally dropped him from the roster in 1941. He kept working for various producers, including a stint at Universal Pictures in the mid-1940s.
     Then McCarthyism rose it's ugly head in the 1950s. McCarthyism was named after Senator Joe McCarthy from Wisconsin. Unfortunately McCarthy (born 1908) died in 1957...7 years too late; he had 7 years to do untold damage to numerous people's reputations by making accusations and accusing people of subversion or treason without any regard for evidence. Also included in is attacks on individuals were accusations, again without any proof, that they were homosexuals.

     Rightly or wrongly Bromberg got caught in McCarthy's dragnet. In 1951 the blacklisted Bromberg had found work in England, but died within the year of a heart attack while working in a London play. He was just a few weeks short of his forty-eighth birthday.
     In the book Naming Names Victor S. Navasky wrote that in 1951 Bromberg presented the Committee with a doctor's certificate describing his rheumatic heart condition and stating he had recently had an attack of congestive heart failure and so asked to be excused. Congressman Walter said he knew from experience, “that you can get doctors to make statements as to almost anything” and refused the request. Bromberg appeared on the stand but was under obvious physical distress.
     In 1952, Bromberg and seven other Group Theater members were named by Elia Kazan as Communist Party members in testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was also named as a communist by film director Edward Dmytryk.
     Dmytryk was one of many filmmakers investigated for affiliation with and activities for the Communist Party or leftist organizations. Summoned to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1947, Dmytryk was one of the Hollywood Ten who refused to testify and were cited for contempt of Congress, serving jail terms. At first, Dmytryk fled to England where he made the neo-realistic movie, Give Us this Day (1949), a movie sympathetic to the working man based on the novel, Christ in Concrete. The movie, which was successful in Europe, was renamed Christ in Concrete in the United States and quickly suppressed. Dmytryk returned to the United States when his passport ran out and was soon arrested. After spending several months behind bars, Dmytryk decided to testify and identify persons whom he knew had been fellow members in the American Communist Party, as HUAC had demanded. On April 25, 1951, Dmytryk appeared before HUAC for the second time, answering all questions. He spoke of his own Party past: his brief membership in 1945, and named 26 former members of left-wing groups. He recounted his experiences of the period in his book, Odd Man Out: A Memoir of the Hollywood Ten (1996)  For more on The Hollywood Ten go to the History Channel website HERE.
     In the memorial service for Bromberg, actress Lee Grant was asked to give one of the eulogies and knowing the pressure exerted on Bromberg and the possible fallout, she still gave a moving eulogy. This eulogy was printed in Red Channels and as a result she was blacklisted in Hollywood until 1964.
     Bromberg also played chess.  In the December 1942 issue of Chess Review Bromberg wrote a letter to the editor (Al Horowitz) and said in part…”Alekhine, whose character and personal traits…has never emerged as an exemplar of 'gentlemanliness', but I have…been willing to overlook his foibles because of his real genius at the game. But since his recent conversion to the “new order” and his active support of same, I have not been able to abide the very sound of his name.”
     He went on to say, “I think Chess Review is to be taken to task for dignifying this Nazi by publishing his games… The game is only as great as its greatest exponents and to think that this man enjoys the title of champion, which was made possible for him by the very people he has turned against, is galling to say the least.”
     His conclusion: “I say let’s keep him and his games out of Chess Review…declare the world championship vacant and let’s give s decent, progressive representative of the democratic, anti-facist, United Nations a chance at it.”
     Chess Review’s answer stated in part. “Ordinarily political views of a chess master are his own concern. However, when the world’s chess champion attempts to sow dissention among other masters…his views and utterances cannot be ignored… all articles and news dispatches on this subject have emanated from Nazi-controlled sources and may be spurious…we are not convinced that suppression of Alekhine’s games is the proper treatment…”
     This touched off a debate in letters to the editor some of which follow:

Paul Little, editor of Musical Leader magazine, wrote “…I come across the same artistic problems…whether or not to eschew all art that is created by the enemy… chess is a universal language and brotherhood. His mind and …writings may be condemned…his games …examined…for their own sake.” “…games should be published as long as he doesn’t express his political views in the annotations.”

“As long as Alekhine’ games are brilliant…chessplayers will want to see his games…”

“We don’t care what Alekhine believes and we admire and want to read and study his games.”

Chess Author John J. Hannak wrote, “Perhaps it will interest you to hear authentic words of Alekhine, spoken by him just a week before he deserted to Hitler. I met him in April, 1941, in Lisbon and had several long talks with him. His very first exclamation …”What do you think of your friend Euwe? He now collaborates with the Nazis!” which is probably a lie. Then he went on, “But I, …love freedom and democracy and I hate racialism (sic)…I only know good chess players and bad ones.” Alekhine then went on to say he was ready to play “the Russian Bolshevist Botvinnik” or “the American Jew, Reshevsky” and does not ask for their genealogical tree. “…personal life …is a thing apart, but when…allegiance is given to Hitler…he becomes repugnant and damnable and deserves ostracism.”

“Regardless of his playing ability we cannot permit a man to be our world champion who…would belong in prison or an insane asylum, a man whose moral standards are so low that no man of character can sit with him…and play with him the royal game,”

In the January, 1943, issue Horowitz replied by stating about 70 percent of his readers wanted to see Alekhine’s games published and so he would continue to do so.

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