Abraham Polonsky

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Abraham Lincoln Polonsky (December 5, 1910 – October 26, 1999) was an American film director, Academy-Award-nominated screenwriter, essayist and novelist, blacklisted by the Hollywood movie studios in the 1950s, in the midst of the McCarthy era.

Early life[edit]

Abraham Polonsky was born in New York City, the eldest son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Henry and Rebecca (née Rosoff) Polonsky. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School.[1] In 1928, he entered City College of New York and, following graduation, earned his law degree in 1935 at Columbia Law School. After several years of practice, mixed with teaching, he decided to devote himself to writing. He was lifelong friends with Roy Pinney.

Career[edit]

Polonsky wrote essays, radio scripts and several novels before beginning his career in Hollywood. His first novel, The Goose is Cooked, written with Mitchell A. Wilson under the singular pseudonym of Emmett Hogarth, was published in 1940.

A committed Marxist, in the late 1930s Polonsky also joined the Communist Party of the USA. He participated in union politics and established and edited a left-wing newspaper, The Home Front.

Polonsky signed a screenwriter's contract with Paramount Pictures before leaving the US to serve in Europe in the Office of Strategic Services during World War II (from 1943 to 1945). After the war, he briefly returned to writing for Paramount. He wrote the screenplay for Robert Rossen´s independent production Body and Soul, (1947) starring John Garfield and Lilli Palmer. The screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award. Afterward, Polonsky became a Hollywood film director.

Polonsky's first film as a director, Force of Evil (1948), was not successful when released in the United States, but it was hailed as a masterpiece by film critics in England. The film, based on the novel Tucker's People by Ira Wolfert, has since become recognized as one of the great American films noirs and, in 1994, was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Hollywood blacklist[edit]

Polonsky's career as a director and credited writer came to an abrupt halt after he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1951. Illinois congressman Harold Velde called the director a "very dangerous citizen" at the hearings. While blacklisted, Polonsky continued to write film scripts under various pseudonyms that have never been revealed. It is known that Polonsky, along with Nelson Gidding, co-wrote Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), in which Polonsky's name was initially dropped from the film credits. Polonsky was not given public credit for the screenplay until 1997, when the Writers Guild of America, west officially restored his name to the film under the WGA screenwriting credit system.

Later life[edit]

In 1968, Polonsky was the screenwriter for Madigan, a police noir, and Polonsky used his own name in the credits. The film was directed by Don Siegel, starring Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda.

After a prolonged absence, Polonsky returned to directing in 1969 with the Western film Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, a tale of a fugitive Native American pursued by a posse, which Polonsky converted into an allegory about racism, genocide, and persecution.

Polonsky was an uncredited scriptwriter for Mommie Dearest[2] (1981), based on Christina Crawford's memoirs of her adoptive mother Joan Crawford, and The Man Who Lived at the Ritz (1981), based a novel by A.E. Hotchner. A Marxist until his death, Polonsky publicly objected when director Irwin Winkler rewrote his script for 1991's Guilty by Suspicion, a film about the Hollywood blacklist era, by revising the lead character (Robert De Niro) into a liberal, rather than a Communist.

He received the Career Achievement Award of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association in 1999. Prior to that, Polonsky taught a philosophy class at USC School of Cinema-Television called "Consciousness and Content". While no longer a member of the Communist Party, he remained committed to Marxist political theory, stating "I thought Marxism offered the best analysis of history, and I still believe that".

Until his death, Polonsky was a virulent critic of director Elia Kazan, who had testified before HUAC and provided names to the Committee. In 1999, he was enraged when Kazan was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for lifetime achievement, stating that he hoped Kazan would be shot onstage: "It would no doubt be a thrill in an otherwise dull evening". Polonsky also said that his latest project was designing a movable headstone: "That way if they bury that man in the same cemetery, they can move me."[3]

Thom Andersen interviewed Polonsky in the 1990s about the events of the Hollywood Ten years for his film Red Hollywood.

Polonsky died on October 26, 1999, in Beverly Hills, California, aged 88.

Filmography[edit]

Novels and essays[edit]

The World Above

  • The Goose is Cooked (1940) (with Mitchell A Wilson - pseudonym Emmett Hogarth)
  • A Season Of Fear (1956)
  • "How the Blacklist Worked in Hollywood" (1970) (essay)
  • "Making Movies" (1971) (essay)
  • Zenia's Way (1980) (novel)
  • Children of Eden (1982) (unfinished novel)
  • To Illuminate Our Time: The Blacklisted Teleplays of Abraham Polonsky (1993)
  • Body and Soul: The Critical Edition (2002)
  • Force of Evil: The Critical Edition (1996)
  • Odds Against Tomorrow: The Critical Edition (1999)
  • You Are There Teleplays: The Critical Edition (1997)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kipen, David. "Flawed look at career of blacklisted director", San Francisco Chronicle, August 29, 2001. Accessed September 14, 2009. "The American 20th century went to high school at DeWitt Clinton High in the Bronx. Multicultural before there was a name for it -- at least a polite one --Clinton nurtured such diverse and influential figures as Bill Graham, James Baldwin, George Cukor, Neil Simon and Abraham Lincoln Polonsky."
  2. ^ Yablans, Frank. Papers concerning Mommie dearest: Guide.
  3. ^ Some Rude to Kazan; "Evil Right-Wing"; CNN’s Bruce Morton Took Sides

External links[edit]