Bernard Wolfe

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Bernard Wolfe (August 28, 1915, New Haven, Connecticut – October 27, 1985, Calabasas, California) was an American writer.


Wolfe entered Yale University at 16 and graduated in 1935 with a degree in psychology. He then enrolled for a few months’ additional study at Yale's Graduate Division of General Studies. In 1936 he taught at Bryn Mawr’s summer College of Women Trade Unionists.[1] He moved to New York and between 1936 and 1938 contributed to Trotskyist journals, such as The Militant and The New International.[2]

In New York City the American Committee for the Defense of Leon Trotsky was looking for an English-speaking secretary to assist Trotsky in Mexico. Wolfe’s friend Arthur Mizener, a professor at Yale, provided funds,[3] and in 1937 Wolfe travelled to Mexico, where he worked for eight months as Trotsky’s bodyguard and secretary, acting as the liaison between Trotsky and the John Dewey Commission investigation into the Moscow Trials.[4]

Between 1937 and 1939 Wolfe occasionally worked in the Merchant Marines.[5] In 1939 he moved to Greenwich Village, where he eventually drifted away from the Trotskyite movement and met Anais Nin and Henry Miller.[6] Through them he found employment writing pornographic novels (11 in 11 months) for the private collection of Roy Melisander Johnson, an Oklahoma oil millionaire. He credited his pornographic output with teaching him to write to specified lengths while facing deadlines: “I acquired the work discipline of a professional writer, capable of a solid daily output.”[7] In 1941 he was the assistant night editor for Paramount Newsreel for a few weeks. In 1943 and 1944 he wrote war-related science articles for Popular Science Monthly and Mechanix Illustrated. He eventually became the editor of the latter magazine.[5]

In 1946 he collaborated with the jazz musician Mezz Mezzrow in writing Mezzrow's autobiography, Really the Blues. The book was a popular success, introducing the mass audience to aspects of black culture. It received a flattering notice in Billy Rose's syndicated column [8] in October of that year and in 1947 Wolfe was hired as ghost writer for Billy Rose’s syndicated column. Wolfe worked on a further study of "negro" culture in America, which was never published, but excerpts were published in American magazines in 1949 and 1950, translated for Jean-Paul Sartre’s Les Temps modernes and quoted by Frantz Fanon .[9]

In 1950 he had psychoanalysis with Dr. Edmund Bergler. Wolfe would return in his fiction to Bergler’s idea of “psychic masochism”. Bergler's ideas of frigidity and the importance of the vaginal orgasm recur in Wolfe's presentation of female sexuality.[10]

In 1951 he published a short story, "Self-Portrait", in Galaxy. Its themes of cybernetics, artificial limbs and prostheses, computerised warfare, masochism and voluntary amputeeism would all be expanded upon in his first published novel, Limbo (1952). Because the novel was set in the then-distant future of 1990, the original British edition is entitled Limbo '90. The publisher claimed that Wolfe had written "the first book of science-fiction to project the present-day concept of 'cybernetics' to its logical conclusion".[11] David Pringle selected Limbo for inclusion in his book Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels.[12] J.G. Ballard praised Wolfe's "lucid intelligence" and claimed Limbo helped encourage him to start writing fiction.[13]Boucher and McComas, however, received the novel poorly, calling it "pretentious hodgepodge" and describing its theme as "a symbolically interesting idea . . . never developed with consistent or convincing details."[14] P. Schuyler Miller gave Limbo a mixed review, describing it as a "colossus of a novel" while faulting its "endless talk."[15]

His novel The Late Risers, Their Masquerade (1954), the title of which plays on Herman Melville’s The Confidence-man: His Masquerade, is about the hustlers, actors and drug dealers who people late-night New York City. In 1955 and 1956 he wrote a number of television plays, some of which drew upon his experiences with Trotsky and as a ghost writer. His 1956 teleplay Five Who Shook the Mighty, a dramatization of the trial of five Romanians who had captured the Romanian Communist legation in Switzerland (the Berne incident), was the subject of protests by the Romanian embassy but was given a special award by the Crusade for Freedom. He wrote a monthly column in 1957 for Nugget, a men's magazine. His third novel, In Deep (1957), is a thriller featuring espionage, socialist hipsters and decades-old Communist vendettas played out in Cuba.

The Great Prince Died (later republished as Trotsky Dead) (1959) was a roman a clef about the events surrounding the assassination of Trotsky (called Victor Rostov in the novel). The book was well received by critics and reviewers, though many expressed doubts about the mixture of fact and fiction in the book. Trotskyites were highly critical of the book, particularly of Wolfe's theme that Trotsky's guilt about the Kronstadt rebellion was transformed into a masochistic death wish.[16] A partial dramatization of The Great Prince Died on Turnley Walker's 1959 book program First Meeting [17] was instrumental in bringing Wolfe to live in California.[18] The Magic of Their Singing (1961) is another novel about New York City's counterculture, as university graduate Hoyt Fairliss explores the world of the beats and nonconformists.

In 1960 he began publishing stories in Playboy magazine, which paid him a retainer for a first option on his short work.[19] In 1961 it was announced that Wolfe was writing an (unproduced) screenplay for Tony Curtis about Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine.[17] In 1963 it was announced that Wolfe was writing the (unproduced) screenplay adaptation of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer.[20] Come On Out, Daddy was published in 1963, an expansion of bitter stories recently published in Playboy and Cavalier (as Andrew Foxe) about Gordon Rengs, a novelist and screenwriter, and his tawdry adventures in Hollywood. A short story collection, Move Up, Dress Up, Drink Up, Burn Up was published in 1968. In the late 1960s he taught at UCLA. Harlan Ellison solicited two stories ("The Girl with Rapid Eye Movements", about Gordon Rengs and the generation gap) to appear in his 1972 science fiction anthology, Again, Dangerous Visions. Wolfe wrote an autobiography, Memoirs of a Not Altogether Shy Pornographer (1972), the title of which alludes to Kenneth Patchen’s Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer. His novel Logan’s Gone (1974), a return to the character of Gordon Rengs, features contemporary politics with campus protests and Vietnam veterans.

In 1974 Wolfe signed a seven-book contract with a recently formed Los Angeles publisher, Wollstonecraft Inc. Unfortunately the publisher suffered financial troubles, and Wolfe published no books after this. It remains uncertain whether several books may or may not have been printed, particularly because of variant titles used in a 1974 Publisher’s Weekly article. The Great Prince Died was republished with emendations as Trotsky Dead. A novel entitled Full Disclosure and advertised to appear in 1975 as an “international suspense novel highlighting moral conflicts among the men who hold the keys to government secrets” may be the Watergate–inspired novel Lies, whose publication corresponds with Wollstonecraft's 1975 schedule, about an undercover government agent whose marriage falters as does his faith in the work he does. Julie: The Life and Times of John Garfield (or Body and Soul: The Life and Death of John Garfield), a biography of the actor by Wolfe and Edward Medard was advertised in several trade journals throughout 1975 and 1977 but its publication is uncertain. A novel, Blood Money, and a collection of essays and reviews, Men Not Quite Without Women, were never published.

In 1975 he collaborated with Michael Blankfort on a play, Karl and Arthur, about Karl Marx and Arthur Rimbaud.

Throughout the 1970s articles and profiles [21][22] noted a lengthy novel that Wolfe was writing about the Delano grape strike. In 1969 Wolfe had conducted a series of UCLA lectures on the proletarian novel,[23] and the Delano grape strike had been employed as background in several of the stories in Move Up, Dress Up, Drink Up, Burn Up.

Wolfe married the actress Dolores Michaels in Los Angeles on June 1, 1964.[24] The marriage was her second and his first. The couple divorced in October 1969.[25] They had twin daughters, Jordan M. and Miranda I., born in Los Angeles on July 23, 1970.

Wolfe died of a heart attack at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital.[26]

Selected works[edit]


Novels and collections[edit]

  • Limbo (1952)
  • The Late Risers, Their Masquerade (1954) (reprinted as Everything Happens at Night)
  • In Deep (1957)
  • The Great Prince Died (reprinted as Trotsky Dead) (1959)
  • The Magic of Their Singing (1961)
  • Come On Out, Daddy (1963)
  • Move Up, Dress Up, Drink Up, Burn Up (short story collection)(1968)
  • Logan's Gone (1974)
  • Lies (1975)


The Plot (Všeobecné spiknutí) by Egon Hostovský translated from then from Czech by Alice Backer and Bernard Wolfe, Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y. 1961


  • The Assassin (Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse 20 February 1955) (inspired by the murder of Trotsky)
  • The Ghost Writer (Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse 29 May 1955) (a political speech writer despises his work)
  • The Outsiders (Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse 18 September 1955)
  • Hooked (Justice 15 January 1956)
  • Five Who Shook the Mighty (Armstrong Circle Theatre 20 March 1956)
  • Pattern of Lies (Justice 25 March 1956)

Selected non-fiction[edit]

  • Floating Fashions (By Raymond Rosenthal and Bernard Wolfe, Cosmopolitan, March 1947).
  • Uncle Remus and the Malevolent Rabbit (Commentary, July 1949)[28]
  • Ecstatic in Blackface: The Negro as a Song-and-Dance Man (Modern Review, January 1950)
  • War Bonds: More Delusions of Security (as Christopher Bliss, The American Mercury, April 1951)
  • Are Taxes Making Liars of Us All? (as Christopher Bliss, The American Mercury, March 1952)
  • Angry at What? (The Nation, 1 November 1958)
  • The Man Who Murdered Trotsky (Coronet, July 1959)[29]
  • The 'Darks' Against the 'Lights' (Esquire, April 1960)
  • Manners and Morals on the Sunset Strip (Esquire, August 1961)
  • Swimming in Red Ink (Playboy, July 1964)
  • Interview with Henry Miller (Playboy, September 1964)
  • A Pair of Jokers and an Ace," (Sunday Herald Tribune, 25 July 1965).
  • The Man Called I-l-l-y-a (The New York Times, October 24, 1965)[30]
  • The Step After Muscle (Cosmopolitan, February 1966).
  • 30 Years After Stalin's Great Purge (New York Times, September 18, 1966)
  • The Trouble with Harry (World Journal Tribune, 26 March 1967).
  • The 10 Percenters Of Hollywood (New York Times, June 18, 1967)
  • Our Generation Gap: Dialogue with the Mutant Young (Los Angeles Times, 6 August 1967)
  • The Real-Life Death of Jim Morrison (Esquire, June 1972)[31]
  • Dearth in the Evening (Works in Progress #7, 1972)
  • Swiftie the Magician: Rendering the Fad of the Camelot Myth (Los Angeles Times, 22 September 1974)
  • review of ‘The Electronic Battlefield’ by Paul Dickson (Books West Magazine, Volume 1 #2, 1976)

Short stories[edit]

Many of his short stories were published by Playboy Magazine, and two stories placed in Harlan Ellison's Again, Dangerous Visions anthology.


  1. ^ Carolyn Geduld, Carolyn (1972). Bernard Wolfe. Twayne's United States Authors Series, vol. 211. Twayne Publishers.
  2. ^ Saul, Scott (2001). Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties. Harvard. pp. 48–55.
  3. ^ Wald, Alan M. (1987). The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930s to the 1980s. University of North Carolina Press. pp. 133–135. ISBN 0-8078-4169-2.
  4. ^ Ellison, Harlan (ed.) (1972). Introduction to Bernard Wolfe, "Monitored Dreams & Strategic Cremations". Again, Dangerous Visions. Doubleday. p. 310.
  5. ^ a b Geduld
  6. ^ Alan M. Wald
  7. ^ "Comic Writer and Aide to Trotsky Dies". Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  8. ^ "Toledo Blade - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  9. ^ Scott Saul
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-04-28. Retrieved 2015-04-14.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ Jacket notes for Wolfe, B. (1961), "Limbo '90", Penguin.
  12. ^ "David Pringle's Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels". Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  13. ^ Ballard, J. G. (1984). "From Shanghai to Shepperton". Re/Search 8/9, pp. 112–124.
  14. ^ "Recommended Reading," F&SF, February 1953, p. 73.
  15. ^ "The Reference Library," Astounding Science Fiction, January 1954, pp. 149–150.
  16. ^ "Joseph Hansen: Trotsky "Psychoanalyzed" (Summer 1959)". Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  17. ^ a b "Chicago Tribune - Historical Newspapers". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  18. ^ Ellison, Harlan (1974). "Who's Been Keeping This Wolfe from Our Door". Los Angeles Times, 10 November.
  19. ^ Gregory Feeley "Bernard Wolfe and the Novel of the Fifties," AB Bookman’s Weekly 3 August 1998
  20. ^ "The Village Voice - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  21. ^ Harlan Ellison, 1972
  22. ^ Larry Grobel "Bernard Wolfe: The Writer as Hero," Los Angeles Free Press 12 September 1975
  23. ^ "YouTube". Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  24. ^ California Marriage Index, 1960-1985. - California Department of Health Services Office of Health Information and Research. - Vital Statistics Section.
  25. ^ California Divorce Index, 1966-1984. - California Department of Health Services Office of Health Information and Research. - Vital Statistics Section.
  26. ^ Bernard Wolfe obituary, AP News, 30 October, 85
  27. ^ "Hypnotism Comes of Age". Retrieved 26 January 2014.
  28. ^ [1]
  29. ^ Bernard Wolfe. "The Man Who Murdered Trotsky" (PDF). Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  30. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2015-04-14.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  31. ^ "The Real-Life Death of Jim Morrison by Bernard Wolfe". 28 January 2014. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  • David Galloway "An Erratic Geography: The Novels of Bernard Wolfe," Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, VII (Spring 1964)
  • John Leonard, "Whatever Happened to Bernard Wolfe?" New York magazine 22 April 1968

External links[edit]