Clifford Odets | Critical Essay by Gerald Peary

This literature criticism consists of approximately 17 pages of analysis & critique of Clifford Odets.
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(approx. 17 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Essay by Gerald Peary

SOURCE: "Odets of Hollywood," in Sight and Sound, Vol. 56, No. 1, Winter, 1986/1987, pp. 59-63.

In the following essay, Peary explores Odets's flirtation with and eventual immersion into Hollywood screenwriting.

Consider three contemporary playwrights. Sam Shepard becomes a movie star, a heartthrob, Harold Pinter turns out clever screenplays; David Hare directs films—and they do so without looking over their shoulders. Who today would criticise them for diminishing themselves as playwrights, squandering their talents, or just plain selling out? Selling Out—in capitals—the very notion is an anachronism. But in the 30s, for the theatre, the term still meant something. The stage was where 'real' dramatic artists made their stand. Eugene O'Neill never, ever went to Hollywood, Clifford Odets was reminded over and over again. And if Odets wished to be the next O'Neill—or maybe better than O'Neill—he must stay in New York and pump out plays. Some fifty-odd years ago, in 1935, MGM offered Odets $3,000 a week, or more, to write screenplays in Los Angeles. The playwright, though amazed, resisted. 'Like a conspirator, he whispered that he might be willing to consider it,' wrote Harold Clurman, co-founder of the Group Theatre, in The Fervent Years. The Group, however, kept its resident playwright in hand.

In Hollywood, riches awaited Odets. In New York, he remained almost as indigent as ever. He shared the heartfelt frustration of young Ralph in Awake and Sing!: 'He dreams all night of fortunes. Why not? Don't it say in the movies he should have a personal steamship, pyjamas for fifty dollars a pair, and a toilet like a monument. But in the morning he wakes up and for ten dollars he can't fix his teeth.' Odets planned his escape to Hollywood. He was angered by the Group's righteous demands on him.

Ever the hopeful suitor, MGM invested $17,000 in Odets' play Paradise Lost—significantly, the Group Theatre didn't turn down this Hollywood financing. But the play faltered at the box-office, and the courtship abruptly ended. Though the MGM contract was lost, Odets adopted a new tack: he paid a money-raising visit to Hollywood on the Group's behalf. Conscience-stricken in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, he bragged about the superiority of the Group Theatre back home in New York. He assured Lewis Milestone that his real interest was in the stage and the purpose of his trip was to keep Paradise Lost afloat; Milestone countered by asking Odets to produce a screenplay for The General Died at Dawn, from an unpublished China-set pulp novel which had landed on Ernst Lubitsch's desk at Paramount.

In February 1936, Odets signed a four-week contract with Paramount Pictures worth $2,500 a week. According to his biographer Margaret Brenman-Gibson, he felt respected 'as he had not since the opening of Awake and Sing!' It was as if, six months after the death of his own mother, Odets had achieved Bessie's most passionate hope for her son Ralph: 'I should only live to see the day when he rides up to the door in a big car with a chauffeur and a radio. I could die happy, believe me' (Awake and Sing!). Seemingly, Odets liked being in Hollywood. That was his guilt. How could he explain this to Clurman and the Group? The point can be made by jumping ahead for a moment, to Odets' autobiographical play about Southern California, The Big Knife. The play dissatisfied Clurman: the motivation for the protagonist's unhappiness was too shadowy. "'First you must show," I said, "how anxious the actor is to leave Hollywood how and why he hates it so much …" Odets suddenly blurted out, "He loves it."

What could be more enjoyable than writing at Lewis Milestone's behest on The General Died at Dawn? Director of the uncompromisingly pacifist All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Milestone was a European-born Jewish intellectual, a friend of the Group Theatre (he lent money for its production of Johnny Johnson), and he was a left-liberal—some might say, more politically conscious than Odets. When, under the influence of Malraux's novel Man's Fate, Odets edged his screenplay towards the recent revolutionary struggles in China, Milestone did not baulk. In fact, the director added (uncredited) a key political scene to the script: the opening, in which a high-handed colonialist is punched to the ground by the hero, O'Hara, an American fighting the Chinese revolution.

At night, Odets struggled with The Silent Partner, the labour play he had long promised the Group. The film script, however, progressed smoothly, at the rate of three or four pages a day. His hero's impoverished early life was modelled on that of the Group actor Jules (later John) Garfield. For the right-wing antagonist, General Yang, Odets used Hitler's oratory. For good measure he added fire-and-brimstone agitprop, Big Speeches attacking capitalists and dictators which could have been lifted verbatim from propagandist stands in Waiting for Lefty.

Had Odets managed to bite the hand which fed him $2,500 a week? By May he had finished the script and was so confident of its virtues, both aesthetic and political, that he told the New York Times: 'There is no attempt in Hollywood to stop anyone doing good writing … I believe that my ideas can be put over in pictures.' To prove his point, the shooting script of The General Died at Dawn found its way to the radical journal the New Masses for ideological inspection. In the magazine's July 1936 issue Sidney Kaufman endorsed the screenplay without reservation, praising Odets' instant mastery of cinematic technique. The New Masses also printed the text of two scenes, one in which O'Hara expounds on why he fights dictatorships ('You ask me why I'm for oppressed people? Because I got a background of oppression myself, and O'Hara and elephants don't forget'), and a second in which he rails against the warlord Yang for his self-serving philosophy ('Your belief is in your own very limited self-mine is in people! One day they'll walk on earth, straight, proud … men, not animals').

Both speeches survived in the release print. Why? Because here was evidence—to Paramount's glory—of the hand of Clifford Odets, the famous author of Waiting for Lefty: There is, however, evidence of post-production studio tampering. The lovers, Gary Cooper and Madeleine Carroll, are thrown together on a train in the middle of a complicated plot without introduction: the key meeting scene is simply missing. Surely Odets wrote it, and surely Milestone filmed it? Important political elements have also vanished. Kaufman alludes to a village laid ruin by Yang and a dead woman in a puddle: neither detail is in the movie. Yang's devastation is kept off screen entirely. Kaufman rejoiced that '150 million eyes and ears closely attentive' would heed the line, 'We who have been the anvil—will soon be the hammer.' But he rejoiced too soon: Odets' most overtly Marxist passage is not to be found in The General Died at Dawn.

O'Hara's radical speeches are in fact practically all that remains of 'leftist' content—and even these are undercut by Gary Cooper's delivery. Paramount Pictures was not the Group Theatre, and Gary Cooper, a political conservative, utters Odets' passionate words with the commitment of an actor under a multi-picture contract. Clurman wrote to Odets: 'Our greatest lesson was to hear lines so characteristic of you become almost imperceptible … when said by actors with no relation to them.'

The General Died at Dawn won no Academy Awards, nor deserved to. Seen today, it seems a silly, toothless imitation of, in particular, Shanghai Express (Paramount, 1932), which was similarly located on an Oriental train to nowhere. General Yang is a brazen copy of the title character in Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1932). (And, yes, Gary Cooper does say to Madeleine Carroll, 'We could have made wonderful music together.' That woeful line was written by Odets.) As for the film's politics, who can unravel the warring sides? When Paramount re-released the film in 1949, an opening title was added: 'Some time back in the early days of the Chinese government, the Chinese people, led by the great Chiang Kai-Shek, fought to rid themselves of the last of the warlords who preyed upon remote provinces. This picture is inspired by that battle and by its victorious conclusion.'

Odets never refuted this Cold War interpretation, which was undoubtedly the antithesis of his intentions: Chiang Kai-Shek, in fact, was probably the inspiration of General Yang. However, when Odets appeared voluntarily before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952, he denied having inserted any social comment into the film, or even that he had told the Daily Worker in 1937 that 'I got away with some stuff' in the script. Odets confessed, perhaps disingenuously: 'I thought the whole matter was nonsense because The General Died at Dawn is a picture that starred Gary Cooper and (was) done by Paramount. There was nothing of any subversive or propaganda nature in it … I don't think Hollywood has ever made a movie with left propaganda in it. And I think the whole matter of social messages … cannot happen.'

Back in Hollywood, 1937, now married to the actress Luise Rainer, Odets was employed by Paramount on two projects, Gettysburg and Castles in Spain. Of Gettysburg Margaret Brenman-Gibson wrote: 'As soon would become his practice, Odets let this film script become longer and longer as he tried to improve it. He seemed unable to accomplish this, and the mammoth screenplay, with its torrent of colourful, lively dialogue, would soon be shelved …' Castles in Spain, an adaptation of Ilya Ehrenburg's The Loves of Jeanne Ney, switched to Loyalist Spain, went through two versions before the project was passed to another Group playwright, John Howard Lawson; his rewrite became the film Blockade (1938). Odets complained in public for the first time about the Hollywood screenwriting process. He told World Film News: 'When I saw (Blockade), I couldn't find one line left of what I'd written … I never sat through a film y'know without thinking to myself, "That's not true. It's a lie."

Hollywood began to fill up with members of the Group Theatre seeking film work: Elia Kazan, Morris Carnovsky, Phoebe Brand, Ruth Nelson, Luther Adler and even Harold Clurman himself. The arrival of his colleagues did not free Odets' scenario-writing blocks, but it did ease the passage of his new play, Golden Boy. The critic Gerald Rabkin noted how Odets turned Hollywood subject matter and technique (the short scene and the fadeout) 'against itself, in order to combat the mythic Hollywood success story.' In Golden Boy, Odets, the insider, thumbed his nose at Hollywood. Unlike his pre-studio plays, which were sprinkled with references to cinema stars and visits to the local bijou, Golden Boy never directly mentions the movies. Joe Bonaparte punches his way through the boxing world without once thinking of Paramount Pictures. At the same time, Odets expected his audience to recognise that Bonaparte's rise to the top, in a plot full of stock film figures, follows the mythic, linear form of Hollywood at its streamlined best. Then Odets mocked Hollywood with the downbeat off-screen deaths of Joe and Lorna, as intentionally unmotivated as the most tacked-on studio ending.

Golden Boy was a Broadway hit and Odets was converted back to the theatre. He published a bilious attack on the cinema under the studio system in the New York Times (21 November 1937): 'It is sad to see what movies are doing to America's consciousness of itself … Hollywood has set our citizens examples of conduct and behaviour patterns fit only for lower animals.' Odets became obsessed with getting the Federal Theatre to produce The Silent Partner across America (that same play which had lain stillborn in Hollywood because of The General Died at Dawn). Meanwhile, his new play, Rocket to the Moon, maltreated and ridiculed its only Hollywood-tainted character, the movie dance director Willy Wax. On the East Coast, Wax is regarded as an interloper, practically a carpetbagger. Success, Odets wrote of this weakling and womanizer, had given him an 'unpleasant uneasiness'. He narrowly escapes death by strangulation.

Odets was asked on radio if serious-minded dramatists should try Hollywood. 'Flatly, the answer is they must stay where they are, myself included.' True to his new word, Odets declined Rouben Mamoulian's offer to write the script of Golden Boy for Columbia Pictures. In 1939, Hollywood took its revenge. The film of Golden Boy, written by Daniel Taradash and Lewis Meltzer stripped away Joe's brother Frank, the radical labour organiser, and also much of Odets' social-consciousness sermonising. Most serious, the unhappy ending was blithely repaired with a full life ahead for Joe and Lorna.

In 1940, unable to mount a Boston-to-New York production of Night Music without investment money from United Artists, Odets was lured to Los Angeles to try to write a Night Music screenplay for the producers Albert Lewin and David Loew. His efforts were unavailing. The dramatist's swift artistic comeback was the 1941 play Clash by Night, in which the villain, Earl, is a movie projectionist. Willy Wax was only threatened with death; Earl is actually strangled. He dies in his projection box ('a veritable picture of some minor hell') while a vapid Hollywood picture runs on, wedding bells on the soundtrack.

The keynote speech in Clash by Night echoes Odets' criticism of Hollywood in Awake and Sing! Motion pictures give false hope to America's Little People. Joe speaks for all the play's lost characters: 'Earl, Jerry, Mae, millions like them clinging to a goofy dream—expecting life to be a picnic. Who taught them that? Radio, songs, the movies …' Clash by Night failed as Night Music had failed. Odets returned to Hollywood in 1942 and again (with his new wife, Betty Grayson) in 1943: this time he stayed for five years. In 1948 he told the New York Times: 'I went West … because I wanted to shake out of my system the disappointments of two successive commercial failures in the theatre … I was looking for a period of "creative repose": money, rest, and simple clarity.' Again he turned about. 'I went to Hollywood and found much of interest there … The cinema medium, as the platitude goes, is a very great one: why not explore the possibilities? Why not mingle with and learn from some of the world's shrewdest theatre technicians, including writers?'

Odets was signed by Warner Brothers to write a life of George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue. Odets adored Gershwin and his script was 900 pages long. When he delivered it, Jack L. Warner promptly fired him, even though, according to Jean Negulesco, Odets begged to be allowed for no extra fee to compress the script to a more normal length. 'J. L. was adamant,' Negulesco remembered. 'He didn't want Odets in the studio. Another writer was called in to do a completely new job …'

The next studio to beckon Odets to Hollywood was RKO. In 1943 his agent arranged for Odets to write a movie version of None But the Lonely Heart, from the new novel by Richard Llewellyn. Odets liked the tale of a Cockney lad wandering in the bowels of between-the-wars London. He took the train West. On arrival at RKO, he learnt that Cary Grant was planned for the lead. 'There was silence for a moment and I asked if anyone read this book. It seemed no one had … When I met Cary for the first time, he said that he'd like me to direct the movie, too … (he) told me if I could write the words, I shall certainly be able to direct their use. Well, I did.'

Out of Clifford Odets' screenplays came the narrative technique for Golden Boy; out of his life in Hollywood came The Big Knife. At the centre of his career as a film-maker, however, is None But the Lonely Heart. Among its admirers were James Agee and Jean Renoir, and the reason is not far to seek. On his first time behind the camera, Odets took command. The result was assured, poetic and personal. Though there are compromises in the studio casting—an insufferably pixyish Barry Fitzgerald and a miscast Cary Grant—None But the Lonely Heart remains a small model of a successful literary transformation, rather than an adaptation.

The ambitious, overlong and overwritten novel is about a working-class boy who never learns. Like his father, Ernie Mott aspires to be a painter; but he's sidetracked by flashy mobsters. Eventually, he stops talking about art and begins carting a gun. 'The gun felt like some old pal … kind of cool and steady, ready to do a job without no backchat or fuss.' As his mother lies dying of cancer, Ernie for a moment grows fearful of impending loneliness. 'Funny how the whole place was sort of dead cold without her … He started shaking so much he could hardly make a move, and the place was coming over dark with the grey of rain outside.' By the end, however, Ernie is back to oblivion: 'He was going to get a suit like Jim, and a tie pin, and proper look the part of The Smasher. He started feeling sorry for everybody going to work, because there was no need of it.'

The movie Ernie Mott is of a different, romantic breed: an instantly recognizable Odets dreamer, wishing for so much more than his assigned slum-life existence. As Cary Grant's Ernie Mott walks through London, a voice proclaims: 'The Story of Ernie Mott, who searched for a free, a beautiful and noble life in the second quarter of the twentieth century.' The conflict is pure Odets from the time of Awake and Sing!: the head-in-the-clouds son versus the materialistic mother. Ernie's mother wants her son in her second-hand shop. But he objects: 'I'm not in the business of sweating pennies out of devils poorer than myself.' In a patented Odets soliloquy, Ernie ponders his ambitions: 'Life is a piece of meat, when you know how … Take what you want? Right? Right! So that's what it's all about—either be a Victim or be a Thug. But suppose … suppose you don't want to be neither? Not a hare an' not a hound. Then what?'

Having discovered that his mother has cancer, Ernie decides for the time being to stay at home and help in the shop; and the movie's most tender scenes are those in which Ernie and his mother (Ethel Barrymore) come together as a true family. On the outside, however, Ernie chooses to run with the hounds: he joins a gang of thieves headed by Jim Mordinoy, having fallen in love with Mordinoy's girl, Ada. Odets takes Ernie through a swirl of London nightlife: it is a familiar film noir tale of the 40s, of the outsider whose love for a corroded woman weds him to a decadent and criminal, 24-hour-a-day nightclub life. The noir sections of the film are swift, hardboiled and laced with tart dialogue. When Odets makes mistakes they are personal rather than generic, such as overplaying a Jewish pawnbroker, a sententious character who acts as Ernie's conscience, or making too much of the dichotomy between dark Ada and nice Aggie, who plays the cello at night and loves Ernie loyally despite his errant ways.

The last scenes of None But the Lonely Heart show Odets in the full flood of his romantic idealism, and they bear comparison with the final curtains of his best plays. The Cockney Orpheus has ascended from the underworld, given Ada back to the sharks and turned away from crime. London is about to be blitzed. He stands on a bridge and addresses his ageing pal, Twite: 'I'm dreaming, Dad, "a dream of a better man." Where's the decent, human life the books tell us about? When's the world coming out of its midnight? When's the human soul getting off its knees?' Twite reminds him that it sometimes takes a war. Ernie agrees: 'That's it, Dad, one thing is left. I see it plain as London town! Fight with the men who'll fight for a human way of life!' With that chivalrous pledge, Ernie descends from the bridge into the dark tentative city. The last shot is subdued: Ernie, all sobriety, standing at Aggie's door; he enters, but there is no shot of the lovers. Odets holds his camera on the street, keeping sentimentality at bay.

Ethel Barrymore won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her role in None But the Lonely Heart the film, however, did poorly at the box office, this being the reason, perhaps, why Odets' directing career was curtailed. What did follow, however, were numerous writing assignments in the 1940s and two screen credits.

Odets' 900-page Rhapsody in Blue was transformed into Humoresque (Warner, 1946). A new writer, Zachary Gold, cut the script down, eliminated the Gershwin biography, but kept Oscar Levant, Gershwin's pianist friend, as a major character; then he grafted what was left on to bits of Fanny Hurst's 1919 short story. That, at least, is director Jean Negulesco's version of how Odets and Zachary Gold came to share screen credit on Humoresque. But confusion arises from the number of Humoresque versions in the Warner Film Library housed at the University of Wisconsin's Center for Film and Theater Research. There are eight treatments by different people, plus scripts by Waldo Salt and Barney Glazer, but nothing from Zachary Gold. (Odets is represented by an anthology composite of Rhapsody in Blue scenes, seemingly compiled by a secretary.)

If Odets' career is to be measured by how shrewdly he subverted the studio system, then Humoresque is a meretricious project, the ultimate sellout. It is artificial, overripe, quintessentially Hollywood. But taken on its own terms, as a delirious John Garfield-Joan Crawford 'woman's picture', it often succeeds. It is played to the hilt by the dashing stars, and reaches a crescendo in a grand steal from A Star Is Born: Joan Crawford drowns herself in the ocean, in sacrifice, while violinist Garfield plays on, courtesy of Isaac Stern.

In 1946, Odets wrote Deadline at Dawn from a florid, amusing Cornell Woolrich thriller. It was directed at RKO by Harold Clurman, who at night in Hollywood wrote his masterly memoir of the 1930s, The Fervent Years. Clurman never particularly liked the movies, even when making one. Later he recalled, 'My almost casual attitude towards the job met with resentment, perhaps because I finished the film on time and it proved moderately profitable.' Clurman labelled Deadline at Dawn 'a run-of-the-mill RKO movie for which Clifford Odets as a favour to me wrote the screenplay.' Odets had a better opinion of it. 'I'm not ashamed of that,' he said in 1963. 'It's a little mystery thriller. I see it; it has its living moments.'

Between 1942–48, Odets was a prolific Hollywood scenarist. He planned a biography of Beethoven for Charles Laughton, though how much was written is unclear. Margaret Brenman-Gibson credits him with unproduced screenplays for projects called All Brides Are Beautiful, April Shower and The Whispering Cup and, interestingly, an adaptation of Dreiser's Sister Carrie. She also lists Odets working uncredited on Sister Kenny (1946) and Hitchcock's Notorious (1946). Unfortunately, there is no other record of Odets' involvement with the latter. And there is another project calling for further research: the complete Odets script for It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Although Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett were hired for the final script, Frank Capra acknowledges in his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, that he retained Odets' early scenes.

Odets' West Coast days between 1942–48 exploded back on the New York stage as The Big Knife in 1949. The character of actor Charlie Castle is, unmistakably, a projection of the screen writer Odets. But what exactly troubles Castle? The second-rate movies he has worked on? All Hollywood pictures? The compromised work ethic of Southern California? The sterile life in the sun? Failed personal relationships? (The dissolution of the Group?) As its many critics have observed, The Big Knife is as muddled and contradictory as Odets' own vacillating opinions of Hollywood. (Regrettably, the 1955 film, directed by Robert Aldrich, was foggy and ill-motivated, probably because it was too loyal to the original script.)

In 1952, Odets appeared before HUAC, named names and then described his own non-subversive occupation: 'To speak generally, I go to Hollywood to make a living, not to write something … to demean or disgrace American people as I believe many people do. But to make an honest living, after writing entertaining scripts.' In 1955, after the death of his wife, Odets returned for good to Hollywood. He worried obsessively about having been a 'friendly' government witness. And he went back to writing screenplays.

Odets' chief disappointment in the years 1955–63 was that his monumental Biblical screenplay Joseph and His Brethren remained unproduced, even though Harry Cohn, president of Columbia, was an enthusiast. Frank Capra and Otto Preminger were asked to direct it, and Rita Hayworth was scheduled to star. Perhaps Odets' most challenging assignment in these years was to write (uncredited) the last scene of Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life (1956). What is to happen when James Mason wakes in hospital and realises, having suffered delusions of grandeur under a new wonder drug, that he tried to kill his son in imitation of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac? Odets' solution was disappointingly conventional: Mason wakes up healed and normal, realises his mistake and embraces his wife and son in reaffirmation of the 1950s nuclear family.

The best of the later screenplays is Sweet Smell of Success, a patented Odets story about the heated symbiotic relationship between a Broadway press agent and a big-time gossip columnist. For this script, revised from an earlier one by Ernest Lehman, Odets could run free with zesty New York dialogue and non-stop Runyanisms. Here are none of the conscience-stricken characters of The Big Knife. Sweet Smell of Success wisely stays among the show-business shills and heels: Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), PR man supreme, 'the boy with the ice-cream face', and J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), the Walter Winchell-like gossip maven, who brags 'My right hand hasn't seen my left hand for thirty years.'

In 1960, Odets both wrote and directed a picture for the first time since None But the Lonely Heart. But The Story on Page One is two hours of tired and overacted courtroom drama which reveals, principally, that as Odets' politics grew more conservative, his vision of the working class grew more condescending. While Odets' films were claustrophobic, with their weak, compromised characters, the playwright himself began to speak out about the need for strong, uncontaminated national heroes. On 25 May 1952, six days after his final HUAC appearance, Odets eulogised John Garfield, who had just died aged 39, in a letter to the New York Times: 'He was as pure an American product as can be seen these days, processed by democracy, knowing or caring nothing for any other culture or race … His feeling never changed: that he had been mandated by the American people to go in there and "keep punching" for them.'

'One thing we need badly is heroes,' Odets told the New York Herald Tribune in 1958. 'As Emerson said, a hero must be a minority of one. He must be an ethical model who breaks the mould of conformity, but this is the age of conformity.' Four years later, he romanticised Marilyn Monroe in Show as a natural spirit who was ruined by the deprivations of her childhood, then callously treated by the studio system: 'That she could be sensitive, intuitive and with an animal wisdom far beyond them, most of the executives with whom she collided did not even dream.'

Odets' last screenplay was Wild in the Country, written for Elvis Presley in 1962. 'It pained me to hear him rationalise writing the screenplay,' Harold Clurman said, 'by declaring that Presley was something more than he seemed.' But was not Presley the perfect new Odets hero: the truck-driving country boy who keeps his Tennessee accent and Southern ways in homogenised Southern California? As the title suggests, the film is about a tearaway who keeps his rural integrity while all about him—bullying family, dishonourable towns-people—try to corrupt him, send him to jail, break his spirit. Yet there are echoes of that unmistakable Odets voice. Presley (Glenn Taylor): 'Don't let your Pa beat your wings down.' Tuesday Weld: 'Your aim is to fly above me. But if you ever come tumbling down, I can wait!' And the solution to the hero's burden of social problems? He is packed off to a safe university to become a writer. The last cinematic image Odets leaves us is of Glenn Taylor walking awed into the halls of learning: Elvis Goes to College.

In 1963, Clifford Odets became a writer for the Richard Boone Show, suddenly evincing the same enthusiasm for television that he had expressed, at various times, for the movies. He died of cancer that same year aged 57. Dead in Hollywood.

Were his years in movies worth it? His old Group Theatre friends, those still left after HUAC, remained as angry about the sacrifice of talent as they had been when Odets sidled off to Hollywood in 1935. In August 1963, Harold Clurman wrote in the New York Times: 'Now think of … the little floozie in The Big Knife. The girl is a confused victim of the Hollywood industry. She is both sordid and pathetic … She is Odets' female alter ego.' According to Margaret Brenman-Gibson, 'Elia Kazan said he could have forgiven Clifford anything except the grievous waste of … time and talent in writing films.'

None But the Lonely Heart, yes, and that splendid script for Sweet Smell of Success. Otherwise the Group Theatre was right from the start: one of America's major playwrights became only an intriguing footnote among film-makers. He sold out. Having gone merely to look round, he ended by becoming Hollywood. He was cremated, appropriately enough, at Forest Lawn cemetery. Odets' friend Jean Renoir understood the ties that bind. 'When Clifford Odets died,' Renoir said, 'I thought I wanted to leave Hollywood. He was a prince. Every gesture, every way of thinking was noble. Although I love Hollywood, I have to say it is without nobility. But I stayed, of course.'

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