Sunday, August 26, 2012

Zero Mostel

The challenge for August is to read a book about a super-hero.  Super as a noun can be defined as an article of superior quality, grade, size and as an adjective as of the highest degree, power of extreme or excessive degree.  A hero is a man of distinguished courage or ability or one who has heroic qualities.  A hero can also be the male character in a story.

The dust jacket for Zero Mostel a biography by Jared Brown states " Mostel was a uniquely talented actor, a gargantuan personality, and a man of many contradictions.  He was huge in stature..."  Certainly anyone who was six feet tall and weighed 300 pounds would be considered super at least in size.  He certainly by the above description had a large personality also.  Since, Zero is the main male character in this story of his life he is the hero of his own story.  Within the book it states that when Mr. Mostel returned to New York after his testimony before the committee that determined who was a Communist and hence blacklisted, "he received a hero's welcome from his family and friends."

In 1938, the House of Representatives created a temporary investigating committee called the Committee on UnAmericcan Activities or HUAC.  They investigated the Federal Theatre as they felt the its employees were engaged in a conspiract to overthrow our government. The Federal Theatre went out of existane in 1939.  If you denouced communism and cooperated with the committee you were ok otherwise you were considered unpatriotic and subversive.  This committee became a standing committee in 1945.  A political blacklist that would deprive any witnesses who refused to cooperate of their jobs was supposedly created between the Chairman of the committee and Hollywood producers. 

Zero when called to testify had to be funny.  He could not take anything seriously.  Zero would not name names.  He "emerged from the hearing with his dignity intat, he had the courage to assert his belief in freedom of speech and to oppose the committee's attempts to limit that freedom."  This is why he was called a hero.  He did not name anyone.  He retreated to his painting studio for a year after he testified.

Mr. Mostel won three Tony awards after the hearings.  His best known role was that of Tevye in Fidler on the Roof on and off Broadway.  Though he did not play the part in the movie.  

I did not know of Mr. Mostel's love of painting before I read this book or that he was blacklisted.  I did remember hearing about others being blacklisted and author's using others to front their works.  This book is well written and allowed opportunities to reflect on what was written.  Zero is certainly not a traditional super-hero but anyone who can stand up to a Congressional Committee the way he did is a hero in my estimate!

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