Monday, July 13, 2020

Diary

I've been reading Carl Zuckmayer's autobiography, A Part of Myself, which was published in 1966, to fill in some of the details left out of his wife's book. He is far more specific than Alice is about their New York and Los Angeles periods. Their journey to the U.S. was greatly facilitated by Dorothy Thompson, an American journalist whom Zuck had met in Germany. She was extremely well known at the time and was married to Sinclair Lewis. When they arrived at Ellis Island, they were initially quite apprehensive, but they soon discovered that Dorothy had arranged for Franklin Roosevelt to recommend their entry. Furthermore, Dorothy was the person who introduced them to Barnard, Vermont: she had a house there and invited them up.

Zuck and Alice eventually got an apartment in upper Manhattan, and while in New York they visited many friends and acquaintances from Europe. Soon Zuck traveled alone to Hollywood, where he also had several friends. However, he was not impressed with the environment:

In Hollywood, too, there were many invitations at the beginning, but in contrast to New York, life was very expensive. In order to count for anything you had to live in a top-class hotel or have your own showy home. To prove yourself, you had to frequent the expensive restaurants of the movie industry's upper crust. Moreover, if you wanted to 'belong' permanently, you had to be issuing invitations yourself. You had to act as if you were rich and happy—nowhere have I heard the word 'happy' so often as in that anteroom to hell called Hollywood. And since nobody was, everyone drifted into drinking even when he was in no mood for it, and ended up in a morass of joyless, humorless, and dreary night life.

Some weeks after 'happiness' had come to me in the form of a contract and a weekly paycheck, I happened to be attending a Sunday afternoon party at Max Reinhardt's house. Almost the entire German colony was present. 'I'm not staying here long,' I remarked. 'This is no life for me.' Those words provoked roars of laughter. Everybody, I was told, had said the same thing after three weeks, everybody in this room, but they were all still here—some of them had been for many years. The check...Where else in America could you drift so comfortably?

...In spite of the check, in spite of the presence of so many friends, Hollywood did not make me 'happy.' Never have I been so wrapped in the mists of depression as in this land of eternal spring, in whose irrigated gardens, with their chlorinated swimming pools and dream castles perched on the slopes of canyons, short-lived pleasure is at home, while in the depths sprawls a dreary, murderous wasteland: the city of Los Angeles, one of the ugliest and most brutal metropolises in the world.

Alice also spent time on the West Coast, and they stayed briefly in San Francisco. However, Zuck gave up on a Hollywood career when he discovered that there was no demand for his work, and that the only work available to him was hack writing for the studios. Back in New York he found a low-paying job teaching in the Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research, and by the spring of 1941 he was planning to move to Barnard permanently and become a farmer. He received a generous advance from Alfred Harcourt but saw no future in writing for American audiences. Their financial condition wasn't good at that point, and Alice was depending on hand-me-down clothing from Dorothy. The farming plan actually proved to be quite efficient, because, after an initial outlay for equipment and animals, they paid only $50 per month rent for the house and one hundred eighty acres. The play that Zuck wrote during this period later turned out to be a great success.

I find it interesting that Zuck had much the same reaction to the U.S. as Czeslaw Milosz did immediately after the war. Of course, I've lived here longer than either of them and had much the same reaction when I came to understand it. My affinity for Vermont is much the same as Zuck's.

I don't have much of a personal nature to report at the moment. A bear came last night, pushed over the bird feeder pole and ate the nyjer seeds in the tubes by breaking them open. That is the first time that a bear has eaten nyjer seeds here. It could be because there aren't enough berries to eat due to the dry weather, or perhaps because the bear population density is increasing. I'm going to stop feeding the birds until December, when the bears go into hibernation. The stargazing conditions have been poor, with the moon up at night, though I did get glimpses of Jupiter and Saturn. So far this year there hasn't been an extremely clear night. But both telescopes are still set up. I am at a loss for good reading material and will be reading Mary Trump's Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man. There probably isn't much reason to comment on it, but I felt that I would like to know what an insider who also happens to be a psychologist has to say about her uncle. Even though Donald Trump has nothing but deficiencies, we are stuck with him, and this is going to be the Trump era whether we like it or not. With any luck, he will disappear from the news in a few months.

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