Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gentleman's Agreement

For some reason, my Netflix queue has been sending me a lot of John Garfield movies. Humoresque was first (overwrought, but what a great score!), then Body and Soul (good boxing movie, but every step in the plot is familiar by now) and then, last night, I finally saw Gentleman's Agreement, which has John Garfield in a supporting role as Gregory Peck's Jewish best friend. If you haven't seen it, it has Gregory Peck star as a journalist who goes undercover as a Jew to blow the lid off anti-Semitism in 1947 New York.

Can I say "ehhn?" First of all, it's a two-hour movie, and we don't get this fairly obvious gimmick until thirty minutes in, when he essentially says, "Wait a minute! I always go undercover on all my other assignments. Why not this one?" And I told my TV, "I'm way ahead of you Joe. In fact, I don't know why the editor, who was familiar with your previous work, didn't suggest this fairly obvious angle in the first place." Instead of getting to the point, that first half hour is dedicated to scenes involving Peck's loving mother who renders homespun wisdom like "Prejudice is wrong," and scenes with Peck's young son, who starts every sentence with "Say, pop..."

Peck's character, Joe Green, has a pretty blunt approach to going undercover. He simply shows up and says, "By the way, I'm Jewish," and waits for the sparks to fly. He doesn't even change his name to Joe Sternglam or Izzy Schvitzing. I guess there really was a time when anti-Semitism was rife, even in New York (I remember Woody Allen making a joke about a restricted club, and that was in the '60s), but the whole movie certainly hasn't aged well.

One final thing: the movie has our hero, who supposedly has two eyes and a brain, turn down a romantic affair with Celeste Holm, who is so asymptotically close to being Jean Arthur that her very presence in a movie makes it 25% funnier and 20 IQ points brighter. At that point I lost all respect for the hero and literally fast-forwarded the closing scene.

But here's the thing for you trivia buffs: The movie was based on a 1947 novel by the same name, written by Laura Z. Hobson...only in her version, the book was about homosexuality! And it was quite successful with the (presumably movie-watching) public. What a shame--that could have been a really compelling story. (Or, I guess, really painful to watch now, depending on what "going undercover" means in that era.) America could have had its own version of Victim fourteen years ahead of time. But of course Europe and the Brits beat us to it. I blame the red states.

Anyway, if anyone knows where I can find the book, I'm really curious to read it. I really shouldn't be buying new books at the moment--I'm moving in a few weeks and just mailed off five boxes of books to go into storage--but in this case I'm willing to make an exception.

QUIZ QUESTION: There's a word (or perhaps a "word") that I threw into this review because it has a very specific and appropriate property. What is it?

6 Comments:

Blogger Jaime said...

The "word" is NETFLIX.

12/11/2007 11:01 AM  
Blogger Norman said...

Ah, so THAT's why you threw that word in there. It did seem a little forced, but now I get it.

But hey, you're watching movies? Don't you have something ELSE to be working on, he asked leadingly...? :-)

12/11/2007 11:23 AM  
Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

The word is not "Netflix." It's related to this specific movie, not movies in general.

And Norman, I *am* in fact working on that other thing (or will once I post this). But I've been sick for two days, and in fact still am sick, and that, to my mind, justifies staying up late and watching a movie instead of doing something mentally taxing.

12/11/2007 1:11 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey said...

OK, so "b" means bold and "i" means italic, but what kind of strange ML tag is "a"? Got the answer to the puzzle, btw :)

12/12/2007 3:15 AM  
Blogger Tristram Shandy said...

I had heard the same thing about Gentleman’s Agreement, but in fact, it’s a book about antisemitism. Her book Consenting Adult (1975) dealt with a gay man; it was evidently even made into a TV movie in 1985, but sadly, I missed that one growing up… Before or after An Early Frost, I wonder.

Anyway, the San Francisco Public Library got me a copy of Gentleman’s Agreement, so I’m guessing that the New York Public Library could probably scrounge one up.

And hey, man, I think he was blowing the lid of anti-semitism in 1947 Upper East Side. Big difference. :)

1/05/2008 1:03 AM  
Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

How interesting! I remembered my info about Gentleman's Agreement from a passing reference in the film "The Celluloid Closet," and got it very quickly confirmed by multiple sources on the Web. So you're telling me there's an widespread misapprehension about what social issue a particular book is ABOUT? That's amazing! It's like if everyone believed that Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" was about child abuse. I think this may become a new post...

1/05/2008 7:04 AM  

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