Viet Nam Generation Journal & Newsletter
Hollywood Confidential: Part I
The phone rings and a guy in my office says, "It's David Horowitz." I haven't spoken to David Horowitz since the end of the '60s, when we both worked at Ramparts. Since then, with another former Ramparts editor, Peter Collier, this little creep has written a series of best-selling portraits of ruling class families--The Rockefellers, The Fords, The Kennedys--and boasted in print about voting for Ronald Reagan. Horowitz and Collier say they once believed fervently in left causes and institutions (from the Soviet Union to the Black Panther Party), and when they discovered these institutions to be corrupt and murderous they had to denounce them and come out for the other side.
There are many flaws in this "logic." For openers, there aren't just two sides in this world (the fake left and the cruel right). And sure it's demoralizing to learn that the party that supposedly stands for equality is run by opportunists and actually stands for privilege. But that wouldn't lead a real radical to endorse the all-out pursuit of privilege. It should lead you to call for a movement that's serious about establishing equality. Horowitz and Collier were never radicals for a minute. Their goal was and is personal success. It's no coincidence that they were "left" in the '60s and "right" in the '80s.
"What's up, David?"
"We're doing a book on the Fondas and we want to interview you." I had known Jane Fonda around 1970, when she was getting involved in the antiwar movement.
"Is this an authorized biography?"
"No, Peter Fonda's doing his own autobiography, and Jane has commissioned Scheer to write a book about her." That would be Bob Scheer, the Ramparts editor, a glib name dropper who used to fly first-class in 1968 and stay at the fanciest hotels while pretending to be some kind of "movement" spokesman. Scheer invariably got lower-ranking people to do his work for him as "research," etc. and then took all the credit. Now he's an LA Times writer and Playboy interviewer.
They invited Bob Scheer to the revolution
I told Horowitz it all seemed like another lifetime. I didn't want to talk to him, but my scene with Jane had been misrepresented previously and I was concerned that it was about to happen again, big time. There are these two blockbuster bios in the works, each with a different bias, and the chances of either one getting the story straight--my small piece of Jane's larger story, her interaction with the GI movement--are nil.
That evening I dug through a carton of old notebooks to see what I could remember about Jane.
I mentioned the Horowitz call to a few people. They all said, "You mustn't talk to Horowitz!" and reprimanded me for saying Scheer was just as bad.
Oh, of course Bob Scheer is "better" than David Horowitz--he's against the arms race, etc. But in a way he's worse, because he can pass for some kind of "progressive," he sows more confusion, turns more people off. Bob Scheer is an exploiter and a snob, a "radical" journalist--gourmet who exudes contempt for working people in the nitty-gritty and leaves you feeling burned, ignored or otherwise put down. (I haven't seen the man operate since '68. He may have changed. I'm assuming he hasn't.)
Scheer will undoubtedly have better access to Jane's associates, and his book will be more influential than Horowitz and Collier's. It may have some interesting material, but not the real stuff. Scheer has too many personal conflicts of interest to tell the truth about several aspects of Jane's life (his wife Anne left him for Tom Hayden in '68). The biography he produces will certainly have Jane's approval, will seem politically correct to the Big Chill types, will be a big seller. And to the extent that it deals with the antiwar movement, it will be one of the most widely read accounts.
And all I find in the carton are these old songs.
The Movement Envoy Visits Madame Binh
The First GI Coffeehouse
By 1967 the Army was filling up with people who would rather be making love to the music of Jimi Hendrix than war to the lies of Lyndon Johnson. People were serving because they'd been drafted. Or they "volunteered" because they'd gotten in trouble with the law, or been told they needed an honorable discharge in order to get a job. Almost everybody went in ambivalent about whether the war was worth it--the risk, the interruption to their lives. What they saw in Vietnam generally convinced them that it wasn't, because the government "we" were supporting didn't have much support from its own people.
The leaders of the new left had been generally contemptuous of GIs prior to '67. They themselves had other options--graduate school, Canada, jail, a note from the doctor. I figured they were simply overlooking the forces that drove working-class men to join. I couldn't acknowledge that the left had an anti-working-class orientation. In 1967, I still believed that the left was my side, the side that was against the war, for equality, etc.
I had this idea to set up hip coffeehouses in army towns. (When I'd been stationed at Fort Polk in '63-64, the only places to hang out in the nearby town of Leesville, aka Diseaseville, were seedy, segregated bars serving watered-down drinks for a dollar a shot, a rip-off.) But I was married with two kids and a job, had no experience running a business, wasn't free to do it myself. I tried to convince some of the "Resistance" leaders in Palo Alto to set up a coffeehouse at Fort Ord, but they thought everybody should just go to jail. By making a big deal about how moral they were, staying out of the army, they implicitly put down everybody who went in. One of their leaders also scolded me with the reminder, "Coffee is a poison."
Tom Hayden, who ran SDS from behind a facade of "participatory democracy," advised me that soldiers were "no better than cops," and that my plans for getting in touch with them provided no "blueprint for converting them." Other SDSers said that their various "community organizing" projects were too important to leave. The fact is, all their projects were folding, but they wouldn't admit it.
My marriage fell apart and I decided to set up the first GI coffeehouse myself. I found a partner, Donna Mickleson, a friend of a friend. We went to Alan Myerson, director of The Committee, San Francisco's wonderful cabaret, for advice. He sketched a floor plan and strongly urged us to install the rheostat next to the cash register (so that one person could control the lighting on stage while running the register). Another guy who appreciated the coffeehouse idea right away was Bill Graham, who gave us cartons full of Fillmore posters... And in September we headed for Columbia, South Carolina, near Fort Jackson.
On our first day in town we went to a real estate agent to rent a house to live in. We told her "our kids" would soon be arriving, but of course were envisioning soldiers and organizers crashing there, smoking grass and listening to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The agent recommended two places: one on York Drive, which bordered on piney woods, and one on Waccamah. We visited the one on York first and told the agent we liked it, no need to check out Waccamah. She said, "That's probably best, because Mrs. Westmoreland might be a little reluctant to rent to a family with young children. She thinks someday her house will be a national shrine." Donna and I looked at each other and went "Mm-hmm." We wanted to open for business before the local power structure figured out all the implications of our enterprise.
We found a perfect location on Main Street, a pseudo Hawaiian bar that had been closed down by the authorities. It was next to the Elite Cafe, a block from the cavernous, moribund USO. We hired a local contractor to bring it up to code. Donna painted a psychedelic sign declaring us to be the "UFO." On the walls we hung Fillmore dance posters and personality posters--Bogart, Monroe, Cassius Clay, Bob Dylan, Stokely Carmichael--and Toulouse Lautrec and a cannabis plant and Lyndon Johnson holding up a hound dog by the ears. We attended the South Carolina state fair (for whites) and the Palmetto State Fair (for blacks) and made arrangements with the prize-winning bakers to prepare homemade pastries for us. Soldiers strolling by saw us working and helped get the place open. So did Judy Olasov and Jim Redfern, students at the University of South Carolina. We encountered the usual hassles: the Health Department wouldn't allow homemade pastries, and they made us plaster over a beautiful old red brick wall. An official of the State Law Enforcement Division also made us take down the "Young Aphrodites" poster, stating "We don't want no breasts around here."
By January '68 we were officially open and hundreds of GIs were hanging out at the UFO whenever they could get off post. They helped staff the place and provided the music on week nights, jamming. On weekends we brought in musicians through a booking service or hired good local acts. Patrons were free to hang out, to read, to play chess or cards, to rap, to dance, to flirt, to discuss what was going on in their lives or the world at large. GIs added their artwork to the walls and hundreds of records to our collection. The UFO was the only integrated place in town, not just white and black, but GIs and students too. The staff paid attention to the restaurant end of things, and made sure that nobody was holding (drugs). In those first few months we would get hassled only for the overflow crowd on the street, or turning up the hi-fi set so loud that customers in the Elite could hear faint strains of "All along the Watchtower."
The UFO was like a magnet for dissident GIs--the kind who wore granny glasses and flashed peace signs. Once these guys got a sense of their numbers, they started writing accounts of their experience (which we helped circulate as leaflets) and planning an action to express their view of the war. Nobody from the UFO staff was in on the planning of it. We were, however, asked to notify our contacts in the media, whose presence, it was thought, would keep the brass from overreacting.
The plan was to go, in uniform, to the chapel across from post headquarters, and pray for an end to the war. The GIs would thus establish--if they weren't busted--that it was safe to express antiwar sentiment, setting a precedent for more and larger chapel meetings. If they were busted, they would let the American people know that opposition to the war was growing within the military. (The Tet offensive was raging, Senator Eugene McCarthy was gaining ground on Lyndon Johnson in the primary polls. Visible displays of dissent within the Army were to convince a lot of voters, and a large sector of the ruling class, that the war wasn't worth it.)
The GIs felt righteous about the chapel meeting. What could they be charged with? Would the Army deny elementary freedom of speech and assembly to Americans who were supposed to risk their lives fighting for "freedom" in Vietnam?
The Army responded by closing the base (a few reporters got in anyway), ringing the chapel with military police and announcing, when 30 GIs showed up on the evening of Tuesday, February 13, that the meeting was canceled. Two soldiers--Bob Tatar and Steve Kline--dropped to their knees and started praying. They were busted for disturbing the peace. Charges were subsequently dropped. Others who started yelling "Why should we fight for that fascist General Ky?" and "We want to have a free meeting!" were hustled away, but never charged.
Soon after, Tom Hayden phoned me at the UFO. He was very friendly, referring to soldiers as "our new constituency," and offering to help recruit staff and money and legal support for more GI coffeehouses. He also said that he was putting together another trio of "movement people" to escort some POWs home from Vietnam, and would I be interested? I had enough sense to refuse the Vietnam trip (the movement envoys were putting the POWs in a vicious bind). But I gladly accepted his offer of support. I still didn't really get it about the role of the left.
In the spring of '68 Tom Hayden and his sidekick Rennie Davis set up an operation coyly named "Support Our Soldiers" to establish coffeehouses staffed by peace-movement organizers in the town adjoining army training bases. I headed for Waynesville, MO, with Judy Olasov to set up a coffeehouse near Fort Leonard Wood, and some new "movement people" were dispatched to run the UFO.
Soon thereafter I started hearing from GIs at Fort Jackson who said the UFO wasn't the same. It turned out that the new proprietors were taking down posters that were more or less groovy (Marilyn Monroe) and replacing them with posters they considered right on (Eldridge Cleaver). They replaced the hi-fi set and record collection with a juke box weighted towards Country & Western. (A woman named Leni Zeiger would explain, "We're trying to get white working-class GIs.") They replaced the soldier-musicians with politically correct, incredibly boring acts such as Barbara Dane. They offered to help GIs get their funky little newspapers lithographed and filled with dispatches from the National Guardian and Liberation News Service (thus over-fertilizing small, indigenous efforts that would have grown organically). Above all, they put moral pressure on GIs to take part in open acts of resistance, which resulted in the soldiers getting busted or given punitive reassignments, while the civilian lefty organizers gained status within the movement for being involved in a "struggle." This pattern of using GIs as pawns came to prevail as the movement people took over and extended the GI coffeehouse network. Hayden and Davis wound up raising money for their summer "action" in Chicago by taking credit for and invoking the ostensible success of the GI movement.
I continued to regard the new left as "my side," the side that was against the war, for equality, etc. When I'd see evidence to the contrary, I'd blame this classy individual or that opportunist. When I tried to argue for my original concept of the coffeehouses as places for GIs to take it easy (as opposed to bases for proselytizing), I was told that I was "apolitical" or "too concerned with the restaurant end of things" or "merely a do-gooder." Logically, I dealt with my increasing confusion by increasing my use of weed and opium-soaked hash (provided by my GI friends, of course).
The coffeehouse network grew and in due course there was a national conference of GI organizers at a church in Louisville, Kentucky. The chairperson would not allow me to speak, she said, "because founders of organizations always exert conservative influence." Musing on this ahistorical assertion, I got involved in a lunch time basketball game with some local bloods in the church's gym. When I returned to the conference I was criticized for taking part in an activity not open to women. The "women's caucus" then ordered the men to hold a special session to "struggle" with their male chauvinism. The guilt-ridden jackass men trundled down to a room in the basement where they took turns confessing to the most superficial crimes. ("I used to call them chicks, but I'll never do that again...") I refused to confess, and took a little mescaline to get me through the rest of the day. Either I hallucinated it or a black marine from Camp Pendleton--flown in the by chairperson to praise her Oceanside operation--wept as he told the movement heavies that they were using him as a pawn in their game. He walked out and I followed him.
I moved back to San Francisco to try to make it work with my ex, and of course it didn't. I spent a year covering the Presidio Mutiny Case, the court martial of 27 prisoners who had staged a nonviolent sit-down at the stockade after a harmless fellow prisoner was killed by a guard. It must have been the spring of 1970 when I met Jane Fonda at a party after a preview of Antonioni's disastrous American movie, Zabriskie Point. Somebody had told her that I'd started the GI coffeehouses and she found me in the kitchen and started asking a lot of serious questions. For much of the past ten years she had been in France, married to Roger Vadim, the film director, an older man. Now she wanted to throw herself into what was happening in the U.S. She felt that she had missed out on the 60s somehow; she wanted to make up for lost time. I told her that I was going in the other direction, away from the movement, but that I would send her a map of the coffeehouses, which she could visit if she felt so inclined.
Next thing I knew she was getting thrown off Fort Lewis and telling interviewers I had turned her on to the GI movement. It felt very strange. Usually were denied credit for things we do. In this case I was being credited for something I hadnt done.
By the summer of 70 I didnt want to hang around San Francisco (my ex was involved with a woman), I had been driven out of the movement, I thought maybe theyre right, maybe Im not political after all. I moved to New York and started taking pre-med courses at night. Jane was in the city making Klute. I got a message to come and see her at an East Side brownstone.
It was Judy Garlands apartment, a penthouse. The bedroom walls were mirrored. Jane said, I turned a hell of a trick in the Hotel Americana! (as a hooker in Klute).
I asked her why shed been saying I had influenced her. It was obvious from all your questions, I reminded her, that you were getting into radical politics. Why go around attributing it to a man?
We talked all night. The only thing to eat in the kitchen was carrot juice, yoghurt and little bottles of pills marked B, L and D for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
A masseur arrived at the crack of dawn and Jane said, Im prepared to give up everything for the revolution, but the last thing Ill give up is my massage. I think she was being ironic. In any case, I was on my way out of there. My life was such a mess, my viewpoint too illegitimate, I certainly didnt want any part of the media attention this woman commanded. And I sensed that she was really looking for the Alpha Male of the movementHuey P. Newton? Tom Hayden? She gave me a guitar and I sang No no no it aint me, babe.
Back to Contents page.
Updated Thursday, January 28, 1999