Viet Nam Generation Journal & Newsletter
Hollywood Confidential: Part II
The FTA Show
One night Jane showed up at my place on Barrow Street and tried to talk me into getting involved again with the movement. She made me an offer I could have and should have refused. She was planning to take an antiwar cabaret show around to the GI coffeehouses. The idea for the show had come from a man I respected, Howard Levy--the Army doctor who had done two years in Leavenworth for refusing to train Green Berets in the healing arts. Alan Myerson of the Committee was going to direct, Peter Boyle, Dick Gregory, Gary Goodrow and Swampp Dogg (Jerry Williams) had all signed on. I was offered the job of stage manager and liaison to the coffeehouse staffs. I figured it might be a chance to reassert by original concept.
At the last rehearsal, Myerson requested a song to fill in the blackouts between the sketches. It went something like this. (Jane could really sing, by the way.)
Foxtrot tango alpha
There were a number of verses and it ended like this:
I went out to that base
Of course the soldiers sang a different last line.
It was a mistake to think I could breeze into town with the FTA show and influence the way the GI coffeehouses were being run. In fact, the staff honchos seemed more uptight than ever. At Fort Bragg they insisted on some kind of struggle session which ended with hapless Donald Sutherland promising to read Karl Marx. The way people related to Jane Fonda--try though she might to be plain Jane--was not pleasant to observe. Everybody wanted something--money, an appearance, a favor, a quote, a picture, a connection, a mention, an endorsement. At the same time, they bombarded her with charges of "elitism" designed to maximize her guilt.
There were photographers everywhere, constantly. What the movement leaders wanted most of all was publicity, and of course Jane could deliver it. Something about her response to all the demands--the earnest alacrity with which she tried to please everybody--reminded me of Candy, the heroine of a satirical novel by Terry Southern that came out at the end of the '50s. Candy was a well-meaning young woman who had a thing about Daddy and was always saying "Good grief!" as her illusions got popped. Could the Candy character have been based on Jane? Jane had left college in '57 and was in Paris, hanging around the Paris Review crowd, where she met Vadim and would certainly have met Southern.
What the GI Movement Accomplished
After stage-managing the FTA Show in several military-base towns, I had had it. I quit. Jane was planning to take the show to Asia and to make a film of it; she asked me to reconsider. Our good-bye scene was played out on the stoop of a friend's house on Liberty Street in San Francisco, on a cool gray afternoon. I explained why I had quit; the show was raising money and briefly restoring credibility for a GI coffeehouse network that no longer served the interests of GIs. The main activity of the civilian "GI organizers" had degenerated into forming defense committees, complete with rallies and buttons, for soldiers they themselves had coaxed into trouble. They were circulating a "People's Peace Treaty," even though GIs were prosecutable under military law for signing it. They were pushing a lettuce boycott, as if GIs had any way of stopping the Pentagon from buying scab lettuce. (They justified such ludicrous tactics in the name of "consciousness raising"--as if GIs needed to have their consciousness raised about their powerlessness.) And their so-called GI newspapers were full of attacks on "lifer pigs"--the working class of the army, NCOs and specialists, the cooks and file clerks and leaders of the real unit of combat, the squad.
At this time, the summer of '71, I no longer felt so all alone, having hooked up with some like-minded people who had been driven out of women's liberation by classy opportunists. I told Jane she shouldn't take the show to Asia, she should just drop it, it was serving a bad purpose. I told her she was supporting a fake left whose effect was to turn the American people off the idea of revolutionary change, which is why "enlightened" ruling-class types supported it. She said she had every intention of taking the show to Asia and making the film. I said, "What I'm giving you isn't advice, it's instructions. From the American people." She did not think I was being ironic. "That's the most presumptuous thing I ever heard," she declared.
Jane took the FTA show to Asia and made a film of it which was so bad it got pulled from the theaters almost immediately. (Alan Myerson had been replaced by a more politically correct woman director. While the FTA film was being edited in Hollywood in '72, Jane sent several emissaries to San Francisco, requesting the rights to use the theme song. I refused, and they used the song anyway, without paying me a dime.)
This story is about the GI movement, which was infinitely bigger than the GI coffeehouses and other visible manifestations of dissent. It was mostly invisible, in fact, because both the soldiers and the ruling class wanted it that way. American GIs--showing the greatest flexibility, using a variety of subtle, brilliant tactics, going out on countless "search and avoid" missions, which were the peace marches that ultimately mattered--brought the war to an end. But we have been subjected for 20 years to an incessant rewrite, pouring on us from above like acid rain, washing out our own experience, killing the fish in our lakes of memory.
Here's what we have to remember: "They have set up separate companies for men who refuse to go out in the field," [letter from a soldier stationed near Cu Chi.] "It is no big thing to refuse to go. If a man is ordered to go to such and such a place, he no longer goes through the hassle of refusing; he just packs his shirt and goes to visit some buddies at another base camp. Operations have become incredibly ragtag. Many guys don't even put on their uniforms any more... The American garrisons on the larger bases are virtually disarmed. The lifers have taken our weapons from us and put them under lock and key... There have also been quite a few frag incidents in the battalion."
Two lifers who think that it matters
"By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state of approaching collapse," wrote Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr., in 1971, "with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and noncommissioned officers, drug-ridden and dispirited where not near-mutinous." Heinl's overview of the military situation appeared in the June, 1971, Armed Forces Journal. My scholarly friend Howie M. laid it on me when I told him that my documentation from that time consisted mostly of song lyrics.
According to Heinl, the Marine Corps' leading historian, "Word of the death of officers will bring cheers at troop movies or in bivouacs of certain units. In one such division, the morale-plagued Americal, fraggings during 1971 have been running about one a week..." Heinl quotes a major, saying, "Another Hamburger Hill [an operation in which grunts die en mass] is definitely out." Desertion rates are soaring, he reports, re-enlistment rates plummeting. "As early as mid-1969 an entire company of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade publicly sat down on the battlefield. Later that year, another rifle company, from the famed 1st Air Cavalry Division, flatly refused--on CBS TV--to advance down a dangerous trail... Combat refusal has been precipitated again on the frontier of Laos by Troop B, 1st Cavalry's mass refusal to recapture their captain's command vehicle containing communication gear, codes and other secret operation orders..."
Soldiers refusing to fight is the most upsetting image to all of the ruling class. Much of what they have been promoting the last 20 years--the volunteer Army, the Rambo version of Vietnam, the resurgence of patriotism--has been in direct response to the specter of GIs deciding the war wasn't worth it.
It's a Wrap
After I quit as stage manager of the FTA show, and advised Jane to drop it, my place was taken by a guy named Jim Skelley, who had been a leader of the Concerned Officer's Movement in San Diego and had gotten out of the Navy as a conscientious objector. He was a big guy with a handlebar mustache, from Long Island, the son of a policeman as I recall. One day in the spring of '72 Jim came to visit me in San Francisco. He sat around our kitchen table, rapping with my friends, who all liked him right away, and after an hour or so the big man said, "look, I have a confession to make. Jane sent me here to get you to sign over the rights to the FTA song." She was making a film of the show's Asian tour, and intended to use the song in the film. Skelley said he felt ashamed of himself for having come under false pretenses. We told him we liked him anyway, he hadn't betrayed anybody, relax, Jim...
Another emissary came a month or two later, Donald Sutherland, and went through a similar routine. Jane had left him, he told us, because he lacked political sophistication, and he wanted to hear our critique of the left. He listened with a goofy stare fixed on Pam E., who had been a prom queen. He didn't get it at all. He mumbled some inane apology about his latest movie being financed by General Electric. We didn't understand why that was so terrible. Donald explained that GE made nuclear power plants and military hardware. We said we thought all the corporations were connected through the banks, we didn't distinguish between the "good" and the "bad" ones, we thought they were all pernicious, and that almost everybody had to work for the Man directly or indirectly, and would until we took power and changed things. On the ride to the airport, Donald pulled out a piece of paper--the rights to the FTA song--and asked me to sign. I told him that Pam was taking home $100 a week as a social worker,. and she wanted to work full-time trying to build our little party. Could he get us enough money so she could take off a year?
Never heard from him or any of them again. The FTA movie came out and a few of us went to see it, but left after about five minutes, turned off to put it mildly. We discussed the possibility of suing, but realized we couldn't afford to.
You say it's for the cause just sign this clause
In the years since my political split with Jane, I haven't gone out of my way to follow her progress. But I haven't had to, the media always has the latest. In fact just today Geri said she read that Jane and Ted Turner had to be seated all the way across the room from Tom Hayden when the Assemblyman showed up at a Hollywood fund-raiser for some save-the-earth outfit.
Jane and Tom first got together in '72, when he was living at a Berkeley commune called "The Red Family." I think she had already taken her famous trip to North Vietnam and smiled her fatal smile at the antiaircraft gun. She and Tom soon segued into electoral politics (his lifelong game plane) by means o the "IndoChina Peace Campaign," which had links to George McGovern's presidential campaign. They denounced "Nixon's war" and claimed they wanted to end it mainly so that the POWs would be freed. They became increasingly patriotic, and by the time Tom ran in the Democratic primary for John Tunney's Senate seat, with the Bicentennial in full swing, they were flag-wavers. Tom got more than 40 percent of the vote, and if his timid campaign managers hadn't stopped Jane from discussing Tunney's thing for teenage girls, he probably would have won.
Went down to a neighborhood bar the other night
The culmination of Jane's goody-goody trip came with the making of On Golden Pond. People Magazine showed us the rebel daughter and her staunch old dad, reconciled by a lake in Maine; Hank and Tom trolling for bass while Katharine Hepburn (the classy surrogate mother sent by central casting) bakes apple pies with Jane (whose real mother had committed suicide when she was 11). There follows, some months later, the Oscar acceptance speech: tuxedoed Tom in the audience with the kids, Jane saying an earnest loving dutiful Hollywood goodnight to dear old dad (who kept marrying them younger and younger, bequeathing his daughter a series of same-age friends). The perfect American American American family family family family family family family family family, together while mine and yours and evidently even theirs kept breaking down.
The script that Jane seemed to be living out--a script like those we all grew up on, with New Deal values, a hero and a heroine and a World War II backdrop--called for Tom Hayden to succeed in electoral politics and do all the good deeds that the enlightened faction of capital aspires to: Disarmament, Peace and Freedom, alternative sources of energy, Signing, Recovery, Literacy and aerobics for all. But something started going wrong, the plot wasn't right, or the casting. The hero should not have had a seat bought for him in the state assembly, he should have won it fair and square. There is no script doctor to call in. Depressed, but in deepest denial, she gets obsessed with her body again, takes up body building at Gold's Gym and emerges as the fitness queen of America. She builds a chain of workout studios, making huge profits off the sad, sedentary reality of urban life in America. When some female Workout employees file suit over their less-than-the-men wages, a black woman manager is made to take the rap in the media. Jane becomes a multimillionaire behind her video trip and starts talking as if "winners" in our society actually deserve their positions of privilege.
I tuned in to the Barbara Walters special to hear Jane's much publicized apology to Vietnam vets. Most of what Jane said sounded sincere but rehearsed. Tom's name was not mentioned, obviously by pre-arrangement with the interviewer. Jane reaffirmed her patriotism and her good intentions at the time she went to Vietnam. Then she added: "I just saw Good Morning Vietnam, and I thought, 'if only I'd had Robin Williams with me when I went to Vietnam to write my material.'" And watching this, I recalled the cameras always pointing at her and thought: if your life is a movie, then your identity really does depend on who's writing your script.
They call it the city of angels, baby
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Updated Thursday, January 28, 1999