Wednesday, April 25, 2007

182. Life Begins at 1950: David Halberstam, 1934-2007

His connection to movies was--well, I was going to say "peripheral," because all he did was report on them, along with everything else that happened in America at the midpoint century, in one of my favorite books, The Fifties. But if writing about movies is a "peripheral" connection to them, then I'm in trouble--or, to be redundant, at the periphery. Oh, well; at least it's quiet.

In any case, I could not let Halberstam's passing go unnoticed on this site. Among the bounty offered in his aforementioned survey of the 1950s, he notes that Elia Kazan disliked "the image of youthful alienation that he and [Nicholas] Ray had fostered [via Marlon Brando and especially James Dean]." Kazan "was not fond of Dean and did not think him a major talent." Halberstam leaves us with the image of an old guy upset over the fact that he had helped invent a cultural norm in which, as Kazan himself put it, "parents were insensitive idiots ... [while] all youngsters were supposed to be sensitive and full of 'soul.'" "Youngsters." It's these kinds of tidbits, culled from every aspect of American life--political, social, economic, cultural--that makes The Fifties such a great book, molding an image of this country's defining decade--and of the people who invented it.

So there's Kazan, standing on his porch, shaking his cane, yelling at James Dean to get off his lawn. I'm sorry Halberstam won't be able to take any more of these snapshots. But there's still the books--The Best and the Brightest, The Powers That Be, and practically the only sports books I can read--allowing the second half of the American Century to open up, page after page, and tell us exactly what it thinks--and what it thinks of us.

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