San Francisco Fifty Years Ago

(Kenneth Rexroth’s complete columns from the San Francisco Examiner)



January 1961

Man at the End of His Tether
Little Theater
Theater in San Francisco, Art in Chicago
Controversy About Cuba
The Attempted Assassination of Thomas Parkinson




Man at the End of His Tether

New Year’s Day. For the past week, beginning with the Christmas messages of the Pope and the Queen of England, the world’s leaders have been evaluating 1960 and preparing us for 1961. None of them has sounded very cheerful about it all.

Not only does the human race seem bound for sudden disaster in the near future, but violence, disorder and demoralization seem to be increasing everywhere, in international relations, in the streets of the great cities and in the narrower arenas of private and domestic relations. Forwards or back — the outlook is as gloomy as ever in history.

Before he died, H.G. Wells made the remark that a kind of craziness had been steadily increasing in human affairs since the First World War. All departments of life were becoming more brutalized, more dishonest, more irresponsible. Not only were men, said Wells, becoming more immoral — a new element of senseless folly was creeping into their relations with one another.

Wells once wrote a novel, In the Days of the Comet, in which the earth passes through the tail of a comet which turns out to be composed of an unknown gas which makes everyone good and sensible overnight. He seemed to feel that maybe something like this had happened in actuality, but in reverse, that maybe some dust in interstellar space was poisoning the minds of men and leading them step by step to extinction, as, perhaps, millions of years ago, a similar maleficent cloud out of space had destroyed the dinosaurs. Finally, one of the last books he wrote, Wells titled Man at the End of His Tether.

I, too, passed my childhood in the world before the Other War, and I see his point. It is certainly exhausting to live through almost fifty years of uninterrupted crisis. The Chinese philosopher had something when he said that the best emperors were those of whom the historians could find nothing to record except the fact that they had reigned.

Those of us who have lived all our lives here in safe America, protected by thousands of miles of ocean, run the danger of being smug, unimaginative, even fat headed and fat hearted about the perils and travails of the rest of the world. Of course, some of us got killed in a couple of wars, but even they were far away — so far we have managed to export our dangers.

For that imaginary figure, the Average American of the first half of the twentieth century, the biggest single factor in his environment has been the changes wrought by the coming of the automobile. His greatest time of troubles was the Depression when an appreciable part of the population was forced down to living standards comparable to those of a skilled mechanic in nine-tenths of the nations of the world. At the present moment, his principal problem seems to be an intelligent use of the highest living standard in history.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic and the Pacific forces of change have destroyed not just the bodies, but the souls and minds of men — millions and millions of men. Whole nations have been swept up in the convulsions or moral catastrophe. Twentieth-century man has found within himself depths of demoralization his immediate ancestors would have believed utterly impossible.

It is not a question of what Goethe would have thought of the gas ovens, or Turgeniev of Stalin’s Great Purge, of Thomas Jefferson of the dropping of the atom bombs — such behavior would have been inconceivable, in each nation, to Bismarck or Lenin or Theodore Roosevelt. Yet in all countries, whether Russia, the United States, Albania or Abyssinia, the terrible history of the past 40 years has been made, not by incarnate devils in positions of absolute power, but, in the final analysis, by the consent of the governed — with the cooperation of what Shakespeare called “all, honorable men.” Men get the world they deserve. Neither terror nor folly can rule without indifference.

On the other hand, things aren’t all that bad. I hate to disagree with the Queen of England, but I do think 1960 witnessed some real betterment of the human condition.

The big event, of course, has been the whirlwind liberation of Africa. Here the English have something of which to be proud. Whatever the faults, and they were serious enough, of British colonialism in Africa, it has not, so far at least, left howling chaos when it passed. Nigeria and Ghana have proved themselves to be no more and no less civilized in their infancy than most civilized nations in their maturity. I should have thought the Queen would have been rather proud of herself on this count.

In French Africa things have been at least as good, except for the bloody deadlock of folly in Algeria, and even there there is at least a hope that peace will come at last. There could be no better news for someone who loves France. For years now the country has been almost unlivable, for me at least. The entire population has been caught up and wrung like rags in a crisis of conscience. The significant thing is that the French, notoriously a little giddy politically, have felt this way. The Algerian war gnawed like a rat at the very heart of every responsible French man and woman. How many of our national sins trouble the rest of the average American?

As for The Congo — at least they are free. If you are a Congolese I am sure any kind of freedom is better than none.

In America there has been a somewhat similar conquest of civil rights for the whole population. We still have a long, long way to go. But in 1960, for the first time in my lifetime, light appeared at the end of the dark tunnel.

Just a little while ago even the most dedicated Northern Liberal, of whatever color, was liable, secretly, to consent to the catchword of the Southern Reactionary: “It’s bound to come in time, but it will take two hundred years.” Now it begins to look as though “It,” at least as far as legal rights are concerned, might not take more than that many months.

Ever since the last war our social critics have been accusing the American people of fat heartedness and sloth. We have been supposed to be lacking in all sense of social responsibility and in what they call national purpose. Our college professors, themselves products of the tempestuous ’30s, have been especially hard on American youth. Sparked by the sit-ins of Negro students, the last year has seen a tremendous upsurge of activity amongst American students. Whatever form this took it would be all to the good, but the remarkable thing about it has been that it has been free, spontaneous, and moral, rather than political in the narrow sense. At least amongst people under 30 there has certainly been an awakening of the American social conscience.

Looking back, it seems now that most of our crises have been crises of talk. We have been able to take it out by abusing each other. That is just dandy. Nobody pushed those banks of buttons over the U-2. The Chinese have not invaded Laos or Taiwan. The Marines have not landed in Cuba. The Congolese seem to be tiring. The UN proved able to cope with Khrushchev.

Who knows? We may talk ourselves out of the woods yet.

[January 1, 1961]



Little Theater

People in the Little Theater always think of themselves as non-, maybe even anti-, commercial and devoted to the art of drama. They fancy themselves as occupying the growing point of the theater, the place where vitality is concentrated, where the new and inventive in plays and acting styles first appeared.

Looking back over the years, I don’t think this claim is true. By and large the Little Theater in America has simply been the amateur theater.

It has existed to satisfy those people who have carried over into adult life the universal childhood passion for dressing up and carrying on. Its leaders have been most often scarcely literate in the world’s drama, and more conventional in their tastes than many Broadway or Hollywood producers. Stage designers, lighting experts, production people generally, have been at best vague and clumsy. The repertory is mostly out-of-date Broadway successes which can be obtained cheaply, or the standard chestnuts of the “Movement” for 40 years — Shaw, Ibsen, O’Neill, and now Brecht and Ionesco.

Still, you can’t get around it, there’s something about live actors. When you come right down to it, Brigitte Bardot and Kim Novak are just flickers of light and dark, and much too large, to boot. Real meat actors provide something the electronic ones don’t have; it is to make up this dietary deficiency, felt by only a small minority of the population, that the Little Theater exists.

In San Francisco we’re lucky. We have a lot of live small theaters and their standards are appreciably higher than they are elsewhere — “elsewhere” meaning London, Paris and New York. One of them is close to being the best of its kind anywhere.

The Little Theater can be a punishing experience, an embarrassing ordeal. Here in San Francisco we at least get a level of competence, and an unusually high level of good taste and good sense. One thing we are not, and that is “experimental.” Very seldom does anyone take any chances with a play or even with its production.

For a change, the Playhouse has taken a chance. They are putting on Lionel Abel’s Absalom. There is nothing very experimental or avant-garde about this play. The theme is one of the great standard tragic plots. The writing is exceptionally direct and lucid. The tragic crux is the ambiguity which haunts all moral decision, just as it is in Sophocles or the better horse operas. But at least it is a play by a contemporary poet who set himself the task of writing a serious drama of mature insight and depth.

For many years Lionel Abel was an intellectual’s intellectual. All the years, and they were many, that the Partisan Review was the country’s leading highbrow journal he was, not the power behind the throne, but one of the three hidden think tanks of that organ of enlightened and up-to-date opinion.

Once a week, Paul Goodman (the author of Growing Up Absurd, one of 1960’s most significant books) and Harold Rosenberg met for an evening of quiet drinking and intense conversation. If they were good, the editors of the magazine were permitted to attend and take mental notes. Hence the Partisan Review or at least most of its contemporary awareness, its general taste and its rare insights.

Lionel Abel was a sort of native Marcel Duchamp. People said he was the smartest fellow in New York, but all his brains were wasted in brilliant talk. They were far from wasted. His influence may have been hidden, but it was wide and deep.

Off and on he had written a few brilliant poems and done what is still the best translation of the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud. One day he seems to have gotten tired of letting other people do the writing, burst out in all directions and surprised everybody. Most great talkers are indifferent writers.

Two of Abel’s plays are in print, Odysseus in Playbook, published by New Directions, and Absalom in Artists’ Theater: New York, published by Grove Press. They are amazingly competent jobs, written with an unpretentious mastery of the medium so rare as to be almost unknown amongst American dramatists. Perhaps their most outstanding characteristic is a sure sense of theatricality.

This is the kind of play that each and every one of our local theaters should put on at least once a year. Do they? No.

This is the kind of vital, new playwriting that the Ford Foundation, out to redeem the American theater, should subsidize with all its might. Does it? No. Their taste runs to soap operas written by a committee of the Fund for the Republic.

Writers like Lionel Abel should get their pick of Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships, travel grants and lectureships. Has he? No. To the best of my knowledge he has never been awarded so much as an unpawnable bronze medal.

Last and not least, this is the kind of play that not only can be produced by local talent, but is in fact so produced — in the sense of being written by local writers, but not in the sense of being put on by our local theaters.

Robert Duncan’s Faust play is one of the most entertaining things I have ever seen. No one who heard it read at the Six Gallery years ago is ever likely to forget it. If he had written it in French they’d be putting it on right now in Chile and Alaska. None of the little theaters in San Francisco has ever shown the slightest interest in it.

James Broughton’s movies are truly original comedies. Like Chaplin, though perhaps in a lesser degree, he has definitely added something to the repertory of the comic spirit. Incidentally, they have won handsome prizes, thousands of miles away from San Francisco.

Why not a musical comedy by James Broughton, tunes by Anne Kish? This should be better than trying to put West Side Story on a 10 by 10 stage.

Michael McClure just did a play. Where was it put on? At a private reading at the Batman Gallery, one night, the parts read by his friends.

Kenneth Patchen is supposed to have written an opera. What happened to it? Another local poet has had four plays put on by the Living Theater in New York, and by college groups all over the country. Nobody in the San Francisco theater knows they exist. [Rexroth is modestly referring to his own four plays, collected in Beyond the Mountains.]

Let’s hope that Lionel Abel, who so successfully gingered “America’s leading literary quarterly” for so many years, will start a trend in San Francisco’s theater. We could do with it.

[January 8, 1961]



Theater in San Francisco, Art in Chicago

High in the air over Elko, eating a 10 a.m. brunch, including, of all things, crepes of crab Bengal. This is certainly the most unusual dish I have ever been served by an airline. It would be unusual in La Perouse — or in Bengal. In fact, Marthe served it last month, and the girls eyed it like dogs eyeing an armadillo. I asked the stewardess what percentage of the passengers actually ate it. “Almost all,” said she, “they seem to like it a lot. It’s something unusual and goes with the adventure of an airplane trip.”

The new school of sociologists are right. Things have sure changed since I once tried to serve artichokes to the sophisticated customers of a Greenwich Village tearoom with no success whatever.

When I got to Chicago, the papers were on the same bent, discussing the New Journalism. About how people don’t get the papers for the box scores any more, and everybody has at least the vestiges of education and the light and liberal and sophisticated touch is what goes over.

Maybe. But I didn’t see much sign of it in the Chicago papers. There didn’t seem to be any Max Beerbohms writing for the Trib and the Sun-Times. It’s not considered ethical to talk about the intestinal problems of the profession in the press, but just let me say — be glad you live in San Francisco and not in Chicago.

As you may have guessed from the last column, I wrote about Absalom from the book before I had seen it at the Playhouse. I now want to take the chance to double and redouble.

It is a solemn and noble play that a bunch of amateurs could easily turn into a travesty. There’s nothing wrong about this production at all. The sets are Hans Appia type panels, of I guess camouflage netting, and they give the minuscule stage the illusion of the vastness of Egyptian palaces and desert battlefields. “Moderne” lighting can be even cornier than such like acting. Here for once you can watch lighting which is really playing one of the principal roles in the play — a powerful actor in itself.

There is a certain dignity and restraint which is characteristic of the noncommercial theater at its best, when nobody tries to milk the lines for all they’re worth, but just tries to get them across. Absalom himself is a bit shrill, but maybe it goes with the perversely erotic role. The others avoid the big-time accent and respect the closeness of the audience.

It is something else than Method acting, something more delicate and perceptive. It requires modesty to move a theater of 200 seats . . . and how rare that is. It’s not a particularly show business sort of virtue. The Playhouse manages to do so much better than the artistical, Martha Graham job the New York group turned out for the same play.

Having seen Absalom given the treatment it deserves, I want to go on record with the country’s most respected drama critic — Eric Bentley — Lionel Abel is one of the best playwrights now writing in America. You can never know, reading a play or seeing a bad production. The test of a playwright is theatricality. Language can look noble and powerful on the page, and be inhuman bombast when it crosses the footlights.

On the other hand, a writer like Shaw, with his dated crankiness and dry sexlessness, can seem dull enough when read today. But put one of his better plays on even the poorest stage — Man and Superman for instance — how the lines come alive and crackle with theatricality!

Of course, in the “classic” style — and that is the style of Absalom — it takes a perceptive director to see the resources of action beneath the marble surface of the lines. Racine and Corneille are not for the Marx Brothers. George Priest has found and exploited all the inevitable business hidden in the text. The slightest whimsical side glance or twitch of the fingers seems foredoomed.

Once again — this is what the noncommercial theater is for. Its job is not to complete with television. Nor should it replace the old stock company, purveying Broadway’s “next-to-new” cast-off fashions to the provincials.

On the other hand — why can’t things like this invade at least educational television once in a while, strictly on their own terms? If KQED were to tape this play and the Actor’s Workshop’s The Alchemist, it would do more to raise standards than all the televised classics laid cheek to jowl — anyway most of them, the self-conscious, embarrassing things. How much would it cost to put them on tape and send them around the educational TV circuit? Now, now, Henry the Second, don’t break your arm reaching for your checkbook!

The Chicago Annual opened at the Art Institute the night I got there. Very big, very tedious, and very safe. The prizes went, without exception, to the big names. The taste of the selectors was academic to a degree, as they say — to the final degree — it couldn’t have been any more so. At least out here we do try to find some way, any way, out of the trap of the all-pervasive style we have ourselves created. And how!

There were almost as many San Francisco painters as Chicagoans. If you counted the migrants and the people who came to maturity of style here — like Rothko — I guess there were more of us than anybody else. Bruce Connor, Hassel Smith, McChesney, so it went, room after room. Even Ed Corbett, who has spent the last few years in Taos, avoiding exhibitions.

Looking at it all was a great weariness. How I longed for naked lady pictures, and apples, and dogs and children, and boats and flowers! Off in one of the permanent rooms was a gorgeous Pollock, one of the pictures that began it all, so short a while ago. Where have we wandered? What have we lost? How are we going to get somewhere else?

What was I doing in Chicago? Talking for the Friends’ Service Committee on what to do to prevent War Three. Cat belling. With no bell, and no clear idea of what the cat was. That’s another column, coming up.

[January 15, 1961]



Controversy About Cuba

One of our leading literary lights has just come back from Cuba and has been abusing me, and all his other friends, because we “don’t speak up for Cuba,” and accusing me of selling out and becoming a Right Wing deviate. My objection to American controversy about Cuba is that both sides argue almost exclusively with their emotions. I have little desire to further roil the waters.

Maybe it would help to point out a few facts. Liberal Americans who are dubious about Fidel Castro are not so because he is a socialist, but because he seems given to very risky demagogic stunts. If his program of social and economic rehabilitation is so sound and so popular, why does he have to work up steam for it amongst the population by wild and provocative abuse of the United States and by phony invasion scares?

Even if the abuse is merited, this is not the way to gain the end in view — real consolidation, permanent and enthusiastic, of the populace for a series of changes that will take a generation and that will entail consistent sacrifice on the part of everybody — but especially the peasants and working classes.

Every demagogue in Latin America has preached Yanqui hatred for the last 50 years. Obviously, if Castro had really believed that the USA was about to invade his country, he would not have met the threat by parading a bunch of second-hand Balkan hardware along the Havana waterfront. Again, it is difficult to have much confidence in a man who resorts to such cheap solutions. Loyalty purchased with such coin is not likely to stay bought.

Primarily, the objection to Castro is the same as the objection to Lumumba. The world today is not just a proverbial powder keg, it is like an immense arsenal run by drunks, with gunpowder and TNT strewn over the floor and time bombs ticking in piles in the corners. It is no place for professional wild men to run about waving torches.

We can no longer afford the sentimentalities of the revolutions of 1848 or even 1918. I am all for the Neutral Bloc — but think of the difference between Lumumba and Nkrumah, or, for that matter, Sékou Touré, who certainly was left in the lurch by the French in far worse fashion than even the Belgians left Lumumba. Consider the difference between Tito and Castro.

The wise statesman of the have-not country today adopts the old gangsters’ adage as his motto — “Keep your nose clean and don’t volunteer.” In other words, don’t get overextended. Don’t commit yourself irrevocably to any position you can’t back out of at the showdown. This is just sensible politics, Left, Right or Center. If the showdown turns out to be not the showdown that you, in your political innocence, thought it would be — what happens then?

Back in Moscow, Mr. K. said that the rockets he promised to defend Cuba with were just metaphorical rockets. Right now the committees to defend Cuba are attracting personalities who first came to the public eye as passionate pacifists in the days of “The Yanks Are Not Coming.” After Hitler’s invasion of Russia, these same people were attacking A. Philip Randolph as a Black Fascist Beast because he dared to demand fair employment practices in the war industries.

Right now Cuba is handy to blackmail the State Department. When the two K’s get to the Summit, the fat one will gladly trade off the whole Caribbean for a 10 blocks westward extension of East Berlin. Cuba is, unfortunately, expendable.

In the cruel arena of Weltpolitik, the weak and foolish are not only expendable, sooner or later they get expended. It is the business of a statesman of a weak nation to take this into account, play his cards close to his chest, balance one side against the other, and never get run out on a limb.

India, Nigeria, Burma, Ceylon — how much smarter they do things there! Maybe it is the heritage of the English. A statesman out to steer his new-made country through the reefs and hurricanes of contemporary world politics can do with a little of the highly moral perfidy of perfidious Albion.

There is very little likelihood that Russia and the United States will ever run head-on into collision and start exterminating each other without warning. It’s these so-called brush-fire conflicts in the out-of-the-way corners of the world that are the big danger.

Nobody in Washington or Moscow takes oratory very seriously. In fact, conditioned by Madison Avenue and the Agitprop, we are inclined to believe considerably less than the truth. All over the world there are people to whom Tom Paine, John Locke, Robespierre, Trotsky, Lenin, are news, hotter, if anything, than they were in their lifetimes. They’re the dangerous ones.

Every day the catastrophe in The Congo grows worse — not the political imbroglio — the catastrophe to the plain ordinary Congolese who are starving to death and couldn’t locate Russia or America on a map. Out of it all, with its heritage of hate, it looks like Lumumba might well come back to power, and that will be a nice thing for the West to live with, won’t it?

It is all too expensive and dangerous. Sooner or later all the great powers have got to agree to joint liberation, aid and development with no strings attached to either side for these new nations now caught in the “revolution of expectations.”

Otherwise, sooner or later, off in the jungles of Angola or the deserts of Afghanistan, somebody is going to pull one of those little strings and on the other end of it is going to be the Big Trigger.

[January 22, 1961]



The Attempted Assassination of Thomas Parkinson

This afternoon, at the Marines Memorial Theater, the Kenneth Patchen Benefit, two bands, two one-act plays, singers, dancers, poets — old-time vaudeville. It’s not my fault they didn’t get the Flying Adairs, Singer’s Midgets and a calculating horse. Everybody is going to be there so you be sure and come, too.

As the feller says, it’s the principle of the thing. One of the best ways a community can express its better instincts is in tribute to one of its artists or writers.

It was very moving last week to see the SRO audience at the Masonic Temple stand in ovation to Carl Sandburg. His tribute to Lincoln was dull, platitudinous, and promised for a while to be endless, but his voice was sweet and clear and he sang so simply and lucidly, not at all like a Folksinger, but like one of the folk, singing. For a man in his late 80s, he did a far better job than you or I are likely to do at that age.

The audience hadn’t come to hear him read or sing — they’d come as a tribute to him. This might be his last visit to San Francisco, and they were there to show him that they thought of him as a part, and one of the better parts, of the stuff of American life.

Kenneth Patchen writes very much in the tradition of the early, best poems of Sandburg, the old, authentic American defiance. Come to think of it, he is almost the only contemporary American poet who does. Life is grimmer, more frightening, than it was in Sandburg’s salad days before the Other War. It’s harder now to put that sort of thing in poetry. Faced with the job, most poets chicken out into the Seven Types of Ambiguity. Patchen goes on, in poverty and intense physical pain, one of the few voices that speaks to us today as the Hebrew prophets once spoke to a people lusting after strange gods.

I know that prophets are traditionally stoned, fed to lions, and crucified. San Francisco is supposed to be the place they are honored.

Unifying forces in the community — now for some divisive ones. I am sure a kind of sick revulsion went through the whole community when the news of the killing of young Stephen Thomas and the shooting of Thomas Parkinson came over the air. When the killer was caught and gave his reasons to the police, I hope an even sicker revulsion caught at the conscience of every responsible person . . . and here we are all, to greater or lesser degree, responsible.

Professor Parkinson and Professor Drinnan, who John Farmer said he planned to get if he couldn’t shoot Parkinson, are amongst the most astute, well-informed, and effective anti-Communists on the Berkeley campus, or anywhere else hereabouts. They are both totally committed to those ideas of maximum freedom and humane social order and direct, simple, human-to-human democracy, which are our heritage from Thomas Jefferson or Emerson or Thoreau.

This is the salt which savors the amorphous lump of what would otherwise be just a legal, juridical, republic. These ideas are the salt of the American earth, which, if it ever loses its savor, wherewithal shall we be salted, indeed. Bolshevism has no more effective enemies than men like Thomas Parkinson.

Yet this poor demented man set out to kill him, and in the attempt, destroyed a brilliant and totally uninvolved young life. Why? True, if one paranoia had not been available, he probably would have found another. But that paranoia was available. It is all about us. It poisons all the media of communications.

They use it to sell breakfast food to toddlers and brassieres to old maids. We have pushed it into interstellar space. The two greatest achievements of modern man, the breaking of the atom and the breaking of the confines of the earth, promise not to liberate, but to destroy us.

There is nothing like a guilty conscience to keep gnawing at a community. That riot is back in the papers again. The last defendant comes up for trial in March. I certainly hope the judge doesn’t dismiss the case out of hand. The city can afford the costs of a thorough job. The lawyers for both sides should have ample opportunity to spread all the evidence on the record.

Where does the ultimate guilt lie? I have my own opinion, but I belong to that small group of people who believes that it is not the job of the press to try cases at law in the public prints — like T. Jefferson, remember?

However, I certainly do believe that the Un-American Committee, certainly as at present constituted and operating, has outlived whatever usefulness it may ever have had. The purpose of a congressional committee is to investigate with the end of recommending legislation. We now have plenty of laws to deal with subversion of all sorts. We have duly constituted police organizations, at all levels, to do the investigating under these laws.

If the Communist conspiracy is a secret one, the most effective investigation is that which meets it on its own level. The only purpose the Un-American Committee can now serve is to hold certain people up to unfavorable publicity — to “expose” them. The social damage done by punitive publicity of this sort far outweighs the social gain.

It is not just that the wilder allegations of the late Senator McCarthy were unsubstantiatable and so had a reverse effect — many people came to believe that any accusation emanating from such a source was false. It is not just that the dignity of the Senate and House was affronted, and so its authority was subverted. It is that trial by contumely, punishment by ostracism, destruction of livelihood and persecution of families are not the regulatory mechanisms of civilized society. They may work on a school playground, in a teen-age gang, or in the jungle. Their effects amongst adults in an enormously complex and sensitive modern nation are disastrous.

I wish to make it clear that I have no sympathy with the people who compare Senator McCarthy with Stalin or Vishinsky, and the Un-American Committee with the Moscow Trials and the Great Purge. Such people are either excessively ingenuous or disingenuous, either gulls or rascals.

On the other hand, Congressman Willis, after his visit to San Francisco, was the guest of the Louisiana Legislature at the beginning of the shameful riots in his own state. One redneck legislator asked him if his committee couldn’t investigate the Supreme Court. He answered in substance that if they got a complaint they’d be glad to act, but that as for himself, he wasn’t prepared to vouch for the color of the members of the Supreme Court of the United States, white, red — or any other color. Who is Un-American?

[January 29, 1961]

NOTE: In January 1961 the poet, critic, and literature professor Thomas Parkinson was shot by a young man who had been inspired by McCarthyite rhetoric and wanted to “get someone who was associated with Communism.” He barged into Parkinson’s office on the University of California Berkeley campus and shot Parkinson and a student who happened to be there talking with him. The student was killed and Parkinson was left with permanent injuries.


“San Francisco Fifty Years Ago” is an ongoing project of posting all of Kenneth Rexroth’s columns for the San Francisco Examiner (1960-1967). Each of the columns is being posted on the 50th anniversary of its original appearance. Copyright 1960-1967 Kenneth Rexroth. Reproduced here by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.

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