Books On My Night Table

It’s no secret that the various Israeli secret services are quite effective.

Ronen Bergman’s doorstopper of a book, Rise and Kill First: The Inside Story and Secret Operations of Israel’s Assassination Program, concentrates, obviously, on the enemies of the Jewish State who are chosen for assassination.

Bergman chronicles the awkward birth pangs of the intelligence services in pre-state Israel to the high-tech machinery that is now in motion.

One of the most illuminating episodes is the bombing of  Saddam Hussein’s nuclear facility, June 7, 1981. When it was discovered that the butcher of Baghdad was—with French blueprints and technology—going nuclear, there was a debate among the Israeli security, political and military classes about whether to strike the facility or not.

Those opposed argued that “bombing the Iraqi nuclear reactor would have dire international consequences, that it would take years before the reactor would produce enough fuel for a bomb, and that destroying it would push Saddam to take an alternate, more secretive approach.”

Of course, Prime Minister Begin made the right call and turned Saddam’s nuclear reactor to glass.

We now hear the exact same arguments from the exact same chattering classes against bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. Planet leftie was and is wrong. Of course, they never learn from their mistakes—the definition of insanity.

Elizabeth Taylor signs autographs during a break in the filming of the movie Giant, 1956.

We all want to know the story behind the story.

And the story behind beloved movies is, quite frequently, more interesting, more revealing of time, place and culture, than the movie itself. Such a film, at least for me, is Giant. Its faults are legion: it is too long, a tushy-numbing 3 hours and 21 minutes, covers too many years thus sapping the narrative of narrative momentum; it is tediously preachy, and the aging makeup on Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean is laughable. Last but certainly not least, James Dean’s scene-chewing performance is grotesque.

But the making of Giant, as detailed by author Don Graham in Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber and the Making of a Legendary American Film, is absolutely fascinating. We learn that Elizabeth Taylor viewed director George Stevens as a particularly important influence on her growth as a serious actress. And the hatred between the unpretentious Rock Hudson and James Dean, a manipulative little narcissist, makes the feud between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis seem mild.

Most revealing, and disappointing, is a brief digression about George Stevens and Eisenhower. Keep in mind that Stevens was witness to the horror of the German concentration camps. According to all his friends the experience changed him forever. And yet, in Algiers, with Stevens present, a POW German General asked to speak to Eisenhower. The Supreme Commander refused, saying: “I’m here to kill Germans not to talk to them.” According to Graham, Stevens was livid with fury. From that moment on Stevens hated Eisenhower.

Writes Graham: “Disliking Eisenhower was de rigueur among Hollywood liberals. Edna Ferber and Mercedes McCambridge both campaigned for Adlai Stevenson in his two runs—both unsuccessful—against Ike. America had twice elected a great man to be president, and Hollywood liberals couldn’t see it. They preferred a man who gave eloquent speeches to a man who had shepherded the Allies to victory over the Nazis.”

The Kiss, by Gustav Klimt

It is the 1960s in a sleepy suburb north of London when Paul, 19, is paired in tennis with forty-eight year old Susan Macleod, the mother of two nearly adult daughters, charmingly ironic and confident.

Not surprisingly, Susan is trapped in a loveless marriage with an abusive brute. Looking back decades later, Paul examines his tragic love for the older woman, and how this improbable relationship has affected every turn of his life ever since.

The Only Story, by Julian Barnes, examines the terrible intricacies of the human heart, the puzzle of memory, how we all yearn for the only story that really matters. This is a lovely book, slim, simple, and profoundly moving.

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6 Comments

  1. Posted August 2, 2018 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Giant’s a funny film. Yes, it’s flawed, and too long, and Dean sticks out like a tree branch in a custard pie. But I like to point to it – and so many of the dramas and melodramas produced in the ’50s – whenever people talk about what a bland, repressive, uninteresting decade it was. The products of the studios in their waning days is a record of a society fully aware of its tensions and contradictions and stresses. It’s hard to get the impression that this was a society relaxing complacently into its prosperity.

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  2. Bill Brandt
    Posted August 1, 2018 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Outside Marfa Texas even today I read are the remains of the set from Giant. I wonder why Eisenhower wouldn’t speak with the General? Dean – do any of you Hollywood people consider him a serious actor? I saw him in – I think – East of Eden and wonder what the fuss is about.

    On Stevens, I read that the making of Shane is the first **realistic** gun battles – all due to his experiences in the war. Stevens would never do another comedy movie after that.

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    • Barry
      Posted August 1, 2018 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      Ike got it right. No need to know the enemy or have rapport.

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  3. Posted August 1, 2018 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    They all sound interesting. I just don’t buy books. People pass them to me, and I pass them on further.

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    • Barry
      Posted August 1, 2018 at 7:12 am | Permalink

      You don’t buy books? What a statement.

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted August 1, 2018 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      I borrow most books from the library through the interlibrary loan program, which in LA, is excellent.

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