And his

Albert Fried
(Palgrave/St. Martins)
Franklin Roosevelt was not universally adored during his time in office. And some of his more ardent fans dropped away after they discovered that he was either not one of them, or that they could not outfox him, or get him to do what they wished. Professor Fried has chosen to describe five of FDR's most powerful and challenging enemies:

Father Coughlin, known as the "radio priest." He broadcast out of the Shrine of the Little Flower of Jesus, with his "beautifully modulated baritone voice, his rolling cadences, his delicate trills, his endless alliterations." He could easily have agreed with Roosevelt, at least in the early years, for he attacked the wealthy and the powerful, the "one thirty-third of one percent of our total population" who created "the slavery of the machine, the banditry, the bread lines...the poverty amidst the plenty, the forty thousand millionnaires and the fifty million destitute citizens."

Unfortunately, with time he turned anti-Semitic, and came to believe that FDR was "a socialist of the radical type," and spent his last years --- until 1941 --- attacking the enemies who he believed had taken over the administration.

John L. Lewis, the man who single-handedly created the CIO. He was a man that Fried characterizes as "vain, pompous, arrogant, cruel, charming when he had to be." When he was masterminding the sitdown strike at General Motors in 1937, he called upon Roosevelt to support his efforts. When it was not forthcoming, he bitterly wrote him off. As a show-off public speaker, he had no peer. When the governor of Michigan threatened to break up the sit-down strike at GM, he responded,

    I shall personally enter General Motors plant Chevrolet No. 4. I shall order the men to disregard your order, to stand fast. I shall then walk up to the largest window in the plant, open it, divest myself of my outer raiment, remove my shirt, and bare my bosom. Then when you order your troops to fire, mine will be the first heart that these bullets will strike!

Huey Long, the "Kingfish" of Louisana. When he appeared at a luncheon at Hyde Park in a "loud pongee suit, orchid-colored shirt, and pink tie, Roosevelt's mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, reportedly whispered loud enough for everyone to hear, Who is that awful man sitting on my son's right?" Long was a political threat to Roosevelt; indeed, his Share Our Wealth plan ("every man a king") had garnered 200,000 members nationwide a month after being proposed. Roosevelt set up a federal investigation of Long's associates, and soon enough four of them were indicted for tax evasion.

Al Smith. Through his political connections he helped to make Roosevelt governor of New York. But in his effort to get the 1932 Democratic presidential nomination, he turned against FDR and became a voluable and often hysterical critic. He and John J. Rakob and the Du Ponts set up the Liberty League and at one point, in a speech to them, he asked,

    What is it to be, Washington or Moscow, the Stars and Stripes or the red flag and the hammer and sickle, the Star Spangled Banner or the Internationale?

Charles A. Lindbergh. It is said that Lindbergh never met Roosevelt, but during the 1930s he became an apologist for Hitler. As World War II came closer, he was militantly in favor of the continuing neutrality of the United States. He even planned to live in Germany (Albert Speer drew up plans for his house in Wannsee), and received the "Service Cross of the German Eagle" from Hermann Göring --- a medal liberally spiced with swastikas.

§     §     §

Now in the hands of a lesser writer, this might be called "Five Characters in Search of an Enemy" --- but the book has something more going for it. Fried has taken the time and the energy to bone up on these five characters --- and they are dyed-in-the-wool characters --- and what he has to say about their rants, their angers, and their personalities is sound, and sometimes quite surprising.

For instance, Al Smith chose as an enemy one who's program for bettering America was not too far from his own. Ditto for Father Coughlin. John L. Lewis got the power to create the CIO because of enabling legislation of "The Little New Deal" --- those bills passed during the last two years of Roosevelt's first term (most of them pushed through by the president).

Huey Long had reason to distrust the president. It was pure politics, and the Roosevelt administration was hitting him where it hurt, in the kickback system of Louisana upon which his financial resources depended. If he had not been murdered in 1935, he would have been a serious threat at the democratic convention of the upcoming year.

Perhaps the most mysterious of them all was Lindbergh --- a man who professed to hate the spotlight, but went on radio again and again to blast America's slow move towards the rearming of England. Fried brilliantly explains Lindy's fascination with Nazi Germany:

    Like everyone else he was extremely curious about Germany. In the three and a half years since Hitler took power Germany had miraculously changed. From a nation that had been paralyzed by conflict and depression and hopelessness Germany was now united as never before in her history, was prosperous, thanks to vast military and public works programs, and was the focus of world attention. She bore no resemblance to the Germany that had been crushed and humiliated by the Versailles Treaty.

He cites Lindbergh's political innocence that allowed him to be wooed by the likes of Göring and Hitler --- an alliance that was soon enough to doom his efforts to stop the end of American neutrality. In the hands of FDR, his innocence came back to haunt him and ruin his chances for success.

For this reader, there's not only the pleasure of seeing these six characters tangling with each other, there's a melancholy that comes from recalling an America that was at once more innocent and far more knowing. When there was a public issue, these characters could go out and buy radio time to give their side of the story --- a program that would be heard by the majority of Americans. Whether it was attack on the policies of Roosevelt, or discussion of labor's rights to organize, or a reasoned argument against our rearming England, or even a complaint about the nationalizing of air-mail services --- the media would provide a forum, a place where one could find dissent freely expressed, for all to hear.

Just try that now. If you or I are appalled by the new Viet-Nam (Columbia), or the strange new turns in our country's Defense Policies, or if we want to question the soul of a nation that has more people incarcerated (per capita) than any other country in the world --- just try to find media time so the whole nation can hear of your fears and of your hopes to change an ugly situation. Just try.

--- Ignacio Schwartz


Dennis McFarland
(Picador USA)
Every suicide is a murder mystery and an historical research project. There's the question of motive; there's a necessary investigation of family and personal interrelationships; there's guilt and there's blame. All who have had dealings with the dead will either be questioned --- or will be forced to question themselves.

Perry Lambert jumps to his death from a high window of his New York apartment. Brother Marty returns from California and becomes the detective. We journey with him to meet the other (official) police detective; then we meet Perry's girlfriend, his psychotherapist, and the church folk who are the beneficiaries of his will. We also meet the family down in Norfolk: drunken mother, drunken mother's friends, drunken father (now deceased), the family retainer and, not the least, the glorious Gatsby-like house where the brothers grew up.

Gradually McFarland moves us into the unfolding story of the three main characters --- and the now-dead Perry. It's an artful journey. He has, for instance, the ability to reveal characters in a few strokes --- can make a new scene a quick study for the reader. This is the lady who runs the funeral parlor in Brooklyn:

    Mrs. Spinelli asked me to take a seat before a heavy oak desk at the near end of the room. "My sympathies to you, Mr. Lambert," she said, sitting behind the desk and opening a loose-leaf notebook. "Such a tragedy." Her glasses had thick, squarish lenses that enlarged her eyes --- when she looked straight at me, I saw two cloudy walnut-sized pools in an aged, sagging face, and for a moment it looked like trick photography. But I also saw that she was one of those women whose intelligence and sentiment reside in their eyes, and I saw, magnified, that she was entirely sincere.

Or: this is our meeting with Perry's psychotherapist:

    Lucy Barr, a woman of about fifty, freckled and almost radiant in the dim lamplight of her darkened study, smoked little brown cigarettes and crossed her legs in that slanted, entwined way that only very thin women can accomplish, one knee over the other, one foot hooked behind the other ankle. I sat in the green leather recliner right next to an air conditioner, its drone in my ear heightening a sensation that I had come to Lucy Barr's study with none of my vital systems intact. They'd been shutting down one by one all day long, all over town --- short-circuiting, hissing, and sputtering out.

Note that we are seeing the therapist, quickly drawn: but, too, Marty beginning to figure out not only what befell his brother, but what is happening to him.

§     §     §

The adventure for us is the adventure of accompanying Marty --- a person described by family friends as a "stick-in-the-mud" --- as he discovers too much about his brother, falls in love with his brother's lover, Jane Owlcaster (sic), and learns from Ms. Barr not only something about Perry, but about himself. Perry, for instance, saw too clearly that Marty was --- like his mother, and his father, and his grandfather --- an alcoholic.

There are some elegant themes that wind through The Music Room. Drink is one. Wealth, and its effect on a family, another. Since the family is musical --- the grandfather is said to have been an intimate to Giuseppe Verdi --- there are musical counterpoints as well. The inscription that is said to appear on the tomb of Schubert, Music has here buried a rich treasure but still fairer hopes is probably applicable to the whole Lambert family.

Above all, there are the lessons that our narrator --- and presumably the reader --- have a chance to absorb. Marty is "haunted" by his history --- his father and mother used alcohol as a weapon of suicide as surely as jumping out of a window --- and by his brother's death. The question of is brother's suicide (he realizes) did not have "a single answer....Sorrow's arrival was not marked by tears but by clarity."

The Music Room gets bogged down by a bit too much of Marty and Owlcaster fretting about a passion built on the brother's death --- but, mostly, it's a deft piece of writing.

--- Leslie W. Howard

Frank Lloyd Wright

Doreen Ehrlich
(Courage Books)

    I found the means in Chicago --- electro-glazing --- where you could take a little copper strip and set in between two pieces of cut glass --- any pattern you wanted --- and by just sticking it there with solder...then drop it into an electric bath, and the copper would attract from the bath enough more copper to seal the glass.

Some have said that Frank Lloyd Wright was a better interior designer than house designer. If you need the proof, the hundred odd illustrations here should convince you.

Doors with glass of lush clear-and-green sumac, hollyhock chairs (impossible to sit in; great to view), subtle floor prints of red and gentle browns, butterfly-wing windows, straight chairs with nine vertical lines (impossible to sit in; magnificent to view), Modrian abstract panes (long before Modrian), and great round golden uterus hanging lamps (Wright said that amberglass lamps should bring into the house "the warmth of sunlight").

He wrote, "every house worth considering as a work of art must have a grammar of its own," which meant motifs and patterns echoed in window and wall and floor and furniture. Perhaps it was humble "interior decoration" that brought out the craftsman in him for --- compared to that great snail on the Upper East Side of New York City, or the crawling dragon of a courthouse in Marin County --- his glass was and still is an arresting sight, both from without and from within.

We're familiar with the stained glass of churches, designed to make us see the holy light emanating from beyond. Wright's was a similar religion --- but one of form and function married (not to religious formalism) to delight the eye and please the soul. The doors in the Ennis Brown House in Los Angeles tell us that we have more than a separation between library and hallway or dining-room; that we have an artistic statement of color and light that will make the passage between them a journey of color and light. Even the windows of the Ennis house bathroom suggest secrecy and color, a ripple of bodies within that could reveal more than it hides.

Wright's see-through inventions weren't perfect: the horizontal glass tubes dividing the offices of the Johnson administration building in Racine overload us with too much of a good thing. They give the feel of prison bars or even cheap taverns, too much reflection of a circularity and distortion that clashes with the exquisite angularity and simplicity of the structure from without.

In general, when Wright was younger, his taste in panes was impeccable. As he aged, the effects became more lurid and less subtle, like his buildings.

Ms Ehrlich knows her stuff but the doughhead who designed Frank Lloyd Wright Glass might have taken into account those of us palsied critics who don't just want to see pretty pictures but read words as well. The whole looks to be set in agate five-point micro san-serif. Next time 'round, let's sacrifice some of that classy white space and make the text a bit more accommodating to the needs of the halt, the lame, and the blind.

--- I. W. Wessel

Go Home     Subscribe to RALPH     Go Up