(reprinted from Father's Day, 2010, in commemoration of the death of Edgar Doctorow, gentleman, scholar, good friend, wonderful writer)
Sometimes I think about my father in that pointless way one thinks of the dead: "What would he say about what I'm doing now?" He had a strong journalistic streak himself; like many in his writing circle, revering the profilist, Joseph Mitchell, who was known as much for the exquisiteness of his prose as for the paucity of his output. (Out of deference, the New Yorker set aside an office for him for many unproductive years.)
It's a pointless question because our parents, at least mine, were children of their era. They knew that and would not have had it otherwise, any more than a fish would choose to move to Central Park South, even though it's some of the most sought-after real estate in the world. Having lived through the Depression and the War, and having seen segregation disintegrate, they relished what Francis Fukuyama notoriously called the "end of history." The prejudices and superstitions of their parents' countries seemed to belong to a less evolved consciousness. Who could imagine turning back?
A few years ago, I attempted to contact two of my father's friends to let them know what I'd learned since 9/11 since it had bearing on what was to come. These were influential, well-connected men who, if they wished, could convey the message further in the sphere of movies and letters. I also felt these two men were the most likely among my parents' old friends to be open to what I had to say.
The first, Walter Bernstein, might be receptive, I thought, because he'd written the screenplays, Fail Safe, about "an accidental sortie" of nuclear bombers to the USSR, and The Front, about the blacklist during the McCarthy era (of which Bernstein had first-hand experience.) He was what used to be called "a lefty from way back" and was no stranger to the notion of corruption in high places. Fail Safe is particularly memorable for a rare foray by Walter Matthau into serious drama, playing a general who's itching for an opportunity to unleash a nuke.
Bernstein was as kind and cordial as one might wish but his gentle assessment was, "I hope you're wrong." "So do I," I said.
The second friend, whom I attempted to contact at an address which had worked years before, was Edgar Doctorow, the author of the novels Ragtime, about the twenties, and The Book of Daniel, about the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. But most intriguing was his role as editor at Dial Press when they published Report from Iron Mountain, a book which professes to be a spoof but which luminaries such as John Kenneth Galbraith swore was an actual government report. Galbraith said he knew this first hand because he'd been asked to work on it himself though he felt certain the final product was the work of either Dean Rusk or Clare Booth Luce.