Bessie, Alvah Cecil, 1904-1985

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Alvah Bessie (1904-1985) was an author and screenwriter who fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain, and was later blacklisted as one of the "Hollywood Ten" cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions at the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings on the influence of the Communist Party in the motion-picture industry.

From the description of Papers, 1937-1991 (bulk 1936-1939, 1967-1985). (New York University). WorldCat record id: 476413154

Novelist, screenwriter, and veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War.

Bessie was blacklisted as a screenwriter in 1950 as one of the Hollywood Ten.

From the description of Letters, 1976-1984. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 122610750

Alvah Bessie was born in New York City on June 4, 1904 to Daniel Nathan Cohen Bessie, a successful businessman and inventor, and Adeline Schlesinger. The younger of two boys, Bessie was raised in ease in the then-prosperous precincts of Harlem. He attended public school, graduated from Dewitt Clinton High School and, in 1920, enrolled in Columbia University. Bessie's rebellious nature often placed him at odds with his father's conservative values and authoritarian manner. When, in 1922, Daniel Bessie died after suffering a severe economic setback, he left his family in a precarious financial state, but Alvah Bessie free to pursue his own ambitions. Bessie completed his degree and graduated from Columbia in 1924 with a B.A. in English. Through a friend, he found work as an actor with Eugene O'Neill's Provincetown Players. For the next four years Bessie immersed himself in the New York theater scene, performing with the Provincetown Players, the Theatre Guild and with actor-manager Walter Hampden's repertory company in a production of Cyrano de Bergerac . Recognizing his limited talent as an actor, he left the theater and, in 1928, traveled to France to join the community of American expatriates in Paris intent on becoming a writer.

During his brief stay in France, he worked as a rewrite man at the Paris-Times, and wrote "Redbird," his first short story to receive publication. He returned to New York in 1929, and for the next six years, his stories, essays, and reviews appeared in The New Republic, Scribner's, Atlantic Monthly, Saturday Review of Literature, Collier's and Story . In July 1930, he married Mary Burnett, a puppet-maker and artist. The couple moved to Vermont and had two boys -- Daniel and David. Bessie began work on his first novel, Dwell in the Wilderness . During this time, Bessie also began to study Marxist theory and question his political convictions. Bessie was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship following the publication of his novel in 1935, and, with his family, returned to New York. Back in the City, Bessie began to move in more radical circles, and in 1936 he became a member of the Communist Party. In 1935 he joined the staff of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, serving as drama and book editor. His tenure at the paper was marked by dissent. His radical stance on striking maritime workers in 1936 and on the Spanish Civil War ran counter to management's more conservative views. A final dispute with the paper stemmed from his praise of French novelist and aviator Andre Malraux's efforts to organize a squadron of French flyers to aid the Spanish Republic. In 1937 he resigned from the Eagle and went to work in the public relations office of the Spanish Information Bureau, a New York agency of the Republican Government. During this period, the Bessies' marriage began to founder. The couple separated and soon after divorced.

On January 22, 1938, Bessie sailed to Spain on the S.S. Lafayette to join the International Brigade's fight against the Franco-led rebellion. Although he earned his pilot's license before leaving for Spain with the objective of serving as a flyer, he was assigned to a front-line combat unit with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, participating in the Ebro offensive from July to September 1938, and attaining the rank of sergeant-adjutant. He also served as a correspondent for the International Brigade's publication The Volunteer for Liberty . He daily chronicled his personal experiences in a series of notebooks, and upon his return to the United States, these jottings became the basis of his wartime memoirs, Men in Battle (1939). From 1939 to 1943, Bessie was film and theatre critic for the New Masses, and, under a pseudonym, wrote a regular column for a Young Communist League publication. He remained active in the Spanish Republican cause, working on behalf of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee writing articles and delivering speeches.

In 1943 he moved to California and started writing screenplays when Warner Brothers studios hired him as a contract writer. During World War II, he served as Second Lieutenant in the Civil Air Patrol, Los Angeles Squadron 3. In 1945 his original story that was the basis for the screenplay of "Objective Burma" was nominated for an Academy Award. His other screen credits from this time include, "Hotel Berlin," "The Very Thought of You," "Northern Pursuit, " and "Smart Woman." He was fired from Warner Brothers in 1945 in the wake of his outspoken support of striking studio workers. In September 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) launched an investigation on the influence of the Communist Party in the motion-picture industry. Over fifty people were called to testify and answer questions regarding political affiliations and associations. Bessie, along with nine other Hollywood figures, refused to comply with the Committee's demands. They were cited for contempt of Congress, given one-year prison sentences, and became known as the "Hollywood Ten." Bessie served out his term in a federal correctional facility in Texarkana, Texas and was blacklisted in Hollywood.

After his release from prison, Bessie was not able to get work in the film industry or elsewhere in Los Angeles, so he relocated to San Francisco and found employment with the International Longshoremen's and Warehouseman's Union as assistant editor of the union's newspaper, The Dispatcher . In 1951 he edited, The Heart of Spain, an anthology of writings on the Spanish Civil War published and distributed by the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. He worked as stage manager and lighting technician for the hungry i nightclub (1956-1963), an experience that inspired the novel, One for My Baby (1980), and as a cultural critic on the People's Daily World (1957-1960), sometimes using a pseudonym. In the mid-1960s, he worked briefly as a publicist for several San Francisco arts organizations, including the San Francisco Mime Troupe and the San Francisco Film Festival.

Alvah Bessie married Sylviane Martin in 1963. (Martin was his third wife; his second marriage, to Helen Clare Nelson, ended in divorce). In 1968, Bessie collaborated on the Spanish film, Espana otra vez, and offered an account of the production and his return to Spain in his memoir Spain Again . He remained active in the Bay Area Chapter of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and was honored, in 1975, at their 39th Anniversary Dinner. Before he could complete work on Our Fight, a VALB anthology devoted to the writings of Lincoln Brigade veterans, Bessie died of a heart attack on July 21, 1985, at the age of 81.

From the guide to the Alvah Bessie Papers, Bulk, 1936-1985, 1936-1985, (Bulk 1936-1939; 1967-1985), (Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Albee, George Sumner, 1905-1964. Collection of letters to Kyle Crichton from leftist activists, screenwriters, novelists, literary critics, fans, etc., [1927]-1960. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Gerassi, John. Papers, 1979-1983. Churchill County Museum
creatorOf Bessie, Alvah Cecil, 1904-1985. Letters, 1976-1984. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Records, 1933-2006 Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn Arthur H. Landis Papers, 1915-1944; 1965-1985 Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
creatorOf De Pereda, Prudencio, 1912- . Papers, 1935-1973. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Humboldt, Charles, 1910-1964. Charles Humboldt papers, 1935-1963 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn Marzani, Carl. Papers, 1890-1994 (bulk 1935-1975). Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Harry Randall: Fifteenth International Brigade Photographs, August 1937-September 1938 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
creatorOf Bessie, Alvah Cecil, 1904-1985. Papers, 1929-1991. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Benjamin Iceland Papers, 1937-1996 Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn Spain. Ejército Popular de la República. Brigada Internacional, XV. Photographic Unit. Fifteenth International Brigade Photographic Unit photographs [graphic]. Churchill County Museum
creatorOf Bessie, Alvah Cecil, 1904-. Papers, 1937-1991 (bulk 1936-1939, 1967-1985). Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Lillian B. Gilkes Papers, 1900-1976 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
referencedIn Prudencio De Pereda Papers TXRC93-A37., 1935-1973 Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Trumbo, Dalton, 1905-1976. Papers, 1905-1962. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
creatorOf Alvah Bessie Papers, Bulk, 1936-1985, 1936-1985, (Bulk 1936-1939; 1967-1985) Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
creatorOf Petrie, Glynn. Alvah Cecil Bessie letters 1932-1939. University of Michigan, William Clements Library
referencedIn Carl Aldo Marzani Papers [1890]-1994, (bulk 1935-1975). New York University, Tamiment Library
referencedIn Steve Nelson Papers Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn John Gerassi Papers, 1979-1983, 2000s Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
referencedIn Manny Harriman Video Oral History Collection, Bulk, 1985-1987, 1945-1990 Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn Chandler Brossard Papers, 1951-2002 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
creatorOf League of Vermont Writers. League of Vermont Writers papers, 1928-1942. Vermont Historical Society
referencedIn Earl Browder Papers, 1879-1990 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
referencedIn Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives. Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives [graphic] : small photograph collections. Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Freeman, Jacob. Jacob Freeman papers, 1935-1941. Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Yaddo records, 1870-1980 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Erskine, John, 1879-1951. John Erskine papers, [ca. 1890]-1951. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Harriman, Manny. Manny Harriman video oral history collection, 1985-1987. Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Landis, Arthur H., 1917-1986. Papers, 1915-1944, 1965-1985. Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (VALB) photograph collection [graphic]. Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Maltz, Albert, 1908-1985. Papers, 1932-1985. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn J. B. Matthews Papers, 1862-1986 and undated David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Charles Humboldt papers, 1935-1963 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
creatorOf Bessie, Alvah Cecil, 1904-1985. Alvah Cecil Bessie papers. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Gerassi, John. John Gerassi oral history collection, 1980. Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Jacob Freeman Papers, 1935-1941 Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn Esquire, Inc. Records, 1933-1977 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn Bessie, Dan. Papers, 1966-2006. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn John Gerassi Oral History Collection, 1980 Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives: Small Photograph Collections, 1928-1992 Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
creatorOf Bessie, Alvah Cecil, 1904-1985. Letter to [Florence] Lipkin. Londonderry, VT. 1933 Sept. 21. University of Iowa Libraries
referencedIn Steve Nelson Papers, Bulk, 1950-1985, 1937-1991, (Bulk 1950-1985) Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn Carl Aldo Marzani Papers, Bulk, 1935-1975, [1890]-1994, (Bulk 1935-1975) Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives. corporateBody
associatedWith Allen, Woody. person
associatedWith Aptheker, Herbert, 1915-2003. person
associatedWith Aronson, James. person
associatedWith Asner, Edward. person
associatedWith Baker, Carlos, 1909-1987. person
associatedWith Ballard, Kaye. person
associatedWith Bessie, Dan. person
associatedWith Brossard, Chandler, 1922-1993 person
associatedWith Browder, Earl, 1891-1973 person
associatedWith Bruce, Lenny. person
associatedWith Cameron, Angus (Donald Angus) person
associatedWith Camino, Jaime, 1936- person
associatedWith Carnovsky, Morris. person
associatedWith Cole, Lester, 1904-1985. person
associatedWith Davis, Bette, 1908-1989. person
associatedWith De Pereda, Prudencio, 1912- person
associatedWith Erskine, John, 1879-1951. person
associatedWith Esquire, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Faulk, John Henry. person
associatedWith Freeman, Jacob. person
associatedWith Freeman, Jacob, 1918-1938 person
associatedWith Gellhorn, Martha, 1908- person
associatedWith Gerassi, John. person
associatedWith Gilkes, Lillian B. (Lillian Barnard), 1902-1977 person
associatedWith Gleason, Ralph J. person
associatedWith Gordon, David, 1909-1973. person
associatedWith Harriman, Manny. person
associatedWith Harriman, Manny. person
associatedWith Hellman, Lillian, 1905-1984. person
associatedWith Heym, Stefan, 1913-2001. person
associatedWith Hinckle, Warren. person
associatedWith Humboldt, Charles, 1910-1964. person
associatedWith Hungry i (San Francisco, Calif.) corporateBody
associatedWith Iceland, Benjamin. person
associatedWith Iceland, Benjamin, 1910-1990 person
associatedWith International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union. corporateBody
associatedWith Jarrico, Paul. person
associatedWith Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee. corporateBody
associatedWith Kenny, Robert W. (Robert Walker), 1901-1976. person
associatedWith Krassner, Paul. person
associatedWith Landis, Arthur H., 1917-1986. person
associatedWith Lardner, James, 1914-1938 person
associatedWith Lardner, James Phillips, 1914-1938. person
associatedWith Lawson, John Howard, 1894-1977. person
associatedWith League of Vermont Writers. corporateBody
associatedWith Lieber, Maxim, 1897- person
associatedWith Limelighters (Operetta Company) corporateBody
associatedWith Lipkin, Florence, person
associatedWith Lish, Gordon. person
associatedWith MacFadden, Cyra. person
associatedWith Maltz, Albert, 1908-1985. person
associatedWith Marzani, Carl person
associatedWith Marzani, Carl. person
associatedWith Matthews, Herbert Lionel, 1900- person
associatedWith Matthews, J. B. (Joseph Brown), 1894-1966 person
associatedWith Miller, Arthur, 1915-2005. person
associatedWith Monroe, Marilyn, 1926-1962. person
associatedWith National Writers Union (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Nelson, Steve, 1903- person
associatedWith Odets, Clifford, 1906-1963. person
associatedWith Petrie, Glynn. person
associatedWith Pozner, Vladimir, 1905-1992. person
associatedWith Rojas, Carlos, 1928- person
associatedWith Rosenstone, Robert A. person
associatedWith Rosenstone, Robert A. person
associatedWith Rosten, Norman, 1914- person
associatedWith Rubenstein, Bruce, person
associatedWith San Francisco Film Festival. corporateBody
associatedWith San Francisco Mime Troupe. corporateBody
associatedWith Seldes, George, 1890-1995. person
associatedWith Spain. Ejército Popular de la República. Abraham Lincoln Battalion. corporateBody
associatedWith Spain. Ejercito Popular de la Republica. Abraham Lincoln Battalion. corporateBody
associatedWith Spain. Ejército Popular de la República. Brigada Internacional, XV. corporateBody
associatedWith Spain. Ejercito Popular de la Republica. Brigada Internacional, XV. corporateBody
associatedWith Spain. Ejército Popular de la República. Brigada Internacional, XV. Photographic Unit. corporateBody
associatedWith Terkel, Studs, 1912-2008. person
associatedWith Timpson, Arthur person
associatedWith Timpson, Arthur. person
associatedWith Trumbo, Dalton, 1905-1976. person
associatedWith United States. Congress. House. Committee on Un-American Activities. corporateBody
associatedWith Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. corporateBody
associatedWith Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Bay Area Post. corporateBody
associatedWith Wald, Jerry, 1911-1962. person
associatedWith Wolff, Milton. person
associatedWith Yaddo (Artist's colony) corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Spain |x History |y Civil War, 1936-1939.
Spain |x History |y Civil War, 1936-1939 |x Campaigns.
Spain |x History |y Civil War, 1936-1939 |v Personal narratives.
Spain |x History |y Civil War, 1936-1939 |v Poetry.
Spain
Spain |x History |y Civil War, 1936-1939 |x Literature and the war.
Spain |x History |y Civil War, 1936-1939 |x Participation, American.
Spain |x History |y Civil War, 1936-1939 |v Biography.
Spain
Subject
Law--Cases
Publishers and Publishing
Communism
Motion picture industry
Blacklisting of authors
Motion pictures--Censorship
Screenwriters
Authors
Ebro River, Battle of the, Spain, 1938
Occupation
Screenwriters
Function

Person

Birth 1904-06-04

Death 1985-07-21

Information

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