Alvah Bessie Larry Ceplair - Essay

Larry Ceplair

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Alvah Bessie, whose Hollywood career was brutally truncated as a result of the studio blacklist, has, in [One for My Baby], created a cast of fascinating, complex and troubled people struggling with themselves and each other in a San Francisco nightclub during the 1950s. (p. 319)

Banished from his chosen occupation in 1947, he has held various nonprofessional jobs. His finest novel to date, One for My Baby, builds on one of those jobs: his stint at the "hungry i" nightclub in San Francisco. The torn and troubled decades of the 1930s and 1940s left many people physically, mentally and spiritually maimed. Bessie has selected about a dozen of these "cripples," placed them in The Night Box, a cabaret headlining folk groups and stand-up comics, and set them struggling to compensate for their missing limbs, egos, careers, or humane qualities.

It is a naturalistic novel, with no particular moral or denouement—except perhaps that some people are more destructive than others. All the characters are in pain; few prevent that pain from affecting others. One of those who does appears to be an ironic representation of the author, Dan Noble. Noble is portrayed as a well-meaning, clumsy failure—an ineffectual knight of the woeful countenance. The real Bessie, however, is a figure of more heroic proportions, who was failed more by others than by himself, and who has now crafted two remarkable pieces of literature: the nonfiction Men in Battle, about his experience in the Spanish Civil War, and this recent novel. (p. 320)

Larry Ceplair, "Hollywood Stars," in The Nation (copyright 1980 The Nation magazine, The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 231, No. 10, October 4, 1980, pp. 319-20.∗