Anything Your Little Heart Desires

by Patricia Bosworth
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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1760

Anything Your Little Heart Desires is both memoir and social history, chronicling a family’s disintegration against the backdrop of one of the most politically volatile eras in American history. Bosworth’s memoir not only depicts the rise and fall of Bartley Crum as seen through the eyes of an adoring daughter but also offers a bird’s-eye view of several of the pivotal events of mid-twentieth century America. Although the author’s sometimes too-detailed accounts of Crum’s political activities often make this memoir read more like a dry history lesson than gripping personal drama, her depiction of the downward spiral of a brilliant career and the erosion of a family still engages the reader’s interest.

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Bosworth’s father, Bartley Crum, was born in 1900 in Sacramento, California, to Mo Cavanaugh and James Henry Crum. James gambled away the family’s ranch when Bart was a child, forcing the Crums to move in with Mo’s parents, where Bart was raised. James Henry, a disgraced figure from that time on, had little influence on his son, while Mo, who doted on Bart, was determined to give him the best education and upbringing she could afford.

An accomplished and charismatic young man, Bart attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he became one of the most popular and well-known students on campus, even escorting silent film star Clara Bow to a prom. While at Berkeley, he met Anna Gertrude Bosworth, known as “Cutsie,” who had a reputation for being one of the “wildest” women on campus. Known to each other by reputation, the two felt an instant attraction when they finally met and were married in 1929.

After earning his law degree at Boalt Hall in Berkeley, Bart began working for the prestigious San Francisco law firm that handled William Randolph Hearst’s legal matters. While working on Hearst’s business affairs he also became heavily involved in pro bono work, representing needy clients from Chinese aliens to impoverished murderers. From the inception of his career these contradictory impulses to prove himself to the world by earning large sums of money in corporate law, while following the dictates of his heart to help the underrepresented and downtrodden, struggled to coexist. Bosworth explains this dichotomy in her father’s personality by his deep religious faith: “At the core of Daddy’s being was his Catholicism, his search for redemption as he struggled to find a deeper, more dedicated purpose to his life.”

Bart’s social activism led to a taste for politics, and in 1937 he joined the National Lawyers Guild, an association of progressive lawyers that included Abe Fortas and Thurgood Marshall. In this period he developed a friendship with the controversial leader of the San Francisco Longshoremen’s Union, Harry Bridges, and made anti-fascist speeches throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, joining such luminaries as John Dos Passos and Dorothy Parker of the American Committee to Save Refugees. He also helped John Steinbeck raise funds for migrant worker families. During these early years of his career Crum managed to successfully balance his business, political, and personal lives, and he and Cutsie threw many parties at which Communists, liberals, and anti- Communists mixed freely.

Politics began to take an even larger share of Crum’s time in 1940 when he became deeply involved in Wendell Willkie’s campaign for president as one of the candidate’s most trusted advisers. As Crum’s involvement in politics increased, the time he spent with his family (which now included daughter Patricia and son Bartley, Jr.) diminished considerably. He often left the family for long stretches while on the campaign trail. Cutsie, who had written one mildly successful novel in 1938, desperately attempted to get another novel published, and the children spent most of their time with nannies. Feeling lonely and neglected, Cutsie became an obsessive shopper; the bills mounted as she spent lavishly. Bart was a big spender as well, and between them they spent money faster than they earned it, never even taking the time to open a checking account.

Bart and Cutsie grew further apart as he threw himself into politics and work, and the two stopped sharing a bedroom after Bart, Jr.’s birth, supposedly because of Cutsie’s worsening migraines and ulcers. Cutsie became prone to fits of anger and rages as her husband’s absences increased, and Bart began drinking more heavily as his pace became more frantic. After the couple purchased a summer home in Aptos, California, Cutsie began an affair (or serious flirtation, for it is not clear whether an affair was ever consummated) with their mentally unstable gardener, Happy Kanta, who set fire to the beautiful garden he had created when Cutsie began to withdraw her affections. Bart seemed unmoved by Cutsie’s relationship with Kanta and even offered to represent Kanta in some legal matters.

In 1946, Bart undertook a new all-consuming task when he was appointed to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Jewish Problems in Palestine and Europe, which was charged with the mission of deciding whether to allow one hundred thousand homeless Jewish refugees to emigrate to Palestine. Refusing to get in line with the prevailing politics, he broke ranks with the committee to describe the horrendous conditions he found in the displaced persons’ camps and criticized American government officials who worried more about U.S. access to Arab oil than the fate of the refugees. He wrote a successful book, Behind the Silken Curtain: A Personal Account of Anglo-American Diplomacy in Palestine and the Middle East (1947), about his experiences on the committee.

Bart Crum’s increasing absences from home made him more fantasy figure than flesh-and-blood father to his children. Patricia, who idolized her father, meticulously recorded his travels in her scrapbooks, while Bart, Jr., could barely remember what his father looked like without pictures to remind him. Left almost exclusively with their increasingly disturbed mother, the children entered into their troubled adolescent years, when they were both expelled from exclusive private schools and arrested for shoplifting.

In 1947, Crum agreed to represent Edward Dmytryk and Adrian Scott, two of the blacklisted group of Hollywood screenwriters and directors known as the Hollywood Ten, in their appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. At this point, Crum’s surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which had begun in 1942, stepped up considerably, and his consumption of liquor and pills increased with the pressure and his increasingly frantic pace. His involvement in the controversial Hollywood Ten case lost him friends and brought obscene phone calls and hate mail into his family’s home. When his client Dmytryk broke ranks with the rest of the Hollywood Ten and gave names to the committee, none of the other lawyers representing the Ten spoke to Crum again.

Crum’s troubles accelerated when he became involved in a disastrously unsuccessful publishing venture. He agreed to move to New York City to become the publisher of the liberal tabloid PM(soon renamed The New York Star) on the condition that he raise enough money to keep the paper in business. Unable to raise the cash necessary to keep the paper afloat and totally inexperienced in the publishing business, Crum soon found that the venture was doomed to failure. By 1949 the paper had folded, representing a humiliating public failure and adding to his reputation as foolhardy and naïve.

In the meantime, his children’s lives became more chaotic as Patricia entered into a disastrous, abusive marriage during her freshman year at Sarah Lawrence College with a twenty-one-year-old Columbia University art student. The troubled Bart, Jr., who had been kicked out of prep school after being found with his arms around another boy (who subsequently hanged himself), had miserably unsuccessful stints at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Reed College before killing himself with his grandfather’s hunting rifle.

After an unsuccessful suicide attempt in 1949 and hospitalization to withdraw from pills and alcohol, Crum joined a New York law firm and endeavored to revitalize his career. Because of the ongoing Hollywood Ten appeals, however, FBI surveillance of him increased, causing intense stress, and his new firm fired him for not bringing in enough rich clients. In September of 1950, he resigned from all his left-wing causes and organizations and vowed to stick to corporate law, becoming a full partner in a Wall Street firm and personal lawyer to the film actress Rita Hayworth. His connection with Hayworth revitalized his career for a time. In 1953, after the FBI threatened to revoke his passport, he finally gave oral testimony in a private session at the State Department against some colleagues from the National Lawyers Guild. Crum’s career gradually deteriorated as he became truly addicted to pills and alcohol, until he killed himself with an overdose in 1959.

Despite its value as a chronicle of mid-twentieth century political and social history, Anything Your Little Heart Desires does not have the emotional depth to be a completely successful memoir. Boswell’s tone is too detached to draw the reader completely into her story. The narrative springs most vividly to life when Crum’s often glamorous career intersects with his daughter’s daily life. Bosworth’s descriptions of arriving home from school one afternoon as a teenager to find her idol, actor Montgomery Clift, sprawled out on her living room floor or her recollection of sitting on Paul Robeson’s lap as he sang her a lullaby adequately convey her sense of excitement and awe. More often, however, Bosworth inspires only a detached interest.

Perhaps because her father left behind no journals or personal correspondence, Boswell is unable to offer any real insight into why he so completely removed himself from the family that he paradoxically seemed to adore. Likewise, she sheds little light on the nature of her brother’s troubles or on her own inner life, for that matter. On the other hand, the author is more successful at creating a flesh-and-blood portrait of her mother, perhaps because Cutsie did keep extensive personal journals. Despite these drawbacks, Anything Your Little Heart Desires is an entertaining, informative, and often heartbreaking look at one very exceptional family and the fascinating times in which they lived.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIII, April 15, 1997, p. 1367.

Chicago Tribune. May 18, 1997, XIV, p. 6.

Houston Chronicle. July 6, 1997, p. Z21.

Kirkus Reviews. LXV, February 1, 1997, p. 183.

Library Journal. CXXII, April 1, 1997, p. 100.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. May 11, 1997, p. 9.

The New York Times Book Review. CII, April 27, 1997, p. 10.

Newsweek. CXXIX, May 5, 1997, p. 69.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, February 10, 1997, p. 75.

San Francisco Chronicle. April 20, 1997, p. 5.

The Village Voice. April 29, 1997, p. 56.

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