Barzman, Norma 1920-
BARZMAN, Norma 1920-
Born 1920, in New York, NY; married Claude Shannon (a mathematician; divorced); married Ben Barzman (a screenwriter), 1943 (died, 1989); children: seven. Education: Attended Radcliffe College.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Thunder's Mouth Press, 245 West 17th St., 11th Fl., New York, NY 10011-5300.
The Red and the Black List: Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Author of screenplays, including Never Say Goodbye, and Luxury Girls, and, with husband, Ben Barzman, Rich Dreams; writer of column "The Best Years" for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, 1985-89.
Norma Barzman lived in Hollywood during an era of glamour and excitement, and at a time that proved to be dangerous to a great many of the city's brightest stars: the late 1940s and the 1950s, when the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) persecuted and prosecuted those suspected of being members of the Communist Party. Barzman's memoir, The Red and the Blacklist: Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate, is a first-hand account of the period and of how the lives of Barzman, her husband, and her friends were impacted.
Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Larry Ceplair wrote that the memoir "is replete with interesting stories and anecdotes, and [Barzman] vividly recalls them and the people involved.… She is also refreshingly frank about her sexuality and her affairs. Her memoir confirms my long-held belief that the women of the blacklist were, in general, far more insightful and intelligent than the men."
Barzman was born Norma Levor, to a privileged New York family. She dropped out of Radcliffe College in 1939 to go to France, where she had lived for part of her childhood, but her parents came to get her three months later when Hitler invaded Poland. She then met and married mathematician Claude Shannon, known as the "father of information theory," and lived with him in Princeton, New Jersey. When they divorced, Barzman moved to Los Angeles with her mother and took classes at the School for Writers, the members of which were leftist. She met and married screenwriter Ben Barzman, and the two attended Communist Party meetings together.
Barzman wrote features for the Los Angeles Examiner, a paper owned by William Randolph Hearst, while Ben worked on films that included Back to Bataan, starring John Wayne. Both Hearst and Wayne were very much anti-communist. When Hearst's editors told him Barzman was a Communist, he kept her on, saying "I don't care if she's Red, she's a good reporter, and I never fire a good reporter."
Barzman also worked on her husband's screenplays, incorporating into the script her own ideas about women's rights and worker exploitation. She wrote the screenplay Never Say Goodbye, about a soldier leaving the woman he loves. It was purchased by Warner Brothers, and Errol Flynn was chosen for the lead, but the studio didn't want Barzman's name on the screenplay. She agreed to having it credited to her husband and another writer because they needed the money.
When World War II ended, HUAC's efforts accelerated. People were subpoenaed and then coerced into submitting the names of friends who were in the Communist Party in order to preserve their own careers. Ceplair noted that the Barzmans, "like virtually every artist and intellectual who joined the Communist Party, were not revolutionaries, saboteurs, or spies. Their activities, on behalf of anti-fascist organizations, minority rights, and day-care centers, did not threaten to undermine the republic. Their scripts did not subvert the movie industry. And yet they were forced to act as fugitives."
Barzman writes that in July 1947, she and her husband were in their yard when Groucho Marx, wearing a pith helmet and pushing a baby carriage, uttered a warning. Several minutes later, Norma Jean Baker, who would later be known as Marilyn Monroe, and who was on her way to a party, stopped her convertible to tell the Barzmans that she heard marshals at the bottom of their hill ask someone if they were going to the Barzman house.
In 1949, Ben was required to travel to London to rewrite his script for Christ in Concrete, released as Give Us This Day, which was to be directed by Edward Dmytryk. Expecting to be gone only six weeks, Ben, a now pregnant Norma, and their two children left their Sunset Plaza Drive home and everything they owned. But while they were away, the investigations intensified, and the couple decided not to return to the United States. In response, they were blacklisted and hounded by the U.S. government while living in France. Barzman's passport was revoked, and they lived in fear of deportation, although they were not politically active because of their refugee status. The Barzmans lived in Paris and in Mougins in a farmhouse, where they enjoyed a social life that included celebrity friends.
Barzman recalls how much she loved life in France, and the people she met, including Sophia Loren, Simone Signoret, and Pablo Picasso, but Ben never felt at home there, even though he had opportunities to work on significant films, including El cid. His wife, however, was unable to find meaningful work, except for the occasional television script for British producers who hired blacklisted writers. Although they stayed together and Barzman remained a staunch supporter of Ben's writing, she had affairs with a number of other men. Resigned to the fact that she was no more than Ben's wife and assistant, a position he apparently reinforced, she also had several more children.
When the Barzmans returned to the United States during the 1970s, Norma was inspired by the women's liberation movement and the campaign to reestablish the reputations of the Hollywood artists who had been blacklisted. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "her unique, absorbing and richly detailed memoir is a contribution to both, restoring women to the history of this period and documenting the bravery with which some people stood by their ideals."
None of the scripts Barzman and her husband completed after their return, however, were made into films. She wrote a column on aging for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner from 1985 to 1989. Ceplair called it "disappointing that in The Red and the Black List Barzman devoted only twenty pages to the last twenty-five years of her life, the years of her reawakening as an independent woman and a writer. A series of events after May 1968 (including Ben's illness and death) liberated her, and today she generates more positive energy than people half her age."
The Writers Guild of America restored 100 films written under aliases by blacklisted writers, including Barzman's Luxury Girls and several films by Ben Barzman. Norma Barzman became an activist on behalf of blacklisted writers, living and dead, and was one of the organizers protesting director Elia Kazan's 1999 Oscar for lifetime achievement. Kazan had testified before the HUAC and given up names.
In reviewing The Red and the Black List in the New York Times Book Review, David Freedman wrote that "a portrait emerges of a woman who has known pleasure: occasionally in her work; certainly in her children; often in romance, both in and out of marriage. The book is also a testament of anger toward the squalid congressional committee that made bean soup of the First Amendment, and toward the men who held her back—particularly her husband, for whom she often felt bitterness." Booklist reviewer Carol Haggas added that in her memoir Barzman "brings a brooding, yet legitimate, perspective to a complex and confusing era in American history."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Barzman, Norma, The Red and the Black List: Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Booklist, April 15, 2003, Carol Haggas, review of The Red and the Black List: Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate, p. 1438.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2003, review of The Red and the Black List, p. 196.
Library Journal, March 15, 2003, Barbara Kundanis, review of The Red and the Black List, p. 85.
Los Angeles Times, October 3, 2000, Denise Hamilton, "Keeper of the Flame: A Blacklist Survivor," p. E1.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 27, 2003, Larry Ceplair, review of The Red and the Black List, p. 6.
New Yorker, March 24, 2003, Andrea Thompson, review of The Red and the Black List, p. 23.
Publishers Weekly, February 10, 2003, review of The Red and the Black List, p. 170.*