Geduld, Harry M(aurice) 1931–
Geduld, Harry M(aurice) 1931–
PERSONAL: Surname is accented on first syllable; born March 3, 1931, in London, England; son of Sol E. and Anne (Berliner) Geduld; married Carolyn Taft, December 24, 1963; children: Marcus Stephen, Daniel Joel. Education: University of Sheffield, B.A. (with first class honors), 1953, M.A., 1954; University of London, Ph.D., 1961.
ADDRESSES: Office—Comparative Literature Program, Indiana University at Bloomington, Ballantine Hall, Bloomington, IN 47401.
CAREER: High school teacher in London, England, 1955–62; Indiana University at Bloomington, instructor, 1962–64, assistant professor, 1964–66, associate professor of English, 1966–70, professor of English and comparative literature, 1970–72; University of Maryland, Baltimore, professor of screen arts and English, 1972–73; Indiana University at Bloomington, professor of comparative literature, 1973–, professor of West European studies, 1989–, chairman of comparative literature program, 1990–. Visiting faculty member, Queens College, 1965–66; visiting professor of film studies, University of California at Santa Barbara, 1979. Visiting scholar, University Center of Virginia, 1975.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright scholar, 1959–60; Indiana University faculty fellowship, 1963; distinguished teaching award, Indiana University, 1979; Language Development Award, Indiana University, 1983.
(Editor, and author of introduction and notes) George Bernard Shaw, The Rationalization of Russia, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IL), 1964.
(Editor and author of introduction) Film Makers on Film Making: Statements on Their Art by Thirty Directors, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1967.
Prince of Publishers: A Study of the Life and Work of Jacob Tonson, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1969.
(Editor with Ronald Gottesman) Sergei Eisenstein and Upton Sinclair: The Making and Unmaking of "Que Viva Mexico!", Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1970, published as The Making and Unmaking of 'Que Viva Mexico!' by Sergei Eisenstein and Upton Sinclair, Thames & Hudson (London, England), 1970.
James Barrie: A Study, Twayne, 1971.
(Editor and author of introduction) Focus on D. W. Griffith, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1971.
(Editor with Ronald Gottesman) Guidebook to Film: An Eleven-in-One Reference, Holt (New York, NY), 1972.
(Editor and author of introduction) Authors on Film, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1972.
(Editor with Ronald Gottesman) An Illustrated Glossary of Film Terms, Holt (New York, NY), 1973.
Filmguide to Henry V, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1973.
The Birth of the Talkies, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1975.
(Editor with Ronald Gottesman) The Girl in the Hairy Paw, Avon (New York, NY), 1976.
(Editor with Ronald Gottesman) Robots, Robots, Robots, New York Graphic Society (New York, NY), 1978.
The Definitive Jekyll and Hyde Companion, Garland Publishing (New York, NY), 1983.
(Editor) Charlie Chaplin's Own Story, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1985.
Chapliniana, Volume 1, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1985.
(Editor) The Definitive Time Machine, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1986.
German Requiem (play), produced at Fine Arts Auditorium, 1990.
Warsaw: Year Zero (docudrama), produced at Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, 1991.
(Editor with David Y. Hughes) Critical Edition of H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1993.
(Editor with Ronald Gottesman) Critical Essays on Film, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1993.
Author of liner notes for Pelican record albums My Man Godfrey, Tales for a Winter's Night, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, Sounds from the Silent Screen, The Rogue Song, The New Moon, and Garbo Soundtracks. General editor, "Literature of Mystery and Detection" series, forty-four volumes, Arno Press, 1976; and "Visions" series, five volumes, Indiana University Press, 1986. General co-editor, with Ronald Gottesman, "Film Focus" series, eighteen volumes, Prentice-Hall, 1972; "Filmguides" series, eleven volumes, Indiana University Press, 1973; "Critical Essays on Film" series, Macmillan, 1993–; and "Perspectives" series, ten volumes, G. K. Hall, 1995. Advisory editor, New York Times Film Encyclopedia, thirteen volumes, Times Books, 1984. Contributor of articles and book reviews to numerous journals, including Louisville Courier-Journal, Denver Quarterly, Studies in Short Fiction, Quarterly Journal of Film Studies, Journal of Popular Culture, Quarterly Journal of Speech, Victorian Studies, Modern Drama, Radio Times, and Shaw Review. Film reviewer for Humanist, 1967–90.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Thirty short stories to be published as The Purinm and Other Stories.
SIDELIGHTS: In 1963, Harry M. Geduld established the first film study course at Indiana University. He once told CA: "Since then I have taught or proposed most of the basic courses in film study at Indiana University. My writing and teaching have been intimately connected: The books I have published and the series I have edited have developed in response to practical pedagogical considerations. My introduction of courses on the study of television genres has followed the same lines as the film teaching. My writing and my teaching have always been expressions of passionate preoccupations. I constantly strive to break new ground, to teach new courses, to research and write about neglected or little-known subjects, and to create new interests for my students and readers. The reward is not only to succeed (at times), but also to have the pleasure of being among the first to see over the next hill." Since his retirement in 1996, Geduld has written a two-act play, three one-act plays, and a collection of four hundred limericks.
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY: Harry M. Geduld contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA:
YES, VIRGINIA, I REALLY DID SEE THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN:
A KID'S-EYE VIEW OF WORLD WAR II
(for Marcus and Daniel)
Like most London children I was evacuated a few days before World War II in Europe actually began on September 3, 1939. I was eight years old.
In the immediate post-Munich period, the British government assumed that the Germans would begin their offensive with massive air raids on the British capital: hence the evacuation. Instead, the next few months became that relatively quiescent period now known to historians as "The Phoney War" or "The Sitzkreig." London remained unscathed throughout 1939 and well into 1940—a period when Hitler fondly imagined that the British would come to their senses and sue for peace.
On the morning I was to be evacuated, my mother packed my suitcase and a brown bag of sandwiches, fruit, and chocolate. She took me to the assembly-point (the schoolyard), where the various classes were lined up. Each child was wearing an identification label and carrying a gas mask: poison gas attacks were expected well into 1942. In due course we were marched off to a bus which took us to a main line station. There we saw thousands of children (many as young as five) from other schools as well as mothers with toddlers and babes-in-arms—all assembled for the same purpose. Teachers acting as stewards assigned the different school groups to various trains.
Where were we headed? Our teachers would say nothing. For reasons best known to the organizers, the evacuation destinations were to be kept secret until we arrived and could send postcards to our parents. Many of the evacuees had never been away from home before, and the station platforms were witness to countless pathetic scenes of children saying tearful good-byes to parents who, at the same time, were trying to achieve that famous British stiff upper lip and failing miserably.
An invasion was expected. If that happened, would we ever see our parents again? My train shunted slowly out of the station then speeded up. London, grimy, glorious London, sped by and vanished in a blur of suburbs and clouds of train smoke. Some children wept uncontrollably for most of the journey; others were travel-sick; the very young ones refused to eat and became listless. Many soiled their pants and were reeking by the time we reached our destination.
As journeys go it was nothing, of course, to compare with the experiences of the million Jewish children whom the Germans transported across Europe in sealed cattle cars to be gassed in extermination camps. If the Germans had actually invaded England, doubtless I too would have found myself in one of those sealed cattle cars, closeted for days without food, water, or toilet facilities only to arrive on the selection ramp at Auschwitz. But the Royal Air Force and twenty-two miles of the English Channel stood between me and the gas chamber—a stroke of fortune for which I am eternally thankful.
At last our train came to halt at Taunton in Somerset, a picturesque county in the southwest of England, located about two hundred miles or so from London. During the next several hours we children were distributed among various "hosts" in the locality. I call them "hosts" euphemistically, for by government decree they were actually obliged to take in a certain number of evacuees whether they liked it or not. A sizeable number did not: and as a result many children found themselves in homes where they were subjected to abuse or mistreatment. I was to wind up in one such home briefly in 1941 when I was evacuated for the second time. But on this first occasion I was lucky. My "host" was a farmer who lived four or five miles from Carhampton, a tiny village near the Bristol Channel. He had a young son, Peter, about a year older than me, and we quickly became good friends. I had never been on a farm before, and Peter lost no time showing me all kinds of fun things to do, such as feeding calves or trailing hens when they wandered off to lay their eggs. The farmhouse was an old thatched Tudor cottage: I remember that adults had to bend down to enter the front door, while the ceiling inside was supported by low, gnarled beams from which sides of bacon and hams were suspended. I missed my parents but soon settled into a routine of school and life on the farm.
As you can imagine I was quite an oddity, a Cockney urchin set down amidst a secluded West-of-England village. The locals made fun of my London accent, but on the whole I was treated with kindness and good humor, and they attempted to "civilize" me in their own way. I was introduced to cider (the best kind: "Somerset Rough"), and at the village school I was taught some old songs that I still love: "Widdecombe Fair" and "The Helston Floral Dance." I also learned morris dancing. A few months passed. Now we were into 1940, and suddenly in late spring or early summer of that year the time of tranquility came to an end—at least in the Bristol Channel area. The Battle of Britain had begun—but for the time being the Luft-waffe had been ordered to avoid hitting London. Their main objectives were to destroy British radar installations and to sweep the Royal Air Force from the skies. Aerial dogfights began to take place, and Peter and I had a grandstand view of the action. German fighters would often swoop low in order to machine-gun indiscriminately houses and anything or anyone moving. Believing we were safer out-of-doors than in, we would cover ourselves with sacks for camouflage and stretch out on our backs in a field, remaining as motionless as possible while we watched the combat raging overhead. At times the planes came so low that we could discern not only their markings but the heads of the pilots. Aircraft-recognition was a popular hobby among British kids at this period, and Peter and I would argue as to whether we had just seen a Messerschmitt or a Heinkel. We easily recognized "our own" Spitfires and Hurricanes, and as they skimmed low over our heads we'd stand up, wave at them, and cheer. Sometimes the pilots waved back at us, and once or twice an airplane did a "Victory Roll" just for us—or so we thought. We often saw dogfights, and I'm glad to say it was usually the German airplanes that were on the losing end—either fleeing from RAF fighters or actually on fire and spiralling downwards to crash somewhere over the horizon. Several times we saw pilots bail out, but they never landed near us.
Meanwhile, back in London—which had not yet experienced an air raid—my parents heard about the dogfights that were going on over the Bristol Channel area and decided to bring me back home—to safety (so they thought!).
Dad's journey to Carhampton was a nightmare. It should have taken about three hours but it took him ten. His train was shot up and derailed. He boarded another. That was shot up too. I knew nothing about all that at the time—or even that he was coming to take me home—until he appeared suddenly at the door of the farmhouse, looking very tired and worried. By now it was dusk. Peter's mother packed my things. I said farewell and shouldered the then-obligatory gas mask. Dad took my hand and we headed for the station. I remember Peter running after us, weeping and yelling, "Come back! Come back!" I never did. The last I saw of him he was on the platform waving at me and wiping away his tears.
Our trip back to London, in a train darkened for the Blackout, was uneventful. It was night and the train was probably invisible to any marauding German airplanes. We arrived eventually at Victoria Station (I think it was), which was swarming with people in uniform. Outside, on the slow bus journey home, London seemed very different from the city I had left a few months earlier. Then it had looked like a city at peace. Since then it had assumed the appearance of city prepared for war. I looked out at it through bus windows crisscrossed with tape—supposedly protection against shattering by bomb-blasts. Inside the bus there were ads warning passengers that "Careless Talk Costs Lives." Outside, the streets were darker than I could ever remember, but searchlight-beams were cutting across the sky. The Blackout was in full force, and the buildings we passed were mere silhouettes except, here and there, for glimmers of light where some careless householder's blackout curtains were less than adequate. Passersby shouted, "Put that bloody light out!" and in some streets air raid wardens were already rapping at the doors of the worst offenders. There were no streetlights and vehicles drove slowly, with dimmed headlights. I saw little traffic other than buses and military transports. (Strict gas rationing had been enforced.) In the gloom I caught glimpses of pedestrians holding flashlights and carrying tin hats and gas mask cases over their shoulders. When we got off the bus at last I saw that many shops and houses had their entrances flanked by sandbags. On walls and billboards were huge posters appealing to the public for war savings ("Lend to Defend the Right to Be Free") or proclaiming propaganda slogans ("We Work or Want" … "Three Words to the Whole Nation: Go To It!"). Prominent here and there were brightly painted "detectors" that were supposed to change color in the presence of poison-gas. And everywhere were signs pointing directions to the nearest air raid shelters. It was far too dark, however, to see the most remarkable sight of all. Not until the following morning, when I looked out of my bedroom window, did I observe the dozens of barrage balloons hovering overhead like a scattered herd of bloated elephants.
It was September 1940. Although the majority of evacuees had drifted back to London, no schools were open. I didn't realize it at the time, but I would not see the inside of a school for many months.
Came Saturday, September 7, 1940. Incensed by an RAF raid on Berlin, Hitler ordered Göring to destroy London. That afternoon, three hundred German bombers, escorted by six hundred fighters, crossed the English Channel and followed the meandering Thames Estuary to their undefended target. There was to be little or no resistance to this ruthless armada. The RAF was acutely short of airplanes and could not afford to divert aircraft from the defenses of its vital airfields and radar stations. And so, on that day, the Luftwaffe was to bomb and bomb at will. Their primary targets were the London and Surrey Docks and the houses and factories in the adjacent East End, the heart of "Cockneydom."
Like my mother before me I am a Cockney. I was born in the London Hospital, Whitechapel Road. In my childhood, the area was a hustling, working-class Jewish neighborhood like the Lower East of New York at the turn of the twentieth century. It is a locale with many historic associations. For example: Chaucer and Harold Pinter were born in the vicinity, the latter only a hundred yards or so from Senrab Street, my first elementary school. In 1381, at Mile End, the eastern extension of Whitechapel Road, Richard II was forced to put an end to serfdom. It was in this district that Jews first settled when Cromwell readmitted them into England in 1657, where Captain Cook's home was located, and where William Booth established the Salvation Army in 1868. In the late Victorian period, the London Hospital, my birthplace, housed the Elephant Man. Opposite the hospital, in Buck's Row, Jack the Ripper committed one of his grisly murders in the fall of 1888. And close by, some twenty-three years later, occurred the Sidney Street Siege, in which soldiers and police battled a group of Jewish anarchists. Quite a neighborhood!
To be a Cockney one must be born within the sound of the bells of Stratford-atte-Bow Church. In a literal sense, I suppose I am one of the last of the breed since no one has heard those bells since the church was destroyed in 1942.
In the autumn of 1940, we were living in a small row-house, 36 Thomas Road, in Limehouse, a side-street of Burdett Road that led into the East India Dock Road. At around 4:30 in the afternoon, I was sprawled on the sofa reading a comic book. Mom was in the kitchen, preparing dinner. Dad was at work. Suddenly the ominous wail of an air raid siren began, and in a moment Mom and I were out at the front door.
The street was already full of neighbors, heading for the nearest shelter, located in the cellar of the Melox Marvel Dog Biscuit factory, a block from our house.
Everyone had gas masks ready. Even the babies had gas masks, but they were different from those for children and adults, which were worn over the face. A gas mask for a baby was a cylindrical container about two feet long with a window on the upper surface. On one side was an air pump for filtering out poison gas. In the event of gas attack the baby had to be placed in the container, which was then sealed. The mother then had to pump in clean air. If she stopped pumping the baby would die of asphyxiation.
We made ourselves as comfortable as possible on wooden benches scattered among boxes full of packaged dog biscuits. (Inside each of those packages, I knew, was a red rubber ball for a dog: a fact that will have some significance later in this account.) People in the shelter were very friendly. They passed chocolate and cigarettes around. Someone started a sing-song: "There'll Always Be an England," "Roll out the Barrel," and "Bless 'Em All." By this time the siren had stopped and between the songs I noticed it was very quiet outside. Suddenly, there was an ear-piercing whistle and screech—the sound of a falling bomb—and we heard a tremendous explosion. The factory shook violently and showers of dust and plaster descended on us. Everyone either ducked or hit the floor. We were OK: the ceiling had held. Then followed more whistles, more screeches. The shelter shook again and again. Then the lights went out. There were a few muffled screams and some pretty raw language: I really increased my vocabulary that day. Then someone, I think it was the air raid warden, shone a flashlight. Everyone looked deathly pale. Soon there was more light. Someone had lit a candle. People began laughing and talking. The sing-song started up again. We could still hear explosions but they seemed to get more distant. We stayed in that shelter for an hour, maybe, until, at last, the "All Clear" sounded and we headed for the shelter entrance.
Outside it was still daylight. But that was the only familiar sight. Thomas Road was a scene of utter chaos. Several houses had collapsed into the street, which was now buried under mounds of debris: bricks, roof-slates, broken glass, bits of metal, shattered wood, fragments of furniture—you name it. Wardens and ambulance men were combing the debris to find people who had not bothered to take shelter. During the next hour or two they brought out several bodies and left them stretched on a patch of sidewalk that had been cleared of wreckage. (Vehicles couldn't get into the area to take them away.) In the meantime, to add to the chaos, the water mains had burst and cascades of water were pouring into the street, Amidst this unbelievable mess and confusion was one of the most extraordinary—and quite ludicrous—sights I have ever seen. One side of the Melox Marvel factory must have taken a direct hit, and thousands of red rubber balls were floating in the huge puddles that were forming among the mounds of debris.
Number 36 Thomas Road hadn't collapsed, but the roof was gone and the upper floor was twisted askew and lurching crazily over the lower floor as if it were ready to slide over and join the wreckage in the street. Mom and I wanted to enter the house to rescue our most precious possessions, but an air raid warden stopped us. It was too dangerous. All we could do for the time being was wait in the street. Mom was afraid to leave the area in case Dad turned up and was unable to locate us.
Now, looking around some more, I noticed a bizarre sight that was to become very familiar during the hundreds of other air raids I lived through. It was due to the weird effects of Blast. A bomb that had struck a nearby house had shorn away everything except one of the four walls, which remained absolutely intact. It was like looking at a stage set. On the upper floor you could see the bathtub and toilet seemingly hanging in mid-air: they were attached to the wall by plumbing pipes. Downstairs was a dresser, displaying totally unbroken crockery: all the cups and saucers were still hanging from hooks. There was also a fireplace, pictures on the wall, and someone's coat on a hanger behind a door. That side of the house was exactly as its occupants had left it a couple of hours earlier. The rest had disintegrated to become part of the debris in the street.
I later discovered that I had lost a number of friends that day. I'll mention by name only the one whose loss was the most painful to me. I remember going to Muriel Barbanel's birthday party when she was six. There wasn't very much of anything in the way of food and drink because the Barbanels didn't have very much. The Depression was in full swing, and like my family they had been hit very badly. Like Mom and Dad, Mr. and Mrs. Barbanel were both unemployed. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful party mainly because of Muriel's father, who regaled us with an inexhaustible supply of stories and games.
The Barbanels lived in a flat on the second floor. Mr. Barbanel was handicapped. Apparently, when the air raid siren sounded, he couldn't get down to a shelter in his wheelchair. The family (I think there were two other daughters besides Muriel) stayed up there with him. One bomb did for them all. Now, as far as I know, all that remains of Muriel—not to mention the rest of her family—is my childhood memory of her and her face in a school photo.
I thought of her recently when I saw a documentary about the Blitz. The film incorporated captured footage showing that same air raid on London. It was unspeakably eerie watching the view from a German bomber as it crossed the Channel and headed up the Thames, a silver thread glimmering in the afternoon sunlight. I saw the Docks and the East End come into view. I had been down there, somewhere. And Muriel too. Then came a close-up of the face of the pilot as he pressed a button that released his stick of bombs. They fell like dark crayons to explode below a few seconds later. The pilot, one of Hitler's blond Supermen, had snuffed out the lives of people he had never known, people who had never intended him or his country any harm. His face was lit up with joy. Afterwards, according to the film, he flew back to his base and toasted his achievement in champagne.
In Thomas Road it was still light when Dad showed up. At that period of the war he was an air raid warden. A few months later he would be appointed one of London's eight incident officers, responsible for coordinating the various civil-defense services during air-raid emergencies. Dad had been on duty near the Surrey Docks—the area that received the worst pounding. He hadn't been able to take shelter, but had seen the sky black with German airplanes heading up the river towards him, and had witnessed God-knows-how-many ghastly sights as their tons of bombs began to tear the docks apart. He was white-faced as he told Mom about a colleague who had been standing next to him one moment and was riddled with shrapnel (bomb splinters) the next. I wasn't allowed to hear the rest.
Despite Mom's fears, he crept into Number 36 and retrieved the family photos and a few other precious items, among them two books: my earliest English textbook and Old Rhymes for All Times, a relic of my infancy (I still have both). He also brought out a small, single-ring kerosene stove and a can of kerosene, and in a few minutes had the stove working. This was to prove a boon for everyone in the neighborhood. For not only the water mains but all the other utilities had been put out of action and for the rest of the day that little kerosene stove became, locally, the only means of heating water. The word quickly spread and people came from blocks away to heat water for cups of tea.
Where would we spend the night? Where would we find food? Dad had heard that shelter and food were available at the People's Palace in Mile End Road. Turning our backs on Thomas Road for the last time, we picked our way through street after street of rubble until we reached our destination. Inside the People's Palace was a huge hall swarming with families like us, made homeless by the bombing. All that most of us had were the clothes we were wearing. Women's Voluntary Service workers were on hand, providing clothes and shoes and offering sandwiches and cups of tea or milk for the babies. There were no beds. The WVS handed out blankets and we made ourselves as comfortable as we could on the floor.
It was a strange night. Impossible really to sleep with the lights on and the hubbub: more and more homeless kept arriving, children and babies were crying (some had lost their parents), and eventually came another air raid … and another.
As Churchill promised, that day we'd had blood, sweat, and tears. But in spite of that and in spite of the hundreds of raids that were to follow, I don't recollect ever hearing defeatist talk from anyone. Londoners were stunned at first and upset at losing their homes. But I never saw anyone demoralized. The raids intensified their patriotism, galvanized their determination to survive at all costs, and made them united in common hatred of the enemy. Wherever one went there were signs proclaiming British defiance: shops with their windows shattered were placarded with signs like, "Better luck next time, Adolf" and "Business as usual: try our back entrance." Ruined houses displayed posters reading: "They can break our homes but not our hearts" and "God Bless the RAF." After that first raid I saw an old Cockney, who'd lost everything he owned, shake his fist at the sky and proclaim: "You're a dirty bastard 'itler, but our boys'll get you in the end."
We couldn't stay for long at the People's Palace. Others also needed food, drink, and a night's rest. So we moved on—at first to stay with relatives in Romford, Essex, a few miles east of London. But after a couple of nights they let us know we were no longer welcome.
Since I have just mentioned food, I should say a few words about rationing. Like the U.S., Britain had just emerged from the Depression, during which many Britons—my family among them—had not known where their next meal was coming from. Curiously, despite the fact that the war brought acute food shortages, rationing meant that the average person ate more wholesome food and more regularly than during the years of unemployment, the Dole, and the Means Test. Food wasn't plentiful, but everyone got a fair share, and as there were no longer any unemployed, everyone could now afford to eat. Those in the armed forces were, of course, fed at government expense. Aside from that, each civilian had his or her ration book containing coupons that limited but at the same time guaranteed the quantities of available food (and also clothes and soap) he or she could obtain. And people made sure they got whatever they were entitled to. I should mention that you had to give up ration coupons not only in food stores but also if you ate in restaurants. Tea was rationed—a major hardship for the tea-swilling British—but Mom and I always had sufficient because Dad drank only coffee (which was not rationed), and so we helped ourselves to his tea coupons and were able sometimes to swap them for food coupons. Sugar and candies were drastically rationed (kids got two ounces of "sweets" a week). We were also allowed two ounces of butter and one egg a week, and the meat ration was half a pound per person per week—whenever meat was available.
This last reminds me of a story that seems amusing now but seemed disastrous at the time. One afternoon when my mother's back was turned, our cat sneaked up on the kitchen table and stole the week's meat. A catastrophe! It meant that we had to live on bread and vegetables only for the next seven days! Bread and vegetables were not rationed, and many people also grew their own vegetables and fruit (mainly berries) to liven up their humdrum diet. There was little fruit available in the stores. I didn't see an orange or a banana for five years: overseas fruit was not imported during the war. But babies received rations of orange juice and extra milk.
I don't remember ever going hungry during the war years: but food was often deadly dull despite the efforts of the BBC and the Food Ministry to come up with all sorts of creative ways to cook carrots and cabbage.
The next few weeks after we left Romford is a blurred memory of Mom and me staying in many different places—sometimes with relatives or friends, more often than not in any air raid shelter we could find. Meanwhile the air raids continued for about two months. Often they would last all night. I've read somewhere that in this period about fifty bombs per hundred acres were falling on the area where we were sheltering: it was the heaviest bombardment of any place in England during World War II.
Dad, for his part, was bunking down at the local wardens' post when he wasn't on duty—which was much of the time, since after that first afternoon the raids intensified by day and night. For several weeks which seemed like an eternity, Mom and I seldom saw him, and after each brief visit we never knew if we would ever see him again.
Years later I read other eloquent words of Winston Churchill, spoken in the House of Commons that autumn of 1940: "Death and sorrow will be the companions of our journey, hardship our garment; constancy and valor our only shield." Beyond measure his words were true of what Londoners—and especially the East-Enders—suffered and endured at that time. However, tragic nobility is not the whole story. We also encountered some pretty ugly anti-Semitism while we were drifting around London that autumn. I remember, for example, a sign reading "No Jews Wanted" at the entrance to an air raid shelter. I recall a hefty red-faced woman telling Mom (who was a quarter of her size), "You Jews are living on the fat of the land while the rest of us are starving." And one night I heard a couple of men in the London Underground (subway) discussing in loud voices how "The Jews got us into this war" and how "Our Boys are doing all the fighting while the Jews are raking in the money." Their comments impressed me no end since I had three uncles in the army (one was a professional soldier, a master-sergeant) and a cousin in the RAF, while my father—who is handicapped and was thus ineligible for the draft—saw more action in the war than many who were conscripted.
London in 1940–45 was Front Line for Jews as well as non-Jews, but anti-Semitism then as now, whether the purveyor is Hitler, Mosley, or Farrakhan, is blind to truth. Let me stress that these were far from isolated instances, and they were by no means my first experiences of anti-Semitism. Indeed, among my earliest memories are Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts parading with their arms outstretched in fascist salutes, standing on soapboxes spouting their anti-Semitic venom, and handing out leaflets proclaiming "Mosley for Peace" and "The Jews Want War." They used to shove their pamphlets, adorned with pictures of Hitler and Mosley and thunder-flash logos, into our mailbox. We generally used them as toilet paper.
In the mid-thirties, by the way, the only Londoners who battled the Blackshirts—in violent street confrontations—were East End Jews and Communists: they were sometimes one and the same. I think it is worth noting that much later, soon after I had moved to the United States in the early sixties, I happened to catch Oswald Mosley being interviewed on television. He was insistent that he and his followers had never, absolutely never, been anti-Semitic! And he assured his American interviewer that "some of his best friends were Jews." He never mentioned their names.
To return to 1940. While the air raids were becoming almost routine experiences, like other kids I was "doing my bit"—which meant making sandbags, collecting scrap paper and scrap metal, and learning how to use a stirrup pump in case we had to deal with incendiary bombs. I was also a devotee of the latest "hobby": collecting shrapnel after air raids. Previously, I had collected marbles, cigarette cards, and "conkers." But shrapnel was more exciting. You never knew what you'd find after an air raid. Like most other kids in London I soon had a box full of interesting souvenirs: the tail-fin of an incendiary bomb, dozens of jagged shell or bomb splinters, and some curious strips of metal foil which the Germans dropped by the cartload, and which, I later gathered, were intended to disrupt British radar. Later on in the war the Germans put a stop to this collecting mania when they began dropping anti-personnel bombs. These were devices designed to look like toys. They exploded if kids picked them up. After a few children were maimed or killed in this way, there were strict taboos against souvenir-hunting after air raids.
By this time I had seen quite a few night raids. I would creep out of a shelter with other kids to watch the action as the ack-ack guns blasted away and searchlights crisscrossed the sky. Once in a while I saw a German bomber caught in a searchlight. When that happened it didn't take long for other searchlights to converge on the same spot; then the ack-ack guns would give the plane all hell, and we'd duck back into the shelter in case the plane crashed down on top of us. The precaution was ridiculous—it would have spiralled down and crashed miles away—but we didn't know any better. Actually, we were in much more danger from shell-shrapnel from the ack-acks which, during a heavy raid, would shower down like white-hot rain.
I think it was early or mid-December 1940 when my parents decided to send me out of London again. It must have been before December 29 because I wasn't in London for the massive incendiary (fire bomb) raid that destroyed much of the city, including London's banking district, that night. The Germans deliberately hit London when they knew the Thames was at low tide and it would be impossible for firemen to get water from the river to cope with the firestorm.
Evacuated for the second time, I wound up in Camberley, Surrey, near Sandhurst, England's West Point, about an hour's journey from central London. Although I wasn't actually present at the Great Fire of December 29, I did, in fact, see it. Even thirty miles away, as I was then, night was turned into day by the thousands of fires that were consuming the city.
In Camberley I stayed first with the Millers. Mr. and Mrs. Miller had three children: a retarded son who was my age, a daughter two years older, and another daughter a year or two younger. This was my worst "billet." Mr. Miller was built like a bull and had huge hands. I never found out why he wasn't in the army. He was very scary, always threatening dire punishments. He never actually beat me—or any of his own kids as far as I knew—but we all lived in fear of him. He once threatened to make me eat a rat because I'd left some food on my plate. And I believed him at the time. He would talk about "knocking sense" into us with his "strap" and enjoyed watching us tremble as he made the gesture of unbuckling his belt.
I wrote Dad and he soon turned up and persuaded the local billeting officer to move me to a new place. This was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Goddard, an elderly couple. They were not abusive but deadly dull for a nine-year-old boy. The Goddards believed children should be seen and not heard, and their idea of entertainment was what they called "a quiet read." It consisted, as far as I could tell, of a diet of religious tracts and sermons. My only worthwhile experience with the Goddards was discovering in their bookshelf the nearest thing they had to sensational fiction: The Pilgrim's Progress.
The Goddards eventually decided that looking after a well-behaved nine-year-old was too much of a handful. And so I moved again. If I hadn't, I would probably have died of boredom. My last home in Camberley turned out to be the best. Mrs. Marsden was about thirty, and her husband was in the army. I think she wanted children of her own but couldn't have any. She was a very kind and generous person, and I have very happy memories of the few weeks I stayed with her. I remember that she was very upset when I left, in June 1942, to return to London.
While in Camberley I had resumed elementary school at France Hill House, which provided tuition for evacuees. I'd missed a lot of school before that, but my parents had agreed to let me return to London if I managed to win a junior county scholarship, the equivalent of the Eleven Plus Examination, which would provide fees and admission to high school. (I should explain here that high school in England was only for the affluent or for working-class children who won scholarships.) I took the junior county exam at France Hill and was one of the two or three successful children. Thus it was that I returned to London in the summer of 1942 and in September began the first of my eight years at Latymer Upper School, Hammersmith (West London).
My life at Latymer is another, long story which I'll recount in detail elsewhere. I shall mention briefly only two or three disturbing recollections.
The only time I have ever been mortally afraid was when I happened to be at Latymer during an air raid. The school shelter was located in the boiler-room, and when we had go down there all I could think of was that I'd be boiled alive if a bomb hit the school and burst the boilers. Fortunately, it never did and I never was.
Disturbing in a different way was the sight of teachers who were scarred by the war. When I began at Latymer in 1942, most teachers were elderly men, way beyond the age of military service. But as the war dragged on, a few younger teachers turned up. They had been discharged from the forces because of various injuries. One English teacher was shell-shocked. He would tremble and shake, sometimes quite violently, for minutes at a time. Another teacher had been burned severely in a tank or airplane. The burns and plastic surgery had left his face a ghastly mask.
Then there was morning assembly. The headmaster (principal) would often read aloud to us the names of Old Boys (alumni) who had recently been killed. Some of them had left school only a year before I arrived. I remember thinking: There but for the grace of God.
Meanwhile, during the raids of 1941, my parents had lost another home. By the time I began attending Latymer, we were living in a first-floor flat in Westbourne Park, North Kensington. It was fairly close to my school. But sometime before the end of the year the flat was demolished too. We moved again, this time to a row-house in Willesden, North-West London, about forty-five minutes by trolley-bus from Latymer. This home survived the war. But about five years later, around 1949 or 1950, I was sitting in an armchair, reading a book, when the ceiling collapsed on top of me. I was dazed but unhurt. Like many London houses, this one had been structurally weakened by the bombing, but it took a few years for the damage to take effect.
To return to 1942. By day I went to school. At night, Mom and I sheltered in the London Tube or Underground (subway). All told, we slept in the Underground every night for about two years. It was the only place in London where you could get some undisturbed sleep and be guaranteed safety from the bombing. While we were living in Westbourne Park, we sheltered every night in Queensway Tube Station.
The routine was to take blankets and pillows, buy a ticket at the station, and line up outside the station stairway entrance at around 6 p.m. At around 9 p.m., or earlier if there was a raid, the stairway entrance would be opened and everyone would rush down to get a good place on the platform.
That mad surge down the staircase was scary and potentially very dangerous. At one station in East London someone slipped and more than a hundred people fell down the steps on top of one another. It took the rescue services many hours to extricate the heap of bodies.
If you got downstairs safely, places to avoid were near the toilets (which stank to high heaven) and the ends of the platform, where terrific draughts blew through the tunnel. It was usually kids who got down first, and they would stake out places for the rest of the family by stretching out blankets on the platform. Families would often quarrel about who'd got there first. In staking out a place, you had to leave about two feet clear of the edge of the platform so that passengers could get on and off the trains. For some months we simply stretched out on the platform: the blankets didn't provide much padding, but it was better than nothing. But in 1943, the government installed bunks. These were much more comfortable and could be reserved. Mom and I had bunks on one of the platforms at Oxford Circus Station. We would arrive there at around 9 p.m. and leave at 5 a.m., when the first morning trains came through. The only relatively peaceful time was between around 11 p.m. and five in the morning. Between 9 p.m. and "bedtime" (around 11 p.m., when the trains stopped running) there were always people milling around, talking and singing, playing radios, stepping over your blankets to get to the toilets, etc., etc. St. John's Ambulance men were on duty to take care of anyone who got sick. For adults the WVS dispensed tea and coffee, and for kids they provided an intensely sweet cocoa which I've never encountered since, but whose taste I'll never forget.
By morning, after hundreds had spent the night down there, even though blasts of air blew through the subway tunnels, the platforms were foul and litter was everywhere. One side effect of life in the Underground was that most people wound up with head lice and fleas, and kids particularly (myself included) got scabies. Fortunately there were no serious epidemics.
Occasionally we would hear the sounds of a raid overhead, and as we went home in the morning we would see the latest bomb damage, but, as I said, the Underground was generally safe. The only exception was what happened at Bank Station. Freakishly, a bomb hit the elevator shaft and exploded on those sheltering directly below. Among those who were killed there was my father's best friend, Julius Akop, who had fled from Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany. His wife, who adored him, later committed suicide.
Our life in the Underground came to an end in early 1944 when my father installed a Morrison Shelter in the living-room of our house in Willesden. The Morrison was one of the two kinds of domestic air raid shelter. A rectangular box of reinforced steel, it was about the height of a table and the length and width of a queen-size bed. We sheltered and sometimes slept in it during raids: and there would be as many as six at a time in there when our next-door neighbors, a couple with two children, joined us. The Morrison was strong enough to support the weight of our house if it collapsed, but it could not have withstood the impact of a direct hit.
The other kind of domestic shelter was the Anderson, made of corrugated steel. This would be erected in a square-shaped trench dug in one's back garden. We opted for a Morrison because it was cold and damp inside the typical Anderson, a very unappealing place to bunk down during a rain-soaked British summer—not to mention a winter's night.
In addition to Andersons and Morrisons in private houses, there were small, brick shelters, equipped with bunks, situated adjacent to the sidewalk on many streets. They looked like outhouses and often smelled like them. (You can see them to this day in the film Odd Man Out.) I had to dodge into street shelters many times during the raids that took place while I was on my way to school.
In those years London was alive with Allied troops, seemingly from every part of the world. Most memorable to me were the Canadians and Americans (the latter, of course, began arriving in 1942, soon after Pearl Harbor). They were all part of the buildup to what, on June 6, 1944, would become D-Day. They attracted hordes of kids, starved for candies. The Americans dispensed apparently inexhaustible quantities of chewing-gum. I would follow their familiar uniforms and utter the magic words, "Got any gum, chum?" It never failed. They would dig into their uniforms and produce strange flat packets so unlike the chiclet-shaped chewing-gum I was used to that I was utterly perplexed when a GI first put one into my hand. The Americans were generous, good-humored, and above all glamorous: they had accents like characters in Hollywood movies. The word quickly spread that there wasn't anything you couldn't get from them if you happened to have a good-looking young sister. I was not so fortunately endowed—but all in all didn't do too badly not only for gum but also for comics. The Canadians, in particular, would dole out reams of them—marvelous, thick, colored comics full of great cartoons I'd never seen before: Superman, Tarzan, Dick Tracy, L'il Abner, Gasoline Alley, Little Orphan Annie, Mandrake the Magician. Wonderful, wonderful comics! It was a whole new world.
In 1944 the raids seemed to have tailed off and people were predicting that the war would be over before the end of the year. It wasn't. Hitler still had a couple of tricks up his sleeve.
One evening a relative dropped in to see Dad. He was puzzled. He had been clearing a building site where an enemy plane had crashed. At least he thought it was a plane—although from the fragments that remained the aircraft appeared too small to have contained a pilot.
It was, of course, a V-1 (a pilotless, flying bomb), one of the first to hit London, and soon everyone knew exactly what it was. The Germans lost no time in sending them over in force, each tipped with a warhead containing a ton of high explosive. Londoners quickly nicknamed them "Doodlebugs" or "Buzz Bombs." Those nicknames were the only funny things about them. They approached London so rapidly there was seldom time for an air raid siren. But you could usually hear their monotonous, droning motors before they became visible. By day and night they zipped across the sky at about six hundred miles an hour. When they did appear they looked like dark pencils shooting out flames and exhaust from a jet engine in their upper-rear ends.
Often, travelling to and from school, when there was no shelter nearby, I would leap off the bus and take cover in a doorway or behind a wall as a Doodlebug came over. Sometimes the damn thing would pass by overhead, taking its packet of destruction to some other poor devil. At other times its engine would cut out quite suddenly and everyone in the vicinity would hit the sidewalk and cover their heads. After a moment or two of silence there would be a huge explosion somewhere nearby. If you were lucky—i.e., still in one piece—you picked yourself up and went on your way. There was nothing you or anyone else could do about it.
I once saw an RAF plane try to bring a V-1 down over a park where there were no houses. He got close to it and tilted its wing. But at that moment the damn thing blew up. I didn't see anyone bail out of the plane.
I mentioned earlier that the V-1s emitted a distinctive buzzing or droning sound. When one of them ap-proached you knew you were OK as long you could still hear the sound of its engine. But in due course, the Germans began sending over V-1s with engines that would cut out, then start up again, then cut out. This might continue half a dozen times. It was terrifying.
I've read that the south of England was hit by over 2,000 V-1s. Most were aimed at London, and I must have seen at least fifty coming over—on one occasion three at the same time.
The V-1s were bad enough. But then came the V-2s, which injured and killed hundreds more Londoners and wrecked thousands more houses. These were Wernher von Braun's stratospheric rocket bombs, the ancestors of the rockets used to develop the American space program. The V-2s were even more invulnerable than the V-1s. They sped to their targets at thousands of miles per hour and carried far greater explosive payloads. You had no warning that they were coming.
I was walking home from the bus stop one day when a V-2 struck a row of houses a few hundred yards ahead of me. One moment I could see the houses in the distance—then a second later they blew up. Only after the explosion(!) did I hear the swoosh of the bomb's arrival: it had traveled faster than sound.
Years later I saw a Hollywood movie about Wernher von Braun. By then he had become a great American hero, the head of the U.S. space program. The movie was called I Aim at the Stars. Its makers, I assume, had not been in London in 1944–45, or they might have given it a subtitle: Sometimes I Miss and Hit London.
By the spring of 1945 the Allies had overrun the launching pads for the V-1s and V-2s. The raids came to an end and early in May the Germans surrendered. World War II in Europe had come to an end.
On May 8, my parents and I joined the celebrating crowd outside Buckingham Palace. King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, and their two young daughters (the elder is now Queen Elizabeth II) came out on a balcony to wave to the crowd. They were joined by Winston Churchill. The applause was deafening. Then everyone, in unison, sang the national anthem and "Rule Britannia." I have never been patriotic but one couldn't be there and not be profoundly moved.
Noel Coward has summed up what I (and probably millions of other Britons) felt at that moment: "I loved British courage, British humor and British understatement … I loved the people—the ordinary, the extraordinary, the good, the bad, the indifferent—and what is more I belonged to that exasperating, weather-sodden little island with its uninspired cooking, its muddled thinking and its unregenerate pride, and it belonged to me whether I liked it or not."
Mom, Dad, and I left the crowds around the Palace, walked back through the Mall, under the Admiralty Arch where Churchill had conducted the war, into Trafalgar Square where Nelson and Landseer's lions stood guard, as always, and on up St. Martin's Lane and Monmouth Street into New Oxford Street. Everyone was waving flags, dancing, singing. There were bonfires and firecrackers … and no more blackout. For the first time in five years lights blazed everywhere: street lamps, neon signs, and the illuminations of thousands of uncurtained windows. So it was really true. It was all over at last: the evacuations, the sirens, the gas masks, the air raids. The Germans had thrown everything they could at us—and we had survived.
At Oxford Circus we caught a number 8 bus home. That night we all slept well.
A few months later I was staying with relatives in Brighton. It was my first visit to the seaside since before the war, and I was about to leave for the beach when someone rushed into the house and turned on the radio. There was a special bulletin. An American airplane had dropped an atomic bomb on a Japanese city called Hiroshima. What did it mean? No one I knew had heard of the place or knew what an atomic bomb could possibly be. To me it sounded like something out of H. G. Wells, whose novels I was reading avidly by this time. Within a few days came the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and then the Japanese surrender. World War II was over.
At the time, the war in the Far East had seemed very remote and unconnected with "my" war. But as the months went by I began to encounter not only wounded, blinded, and crippled soldiers from the European theater, but the victims of Japanese prison camps who looked like walking skeletons, and others too, survivors of German concentration camps, like the four orphaned boys my parents took in and tended for several years. And I began to realize then that it was all the same war, waged by the forces of hatred, prejudice, and inhumanity. I know now that it's a war that has never ended.
Sometimes, at night, as I lay awake, vague memories of the war drift through my mind like dreams. Did those things really happen? Did I live through those events when I was eight … nine … ten … eleven … twelve … thirteen … fourteen? Then the vague images become clearer and I seem to be back there again in 1940, 1941, 1942 … and the sirens are ringing in my ears. And I know for certain that it wasn't a dream, that it really happened, that I was there in England at the hour Winston said was Britain's finest.
Yes, I saw the Battle of Britain and the Few to whom so Many owed so Much. I saw London burning. I saw the death, destruction, and misery, but I also saw the Londoners, my Londoners, unbeaten, enduring, and ultimately triumphant. Yes, I was there.
And I have promised myself that one day I shall go back, back to that place I have carefully avoided on every visit to London. One day I shall find the courage to return to Thomas Road and see where my childhood ended on that unforgettable afternoon in the autumn of 1940.
Harry M. Geduld contributed the following update to CA in 2005:
FROM THEN TILL NOW
Our school days are supposed to be the happiest days of our lives. Mine weren't. Educationally, Latymer Upper, the high school in London that I attended (1942–1950) was then and still is outstanding, but socially I found it anything but a happy experience. I was a Jewish Cockney kid, one of maybe a dozen Jewish boys, in a school of nine hundred WASPs.
During my years at Latymer I was frequently the target of anti-Semitism. In all that time not one teacher ever denounced this prejudice in class, and no one ever bothered to ask me about my religious beliefs. Protestantism was the only religion that counted. As World War II came to an end and the newspapers were full of pictures of the death camps, my teachers were silent about the Holocaust. The headmaster "adopted" a German school on behalf of Latymer, but he had not a word to say concerning Jewish survivors of the war.
The subjects in which I excelled were English language and literature, and the teachers who specialized in those subjects were unfailingly supportive of me. I owe debts I can never repay to "Archie" Davies, "Milky" Parish, and the Reverend ("Monty") Cann who knocked my writing into shape and introduced me to the masterpieces of English literature. How I loved their classes and their eccentricities! They were great teachers and "great guys." Alas, they have all passed away.
But one other teacher, the late "Poof" Gregory, Latymer's senior language master, urged Dad to take me out of the school. "He'll never amount to anything," he said. But my parents thought otherwise. They wanted me to become the first member of our very large family to go to college. In the sixth form, I unwisely elected to take two language courses with the same "Poof" Gregory, and discovered too late that one was not permitted to drop or change courses. Gregory was a fine linguist but a verbal bully as a teacher, and he chose me as his special target. I couldn't understand why. Then, one day, towards the end of my time at Latymer, he gave me, his Jewish pupil, a special assignment. I was required to translate into French Dickens's account of Fagin the Jew in the condemned cell. And thus I became aware of the anti-Semite behind the teacher. Unfortunately, it took years before I managed to overcome the effect of his bullying: the sense of inferiority that he had deliberately instilled in me.
However, long before I left my high school for university, I was finding compensations outside school. Directly opposite Latymer was Alfred Cooper's Bookstore, which had been there since the middle of the nineteenth century. It was in that wonderful dusty old bookstore, which I visited almost every lunch hour, that I began my obsession with book collecting. One day old Mr. Cooper, who looked just like Charles Darwin, said to me, "You know, when I was your age (I was then about thirteen), they all used to come in here to buy books: Browning, Tennyson, Swinburne, and Rossetti." At the time those names meant nothing to me, but years later I was able to tell my students in English that I had actually spoken to someone who had met all the great Victorian poets.
As a teenager I started going to concerts, ballets, theater, and movies. I became obsessed with music, and it was at this time that I discovered the music of Vaughan Williams, William Walton and Arnold Bax, and at the proms I often had the thrill of seeing them in person, conducting their compositions. I have never lost my passion for British music. A school friend who was a balletomane introduced me to ballet, and I would frequent Sadler's Wells where I saw not only many unforgettable ballets but also a then little-known, tall, red-headed ballerina who was soon to become world famous as Moira Shearer, the heroine of The Red Shoes. At that time, London theater was inexpensive if one didn't mind sitting up in "the gods" or standing, and one summer vacation I actually managed to see a different play every night for eight weeks!
Then there were movies. Movies and more movies. Since I was eventually to spend more than thirty years of my life teaching film, it's worth recording how my serious interest originated. To begin with, there were the three books I came across by chance and read until they fell to pieces. They were Roger Manvell's Pelican paperback Film, Siegfried Kracauer's From Caligari to Hitler, and Lewis Jacobs's Rise of the American Film, all three seminal works in the field, although, of course, I was not aware of it at the time. The stills in those books particularly intrigued me. Most fascinating were those from silent films, many of which I had heard my parents talk about. But where could one see such films in London in the middle and late 1940s? I pestered everyone I knew until someone told me about the Everyman Cinema in Hampstead, and it was there I first saw in short order The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, The Battleship Potemkin, The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, and The Passion of Joan of Arc. Watching them, I was, to use George Pratt's phrase, "spellbound in darkness." After that I discovered the British Film Institute and as often as possible I frequented the Institute's cinemas, first in Curzon Street and later at the Telekinema on the South Bank.
If high school was often a Purgatorio, Sheffield University, which I entered in 1950, at times came close to being a Paradiso, notwithstanding the dreaded words of Professor Potter who, in his opening lecture, stated, "More than half of you will fail this course." (Dreaded words, because his history course was a requirement and to fail meant being kicked out of the university and being drafted into the army. The war had been over for five years but the U.K. still had conscription.) I managed to squeak through Potter's course and, oh joy!, I was admitted to the English honors program. At that time there were no film courses in British universities. I would certainly have enrolled in them if there had been. But specializing in English? That was great too!
Several things made Sheffield University a Paradiso. No one was bullying me; I was studying just what I wanted to study, and I spent every lunch hour at the student union discussing anything and everything over tea or coffee with my contemporaries. I'd never had such great conversations. And it was a welcome change, after Latymer's exclusively male environment, that most of my contemporaries in English honors were female. Still, "Poof" Gregory had done such a number on me that I believed I would, at best, scrape through with a third class degree—until, after finals, the degree results were posted and I learned to my amazement that I'd been awarded first class honors and the university's English prize as well as a postgraduate state scholarship, enabling me, in 1954, to proceed to an M.A.
With two degrees in hand, it was time for me to return to London and look for a job. Securing a lectureship at a British university was out of the question, since I didn't have a Ph.D., hadn't gone to Oxbridge, and at that time there were less than twenty universities in the U.K. Lectureships became available only when someone retired or died. I applied for numerous positions at grammar schools only to be told that I was "overqualified"! Overqualified? Grammar schools needed the best-qualified teachers to prepare pupils for college entrance. The truth was that I was not WASPish. And so, for the next seven years I had to settle for earning my living as a substitute teacher in inner-city comprehensive schools where half or more of the children were juvenile delinquents, and where many of the teaching staff were more mean-spirited than the worst of the kids. It was the most depressing period of my life.
But, serendipitously, a lifeline was thrown to me. One day a colleague remarked, "I hear you have an M.A." "Yes," I replied, in all innocence, not expecting the follow-up. "And I suppose you'll be going for a Ph.D. next," he said. "But that's impossible!" I said. "I teach all day just like you." "No, it isn't," he said, sneeringly, "You can enroll at Birkbeck College, just like other fools. They waste their evenings there, and if they ever do get a Ph.D., it doesn't get them anywhere." That was the first time I'd heard it was possible to do a Ph.D. in the evenings, and so, regardless of my colleague's words, I enrolled at Birkbeck, a college of London University created especially for working men and women who could study for degrees only in the evenings.
Just think: without that colleague's derogatory comment I would never have wound up as chair of comparative literature at Indiana University.
To my dissertation director, Dr. Harold Brooks of Birkbeck, I owe an incalculable debt. This wonderful man was general editor of the Arden Shakespeare. He was the most dedicated dissertation director I could ever have hoped for, and he was to teach me everything I know about textual editing. When he discovered my strong interest in Bernard Shaw, he recommended that for my dissertation I undertake a Variorum Edition of a Shaw play. "You can do for Shaw what I do for Shakespeare," he said, and he suggested that I edit Man and Superman. "No," I countered, without realizing what I was letting myself in for. "If I'm going to edit Shaw, it might just as well be Back to Methuselah, the really big one." Fools rush in where angels fear to tread! (Back to Methuselah is one of the longest if not the longest play in the English language.) My dissertation ultimately resulted in a six-volume work undertaken in the evenings and on weekends while I was still employed as a substitute teacher. At that time, copying machines did not exist, and my mother, God bless her memory!, spent untold hours preparing the blank pages and carbons for me to feed into my Hermes typewriter.
In my final year at Birkbeck I was working on the theatrical history of Back to Methuselah and needed material on the production of the play by the Theater Guild of New York. I had no money to get to the United States, but Professor Tillotson, chairperson of English at Birkbeck, strongly supported my application for a Fulbright, which I unexpectedly received when I had virtually given up hope of ever hearing about it.
The Fulbright covered only transportation to and from the United States. Together with the letter from the Fulbright Commission, I was sent a list of American universities that offered teaching assistantships. Now the material on the Theater Guild that I needed was at Yale university, in Connecticut—but Yale was not offering teaching assistantships in English. According to a map that I consulted, Indiana University in Bloomington, which was offering a T.A. position in English, looked pretty close to Connecticut. Need I say that I had not checked the map's scale of miles? I was used to British distances, and had the absurd notion that Indiana was as close to Connecticut as London is to York. So I applied for and received the T.A. position at Indiana. And thus it was that I wound up in Bloomington, Indiana, during my Fulbright year in the United States.
At IU (1959–60), I enrolled in Ralph Collins's course on Shaw. Professor Collins, who was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, would subsequently say that I had co-taught his course. That was very generous but quite untrue. His approach to Shaw was different from mine and I learned much from him. His generosity was also manifest in various other ways. He invited me, a mere T.A., to several faculty parties, at which I met Professor Frenz, later to be my Chairperson when I joined the comparative literature department. And he provided me with funds to visit the Shaw collection at the University of Texas. I also have more than a strong suspicion that in 1962 he was responsible for Indiana University's hiring me as a tenure-track faculty member. After Professor Collins passed away, his widow, Dottie Collins, was no less generous. She invited me to her home and told me I could have any of her husband's books. She said I had been her husband's favorite student and he would have wanted me to have them.
Back in London I completed my dissertation in the spring of 1961. The dissertation defense was unbelievably pleasant. At the outset, Dr. Brooks informed me, "We've decided to award you the degree. We just wish to clear up a few matters." I was then provided coffee and biscuits, and with Dr. Margery Morgan, the external examiner, and Dr. Brooks, enjoyed two hours of discussion about Shaw. Those "few matters" I had to clear up took up a pleasant afternoon in the Reading Room of the British Museum.
I had already decided I wished to return the United States, and intending to apply for a position at an American college, I wrote to Indiana University for a reference. To my surprise I received by return the offer of a tenure-track position as instructor in the English department. The terms of the Fulbright obliged me remain outside the United States for two years, and so I was unable to accept the appointment until the fall of 1962.
Seven years after quitting my substitute teacher job in London, I was full professor of English at Indiana University, having proceeded through all ranks in record time.
During 1963, I met my Carolyn, my future wife, who had joined IU as a teaching assistant in English. No, she was not one of my students as some of the faculty thought; I was not acting out a replay of H. G. Wells's Ann Veronica. Carolyn and I were married in New York on Christmas Eve that same year. When the news of our marriage filtered through to colleagues in Bloomington, one of them informed me, "You've ruined your career." That was because I had commit-ted the unpardonable "crime" of marrying a graduate student. However, far from firing me, the chairperson, Professor C. L. Barber, reacted to the news by throwing a party for Carolyn and me. Which obviously made it "kosher" for faculty to marry graduate students. Within a year, half a dozen or more faculty members in the English department had divorced their wives and married graduate students.
But I've been leaping ahead.
At a faculty party, shortly after I had joined the IU faculty, I casually remarked to my colleague Gerry Rabkin, who was a great film enthusiast, "If this university were really progressive it would have film courses." Next day, I was literally taken aback to receive a call from Dean Faris. He had overheard my comment. "If you're really serious," he said, "I'm prepared to fund a trial shot at a film course." Gerry and I jumped at the opportunity.
Indiana University's very first film study course was team-taught by Gerry and me. We based it around Kracauer's book From Caligari to Hitler. The course was an immediate success, attracting some of the best students in arts and sciences. But after that semester Gerry left IU for greener pastures at Rutgers, and so the film course was solely my baby. Dean Faris had, of course, funded only a one-shot deal. The course still had to find a permanent home. I first offered it to the English department, but the chair promptly turned the offer down—a decision that department would live to regret when, in the eighties, most enrollments other than in film began to decline precipitously. At this point, Professor Frenz, chair of comparative literature, stepped in and agreed to take the course on a trial basis. Whatever trial-time he had in mind was soon forgotten as, semester after semester, the course, dubbed The Film, the Arts and Society, continued to attract first-rate students. Very soon I was introducing additional film courses in comparative literature, at graduate as well as undergraduate levels. At Indiana University film study was clearly here to stay. I was soon being very ably assisted by Klaus Troller, a filmically very literate graduate student. And later, with my encouragement, two most able colleagues, Professor James Naremore and the late Professor Charles Eckert (both from English) joined Klaus and myself in teaching the ever-burgeoning comparative film courses.
I wish I could say that the introduction of film study at IU was met with universal approval. It was not so. Faculty members in other departments were quick to dismiss the film courses as "trivia," or as "popcorn entertainment that wouldn't last," notwithstanding the fact that they knew little or nothing about the courses. But I eventually had the pleasure of seeing many of those same colleagues introducing film into their own courses. Interestingly, hostility to film study was strongest within comparative literature, where one colleague in particular repeatedly maintained that the film courses were lowering the standards of the department and that they had no business being in comparative literature.
Professor Frenz also had underlying doubts about the validity of the film courses, and for several years he insisted that the titles of the film courses be preceded by the words "Literature and…." But Professor Breon Mitchell, who succeeded Frenz as chairperson, not only had no such doubts, he actually recommended me for a distinguished teaching award on the basis of my contributions to film study. I received the award in 1979. I think the citation of that award is worth quoting, at least in part, since it sums up much of my career as a film teacher and scholar:
"Film studies is a popular and high-quality area of instruction at Indiana University. Professor Harry Geduld is a prominent figure in this area because of his national reputation in the field, his major contribution to the development of the curriculum, at this university, and his effective and stimulating teaching efforts…. His enthusiasm for the field and his ability to challenge and stimulate students has been noted by undergraduates, both majors and non-majors, and by graduate students alike. His encyclopedic knowledge of film is nearly legendary with students and colleagues. Though known as a stringent grader and a demanding teacher, his courses are virtually full to overflowing year after year…. Professor Geduld has been labeled "Father of Film Studies" at Indiana University, having introduced and/or taught for the first time sixteen different undergraduate and three different graduate courses in film…. He is the author of important books, the editor of two important monograph series, and has compiled two widely used reference works on film. He has been a moving force in the development of film studies as a discipline and consequently has been of material assistance in developing film courses in many colleges and universities in America."
So far so good, but ironically, Professor Mitchell was succeeded as chairperson by that same colleague who had consistently opposed the presence of film in comparative literature. I immediately visited his office and offered to have the film courses transferred to audio-visual. However, now that this gentleman was chair, he had second thoughts about his earlier attitude. He suddenly realized that those courses he had deplored for so long were the goose that laid the golden eggs, and that their removal would cost the department several thousand students a year. And so, to my amusement, he vehemently rejected the offer I made.
Even more ironically, when his tenure as chair was not renewed, I was appointed chairperson of comparative literature, a position I held until my retirement in 1996. Since that same individual was still in the department, I could not help thinking of the old Al Jolson song "I've Got My Captain Working for Me Now."
But to backtrack yet again. For several years, while I was jointly titled in both comparative literature and English, I taught film in comparative literature and modern drama in the English department. Then, with the departure of Professor Barber and the passing away of his successor, Professor William Riley Parker, both of whom had been extremely supportive of my work, a new chair of English took over and demonstrated his regard for my activities by giving me an insultingly low salary increase—this despite the fact that my teaching was being widely acclaimed and my publications were both prolific and well received. Thus, when I was approached by the University of Maryland with a substantial salary offer and the opportunity to develop undergraduate and graduate degrees in film, I left IU to become professor of screen arts and English in the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. That was in 1971–72. Regrettably, UMBC reneged on its offer regarding the development of degrees in film, and within a year I was lured back to IU—this time to teach only film, and exclusively in comparative literature. For reasons best known to the then chair of English, I was considered persona non grata in the English department—a dog-in-the-manger decision that deprived generations of IU students of my expertise in modern drama.
Little mention has so far been made of my publications. These were both in English and film. In the former area, I published critical editions of works by Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells and a "handbook" to R. L. Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as well as monographs on J. M. Barrie and on the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century publisher, Jacob Tonson. I was also general editor of a forty-four-volume series devoted to nineteenth-century detective fiction. My published work in film has included a major book on the transition from silent to sound cinema (The Birth of the Talkies) and a monograph on Lawrence Olivier's Henry V. I edited an early, putative autobiography of Charlie Chaplin. I was advisory editor of the New York Times Film Encyclopedia. I co-edited, with Professor Ronald Gottesman of USC, Sergei Eisenstein and Upton Sinclair: The Making and Unmaking of"Que Viva Mexico!" Ron Gottesman and I also co-edited several widely used series of film books: the Filmguides, the "Film Focus," and the "Perspectives" series, all of which provided many upcoming film scholars with their first opportunities for publication. Gottesman and I were, additionally, responsible for two extensively used film reference works. We also co-edited a popular anthology on King Kong titled The Girl in the Hairy Paw, and an anthology on robots and androids titled Robots, Robots, Robots. Furthermore, over the years I have contributed articles and reviews on books and films to many journals, and for more than a quarter of a century I was film reviewer for Humanist.
Since my retirement I have been busy writing plays and short stories, most recently a collection of thirty short stories which I hope to see in print next year, under the title The Purim Spiel and Other Stories.
To conclude, Carolyn and I have two sons: Marcus, who has his own theater company, and lives in New York; and Daniel, who's an audio engineer, and lives in Los Angeles. Carolyn and I have no plans to leave Bloomington and move to either coast. Carolyn has not yet retired. She gave up the study of English long ago and has a flourishing psychotherapy practice in Bloomington. We live in a town that is culturally rich. It has three theaters, a concert hall, and an opera house; year in and year out we can enjoy numerous operas, concerts, and celebrity lectures at the university. DVD has also made a vast number of films available to us without our having to leave Bloomington, or even our house for that matter. We live just a few minutes from the campus, one of the most beautiful campuses in America, and this is where Carolyn and I intend to spend the rest of our days.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Hudson Review, summer, 1968.
Newsweek, August 10, 1970.
New York Times Book Review, December 17, 1967.
Times Literary Supplement, June 27, 1986.