My Son, the Pornographer

February 24, 2010 | ,

In his tennis whites on the courts of a retirement community in Sarasota, Florida, Nat Lehrman doesn’t fit the image of an aging sexual revolutionary: he’s no jowly Hugh Hefner in a red silk robe, nor Al Goldstein, homeless and pathetic. But then Lehrman, the editor responsible for transforming Playboy in the 1960s from just another spicy Esquire knockoff into a path-breaking national forum for the discussion of sexuality, has always been less a sex fiend than an old-school Brooklyn journalist. (more…)

Comeback Kid

November 13, 2008 | , , , , ,

In the fall of 1924, Ludwig Lewisohn had all sorts of worries: He’d left his wife in New York and run off to Europe with a younger woman, and, on a recent jaunt to Poland, all the “filthy, starved, oppressed” Jews in Warsaw’s ghetto had depressed him. Clearly, he needed a therapist. Since he happened to be in central Europe, and since he never did anything by half measures, he had a friend lend him a room on Wahringerstrasse in Vienna, and went straight to Sigmund Freud. Though Freud, who lived a couple of blocks away, was happy to psychoanalyze him, Lewisohn ended his treatment after a few sessions. According to his biographer, Ralph Melnick, he feared “the loss of his anxieties” would be “the destruction of what had driven him as a writer.” (more…)

Hack Job

September 12, 2008 | , , ,

Filmmakers had been adapting Philip Roth’s work long before Isabel Coixet transformed The Dying Animal into Elegy. When Roth was just twenty-two, his story “The Contest for Aaron Gold,” published first in the Fall 1955 issue of Epoch and then in that year’s Best American Short Stories, was presented on television by Alfred Hitchcock. Roth has disallowed the story’s republication in the half-century since, and the filmed version can be viewed only at UCLA’s archives (or, for the less scrupulous, in a bootleg version), so very few of even Roth’s most committed fans have read or seen it. Roth’s only other short story to be filmed, “Expect the Vandals,” is equally obscure; but at least its bizarre movie version can be added to your Netflix queue. (more…)

Storm Warning

In 1967, a failed playwright named Harold Cruse published The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, his provocative dissection of black culture. A fierce opponent of integration, Cruse turned a caustic eye on Lorraine Hansberry, Paul Robeson, and nearly every other prominent black thinker of his era (and those that came before it; the Harlem Renaissance, in his view, produced no work of real merit). He reserved special loathing, however, for a novelist by the name of John Oliver Killens. “Neither the originator of a single new concept, style, or exposition whether in literature or politics,” Cruse carped, “Killens has been the neutralizing temporizer, the non-controversial, moderating lid-sitter par excellence.” (more…)

The Book That Didn’t Change My Life

September 12, 2007 | , , ,

This month, Myron S. Kaufmann’s debut novel, Remember Me to God, turns 50, and so far there have been no signs of celebration. Though it was hailed on publication as one of the finest novels ever written about American Jews and remained on The New York Times bestseller list for an entire year, almost no one remembers it today. It goes unmentioned in bibliographies of American Jewish fiction, and so obscure is Kaufmann in this Internet age that searching for his name turns up nary a stub on Wikipedia. (more…)

Those Ukraine Girls

March 20, 2006 | , ,

As the latest season of The Real World rolls out in Key West, Odessa-born Svetlana (“We’re not Russian, we’re Jewish,” she tells the camera) is the babe to watch. Sure, she’s got a boyfriend back home, but he’s several thousand miles away now and comes off as a meathead; the teasers for Tuesday’s episode suggest he’ll be out of the picture imminently. If that’s true, two of the roommates would be happy to replace him: John, the less-than-subtle frat boy who arrived with an inflatable woman under his arm, and Zack, the “Jew from Seattle,” who couldn’t be more of a mensch—that is, from a parent’s perspective: he doesn’t drink or smoke, his mother and father are his best friends, and he can count the number of times he’s had sex on the fingers of one hand. That might win him points on JDate, but this is MTV. (more…)