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The Beginning
| Labor | Journalism

Why am I embarking on a website after 30 years as an editor and film critic on the San Francisco Chronicle and the author of three books? Several concurrent events brought this about. A friend suggested that there should be a link to my work on the website of my brother, the legendary iconoclastic journalist I.F. Stone BUT I didn't have a website to link to. Then with newspapers claiming economic problems, I couldn't get a free-lance assignment to interview Eran Kolirin, director of "The Band's Visit." So I gave my story to New Life, a monthly Russian newsletter that had run an interview with me and the "Band" article was later picked up by SF 360.org, a daily on-line magazine, published by the San Francisco Film Society.

Thus a website began to emerge as the solution for me to continue speaking my piece. Furthermore, it would be possible for readers to learn about my books: "The Mystery of B. Traven," "Eye on the World: Conversations with International Filmmakers" and "Not Quite a Memoir: Of Films, Books, the World." That adds up to about 300 filmmakers and 40 writers, not counting B. Traven, literary mystery for the ages, the pseudonymous author of "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," and interviews with three Nobel winners: Czeslaw Milosz, Orhan Pamuk and Doris Lessing. My interviews took place all over the globe from Argentina and Australia, to Iran, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. From unfamiliar names like Cheick Oumar Sissoko of Mali to Iran's Abbas Kiarostami and to U.S. notables from Woody Allen to Martin Scorsese. I always preferred interviewing to reviewing. I disliked making lists of favorite films, but I'm going to pull one together now. And I hated writing mini-reviews that substituted reasoned analysis for a "little man" jumping up for joy or snoozing at the latest movies. At my Chronicle farewell party, this Little Man took the cake!

The Beginning

My father at our family store in
Haddonfield, NJ.

As to how it all started, life began for me in Philadelphia on May 1, 1924. My parents were Katy Novack and Bernard Feinstein, emigrants from Czarist Russia who owned a dry goods store in Haddonfield, New Jersey. They had three sons before I came along: Izzy, Marc and Lou, journalists all.

I began writing movie reviews in junior high. Later while editing my Olney high school newspaper and yearbook, I enjoyed interviewing visiting celebrities: Walter Huston, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, William Saroyan, Eve Curie.When Izzy was 14 he started publishing The Progress, a little paper that supported the League of Nations and Woodrow Wilson. After he began writing anti-fascist articles in the early 30s, he changed his name to I.F. Stone, but he remained Izzy to one and all. He became known as a radical defender of civil liberties in the dark days of Joe McCarthy and was a favorite speaker at anti-Vietnam war rallies. He didn't hesitate to assert that "all governments lie." A joyful skeptic, he dug for facts in government documents for his weekly newsletter, gems that were usually overlooked by the mass media. Finally, digging into the historic roots of free speech, he capped his career with a scholarly book "The Trial of Socrates."

So obviously, he was an influence on me. Above my computer is the cover of "Ave,"a Catholic magazine quoting Izzy, "We simply must respect each other."

And in a sense, that is what I have tried to do in offering some — admittedly limited — insights into creative people all over our embattled world and hoping readers can find a kind of inspiration in their words.

Labor

World War Two changed the course of my life. I'm probably the only U.S. critic who has done time as a labor writer, along with being a two - time college dropout. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, I finished my freshman year at Temple University and went to work as a drill and punch press operator for two years making walkie-talkies in a Philadelphia factory. While there, I became editor of my union paper, "The Square Dealer," for Local 155 , United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, CIO. That led to writing leaflets for two organizing drives at Bendix and Western Electric in Baltimore. The UE lost both elections, so that doesn't say much for the persuasive powers of my leaflets. Later at the University of Wisconsin I wrote columns for the school's newspaper about the mutual interests of students, veterans and workers. Dropping out after my sophomore year, I had the opportunity to work with my brother Lou who was editing the Trentonian, a newspaper which was started as an experiment by the International Typographical Workers Union. The goal was to organize non-union newspapers by buying shoppers' guides, going weekly, then daily to compete with a city's monopoly paper — in this case, the Trenton Times. I interviewed old labor "skates" and occasionally donned a critic's cap to review plays at the wonderful Bucks County (Pa.) Playhouse. In 1947, I headed west to San Francisco, where I worked for a string of AFL union papers, notably writing an in-depth report on the long-lasting 1947 DiGiorgio agriculture strike in the Imperial Valley. It was the historic precursor to Cesar Chavez's successful organizing drives.

Journalism

I finally returned to daily newspapers. At the Independent Journal in Marin County for six years, I covered everything from government meetings and San Quentin Prison to interviews with the county's many artists and writers. I had five seconds of fame when I reported that a German Jewish doctor who believed in socialized medicine was denied admission to the new Marin County hospital, a story that enraged the county's affluent society medics — but I had the support of my Republican publisher. And Dr.Rudolf Wolff eventually gained admission to practice there.

Looking for a change, I traveled to New York but my job writing circulation promotional copy for Look magazine offered few challenges and I longed to return to San Francisco. Six years later on September 1961, I began working for the San Francisco Chronicle. At the same time, I started free-lancing for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, TV Guide and The Toronto Globe and Mail. The Ladies Home Journal published my interview with Dianne Feinstein who became the new mayor of San Francisco in 1978 after a murderous time of crisis in the city. A new (British) editor inexplicably removed all mention of Richard Blum who later became Dianne's husband. I'm happy to offer my original article here. Ramparts magazine not only got me started on the already mentioned B. Traven mystery, but also published my interview with Jose Luis Cuevas, "an old master" among young Mexican artists; as well as my report on Hollywood censorship: "The Legion of Decency : What's Nude?" and an article called "Arabs & Jews," about some unprecedented moments of friendship in Israel.

 

 

 

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