Tag Archives: Depression

When Charlie Chaplin Put Dan James In The Movies

The outlaw Jesse James agitated Daniel Lewis James Sr. a great deal. D.L. could not make up his mind. Was cousin Jesse really an outlaw and criminal? Or was Jesse James something more? D.L. wondered, was Jesse more like D.L.’s son, Dan James Jr.? – A champion and warrior for social justice.

When Charlie Chaplin put Dan James into Chaplin’s movies, the answer became clear. In the House on Un-American Activities Committee, America blacklisted Chaplin and Dan from movie making.  The U.S. Government assassinated Charlie Chaplin and Dan James …just like Jesse James.

 

Frank & Jesse James – Warriors for Social Justice

“All For the Underdog”

An Excerpt from Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol. I, Behind the Family Wall of Stigma and Silence, by Eric F. James

Fresh from his graduation from Andover, Dan James Jr. clerked briefly in T.M. James & Sons in Kansas City. But beyond the door of the family store, social reform summoned him.

The era of the post-Depression was a turbulent and violent one. Workers were losing jobs. Families were losing homes. People were starving.

Dan read the writings of Karl Marx. In Texas and Oklahoma, Dan organized field workers, while working the oil fields, hauling truckloads of number six pipe. By the mid-1930s, he joined the Young Marxist League. Participating in a public demonstration in Kansas City sponsored by the League landed Dan in jail, about the same time his cousin Barbara James-McGreevy was jailed for demonstrating on behalf of birth control.

Bailing out Dan from jail, D.L. suggested Dan commit his politics to paper. Father and son collaborated on a play, titled Pier 19, about the General Strike of San Francisco in 1934, known as “Bloody Thursday.” Dan had worked with the longshoremen’s organizer, Harry Bridges, as an errand gopher. Shortly thereafter, Dan realized, “I was not supporting myself, and it was time to join my comrades in the working class.”

Finding himself with Charlie Chaplin, who was a neighbor on Fountain Avenue in Hollywood and occasionally a guest at Seaward, the James family retreat in the Highlands above Carmel-By-The Sea in northern California, Dan James and Chaplin authored the movie The Great Dictator.

Dan observed the improvisations of the British mime upon a draft outline, taking detailed notes at every turn. The two collaborated on the story. More important to them both were the themes of the story. The process was repeated until Chaplin was satisfied his story and message was captured on celluloid.

In Chaplin’s new talkie, Dan provided distinctly American verbiage that the British born Chaplin could not. Dan embedded his own themes. The film opens in Dan James’ words, spoken by Chaplin.

Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator

“This is the story of the period between two world wars, an interim during which insanity cut loose, liberty took a nose dive, and humanity was kicked around somewhat.”

Giving voice to America’s most beloved mime, Dan James broke his family heritage of silence to openly challenge governmental authority, once more in the name of liberty.

Just as his cousin Jesse James had done against unjust authority. Just as his great-grandfather’s band of rebel preachers had done with federal government. Dan James challenged no less than the tyrannical governments of Germany’s Hitler and Italy’s Mussolini.

The collaborative relationship between Chaplin and Dan James was close. In Chaplin, Dan James found his mentor. He called Chaplin his surrogate father. At extended lunches between filming, the two argued strenuously over social issues.

At night, the Communist Party provided Dan a social life, filled with fundraising events for numerous social causes. Chaplin has been regarded historically as being a member of the Communist Party, although Dan’s daughter Barbara states Dan never saw Chaplin at meetings.

“He did not know whether Chaplin was a communist, but from working with him closely for four years and some odd months, he doubted it very much. He thought Charlie was too sensitive to oppressive institutions to be fooled into joining the Communist Party.”

End of excerpt.

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The Bloody San Francisco Longshoremen’s Strike of 1934

While making movies, Dan James told Charlie Chaplin of his experience in San Francisco when Dan worked for Harry Bridges, the longshoremen’s organizer. Chaplin seized upon Dan’s story immediately and put the scene into his 1936 movie Modern Times.

In Modern Times, Chaplin’s lovable and classic Tramp, representing everyman, stumbles onto a seaside dock. He notices the dock’s shipping building is shut down. A truck passing by drops a red warning flag, from its load. The Tramp picks up the red flag, signaling to the disappearing driver. As the truck disappears, the Tramp finds himself engulfed by the striking dock workers on the march. Authorities arrive. They seize the Tramp. Based solely upon guilt by association, the Tramp disappears into the justice system and is removed from society.

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In Chaplin’s 1940 movie The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin drew upon the extraordinary writing skills of Daniel Lewis James Jr. to present an authentic American voice of protest for social justice.


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More from “All For the Underdog”

“The House Un-American Activities Committee [HUAC] had commenced its investigations into Communism in the entertainment community and wreaked havoc with our whole world. The studios helped with their patriotic duty to expose Communist propaganda by refusing to hire anyone who did not cooperate with the Committee. This was the famous ‘Blacklist.’ People often think of the Blacklist as something the government did, but it was the ‘patriotic’ studio heads who instituted it.  The government just forced people into the position where they had to deal with it. Cooperation meant recanting your communism and naming all the people that you knew were (or had been) in the Party.

The catch 22 was that you couldn’t tell the truth about yourself without being a stool pigeon. At the outset, there was no clear way to address the problem without going to jail or ratting. That was when the Hollywood Ten went to prison. They were our friends and acquaintances.”

The House Un-American Activities Committee – HUAC Second from right sits the future U. S. President Richard M. Nixon

…Under investigation in the HUAC hearings, Barbara [Barbara James, Dan’s daughter] perceived that “Pop and Mama and other ex-Commies in the same boat, got given three basic choices.

“Tell the Committee that you have a right to free association under the First Amendment, and your political beliefs are protected from government interference. People who did this went to jail for the rest of the term of the Congress in session, which was generally about 10 months.

“Tell the Committee that you are not a Communist and that you will not tell them whether you have ever been a Communist. After the Smith Act became law, the Party was an illegal organization, so you could refuse to answer questions about people who were in the Party by citing the Fifth Amendment prohibition against self-incrimination. You didn’t go to jail, but the studios blacklisted you and you could not get work. You may wonder why the Studios invented and used the Blacklist. In one word – union busting. It was a great way to break the Screen Writers’ and Screen Actors’ Guilds, as well as to get cited as patriots.

“Tell the Committee you were a Communist; you are ever so sorry, and name everybody you know who was in the Party with you, including your closest friends. You may also wonder why the Congressmen on the HUAC were so adamant about ‘naming names.’ Politicians need publicity, and any time they could get someone to name a celebrity, they would get big media coverage. Pop was a very small fish, but I think their main object in grilling him was the hope that he would name Chaplin. They had the wrong small fish.”

The copy of Voltaire’s Candide, owned by Daniel Lewis James Sr.

…Dan James had hoped to produce his father’s first edition of the book Candide. The author Voltaire had published the book under the pseudonym, Monsieur Le Docteur Ralph. With his visual aid in hand, Dan intended to confront HUAC.

If HUAC continued to prevail in their ruthlessness, if Congress continued to deprive one’s freedom of association, and if the United States government continued to despoil freedom of expression, all writers would be forced to disguise their identities like Voltaire.

Dan was cut off. As Barbara said, “He got run over by a well-oiled train. They didn’t let him get his book out of his pocket, and he was only allowed to say that he refused to incriminate himself.” Dan James was blacklisted as a Hollywood screenwriter. In effect, his own federal government had exiled him. Just as Dan James predicted, his identity as a writer was forced underground.

…Dan James watched as his screenwriting career expired in slow motion.

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Dixie-Chicking – Blacklisting in the Entertainment Industry


Margaret Helen James Remembered by Her Granddaughter Kerri Squires

Margaret Helen James-Squires 1926-2009

My grandma, Margaret Helen James, was born in Fort Benton, Montana on January 30, 1926. Dr. Kaulback was the attending physician, and she would see him many times throughout her life. Dr. Kaulback moved to Spokane, and during the last years of his life Grandma went to see him several times.

Grandma was the last of 4 children – two older sisters and a brother – Eleanor, Agnes and Dudley. They all went to a one room schoolhouse in the country.

Grandma was 3 years old when the Great Depression hit in 1929. Although money was very scarce for a few years, her family always grew a garden and bottled lots of fruits, vegetables, and meat. She said she was always the one who had to wash the jars because she was the youngest, and her hands were the smallest and could get into the jars. Grandma said: “I want you to know that I did not like that because there was always dirt and dead spiders in them.”

When Grandma was about four, her brother Dudley came home with a clever way to make a stove which some of the school children had taught him. Grandma and her brother were never allowed to play with matches; so they went out of sight to do this experimenting. And, where did they go? Yes, they picked a stack of beautiful newly mown hay as a shelter for their work—the stack only being about thirty feet or so from their big red barn. They set up a few bricks or rocks, then took a rubber hose probably from a car to use for a chimney and ran the chimney up on the wire which bound the prairie hay. After lighting a match, they believed they had an excellent stove – until to their astonishment, the flames went right up the chimney with the smoke; and before they could realize what was taking place, the hay was ablaze. It was summer and her sister Agnes was coming to milk the cows. Grandma and her brother ran, hoping that Agnes would have water in the milk bucket, but to no avail. One of the neighbors, Mr. Weibel, and the rest of Grandma’s family worked until 3:00 am, fighting the fire so it would not start-up again and spread and burn the barn. A chastisement was in order, but Mr. Weibel calmed down Grandma’s father. Of course, Grandma and Dudley were put to bed and told to stay there which was worse punishment than a spanking; the kids would like to have seen the finish of what “they” had started. This was one of many lessons in obedience – DON’T PLAY WITH MATCHES!

Their family owned sheep, pigs, cattle and horses. Grandma and Dudley used to go out in the outhouse at night and sing cowboy songs: Little Joe the Wrangler, Home on the Range, Strawberry Roan, and Red River Valley. Probably all the neighbors could hear them.

When Grandma was 5, she had an accident which she never forgot throughout her life as she carried the scars on her right hand. The family had an old 10 gallon ice cream freezer which her father had tipped over. Grandma’s father told his children never to play with it or they would get hurt. Grandma, her brother Dudley, and a neighbor boy must have gotten the old freezer upright and were trying to grind corn cobs into chicken feed by pushing corn cobs into the iron cogs with their hands. While someone turned the handle, Grandma’s small hand slipped into the cogs and was badly mangled. Grandma had to be taken into Fort Benton to Dr. Kaulback where he cleaned and dressed her hand, and later every day for a week to have it redressed. After a while, Grandma was really worried as he had wrapped two of her fingers together; so she asked her Mother if her fingers were going to grow together. She set her mind at ease and told Grandma that the Doctor had put a splint between her fingers before wrapping them together. Part of the end of her thumb was cut off, her forefinger was nicked and her middle finger was badly mangled. This was her second great lesson on the merits of “obedience.”

William Dudley James & Ida Mae Kenner, Parents of Margaret Helen James

Grandma had a riding horse named Dandy with a big scar on his face – they used to say he was an Indian pony. Grandma always rode on the back of the horse and Dudley in the front. Once Dudley was going under the clothesline, so he ducked his head; unfortunately, Grandma didn’t duck, and she quickly plummeted to the ground.

Grandma said that she never knew how poor her family was until they moved to town. There, in town, they had electricity, running water in their home, central heating, and indoor bathrooms. Their first toilet had the pull-chains for flushing. For Grandma, this life seemed like heaven. Living in the country, Grandma was convinced, molded their lives and then they moved to town for polishing. This was the very best of two worlds, Grandma believed.

Grandma was given a little white kitten. One day she was running to the barn and this cat “Snowball” jumped up on her face clawing it until she was pretty bloody. She never asked, but, when she was a little wiser, she was sure that her dad probably got rid of that cat, as she never saw it again. Grandma always had two marks above her lip from that incident.

When Grandma was 12 she was out on the lawn playing ball with her dad when a fellow by the name of Keith Squires came looking for a place to live – he roomed and boarded with Grandma’s family while he was barbering in town. Little did they know that they would eventually marry.
Grandma was a good student and very smart. In high school she took Algebra, geometry, Biology, World History, typing, Shorthand and was in the 4-H Club.

Grandma’s cooking was unmatchable! She loved holidays when the family gathered in her home for memorable meals and time together. Many will remember carving the turkey 2 years before she passed—to find the inside was incredibly GREEN! Every meal she prepared was presented with meticulous perfection. It would be impossible to praise it too much. For example, at age 15 her cooking won a trip to Chicago for her to judge jellies and other foods. She was on the train coming home when they got word that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor – December 7, 1941.

In addition to her unparalleled cooking, Grandma was a talented seamstress. For example, at the age of 16, grandma made a wool dress for the 4-H club for which she won a red ribbon in the national competition, held in Chicago. Her sister, Eleanor, gave her a wine velvet dress to wear to nice affairs like this from which she later made a little dress worn by her daughters and granddaughters.

Grandma was President of her senior class. She took chemistry, more typing, shorthand and bookkeeping. She used these skills later in life as she always kept the books for whatever business dad was in.

Grandma graduated from Fort Benton High School in 1943, receiving an honorary diploma. She worked in the Soil Conservation office and for the County Attorney. These positions earned her enough money to both attend college at Montana State, and buy an upright “Kimball” piano which stayed in the family for years

Grandma moved to Spokane to work, where she met Grandpa who was being treated at the Veterans Hospital. They courted and were married shortly afterwards on November 4, 1945. Mom wore her sister Eleanor’s $100 wedding dress, which would later be worn by two of their daughters and a granddaughter.

Grandma’s children had a parakeet. When it learned to whistle,
Grandma decided that we could teach it to talk also. She taught it to whistle and say, “See the pretty girls”, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” and “Hi, Keith, did you sell a house?”

Grandma, as many of you are well aware of, possessed the brilliant talent of quilting. I think we all have a flannel quilt or two that she made. She also made a purple and lavender one with the applique of a ring of flowers in the center.

Grandpa bought her a 1950 Ford. She was driving down Sprague one day and came to the Pines intersection in Opportunity. Much to her surprise, but luckily not to her misfortune, the steering wheel came off. Fortunately, she ended up in the corner service station with her hands still firmly grasped to the detached steering wheel. She didn’t like that one bit.

She had a great sense of humor too. One time she was taking a trip to visit her family in Montana. The kids were playing a game in the car when Bill said, “Everyone close your eyes.” After driving down the road for a few miles, Grandma asked, “When can I open my eyes?”

Grandma was very talented. She spent many hours making all the drapes in her homes. She bought 200 yards of material to make the drapes in just one of her homes. Grandma also made many clothes for herself, her children, and her mother. She made beautiful dresses for the Gold and Green Balls they had at church. She also made many blankets for the grandkids.

Grandma and Grandpa went on a mission for the church in 1988 to Manchester England, and of course it was a genealogy mission. Her religion became a way of life. She remained firm in the faith, committed to her covenants, and her life was a sermon of what she believed.
Grandma held many church positions including: Primary President, Relief Society President, Relief Society teacher, and visiting teacher. She has spent most of her life doing genealogy and working in the genealogy library. She will have many jewels in her crown for the many, many hours she has spent doing temple work for her deceased ancestors.
Grandma had many experiences, some fun, some happy, some sad, some spiritual, and some very wonderful. These experiences shaped Grandma’s remarkable character and provided her with priceless insights about life.

We will miss the fun times and all the good food at Grandma’s house. She will be greatly missed by her children and grandchildren, her many friends, and all who knew her.

RELATED STORIES

The Ancestry of Margaret Helen James-Squires

STRAY LEAVES encourages James family members and their in-law families to document their reminiscences and biographies. Submissions for publication can be emailed to the Leaf Blower at ericjames@ericjames.org