Book club members voted for this month’s book from Marilyn Monroe’s bookshelf to be the novel The Un-Americans by Alvah Bessie. Alvah Bessie was one of the blacklisted screenwriters known as the Hollywood Ten and refused to speak before the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He was imprisoned for 10 months in 1950.
In addition to The Un-Americans, Alvah Bessie wrote other novels including The Symbol (1966), which is about the exploitation of the film industry. The Symbol features a character that seems to have been modeled after Marilyn Monroe, though it does not appear that the two of them ever worked on a film together.
Both Alvah Bessie and Marilyn Monroe shared an interest in communism, which is perhaps the reason why she had a copy of his book. Marilyn Monroe’s husband Arthur Miller testified in front of the HUAC in 1956, and Marilyn Monroe was allegedly pressured by studio executives to convince Miller to cooperate, but she stood her ground in support of Miller’s beliefs. We can furthermore tell that Marilyn Monroe had interests in communism when looking at the books she owned, which included Das Kapital by Karl Marx, and The Roots of American Communism by Theodore Draper.
The Un-Americans is a fictionalization of Alvah Bessie’s experiences with the Communist Party and the HUAC. The story focuses on the character of Francis Xavier Lang, a foreign correspondent and radio broadcaster testifying against Ben Blau, an idealist who partook in the Spanish Civil War. The tensions of the novel seem to lie in choosing duty to one’s country or one’s friend, but I will do a full review at the end of the month after reading.