Monday, June 05, 2017

Alfred Hayes: From Communist Poet to Noir Screenwriter and Novelist

There’s no end to the stories. Talented writers- whether Chandler, Hammett, Fitzgerald, Faulkner or Fante- churning out mediocre screenplays in Hollywood, burnt out before, during or after their tenure. It’s become something of a cliché: the celebrated noirist who fades into literary obscurity, their posthumous careers resurrected by the New York Review of Books or some small press fascinated by such figures. Of course, there are exceptions, writers who were moderately successful, even feted in their time who became part of the studio mincing machine, who, however embittered, survived and had post-studio careers, producing work every bit as good as that which they’d produced before arriving in Tinseltown. 

Alfred Hayes was one such writer. Screenwriter, novelist, playwright and poet, Hayes was the author of two extraordinary noir novels- In Love (1953) and My Face For the World to See (1958), which NYRB have republished. Both were written while he was still working in Hollywood, not long after producing screenplays for two classic examples of film noir, Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night (1952) and Human Desire (1954). If that were not enough, Hayes contributed to two Italian renown neorealist films- Roberto Rossellini’s Paisan, where he collaborated with Frederico Fellini, and Victoria De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. And when his Hollywood career ended, Hayes went to write more novels, stories, plays and poetry, all of it of a fairly high quality. One of the few writers whose literary career was not adversely affected by his experience in the studios, Hayes seems to have benefited from the terseness and conversational style that screenwriting demands, as demonstrated in the condensed, hardboiled style of Hayes’s post Hollywood work. 

Born into a Jewish Whitechapel family in 1911, Alfred Hayes, aged three, emigrated to New York with his family. Earning a BA at the City College of New York, Hayes’s ambition was to be a newspaperman. And for a shot time he did pounded the crime beat  at the New York Daily News and the New York American.  Before that he found work as a delivery boy, waiter, process server, bootlegger and book thief. Joining the Communist Party and the John Reed Club during the Depression, he gained a reputation as a poet, contributing to periodicals like New Masses and the Partisan Review, albeit one with a penchant for gambling, pin ball machines and pool halls. Regardless of what job he was holding down at any particular time, or hustling his poetry, Hayes,   having cultivated an intense, poetic stare, preferred the company of pool hall bums and cab drivers rather than New York leftist intellectuals. Likewise, historian Alan Wald, in his book Exiles From the Future, calls Hayes the Byron of the Pool Halls. Someone working for New Masses describes, in Archie Green’s 1993 Wobblies, Pile Butts, and Other Heroes, Hayes as “[Dark], Dantean, witty, conscious to imperiousness that he personified a new sort of ‘young generation,’ the lyric poet of the New York working class, the strike front, the writer of sketches that bite into memory.” Many years later, Fritz Lang thought Hayes was “a very interesting man- very intense- determined to do something good.” Hayes’s early years as a newspaperman were cut short when, during World War II, he was drafted, serving in the entertainment division of the Army Special Services where he worked mainly as a museum guide. It was in that capacity that he met Roberto Rossellini with whom he would later collaborate.

Lauded by the likes of Julian Maclaren Ross, Angus Wilson, Elizabeth Bowen, Stevie Smith and Antonia White, Hayes would end up publishing seven novels, a book of short stories, and three volumes of poetry, as well as having a hand in at least a dozen films. Not only Clash By Night and Human Desire for Fritz Lang- the latter being an adaptation of Zola’s La Bete Humaine, and the former a version of Clifford Odet’s play- but Bicycle Thieves and Paisan, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. Not to mention Nick Ray’s classic modern western The Lusty Men (1952), which he wrote along side fellow noirist Horace McCoy. If that wasn’t enough, Hayes also penned the lyrics for I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night, which Earl Robinson put to music, and, in later years, would be sung by the likes of Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. It wouldn’t be the first time Hayes worked with Robinson, having previously written a poem Into the Streets May First which Aaron Copland would orchestrate.  

Influenced in the early days by fellow screenwriter, newspaperman and story writer Ben Hecht and New York neighbour and friend Kenneth Fearing, as well as poets like Hart Crane, Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, Hayes, by working in Hollywood was able to eventually harden his prose, and move beyond the literary awkwardness of his early work. Though not without its vernacularisms, Hayes’s poetry would remain more classically oriented and self-conscious than Fearing’s.   

According to Wald, Hayes though a committed communist, was not much of an activist. His most radical act it seems was moving furniture back into the homes of evicted Depression-hit families. As with many, the Spanish Civil War and the Moscow trials led to Hayes’s disillusionment with the party. Even so, he  begged Fearing to accompany him to the Soviet Union so he could assess what was going on in person. Despite the political turmoil of the era, Hayes, unlike some, did not turn to the right, but apparently remained for the remainder of his career on the humanitarian left.

After serving in the army, and with two neo-realist films and a book of poems- The Big Time (1944) under his belt, Hayes arrived in Hollywood, his communist past behind him, and, if his second novel Shadow of Heaven (1947) is anything to go by, something of a mea culpa already in place, which would no doubt work to his benefit during  Hollywood witch-hunts of the early 1950s. In Shadow of Heaven, Hayes paints a portrait of Harry Oberon, a decent forty-year old union organizer in Pennsylvania’s anthracite region, who believes in the cause of labor and fervently works to put those beliefs into practice, only to realize the class struggle hasn’t achieved all that much. Disillusioned, he puts his youthful Marxism behind him, saying, “The placards fell, the captains scattered, the speeches ended…leaving only the photographers…as though it were done for the photographers.”  Meanwhile, Harry has grown tired of his girlfriend, Margaret, a woman not easily scorned, and nearly becomes involved with another woman, Janet, a war widow imprisoned by her father-in-law. Janet grows increasingly unstable. Eventually Harry is involved in a road accident which kills Margaret and places Harry at death’s door. Written in a stream of consciousness style, Shadow of Heaven combines Faulkner’s multiple viewpoints with the class politics of Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle. Hayes rejection of his past political affiliation is ironical given that he had recently worked with leftist Italian neorealist directors Rossellini and De Sica. Or maybe Hayes’s change of direction was the result of a dialectic played out before him in Italy, resulting in his own brand of  bleak humanism. In any case, this path would lead to his later noir fiction, hard-bitten perspective but always perceptive when it comes to insights into human behaviour.

There was a second book of poems, Welcome to the Castle (1950), as well as  three novels- All Thy Conquests (1946), Shadow of Heaven (1947), The Girl on Via Flaminia (1949)- under his belt by the time he arrived in Hollywood.  Hayes originally intended to spend twenty weeks in Hollywood, earn some money, then return to New York. At first he was able to do so, but he wound up staying in and around Tinseltown for the rest of his life, working, from the late 1940s to 1960, for such studios as Warner Brothers, RKO,Twentieth Century Fox, MGM, United Artists and Columbia. When studio work dried up, Hayes turned to TV, writing for Alfred Hitchcock, Mannix, Logan’s Run and Nero Wolfe. What makes Hayes unique was that during his stay in Hollywood, he would go on to produce more novels, including some of his best work, In Love and My Face For the World to See. And when his studio work dried up, he would go on churning out novels like  The End of Me (1968) and The Stockerbroker, the Bitter Young Man, and the Beautiful Girl (1973). In all those books, as well as his best screenplays, Hayes had an eye out for  the underdog and those on the margins, his  class analysis now replaced with a more existential perspective regarding character development. At the same time, he would grow increasingly hardboiled, cynical and embittered, befitting the mood and protagonists in his later novels. Picture Dix Steele in Dorothy B. Hughes In a Lonely Place, or Nick Ray’s adaptation, and you get the idea. Come to think of it, My Face For the World to See bears certain resemblances to In a Lonely Place which appeared some ten years before Hayes’s novel. 

1946, the year before Shadow of Heaven, the same year Rossellini’s Paisan hit the screens, saw the publication of Hayes’s first novel, All Thy Conquests. Set in Italy, it deploys a Dos Passos-like newspaper montage and, like Shadow of Heaven, multiple viewpoints. It’s probably Hayes’s most ambitious and self-consciously literary novel. Taking place at the end of WW2, revolving around an actual event- a trial in Rome that that unfolded in the aftermath of the Nazi massacre of 335 Italian civilians in the Ardeatine Caves on March 24, 1944- the novel focuses on the occupying Allies, and evokes the chaos of Italian life at the time. Told from the perspective of both Italians and occupying Americans, All Thy Conquests, though light years away from his future tendency towards minimalism, highlights the desires of both the occupying forces and the local population, and questions whether the Allies were liberators or conquerors. With the war affecting everyone, Hayes tells his tale with no small amount of compassion. The book was relatively well-received, with John Hersey saying that Hayes “has written a kind of impression of failure—a many-toned failure: Failure to purge the Fascists or their ideas; failure to live up in personal terms to the demands of democracy.” 

Girl on Via Flaminia (republished by Europa Press) appeared in 1949. Italy was clearly a formative experience for the not quite forty-year old Hayes, for this novel also takes place in that country, and, though told in a simpler and less literary manner, offsets the desires of the occupying forces against those of the local population. The novel centres on a Roman family  reduced to poverty by the war, surviving by renting rooms upstairs while turning their downstairs into a cafe for American soldiers. Adele procures girls for the soldiers while her husband reads his newspaper and her son looks on in disgust. An American private arranges with Adele to meet a young woman at the house. The young woman regards the soldier with contempt, and is disgusted by his sense of entitlement. But she agrees to the arrangement because she wants to go to America. As for the soldier, he merely wants companionship- “She was hungry, I was lonely.” Needless to say, things do not end well. Already, Hayes is writing about vulnerable young women and hard-bitten characters. Hayes received plaudits for the novel, and it might have even the case that, at the time of their appearance, he received more recognition for his first two novels than for his later work. So straightforward is the novel that it reads like a play. Which is what it would soon become,  followed, in 1953, by a film adaptation, Act of Love, directed by Anatole Litvak, starring Kirk Douglas. Though someone at United Artists decided to switch the locale to Paris, presumably thought to be a sexier setting than Rome. Probably best known as Brigitte Bardot’s first appearance in an English-speaking film, Act of Love doesn’t have the toughness, much less the politics of the novel,

With Hollywood  taking up much of his time, it would be four years before Hayes published his next novel, In Love (1952). It would be the first of the author’s noir classics, appeared. Set in late 1940s New York, and reading as though imagined by Edward Hopper- “I assume that in any mirror, or in the eyes I happen to encounter, say on an afternoon like this, in such a hotel, in such a bar, across a table like this, I appear to be someone who apparently knows where he’s going, confident of himself, and aware of what, reasonable to expect when he arrives, although I could hardly, if now you insisted on pressing me, describe for you that secret destination”- it centres on a middle-age man in a bar who relates the story to a woman he doesn’t know about his relationship with a young woman, divorced with a child:
“I’ve often wondered why I impress people as being altogether sad, and yet I insist I am not  sad, and that they are quite wrong about me, and yet when I look in the mirror it turns out to be something really true, my face is sad, my face is actually sad, I became convinced (and he smiled at her, because it was four o’clock and the day was ending and she was a very pretty girl, it was astonishing how gradually she had become prettier) that they are right after all, and I am sad, sadder than I know.”

Lives are thrown into disarray by the intervention of a millionaire who offers the narrator’s girlfriend a thousand dollars to spend the night with him. At first the woman treats the offer as a joke, but it turns serious. His Italian novels might have been influenced by Pavese or Moravia, but In Love occupies the same literary space as Patrick Hamilton or David Goodis. In Love has often been compared to the film Indecent Proposal, and there is a similarity, though Hayes’s novel, unlike Adrian Lyne’s 1993 film is no celebration of consumerist ethics in a gotta-get-the-money era, but more about the personal and destructive toll that money brings.  It’s also an interesting, if somewhat ambivalent, depiction of a vulnerable woman: 
She was very hesitant about ending the little fiction now. She did not really feel that she was ending it. Rather she was extending the definition a bit. It was only that she wanted everything: the proper marriage and the improper love; the orderly living room and the disorderly bedroom; the sprinkler on the lawn and an appointment somewhere between two and four.” 

And as for the narrator and his laissez faire attitude:
“She thought I was so right for the role she wanted me to play… I was after all an artist, that odd creature among men. I was not predictable like Howard was. I would not really harm her as he would she he ever suspect her or doubt her. I had a fatal but very accommodating tendency to forgive. I hardly ever meant anything too seriously. I did not condemn her for some natural desire she might show nor look at her horror stricken when she admitted to some unorthodox sexual yearning. I was soft. My pride was of a thinner nature than his. I was perfect for that sort of afternoon when one was bored and had done all the possible shopping that could be done. I was a nice repository for her sense of sin...She would quickly establish me as an exciting stopover on her way home. I was what she could use to reconcile herself to what she thought of intermittently as dull...”

In Love would be the first of Hayes’s masterpieces. As evocative and affecting as it is, his next novel, published five years later, My Face For the World to See is even better.  As mentioned, Hayes’s 1958 novel bears a certain resemblance to Dorothy B. Hughes’s  In a Lonely Place, with a protagonist who is a screenwriter easy to anger who, by chance, meets an aspiring actress. Both books- Hughes’s and Hayes’s- are amongst the best Hollywood noir novels one is likely to find, evocative of a certain time, place and culture. In Hayes’s novel, the married screenwriter- his wife is living in New York- attends a Hollywood party, where he rescues the young actress from suicide by drowning. It’s a slow-burning novel that, with some finely wrought prose:
“At this very moment the town was full of people lying in bed thinking with an intense, an inexhaustible, an almost raging passion of becoming famous if they weren’t already famous, and even more famous if they were; or of becoming wealthy if they weren’t already wealthy, or weather if they were.”
Above all, Hayes's novel is about power. Power that men hold over women, power that the young hold over the old, the power of Hollywood and the movie industry, the power to conform to what is acceptable.  Only gradually does the reader discover who the young is and what she wants out of life:
“I thought: she shouldn’t sleep with anybody if she doesn’t wish them to know her secrets. It was something more than her nakedness… She slept like someone who could not go any further, and had already come too far. I stretched myself out beside her, a stranger, a spy, sharing the warmth of her bed. Morning seemed immeasurably far.”
In the end the title says it all. Everyone in this book has a multiplicity of faces, public as well as private. The face that the woman wants the world to see no matter that it conflicts with the horror of her private face. Though the male protagonist might be the most deluded of all, thinking his public face is the same as private face, the implication being that he’s about to take a fall.

While writing and  publishing his two classic noir novels, Hayes was also busy working for the studios. It would be Fritz Lang who would best exploit Hayes’s screenwriting talents in the Jerry Wald-produced Clash By Night (1952) and Human Desire (1954). Both are set in the Pacific Northwest, though Lang and Hayes transport Zola's novel to America’s railway yards. But the change in setting by no means lessens the natural melodrama and romanticism of Zola’s novel, while Gloria Grahame, always willing to mix sensuality with vulnerability, might be the perfect Hayes heroine. Watching Grahame relate her sexual adventures to her husband, played by Paul Douglas, one can hear echoes of Hayes’s women in My Face For the World to See and In Love. Set amongst fisherman, with, as Lang described the opening documentary-like sequence, “three-hundred feet of introduction,” Clash by Night features Barbara Stanwyck as another typical Hayes female- free-living, on a collision course with respectable society. While Robert Ryan, as the typical alienated man of the post-war era, his cynicism bordering on psychosis, often declaring, on the one hand that “somebody’s throat has to be cut,” while, on the other hand, saying to Stanwyck, “Help me, I’m dying of loneliness,”  might be the doppleganger of the narrator in My Face. 

Then there’s Nicholas Ray’s modern day western The Lusty Men (1952), with Robert Mitchum, Susan Hayward and Arthur Kennedy.  Of course, it’s been said, by me for one, that westerns are often be called film noir on horseback. So the noir threesome- Ray, McCoy and Hayes- makes sense. And since Hayes had little experience of rodeo life, it also makes sense that McCoy, from Texas, should be relied upon for some cowboy-reality. But who wrote which lines? My bet is that McCoy had a major input in the early scenes that take place in Mitchum’s former home with the old man who’s looking to see his property if only he can find a buyer, and perhaps the kitchen scene with Michum and Hayward, in which Mitchum says, “Some things you don’t do for the cash… Some things you do for the buzz.”  As well as some of the dialogue which deploys rodeo parlance. While the final scenes between Kennedy, Hayworth and Mitchum sound like the of thing Hayes would have written. Likewise, Hayward declaring her independence: “I’m no fun. Blondie with her dress cut down to her knee-caps, she’s fun… Men, I’d like to fry them all in deep fat.”  And in typical Hayes fashion, and against the Hollywood grain, Mitchum for once doesn’t end up getting the girl. According to  Eisenchitz’s Ray biography Hayes definitely wrote four scenes: the early scene in which when Hayward comes  to ask Jeff to discourage her husband from continuing in to participate in rodeos; the after dinner outdoor meeting between Mitchum and Kennedy in which the two characters discuss the best horse Mitchum ever rode in a rodeo; the scene in which Kennedy comes home and shows Haworth the check from riding in the rodeo and to inform her that they would be leaving to go on the rodeo circuit with Mitchum; and the tete-a-tete between Mitchum and Haworth in the barn.

Hayes made  other contributions to Hollywood films, supplying the story for Fred Zinnemann’s 1951 Teresa, for which he received an Academy Award nomination,  his second nomination after Paisan in  1946, a film that consisted of six vignettes about  the allied invasion of Italy from 1943 to of 1944. Then, in 1957, probably at a time when he had just finished writing My Face...,  there was Hatful of Rain, also directed by Fred Zinnemann, starring Don Muarry and Eva Marie Saint about returning Korean War vet addicted to morphine and its effect on his family; and Island in the Sun, directed by Robert Rossen, starring Harry Belafonte, Dorothy Dandridge, James Mason and Joan Fontaine. A controversial film at the time of its release because of  its subject matter, interracial marriage on a Caribbean island, and its depiction of the ex-pat community.  

Hayes also worked on Daniel Mann’s Mountain Road, released in 1960- a year that also saw the publication of collection of stories, The Temptations of Don Volpi. Starring James Stewart, Mountain Road is about an army major stationed in East China ordered to blow up various installations to halt the progress of the Japanese army. This was followed by four more screenplays: Joy in the Morning (1965) starring Richard Chamberlain and Yvette Mimeux, directed by Alex Segal about two lovers whose families knew each other in Ireland but want better for their children;  The Double Man (1967), a spy drama directed by Franklin J. Schaffner starring Yul Brynner and Britt Ekland; and Lost in the Stars (1974) directed by Daniel Mann from Maxwell Anderson’s play, with music by Kurt Weil, from Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country, with Brock Peters and Melba Moore, about a black South African minister searching for his son in the back streets of Johannesburg. He also worked uncredited a number of films, including The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958), directed by John Ford, starring John Wayne. 

Around this time the studio jobs were beginning to dry up.  Mel Brooks tells the story about a time when he and Hayes were both working at Columbia, going for  lunch and returning to find Hayes’s name was no longer on his cubby-hole wall. According to Brooks, that was how they fired you at Columbia; they simply disappeared your name while you were out eating lunch. So Hayes turned to television, writing, between 1962 and 1965,  episodes for Alfred HItchcock,  Mannix, Logan’s Run, and Nero Wolfe, which, in 1981, would be his last TV work. Between 1965 and 1981,   Hayes churned out another  two novels which one might categorize as something between noir and grise, with a dash of social commentary thrown in for good measure. The End of Me (1968), probably  his most bitter book, centres on Asher, a Hollywood screenwriter. In his late 50s, Asher  discovers his second wife, an inveterate social climbing is having an affair with her tennis partner. Fed up with his marriage, Asher returns to his native New York where he visits his aunt who asks him to help Michael, her grandson and an aspiring poet. Though he reacts rudely to him, Asher agrees to read Michael's poetry, which turns out to be concerned exclusively with sex, inspired, Asher realizes, by Michael's Italian girlfriend and law student Aurora. Asher meets her and is teased and tormented by her, aided and abetted by Michael, who orchestrates a series of bizarre events to humiliate his uncle. Asher becomes increasingly obsessed with Aurora. Stripped of any sense of dignity by Aurora and Michael, Asher realizes that, even though his time is up, the future does not bode well for Michael's generation. It's also  another Hayes riff on obsession, but now some distance from the romantic love of his earlier novels, perhaps in the hip-lit of the 1960s, out of fashion. Yet Hayes’s novel does well to mix light and dark, along with a new twist on an old Tinseltown blague, as much as comment as a wisecrack, one which reflects Hayes’s Hollywood career, summed up by the joke that Asher tells Aurora:  a man goes into a butcher’s shop and sees two signs. One says writer’s brains: nineteen cents a pound. The other sing says producer’s brains: seventy-nine cents a pound.
      “I waited. She sipped her drink.
      ‘Now you are supposed to say to to me,’ I said patiently, ‘why producer’s brains cost seventy-nine cents a pound and writer’s brains cost nineteen cents a pound.’
     ‘Well,’ the butcher said, do you know how many producers to kill to get a pound of brains.?’”

With his studio career behind him, The End of Me reads like a novel written by a screenwriter, or, at any rate, someone who knows the value of economic writing, apparent from the opening lines:
“I crawled out of the bus away from the window and I began to run. My only safety lay in flight. If I stopped I’d howl. I knew I must not stop. The thing was in my gut. In my parched...constructed throat. Humped raw cringing wounded to death I’d howl into the night. Affrighting these houses. These well-kept lawns. These softly polished pianos. The dens would shiver. Rugs cringe. If I stopped.”
The sentence describing his situation and his past life, including his failed marriage, come in short, sharp bursts, with a first person narrative and dialogue- in fact, the novel is mostly dialogue- snappy and roundabout, as though Pinter had been schooled on the streets of New York:
“So this man went into a barber shop.”
“What man?”
“This man.”
“What did he go in for?”
“Will you listen for pete’s sake.”
“I am listening. I am definitely listening.”
“This man went into the butcher shop.”
“Where what?”
“Is the butcher shop?”
“Oh boy, tell you a joke.”
“Is it a joke, Asher?”
“It started out as a joke. Now I don’t know. It may never make it.”

Hayes was no hardcore noirist, though he did have a tendency to portray vulnerable, but resilient women, unstable but doing their best to survive. Not quite classical femme fatales, but not far off. At least that's the case in Hayes’s final novel, The Stockbroker, the Bitter Young Man, and The Beautiful Girl (1973). A novel of sexual suspense, The Stockbroker… revolves around a young man, Arthur Lewis, who meets the beautiful girl, Phyllis, who, reminiscent of  In Love, is accompanied by a savage protector, who makes sure Arthur’s advances are nullified. Ten years later the young man meets her again. The woman is still accompanied by her protector, surely her husband, but this time Arthur manages to seduce her, realizing, in yet another In Love riff, he has seduced the woman to get at her over-protective paramour. However, like Michael in The End of Me, the older man knows all about the arrangement. 

As usual, Hayes's crisp sentences and perceptions, particularly when it comes to the vagaries of personality and power, make the novel worth reading: 
    “To be poor; to be shy; to yearn and to suffocate; to be excluded; to feel that in the mysterious allotments of luck and charm and easy fortune one has been deliberately neglected; to know that there is somewhere a point from which all things start, and to be unable to find that point, and to, finally, despair of finding it: so Arthur Lewis had been when he was young.

Isolated and alienated, Arthur, in this novel about class and social difference which depicts life as moving between  realism to absurdity and  tragedy to comedy, likes nothing better than to comment on the world around him: 
"The chair he sat in was in the darkest corner of that world. In one hand was the bitterest of highballs; in the other, a dying cigarette. The women, with their undressed shoulders and their long white powdered necks, went by, the silk always a little too tight about their hips; and sometimes a girl’s eye, very blue and pencilled, shadowed by some indecipherable thought, would settle briefly on him as he sat sunken in that excluded chair, and she’d stare a moment, as though startled at what, glowering and now a little drunk, inhabited it. And then, perhaps, she would smile a little, uncertainly, her eye so accidentally caught: and then hastily she’d turn away.”

Beyond the novels, the stories and the screenplays, Hayes penned two Broadway plays, Journeyman, adapted from a novel by Erskine Caldwell, and Tis of Thee, a musical. But my take on Hayes is that he was a frustrated poet, whose reputation reached its apogee in the years preceding the war, but fell rapidly once he decided to concentrate on screenwriting. Over the years,  would publish three volumes of poetry: The Big Time (1944), Welcome to the Castle (1950) and Just Before the Divorce (1968). His poetry bears the influence of his friend Kenneth Fearing, but with a social conscience compromised by a certain self-consciousness and classical disposition. 

Though are moments when he overcomes his retention and speaks straight from the heart. For instance, in the section entitled The Pier, from his first book of poems, Welcome to the Castle, which takes place in Italy:  “The charitable blonde in salvation blue/Dispenses hot coffee in the lily cups./She, too, has come to say good-by/And cheer the sullen embarking troops./Bawdy whistles greet her and enthusiastic whoops.” Then, in New York, in the  section entitled The Bronx Express: “The iron door hisses as it closes./Inside, and pressed against a schoolgirl’s thighs,/I find myself among the coughs, the colds, the fetid human breath, the unwiped noses, staring again into a stranger’s eyes.”

Hayes’s most renown and repeated poem must surely be I Dreamed I saw Joe Hill Last Night, about the martyred Wobbly, so revered in the labour movement, which would bring Hayes some unexpected royalties over the years, wouldn't be the first Hayes poem set to music.  Before that there was  Into the Streets May First!, published in 1934, set to music by Aaron Copland, and deemed too avant garden for the working by the CP: "Into the roaring Square!/Shake the midtown towers!/Shatter the downtown air!/Come with a storm of banners,/Come with an earthquake tread..."

Other poems in Welcome to the Castle are more Fearing-like: “At half past one/The nightboy in the empty elevator/Seduces blondes he cannot have by day/The groceryman imagines he spots burglars/And reaches in a nightmare for a gun/A gun that isn’t there/At half past one/While cleaning women scrubbing corridors/Wipe out the office cuspidors/And wheeze on chapped rheumatic knees/Down disinfected stairs..."
But its his noir novels and a handful of screenplays that, for me, are most interesting, and which alone should have made his name.  Perhaps if he had been less wary of publicity, perhaps the result of his earlier leftist politics, and less reluctant to compete in the literary world, he might have been more successful. But Hayes, who died in Sherman Oaks (some say Encino) in 1985, was known to be difficult, alienating  friends, producers and agents. No wonder his once promising career gradually fizzled out and he ended up in near-obscurity, so much so that  Halliwell, in his Film Guide, would refer to Alfred Hayes as “Arthur Hayes.” Even so, Hayes, says Wald, stayed friends with a number of  Hollywood leftists, and despised the blacklist. Yet his “friends remember a great sadness about him.“ Hollywood might have made him embittered, cynical and hard-edged, but it barely affected his  prose. Why, then, did he then turn into one of the literary missing? It could have been the result of his decision to become a screenwriter, or perhaps it also had to do with changing tastes or misinterpreting the mood and literary tastes of the era at a time when meta-fiction was in vogue and  hardboiled, hard-bitten fiction, or stories of romantic love, couldn't be bought for love or money. Such is the way of the world. Hayes no doubt would have agreed.


Tosh Berman said...


Earl Javorsky said...

Woody--I have a character I think will amuse you (and a sequel due in October). Can I email you a review pitch?
I hope this intrusion is not annoying.

Unknown said...

Wow! Fantastic portrait of Hayes' career and commentary on his work,. It makes me want to go bak and re-read everything. Thanks!!!!

Alan Wald, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Woody Haut said...

Thanks Alan. I've long been a fan of your writing. And, yes, Alfred Hayes is definitely worth going back to. Can't remember for sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if I purloined bits from your excellent Exiles From the Future.