The only bad parts of being out here in Malibu are that I don’t have a swimming pool (lot is too small and hilly) and I don’t get STARZ on TV, just because my local cable company likes to make working with them as hard as humanly possible.
Let me explain. I am deeply interested in what makes us Jews tick. What makes us such successes and such failures, so ambitious and achieving, and also laid so low by ourselves and by others. I see this all around me in my own family. There have been some spectacular successes, especially my father. But there have also been financial disasters and lives lived in old age penury.
For us Jewish men in particular, our reach far too often exceeds our grasp. Jewish women are more practical.
There have been some amazing novels and short stories about this. By far the best — BY FAR! — was The Great Gatsby. It was my dear pal, Al Burton, who explained to me that Jay Gatz, obviously originally Jay Katz, was the real Gatsby. I even once knew a lawyer who had changed his name to Gatsby from Katz. But it was Gatsby’s extraordinary combination of street level realism — seller of phony bonds and bootlegger — and total fantasy delusions that allowed him pass himself off as an heir with Oxford credentials and thereby win the heart of a dopey little chatterbox named Daisy — that was the real sign of the Jew — a heart breaking romanticism.
Anyway, there is also “Dangling Man,” a great long short story by Bellow, about a pitiful young speculator facing ruin, and also “The Old Way,” also by Bellow, about a Jewish real estate developer bribing a seemingly upright but really corrupt country club manager, that evokes the burden of so much ambition and so much fantasy. (I will also suggest that you try to find an out of print edition of my best book, ‘Ludes, about the same subject. It will break your heart. My father cried for three straight days when he read it. I miss my father so much it’s almost unbearable.)
But in TV, nothing has ever come out that is so razor sharply etched on the subject of the longing of the Jewish human being as Magic City on STARZ. I told you about it recently, but its season is now over and I miss it desperately. It starts again in 2013. That’s too long to wait. I’ll watch the reruns. The main character, “Ike” Evans (changed name, of course) owns most of a magnificent hotel in Miami Beach in 1959. He wants to be a king, but his loans are being called. He wants to be an Emperor but the remnants of the Purple Gang want him to do their bidding and that means co-operation with murder.
He wants to be a good guy, but he also wants to be rich.
How many of us recall The Untouchables? It’s on a network called METV that shows in Rancho Mirage. The dramas, almost always about Jews, are about men torn in half by their longings to fly, to be eagles, but held down by the chains of money and competition from men far tougher than they are. The Untouchables was by far the most well-written dramatic series of the fifties and early sixties. It was about conflict not between cops and robbers — but about conflict within men and women. It must have been written by geniuses like Clifford Odets (who used to own the house we have in Beverly Hills — I’m selling all of my houses and moving to an apartment, by the way… too much trouble dealing with maintenance) and Paddy Chayefsky.
Magic City is even better — and has truly beautiful sets and cars and women. As a study of how men — really just coincidentally Jewish men or not — adjust and cope with conflict, that is to say, as a drama, it sets my teeth on edge in every episode as “Ike” (clever naming there) gets tougher and tougher as his war with reality progresses and he gets set back much more often than he triumphs. His enemy is reality and it’s as tough as the Wehrmacht. “Ike” will win but many men and women will die.
I will have to get ready to fight to get my cable company out here to install it. It’s worth it. Magic City is in a class of its own. It’s called Magic City but it might as well be called Our Town.
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