Rat Pack

Elia Kazan, Linda Tripp, Christopher Hitchens--What's not to love?


In life, as in acting, timing is

everything. (Well, except for

looks. And luck. And having

rich, connected parents.) So

give Elia Kazan, the stage



cum-patriot-cum-"bourgeois slob"

(so declares the man himself in

his 1988 autobiography), this

much: For an old man wearing

adult diapers, his timing is

still pretty damn impeccable.

Indeed, on that score at least,

even Abraham Polonsky—the

Stalinist screenwriter who says

he hopes Kazan gets shot and who

asked the Hollywood crowd to sit

on their own hands (rather than

each others') on Oscar night –

would have to agree.

Replicating the lucky

intersection of fiction and

reality that helped boost the

box office take of such films as

The China Syndrome (fortuitously

released at the same time that

the Three Mile Island nuclear

plant blew its stack), Absolute

Power (fortuitously released at

the same time that a sex

offender occupied the Oval

Office), and 2001: A Space

Odyssey (fortuitously released

at the same time that humans had

evolved to a point where they

would pay to see two-plus hours

of Keir Dullea jogging in zero

gravity), Kazan managed to

finally snag his overdue

lifetime-achievement Academy

Award at the precise moment when

being a rat is suddenly the Next

Big Thing again.

And let's give Kazan an added

bonus too: His presence will

enliven an Academy Award

broadcast whose main draw—and

it's a good one—is a widely

advertised lack of Billy

Crystal. (Crystal, incidentally,

did not respond to more than

1,000 requests by this reporter

asking if his decision not to

host the Oscars this year was,

in fact, made by the forces of

international Communism. He was

similarly unresponsive when

asked the same question about

his decision to make the

anticapitalist propaganda piece,

City Slickers II: The Legend of

Curly's Gold.)

Rats haven't been this popular

since the early '70s, when

flicks like Willard and Ben

(featuring the Michael Jackson

ballad about an interspecies

love that dares not speak its

name) had the whole nation

rooting for ill-tempered vermin.

To be sure, these days, rats

aren't quite as popular as when

they were chewing up Ernest

Borgnine's face on the big


Exhibit A in this turn of events

is, naturally, Linda Tripp, who

has played the thankless Joyce

DeWitt role in the ongoing East

Coast remake of Three's

Company. Beyond all else, what

people absolutely loathe about

Tripp—whose US$90,000+ annual

salary at the Pentagon is one of

the great nonsexual scandals of

the Clinton administration (for

that kind of coin, you'd think

she would have to kill a few

Sudanese babies with her bare

hands or something)—is the

fact that she "betrayed" her

"friend" Monica Lewinsky and, so

the story goes, "ruined" the

poor girl's future (precisely

what sort of future Lewinsky –

who told Newsweek that she would

consider attending law school if

it weren't for that pesky LSAT –

had is never spelled out).

In truth, by finking her out,

Tripp turned Lewinsky into

precisely the celebrity she

clearly always wanted to be:

the United States' answer to Princess Di

(well, maybe Fergie's more like

it; in any case, we await the

Elton John rewrite of "Candle in

the Wind"). Even more than

giving her fame and fortune, by

counseling the highly absorbent

intern to save that blue dress,

Tripp provided Lewinsky with the

physical evidence that

vindicated her story of an

actual relationship with the

prez (and let's face it, Tripp

or no Tripp, Paula Jones case or

no Paula Jones case, the

famously loose-lipped Lewinsky –

hence the presence of stain in

the first place—would have at

some point gone public with her

updating of the Abélard-Héloïse

myth). Absent the dress,

Lewinsky would most likely be

the valedictorian at a DC giggle

academy somewhere (one that

doesn't require the LSAT for

commitment), mumbling heavily

sedated tales of Oval Office sex

parties and occupying a

well-padded room between John

Hinckley Jr. and the

enterprising fellow from a few

years ago, who scaled the White

House fence and took pot shots

at the presidential mansion.

Exhibit B is Nation columnist

Christopher Hitchens, a

self-styled "man of the left,"

whose bid to become his

generation's Whittaker Chambers

has included not only erratic

personal behavior and bad teeth

(lest we forget the most bizarre

vignette from the Cold War that

was left on the cutting-room

floor of the recent CNN

documentary: Communist copy boy

Alger Hiss only admitted knowing

Chambers after peering into the

latter's legendarily

snaggle-toothed food hole) but

the willingness to fink on a

"friend." Hitchens, immediately

dubbed Snitchens by wags

relieved that his surname was

not Orange, ratted on Sidney

Blumenthal, the one-time

journalist who assumed the staff

position vacated by Monica

Lewinsky in the Clinton White

House. Specifically, Snitchens

signed an affidavit

contradicting Blumenthal's

testimony that the president

never circulated tales about

Lewinsky being a stalker. "Is it

a principle to betray a friend?"

asked a New Yorker editor at a

"clear the air" tribunal

convened at The Nation's "spiffy

new offices."

Apparently not at a magazine

that had a soft spot for Stalin

and still carries a torch for a

Democratic president, whose

chief accomplishments include

delivering congressional

majorities to the Republicans,

ostensibly balancing the federal

budget (another GOP favorite),

and kicking thousands of bums

off of welfare (ditto). Of

course, the principle that the

enemy of my friend is my enemy

(unless they're both my friends,

in which case, let's just get

together and make prank phone

calls to the enemies of my

friends' friends) remains in

force: Fellow Nation columnists

Alexander Cockburn (who anointed

his old chum "a Judas and a

snitch") and Katha Pollitt (who

falsely claimed that Hitchens

had once referred to dames as

"douche bags") laid into

Hitchens, and tales of his

denying the Nazi-driven

Holocaust quickly circulated. In

a recent Letters page, The

Nation announced that "about 95

percent" of its mail has been

negative toward Hitchens

and has contained numerous cancellation

threats and demands that he be


Leading the contemporary rat

race, of course, is Kazan

himself, who famously named

names before the House Committee

on Un-American Activities in the

early 1950s. (Almost as

famously, he recounts in his

autobiography, he also banged

Marilyn Monroe the very night

she got engaged to Joltin' Joe

DiMaggio.) Kazan, a one-time

Communist Party USA member,

coughed up the names of

eight people while in a

cell in the Group Theater; all

were already known to

the committee and all

were or had been active members

of the party. Over the years,

undeniable documentation has

emerged that the CP-USA was a

Soviet-run front that routinely

demanded that its members lie

about its membership and true

aims. In fact, Gus Hall,

long-time leader of the party,

was cutting Bolshevik checks for

about $2 million a year well

into the 1980s. (The gravy train

only dried up when Hall

criticized Mikhail Gorbachev's

glasnost and perestroika reforms

as "old social democratic

thinking class collaboration.")

The party also demanded that its

artist members tailor their work

to party fashions. Dalton

Trumbo, later of Hollywood Ten

fame, meant his antiwar novels

Johnny Got His Gun and The Remarkable

Andrew, written during the

Stalin-Hitler pact years, to

dissuade American participation

in World War II. Another

Hollywood Ten member,

screenwriter Albert Maltz, who

timidly suggested in The New

Masses that artists might enjoy

something like creative freedom,

was castigated for his

"bourgeois liberalism" and later

publicly criticized both

himself and other members

foolish enough to defend his

original essay.

Such facts, along with the

well-known and finally accepted

reality that Stalin was not in

any sense a good Joe, make it

impossible to brand Kazan as

simply a liar or right-wing

dupe. As even Nation publisher

Victor Navasky, author of Naming

Names, the book that continues

to shape memories of the

Hollywood blacklist, grants

these days, "There's nothing

wrong with naming names per se,"

it all depends on the names. So

the attacks on the director tend

to emphasize not politics and

truthfulness but—what else? –

that he betrayed his "friends,"

a no-no everywhere, but

especially in Hollywood, where

relationships are forever. As

Rod Steiger, who memorably ended

up on a meat hook in Kazan's On

the Waterfront defense of his

testimony, recently mumbled on

CNBC's Hardball, ratting out

friends is "an unforgivable sin."

(Apparently, there are special

dispensations for working with a


Indeed, the attacks on

Tripp, Hitchens, and Kazan—and

the next rat to join the parade

and keep it moving for at least

a few more months, Boy George

Stephanopoulos, whose memoir All

Too Human: A Political

Education, has been criticized

not for its accuracy but for its

timing—underscore that we

detest rats not because of any

grand "friendship über alles"

principle. In each case,

regardless of their own manifest

personal failings and self-

serving rationalizations, the

rats have simply gnawed through

carefully cultivated illusions –

that Stalin's secret fans were

simply well-meaning "social

idealists" (Navasky's term) and

not irredeemable bastards who

didn't mind the gulag as long as

they would be manning the gates;

that Clinton is somehow not a

personal and political

superfreak who has fucked over

those who believed in him most

of all. The rats have forced us

to behold uncomfortable truths

about our most cherished

delusions. No wonder we hate

them so much.

Nick Gillespie is editor-in-chief of reason. This story originally appeared in Suck, and can be viewed in that format here.